Past Masters at Torture

By Iftekhar A. Khan

May 09, 2009 "The Nation" May 7, 2009  - L
egal and human rights groups applauded Barack Obama for deciding to shut down the Guantanamo torture centre for 'illegal combatants'. Many even commended him for his noble act without realising that when Gitmo in Cuba shut down Bagram in Afghanistan turned more active. Officials of US department of justice recently informed the federal court that there was no departure from Bush's policy of torturing detainees at Bagram. American propensity for using innocuous acronyms to cover heinous crimes is unsurpassed. Bagram torture centre renamed Bagram Theatre Internment Facility (BTIF) reportedly is to extend by investing $60 million. So torture as US state policy will continue and BTIF will be the ultimate hellhole.

A Spanish court has taken the lead by charging six officials of former Bush administration John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith who may face charges in Spain for authorising torture to its citizens at Gitmo. Interestingly, Feith some time ago wrote an article in the New York Times lamenting that militant Islam in our northern areas had replaced Sufi Islam. Some dichotomy it is when a torture advocate shows a tender heart and religious proclivity.

Can the Spanish court try foreign nationals who did not commit crime in its jurisdiction? Yes, it can under the "universal jurisdiction" which even the US has used for many years to prosecute foreign nationals who did not commit crimes on its soil. Israel used it to prosecute Adolph Eichmann who ostensibly committed crimes against Jews during the so-called Holocaust. A Miami court in January this year convicted former Liberian president's son Chuckie Taylor for torture and sentenced him to 97 years in jail.

US among 24 other countries is signatory to the Universal Jurisdiction Convention entitled to prosecute criminals even if they did not commit crimes in the land of the signatories. Once the Spanish court issues the arrest warrants of the six former US officials, they are liable to arrest whenever they travel to any of the countries signing Jurisdiction document. For instance Feith, once Rumsfeld's deputy, could face arrest and prosecution.

The gambit used by a torturer is that he was merely carrying out orders. American doctors, who without pangs of conscience, supervised torture at Gitmo could well say they were under orders to do so. But what about Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice, who were mainly responsible for torture? Water-boarding, a torturous method that simulates drowning was Cheney's favourite 'sport'. Respected columnist Eric Margolis wrote: "Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was water-boarded 183 times - six times daily for a month; and Abu Zubaydah, 83 times in August 2003. Use a power drill (a favourite `investigative' tool of America's Iraqi allies) on Dick Cheney, and it would take only minutes to get him to admit he's Osama bin Laden." Thus, innocent tortured for years are likely to revolt when they get a chance to avenge their suffering and abuse, patriotism or no patriotism.

Gitmo is a festering blister on the reputation of American nation that claims to practice rule of law, which is farthest from truth. When atrocities at Abu Gharaib emerged, US administration shifted the blame on Blackwater, a notorious mercenary organisation which kills people for money, but Gitmo is different. It is under the direct control and supervision of the US military, therefore, US administration has no choice but to own its illegal and inhuman dark side. It has to own torturing inmates by sleep-deprivation, profanity and humiliation by chaining them naked, and sacrilegious verbal attacks, which speak of the ugly face of the civilised world.

Binyam Muhammad, a British citizen, recently released from Gitmo intends suing Boeing Corp for providing aircraft to CIA for 'extra rendition' of prisoners from one country to another. None of our citizens repatriated from Gitmo can think of suing those who handed them over in return for bounty. Even the modernists, the so-called human rights activists shy away from upholding the cause of the innocent sufferers. While Binyam Muhammad has told his part of the story, why any of our TV channels, as part of investigative journalism, has not projected the views of our former detainees at Gitmo. This might in certain cases affect the sense of patriotism of the inhumanly treated victims as well as those who lost their families, homes and means of livelihood or for that matter the families of 700 civilians killed in drone attacks, particularly when they suspect that these flights originated from their own country. To one's surprise, some 'enlightened moderates' like Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy seemingly support drone attacks in the tribal belt. When outspoken critic of US policy Imran Khan recently faced Hoodbhoy in a TV discussion, the latter was ambivalent about the drone attacks without condemning them outright. His arguments were unintelligible; he spoke the language US policy makers speak.

The uprising we witness in northern part of the country is partly an outcome of our cooperation with the avaricious superpower having its own global agenda in the region. Worse yet, when most of the detainees after suffering indescribable miseries in torture centres are declared innocent and repatriated. General Musharraf owes an explanation for consigning the innocent to Gitmo. Instead, he has disappeared into cosy safe haven in UK unlikely to return anytime soon.

The writer is a freelance columnist - E-mail: 

This item was first published by "The Nation" Pakistan .


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