Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Secret ICRC Report on Torture: More Evidence of Criminal Activity

In February of 2007, The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded a secret report into the treatment of Al Qaeda detainees by the Bush Administration. Journalism professor and author Mark Danner, recently received a copy of this report and has posted excerpts and summaries of the findings. Conclusions that were reached in this report indicate that the detainees were subjected to treatment that "constituted torture" and violated international law.

I have written many entries on the subject of torture and many details in this report that pertain to techniques used on detainees is not new information. What is significant, as Danner has noted in an interview with the Washington Post, is that the Red Cross has labeled these practices as both torture and a violation of international laws:

Danner said the organization's use of the word "torture" has important legal implications. "It could not be more important that the ICRC explicitly uses the words 'torture' and 'cruel and degrading,' " Danner said in a telephone interview. "The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words, they have the force of law."

The ICRC conducted various interviews with a number of detainees who have been held by the United States and all of them recounted very similar accounts (down to specific details) of situations that they have experienced. From Danner's account of the report:

In virtually all such cases, the allegations made are echoed by other, named detainees; indeed, since the detainees were kept “in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention” throughout their time in “the black
sites,” and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantánamo,
the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. “The ICRC wishes to underscore,” as the writers tell us in the introduction, “that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen adds particular weight to the information provided below.”

What kind of treatment did these detainees recount? Take a look at the Introduction to this report:



1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program

1.1 Arrest and Transfer

1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention

1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment

1.3.1 Suffocation by water

1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing

1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking

1.3.5 Confinement in a box

1.3.6 Prolonged nudity

1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music

1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water

1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles

1.3.10 Threats

1.3.11 Forced shaving

1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food

1.4 Further elements of the detention regime….

This is what this country has become and the type of acceptable treatment that the Bush Administration approved. Can it become any clearer?

After Danner's lengthy analysis of the report he lists definitive conclusions that we are able to draw in the wake of the ICRC report. They include, and I paraphrase:

- Beginning in the Spring of 2002, the Bush Administration began to torture captives with the approval of the Bush Administration and other high ranking government officials in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law.

- President Bush and other high ranking government officials repeatedly lied about these policies to international organizations and to the American public in speeches, press conferences, and interviews.

- The U.S. Congress was aware of and had information pertaining to torture policies that were being implemented by the Administration, yet passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 to protect those responsible for such policies from the War Crimes Act.

- Democrats who had an opportunity to filibuster the bill, did not do so due to the mid-term elections. Democrats were worried that they would be labeled as soft of terror and on terrorists.

- The political damage done to the reputation of the United States and to its constitutional ideals and liberties has been vast and enduring.

These are high crimes and though I seem to stress this in the majority of my posts on this topic, the need for criminal investigations cannot be stressed enough. The information of this investigation by the ICRC comes during a moment when former Vice President Dick Cheney continues to go on network television in defense of these policies and claim that any variation of said policies is making this country more susceptible to attack.

Why is there such a disconnect with how we discuss these issues in the media and the verifiable facts of these policies? Perhaps an answer to this is how we continue to battle more over semantics than actually investigating those who worked to implement these policies. Take the Washington Post article that discusses this very ICRC report...their headline puts the word "torture" in quotation marks. It is, at this point, a bit absurd to continue to pretend that there is some ambiguity to the question of whether the techniques used were torture. Andrew Sullivan helps break it down to the basics and Mark Danner says:

DANNER: I think the definitional question is extremely important, and as I mentioned a moment ago, I think it’s extremely important to get by it already.
We’re debilitated in that by some degree by the practices of the American press,
frankly, which is that as long as the president or people in power continue to cling to a definition that they assert is the truth — as President Bush did when it came to torture, he said repeatedly the United States does not torture — the press feels obliged to report that and consider the matter as a question of debate.

The evidence that continues to pile up in regard to these matters requires that we get beyond this media mental block of debatable semantics that not only work to misleadingly frame a debate that we shouldn't be engaged in, but gives the whole conversation a creepy Orwellian tone. We should not get caught up in debating whether we should use "torture" or "enhanced interrogation techniques", or another vague term. We should be focused on the reality of the actual policies that were implemented on detainees and how they broke serious laws and resulted in deterioration of who we are as a country.

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