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An interview with Andy Worthington, author of "The Guantánamo Files"

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Andy Worthington: Keeping a lid on the torture stories, in a nutshell. It appears that the British government has been shockingly complicit in feeding questions to proxy torturers in Pakistan, during the interrogations of captured British nationals, and the example of Binyam, when they fed questions to US intelligence, while he was being tortured in Morocco, was clearly related to this. In Europe, a big issue that is still being dealt with is the complicity of various governments with the Bush administration -- from turning a blind eye to rendition flights to actively assisting in rendition cases -- which will be a long struggle, as complicity in rendition and torture involves war crimes and no one wants to admit liability.

In the States, I’m delighted to see that we now have a government that is, I believe, committed to ending the brutal and counter-productive lawlessness of the Bush administration. There have already been disappointments, of course -- one being the Justice Department’s refusal to consider the Jeppesen case, in which a Boeing subsidiary is accused of being the CIA’s travel agent for torture -- but I can understand why Obama would not want to open the floodgates to claims that all US personnel involved in the “War on Terror” are potentially guilty of war crimes.

However, I believe that it’s not enough just to end the crimes without calling the criminals to account. I’d like to see those who made the decisions -- in the White House, in the Pentagon, and in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel -- be pursued in the courts, and I believe that not doing so is untenable in the long-term, not only because the US is obliged to seek the prosecution of those who break the terms of the anti-torture treaties, but also because, otherwise, it sends out a message that the president and his associates are, as they essentially asserted all along, above the law, and that whatever they do can be overlooked so long as they’re voted out of office at the end of it.

“Animal House on the Night Shift,” was how former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger mistakenly described the Abu Ghraib abuses in his report on the scandal in 2004 (as the abusers were only following the rules -- or the specific lack of rules -- laid down by the administration), but if Bush, Cheney, Addington, Rumsfeld, Haynes and others are allowed to get away with their crimes, the truth will be established that you can have “Animal House in the White House” for eight years -- with torture dungeons thrown in for good measure -- and no one can do anything about it.

Elizabeth Ferrari: There have been reports here in the US that the abuse of the remaining prisoners at Gitmo is ramping up, in the twilight of that operation. Is that true as far as you know?

Andy Worthington: I would say that it’s possible, and that I have no reason to doubt the statements made to Reuters by Ahmed Ghappour, a lawyer with the legal charity Reprieve. I was pleased to see that the Pentagon’s report on conditions at the prison (PDF) recommended that prisoners should be allowed more opportunities to socialize, to address the horrendous isolation to which the majority of the men are subjected, but I was disappointed that the report concluded that force-feeding hunger strikers is humane, when it is patently not, and that the casual brutality of the guard teams who quell even the most minor infractions of the rules with extreme violence was not even addressed. The only way the prison can really conform to the Geneva Conventions is when it’s been closed down.

Elizabeth Ferrari: In the US, we have a new president. What would you like to say to him? His new head of CIA defended rendition at his confirmation hearing.   What are your thoughts for Mr. Panetta and for President Obama?

Andy Worthington: I’d like to just remind him of his words in August 2007, and to ask him to fulfill all his promises. He said, “In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantánamo, we have compromised our most precious values. What could have been a call to a generation has become an excuse for unchecked presidential power … When I am President, America will reject torture without exception … As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists … The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.”

There really are no half-measures. With Obama’s promise, America has emerged from an extraordinarily bleak period in which the fear of terror -- however legitimate -- combined with the leadership of men devoted to something that closely resembled dictatorial power, sullied America’s reputation, and laid waste to the principles on which the country was founded. There is a better way, and it involves dialog, and not the “dark side” -- dialog with one’s enemies, and dialog with those who have been captured. Only a stupid man believes that you can beat the truth out of a prisoner.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon -- click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed.

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Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.
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