Torture and other Hypocrisies
There are times when I must go off topic. Torture is one of them. Anthony Lewis, who has long been a voice of conscience in America, is correct when he writes:
Over many years the United States has worked to persuade and compel governments around the world to abide by the rules. By spurning our own rules, we put that effort at risk. What Justice Louis Brandeis said about law at home applies internationally as well: "If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law."Guantánamo's Long Shadow
By ANTHONY LEWIS Published: June 21, 2005
Boston WHEN Vice President Dick Cheney said last week that detainees at the American prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were treated better than they would be "by virtually any other government on the face of the earth," he was carrying on what has become a campaign to whitewash the record of abuses at Guantánamo. Right-wing commentators have been sounding the theme. Columnist Charles Krauthammer said the treatment of the Guantánamo prisoners had been "remarkably humane and tolerant." Yes, and there is no elephant in the room.
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation observed what went on in Guantánamo. One reported on July 29, 2004: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more." Time magazine published an extended article last week on an official log of interrogations of one Guantánamo detainee over 50 days from November 2002 to January 2003. The detainee was Mohamed al-Kahtani, a Saudi who is suspected of being the planned 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, 2001, but who was unable to enter the United States. Mr. Kahtani was interrogated for as long as 20 hours at a stretch, according to the detailed log. At one point he was put on an intravenous drip and given 3½ bags of fluid. When he asked to urinate, guards told him that he must first answer questions. He answered them. The interrogator, not satisfied with the answers, told him to urinate in his pants, which he did. Thirty minutes later, the log noted, Mr. Kahtani was "beginning to understand the futility of his situation."
F.B.I. agents, reporting earlier on the treatment of Mr. Kahtani, said a dog was used "in an aggressive manner to intimidate" him. At one point, according to the log, Mr. Kahtani's interrogator told him that he needed to learn, like a dog, to show respect: "Began teaching detainee lessons such as stay, come and bark to elevate his social status to that of a dog. Detainee became very agitated." At a minimum, the treatment of Mr. Kahtani was an exercise in degradation and humiliation.
Such treatment is forbidden by three sources of law that the United States respected for decades - until the administration of George W. Bush. The Geneva Conventions, which protect people captured in conflict, prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." The scope of that clause's legal obligation has been debated, but previous American governments abided by it.
President Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban members who are detained at Guantánamo. The United Nations Convention Against Torture, also ratified by the United States, requires signatories to "prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction ... cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment." The Bush administration declared that this provision did not apply to the treatment of non-Americans held outside the United States. Finally, there is the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It makes cruelty, oppression or "maltreatment" of prisoners a crime.
Armed services lawyers worried that some methods of interrogation might violate the Uniform Code and federal criminal statutes, exposing interrogators to prosecution. A Pentagon memorandum obtained by ABC News said a meeting of top military lawyers on March 8, 2003, concluded that "we need a presidential letter" approving controversial methods, to give interrogators immunity.
The idea that a president can legalize the unlawful evidently came from a series of memorandums written by Justice Department officials. They argued, among other things, that President Bush's authority as commander in chief to set interrogation methods could trump treaties and federal law. Although President Bush decided to deny detainees at Guantánamo the protection of the Geneva Conventions, he did order that they must be treated "humanely."
The Pentagon, responding to the Time magazine article on the treatment of Mr. Kahtani, said, "The Department of Defense remains committed to the unequivocal standard of humane treatment for all detainees, and Kahtani's interrogation plan was guided by that strict standard." In the view of the administration, then, it is "humane" to give a detainee 3½ bags of I.V. fluid and then make him urinate on himself, force him to bark like a dog, or chain him to the floor for 18 hours.
No one can seriously doubt now that cruelties and indignities have been inflicted on prisoners at Guantánamo. Nor is there any doubt that worse has happened elsewhere - prisoners beaten to death by American soldiers, untold others held in secret locations by the Central Intelligence Agency, others rendered to be tortured by governments such as Uzbekistan's.
Since the widespread outrage over the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Americans have seemingly ceased to care. It was reported yesterday that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former American commander in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal, is being considered for promotion. Many people would say the mistreatment of Mohamed al-Kahtani, or of suspects who might well be innocent, is justified in a war with terrorists. Morality is outweighed by necessity.
The moral cost is not so easily put aside. We Americans have a sense of ourselves as a moral people. We have led the way in the fight for human rights in the world. Mistreating prisoners makes the world see our moral claims as hypocrisy. Beyond morality, there is the essential role of law in a democracy, especially in American democracy.
This country has no ancient mythology to hold it together, no kings or queens. We have had the law to revere. No government, we tell ourselves, is above the law. Over many years the United States has worked to persuade and compel governments around the world to abide by the rules. By spurning our own rules, we put that effort at risk. What Justice Louis Brandeis said about law at home applies internationally as well: "If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for law."
Anthony Lewis is a former Times columnist.
Here are two other article recently published on the subject. (I thank Paul at War in Context for them.)
Interrogators cite doctors' aid at Guantanamo
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, June 24, 2005U.N. cites reliable accounts of U.S. torture
Military doctors at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have aided interrogators in conducting and refining coercive interrogations of detainees, including providing advice on how to increase stress levels and exploit fears, according to new, detailed accounts given by former interrogators.
The accounts, in interviews with The New York Times, come as mental health professionals are debating whether psychiatrists and psychologists at the prison camp have violated professional ethics codes. The Pentagon and mental health professionals have been examining the ethical issues involved.
The former interrogators said the military doctors' role was to advise them and their fellow interrogators on ways of increasing psychological duress on detainees, sometimes by exploiting their fears, in the hopes of making them more cooperative and willing to provide information. In one example, interrogators were told that a detainee's medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate.
In addition, the authors of an article published by The New England Journal of Medicine this week said their interviews with doctors who helped devise and supervise the interrogation regimen at Guantanamo showed that the program was explicitly designed to increase fear and distress among detainees as a means to obtaining intelligence. [complete article]
AP (via MSNBC), June 23, 2005while I am no longer talking about Syrian, but US hypocracy, let me add this article by Avi Shlaim of Oxford. He points out how Israel's plan to destroy the 8,000 settler homes in Gaza before handing the region over to the Palestinians is a symbol for what is wrong with the US and Israel policies toward Arabs.
U.N. human rights experts said Thursday they have reliable accounts of detainees being tortured at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The experts also said Washington had not responded to their latest request to check on the conditions of terror suspects at the facility in eastern Cuba. That request was made in April.U.S. officials so far have allowed only the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Guantanamo detainees. The U.N. human rights investigators have been trying to visit since 2002. [complete article]
Withdrawal is a prelude to annexation
US hypocrisy is not new but Condi Rice has taken it beyond chutzpah
Wednesday June 22, 2005
Condoleezza Rice hailed the understanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the need to destroy the homes of the 8,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza as a historic step on the road to peace. This is a fatuous statement by one of the most vacuous US secretaries of state of the postwar era.
American foreign policy has habitually displayed double standards towards the Middle East: one standard towards Israel and one towards the Arabs. To give just one example, the US effected regime change in Baghdad in three weeks but has failed to dismantle a single Jewish settlement in the occupied territories in 38 years.
The two main items on America's current agenda for the region are democracy for the Arabs and a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. America, however, insists on democracy only for its Arab opponents, not for its friends. As for the peace process, it is essentially a mechanism by which Israel and America try to impose a solution on the Palestinians. American hypocrisy is nothing new. But with Dr Rice it has gone beyond chutzpah.
With Ariel Sharon, by contrast, what you see is what you get. He has always been in the destruction business, not the construction business. As minister of defence in 1982, Sharon preferred to destroy the settlement town of Yamit in Sinai rather than hand it to Egypt as a reward for signing a peace treaty with Israel. George Bush once described his friend Sharon as "a man of peace". In truth, Sharon is a brutal thug and land-grabber.
Sharon is also the unilateralist par excellence. The road map issued by the quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia) in the aftermath of the Iraq war envisaged three stages leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel by the end of 2005. Sharon wrecked the road map, notably by continuing to expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank and building an illegal wall that cuts deep into Palestinian territory.
He presented his plan for disengagement from Gaza as a contribution to the road map; in fact it is almost the exact opposite. The road map calls for negotiations between the two sides, leading to a two-state solution. Sharon refuses to negotiate and acts to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel. As he told rightwing supporters: "My plan is difficult for the Palestinians, a fatal blow. There's no Palestinian state in a unilateral move." The real purpose of the move is to derail the road map and kill the comatose peace process. For Sharon, withdrawal from Gaza is the prelude not to a permanent settlement but to the annexation of substantial sections of the West Bank.
Sharon decided to cut his losses in Gaza when he realised that the cost of occupation is not sustainable. Gaza is home to 8,000 Israeli settlers and 1.3 million Palestinians. The settlers control 25% of the territory, 40% of the arable land and most of the water. This is a hopeless colonial enterprise, accompanied by one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times. Bush publicly endorsed Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza and retain the four main settlement blocks on the West Bank without consulting the quartet - a reversal of the US position since 1967 that viewed the settlements as an obstacle to peace. Last year Sharon proposed handing the remaining Israeli assets in Gaza to an international body. Now he proposes to destroy the homes and farms.
The change of plan is prompted by Israeli fear that Hamas will claim credit for the withdrawal and raise its flag over the buildings vacated by the settlers. This is inevitable both because Hamas, not the PA, is the liberator of Gaza and because Israel is refusing to coordinate its moves with the PA. Another fear is that Hamas, supported by 35-40% of the Palestinian population, will emerge as a serious electoral challenger to Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement.
This is Condi's conundrum. If she is serious about spreading democracy in the Arab world she must accept the outcome of free elections; in most of the Arab world they would produce Islamist, anti-US governments. Israel has contributed more than any other country to this sorry state of affairs. Condi and the American right regard Israel as a strategic asset in the war on terror. In fact Israel is America's biggest liability. For most Arabs and Muslims the real issue in the Middle East is not Iraq, Iran or democracy but Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people and America's blind support for Israel.
America's policy towards the Middle East is myopic, muddled and mistaken. Only a negotiated settlement can bring lasting peace and stability to the area. And only America has the power to push Israel into such a settlement. It is high time the US got tough with Israel, the intransigent party and main obstacle to peace. Colluding in Sharon's selfish, uncivilised plan to destroy the Jewish homes in Gaza is not a historic step on the road to peace.
· Avi Shlaim is a British Academy research professor at St Antony's College, Oxford, and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.
Democracy's advance in Egypt brings dilemma for U.S.
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 21, 2005 (Thanks to Paul at War in Context)
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, called yesterday for a more inclusive, democratic process in Egypt, but sidestepped the continuing ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's biggest Islamic opposition group.
Speaking in Cairo, Ms Rice said President Hosni Mubarak's decision to allow an unprecedented, multi-party presidential election in September was an "important first step", but stressed the need for a more open, competitive contest."
President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. Now, the Egyptian government must put its faith in its own people," she said. "It must fulfil the promise it has made to its people, and to the entire world, by giving its citizens the freedom to choose."
Her silence on the Muslim Brotherhood's lack of free choices reflected the strong official Egyptian resistance to legalising the organisation. But it also illustrated Washington's larger dilemma in calling for greater Arab democracy while opposing Islamic groups such as Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon with proven electoral appeal. [complete article]