Sunday, December 12

Abu Ghraib was part of Official US Policy on Torture?

Published on Sunday, December 12, 2004 by The Sunday Herald (Scotland)

Victim of Latin American Torture Claims Abu Ghraib Abuse was Official US Policy
by Andrew McLeod

FOR many Latin American victims of torture, the infamous pictures of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison brought back not only chilling recollections of their own experiences, but also confirmed what they have long maintained: that their torturers were following interrogation guidelines set by the US Army School of the Americas (SOA).

"I had flashbacks when I saw the guy with the hood [at Abu Ghraib]," says Carlos Mauricio, a Salvadorean who was tortured in 1983. Founder of Stop Impunity, a group that seeks to prosecute human rights violators, dismisses as a "whitewash" the Bush administration's view that Abu Ghraib abuse was the work of a few US army misfits.

"What happened at Abu Ghraib was torture by the book; they were implementing US policy," Mauricio, 51, told the Sunday Herald.

"The US military deny they teach torture and say it happens in Latin America because soldiers have always been brutal. But what happened at Abu Ghraib belies this."

Among the SOA's 60,000 graduates are former dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-ranking graduates were involved in the 1980 assassination of Salvadorean Archbishop Oscar Romero and the massacre of 900 civilians at El Mozote, El Salvador, in 1980.

Between 1946 and 1984 the SOA was based in Panama, the former headquarters of the US Southern Command. In 1977, the school was relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia, but in the face of international criticism it was closed by the Clinton administration in December 2000 - only to be reopened a month later on the same site under a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation (WHINSEC).

The SOA website says it still exists "only for historical purposes" and gives a glowing account of its services to Latin American military officers. WHINSEC's website claims its broad principles are to ensure peace of the Western Hemisphere and promote human welfare through inter-American cooperation that is fully grounded in international law.

Mauricio, who last month led a protest march outside WHINSEC - which drew thousands of activists, including actors Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon - disputes this.

"The name change is just a public relations exercise. They still teach sniping and counter-insurgency tactics there. There are currently more Colombian students at the school than from any other country - and Colombia has the worst human rights record in Latin America."

The Salvadorean, who says he was targeted "because I was an educator and they don't like any opposition," was fortunate in that he survived his ordeal and was able to flee to the US later that year. There he obtained master's degrees in molecular genetics and adult education at San Francisco State University. He is now a biology teacher at a San Francisco high school.

But he is not at ease, having suffered permanent emotional and physical injuries as a result of the abuse, including broken ribs, an injured eye and persistent pain in his shoulders, joints and chest. In 1989, he heard of the murder in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. A US congressional task force found that some of the soldiers involved in the killings had been trained at the School of the Americas - and Mauricio felt he had to act.

In 2002 he and two other Salvadorean victims won a landmark ruling in a Florida court against two former Salvadorean ministers of defence. The defendants - both of whom are retired and live in Florida and one of whom, General Jose Guillermo Garcia, was a graduate of the School of the Americas - have lodged appeals.

"This is a life commitment," says Mauricio. "I was lucky to survive and I want to make sure that others don't suffer."

He has worked closely with School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), founded by Father Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest who became a critic of US policy in Latin America when four US churchwomen were raped and murdered by Salvadorean soldiers in 1980. SOAW says its aim is to educate the US public about the implications of military training on the poor and to remove obstacles to peace in Latin America.

Mauricio is not alone in seeing Abu Ghraib torture as consistent with US military intelligence teaching.

Writing in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Miles Schuman, a physician who documented torture for the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture, said "the black hood covering the faces of naked prisoners in Abu Ghraib was known as la capucha in Guatemalan and Salvadorean torture chambers. The metal bed frame to which the naked and hooded detainee was bound in a crucifix position at Abu Ghraib was la cama for a former Chilean patient."

Two declassified CIA interrogation manuals - Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, 1983, and KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation, 1963, released by the National Security Archive in May - add weight to Mauricio and Schuman's allegations.

The 1963 manual suggests that when planning an interrogation room, "the choice of methods to be used depends on the characteristics of the interviewee - the electric current should be known in advance, so that transformers or other modifying devices will be on hand if needed."

The NSA says a decade of training between 1966 and 1976 was halted by the Carter administration for fear it would contribute to human rights violations in other countries, but it was restored by the Reagan administration in 1982. And despite toned-down manuals appearing in the mid-1980s, hundreds of unaltered manuals were used in Latin America for at least another decade - notably by the US and Argentine-trained Honduran Battalion 316 during the tenure of US ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, who is now the US envoy to Baghdad.

1 comment:

Vyan said...

Human Rights Groups Write to Bush on Abuse of Iraqi PrisonersMay 7, 2004
The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are deeply disturbed by the photos of the treatment of prisoners by U.S. soldiers and interrogators and welcome your public condemnation of those acts. But more than statements are required. We write to urge you to take decisive and immediate action to address a problem that we believe is not an isolated incident, but rather illustrates a dangerous and illegal system of interrogation and detention in use by the United States in many places around the world. As representatives of a number of major human rights organizations we request a meeting with you on an urgent basis to discuss our recommendations for dealing with this problem.

For the past year and a half, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Newsday, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and other leading newspapers have repeatedly quoted unnamed U.S. intelligence officials boasting about the use of torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners. Numerous detainees have been killed or attempted suicide in custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay prompting unprecedented expressions of concern by the International Committee of the Red Cross; suspects have been turned over to the foreign intelligence services of countries, such as Syria, with records of brutal torture; the ICRC has also specifically expressed concern about conditions at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; and now, the US military's own inquiry has found "systemic and illegal abuse of detainees" at Abu Ghraib.

These incidents occurred across continents and over many months, but they are nevertheless linked. As Cofer Black, the head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, told Congress in September 2002: "There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11 …. After 9/11 the gloves come off." Since then, intelligence officials have said repeatedly that they have a mandate to obtain information by "breaking" prisoners through a combination of pain and humiliation, if not outright torture. The sexual humiliation of prisoners now documented at Abu Ghraib was extreme, but not new. More than a year ago, The New York Times quoted prisoners held in Afghanistan saying that they were kept naked most of the time. Likewise, there have been numerous reports of female guards and interrogators used in a deliberate attempt to humiliate and degrade prisoners.

For over a year, the undersigned organizations and others have repeatedly asked you and senior officials in your Administration to act promptly and forcefully to publicly repudiate the statements of intelligence officials and to assure that the treatment of detainees is consistent with international humanitarian law. We particularly asked that you provide access to detention centers, release the results of investigations and take other steps to ensure greater transparency of the detention process.

Last June, human rights groups welcomed your pledge that the United States would lead by example in the fight against torture. Yet whatever steps your administration may have taken to implement that pledge have been inadequate to end torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners and to dispel the apparent belief among U.S. interrogators and guards that brutality and degradation are acceptable in the quest for information. The events at Abu Ghraib now in the headlines are the latest evidence of an interrogation and detention system that appears to be out of control and of inadequate action to match your pledges, not the isolated misdeeds of a few individuals allegedly acting without authorization.

This pattern of conduct has caused extraordinary damage to the cause of human rights around the world, as well as to the United States and to its ability to conduct foreign policy successfully, from Iraq to the global campaign against terrorism.

Extraordinary action on your part is now required to begin to repair this damage and, at long last, bring an end to this pattern of torture and cruel treatment. You have stated in eloquent terms that "human dignity is non-negotiable," but you have tolerated a U.S. system of interrogation that is specifically designed to degrade, humiliate and destroy the human dignity of prisoners to obtain information. In recent days, U.S. officials in Iraq have announced a welcome prohibition on the use of a number of "stress" interrogation tactics. You should follow through on these announcements by completely banning the use of the "stress and duress" tactics and incommunicado detention throughout the world.

The choice is not about whether to express your abhorrence over the events at Abu Ghraib and to investigate them. The choice is whether you dismiss them as the actions of "a few bad apples" while continuing an interrogation and detention system that is cruel and illegal, or act forcefully to end the "stress and duress" system of incommunicado interrogation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, or anywhere that people are held in U.S. custody. This system violates both the Constitution and international law, including the solemn pledges your father made when he sought Senate approval of the Convention Against Torture.

We ask you to take immediate actions to establish clear prohibitions on illegal and inappropriate interrogation and detention methods backed by strong penalties; mandate strong enforcement mechanisms, including access for independent monitors; and provide for public review and full disclosure of interrogation practices and the records of investigations. Our specific recommendations for accomplishing these goals are attached.

We appreciate your interest in our concerns and your consideration of our recommendations. We hope that we will be able to arrange a meeting with you as soon as possible.


William Schulz
Amnesty International USA

Gay McDougall
Global Rights

Michael Posner
Human Rights First

Ken Roth
Human Rights Watch

Louise Kantrow
International League for Human Rights

Felice D. Gaer
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights

Robin Phillips
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights

Len Rubenstein
Physicians for Human Rights USA

Todd Howland
RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights

Human Rights Groups'

Establish Clear Prohibitions Backed by Adequate Penalties

Immediately ban "stress and duress" interrogation and take immediate action to insure that all interrogation and detention practices are fully consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Immediately ban any action taken anywhere in the world that would violate the prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishment if conducted in the United States; this is the pledge that your Administration made to the Congress in June 2003 that was apparently never implemented.

Immediately ban secret and incommunicado detention; specifically, mandate that the names of all detainees be published.

Immediately ban the transfer of prisoners to countries with a pattern of using torture in interrogation;

Immediately ban the use of civilian contractors in conducting interrogations;

Ensure that appropriate criminal penalties exist for any person involved in torturing or otherwise abusing detainees - no matter where in the world the conduct occurs;

Mandate Strong Enforcement

Permit immediate access to every prisoner to independent monitors, including the ICRC, appropriate UN officials and human rights organizations, including the ability to interview prisoners in private, and conduct medical evaluations in accordance with the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

Permit all detainees to have access to family members and physicians, based on a recognition that secret and incommunicado detention is at the root of much of the prisoner abuse;

Ensure that there is a record available to determine whether any abuses occurred by videotaping all interrogations and other interaction by military and intelligence personnel with detainees;

Request significant increases in funding for the Inspector General offices in every agency involved in any form of interrogation or detention of prisoners, and issue an explicit mandate to each such office to monitor interrogations and detention;

Pay restitution. Follow the lead of the United Kingdom in its response to findings of prisoner abuse in Northern Ireland prior to 1972, by providing redress and compensation, including paying restitution to those detainees found to have been victims of torture or inhumane treatment;

Provide Public Review and Full Disclosure

Release the results of investigation into the abuse of detainees, including the Department of Defense investigation into deaths at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan in December, 2002, and investigations concerning interrogation and detention methods and procedures.

Work with the Congress to appoint an investigation commission of persons of
unquestioned integrity and independence to examine all aspects of U.S. interrogation practices, including the transfer of detainees to other countries; and

Disclose publicly all interrogation manuals, instructions and guidance governing the conduct of detention and interrogation.

"Stress and Duress" Techniques Have Been Rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court, the United Kingdom and the US Supreme Court

Some Administration officials have argued that the "stress and duress" techniques being used by the US are not so severe as to be illegal. While some interrogation techniques are unpleasant but not illegal, the US interrogation techniques described in repeated media reports are clearly illegal.

The Israeli Supreme Court - These techniques are, for all intents and purposes, the same techniques that were at issue in a 1999 Israeli Supreme Court decision which unanimously found them to be illegal. Indeed, the Israeli Court commented that while deciding how to respond to terrorism was hard, finding these techniques illegal was not ("from the legal perspective, the road before us is smooth").

The United Kingdom - These techniques are also, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same techniques that were used by the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland prior to 1972 and which the UK unequivocally found to be illegal and abandoned (see the attached chart describing the techniques at issue in Israel and Northern Ireland). The Government of the United Kingdom voluntarily agreed to pay compensation to abused detainees and pledged to prosecute any official using these techniques in the future. The European Court of Human Rights found the techniques "cruel, inhuman and degrading" but the United Kingdom had already unequivocally rejected them.

The US Supreme Court - Furthermore, when President Bush's father pushed the Convention Against Torture through the United States Senate, he pledged to interpret the phrase "cruel, inhuman and degrading" consistent with the constitutional caselaw interpreting the phrase "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Constitution. It is simply beyond dispute that the "not quite torture" techniques described by anonymous US officials - beatings, prolonged sleep deprivation, binding in painful positions, extreme heat and cold, denial of food and water - violate the US constitution. In 2002, in Hope v. Pelzer the US Supreme Court held that when officials allegedly handcuffed an Alabama prison inmate to a "hitching post" for seven hours "the Eighth Amendment violation is obvious" (emphasis added):

The obvious cruelty inherent in this practice should have provided respondents with some notice that their alleged conduct violated Hope's constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Hope was treated in a way antithetical to human dignity - he was hitched to a post for an extended period of time in a position that was painful, and under circumstances that were both degrading and dangerous.

Indeed, in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court on February 19, 2002 the Bush Justice Department argued forcefully that this conduct was clearly unconstitutional. In other words, the Bush Administration is already on record stating that some of the basic "stress and duress" techniques being used by U.S. interrogators constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."