Thursday, September 24, 2009

Getting U.S. torture history right

The ACLU has launched a new site, The Torture Report, to catalog what was done under the Bush administration. It will gradually and with great care about sources create a narrative of our national shame.

Even someone who has followed this as closely as I have can learn from their report. For example I discovered that the international bodies that seek to promote legal, humane treatment of prisoners were already on the watch for U.S. government misconduct by the end of September 2001. Years of experience with authoritarian governments had alerted them to the warning signs.

At the time, few outside the administration knew that it was plotting an antiterrorism strategy that recognized almost no legal restrictions, and no one outside a handful of "special access" senior administration officials knew that its plans specifically included enforced disappearance and abusive interrogations.

Nevertheless, the international community was sufficiently alarmed by what the phrase "all necessary and appropriate force" [in the Congressional AUMF legislation] might entail and what administration rhetoric might be signaling that it felt compelled to remind the United States of its international obligations. On September 27, 2001, a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross met with State Department officials.

Two weeks later, the United Nations Committee Against Torture issued this statement: "Although mindful of the terrible threat to civilised society of international terrorism, the Committee against Torture reminds State parties of the non-derogable nature of most of the obligations undertaken by them in ratifying the Convention against Torture."

Will the Obama administration, despite pretty protestations such as the President just made at the U.N., be the subject of the next torture report?

He makes an emphatic speech [:36]. But the temptation to evade the laws of civilization and the apparent political payoff for acting "tough" remain high in any administration. Talk must be backed up by action. So far, the administration's unwillingness to open the can of worms Bushco left behind and its continued stonewalling on the prisoners do not suggest a good resolution.


Nell said...

U.S. personnel have tortured and abused prisoners, including as part of "interrogations" since Obama took office.

Aside from the beatings administered at Guantanamo to prisoners undergoing "cell extraction" for forced feeding (itself torture, though a federal judge has ruled otherwise), recently a group of FBI, as part of a contracting fraud case, conducted a kidnaping from Afghanistan of a Lebanese contractor employee who had, they said, lied about something-or-other in the fraud case. He was stripped, hooded, cavity searched, held in isolation in a cold cell, threatened with never seeing his family again during interrogation, then flown (with goggles and earmuffs and gag) to Virginia for prosecution.

I'm done with this president; he's a fraud, plain and simple.

Nell said...

People can be forgiven for knowing nothing of the FBI torture-accompanying-"legal" rendition.

Exactly two bloggers that I'm aware of covered this story: Scott Horton and bmaz at Emptywheel. Sorry, don't have links handy. It was in early August, I think.

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