The US and Torture

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The Torturers’ Manifesto

To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.

Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.
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National Religious Campaign Against Torture

These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.

It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.


The Americans Civil Liberties Union deserves credit for suing for the memos’ release. And President Obama deserves credit for overruling his own C.I.A. director and ordering that the memos be made public. It is hard to think of another case in which documents stamped “Top Secret” were released with hardly any deletions.

But this cannot be the end of the scrutiny for these and other decisions by the Bush administration.

Until Americans and their leaders fully understand the rules the Bush administration concocted to justify such abuses — and who set the rules and who approved them — there is no hope of fixing a profoundly broken system of justice and ensuring that that these acts are never repeated.

The abuses and the dangers do not end with the torture memos. Americans still know far too little about President Bush’s decision to illegally eavesdrop on Americans — a program that has since been given legal cover by the Congress.

Last week, The Times reported that the nation’s intelligence agencies have been collecting private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans on a scale that went beyond the broad limits established in legislation last year. The article quoted the Justice Department as saying there had been problems in the surveillance program that had been resolved. But Justice did not say what those problems were or what the resolution was.

That is the heart of the matter: nobody really knows what any of the rules were. Mr. Bush never offered the slightest explanation of what he found lacking in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when he decided to ignore the law after 9/11 and ordered the warrantless wiretapping of Americans’ overseas calls and e-mail. He said he was president and could do what he wanted.
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After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to accountability.

– Source / Full Story: The Torturers’ Manifesto, New York Times, Opinion, April 18, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

In light of all we no know — and, in large lines, have known for a long time — it has become very clearly to all but the most devoted George W. Bush supporters why the former president so adamantly objected to the International Criminal Court (ICC). After all, the ICC was specifically established to investigate and prosecute war crimes — using the the same international laws and treaties the US under George Bush and his cronies trampled.

Some of our readers have objected to the inclusion in Religion News Blog of news reports regarding US human rights violations. However, we believe that religion should inform the way we behave. Religion and ethics are inseparately interwoven — and when you have a former president who, while claiming to be on a mission from God, went to war on the basis of lies, while at the same time waging war on the very court that prosecutes the illegal behavior he condoned, Christians and others must speak up.

Another reason to address these issues is that the US government to-date still publishes reports on what it considers to be human rights violation elsewhere in the world — seemingly oblivious to the fact that hypocrisy is not a strong position from which to argue.

Justice Dept. Memos’ Careful Legalese Obscured Harsh Reality

The four Justice Department memos to the CIA’s top lawyer that were released last week reflect an effort by Bush administration appointees to create finely tuned justifications for harsh interrogation techniques, all under a blanket of secrecy covering the agency’s prisons and the questioning.

In the wake of the memos’ disclosure, it is clear that the lawyers and the CIA got it wrong in measuring the methods against their selected legal test: that they must not “shock the conscience.” The brutality of the interrogation measures — including repeatedly slamming people into walls, simulating their drowning and stuffing them into dark, constricting boxes — shocked the conscience of at least some.

President Obama said the approved techniques “undermine our moral authority and do not make us safer.” Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said that although the CIA was urgently trying to get information after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, its “methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing.”

To supporters of the Bush-era practices, the length, precision and detail of the memos show that — even in the absence of public scrutiny — legal red lines were carefully considered and that precautions were taken to avoid causing death or what the memos’ authors considered illegal pain.

To critics, the sterile wording and articulation of seemingly arbitrary safeguards to sanction what many consider torture evoke totalitarianism.

To endorse the CIA’s interrogation plans, the experts in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had to parse highly specific terminology in a collection of relatively recent U.S. anti-torture statutes, international laws and treaties, with few directly applicable judicial rulings to serve as guideposts. They also had to weigh contemporary politics, since the “shock the conscience” test was a target they knew would move.

The solution chosen was to slice the apple thin and eat only a portion. Interrogators could shackle detainees to floors or ceilings to keep them awake for more than seven days, but they had to allow a normal period of sleep before starting again. They could pack them into tight, dark containers for more than eight hours at a time but had to allow a total of six hours outside the box every day.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists called such boundaries a way to justify illegal, cruel, inhumane, degrading and torturous treatment. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Jameel Jaffer, whose lawsuit helped propel the memos’ disclosure, called their arguments “window dressing for war crimes” because they were “meant to support conclusions that were predetermined” rather than to produce a credible reading of the law.
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– Source / Full Story: Justice Dept. Memos’ Careful Legalese Obscured Harsh Reality, R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, April 18, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

CIA medics joined in Guantanamo torture sessions, says Red Cross

Medical personnel committed a “gross breach of medical ethics” by taking part in torture in Guantanamo, a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross document has revealed.
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The Red Cross concluded: “The alleged participation of health personnel in the interrogation process and, either directly or indirectly, in the infliction of ill-treatment constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture and/or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment.”

As well as the monitoring of specific methods of ill-treatment, the report said, other health personnel were alleged to have directly participated in the interrogation process. One detainee alleged that a health person threatened that medical care would be conditional upon cooperation with interrogation.
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Florian Westphal, head of media at the Red Cross in Geneva, confirmed the authenticity of the document obtained by Mark Danner of New York Review of Books (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/22614) and posted on its website, but declined to comment on the contents of the report. “It is a legitimate document. It is extremely unusual for an ICRC document on detention procedures to be leaked publicly,” he said.
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Besides descriptions of how the men were tortured, the report conveys the impatience and frustration of the Red Cross in trying to extract information from the Bush administration. The Red Cross made its first written interventions to the US authorities in 2002, requesting information on the whereabouts of people allegedly held by the Americans in the context of the fight against terrorism.

“Despite repeated requests at various levels of the US government, the ICRC has not received a response to most of these written interventions,” the report said.

It took four years once the Red Cross first raised the issue with the Bush administration before it was given access to 14 detainees at Guantanamo, including Mohammed. The report welcomed the decision to grant access to the men, but “deplores the fact that these persons were held in undisclosed detention during a prolonged period by the US authorities and the conditions of treatment to which they were subjected during the time”.

The methods of ill-treatment alleged to have been used, the report said, included waterboarding, standing naked with arms extended and chained above the head for periods of two three days continuously, beatings by the use of a collar held around the detainees’ neck to bang heads and bodies against the wall, prolonged nudity for weeks or months and prolonged shackling.

Those who were shackled “had to urinate and and defecate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids for periods of several days”.

While the report described practices that have been repudiated by the Obama administration, an Red Cross official who wished to remain anonymous said it was “important for today’s authorities to have this information from an independent source”.

– Source / Full Story: CIA medics joined in Guantanamo torture sessions, says Red Cross, The Guardian, UK, April 7, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See Also:
Doctors and Torture, By Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.
National Religious Campaign Against Torture

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2014