Torture, Terror, and Hope for Resistance

By Jeremie M. Jordan

Fear and intimidation arrange a barrage of waves systematically eroding rights, freedoms, and liberties. After the events of 9/11 the world had an overwhelming outpour of sympathy for the U.S., which was promptly turned into heated condemnation over human rights abuses and torture taking place daily in the “Global War on Terror.�

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Antioch community members are helping to bring some much needed attention to the atrocities being committed on our behalf with a series of informative events, including documentary showings and a live panel discussion to take place on the 5th of October.

This institutional activism couldn’t be more timely as a bill is currently being rushed through the Senate, with bi-partisan support, which could in effect legally solidify the President’s idiom “enemy combatant� rather than “prisoner of war� in order to bypass the rules of engagement outlined in the Geneva Convention. The “Military Commissions Act of 2006� will also essentially legalize mass torture, limit Habeas Corpus (the right to be released if there is no a formal charge against you), immunize government personnel involved in acts considered cruel, inhumane, or degrading, from criminal prosecution, and also permit information gathered through torture to be used as evidence in military commissions, as the tribunals are being called.

Presently, under the Geneva Convention’s international law of armed conflict, a soldier is granted not only the right to not be tortured, but coercive interrogation is also outlined as unlawful.

In June of 2005 a nine-page memo surfaced from the White House concerning detention tactics, interrogation, and prosecution of terrorism suspects. Two top officials – acting Deputy Secretary of Defense, Gordon R. England, and Councilor of the State Department, Philip D. Zeilikow – called for a return to the minimum standards of treatment exemplified in the Geneva Convention and the eventual closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, especially for suspects to be taken out of their secret prisons cells and tried. President Bush who for three years has not applied the Geneva Conventions in the fight against terrorists is being urged in the memo to act in accordance with Common Article 3 and not just comply with the conventions minimum standards, but to also to place a ban on “humiliating and degrading treatment.â€?

Perhaps these recommendations came from England and Zeilikow not because they felt compelled by international law, but to acquire wider support from American allies and to make court interventions less likely. Nevertheless, the memo is bringing to light the apparent division that exists between the White House and the State Department. For example, Donald Rumsfeld, said to have been so angered that he had an assistant gather copies of the memo to be shredded.

Over the past year, the Bush cabal has garnered an ever-increasing amount of criticism both at home and abroad as more and more details come to light regarding the practices and general conduct of the war. With the shocking revelations of the abuses taking place at Abu Graib, there was conversation about the depth of the abuse throughout the military system or the prison system. Horrendous holding conditions, abuses targeting mental and spiritual “weak spots,� harassing and intimidating civilians in their homes throughout Iraq, and intimidating prisoners with the threat of their lives is growing serious questions of ethics on behalf of the United States military and of usefulness of any information that could be obtained. Furthermore, high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense who encourage coercion to obtain information need to acknowledge that the disturbing practices of the U.S. military are causing a backlash that suggests we may be doing more to encourage terrorism than to prevent it.

Unfortunately, however, it appears as though the attempts to prevent and curb the dangerous progression of these war tactics have been swiftly undermined by the wartime fervor. The president, under congressional approval during the current war conditions, has gained the ability to apprehend anyone anywhere and hold them indefinitely without ever being officially charged with a crime. Every American should be appalled by not just what is being carried out but how it being carried out.

A professor at Seton Hall recently published a study that analyzed data from the military’s tribunals 2001- 2006, excluding contended information. Using only the military’s official conclusions, he found one inconsistency after another. In regards to those who are being held at Guantanamo, Vice President Cheney claims these men were picked up on the battle field, when records clearly state only 5% of prisoners were actually picked up on the battlefield. Ninety five percent were evidently apprehended through another means. Leaflets were distributed depicting a smiling Afghan saying “Get wealth and power beyond your dreams… You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces catch al-Qaida and Taliban murderers. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and schools books and housing for all your people.� According to the military data eighty-six percent of those in custody were turned over by people who received the flyers. Cheney also says that the men detained at Guantanamo are Al Qaeda fighters when ninety two percent are not demonstrated to be associated with Al Qaeda at all. For the majority of the captives, there is no evidence of them ever committing violence against the U.S. or it’s allies.

It is crucial to the preservation of civil liberty and freedom that the torture that is going on as you read these words does not go uncontested. Antioch’s involvement in a broader examination of the human rights violations in the War on Terror along with other institutions of higher learning adds weight to the chorus of dissent. Not only torture, but the entitlement of individuals apprehended in foreign countries to rights at least embodying the ideals of the American justice system is of vital importance and can not be fully addressed in one article. Look for more information in coming weeks as the resistance gains momentum.