Posts Tagged ‘major general antonio taguba’

Kristof Calls for a National Truth Commission on Torture

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

In this morning’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof responds to Major General Antonio Taguba’s call for accountability in the Preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives.

When a distinguished American military commander accuses the United States of committing war crimes in its handling of detainees, you know that we need a new way forward.

“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated abuses in Iraq, declares in a powerful new report on American torture from Physicians for Human Rights. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

The first step of accountability isn’t prosecutions. Rather, we need a national Truth Commission to lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing.

That was what South Africa did after apartheid, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it is what the United States did with the Kerner Commission on race and the 1980s commission that examined the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Today, we need a similar Truth Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the abuses in the aftermath of 9/11.

Kristof lists some of the reasons why a truth commission is called for:

It’s a national disgrace that more than 100 inmates have died in American custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo. After two Afghan inmates were beaten to death by American soldiers, the American military investigator found that one of the men’s legs had been “pulpified.”

Moreover, many of the people we tortured were innocent: the administration was as incompetent as it was immoral. The McClatchy newspaper group has just published a devastating series on torture and other abuses, and it quotes Thomas White, the former Army secretary, as saying that it was clear from the moment Guantánamo opened that one-third of the inmates didn’t belong there.

McClatchy says that one inmate, Mohammed Akhtiar, was known as pro-American to everybody but the American soldiers who battered him. Some of his militant fellow inmates spit on him, beat him and called him “infidel,” all because of his anti-Taliban record.

Kristof mentions in passing the fundamental problem:

[T]he US military taught interrogation techniques borrowed verbatim from records of Chinese methods used to break American prisoners in the Korean War — even though we knew that these torture techniques produced false confessions.

The SERE program, through which such techniques were adapted and disseminated as a matter of policy, fostered an environment in which torture appears to have become standard operating procedure. As PHR President Len Rubenstein has said, “once torture starts it can’t be contained.” Despite the many earlier revelations, Broken Laws, Broken Lives provides medical evidence of such abuses. With only 11 former detainees as the subjects, the report may only be scratching the surface.

The truth must be told, the criminals prosecuted and, as PHR CEO Frank Donaghue emphasizes, reparations to the victims must be made, including compensation and medical and psycho-social services.

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.

Taguba Calls on Media to Go after Those Who Authorized Torture

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

In a rare public comment today, Major General Antonio Taguba told the Honolulu  Advertiser:

I hope the media will (go) after those who were intimately responsible for creating this situation while disregarding the rules of law.

Honolulu Advertiser columnist William Cole placed Major General Taguba’s widely quoted Preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives in the context of the integrity and rigor with which he purusued the investigation of abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004.

When Taguba testified before the Senate in May 2004, he outlined the standard according to which he conducted his investigation:

As I assembled the investigation team, my specific instructions to my teammates were clear: maintain our objectivity and integrity throughout the course of our mission in what I considered to be a very grave, highly sensitive and serious situation; to be mindful of our personal values and the moral values of our nation; and to maintain the Army values in all of our dealings; and to be complete, thorough and fair in the course of the investigation. Bottom line: We will follow our conscience and do what is morally right.

Taguba concluded that the brutality that shocked the world when it was revealed in the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs was, in fact, “systematic and illegal abuse.”

Thus Major General Taguba’s words in the Preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives are consistent with the courage, integrity and commitment to the rule of law, which he has now exemplified for years.

In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, 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.

Major General Taguba is “a Study in Honor”

Friday, June 20th, 2008

So wrote Nicholas Kristof, and so seems to be the sentiment all around the blogosphere. Building up to his mention of Major General Taguba’s Preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives, Kristof writes:

One of the most shameful episodes of the post 9/11 era has been the way the U.S. Government — particularly the Pentagon under Don Rumsfeld — oversaw the torture and abuse of supposed terror suspects, even though there often was little or no serious evidence against them. We’ll remember Guantanamo the way we remember the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Yet in this disgraceful episode, there have been some people fighting to salvage the nation’s honor. The defense lawyers for the Guantanamo inmates have done superb work, courageously bucking the political tide. The courts haven’t done so badly either. But some of the people I’m most impressed by are the military lawyers and other officers who saw what was happening and were so repulsed that they blew the whistle loudly — offending the Pentagon and sometimes shortening their careers. They went against their cohort, their bosses and to some extent their culture, for the sake of terror suspects of different nationalities and different religion, simply because they thought what was happening was illegal or inhumane.

Major General Taguba’s remark was also picked up by Dan Froomkin on his Washington Post blog, Andrew SullivanJake Tapper, Jill Hussein CThink Progress, the MoJo Blog, TChris (TalkLeft), On Deadline, firedoglakeKevin Drum, a number of Daily Kos dairies, and many more

A number of bloggers, like TChris and Jill Hussein C, seem pessimistic about the likely impact of yet more revelations about US torture. Andrew Sullivan is, however, outraged:

I started this war not as a Bush-hater, but as a Bush-defender. I started it dismissing the first rumors of torture at Gitmo as enemy propaganda. But no one with open eyes could have believed that it was made up even four years ago, let alone now. But, yes, with every new revelation and every spurious defense and every new lie, it is impossible not to feel anger. In fact, in my view, it is vital to feel anger. And not to let it subside.

Firedoglake blogger looseheadprop suggests further that the particular revelations in Broken Laws, Broken Lives have special significance.

The PHR report not only catalogues what the prisoners say happened to them, it includes the steps taken by the physicians to corroborate via physical exam, including bone scans and other testing to establish proof of scarring consistant with the stories told by the prisoners.

In seems that the interrogators focused their work on injuries to soft tissue believing it would not produce lasting scars and it would be the word of a detainee against the word of the US government.

However, some of the electroshock treatments left scars on the skin and some of the beatings left telltale scarring on the bones. Not noticeable to the naked eye, but provable with a bone scan. What PHR has done is put together the kind of forensic evidence needed to actually convict in a war crimes court.

I’m not saying that the information in this report, or the underlying backup documentation make a triable case all by themselves. I doubt that it does.

But this is a HUGE development in terms of the feasibility of bringing a war crimes trial and actually getting a conviction

Major General Taguba:

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, 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.

The former detainees in this report, each of whom is fighting a lonely and difficult battle to rebuild his life, require reparations for what they endured, comprehensive psycho-social and medical assistance, and even an official apology from our government.

But most of all, these men deserve justice as required under the tenets of international law and the United States Constitution.

And so do the American people.

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