Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch released a chilling 46-page report documenting the United States' use of "forced disappearances" to deal with high-level members of al Qaeda. A "forced disappearance" refers to a technique of law enforcement common in police states and dictatorships that is the next logical step after detention without due process. It is dentention without due process and without the state even acknowledging that the detainee is detained, or even that the detainee exists, creating a situation in which all norms of justice and morality can be ignored because the state acts without any accountability or oversight of any kind. You know, the sort of thing that is the reason that we call someone like Saddam Hussein a monster. Here's a little from the intro to HRW's report:
The prisoner was taken away in the middle of the night nineteen months ago. He was hooded and brought to an undisclosed location where he has not been heard of since. Interrogators reportedly used graduated levels of force on the prisoner, including the “water boarding” technique – known in Latin America as the “submarino” – in which the detainee is strapped down, forcibly pushed under water, and made to believe he might drown. His seven- and nine-year-old sons were also picked up, presumably to induce him to talk.
These tactics are all too common to oppressive dictatorships. The interrogators were not from a dictatorship, however, but from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The U.S.’s prisoner is Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the alleged principal architect of the September 11 attacks. Muhammad is one of the dozen or so top al-Qaeda operatives who have simply “disappeared” in U.S. custody.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration has violated the most basic legal norms in its treatment of security detainees. Many have been held in offshore prisons, the most well known of which is at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As we now know, prisoners suspected of terrorism, and many against whom no evidence exists, have been mistreated, humiliated, and tortured. But perhaps no practice so fundamentally challenges the foundations of U.S. and international law as the long-term secret incommunicado detention of al-Qaeda suspects in “undisclosed locations.”
[ ... ]
According to the Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense Detention Operations chaired byformer Defense SecretaryJames Schlesinger, the CIA has been “allowed to operate under different rules” from the U.S. military. Those rules stem in part from an August 2002 Justice Department memo, responding to a CIA request for guidance, which said that torturing al-Qaeda detainees “may be justified,” and that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the war on terrorism.
Some of the detainees, such as Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, are indeed reported to have been tortured in custody. Many are said to have provided valuable intelligence, intelligence that has foiled plots and saved lives. Some are said to have lied under duress to please their captors. (Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi apparently fabricated the claim, then relayed by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations, that Iraq had provided training in “poisons and deadly gases” for al-Qaeda.) The United States has acknowledged the detention of many, but not that of others. The one thing all the detainees have in common is that the United States has refused to disclose their whereabouts and has refused to allow them access to their families, lawyers or the International Committee of the Red Cross.