Monday, November 14, 2005

We Do Not Torture

CIA interrogators apparently tried to cover up the death of an Iraqi "ghost detainee" who died while being interrogated at
Abu Ghraib prison, a US magazine reported, after obtaining hundreds of pages of documents, including an autopsy report, about the case.

The death of secret detainee Manadel al-Jamadi was ruled a homicide in a Defense Department autopsy, Time magazine reported, adding that documents it recently obtained included photographs of his battered body, which had been kept on ice to keep it from decomposing, apparently to conceal the circumstances of his death.

WASHINGTON - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has accused the U.S. military of using tactics "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, The New York Times reported on Tuesday

On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that “torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.” Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of Bush’s statement. Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. When Arar described his experience in a phone interview recently, he invoked an Arabic expression. The pain was so unbearable, he said, that “you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.”

The context for the White House position is key. After the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos in 2004, the administration released a raft of documents claiming these documents showed that there was no policy allowing the abuse of prisoners. It was surreal; the documents showed just the opposite. It was as though the White House thought we couldn’t read.

Most striking was a memorandum of February 7, 2002, signed by President George W. Bush, on the treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. That memorandum records the president’s unilateral determination that the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war “does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.” This decision is of dubious validity because there is no provision in the Geneva conventions that would countenance a unilateral decision to exempt prisoners from Geneva protections.

I will spare you most of the torturous language offered by the president’s lawyers. Suffice it to say that paragraph 3 of his February 7 memorandum contains a gaping loophole that, in effect, authorizes torture:

As a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity , in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva. (emphasis added)

Mounting criticism of US maltreatment of hundreds of "war on terror" detainees, and new evidence that the CIA runs secret prisons around the world, have put the White House on the defensive over an alleged policy of permitting torture.

On Thursday the two houses of Congress began discussions to finalize a bill that would ban any torture by US forces. President George W. Bush has threatened to veto it, even as he has denied sanctioning torture.

The same day, a former top state department official told a radio program that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind directives which encouraged US forces's torture of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That followed a Washington Post report a day earlier that the CIA has operated a network of secret prisons in eight countries where about 30 people were being held and interrogated.

"Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long," the Post said.

WASHINGTON -- Evidence gained by torture can be used by the U.S. military in deciding whether to imprison a foreigner indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an enemy combatant, the government says.

Statements produced under torture have been inadmissible in U.S. courts for about 70 years. But the U.S. military panels reviewing the detention of 550 foreigners as enemy combatants at the U.S. naval base in Cuba are allowed to use such evidence, Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle acknowledged at a U.S. District Court hearing Thursday.