06 May 2004

Iraq abuse cases are no aberration

May 6 2004
The Times of India

Iraq abuse cases are no aberration

By Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network

New Delhi: President George W. Bush declared on Wednesday that the evidence of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in US-occupied Iraq is "abhorrent" and "does not represent the America that I know".

The reality, say US-based human rights groups and legal scholars, is that the Bush administration's `war on terror' has spawned a set of aggressive detention and interrogation practices that have broken down the time-honoured taboo against torture and exposed prisoners to the depredations of interrogators and guards who know the usual rules no longer apply.

From the notorious black hole of Guantanamo to the numerous detention centres run offshore by the CIA so as to exclude the oversight of US courts, it is routine for prisoners to be humiliated or subjected to physical abuse and violence. "Many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the US mainland have also been victims of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by the US government," says Marjorie Cohn, professor of international law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.

One of cornerstones of the Bush administration's new approach towards suspects is the policy of "rendition", where the US outsources the job of interrogating individuals believed to have terrorist links to countries where torture is routine -- like Syria, Egypt or Morocco. "We don't kick the %&@# out of them," an unnamed US official told the Washington Post in December 2002. "We send them to other countries so they can kick the %$@# out of them."

Asked what exactly was meant by "operational flexibility" in the interrogation of terrorist suspects, J Cofer Black, then head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, told a Senate intelligence committee in 2002: "This is a very highly classified area but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11.

After 9/11 the gloves come off." Black is now the Bush administration's ambassador-at-large on counter-terrorism.

In Iraq, the general remit to use force while interrogating anti-American captives has fused with the violent logic of military occupation to produce a deadly cocktail of humiliating prison rituals, sexual sadism and torture. Far from being aberrations, the US soldiers shown smiling next to their stripped trophies are the logical product of the "gloves" coming off.

A review of the changing US policy towards torture and other forms of unlawful interrogation by the Center for Cooperative Research has produced literally scores of documented examples of violence against US-held prisoners -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo -- as well as against those the US `rendered' over to its allies.

One of the most notorious case of US-sponsored torture to have emerged yet is that of Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian dual national who was taken off a plane at JFK airport in New York in September 2002, questioned for a few days, and then handed over to Syria for the full treatment. After 10 months of brutal torture, he was eventually released.

Today, he is reportedly considering suing the US for $400 million in damages.

The internal US army report into the Abu Ghraib abuses makes it clear that much of the torture was linked to interrogations and was therefore the product of an official writ rather than individual perversity.

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