Sunday, February 14, 2010

Torture Is A Crime

It was kind of a dull day at Watching America yesterday. China is miffed at us for selling arms to Taiwan. Iran is still promising to become a nuclear power. Latin America is annoyed that President Obama is not paying more attention to its neighbors. Europe is fascinated by Sarah Palin. Interesting all, I'm sure, but none really grabbed me. Michael Harwood's column in "Comment Is Free" (England's The Guardian), however, did.

Mr. Harwood, in discussing the decision by the UK's judiciary to publish a memo prepared by US intelligence agencies on the torture of Binyam Mohamed, makes it clear that at least at this point neither country has gone completely over to the dark side. The judges of both nations are still digging their heels in.

The UK court ruling in the case of Binyam Mohamed demonstrates once more that judges on both sides of the Atlantic have had enough of governments hiding behind national security "secrets" to shield themselves from their many trespasses in the "war on terror".

The court's decision to publish a seven-paragraph summary of intelligence given to MI5 by the CIA has been met by the convenient, and wholly unbelievable, argument from British and American officials that the release could damage intelligence co-operation and sharing between the two allies.

Mr. Harwood calls "Bullshit!", and properly so. When the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband whined that the court's decision would mean the end of cooperation between the nation's intelligence agencies, the White House sent out a spokesperson to nod in agreement, "Uh-huh, that's right. Now we can't trust you enough to let you know when your country is about to be hit." Hacks and flacks, however, are stupid instruments, as this particular case makes eminently clear.

I cannot imagine a scenario in which the US would not keep the UK apprised of any danger uncovered in any way. There really is a special relationship between the two countries. Furthermore, if word got out (as it usually does at some point or another) that the US failed to warn any country of an impending terrorist attack there would be hell to pay.

But Mr. Harwood's point goes beyond that:

...the seven-paragraph summary details that the interrogation practices endured by Mohamed while in American custody during 2002 constituted "at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment". It reveals nothing besides the fact the US and its proxies resorted to barbarous methods to extract information from captives they believed were al-Qaida terrorists.

Second, far more damning information on Mohamed's torture was published last year by a US court. In November 2009, US District Judge Gladys Kessler granted the habeus corpus petition of Gitmo detainee Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed – another indicator of the cross-Atlantic return of the rule of law. The prisoner had been held indefinitely without charge at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, based partly on Mohamed's confessions to US interrogators. There was one problem, however: US interrogators coerced Mohamed's allegations against Mohammed through torture. "The government does not challenge Petitioner's evidence of Binyam Mohamed's abuse," Kessler wrote in her decision. It's important to note that the "abuse" Mohamed says he endured during his detention included having his genitals slashed by a razor.

In short order, the information the British court ordered released yesterday was neither intelligence nor secret. What it did show, however, was what we already knew. The US had systematically tortured detainees it deemed terrorists without due process, and British intelligence was complicit.
[Emphasis added.]

Judge Kessler did her job, as have many other District Court Judges on the issue of torture, and as have her counterparts in Britain. How long that will be true in this country remains to be seen. Obviously the current US Supreme Court is a little dicey when it comes to such decisions, primarily due to the Democrats' obsession with dry powder the past ten years.

More troubling, however, is the fact that the current administration fought vigorously to have the memo of the torture suppressed in the British court, even as it continues to fight to have such information suppressed in current US court hearings. President Obama promised all of that would end, and yet his Department of Justice continues the battle on "state secrets."

This is just one more issue in which nothing has "changed." And, in the long run, it might just be the most important one.

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