100 Days – Closing Guantanamo and Ending Torture

Amnesty International has launched it’s 100 Days campaign, calling on President-elect Barack Obama to make human rights a priority and undo the damage done by President Bush in the name of anti-terrorism.

In the first 100 days, Amnesty International is calling on the new administration to:

  • announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo;
  • issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;
  • ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.

Our local Amnesty International group has had the letters to soon to be President Obama out at local events (collecting them for AI to present to him at the right moment, maybe after January 20?).  Just joking, after Barack’s in office is obvious, although even AI can barely wait for Bush to leave, can they? 

You can also take action online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/100days

How did it come to this? In America?

Amnesty International is not alone.  A group of retired generals and admirals are also calling for President Barack Obama to end torture “from the moment of his inauguration” according to Reuters.

“We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” said retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general.

Gunn and about a dozen other retired generals and admirals, who are scheduled to meet Obama’s team in Washington, said they plan to offer a list of anti-torture principles, including some that could be implemented immediately.

They include making the Army Field Manual the single standard for all U.S. interrogators. The manual requires humane treatment and forbids practices such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning widely condemned as torture.

Other immediate steps Obama could take are revoking presidential orders allowing the CIA to use harsh treatment, giving the International Red Cross access to all prisoners held by intelligence agencies and declaring a moratorium on taking prisoners to a third country for harsh interrogations.

“If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that,” said retired Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, whose regiment in World War Two raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.

Torture is not patriotic.  Torture is also not effective. 

Matthew Alexander, an interrogator in Iraq talks in the Washington Post about how he refused to “bend the rules” and use torture, instead going by the U.S Army Field Manual to get the information to capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. “We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work”, he wrote. 

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.

As Alexander notes, not only is torture against his moral fabric and inconsistent with American principles.  “Torture and abuse cost American lives.”

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

So we should be free from torture and excuses for torture now that we’ll have a Democrat in office, right?  Well, actually I do hold a lot of hope for Obama on this one.  He’s been very consistent against torture. What’s disturbing, is that, as the New York Times and Salon report, Senators Feinstein and Wyden have shifted their previous strong stances against torture, to one of, umm, greater flexibility.

According to the Times:

[I]n an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. “I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,” she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: “The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were “legal, humane and noncoercive.” But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.

Salon reports clarifying statements from he Senators’ offices.  Ron Wyden’s office claims he is against torture, but the statement is actually quite wishy-washy.

As you may or may not be aware, under current law, the Army Field Manual can be revised by the Executive Branch without prior consent from Congress. This is to allow for the possibility of incorporating other legal, humane and noncoercive interrogation techniques that might be discovered to be effective in the future. Just because the Army Field Manual is currently the best available standard for interrogation does not mean we can’t do better.

Ah, so there are “legal, humane and noncoercive interrogation techniques” yet to be invented that the Army Field Manual somehow may not allow because they’ve banned torture or, err, “coercive techniques”, so we have to allow some wiggle room.

Feinstein’s clarification is even more disturbing.  According to Salon:

Sen. Feinstein has just now issued another statement, to Time‘s Scherer, asserting — much like Wyden just did — “that she still wants a law that mandates the Field Manual as the sole interrogation standard, but that she may be willing to be talked back from that position by the Obama Administration, if it chooses to do so.”  

So, she’s willing to consider torture (or “coercive methods”) if President Obama says so?

While I would hope this will never be an issue, the correct answer, Senator, is “No.”  No torture.  Period.  Torture would still be wrong even if President Obama were to order it, or his administration were to order it.  Does Senator Feinstein really believe torture is not okay under a Republican administration, but it is under a Democratic one?!!

This is not the American I believe in.

The America I Believe In doesn’t torture people or use cruel, inhuman treatment. . .doesn’t hold people without charge, without fair trials, without hope, and without end. . .doesn’t kidnap people on the street and ship them to nations known for their brutality. . .doesn’t condone prisoner abuse and excuse high-ranking government of-cials from responsibility for that abuse. . .doesn’t justify the use of secret prisons. . . and does not rob people of their basic dignity.

I’m joining with Amnesty International USA to restore The America I Believe In.

The America I Believe In leads the world on human rights. 




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