A Crusade of Torture
A Crusade of Torture
On June 18th, the Associated Press reported that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered a letter to members of the UN Security Council urging the opposition to a resolution extending exemption from war crimes prosecution for US military personnel and officials. According to the story, Annanâ€™s letter cited the Abu Ghraib atrocities as a central concern. Annan doubted if the exemption was legal and described passage of such a resolution as an "unfortunate signal" to send "particularly at this time." All signs indicated that the exemption would not be granted. Scrutiny of how the atrocities at Abu Ghraib became, in the words of a confidential January 2004 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, "a practice tolerated by the CF [coalition forces]" rather than "exceptional" reveals how the Bush administration conducted an American crusade of torture.
Bush called for and received UN exemptions from war crimes prosecutions originally in 2002 and had it renewed in 2003. The Bush administration brought enormous pressure bear on other members of the UN Security Council to obtain this measure. To achieve passage, Bush vetoed a UN peacekeeping mission in
Many critical observers linked the demand for exemption with a perceived systematic "assault" on the International Criminal Court (ICC). President Clinton signed the 1998 Rome Treaty establishing the ICC on his last day in office. Since then Bush "has renounced the
Eric Schwartz argued in the Boston Globe in 2002. Bush formally withdrew from the treaty in May of 2002.
Bush claimed that the Rome Treaty, ratified by 94 countries at this point, would lead to frivolous or politically motivated war crimes prosecutions against US military and political officials. Supporters of the treaty say it contains numerous safeguards against this. For example, if a
Commenting in the Miami Herald, Andrew Reding speculated presciently that Bushâ€™s campaign against the treaty meant "that the White House wishes to reserve the right to support the use of terror against foreign countries when it serves US objectives." Reding noted Haitian terrorists given safe harbor in the
Legal expert, Marjorie Cohn, took another view. The war on
It was also widely speculated that the Bush administration was protecting particular individuals such as Henry Kissinger who has been subjected to criminal charges in various countries for his role in the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende in
Because most of this commentary appeared months and years before the release of the photo evidence of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, the commentators who I surveyed donâ€™t highlight the use of torture. The Bush administrationâ€™s desire to use torture is missing as an explanation for the campaign against the treaty despite the fact that numerous human rights organizations have provided documentary and testimonial evidence of prisoner abuse since as early as 2002.
If the prisoner abuse scandal were isolated to a handful of "rogue" individuals, the
In fact, when Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee called for a subpoena of all Justice Department documents related to this issue, including "any and all orders, directives, instructions, findings or other writings signed by Bush or on his behalf," the Republican majority on the committee voted the measure down. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) described the vote and the refusal of the Justice Department to hand over documents willingly as a "brazen sign of a cover-up."
Evidence of the mistreatment of prisoners dates back to 2002 to the detention facilities at
A report recently published by Human Rights Watch, title "The Road to Abu Ghraib" quoted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as early as 2002, after denying that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay have POW status, as stating, "Unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention."
In an effort to set aside the Geneva Conventionsâ€™ provisions for the treatment of prisoners, Rumsfeld glibly remarked that the
Rumsfeldâ€™s attitude about detention status wasnâ€™t simply tough rhetoric for suspected terrorists. The claim that prisoners "do not have any rights" was created to justify a new secret expanded list of acceptable methods of interrogation and treatment of prisoners previously regarded as violations of the
According to the Washington Post, it is known that as early as December 2002, Rumsfeld personally ordered expanded interrogation tactics that violate international conventions of prisoner treatment.
Rumsfeldâ€™s view was supported by the Justice Department, which, in an August 2002 memo to Alberto Gonzales, Bushâ€™s chief legal counsel, indicated its belief that "harsh interrogation" methods might be considered war crimes if the prisoners were held to be fully protected by the Geneva Conventions. In the memo written at the behest of the CIA and the White House, which was first publicized by the Washington Post, one finds Justice Department lawyers quibbling over torture and "rough treatment." Distinctions over the words "extreme pain" and "severe pain" in defining torture are highlighted â€“ the latter wouldnâ€™t constitute torture in the view of the Justice Department memo. In the process of producing this argument, Justice Department lawyers created a category of "rough treatment" that, if they could be shown not to have been intended to inflict intense pain or permanent physical or mental harm, were not prosecutable. In other words, "here is a list, Mr. President," they said, "of what we think you ought to be able to get away with."
According to Newsweek, this report was drafted and analyzed, with participation from Pentagon lawyers, at the request of the CIA, which wanted to avoid public recrimination over interrogation methods adopted by the Bush administration. CIA officials sought "written authorization from lawyers and senior policymakers" before implementing techniques that came to be outlined in the Justice/Gonzales memo.
The memo goes even further than simply what kinds of severe treatment it considered to be legal. It advises that
The upshot of this memoâ€™s argument is that the president has the power to determine "rough treatment" as long as it is not "extreme," and he has the authority to keep it secret. When Attorney General John Ashcroft testified in early June before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the release of this memo, he seemed to invoke a protection for his silence on these matters based on the memoâ€™s argument. Despite Bushâ€™s own attempt to sidestep media questions about whether he adopted the memoâ€™s argument as policy, it was put into practice in the military prisons in
While the Bush administration scrambles to cover itself, it appears that a small handful of low-level military personnel will pay criminal penalties for having been caught in the act. The immunity from prosecution described in the Justice/Gonzales memo has proven to be a public relations failure, even though Rumsfeld initially attempted to argue to Matt Lauer of NBCâ€™s Today Show that Geneva Conventionsâ€™ rules did not apply to
The memosâ€™ implications are that the Bush administrationâ€™s stated outrage over the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib lacks credibility. After expending all of those resources to create what it called a set of legal detention, treatment, and interrogation methods, why would the Bush administration need to be outraged? Why would it condemn the actions of a few rogue military police at Abu Ghraib as deplorable and contrary to "American values," if they were complying with methods and techniques declared legal by the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense? Why not assert their immunity from prosecution based on their compliance with the presidentâ€™s Constitutional power to define the treatment of detainees? Clearly the feigned outrage resulted from national and international condemnation and a perceived blow to the administrationâ€™s credibility on the whole. Along with hastily thrown together Pentagon "investigations" of atrocities, such self-serving denunciations from the Bush administration are a weak attempt at cover.
As it turns out, Bush himself only publicly denounced the torture policy, just as it became clear in the summer of 2003 to many military and administration officials that the atrocities at Abu Ghraib could not be prevented from going public. According to a confidential International Committee of the Red Cross report dated January 2004, a study of violations at various sites in
ICRC reported "brutality against protected persons â€“ sometimes causing death or serious injury," physical ad psychological coercion during interrogation, prolonged solitary confinement in the dark, excessive use of force, holding prisoners unprotected in fighting zones, and more. The US military investigation of atrocities at Abu Ghraib, compiled in the Tuguba Report, looking at incidents between October and December of 2003, noted such acts as: "Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."
Other unofficial human rights organizations had a longer history of exposing the administrationâ€™s new prisoner treatment and interrogation policies. They held more widely accepted definitions of POW and the protections provided by the Geneva Conventions (and other international frameworks) for POWs and non-POW detainees. Human Rights Watch, for example, took issue with the administrationâ€™s claim that detainees held at
Al Qaeda suspects not captured as a result of military actions and not afforded POW status still had protections from abuse and should have been afforded some basic rights. "Such protections include," said HRW, "the right to be free from coercive interrogation, to receive a fair trial if charged with a criminal offense, and, in the case of detained civilians, to be able to appeal periodically the security rationale for continued detention." In other words, they had some basic rights afforded to criminal suspects and should have been treated as such.
Amnesty International, in a letter to the Bush administration in March of 2002, agreed with this concept. It pointed out that "international law and standards provide that all persons who are arrested or detained should be informed immediately of the reasons for the detention and notified of their rights, including the right of prompt access to and assistance of a lawyer; the right to communicate and receive visits; the right to inform family members of the detention and place of confinement; and the right of foreign nationals to contact their embassy or an international organization." The
Amnesty followed this letter one month later with a forceful denunciation of the treatment of detainees at
Early in 2002, Amnesty focused its attention on prisons in
The combination of all of these revelations provides an alternative picture to what the Bush administration claims are the actions of isolated individuals. In "The Road to Abu Ghraib," Human Rights Watch asserted that "This pattern of abuse did not result from the acts of individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside. Administration policies created the climate for Abu Ghraib." Important media outlets arrived at similar conclusions. An editorial in the Washington Post said, "we have learned that much of what the guards did -- from threatening prisoners with dogs, to stripping them naked, to forcing them to wear women's underwear -- had been practiced at
Rumsfeld "approved" abusive treatment at