Friday, 14 December 2007

The Inconvenient Truth – America’s Gulags

Washington’s disregard for human rights appalls former president

What a great day for quotes.

“I’m going to speak an inconvenient truth: my own country – the United States – is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali,” announced former Vice President Al Gore to appreciative applause from delegates to a U.N. climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia.

Half a world away, former President Jimmy Carter had another inconvenient truth. He told his audience at the Carter Center that the United States should be “embarrassed” for its appalling disregard for human rights. He said the notorious detention camps in Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq would one day have their place in infamy as historic places where human rights were abused – drawing comparisons to Argentina, Chile, Poland, South Africa and the former Soviet Union.

First published by Ohmynews International

Reproduced by

He was speaking as the House of Representatives were preparing to vote on a bill to ban the practice of waterboarding, or simulated drowning, during the interrogation of terrorist suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The bill passed, and intelligence officials are now required to observe the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture.

However, in a quite astonishing development, the White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it would prevent the United States from using lawful methods to conduct interrogations of senior al-Qaeda suspects. Essentially, George Bush wants waterboarding to be made legal, so intelligence officers can conduct lawful interrogations.

This from a president who has declared very clearly on a number of occasions, “The United States does not use torture.”

When a chief executive makes such a broad and sweeping – and given the evidence, patently ridiculous statement – then you know we are in trouble. Of course intelligence officers and policemen use varying degrees of torture. The only question is whether that torture is officially sanctioned. And in the case of the United States, apparently it is. Or at least it will be after the Bush veto.

Author and United Nations correspondent, Matthew Lee told PressTV during an interview, “There are some people who always use this example of the ticking bomb. If you had a suspect who knew where a bomb was that would blow up a million people, would you be willing to waterboard him then?”

He said clearly the vote would go along partisan lines, but there are some in Congress who are in favor of waterboarding. Actually, 199 of them are indeed in favor of the process and voted against the bill, but the 222 who opposed torture carried the day by a simple, but small majority.

The interrogation techniques used against suspects reemerged as a controversial issue this week after it was revealed that video tapes – allegedly showing excessive torture during the questioning of terror suspects – had been destroyed by the CIA. Their excuse? The tapes might reveal the identities of the interrogators and compromise their security. No doubt.

Unfortunately for the CIA, a U.S. court had prohibited the destruction of evidence of detainee torture or abuse some three months before the tapes in question were destroyed. However, there is a loophole big enough to drive an elephant through. The court order only covered the prisons in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq – and made no reference to the secret detention centers maintained by the United States in third countries.

“There’s a dispute,” says Lee, “There was a court order saying no tapes of interrogations in Guantanamo could be destroyed. But apparently the tapes they admitted destroying were filmed in these secret prisons that the U.S. has been running outside of the country.”

It could be argued, Lee said, that the tapes recorded the interrogations of individuals who were defendants in legal trials, and under normal circumstances the agents would have known it would be illegal to destroy them, whether or not they were covered by this particular court order.

“Obviously the decision to destroy these tapes came from very high up,” Lee said.

President Bush has publically acknowledged the existence of the secret prison system, but few details have since emerged.

How many of these detention centers are there and how many people are being detained? Well, we simply don’t know.

“There have been some reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere,” said Lee, “but really the impression is this is just the tip of the iceberg. Honestly, nobody knows how many people the U.S. is holding and where they are being held. That is a big problem.”

The U.S. government, he said, is certainly never going to give a full inventory of these secret prisons. “People find out about them, and I think for some of them the transit point for prisoners has been in the European Union,” Lee said, but whenever there is a report about the alleged location of a prison it breaks all sorts of local laws and conventions, “So I think the U.S. has to move these things further and further underground .”

And, of course, further away from public scrutiny and the eyes of the court system.

Strange that we are talking about the United States, because all of this does sound so much like Chile under Pinochet, or the Soviet Union under Stalin. And this is no conspiracy theory, it’s an admitted fact. Secret prisons, torture, destruction of evidence. A U.S. gulag archipelago stretching around the world. A scary thought, isn’t it?

Perhaps it has always been like this, and through the arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration, we are only now beginning to discover the truth. Who knows?

There is still that question hanging, though. That moral dilemma. As Lee put it, if you had a suspect who knew where the ticking bomb was located, would you use torture to save innocent lives?

But before you answer, remember, it’s a slippery slope. How do you know you have the right man? Before you know it, you could be saying, “Better safe than sorry, torture them all.”

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