Saturday, October 06, 2007

When Torture Becomes Routine

President Bush assured us yesterday that the US doesn't torture people detained as terrorist suspects:

President Bush on Friday defended the CIA's harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects, saying its methods do not constitute torture and are necessary to protect America from attack.

While I find that statement highly suspect, especially after the revelations in the NY Times of "secret memos" regarding the use of techniques that surely contravene the Geneva Conventions, I also think that many of the techniques have been used so much over so long a period of time that many people have just come to accept them as routine. The press reports only the most egregious, most loathesome of US behavior, even when one of their own is the subject of such treatment.

Perhaps the inclusion of in op-ed piece in yesterday's Los Angeles Times signals a reawakening by the press. It certainly should cause it and the rest of us some shame. Written by Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer for some of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, the piece describes some of the "mundane" treatment received by the people being held.

I've been here meeting with them this week, but I can't tell you what anyone has told me, as it must all go through the censors. It does not matter that the topic may be as innocuous as Speedo swimwear, for each word is considered a potential threat to national security. (Why would a lawyer talk about Speedos? Because, a few weeks ago, a commander alleged that I smuggled in Speedos and Under Armour underwear to one client, apparently so he could paddle around in the only pool available to him, his privy.)

Most of the secrecy in Guantanamo involves suppressing bad news about the base rather than anything that should really be classified. But I obey the rules or I go to jail, so until I get permission, I can only write about what I see, not what is said.

I had a morning meeting scheduled with Sami Haj, the Al Jazeera journalist, no more a terrorist than my grandmother. Sami's original arrest in Pakistan in late 2001 was perhaps understandable because the U.S. military thought he had filmed an interview with Osama bin Laden. To track down the criminal behind 9/11, many people would accept a little trampled due process. Unfortunately, as has often been the case, the intelligence turned out to be wrong. Yet Sami remained in custody. On the fifth anniversary of his detention without trial, his patience wore thin and he went on a hunger strike, the age-old peaceful protest against injustice. ...

Sami's strike began 271 days ago. Medical ethics tell us that you cannot force-feed a mentally competent hunger striker, as he has the right to complain about his mistreatment, even unto death. But the Pentagon knows that a prisoner starving himself to death would be abysmal PR, so they force-feed Sami. As if that were not enough, when Gen. Bantz J. Craddock headed up the U.S. Southern Command, he announced that soldiers had started making hunger strikes less "convenient." Rather than leave a feeding tube in place, they insert and remove it twice a day. Have you ever pushed a 43-inch tube up your nostril and down into your throat? Tonight, Sami will suffer that for the 479th time.

Sami looked very thin. His memory is disintegrating, and I worry that he won't survive if he keeps this up. He already wrote a message for his 7-year-old son, Mohammed, in case he dies here.

As I left his cell at Camp Iguana, I pondered why American reporters have remained so silent about his imprisonment. Here is a fellow journalist locked up for almost six years, with no proof offered of any crime.
[Emphasis added]

Perhaps Sami's story is old news at just under a year, but the twice a day insertion and removal of the feeding tube can only be seen as a heinous form of punishment. And for what? Protesting being held on a trumped up charge based on intelligence now known to be false.

That the vaunted "free press" of this country hasn't said word one about Sami Haj and the treatment he is receiving is shameful. That this behavior is somehow considered acceptable by the President of the United States shames us all.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is shameful. All that fuss about the BBC journalist who was held hostage recently, and not a word about the Al Jazeera reporter who's been held hostage for years.

4:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alright, completely off topic.
Every time torture is mentioned, the first thing I think about is the James Garner movie, The 36 Hours.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Torture became routine in Nam in the '60s. It has merely continued, unabated, since then.

8:18 AM  
Blogger shrimplate said...

Our leaders are criminals, we all know. But how can the grunts, the guys with their boots on the ground, live with themselves after doing this?

They can't. They themselves will also be ruined.

10:57 AM  

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