Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Rigged Guantánamo Trials and Torture

All cruelty springs from weakness.

— Seneca

One of the Bush administration's chief defenses, besides a mostly gutless and complicit Congress and press, is that the harm they've done is so deep and widespread it's hard to keep track of it all. That said, the Guantanamo show trials and the use of torture are as fundamental a betrayal of American ideals as there can be, and even if the American press isn't watching, the world is. All of these pieces should be read or listened to in their entirety, but I'll provide some excerpts.

"Rigged Trials at Gitmo" (2/20/08) in The Nation, by Ross Tuttle:

According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantánamo's military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees to foreclose the possibility of acquittal...

When asked if he thought the men at Guantánamo could receive a fair trial, Davis provided the following account of an August 2005 meeting he had with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes--the man who now oversees the tribunal process for the Defense Department.

"[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time," recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, which had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

"I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process," Davis continued. "At which point, [Haynes's] eyes got wide and he said, 'Wait a minute, we can't have acquittals. If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can't have acquittals. We've got to have convictions.'"

Democracy Now!: "Rigged Trials at Guantanamo (2/20/08): Amy Goodman speaks with Ross Tuttle and Scott Horton.

"The Great Guantánamo Puppet Theater" (2/21/08) by Scott Horton:

The American media seems by-and-large not to understand the “justice” angle of the military commissions debate. They instantly want to run into the weeds with extended discussions of evidentiary issues, and they miss the glaring question that hangs over the entire affair. And now a week into the process, the proposed trials have taken a strange twist. Will the American media at last recognize that the real questions about this process go to the fundamental independence of the courts? Dramatic disclosures in an article published yesterday in The Nation require them to take a close look at it. So far, they don’t seem to be willing to do so...

Colonel Davis is not just any JAG officer. He was an up-and-comer widely viewed in his peer group as someone in line for a star, and ultimately perhaps, to be the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General. He is also no whining civil libertarian, but rather a no-nonsense conservative, whose prior scraps with civilians in the Pentagon came over the restraints they put on his ability to charge forward and prosecute cases...

But as foreign media were regularly observing, there was something extremely fishy about these “military” commissions. In fact one of the major insights critics offered up was that they were not really “military” at all. They had the appearance of being “military,” because the courtroom scene on which all the cameras focused were filled with men and women in uniform. But as the Hicks case showed, the military actors were all like so many marionettes. Behind the scenes, the puppet masters were pulling the strings. And the puppet masters were suspiciously partisan political figures...

"Guantánamo Puppet Theater: Intermezzo" (2/22/08), by Scott Horton:

The Bush Administration has been fighting a failing propaganda war over its plans to try six “high-value” terrorism suspects in Guantánamo. The criticism all around the world has been withering. Only the U.S. media seems to cut them some slack. Matthew Lee at the Associated Press reported last week that the State Department had issued a cable to embassies around the world with some helpful hints about how to handle critical comments.

“International Humanitarian Law contemplates the use of the death penalty for serious violations of the laws of war,” the cable, which was written by the office of the department’s legal adviser, John Bellinger, says. “The most serious war criminals sentenced at Nuremberg were executed for their actions,” it said.

The cable makes no link between the scale of the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis, which included the Holocaust that killed some 6 million European Jews and other minorities, and those allegedly committed by the Guantanamo detainees, who are accused of murder and war crimes in connection with September 11, in which nearly 3,000 people died. But it makes clear that the American administration sees Nuremberg as a historic precedent in asking for the September 11 defendants to be executed.

Bellinger’s mastery of international humanitarian law is demonstrated by his recent debatewith Philippe Sands, posted at the Guardian, in which his remarks turned him into a laughing stock. When I showed Bellinger’s statement to a prominent JAG prosecutor recently, I got an immediate response. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this Administration actually appreciated Nuremberg and respected what was accomplished there. But of course they don’t.”

Jonathan Turley (via Froomkin):

While it received relatively little attention, Bradbury not only acknowledged a formal program of waterboarding, he also casually distinguished President Bush's approach from historical models such as waterboarding by the Spanish Inquisition. Though Bradbury insisted that the "only thing in common is, I think, the use of water," he omitted that other common denominator: pain. Indeed, the primary difference appears to be that the administration rejected water ingestion rather than water saturation to cause the pain. It turns out that the administration thought seriously about its own style of waterboarding and opted for a Khmer Rouge style over the Spanish style.

For civil libertarians, it was like having the Inquisition's Toms de Torquemada calmly testifying on "10 charming facts about torture." Yet, while members of Congress are falling over themselves this month to demand criminal charges in the scandal over performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, there is a conspicuous silence in the wake of Bradbury's torture tour de force...

Even our closest allies, such as Britain, have stated the obvious: The United States is now an official member of torture-practicing nations.

Obsidian Wings: "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!" (2/25/08): Hilzoy examines the retirement of General Counsel of the Department of Defense William J. Haynes II, one of the central players in authorizing torture. I'll also link my earlier post on Alberto Mora because of Haynes' key role in lying to and obstructing Mora in his efforts to uphold the law.

TomDispatch: "Visiting the Torture Museum: Barbarism Then and Now" by Karen J. Greenberg:

The similarity in methods across a torture gulf of at least four centuries would have been but the first of many striking lessons for our modern moment from a tour of this museum, only steps from the famed Charles Bridge with its own medieval and religious statues, a museum modest in everything but its subject matter. Perhaps the eeriest lesson would be just how many of the torture techniques illustrated in these rooms are still painfully recognizable, are, in fact but minor variations on those practiced today in America's name...

And don't forget the Vigil or Cradle of Judas, which today we far more mundanely term "sleep deprivation." Or what about the medieval use of cold water sprinkled onto naked bodies (another kind of water torture), today mimicked with what official documents call "exposure to freezing temperatures"? Of course, with those infamous photos from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in mind, you would have no trouble recognizing the persistent themes of nakedness and sexual humiliation endemic to what no one back in the less civilized days of the Inquisition hesitated to label "torture"...

Had Stephen Bradbury come along with you, eager to discover the differences between pre-Enlightenment torture and today's "enhanced interrogation" methods, he might feel satisfied indeed as he passed through this part of the exhibit -- if, that is, he avoided the accompanying texts that sit on small easels near these horrifying arrays of instruments. For on them, you and he would find the theory that lay behind the practices of those torturers from a barbaric past, and he would discover that those torturers of old, like his colleagues in the Bush administration, distinguished between torture and Torture Lite. The former was indeed meant to result in permanent damage or simply death. The latter was consciously meant to cause "mere" suffering, however protracted.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

I want waterboarding to become a fashion statement now.