US Downplays Report on Guantanamo Prisoner Abuse
officials Tuesday insisted that detainees held at the U.S. naval
base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have been treated "humanely,"
despite a Red Cross report that concluded interrogators were using
psychological and physical techniques that were "tantamount
strongly disagree with any characterization that suggests the way
detainees are being treated is inconsistent with the policies the
president has outlined," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan,
who insisted that the Bush administration takes the Red Cross' concerns
certainly don't think it's torture," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience in Indianapolis a
short time later. "Let's not forget the kind of people we have
down there," he added. "These are the people that don't
know any moral values."
human rights groups said the latest disclosure, which was featured
in a front-page New York Times story Tuesday, should cause
renewed alarms over U.S. detention and interrogation practices,
bolstering their long-standing calls for a comprehensive independent
allegation was made in a confidential report sent to U.S. officials
last July by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
that the ICRC report covered practices that continued after the
disclosure of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison
in Iraq in April, Deborah Pearlstein of Human Rights First (HRF)
said the information was particularly worrisome.
tells us two things," she said, "that the abuse at Abu
Ghraib was only a small piece of a much larger, systematic failure
to uphold U.S. and international laws against torture, and that
even after that abuse was revealed and condemned as unlawful and
immoral by leaders of both political parties, the government failed
to act on its moral certainty."
to a memo based on the ICRC report that was obtained by the Times,
U.S. detention and interrogation operations at Guantanamo Bay "cannot
be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual,
and degrading treatment and a form of torture."
the report's findings, the Red Cross, which is able to carry out
the visits in exchange for maintaining confidentiality, described
the participation of physicians and other medical staff in providing
information about detainees' mental health and their weaknesses
to interrogators, as well as the use of "humiliating acts,
solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions,"
exposure to loud and continuous noise, and beatings.
report, according to the Times, was received in July and
distributed to lawyers at the White House, the Pentagon, and the
State Department, as well as the commander of the detention facility
at Guantanamo, Gen. Jay Hood. The newspaper said it had recently
obtained the memo that quotes the report's major findings at length.
to the Times, ICRC investigators who visited Guantanamo in
June found a system carefully designed to break the will of prisoners
held there. They also reported the techniques were "more refined
and repressive" than those they had learned about during previous
ICRC team reportedly found a far greater incidence of mental illness
produced by stress, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement,
and that the fact that medical staff was cooperating fully with
interrogators had resulted in a breakdown in trust between inmates
and their doctors.
ICRC report was found by the Times to be consistent with
recent interviews it had conducted with military guards and intelligence
agents knowledgeable about Guantanamo's operations.
cited one common practice at Camp Delta, the main prison facility,
which was applied to uncooperative detainees. They were forced to
strip to their underwear, sit in a chair while shackled hand and
foot to the floor, and then subjected to strobe lights and loud
rock and rap music while the air-conditioning was turned to maximum
Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has also called
for an independent probe of U.S. detention and interrogation practices,
said the accounts were also consistent with the findings of his
report also corroborated the complaints of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, whose
military commission trial was stopped Nov. 8 by a federal court
and is now pending before the Supreme Court. He had reported months-long
solitary confinement that, according to a psychiatrist, "placed
him at significant risk for future psychiatric deterioration"
and may significantly impair "his ability to assess his legal
situation and assist defense counsel."
an interview with IPS, Scott Horton, a prominent New York attorney
and expert on the Geneva Conventions who has been in frequent contact
with career attorneys at the Pentagon, said the practices apparently
detailed by the ICRC are consistent with a lengthy report on detention
and interrogation policies by a working group appointed by Pentagon
chief Donald Rumsfeld in 2003.
report, which was drafted without the input of senior career military
attorneys or the State Department, drew heavily on controversial
memoranda prepared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel
and approved by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who President
George W. Bush has just been nominated to be attorney general.
of those memos concluded that Bush, as commander-in-chief during
wartime, was not bound either by the United Nations Convention Against
Torture or by a federal anti-torture statute. Another memo found
that an interrogation tactic would not provide sufficiently "severe
harm" to constitute torture unless it produced pain associated
with organ failure or death.
opinions expressed in the memos have been widely condemned as immoral,
unconstitutional, and unprofessional by many of the country's most
prominent jurists, including the past seven presidents of the American
Bar Association, as well as by the 400,000-member group itself.
said most of the career attorneys with whom he has been in contact
agreed with the administration that the techniques described in
the ICRC report did not constitute "torture," but that
they do amount at least to "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,"
which is also banned under the Geneva Conventions.
that the Red Cross is saying this is 'tantamount to torture,' which
means it may not meet the strictest definition of the word, but
it certainly amounts to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,"
say it's torture, we'd have to know more detail about this. But
the Red Cross is THE authority on this issue, and if they say it's
tantamount to torture, it's going to take a long time to convince
me otherwise," added Horton.
DOD [the Department of Defense] puts out these blanket denials,
they have a serious credibility problem because of those [Justice
Department] memos," he added, noting that military lawyers
who have complained about the Pentagon's attitude are now increasingly
concerned about the future of the U.S.' relationship to the ICRC.
think that the relationship of trust that has been built up over
many years has been badly damaged," said Horton. "The
Pentagon's political leadership, on the other hand, just thinks
this is a public relations problem."
pointed out that, despite more than 300 reported instances of torture
committed by U.S. personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo,
less than two dozen individuals all of them low-ranking
have been charged with a crime.
despite a finding by one Pentagon investigation commission last
summer that there was "both institutional and personal responsibility
at higher levels" for the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere,
no institutions or senior commanders have been held responsible.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service