We’ve had 7 long and shameful years of torture instituted and sanctioned by George Bush and Dick Cheney. Obama said on 60 Minutes tonight that he will close Guantanamo Bay and ban torture in order to “regain America’s moral stature in the world.” Most people have heard about Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and know that we have held terrorist suspects there, but most – myself included – haven’t known the extent to which Bush and Cheney have gone to take away human rights in the name of keeping our country safe.
Jane Mayer has written an excellent new book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. I heard Jane, a D.C.-based staff writer for The New Yorker, speak on a panel at the opening session of the Texas Book Festival on 11/2 in Austin. I was intigued by what she had to say and bought her book. It has been eye-opening.
Bush, Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield, and others claimed absolute power to do whatever they wanted because of 9/11. Cheney’s Chief of Staff David Addington and former Justice Department attorney John Yoo have led teams of attorneys and staff to twist and create their own interpretations of wording in the Geneva Conventions and other agreements like the Uniform Code of Military Justice on how to treat prisoners of war, including suspected terrorists. They have justified to themselves and to anyone who questioned them that our government, the CIA, FBI, and the military were within their rights to torture prisoners in order to get information that will supposedly keep our country safe.
Anyone who was even suspected of being a terrorist has been rounded up and held in various secret locations around the world. Thousands have been detained, including hundreds at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp – commonly known as Gitmo – where they have been deemed “enemy combatants.” The Bush Administration claimed these detainees had no rights – not even to an attorney or their day in court. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on 6/29/06 that detainees were entitled to minimal protections under the Geneva Conventions.
According to Mayer, most of the detainees at Gitmo have never been proven to actually be terrorists and yet they are still being held. They live in truly despicable conditions and those considered most likely to have been associated with Al Qaeda have been tortured beyond belief. Cheney and Bush believe that the more you torture a prisoner, the more likely they are to spill information; the more effective means has been shown to be to spend time getting to know the prisoner, gain his confidence, and then he will open up.
Just what atrocities have Bush and Cheney – and the orders often came directly from them to do specific acts of torture – committed? They have renditioned suspects, which means they captured them and had them taken to places outside the U.S. (so there would be no legal ramifications) like Egypt to be tortured and interrogated. These were often people not even proven to have done anything wrong. They paid huge sums of money to foreign countries to take these terror suspects and torture them. For example, $100 million was slipped into a bill in Congress to send to Afghanistan for housing a CIA detainee prison. You can read the Congressional Record of 11/7/05, which details this and the treatment of detainees.
They have approved 1)waterboarding, which involves forcing large amounts of water down a suspect’s throat and nose, 2)forcing prisoners to stand for hours (often in deep water and on tiptoes), 3)having prisoners stripped of their clothes and thrown in a box so small they had to curl in a fetal position and being kept there for a day or more, 4)subjecting detainees to sexual humiliation, 5)staging mock executions that detainees had to watch, 6)depriving prisoners of food, water, sleep, light, and human interaction, 6)pouring scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substances on detainees, 7)gouging a prisoner’s eyes out, 8)biting, 9)using dogs to terrify detainees, 10)making naked detainees wear dog collars and bark and act like a dog, and many more disturbing acts of violence.
It is disturbing enough that the United States has sanctioned and committed torture and held suspected terrorists for years with no ability to get legal counsel, but to read about just how far Bush and Cheney have taken their disregard for human rights and claim of absolute power defies belief.
These two men and the many others who colluded with them should be brought to justice, tried, sentenced, and sent to prison. There are many citizens and groups calling for this. The Bush Administration has so violated their power and the rights of thousands of human beings – including decent citizens in the U.S. who they spied on. Ironically, any U.S. prison would treat them far better than the torturous and nightmarish places where they imprisoned so many innocent people.
Human Rights Watch has a detailed suggested plan of just how Obama should repudiate the Bush Administration’s counterterrorism and torture practices. Obama has said he will close Guantanamo Bay, release some of the detainees, and give those suspected of terrorism a trial in the U.S. Finally, our long, shameful practice of torture – another form of terrorism – and gross human rights violations will come to an end.
HBO has aired an excellent special on this called “Taxi to the Dark Side.” It chronicles the story of the death of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver who was captured under the guise of being a terrorist and tortured to death. Tim Golden did a story on this in the New York Times. I highly recommend watching the video. Click here to watch it. It is important that we know about this.
Here’s our new leader talking tonight on 60 Minutes about what he will do.
Read about how our using torture has led to U.S. soldiers’ deaths.