FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Getting Away With Torture

Only about 20 years ago, the United States was the preferred destination for dissidents incarcerated and sometimes tortured in prisons in the Soviet Union and satellite states in Eastern Europe. Pictures of the brief journey on foot by the Soviet dissident, Anatoly Scharansky, across the Glienicke bridge to West Berlin in February 1986 have acquired a permanent place in the annals of Cold War history. Scharansky, a Soviet Jew, settled in Israel, but Alexander Solzhenitsyn and many others made the United States their home upon escaping persecution.

As the Iron Curtain was blown, who could have imagined that barely a decade after, the United States would commit large-scale acts of kidnapping, torture and murder beyond its territory and send people, based on mere suspicion or hearsay, to secret prisons in ex-Soviet bloc countries for interrogation under torture, euphemistically called ‘extraordinary rendition’?

This is what  happened during the presidency of the George W Bush. In the shadow of 9/11, innocent, vulnerable people, some as young as 13 and as old as 93 years of age, were kidnapped and handed over to American military and intelligence officers for bounties by local players in countries where the United States had no legal jurisdiction. Among them were Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco – allies of America.

To those in the halls and corridors of power in Washington, the fact that many of the detainees were condemned to extreme acts of torture and humiliation in friendly dictatorships was of no consequence. Laws had to be broken, justice denied, human dignity violated, individual liberties curtailed at home and abroad to ‘defend freedom’.

The campaign of abductions and unlawful detention, torture, harassment and surveillance against people around the world, including many in the United States, under the Bush administration dwarfs what was done during the McCarthy era to Americans accused of being communists or communist sympathizers, without proper regard for evidence, in the 1950s. America was haunted by the McCarthyite witch-hunts for years thereafter. Painful self-examination had to follow. Despite pressure for a similar self-examination into what has occurred in the name of the ‘global war on terror’, President Obama wants to ‘look ahead’ for whatever reason, but introspection will come eventually.

From this dark perspective, Christopher Pyle’s book, Getting Away with Torture, is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the subject. He joins the ranks of distinguished legal experts like Professor Philippe Sands, QC, and Clive Stafford Smith, who are known in the United States and Britain for their work on human rights. Pyle is certainly qualified to write this book. He is a professor of constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College. Once a captain in army intelligence, he disclosed, in 1970, the military’s surveillance of civilian politics and worked with Senator Sam Ervin’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights and Senator Frank Church’s Select Committee on Intelligence to end the practice.

As can be expected from an author of such distinction, Getting Away with Torture is an exceptionally well-sourced book. He follows the paper trail of torture memos leading to abuses at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in careful detail. He demonstrates that, despite attempts to blame a few ‘bad apples’, the chain of abuse of the US Constitution and international law started from the White House, President Bush and his Vice President, Dick Cheney.

Seven years after Bush declared his ‘global war on terror’, many despicable acts have come to light in spite of attempts to suppress them. But, as Pyle says, much remains to be learned about the mistreatment of suspected terrorists. He concludes that torture was intended from the start. That is why the President authorized the secret prisons and military commissions that could admit evidence based on torture. And that is also why he suspended the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

Pyle emphatically makes the point that the Bush administration did great harm at home and abroad. And, in the concluding chapter, he calls for the restoration for the rule of law, citing Martin Luther King, Jr, who said: “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.” Pyle notes President Obama’s executive order soon after inauguration to close the Guantanamo detention center, but says this is easier said than done. US lawmakers, aware of strong opposition from sections of the electorate, are resistant to any idea of having Guantanamo detainees transferred to prisons in their own states.

And the book laments the insistence of Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, in 2007 that there would be no effort to impeach Bush or Cheney for violating the American constitution.

Even if Guantanamo were to be closed as President Obama wants by January 2010, Pyle says in his book that US federal courts have yet to confront the question who should be detained and why. They have to address the issue of mistreatment of prisoners. “To restore the Geneva Conventions,” Pyle continues, “Congress should begin by repealing the Military Commissions Act of 2006.” In that law, Congress granted the president the exclusive authority to define what constitutes the war crime of ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment’.

More than six months into the Obama presidency, we know that the military commissions will continue, albeit with some modifications. Curbing government secrecy will be a long, often frustrating, battle as suggested by the administration’s policy reversals on calls for greater openness about what happened under President Bush. And establishing a truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after the apartheid era, or congressional hearings, will require a degree of moral courage and foresight that is sadly lacking at least for now. These depressing trends make it imperative that Pyle’s book is read as widely as possible.

DEEPAK TRIPATHI is the author of two forthcoming books – Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan (Potomac Books, November 2009) and Afghanistan: The Real Story Behind Terrorism (also Potomac Books, April 2010). He can be reached at: DandATripathi@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Deepak Tripathi is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. His works can be found at: http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at deepak.tripathi.writer@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
April 27, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Racism and Eugenics, American-Style
April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail