Friday, January 30, 2009

CCR: Close Torture Loopholes in Army Field Manual

A huge step in the fight against torture took place today. Center for Constitutional Rights has joined Physicians for Human Rights, The Constitution Project -- and myself -- and come out publicly against the abusive interrogation techniques contained in the Army Field Manual.

This is significant because the Army Field Manual is being put forward by President Obama and top Democratic Senators as the proposed "single standard" for all interrogations by the military and the CIA. Meanwhile, old recalcitrant Bushites, and the CIA, are for their part trying to paint the current AFM as "too soft" for use with "terrorist" suspects.

Their "action alert", reprinted below, includes an automated letter that you can send to President Obama asking him to say NO to interrogation practices that include isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and humiliation. It also asks for investigations of those officials " for those officials who broke the law to create an official program of torture and abuse."

From CCR's website:
Close Torture Loopholes in the Army Field Manual

President Obama's three executive orders of January 22, 2009 call for the closing of Guantanamo within one year, the closing of secret CIA 'black sites,' and the limiting of interrogation techniques to those allowed in the Army Field Manual (AFM), eliminating the numerous executive orders and opinions issued during the Bush administration that granted official approval for torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and abuse. These executive orders certainly represent an extraordinary step forward, but we remain concerned about potentially exploitable loopholes. Please take a moment to ask him to close the loopholes.

While the current Army Field Manual does not allow waterboarding, it does include approved techniques that constitute torture. One glaring problem with the executive order on torture is the implicit approval of the current AFM as it stands. The Army Field Manual is a guidebook for U.S. interrogators, meant to set a standard in accordance with the law. However, it has serious shortcomings - particularly following a Bush-era 2006 revision that attempted to legitimize some of the abuses taking place at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Please join us in urging President Obama to clarify that his executive order truly means an end to U.S. torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Appendix M of the Army Field Manual - a new section introduced in 2006, applicable only to "unlawful combatants," the category applied to detainees in Guantanamo, at secret CIA prisons, and elsewhere - allows the use of techniques such as prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners. These techniques, especially when used in combination as permitted by the AFM, constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and in some cases, torture. These techniques have caused documented, long-lasting psychological and physical harm and were condemned by a bipartisan congressional report released last month, as well as by the Bush-appointed head of the military commissions at Guantanamo.

Much like John Yoo's infamous "torture memos" at the Office of Legal Counsel attempted to provide a legal cover for the authorization of torture by high-ranking Bush administration officials, the addition of Appendix M attempts to provide the same cover, utilizing the Army Field Manual. President Obama's executive order repudiates Yoo's memos - but it is not sufficient to do so without also repudiating this appendix, drafted in light of those memos.

The rewritten 2006 AFM also included other problematic changes - allowing U.S. interrogators to pretend to be from another country, or to pretend the prisoner is located in another country (including countries known for torture and abuse), and allowing interrogators to use "Fear Up," a procedure designed to psychologically exploit prisoners' existing fears - and supplemented to allow interrogators to induce "new fears" in prisoners.

President Obama's executive order created a task force that has six months to examine whether to create "additional or different guidance" for agencies such as the CIA, outside the U.S. military - a potential escape hatch for a return to CIA "enhanced interrogations" and torture.

Please join us today to ask President Obama to reaffirm that his executive order will not provide a loophole for the CIA to return to torture and illegality, and to ensure that Army Field Manual lives up to the standards it is expected to set by revoking Appendix M and other sections of the AFM that could allow torture, abuse, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to continue. It is important that this review be conducted transparently, and with the open consultation of human rights groups. For too long, secrecy has ruled the day and protected torture and abuse.

Join us also in encouraging the Obama administration to fully investigate and prosecute those officials responsible for war crimes, torture and other violations of U.S. law. No future administration should take us back to these dark times. There needs to be individual accountability for the torture program, and other crimes committed. Prosecution is the only way to deter future lawbreakers.

We believe that President Obama wants to end torture through this executive order. Please join us today to help ensure that those goals are fully met.

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