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Commentary :: Human Rights : International : Politics : Social Welfare
Deconstructing the Barriers of Torture
15 Apr 2006
Despite the atrocious violations of human rights committed by the US government today, there seems to be little show of concern within corporate media of those faceless thousands of detainees who suffer without reason. This article presents a comprehensive guide to previous and contemporary legislation regarding torture, as well as what is being done at the judicial level to prevent it from continuing
Welcome to the era of Executive Branch superiority, characterized by domestic spying, intolerance of dissent, justified racism through anti-immigration laws, an unwarranted war, and state-operated torture facilities across the globe. The mainstream media euphemistically refers to these torture facilities as detention camps. Torture is currently justified through rhetorical arguments, a bureaucratic tactic of the US government. Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture, a UN agreement to protect human rights, clearly defines torture as
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

The practice of torture is almost universally considered an egregious crime against humanity. It is legally intolerated by every piece of legislation mentioning it. The first international laws against torture were solidified in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 in response to the atrocities committed during WWII. Torture is explicitly prohibited in the third and fourth Conventions, concerning Prisoners of War and detainees, respectively. In 1955, the US ratified the Conventions and stated that: “Detainees must at all times be humanely treated (Geneva III, art. 13, Geneva IV, art. 27). Detainees may be questioned, but any form of “physical or mental coercion” is prohibited (Geneva III, art. 17; Geneva IV, art. 31).” ( Despite these regulations, President Bush and his cronies on Capitol Hill continue to order torture.

The US has also complied with other international anti-torture laws such as: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. In US law, the War Crimes Act of 1996, the federal anti-torture statutes of 1994, and the Military Jurisdiction Act of 2000 all ban torture. These documents take an unmistakable stand against torture: Why is there any debate about the issue? In fact, the US has reported to the Committee Against Torture that: “Every act of torture within the meaning of the Convention is illegal under existing federal and state law, and any individual who commits such an act is subject to penal sanctions as specified in criminal statutes […] Torture cannot be justified by exceptional circumstances, nor can it be excused on the basis of an order from a superior officer.”

The most scandalous torture facility in the minds of US citizens is Abu Ghraib, located in Iraq. Photographs that documented torture taking place in this prison were exposed by Sergeant Joseph Darby, although anonymous at the time. These photographs were given to an Internal Affairs officer within the army, which led to an internal investigation in January 2004. Abu Ghraib was found to violate both the War Crimes Act and the Military Jurisdiction Act. Upon public exposure, President Bush decried the behavior of those in charge of the facility. However, he did nothing to stop it from happening or continuing, nor did he mention the many other US-run torture facilities around the world. On May 7, 2004, when referring to the newly surfaced photographs, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility.” He then went on to say that “[the President] was just as blindsided as the Congress and me and everyone else.”(CNN)

Another well-publicized US-run torture facility is located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Guantanamo torture facility was established in 2002 (along with many others of this type), following the September 11th “terrorist attacks.” As with Abu Ghraib, the detainees were transported there without their knowledge, never heard the accusations against them, and have limited legal counsel. The November 12, 2005 issue of the Wall Street Journal reported that only 358 out of the 505 individuals being detained had contact with the Administrative Review Board (a committee of Army officials who only meet once with every detainee in order to determine whether or not they are still a threat to US security). Out of those 358 people, only 3% were awaiting release, 20% were transferred to different detention camps, 37% were detained further, and 40% were undecided (which actually means that they fall into the latter category).

As of August 2005, over 100 of the detainees had gone on hunger-strike. The February 16, 2005 report on Democracy Now! revealed that the detainees had feeding tubes shoved down their throats and into their stomachs – a process which caused them to vomit up “substantial amounts of blood.” The detainees further alleged that this procedure took place in front of US physicians, with greater ethical implications that medical associations should (yet have not) looked in to.

The detainees at Guantanamo and other facilities have been called “illegal combatants,” a Bushism that has never before been used in International Law. Essentially, this term means that these people are not legal/lawful combatants who actually have rights. The jargon surrounding Guantanamo is not its only suspicious characteristic: this facility has undergone inspections by the United Nations and they concluded that the facility should be shut down. Bush’s insistence on exercising supreme authority after September 11th (strikingly familiar to a dictatorship) has kept this facility and others running.

Recently another torture facility has been made public, this one alleged to be far more primitive than other known facilities: detainees sleeping on the floor, rare outside access, no legal support, no charges or allegations heard, and no photographs allowed to be taken. In 2002, the US installed a detention camp at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram gained public notoriety in 2002, when the New York Times obtained a 2,000-page US Army report concerning the deaths of two Bagram detainees: Habibulla and Dilawar. Both men were found hanging dead, shackled by their wrists; their deaths ruled a homicide. There are over 500 individuals held at this camp; all have been deemed guilty until proven innocent. And that is the catch: All those who have been released, or in contact with lawyers, have been found to be innocent. A pentagon official has told the New York Times that the average stay in Bagram is 14.5 months, according to Democracy Now!.

In October 2002, Canadian citizen Maher Arar was detained at JFK airport in New York, sent to Syria, and then to Bagram, where he was held without hearing any charges against him for ten months. This process of transporting suspected criminals to other countries to be imprisoned and interrogated is known as extraordinary rendition, a euphemism for kidnapping. Arar is the first ex-detainee to file a civil suit against the government regarding this heinous policy, according to CBC News. Like other suits of this type, nothing has yet come of them because of the bureaucratic hoops that the US government is making lawyers jump through.

In order to maximize the results of working within the legislative system, civil liberties groups are attacking this issue from all sides. The US has illegally transcended national boundaries during the transport of detainees to CIA-controlled secret prisons, known as black sites. These are prisons that, like the aforementioned ones, are very much alive and well and sure to be housing basic human rights abuses without any transparency or accountability whatsoever. The US has been using the air bases in other countries to transport these detainees; perhaps it believes that reduces its accountability? There are documented black sites in the US, Middle East, North Africa, and all over Europe. So far, there are alleged air bases in Germany, France, Spain and the UK that have been utilized, according to the Washington Post. Of course, none of the latter countries are going to accept responsibility for these flights because then they too would be in defiance of international and national human rights laws.

Another issue that is quickly gaining public awareness is the complacency of psychologists in assisting the torture that is being carried out at these camps. The American Psychological Association (APA) has clear ethical guidelines that apply to all psychologists at all times, which explicitly ban any activity that is not for the benefit of the client’s well-being. The Director of the APA, Dr. Stephen Behnke, confirmed this on an August 11, 2005 report on Democracy Now!. This is intrinsically related to a military program called SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), which is used to train US military personnel to withstand the techniques of torture that they may encounter if captured. SERE, designed and administered by psychologists, is also used to teach military intelligence personnel more effective torture techniques to use during interrogation. Is there no individual accountability for this program? I find it hard to believe that anyone contracted to do anything by the military would not in some way suspect the adverse consequences of their actions.

Another lawsuit that is currently being played out in the US is one regarding the “Great Writ” of habeas corpus. First recorded in 1305, this writ states that any person that is being held in custody can challenge that under the law. Being a writ of such power and antiquity, it is apparent why, on September 18, 2001, President Bush issued a military order that suspended habeas corpus and also declared anyone suspected of terror an enemy combatant. This is another example of the dictatorial powers that September 11th somehow granted our executive branch.

We must recognize that this is the exact antithesis of democracy. Anyone who values the freedoms afforded to Americans needs to realize that these same freedoms are rapidly disappearing. In fact, they have already disappeared to the many thousands of faceless fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters who have been kidnapped and are currently held against their will. There is a reason why torture is unanimously and universally decried--because each nation and every person knows that if the tables were turned, it is something that no one wants to experience. We need to take a stand against this government, we need to act in solidarity with the individuals who have been or are being detained and tortured without reason, and we need to speak out and support the lawyers of detainees who are working pro bono to expose the atrocities committed by this government.
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15 Apr 2006
Alia isn't God.

She just takes a lot of drugs.
15 Apr 2006