Posts Tagged ‘war crimes’

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.

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.

Major General Antonio Taguba Discusses His 2004 Abu Ghraib Investigation

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

News reports and commentaries have been taking special note of Major General Antonio Taguba’s Preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives. We note on this site that “Maj. General Taguba led the US Army’s official investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal and testified before Congress on his findings in May, 2004.” Harry Kreisler interviewed Major General Taguba for the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

They discuss the relation of the military to the rule of law and the relevance of the Geneva Conventions to the War on Terror. In the discussion, the general analyzes the problems he found at the Abu Ghraib prison and talks about the aftermath of the investigation in Washington and for his career.


 

Television Coverage on CNN

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

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