Detainment by Any Other Name Still Stinks

First an apology  (a real apology, not one of my snarky non-apologies).  On a number of occasions I have written that I thought torture accusations at Gitmo were overheated and a distraction from the real issue -- unlimited incarceration by executive order.

It turns out that what I would very much describe as torture has occurred at Gitmo.

Torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay has been systematic, extensive and a matter of deliberate policy, says a report originally prepared in 2007 by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Obtained by journalist Mark Danner, the report, which detailed the complicity of medical personnel in the mistreatment of detainees, has been posted online (PDF) by the New York Review of Books.

Techniques practiced at Guantanamo and elsewhere on the 14 detainees examined in the 41-page report include suffocation by water, prolonged standing with arms chained above their heads, beatings, confinement in a box, sleep deprivation and other tactics that involve both physical and psychological abuse. While written in somewhat technical terms, the report emphasizes that the detainees' treatment "amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

I am not unaware that the world is a dangerous place, and is filled with people who want to do us harm no matter how nice we are, precisely because we are nice (and rich of course).  But there is a line we draw in a free society over which we do not cross, even at the risk of our own safety, because it imperils our own humanity.  I believe the treatment described in this report crosses that line.

That being said, it is increasingly clear that I was right in one sense - the focus on torture has completely occluded the detainment issue, so much so that Obama appears to be getting away with actually adopting an even more onerous detainment policy than the Bush administration.

The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.

More from Glen Greenwald:

Back in February, the Obama administration shocked many civil libertarians by filing a brief in federal court that, in two sentences, declared that it embraced the most extremist Bush theory on this issue -- the Obama DOJ argued, as The New York Times's Charlie Savage put it, "that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush's legal team."  Remember:  these are not prisoners captured in Afghanistan on a battlefield.   Many of them have nothing to do with Afghanistan and were captured far, far away from that country -- abducted from their homes and workplaces -- and then flown to Bagram to be imprisoned. Indeed, the Bagram detainees in the particular case in which the Obama DOJ filed its brief were Yemenis and Tunisians captured outside of Afghanistan (in Thailand or the UAE, for instance) and then flown to Bagram and locked away there as much as six years without any charges.  That is what the Obama DOJ defended, and they argued that those individuals can be imprisoned indefinitely with no rights of any kind -- as long as they are kept in Bagram rather than Guantanamo.


  1. Jess:

    No offense, but did you actually read the .pdf?
    I have, and it was an exercise, to be sure, but only in keeping one's head from spinning 'round. The opening pages alone are worthy of some of the best blogosphere screeching, not hard analysis, and the "research" (I use that word most loosly) is at best described as word of mouth, with the most egregious of statements seemingly taken at face value.


    PS - Do not confuse the ICRC (a political organization) with the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent.

  2. FourQueensHotelVegas:

    Totally agree with you Jess.

  3. EvilRedScandi:

    My understanding is that the ICRC (an very left-wing political organization, not to be confused with the American Red Cross) report is based on interviews with previous detainees, and taking their claims as fact.

    So this argument comes down to the claims of the Bush and Obama administrations versus the former prisoners. Both sides have huge reasons to lie. The ICRC is the furthest thing possible from an objective third-party short of Osama bin Ladin. I trust the government about as far as I can throw it, but my distrust isn't going to drive me to take the words of people who masturbate to the idea of making the US look bad. I do trust most of the Marines I know (and here in San Diego there are a lot of Marines to know). I have a difficult time believing that if some sort of illegal abuse was going on that it wouldn't leak out over the course of several years. Conspiracies involving hundreds of "stand-up" people are practically impossible.

    We can, however, look to the same principles that guide the free market - individual and organizational incentives.

    The Obama administration has every incentive to embarrass Bush by trumpeting even the slightest flaw in the detainment process. I expected this to occur in the first weeks after the inauguration - that Obama has done a 180 and decided to essentially continue the Bush Administration's policies suggests that there's at least some semblance of sense.

    The US government has no incentive to expose itself to the political heat involved with this concept unless there's a big problem being solved in the process. Of course the US government is seldom a rational creature, but it's driven by politics and the politics of mindless incarceration of innocent people doesn't add up.

    We can never really know, though, because neither party gives the slightest damn about transparency. Why not name names and tell us why they're being held?

    Finally, to all of the people carping and whining about this: would you rather we used the more traditional method of dealing with these people? That is, killing them on the spot. Perhaps that would be more humane.

  4. Mark:

    Exactly. The continued treatment of the claims of released (RELEASED) detainees as fact by the left wing media and organizations is an outrage. Remember the Muslim reaction to the fictitious claims that the Koran was being flushed down the toilet?????

    Regardless, these prisoners are being treated in a humane manner. Are they being coddled? No. But the true facts are that if these were prisoners of any other nation, including such critics as France, Russia, China, and England, they would be suffering much more. Most would have been dead a long time ago, including the RELEASED detainees that are making this claim.

    As Coyote stated, we live in a dangerous world. Those that cling to a legalism or "Geneva Convention" rules are not making realistic appraisals of this dangerous world. When you ask youself if we should follow the Geneva Convention (which we are, these individuals are not prisoners, but enemy combatants) consider that since the incorporation of the Geneva Convention the only nation that has treated the prisoners of war of the United States anywhere close to the tenets of this Treaty was Nazi Germany. Read that sentence again. In 100 years of international conflict the only nation that treated OUR prisoners by the Geneva standard was Adolf Hitler.

    So, while libertarians nitpick about "civil liberties", dangerous people lurk about the world who can care less about such conventions. The utilization of "torture" is not meant to punish the individual, but rather, to prevent further attacks. That is ok with me.

  5. John Moore:

    If you read the report, you would see that none of this took place at Guantanamo. Also, all of it is based on interviews with Al Qaeda trained operatives - not the most reliable source.

    Since these were very high value prisoners, it's good to see that appropriate techniques were used to interrogate them. None of those techniques exceeds what we were given in SERE school, as volunteers, and we were told to expect far worse if we were captured (and we would have been legit POWs).

    These were not POWs, they were terrorists, captured and interrogated outside the United States, early in the period when we had good reason to fear devastating attacks (which some of these folks, like KSH, were in fact planning).

  6. Streaker:

    I'm surprised that you are falling for the International Committee of the Red Cross propaganda. What happened to your healthy skepticism?

  7. tomw:

    My opinion is worth exactly what you pay to get it. Given that caveat, I find it acceptable to treat the prisoners with exactly the level of confinement and discomfort that is given to our soldiers who participate in SERE training. More than 30 years ago I went through a MUCH abbreviated familiarization with the school. It scared the sh*t out of me, and made me very aware of my internalized fears.
    The German POWs during WWII had no idea of the length of their confinement, so there is no reason for these prisoners to expect more. They legally could have been shot on sight as armed, un-uniformed combatants. Unless someone is playing with the rules, and they were just rounded up in a herd while hanging about armed with AKs.
    I have not read the PDF file, but have the supposition that it is another NGO that wants to measure our behavior against that of Utopia, where they are afraid of someone waving a paper with angry words in their face. Whoa!

  8. Capt Grandpa:

    I'm almost tempted not to write because I agree with virtually everything said above. But I have to add my two cents just because I am so surprised that you accepted this report at face value. Having conducted a few investigations myself, and having read and reviewed dozens more, this one could not be more shallow.

    The ICRC's biases have already been remarked upon, but I also detect injured pride because its "written and oral interventions" were essentially ignored. The detainees claims are never substantiated and the CIA is never given an opportunity to respond. The closest report comes to any sort of corroboration is their statement that the stories must be true because they are so similar. That, of course ignores the fact that they are trained to claim abuse if captured.