Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Defining Torture

The current debate over the treatment of detainees in the war on terror has intensified on several fronts. First, reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq surfaced in April 2004. Almost since the beginning of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, there had been rumors of prisoner abuse in Iraq. With the convictions of several military officers at Abu Ghraib and the court martial of the military commanders assigned there at the time, the Bush Administration appeared to have taken a stand against these forms of prisoner treatment. However, the Administration does not consider detainees captured in Afghanistan to be protected by the Geneva Convention because they do not qualify as prisoners of war under international law, but have acknowledged Iraqi detainees are protected. The “Convention Against Torture” in Article I of the Geneva Convention, as agreed to by the Reagan Administration, defines tortures as “Any act which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him... information or a confession, punishing him for an act he... has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him.” (Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse)

Now there are reports of secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere under the control of the CIA and being used to detain and interrogate key terrorism suspects. Such a secretive system undermines American credibility under international law and calls into question our values concerning torture. Republican Congressional leaders are now calling for a probe into the leak of the existence of these secret prisons, citing national security concerns. Democrats are also willing to join in as long as there is an equal effort to investigate pre-war intelligence failures and the identity leak of a CIA agent, both as equally important to national security. Some Republicans are actually willing to investigate the prisons themselves, as some Democrats have suggested, not just the leak that led to their discovery, noting a concern for a lack of oversight.

In response to the damage inflicted upon America’s reputation of prisoner treatment under international law as outlined in the Geneva Convention, Republican John McCain has led the effort to restore the nation’s positive image. The Detainee Amendment was proposed by McCain on October 3, and was subsequently approved by the Senate by an overwhelming 90-9 vote. This attachment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, amendment #1977, would reaffirm the Army Field manual as the standard for all interrogations conducted under the U.S. Department of Defense and ban all forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners. This amendment has become necessary, according to McCain, because recent events undermine America’s international standing on prisoner treatment, endanger American prisoners of war, and combined with the Bush Administration’s legal position that the Convention Against Torture do not apply to foreigners held outside of the U.S., the rules need to be more clearly defined. In addition, prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay would also fall under this protection, even though they are not legally protected as prisoners of war.

The Vice President and 9 Republican Senators have publicly opposed this amendment, calling for an exemption for the CIA. John McCain was held in Vietnam as a prisoner of war for over 5 years and endured torture firsthand. Those who have argued against this amendment believe that it is critical to our national security that certain interrogation methods be an option for the CIA in order to extract critical information from terrorists. However, McCain is the only member of either Congress or the Administration who truly understands that any information extracted through interrogation tactics that fall under the definition of torture would prove to be unreliable, because a detainee will say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear in order to stop the pain. Some of the intelligence gathered concerning alleged Iraqi weapons development used to justify the Iraq invasion is believed to have been extracted in such a manner, and was deemed unreliable by elements of the CIA for that very reason.

Here is a source link for more on the McCain Detainee Amendment:


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