It’s Official: US Abuse at Gitmo

While the images of U.S. solid­ers tor­tur­ing iraqi pris­on­ers at Al Grahib Prison in Badg­dad have been broad­cast around the world, US offi­cials have fre­quent­ly reas­sured us that con­di­tions at the U.S. deten­tion camp in Guan­ta­mano Bay, Cuba, were accept­able and in accord with the Gene­va Convention’s rules for treat­ment of pris­on­ers. As proof the Pen­ta­gon and Bush Admin­is­tra­tion have fre­quent­ly cit­ed the fact that the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross reg­u­lar­ly inspects prison con­di­tions at Guan­ta­mano. They for­got to tell us what they’ve seen.
A con­fi­den­tial report pre­pared by the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross this sum­mer found that con­di­tions at Guan­ta­mano Bay were “tan­ta­mount to tor­ture.” Strong words from a cau­tious inter­na­tion­al body. Because of the way the IRC works, its reports are not made avail­able to the pub­lic but instead pre­sent­ed to the accused gov­ern­ment, in the hope that they will cor­rect their prac­tices. In pred­i­ca­ble fash­ion, the Bush Admin­stra­tion pri­vate­ly denied any wrong­do­ing and kept the IRC find­ings secret. In a dis­play of incred­i­ble audac­i­ty it then defend­ed itself _from oth­er accu­sa­tions of torture_ by cit­ing the IRC’s pres­ence at Guan­tanamo, con­ve­nient­ly omit­ting the IRC’s strongly-worded crit­i­cisms. Amaz­ing really.
The IRC report is still secret. We only know of it second-hand, from a memo obtained by the _Times_ that quotes from some of its find­ings (“Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantanamo“, Nov 29). What kind of stuff is going on there? The _Times_ recent­ly inter­viewed British pris­on­ers who had been detained in Afghanistan and iraq and sent to Guan­tanamo Bay. Here’s one story:
bq. One one reg­u­lar pro­ce­dure was mak­ing unco­op­er­a­tive pris­on­ers strip to their under­wear, hav­ing them sit in a chair while shack­led hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forc­ing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loud­speak­ers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to max­i­mum levels.
It’s not nee­dles under fin­ger­nails or elec­trodes to the pri­vates, but it is indeed “tan­ta­mount to tor­ture.” While it was hard to believe these pris­on­ers’ sto­ries when they were first pub­lished a few months ago, they become much more cred­i­ble in light of the IRC conclusions.
We still don’t know about what’s hap­pen­ing in the camp. The Bush Admin­is­tra­tion has the pow­er, not to men­tion the duty, to imme­di­ate­ly release Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross reports. But the Unit­ed States has cho­sen to sup­press the report. No tor­tur­ing gov­ern­ment has ever admit­ted to its actions. Sad­dam Hus­sein him­self denied wrong­do­ing when _he_ ran the Al Grahib prison and used it for tor­ture. We rely on bod­ies like the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross to keep us honest.
There are those who defend tor­ture by appeal­ing to our fears, many of which are indeed ground­ed in real­i­ty. We’re at war, the ene­my insur­gents are play­ing dirty, Osama bin Laden broke any sort of inter­na­tion­al con­ven­tions when he sent air­lin­ers into the World Trade Cen­ter. Very true. But the Unit­ed States has a mis­sion. I believe in the ide­al­is­tic notion that we should be a bea­con to the world. We should always strive for the moral high ground and invite the world com­mu­ni­ty to join us. We haven’t been doing that late­ly. Yes it’s eas­i­er to fol­low the lead of some­one like Sad­dam Hus­sein and just tor­ture any­one we sus­pect of plot­ting against us. But do we real­ly want him as our role model?