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Torture in Iraq
Article added on June 29, 2004
 
Torture in Iraq is probably the biggest scandal and public relations disaster the US government, the army and the CIA have faced since the Vietnam War. Of course, it is first and foremost a violation of human rights.

President Bush justly decided to move into Iraq in order to, among other things and not as the first goal, reestablish human rights. Now it turns out that the US government permitted or even ordered torturing and humiliating prisoners. The willing torturers could be found among the CIA and US troops. The idea that just a few ill-guided soldiers in Abu Ghraib are responsible for this torture, abuse and humiliation scandal no longer holds true.

The US Department of Justice, under Secretary Ashcroft, and the US Department of Defense, headed by Secretary Rumsfeld, have both produced memos and other documents which, in essence, permit or even encourage torture as a mean of getting information from terrorists and other detainees in order to get information, prevent future terror attacks and arrest fugitives.

For instance, the memoranda written by the Justice Department in 2002, especially some by Professor John C. Yoo of the University of California, support the legal arguments that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to detainees captured in Afghanistan during the war against the Taliban.

In the light of the memos it becomes clear that Guantanamo Bay was set up as a sort of no man's land without rules. The US government claimed that since it is not American soil strictly speaking, U.S. laws do not apply there. No wonder the torture techniques were first used in Guantanamo. It is a striking example of the legal loopholes the Bush administration has tried to create with regards to the Geneva Conventions. No wonder also that the US government sought - until a few days ago - that its troops were exempt from prosecution by the International War Crimes Tribunal.

The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday (June 28, 2004) that enemy combatants in both the US and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have legal rights, including access to courts, therefore undermining the government's strategy.
 
Only the State Department seriously but ineffectively opposed torture as a mean of getting information from terrorists. Secretary of State Colin Powell regains some credibility lost in his UN Security Council presentation, when he advanced reasons for going to war with Iraq.

In a memo addressed to the White House and dated January 26, 2002, Powell rightly argued that the advantages of applying the Geneva Conventions outweighed their rejection. The Secretary of State wrote that the new policy would "reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops...". Powell clearly realized that it would "undermine public support among critical allies" of the United States.

It is appalling to see that within the Bush administration too many were looking for a legal way to torture prisoners in a way that would prevent the torturers (and the US government) from being held accountable for their human rights violations in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and Iraq; Abu Ghraib, due to the availability of photos and videos, has become the symbol of abuse, torture and humiliation.

The Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal proves that - despite all denials coming from the Bush administration - the memos asking for a new policy regarding the treatment of prisoners were not just theoretical legal battles, but were put into practice. High ranking government officials paved the way for the CIA, US troops and others (including private companies hired by the US!) to torture and humiliate prisoners.

Donald Rumsfeld should be forced to step down as Secretary of Defense. In a memo dated December 2, 2002, he authorized the use of harsher methods in getting prisoners to cooperate. On January 15, 2003 Rumsfeld changed his mind after others had raised "concerns" about the techniques. On April 16, 2003, he opted for new aggressive, but less harsh techniques, including the removal of prisoners' clothing.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft's involvement in the torture and prisoner abuse scandal is well documented too, since he urged President Bush one week before his memo of February 7, 2002 (see below) to decide that the Geneva Conventions and other laws do not apply to Afghanistan. If John Ashcroft remains the head of the Justice Department, the meaning of justice, law, order and human rights will be debased.

As for President George W. Bush, he does not look very good in this scandal either. In a memorandum on the treatment of prisoners in Iraq of February 7, 2002, he stated that all detainees should be treated humanely. However, he followed the Justice Department's argument that the Taliban and al Qaeda detainees "do not qualify as prisoners of war". Since terrorists and not states were involved in the new type of war the US were facing, President Bush saw the need for "new thinking in the law of war". This last statement is ambiguous since we know that the departments of Justice and Defense successfully managed to impose their new policy of using violence and humiliation in order to get information out of prisoners, while avoiding the word torture. If this was to set the tone for the 21st century, our future looks grim indeed.
 

 
Articles, books, documents, sources, and further reading on the Iraq torture and humiliation scandal as well as the 9/11 attacks
 
- The Geneva Conventions.

- U.S. Department of Defense: 21st Century U.S. Army Law of Land Warfare Manual (FM 27-10). Rules, Principles, Hostilities, Prisoners of War, Wounded and Sick, Civilians, Occupation, War Crimes, Geneva Conventions. Progessive Managment, July 2003, 245 p. Get it from Amazon.com.
 
- 9/11 Commission Report. The Full Final Report of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States. W.W. Norton, Paperback, July 2004, 516 p. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

- Seymour M. Hersh: "The Gray Zone", article published in the The New Yorker online edition on May 15, 2004.
 
- Jess Bravin: "Pentagon Report Set Framework For Use of Torture", article published in the Wall Street Journal on June 7, 2004.

- Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism, March 6, 2003. A draft report.

- Memoranda written by the Justice, Defense and State Departments as well as by the White House, published by several US media.


 
 

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