02 June 2008

A Congressional Cheerleader for Torture

My Congressman, Cliff Stearns (R, FL-6), visited Guanatanmo Bay Naval Base on May 8. In describing the trip in a press release on his website prior to departure, he said "I look forward to touring the facilities, evaluating the procedures, and getting a better picture of the role of Guantanamo in the War on Terror." After returning, he gleefully posted pictures of his trip, including this one:
I thought the pose looked familiar, especially in the context of foreign detainees, and then I remembered this photo:

It certainly looks to me that Congressman Stearns is capable of producing a "thumbs up" for Guantanamo Bay worthy of the Lynndie England "thumbs up" at Abu Ghraib. Congressman Stearns' attitude about Guantanamo Bay is so disgusting because the Bush Administration's use of Guantanamo Bay has been a blatant violation of international law from the start. Coupling the violations of the Geneva Convention with the fact that 55% of the detainees at Guantanamo have committed no "hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies" and only 8% of detainees are actual fighters for al Qaeda, it is a true mystery why the Congressman would visit this facility with such enthusiasm.

In the documents released by the military to the New York Times in its story on the use of retired military officers as military analysts for the press, we find this passage about treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, taken from the transcript of a briefing of the officers (see 06-F-01532 doc 07 from the April 13, 2007 entry, page 6):
In GTMO, that ego down translated down to telling the detainee that his mother and sister were whores, he was forced to wear women's lingerie, multiple allegations of his homosexuality, he was forced to dance with a male interrogator, he was strip searched for control measures, and he was forced to perform dog tricks on a leash.

Now, the basic line there - you say that sounds, you know, like I did - that sounds like degrading. Well, we said yes, it could be. The basic line though in the charter for those interrogations was humane treatment. And humane treatment is spelled out by the President. It's a safe, secure environment that provides medical care, food, water, and the basics of that person's security. Not this. Was this person injured, harmed?

Dog leash? At Guantanmo Bay? Where have we heard of that before? Oh, that's right, that comes from Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib, as well:

Clearly, the abuses at Abu Ghraib were not isolated instances of a few "bad apples" getting carried away, as many in the conservative press have suggested. From the Rent-a-General briefing excerpt above, it is clear that the very abuses England was prosecuted for are part of the approved program of detainee torture at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon's talking point, that this torture does not constitute abuse because the President says it is legal and because the detainees were in a safe, secure environment with medical care would be laughable were it not so disgusting.

So, when Congressman Stearns says, in his press release, that treatment of detainees complies with international law, there are those who would disagree with him. According to the National Lawyers Guild, both those who mistreated prisoners and those involved at all levels of approving of this abuse have violated international law:
The prohibition of torture is a jus cogens norm (these are principles of international law so fundamental that no nation may ignore them or attempt to contract out of them through treaties). The United States has consistently prohibited the use of torture through its Constitution, laws, executive statements and judicial decisions and by ratifying international treaties that prohibit it. The prohibition against torture applies to all persons in U.S. custody in times of peace, armed conflict, or state of emergency. In other words, the prohibition is absolute. However, the legal memoranda drafted by government lawyers purposely or recklessly misconstrued and/or ignored jus cogens, customary international law, and various U.S. treaty obligations in order to justify the unjustifiable, claiming that clearly unlawful interrogation “techniques” were lawful.
Further, the NLG also states, in the same white paper, that "all those who approved the use of torture and committed it—whether ordering it, approving it or giving purported legal advice to justify it—are subject to prosecution under international and U.S. domestic law."

The white paper from the NLG tells us that because torture of prisoners is under a jus cogens norm, it is not made legal by the flawed memos of John Yoo, or by the pronouncement of President Bush, or by a vote of Congress in the Military Commissions Act. That is why Stearns has it exactly backwards when he ends his report on the Guantanamo Bay trip with a reference to a released detainee who became a suicide bomber. Taking innocent people off the street, placing them beyond the reach of international law and then subjecting them to needless physical and psychological torture for years is a guaranteed recipe for creating enemies. It was Guantanamo Bay and the methods employed there that are directly responsible for the unleashing of that particular bomber.

Update (June 10): The photo is no longer on Cliff Stearns' website. Hmm, getting a bit nervous are we?

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