Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"The Ends Justify the Means"

In an administration whose mantra is "The Ends Justify the Means" as they drag our nation into UNprovoked wars....it should not come as a surprise that the attitude that starts at the TOP, Commander-in-Chief, has reached all the way to the bottom of the military structure:


Wash Post - Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Stopping the Abuse of Detainees By Leonard S. Rubenstein

Photographs of American soldiers laughing over naked Iraqi prisoners of war piled atop one another are a revolting disgrace, all the more so because evidence of torture and ill treatment of individuals detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is not new. The humiliating acts seen in photos may not have been predictable, but the abuse of detainees was, a product of the circumstances of detention and the administration's resistance to independent monitoring and accountability. Stopping it requires a great deal more than the prosecution of a handful of offenders.

The problem is that the main purpose of these military detentions is interrogation, a practice that always has potential for abuse. Preventing abuse requires compliance with rules for treatment of prisoners, as well as access for independent monitors and accountability for violators. But many detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq have been held virtually incommunicado, sometimes in undisclosed locations, under rules that have never been made public. As early as 2002, news reports of abuse of prisoners began to surface, and new allegations have continued to emerge.

The administration's response has been to stonewall. A year ago, in response to the first set of allegations of abuse of detainees, President Bush affirmed that the United States does not practice or condone torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and that it investigates allegations of violations. But the actions needed to convert this from a statement to a commitment have been absent.

For the past two years, human rights organizations have requested the guidelines used to govern interrogation, the results of investigations of alleged instances of torture or mistreatment, information on individuals transferred to third countries for interrogation, and -- most important -- access to the detainees and their medical records to ascertain whether they have been abused. The administration either denied or failed even to acknowledge many of these requests, including those concerning findings of the investigation of the case of two detainees who died in custody more than a year ago. As for combatants sent to third countries, among them countries with a record of torture, the administration claimed to have obtained assurances that the countries do not torture detained combatants.

An even deeper problem with the administration's approach has been its efforts to evade compliance with the Geneva Conventions, which protect detainees from torture, ill treatment and humiliation, as well as inhuman conditions of confinement. It has said that captured al Qaeda suspects in captivity at Guantanamo and Afghanistan are not subject to the conventions at all. And U.S. officials took a shockingly casual approach to the treatment of POWs by U.S. surrogates in Afghanistan, assuming no responsibility for the horrific conditions of imprisonment for thousands of Taliban fighters and washing U.S. hands of reports that allies killed possibly hundreds or thousands of detainees. Some of the holding centers are even off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is internationally authorized to visit all security detainees.

The president, the director of the CIA and the secretary of defense must now do what should have been done 18 months ago. The message has to be clear that interrogators must be subject to rules, and if the rules are to be obeyed, the door to the interrogation room must never be shut. They should publicly pledge that the United States is bound by the Geneva Conventions and will be bound by them with respect to every single military detainee, whether or not it considers them official prisoners of war. They should immediately account for the whereabouts and condition of all in detention and offer the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as independent human rights monitors and medical experts, full access to all prisoners and all medical records that can reveal abuse. The president should provide to the American public a full accounting of interrogation practices, including all records and documents relating to the most recent violations and past allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, the United States and other countries where individuals have been sent.

When some Americans insulted and humiliated their Iraqi captives, they shamed every American as well. Moreover, they jeopardized the lives and well-being of U.S. soldiers and people in custody throughout the world. President Bush recoiled at the horror of it, but unless revulsion leads to more concerted action, the abuses will continue.

The writer is executive director of Physicians for Human Rights.<<


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