• September 21, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's Human Rights Program. This is a cross-post from the ACLU's Blog of Rights.

    Many people in the United States and around the world remember the horrific events of September 11, 2001 as some of the worst crimes against humanity of the last decade. These attacks savagely flouted the fundamental values of international human rights.

    While the international community was united behind the U.S. call to bring those responsible to justice, the struggle against terrorism — hardly a new enterprise — took a wrong turn towards undermining the international legal frameworks and accountability mechanisms that were developed after World War II.

  • July 6, 2011

    At General David Petraeus’  recent confirmation hearing for CIA director, he testified that the “humane” interrogation techniques mandated by the Army Field Manual are almost always sufficient, but that “there should be discussion" about using "more than the normal techniques" in “special cases” of perceived impending catastrophic danger.

    Petraeus’ “endorsement” of the “possible use of inhumane interrogation techniques” may be more revealing than President Obama’s “high-minded talk” renouncing torture, suggests The Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin in a lengthy article that poses the question: Could torture again become U.S. policy?

    Our nation finds itself at a “morally precarious moment,” as it repudiates torture today but does little to prevent backsliding in the future, writes Froomkin. Last week, the Justice Department announced it would continue with just two investigations relating to the use of torture, two “particularly gruesome fatalities” that serve as “a poignant reminder” of official failure to hold those responsible to account, Froomkin notes

    Though President Obama has renounced torture and emphasized the illegality of many of the interrogation techniques used after 9/11, he has “repeatedly expressed his desire to ‘look forward instead of looking backward.’” As a result, “When it comes to taking action that will decisively deter any future leaders from doing what Bush and Cheney did, Obama's record is slim,” Froomkin writes.

    Despite repeated calls for accountability by human rights groups and official investigators in the military and the Senate, top level officials have escaped prosecution and torture-memo authors John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee continue to lead successful legal careers.

  • May 5, 2011

    The Obama administration’s striking success at bringing down Osama bin Laden has been sullied by the debate over torture and whether it helped lead to his demise. But American University law school professor William Yeomans writes in Politico that President Obama “has nobody to blame but himself,” for the diversion.

    Yeomans continues that Obama’s failure to “investigate and hold to account those who tortured,” has left the door open for former Bush administration officials to now claim that torture was effective and justified.

    He writes:

    Obama’s refusal to follow through on our nation’s commitment to the rule of law – both domestic and international – allowed the rehabilitation of the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel attorneys, who wrote the memos permitting torture, and the lawless White House officials, who cast aside domestic law, the Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions and a tradition dating to George Washington of humane treatment of detainees by Americans during the conflict.

    Andrew Sullivan examines right-wing pundits’ efforts to push the notion that torture of military detainees was an effective tool in the hunt for bin Laden.

  • May 3, 2011

    Andrew Sullivan examines the efforts by right-wing media to push the claim that torture of certain detainees in U.S. custody helped lead the CIA to Osama bin Laden’s courier, who then led the CIA to the Pakistani compound where he had been living.  

    Sullivan says the claim has already “become a meme,” citing several comments from right-wing media pundits helping to create it. Sullivan also cites a piece by David Weigel, who writes that we should expect to hear more about how the Bush administration’s policy on interrogations produced results. “It may not be Republican candidates pointing this out,” Weigel writes. “They don’t need to. George W. Bush has a considerable amen chorus in the press, with former staffers like Marc Thiessen, Michael Gerson, and John Yoo writing regular columns about how the 43rd president was right.”  

    Sullivan continues, “Leave aside the horrifying fact that Republicans, seeking to score some ownership this triumph, would look to torture as their contribution. Why not the beefed up on-the-ground intelligence from 2005 on? That’s Bush’s legacy that Obama built on. Besides, there is no evidence that it played any part whatsoever."

    Sullivan also notes a piece by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who cites an article from The New York Times that “the turning point came when detainees being held in Guantánamo – not in the C.I.A.’s secret black-site prisons – revealed to American interrogators the pseudonym used by the key bin Laden courier, whom they also identified as a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.”

  • March 24, 2011
    The United States and Torture
    Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse
    Marjorie Cohn, editor

    By Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Cohn edited The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, a collection of essays.
    Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is facing court-martial for leaking military reports and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico brig in Virginia. Each night, he is forced to strip naked and sleep in a gown made of coarse material. He has been made to stand naked in the morning as other inmates walked by and looked. As journalist Lance Tapley documents in his chapter on torture in the supermax prisons in The United States and Torture, solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations and suicide; it is considered to be torture. Manning's forced nudity amounts to humiliating and degrading treatment, in violation of U.S. and international law.

    Nevertheless, President Barack Obama defended Manning's treatment, saying, "I've actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures . . . are appropriate. They assured me they are." Obama's deference is reminiscent of President George W. Bush, who asked "the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government" to review the interrogation techniques. "They assured me they did not constitute torture," Bush said.

    The order for Manning's nudity apparently followed what he described as a sarcastic comment he made to guards after their repeated harassment of him regarding how he was to salute them. Manning said that if he were intent on strangling himself, he could use his underwear or flip-flops.

    "In my 40 years of hospital psychiatric practice, I've never heard of something like this," said Dr. Steven Sharfstein, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association. "In some very unusual circumstances, when people are intensely suicidal, you might put them in a hospital gown. ... But it's very, very unusual to be in that kind of suicide watch for this long a period of time."