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WAR ON TERRORISM -
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Legalised brutality — the new face of America

Posted in the database on Sunday, July 17th, 2005 @ 19:46:18 MST (1083 views)
by Andrew Sullivan    Times Online  

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The terror attack on London is perhaps an appropriate background for an official report into the detention policies at Guantanamo Bay. We live in a world where the rules of even guerrilla warfare have shifted towards deeper and deeper levels of barbarism. It would be highly unlikely that western societies are not changed in response. Some loss of liberty is inevitable; some fraying of freedom and the rules of honour in war are unavoidable. The question is not whether this will happen but simply one of where we will draw new lines.

What rules, for example, should now apply for interrogating alleged or proven terrorists? Should the Geneva conventions still hold? The Bush administration has made up its mind in a series of legal and military decisions whose consequences are only just beginning to sink in. And what Guantanamo Bay represents, as last Wednesday’s Schmidt report proves, is undeniably a new code of post-Geneva American military conduct.

Remember Abu Ghraib? I can barely forget it. It struck me as unimaginable that American soldiers would treat detainees in such a degrading fashion. We were told the tactics were merely the improvisation of a few “bad apples” on the night shift. The president declared he was shocked.

But we now know he should not have been shocked. The Schmidt report reveals that the tactics used in Abu Ghraib had been deployed as official policy by the most experienced interrogators. Here’s a summary of the techniques used in Gitmo (Guantanamo) as relayed by Schmidt: interrogators “brought a military working dog into the interrogation room and directed it to growl, bark and show teeth”; some prisoners were restrained with “hand restraints connected directly to an eyebolt in the floor”; one interrogator “tied a leash to hand chains, led (the detainee) around the room through a series of dog tricks”; one prisoner was pinned down while a female interrogator straddled him; another had his entire head duct-taped because he refused to stop “chanting passages from the Koran”; another had an interrogator squat over his Koran on a table, while interrogating him; and on and on. Do these antics sound familiar? Remember the infamous picture of Lynndie England dragging an inmate around on a leash at Abu Ghraib? It was a technique of humiliation developed first at Guantanamo Bay.

The report, moreover, insisted that although some of these techniques were “abusive and degrading”, they were still “humane”. Yes, you read that Orwellian paradox right. One high-value detainee given “humane” treatment was isolated for 160 days. For 48 out of 54 consecutive days, he was kept awake for 20 hours at a time; he was forced to wear bras and thongs on his head; he was prevented from praying; he was forced to crawl around on a dog leash to perform dog tricks and “on 17 occasions interrogators poured water over the subject”.

Poured water? He was not taking a shower. He was being “regularly” subjected to the sensation of near-drowning, a technique developed by the French in Algeria. None of this, according to the report’s interpretation of Bush administration policy, amounted to legally defined “torture”.

When another high-value detainee resisted giving testimony, Donald Rumsfeld specifically authorised tougher methods. An interrogator posing as a member of the American navy relayed a message to the prisoner: “Interrogator’s colleagues are sick of hearing the same lies over and over and are seriously considering washing their hands of him . . . He told detainee that beatings and pain are not the worst things in the world. After all, after being beaten for a while, humans tend to disconnect the mind from the body and make it through. However, there are worse things than physical pain.

“Interrogators assured detainee that, eventually, he will talk, because everyone does. But until then he will very soon disappear down a very dark hole. His very existence will become erased. His electronic files will be deleted from the computer, his paper files will be packed up and filed away, and his existence will be forgotten by all. No one will know what happened to him and, eventually, no one will care.”

The detainee cracked and said he was “not willing to continue to protect others to the detriment of himself and his family”.

We are told that the interrogation provided good intelligence — a claim we have no way of measuring. Medics were present to make sure the abuse went up to the edge — but not beyond — what a human being could withstand. But even the forgiving Schmidt report found it went beyond what was technically legal under the American code of military justice. One commander initially lied about it: the consequences, however, were a few wrist-slaps.

The deeper problem is that allowing such techniques in one or two special cases is hard to contain. When Gitmo’s commander was sent to Abu Ghraib to “Gitmoise” it, we saw the results. Worse, the Schmidt report asserts that these techniques of abuse are now deemed part of the army field manual and apply even to legitimate prisoners of war under the Geneva conventions. That’s how they came to be applied in Iraq, against hundreds of people who turned out to be innocent.

The masked interrogator’s threat to “disappear” the detainee was not an idle one. The existence of “ghost detainees” who are not recorded or numbered and are hidden from the Red Cross has been documented in other American government reports. Many suspects have indeed been “disappeared” or rendered into the tender arms of Egyptian, Syrian or Uzbek regimes.

It is to America’s credit that it has vented this material. But it is also true that the evidence now shows that 9/11 has indeed changed America — into a country where brutal treatment of detainees is now legal. And it has all been done with legal cover and political deflection. Last Thursday, not a single major conservative website even mentioned the Schmidt report at all. Better to look away.

This is what the new world of terror can do to a country dedicated to human dignity and liberty. When President George W Bush said, after Abu Ghraib, that those images did not represent America, he sadly mis-spoke. Thanks to his own decisions legalising torture for “military necessity”, those images do indeed define part of Bush’s new America. Deep in the cages of Guantanamo Bay lies that saddening, sobering truth.



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