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Why Does Bush Co Have Contempt for the Humane Treatment of Prisoners? [View All]

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-14-06 10:53 AM
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Why Does Bush Co Have Contempt for the Humane Treatment of Prisoners?
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The question posed in the title of this post is very important. The contempt that our countrys leaders have for international standards on basic human rights is a disgrace, and as Jonathon Weiler says in this article (where he criticizes the Washington Post for acting as a shill and apologist for the Bush administration), the fact that the United States is responsible for serious abuses at Gitmo and elsewhere does have profound implications for respect for human rights worldwide. This may be, IMO, the most important issue of our times, because (among other things) the deserved hatred that this kind of activity generates throughout the world could be sewing the seeds for World War III

Of course, it is almost impossible to fully explain WHY the Bush administration does this sort of thing, since we cant look inside their minds. But we can start by considering and addressing the typical response of a Bush follower: This is a war like no other war. All the normal rules are out the window. We are fighting for our lives, and if we arent as ruthless as the enemy our lives will be put in grave danger.

That argument has a lot of appeal to many people. Theoretically it even makes some sense. But we need to look past the rhetoric, into the realities of how this war is actually being waged.


Ignoring of the Geneva Convention by Bush Co

The two most egregious violations of the Geneva Convention regarding our treatment of prisoners IMO are the atrocious conditions under which most of them are held, including the exposure to torture, and the fact that they are held indefinitely without the need to charge them with a crime. Are there any remotely good reasons for this? If there are, our government isnt explaining what they are. Bush justifies our violation of international law simply by re-defining our enemy as unlawful enemy combatants. But international law is worthless if individual nations get to define it however it fits their own purposes.

Given that these actions violate international law (not to mention the fact that they violate basic moral principles, including those of the religion which George Bush claims to be guided by), shouldnt the burden at least be on our government to demonstrate why they feel these actions are necessary? Instead, our government simply expects us to take its word for the fact that these things are necessary. But what reason has it given us to trust it in that regard?


How we treat our prisoners

The scandal at Abu Ghraib prison is well known to most Americans because, due to the photographs that were made public, our national news media were forced to cover it. But one gets the impression from the coverage this scandal has received that the actions depicted in the photographs are isolated events undertaken by individual bad apples who occupy the lower ranks of our military.

But the problem is much more pervasive than that, and the source of the problem goes much higher.

An excellent account of the conditions at Guantanamo Bay is provided by Captain James Yee in his book, For God and Country. Yee was a Muslim Chaplain at Guantanamo Bay for several months, and consequently he got to observe first hand on a daily basis how prisoners were treated there. Here is his account of Camp X-Ray, where the first prisoners were held until they were transferred to Camp Delta (where accommodations were slightly better, in that the cages were about twice as large and included beds) three months later:

I couldnt believe I was looking at a place where humans were once held. There were hundreds of cages. four feet by six feet. The only protection from the blistering sun and heat was a flimsy tin roof that covered the cages. The prisoners were made to sleep on a thin mat on the dirty ground and a plastic bucket was placed in each cell for use as a toilet. Nothing about the scene was anything I would expect from an American prison.

As problematic as the physical environment in which the prisoners were held was the way that they were treated:

I was immediately struck by the harsh conditions in which the detainees were held. They were allowed out of their cages for fifteen minutes every three days, and only if they cooperated.

General Miller had a saying. The fight is on! This was a subtle way of saying that rules regarding the treatment of detainees were relaxed. The soldiers would get pumped up, and many came to work looking for trouble. Guards retaliated in whatever way was most convenient at the moment. Punishment often meant physical force. The troopers called it IRFing. Carried out by a group of six to eight guards called the Initial Response Force. put on riot protection gear. Then they rushed the block, one behind the other, where the offending detainee was. It sounded like a stampede. drenched the prisoner with pepper spray and then opened the cell door. The others charged in and rushed the detainee. tied the detainees wrists behind his back and then his ankles. then dragged the detainee from his cell and down the corridor. to solitary confinement.

A recent report from Amnesty International largely corroborates Yees accounts of the disgraceful conditions at Guantanamo and adds a lot more:

Reports from the detainees and their lawyers suggest that many have been subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment in Guantnamo or in other US detention centers. Some have embarked on a prolonged hunger strike, among them those who have requested not to be force-fed in order that they may be allowed to die. There have been numerous suicide attempts and fears for the physical and psychological welfare of the detainees increase as each day of indefinite detention passes.



Holding prisoners indefinitely and without charges

Our prisoners I mean illegal enemy combatants dont even have to be charged with a crime in order to justify their indefinite imprisonment. Here is a comprehensive review article (See Statistics section) on the subject. As of November 7th, 2005, 29% of the 505 prisoners being held there hadnt even had a judicial review of their case, after four years of imprisonment. And after several years of imprisonment only four had even been charged with a crime. And according to another Amnesty international report:

Guantnamo has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law. If Guantnamo evokes images of Soviet repression, "ghost detainees" or the incommunicado detention of unregistered detainees - bring back the practice of "disappearances" so popular with Latin American dictators in the past. According to U.S. official sources there could be over 100 ghost detainees held by the U.S.



Attempts by our administration to provide a legal basis for their actions

Amnesty International has pointed out the illegality of our treatment of prisoners on numerous occasions, and has called for us to shut down our illegal detention facilities. But our Justice Department lawyers have endeavored to come up with opinions that support the legality of the way we handle our prisoners, including the use of torture. Here is a description of what Alberto Mora, a whistleblower who recently worked in our Department of Justice had to say about these efforts:

Mora learned, to his horror, that the administration was engaged in high-level efforts to construct a legal rationale for torture and cruelty toward detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Mora was appalled by the reasoning among Pentagon and administration lawyers who were clearly trying to carve out a policy condoning authorization of such acts.

The article is littered with phrases from Mora like "wholly inadequate analysis of the law," "serious failures of legal analysis", "extreme and virtually unlimited theory" of the President's authority as Commander-in-Chief, "profoundly in error," "a mockery of the law" and "catastrophically poor legal reasoning." And here are Moras reasons for becoming a whistleblower on this subject:

My mother would have killed me if I hadn't spoken up. No Hungarian after Communism, or Cuban after Castro is not aware that human rights are incompatible with cruelty.


What is the source of our practice of torturing prisoners?

As I noted above, Captain Yee described in his book how the Commander of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, subtly encouraged the abusive treatment of prisoners there. His efforts in this regard must have been very much appreciated by the Bush administration, since they subsequently sent him to Iraq to make recommendations on how to improve intelligence collection at Abu Ghraib prison.

Alberto Moras description of how our Justice Department has attempted to justify our treatment of prisoners indicates high level involvement. Here is how Amnesty International characterizes the Bush administrations attempt to deal with this issue:

Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantnamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to re-define torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding ghost detainees (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practice torture.

And Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, Commander of the Abu Ghraib prison prior to being given the role of sacrificial lamb of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, testifying before the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration on January 21st, 2006, in New York, said that she believed that the President himself was involved in the decision to torture prisoners. Here is her statement on the origins of torture at Abu Ghraib:

General Ricardo Sanchez (commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq) himself signed the eight-page memorandum authorizing literally a laundry list of harsher techniques in interrogations to include specific use of dogs and muzzled dogs with his specific permission. All this came after Major General Geoffrey Miller, who had been specifically selected by the Secretary of Defense to go to Guantanamo Bay and run the interrogations operation, was dispatched to Iraq by the Bush administration to work with the military intelligence personnel to teach them new and improved interrogation techniques.

And this is what she testified that General Miller said to her:

It is my opinion that you are treating the prisoners too well. At Guantanamo Bay, the prisoners know that we are in charge and they know that from the very beginning. You have to treat the prisoners like dogs. And if they think or feel any differently you have effectively lost control of the interrogation.

And finally, as Seymour Hersh describes being told by a senior U.S. Army officer in his book, Chain of Command The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib:

No one in the Bush Administration would get far if he was viewed as soft, in any way, on suspected Al Qaeda terrorism. Yet despite all this, One consistent theme has been a lack of timely and reliable intelligence about the other side.


How dangerous are our detainees from the war on terror?

Do the illegal enemy combatants that we detain indefinitely in prison under such harsh conditions pose such a grave threat to our country that we cant even afford the risk of providing them with a trial? All the evidence that I have read on that subject suggests that the answer to that question is a resounding NO.

Chaplain Yee, in his book, commented that the more he got to know the detainees for whom he was charged with providing religious support, the more difficult it was to picture them as terrorists, or criminals of any kind. And he provided numerous details to support those conclusions. A CIA analyst, charged with investigating conditions at Guantanamo Bay, related to journalist Seymour Hersh, as described in Chain of Command, that over half the prisoners he saw didnt belong there, including two elderly prisoners who were clearly suffering from dementia. Major General Antonio Taguba, charged with investigating the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, said that A lack of proper screening meant that many innocent Iraqis were being detained in some cases indefinitely. And Taguba added that 60% of civilian prisoners at Abu Ghraib were deemed not to be a threat to society, which should have enabled them to be released. Similarly, the International Red Cross said that between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.

The fact that after four years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, only four (4) of hundreds of detainees had even been charged with a crime, and that almost 30% hadnt even had a judicial review, speaks volumes about our administrations interest in determining their guilt or innocence.


So why does Bush Co do this?

Ive now come back to my original question.

The inhumane treatment of our detainees from our War on terror appears to serve little or no useful purpose. There is little or no evidence that most or even many of these prisoners even have a substantive connection with terrorism, and in any event, their abusive treatment appears to have provided little if any useful information, according to numerous knowledgeable sources. Jonathan Weiler said in the summer of 2005 that perhaps Amnesty international chose the wrong words when they referred to Guantanamo Bay as the Gulag of our times. Now he is re-thinking that assessment:

certain questions have to be increasingly asked: to what lengths will the Bush administration go to stretch and mutilate language, to torture out of all meaning any prohibitions on executive authority? What will stop it from demeaning any claim the inalienable right to be free from cruelty and torture?

The only reasonable explanation that I can see for Bush Cos inhumane treatment of prisoners is that they hope this will legitimize their War on terror in the eyes of the American public, with the ultimate purpose of allowing themselves to assume dictatorial powers which they have already largely done. If anyone has a better explanation Id like to hear it.

Some Americans accept the disgraceful and illegal treatment of our prisoners because they have bought into the lie that this is a necessary evil, conducted for our protection. Those people should be asking themselves, If Bush Co continues to get away with this, who will be next?

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