Friday, April 17, 2009

Torture Revisited

Some specifics of U.S. Government-sponsored torture have recently been released by the Obama administration. The fact that cruel & horrific practices took place has been known for years, only now many details are exposed officially.

President Obama's positive decision to release the memos should be applauded. Interrogation details and participant testimonies highlight a rot which infected the US government and its operations.

Notwithstanding Obama's parallel words of support for intelligence service professionals, there were no requirements for operatives to conduct harsh interrogations (tortures); paramilitary or contract workers were reportedly often used instead of trained military interrogators. International & domestic laws were broken. Government fostered an open contempt for such laws, and officials sworn to uphold the law failed in their duties. Transgressions have been much more extensive than those described in these CIA memos. For example, pinning non-compliant detainees into restraint chairs and force-feeding by nasogastric tubes has been condemned ("Use of restraint chairs to break a hunger strike by a competent prisoner is a violation of both medical ethics and of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions" -- see also this link from The Lancet signed by 263 medical doctors worldwide). Smearing fresh menstrual blood on the face of a shackled prisoner (see E39) is inexcusable.

Those assigned to torture others might explain such acts as duty to Fatherland, but in any event such operations are dishonorable. They tortured suspects, not convicted terrorists. Even after months and years, prisoner abuse continued with no formal criminal accusations. Did the U.S. government truly want information from evildoers, or did they seek to harm & impose fear? The interrogators made conscious decisions to torture, and the "following orders" defense is insufficient protection; even their own President cannot protect interrogators, political commanders and direct support staff from indictment & conviction elsewhere -- in many cases these seem blatant war crimes.

Perhaps the first to be indicted should be those who crafted the policies. But the story is yet partly told: what other impromptu horrors were inflicted in efforts to "break the will" and impose fear in each detained suspect? Can we believe this was merely a search for information? ...if so, do it in public. Torture & murder are often used to crush dissent, often ultimately to enrich some elite. We know that people died under sustained secret interrogation & detention. Is it true the dead tell no tales...? Let the stories be told in a court of law.

These excesses should be rooted-out, revealed & condemned. The proposal by US Senator Patrick J. Leahy for an independent Commission of Inquiry is thus very important and should be supported. The rule of law, transparency, and accountability are fundamental to good government -- otherwise we've bad government. Otherwise the next despot will do worse.

Disinformation & falsehood are insidious. US Dept. of Defense publish the words -- too good to be true -- of Guantanamo detainees: "I'm in good health and have good facilities of eating, drinking, living, and playing." "These people take good care of me... The guards and everybody else is fine. We are allowed to talk to our friends." "The food is good, the bedrooms are clean and the health care is very good. There is a library full of Islamic books, science books, and literature... Sport, reading, and praying, all of these options are not mandatory for everyone, it is up to the person." Like Waldsee postcards written to those remaining in the ghetto by those sent to "work in the East" but actually at Auschwitz: "We are fine, working, and hoping to see you soon."

President Obama's statement that we should look forward has somewhat of a silver lining. Hopefully he means that US overseas adventurism will decline. Hopefully he will address the causes of conflict: perceived injustice. Hopefully he will shut down Guantanamo. Hopefully he will close WHINSEC and sever all links to the old School of the Americas. Hopefully...