Sunday, October 17, 2004

More on Guantánamo

A story in today’s New York Times indicates that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have been routinely abused in spite of frequent assertions to the contrary by the Defense Department. The individuals interviewed by the Times are described as "military guards, intelligence agents, and others, . . . some of whom witnessed or participated in the techniques and others who were in a position to know the details of the operation and corroborate their accounts." All spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.

Here is some of what those interviewed by Times reporter Neil A. Lewis described:

One regular procedure that was described by people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility at the naval base in Cuba, was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and screamingly loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels, said one military official who witnessed the procedure. The official said that was intended to make the detainees uncomfortable, as they were accustomed to high temperatures both in their native countries and their cells.

Such sessions could last up to 14 hours with breaks, said the official, who described the treatment after being contacted by The Times.

"It fried them," the official said, who said that anger over the treatment the prisoners endured was the reason for speaking with a reporter. Another person familiar with the procedure who was contacted by The Times said: "They were very wobbly. They came back to their cells and were just completely out of it."

Does this sort of interrogation technique rise to the level of torture? David Scheffer, who served as the United States' first Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, believes it does. "I don’t think there's any question that treatment of that character satisfies the severe pain and suffering requirement, be it physical or mental, that is provided for in the Convention Against Torture," he said.

Defenders of the interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo claim that they have produced useful intelligence that has saved American lives. This claim, however, was contradicted by Lt. Col. Anthony Christino, a twenty-year veteran of U.S. military intelligence, earlier this month. Regardless, the international law prohibition against torture is non-derogable. (See Article 2 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.)

The current U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Pierre Prosper, will be speaking at Pepperdine on Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 2:30 p.m. in the Drescher Auditorium. The question and answer portion of his presentation should be interesting.