Friday, February 27, 2009

A Different Assessment

Last Saturday I pointed out that the Pentagon report on Guantanamo Bay in which it concluded that there were no violations of international human rights laws might have been a bit biased. I suggested that a review by a more neutral group, like the International Red Cross or the United Nations would have given us a more honest assessment. Well, such a review has been done by the United Nations, and while limited in its scope, a different conclusion was reached. From the Washington Post:

A United Nations special investigator has concluded in a report scheduled for release Friday that foreign intelligence agents sent to question U.S.-held terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay had violated international human-rights laws.

According to an advance copy of the report, obtained by The Washington Post, Martin Scheinin, a Finnish diplomat and the U.N. special investigator for human rights, said foreign agents visiting Guantanamo or secret U.S. jails overseas committed "an internationally wrongful act" even if they merely observed interrogations.

"They were acting in breach of their legal obligations in regard to the prohibition on torture and arbitrary detention," Scheinin, who is also a law professor at the European University Institute in Florence, said in a telephone interview.

Human rights groups have already made it clear that the foreign agents did more than merely observe interrogations, however.

The U.S. military has allowed intelligence and law enforcement agents from at least 18 countries to interrogate Guantanamo inmates since the detention center opened in 2002, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based group that provides legal representation to many Guantanamo prisoners.

According to the group, interrogators from Tunisia, Libya, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Jordan verbally threatened citizens of their countries held at Guantanamo, warning them that they would be abused at home if they didn't cooperate. Other countries that have sent interrogators to Guantanamo include Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Spain and Morocco, the center says.

That's not exactly the picture that the Pentagon report painted, which is hardly a surprise. And that is why it is so important that the 111th Congress investigate the matter even if President Obama is uncomfortable with this "looking backward." At least some in Congress agree. According to the NY Times, several Senate committees are planning to do just that:

The Senate Intelligence Committee is completing plans to begin a review of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program, another sign that lawmakers are determined to have a public accounting of controversial Bush administration programs despite White House concerns about the impact of unearthing the past.

Good. Even if the Intelligence Committee's claim that it will be concentrating on the reliability of information gathered by the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques is held to, it will be a useful start. Then the Senate Judiciary Committee can do a wider inquiry.

We need this to happen if we are ever to fully understand just what evil was wrought in our names. We also need this to happen so that we can ensure that such horrific behavior is never allowed again.

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