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Outsourcing Torture and the Stop-Loss Program

In a recent episode of the Massachusetts School of Law’s legal show, Educational Forum, host professor Diane Sullivan welcomes author and law professor Jules Lobel to discuss cases he is involved in that concern government abuses of human rights for both civilians and military personnel, here and abroad. Lobel, the Vice-President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is noted for taking on difficult cases involving government abuses of power.

The first case Lobel discusses with host Sullivan involves Maher Arar, a Canadian businessman who was detained for questioning at Kennedy Airport under suspicion of association with possible terrorists, held for several weeks in the U. S., then flown to Syria, locked in a rat-infested cell and interrogated and tortured for a year. All this transpired without due process of law, and without knowledge by the victim’s family-all because of unsubstantiated suspicions by security officials.

Discussion of this case expands into thorough coverage of the government’s special rendition program under which suspected terrorists are flown in private jets to other countries, illegally held, interrogated, and tortured for unspecified periods, all without due process, legal aid, or notification of next of kin.

This case which plainly demonstrates our government’s outsourcing of torture to foreign governments, further illustrates how the Abu Ghraib scandal, abuses at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, and many yet-to-be-exposed torture cases happened, and points to the highest reaches of our government as the source and authority for these practices.

While these scandals are written off in the mainstream press as the work of wayward soldiers taking procedures in their own hands, Lobel says that the duplicity and responsibility for these actions clearly point to the top-to the obvious complicity of Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and most likely, the President himself.

Lobel points out that the Maher Arar case and numerous like it, recall the dark words attributed to German reverend Martin Niemoller, and speak to the urgency of bringing to light all related human rights abuses:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me. (Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945)

The second lawsuit Lobel discusses with Sullivan involves the American military’s personnel strategy called the Stop-Loss Program, which the government uses to forcibly retain military personnel.

Discharged soldiers are fraudulently enticed back into military duty with an Army reserve program called the “Try-One” option under which the re-upped soldier is only committed for one year before deciding whether to stay or not. At the end of a year, however, the soldier is not allowed to leave the armed forces, and many are sent to Iraq.

The eight similar cases Lobel is handling for American soldiers in Iraq all involve the recurrent themes of duplicity and fraud being committed by our government. In several cases, the relevant language stating the government’s right to hold over soldiers was wholly left off soldiers’ contracts. In others, the language is applicable only because government authorities claim it is.

This callous use of the Stop-Loss program points to the trouble the military is now facing stocking a depleted army in a difficult time when there is no end to the war in sight and popular opinion concerning it is shifting. Lobel says the long range effect of duplicitous maneuvers to keep soldiers in service will only backfire, because soldiers will not join a volunteer army when their commitment can prove unlimited in time.

When Lobel and Sullivan wrap up and draw conclusions relevant to all the various cases, they point out that all involve duplicity at the highest levels of national government. Because of the obvious power possessed by these high level officials, however, the mainstream press and practically all others are reluctant to take on the powers that be.

ROBERT KENT works at the U MASS School of Law. He can be reached at: rkent@mslaw.ed

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