Posts Tagged ‘editorial’

Restore the Ideals

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

In our approach to the Fourth of July, The Salt Lake Tribune sees a disconnect between the American ideals celebrated on Independence Day and the American practices that have been authorized through US torture policy. In its Friday editorial, the Tribune cited Broken Laws, Broken Lives in the paper’s assessment of America’s significant departure from its own stated values. 

Last week also brought a new report by the group Physicians for Human Rights based on in-depth interviews and mental and physical evaluations of 11 detainees held for long periods in U.S. custody and then released without charge. The smorgasbord of cruelties visited upon these unfortunates included beatings, isolation, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, “stress positions,” threats of execution, forced nudity and sexual humiliation.    

Indeed, U.S. torture techniques are virtually indistinguishable from those favored by the Soviet secret police under Josef Stalin. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago, wrote that interrogators extracted ludicrous “confessions” from millions who had committed no crime. They, like U.S. detainees, endured temperature extremes, standing or squatting for prolonged periods, forced nakedness, deafening noise, bright lights, threats, isolation and sleep deprivation. 

In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev described the results: “How is it possible that a person confesses to crimes which he has not committed? Only in one way – because of applications of physical methods of pressuring him, tortures, bringing him to a state of unconsciousness, depriving him of his judgment, taking away his human dignity. In this manner were ‘confessions’ acquired.” 

The administration’s torture regime was revealed in early 2004 when photos of abused detainees held at Abu Ghraib were posted on the Internet. Predictably, 13 official investigations concluded that the episodes were the unauthorized work of lower-ranking soldiers. Then, as now, President Bush maintained that the United States does not torture, which, given what we know now, is a distinction without a difference. 

Retired Army Gen. Antonio Taguba, who headed a 2004 investigation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, in remarks accompanying the physicians’ study, wrote that “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” 

As we mark our nation’s birthday, perhaps we should think about the America we, through our inattention, have come to be. And vow to restore the ideals of the America we once knew, and still have it in us to be.

Inadequate Dialog on What Torture Looks Like

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Today’s Boston Globe editorial focuses on Broken Laws, Broken Lives and on the restoration by the courts of habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo prisoners.

Physicians for Human Rights arranged for extensive two-day medical examinations of former detainees, none of whom was ever charged with any crimes. The detainees said they had been subject to prolonged isolation, stress positions, temperature extremes, sexual and religious humiliation, menacing dogs, and death threats. As Leonard Rubinstein, the organization’s president, said last week, these “authorized techniques” led to unauthorized beatings, electric shocks, and sexual assaults, which prove, he said, “that once torture starts, it can’t be contained.”

The report does not name those who mistreated the detainees. Identifying them, and holding them accountable, is the responsibility of the US government. In a preface to the report, General Antonio Taguba, who led the Army’s investigation of Abu Ghraib, writes, “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” Repairing the harm this abuse has done to the nation’s name should begin with airing the issue in the campaign and lead to the punishment of those responsible.

The Globe protests that, despite the growing evidence of torture on and other war crimes by the US and the recent court rulings affirming rights that have been long denied, the torture issue has had little discussion in the US presidential campaigns.

Although the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has blackened the image of US power around the world, the issue has garnered only passing attention so far in the presidential race….

The decision by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit followed a Supreme Court ruling June 12, which restored the habeas corpus rights the Bush administration and Congress had taken from Guantanamo prisoners. The two court decisions and the human rights report are a withering rebuke of President Bush’s policies.

Until recently, Senator John McCain, the author of an amendment to ban torture in interrogating detainees, could point to a sharp difference with Bush on this issue. But in 2006 he voted to strip prisoners of habeas corpus rights, which allow them to challenge their imprisonment in court. Earlier this year, McCain voted to sustain Bush’s veto of a bill banning the CIA from using abusive interrogation methods. Senator Barack Obama opposed the 2006 law and favored the limits on CIA interrogations.

The Globe concludes:

Repairing the harm this abuse has done to the nation’s name should begin with airing the issue in the campaign and lead to the punishment of those responsible.

Physicians for Human Rights, 2 Arrow Street, Suite 301, Cambridge, MA 02138 | brokenlives[at]phrusa[dot]org | Tel 617.301.4219