Monday, November 17, 2008

The Forgotten Men: New UC Report on "Guantanamo and its Aftermath"

Last summer, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First released Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S. The study looked at medical and psychological evidence of the costs of torture by eleven men who endured such abuse by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay.

Now, University of California, Berkeley's Human Rights Center, in conjunction with the International Human Rights Law Clinic and Center for Constitutional Rights, has released a report on the medical and psychological condition of 62 detainees released over the years from Guantanamo. According to a press release by the university:
The report, "Guantanamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees," based on a two-year study, reveals in graphic detail the cumulative effect of Bush Administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees. Many of the prisoners were sold into captivity and subjected to brutal treatment in U.S. prison camps in Afghanistan. Once in Guantanamo, prisoners were denied access to civilian courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Almost two-thirds of the former detainees interviewed reported having psychological problems since leaving Guantanamo....

Researchers conducted interviews with released detainees in nine countries. The comprehensive study also includes in-depth interviews with key government officials, military experts, former guards, interrogators and other camp personnel.
As the Bush Administration winds down into it ignominious end, President-elect Obama has made clear -- most recently in a 60 Minutes interview last night -- he will very early on use his executive power to close Guantanamo and put an end to torture. It's not clear yet what will happen to the over 200 detainees still held prisoner at Guantanamo, or whether other prisons will be closed, or even whether any executive order will pertain to CIA activities. When Laurence Tribe, an Obama legal advisor and his former law professor argued the other day that perhaps a new federal judiciary system was needed to deal with the Guantanamo prisoners, the idea was quickly scotched (at least for now) by Obama's spokepeople.

"I've Lost My Will"

Almost 800 prisoners have been dragged through the torture chambers of Guantanamo. Reams of words have been written, and scores of legal cases filed in an effort to either end or excuse the mistreatment wrought there. Reporting in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko, describes some of the stories from the HRC report:
"I've lost my property. I've lost my job. I've lost my will," said an Afghan man, one of 62 former inmates in nine countries interviewed anonymously by UC Berkeley researchers for a newly released report.

Another man, jobless and destitute, said his family kicked him out after he returned, and his wife went to live with her relatives. "I have a plastic bag holding my belongings that I carry with me all the time," he said. "And I sleep every night in a different mosque."
UC Berkeley's press release quotes the HRC study as documenting the use at Guantanamo of "being subjected to short shackling, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods -- often simultaneously." Some detainees reported even worse abuse at the U.S. detention center at Baghram, Afghanistan, where prisoners were threatened with dogs, regularly beaten, and suspended by their arms for hours on end.

And yet:
Most detainees interviewed for the study were not vengeful toward America, but simply expressed a desire for justice and an opportunity to clear their names.
The suffering of these detainees is heart-breaking. Their wish to recover a normal life should be at the top of the list for a country with so many broken promises and difficult crises dropped into its lap in the wake of one of the most sinister and criminal administrations to ever rule this or any other ostensibly democratic country.

A Terrible Moral Failure

The role of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists at these torture centers is not left unmentioned. As the report describes it:
... since late 2002, military psychologists and psychiatrists serving on Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) have played an active role in developing and implementing interrogation strategies at Guantánamo....

Interrogation policies and standards at Guantánamo changed over time, but the data demonstrate that some practices remained consistent throughout the period when the study respondents were held there (January 2002 to January 2007). While more needs to be revealed about the specific interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo, it appears that many of the methods which detainees complained about most bitterly -- cold rooms and short shackling, in conjunction with prolonged isolation -- were permitted under the U.S. military’s interrogation guidelines in force from April 2003 to September 2006... These practices contravene the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the United States ratified in 1955....

To date, no independent, comprehensive investigation has been conducted to determine the role that camp personnel as well as officials farther up the civilian and military chains of command played in the design and implementation of interrogation
techniques at Guantánamo. No broad investigation has yet addressed whether or not these officials should be held accountable for any crimes they or their subordinates may have committed.
Elsewhere in the report, the authors describe the function of the BSCT teams:
A principal BSCT function was to engineer the camp experiences of “priority” detainees to make interrogation more productive. BSCT personnel coached interrogators on how to stress, coerce, and offer incentives to secure information from detainees. BSCT personnel “prepared psychological profiles [of detainees] for use by interrogators; they also sat in on some interrogations, observed others from behind one-way mirrors, and offered feedback to interrogators"... Army medical personnel also provided medical information to interrogators... In a confidential report, the International Committee for the Red Cross called the participation of doctors in designing interrogation plans a “flagrant violation of medical ethics"... In 2006, in response to publicity about the clinical participation in coercive interrogations at Guantánamo, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association endorsed more stringent guidelines for military doctors and psychiatrists who are asked to participate in interrogations... In 2008, after several years of often acrimonious debate, members of the American Psychological Association voted to prohibit consultation by its members in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo or so-called “black sites” operated by the CIA overseas.
A Call for Justice

The Human Rights Center and their partners are insistent that the crimes committed by the United States around torture cannot and should not go without further investigation. Hundreds of detainees remains incarcerated without ever being accused of any crime. Evidence of torture and abuse is overwhelming, the deleterious personal, medical and psychological consequences for those caught in this torture web and then released is also strongly convincing. Per Egelko's article:
"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the rug by simply closing the Guantanamo prison camp," said Eric Stover, director of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. "The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable."
The news is so dark every day, with thousands thrown out of their jobs seemingly every day, and millions more fearing they will lose theirs. The wreck that is American society has so many vital issues facing it, that it seems easy to let the sufferings of "only" a few hundred or thousand go unanswered. The latest leaks around Obama's plans to investigate or prosecute Bush officials for war crimes indicate an Obama administration will lean towards some investigation, and steer away from prosecutions. (See recent stories by Mark Benjamin at Salon, and Lara Jakes Jordan at Associate Press.) Meanwhile, Bush is said to be considering a massive blanket pardon for those involved in his interrogation policies. Some argue that such a pardon could facilitate a "truth and reconciliation" investigation.

In the end, no one knows yet what Obama will do, or what Bush will do (although I'm betting he will issue the pardons). What is clear is that among all the other crucial issues facing the U.S. at this point in time, we must solve a huge moral dilemma: what do we do when the government blatantly and recklessly disregards human rights or lives, when it kills or tortures? Do we stand back and let it pass, in the name of political expediency? What shame and moral rot will we have to endure? How can we rise from the muck of this terrible period in our history if we do not both witness and pay out with justice the ineffable suffering of the innocent made in our name, and now forever etched with acid on the soul of the country?

Update: Interested readers will want to read Scott Horton's latest piece at Harper's (subscription required) on the rationale and possibilities around prosecuting Bush Administration figures for torture and war crimes. A nice summary of Horton's article was also made by Compound F at Docudharma (no subscription required).

1 comment:

Omyma said...

This is an extremely important report, and I wish I'd caught up in time to recommend it. The issue is one of the most critical of our time, and showcases the vast injustice resulting from the so-called war on terror and its fallout. Thank you for your great work.

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