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Giving the Torturers a Pass

By       Message Marjorie Cohn     Permalink
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Reprinted from Consortium News


Reading the 499-page torture report just released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was a disgusting experience. Even after many years of writing books and articles about the Bush torture policy, I was unprepared for the atrocious pattern of crimes our government committed against other human beings in our name.
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One of the most hideous techniques the CIA plied on detainees was called "rectal rehydration" or "rectal feeding" without medical necessity -- a sanitized description of rape by a foreign object. A concoction of pureed "hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins" was forced into the rectum of one detainee. Another was subjected to "rectal rehydration" to establish the interrogator's "total control over the detainee." This constitutes illegal, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a humiliating outrage upon personal dignity.

Several detainees were waterboarded, a technique whereby water is poured into the nose and mouth to cause the victim to think he's drowning. One detainee in CIA custody was tortured on the waterboard 183 times; another was waterboarded 83 times. Waterboarding has long been considered torture, which is a war crime. Indeed, the United States hanged Japanese military leaders for the war crime of torture after World War II.

Other "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EIT) included being slammed into walls, hung from the ceiling, kept in total darkness, deprived of sleep -- sometimes with forced standing -- for up to seven and one-half days, forced to stand on broken limbs for hours on end, threatened with mock execution, confined in a coffin-like box for 11 days, bathed in ice water, dressed in diapers. One detainee "literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled."

The executive summary of the torture report was made public, but the 6,700-page report remains classified. The summary depicts the CIA at best, as keystone cops; at worst, as pathological, lying, sadistic war criminals. The CIA lied repeatedly about the effectiveness of the torture and cruel treatment. Interrogations of detainees were much more brutal than the CIA represented to government officials and the American public.

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Bush's CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden should be charged with crimes, along with their minions who carried out the torture.

Obama Violates Constitutional Duty

In light of the gruesome revelations in the torture report, it is high time President Barack Obama fulfilled his constitutional duty to enforce the law. The U.S. Constitution states the president "shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed." Yet Obama refuses to sanction prosecutions of those responsible for the torture.

The report documents torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, all of which violate U.S. and international law. The War Crimes Act punishes torture as a war crime. The Torture Statute (Statute) provides that whoever "outside the United States" commits or attempts to commit torture shall be imprisoned for not more than 20 years "and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life."

The statute defines torture as an "act intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another person within his custody or physical control."

When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Geneva Conventions, we promised to prosecute or extradite those who commit or are complicit in the commission of torture. A ratified treaty is part of U.S. law under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. Yet the Obama administration persists in its refusal to bring the culprits to justice.

On Jan. 11, 2009, nine days before Obama was sworn into office, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News confronted the newly elected president with the "most popular question on your own website, change.gov" -- whether Obama would investigate torture by members of the Bush administration. Obama responded:

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"I don't believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward, as opposed to looking backward. ... At the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders, lawyering up."

Now we know that many of those people at the CIA were using their extraordinary talents to devise new and more horrific ways to torture, humiliate, degrade and mistreat the people under their control.

To his credit, shortly after he was inaugurated, Obama signed an executive order banning torture. But hunger strikers at Guanta'namo are still force-fed, a practice that violates the Torture Convention, according to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT).

In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an investigation headed by veteran prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham. But, two years later, Holder announced that his office would investigate only the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi, who died while in CIA custody. Holder said that the Justice Department had "determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted." With that decision, Holder made clear that no one would be held accountable for the torture and abuse except possibly for the deaths of Rahman and al-Jamadi.

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http://www.marjoriecohn.com

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and immediate past president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is author of  'The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, and 

Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law (more...)
 

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