The Islamic Post Blog

Rights Groups Still Insist on Independent Guantanamo Task Force by Khalida
March 24, 2009, 10:52 am
Filed under: Latino/Caribe, March Volume 2009, National | Tags:

(IP)- The US Defense Department task force report, which was released to the public last month, stated Guantanamo Bay is in compliance with the Geneva Convention. US Attorney General Eric Holder has, however, reaffirmed that Guantanamo Bay will be closed on schedule.
Despite assurances from President Obama of continuing the “ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism” “in a manner that is consistent with our values and ideals,” human rights groups and medical ethics committees wanted to oversee that process as it refers to the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The UK-based attorney advocacy group, Reprieve, wrote an open letter to the President, after reports surfaced on the task force findings, requesting additional investigations into treatment of prisoners held, specifically the 10% of the population previously ordered by federal judges to be released. The attorneys who signed the letter, counsellors for some of the men still held there, insist that their clients continue to report abuse. Some detainees allege maltreatment has been heightened in recent months.
Guantanamo Bay has varying camps depending on the level of perceived danger of an individual, ranging from a dormitory environment to solitary isolation. At least two of the men ordered to be freed remain in solitary confinement and complain of harsh force feeding. “Little is known about Camp 7, which is at a secret location at Guantanamo Bay and off limits even to military attorneys representing the men there. It houses those detainees who were formerly held at secret CIA prisons,” reported Washington Post staff writers.
The President, in an attempt to roll back Bush Administration policies which allegedly went beyond the military handbook into torture, insisted by executive order on the first day of his presidency that intelligence-gathering agencies stick to the rules of interrogation as outlined in the Army Field Manual. Yet, it has been countered by analysts that the tactics contained in the Manual itself crosses the moral boundaries Americans have come to expect of its defense forces, and hinges on the border of maltreatment, according to what is allowed therein.
Bringing to light public misconceptions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor says perhaps many mistakenly think of prisoners of war in terms of the classic 1963 movie “The Great Escape,” based on events at Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner of war camp. “In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, the Germans housed captured Allied troops in military-style barracks,” writes Richey. “Allied POWs lived together, ate together, and were able to socialize. In the movie, one character repeatedly tries and fails to escape. Each time he is recaptured, he is sent as punishment to a solitary confinement cell. The plot line illustrates a key aspect of the protections required under the Geneva Conventions: Wartime detention may not be a form of punishment unless there is specific cause justifying punishment. “The general idea is that prisoners of war aren’t supposed to be punished,” according to Shayana Kadidal, director of the Guantánamo Global Justice Project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a quote presented by Richey.
On the contrary, a scarcely-reported section of the Army’s Field Manual on Interrogation “still allows the use of tactics that can constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under U.S. and international law,” writes political analyst, William Fisher. Mr. Fisher, who managed developmental programs for the US State Department under the Kennedy Administration, notes the suspect section of the Manual, known as Annex M, allows the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and isolation, which is termed “separation” in the Manual.
He then cites Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) Chief Executive Officer, Frank Donaghue as claiming: “Particularly when used in combination, these techniques amount to psychological torture. The Obama Administration must close this loophole in the Army Field Manual by eliminating Appendix M, which leaves the door open to torture.”
Fisher reports that the Nobel laureate not-for-profit organization, (PHR) is calling on the task force, appointed by the president, to review U.S. interrogation and transfer policies, consult with human rights organizations as part of the review process, and ultimately revoke Annex M.
“The desire to turn the page on the past seven years of detainee abuse and torture by U.S. forces is understandable,” Donaghue said. But he noted that “President Obama, Congress and the health professions will not have fulfilled their obligation to the Constitution and medical ethics if they settle only for reform without accountability.”  Mr. Donoghue was referring to what he calls the past administration’s “weaponization” of the health professions, through the use of Behavioral Science Consultants, to inflict harm on detainees. “A war crime unto itself,” said Donaghue.
The Associated Press (AP) reported in “Doctors Blast Guantanamo Treatment as Unethical” that many physicians have refused, particularly, to participate in the force feeding of detainees, a process that may sound mundane, but in reality is far beyond what most people imagine when they think of the Geneva Convention. Force feeding involves a detainee being restrained with straps in a chair and having a tube which forces a liquid nutrition mix through the nose and down the throat. Yet Department of Defense spokeswoman at the time of the 2007 article, Cynthia Smith, claims that force-feeding is done in a humane and compassionate manner using a method that is consistent with procedures used in U.S. federal prisons.
Others disagree that force feeding is humane. The New-York based Center for Constitutional Rights told AP that the parents of two detainees, who committed suicide after being force fed repeatedly for months, are now seeking unspecified damages from the Pentagon for the “illegal detention, torture, inhumane conditions and ultimate deaths” of their sons. At the time of the suicides, Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris, then-commander of the prison, described them as “not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare.”
The Pentagon recently announced that the Obama Administration will be replacing the commander in charge of Guantanamo Bay with a senior officer who had attended high school with the president.
But even while the new oversight on Guantanamo and interagency tasks forces headed to Cuba, at the President’s behest, to assess the situation at present, The American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch, drafted a letter late last month requesting permission to “provide an outside assessment of current conditions, and as improvements are made, to credibly, independently and publicly report them to the world,” stated the letter. “Such access and reporting would further the objectives of the current Department of Defense (DoD), review and amplify the international benefits of improving conditions at the camps. Our presence itself will be welcomed as another break from the prior administration’s policies on detainees, and set an example of transparency that will help advance human rights worldwide,” it concluded.


What about the U.S. Prison System?

Such a dust storm has kicked up since the executive orders that were signed to prohibit harsh treatment to foreign prisoners, that a New Orleans journalist, Jordan Flaherty, presented the questions of domestic treatment of American citizens confined in the United States prison system:
“The torture of prisoners in US custody is not only found in military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo,” writes Mr. Flaherty. “If President Obama is serious about ending U.S. support for torture, he can start here in Louisiana.” Flaherty then listed a wide range of alleged systemic abuses perpetrated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.  He also cites prisoners being kept in solitary confinement from eight to 36 years, for fear of the spread of leftist ideas among fellow prisoners.
“While prison officials deny the policy of abuse, the range of prisoners who gave statements, in addition to medical records and other evidence introduced at the trial (for an escape attempt a decade ago), present a powerful argument that abuse is a standard policy at the prison,” states Flaherty. He then notes that several of the prisoners received $7,000 when the state agreed to settle, without admitting liability, two civil rights lawsuits filed by 13 inmates.
The US has the largest incarcerated population in the world with twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. Louisiana has the largest percentage imprisoned out of any US state.


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