A Question of Torture: Government's Role Past and Present

On Wednesday, September 27, from 2:00 - 5:30 pm at the Capitol Building, I hosted a briefing for staff and Members of Congress into the history, experimentation, techniques, training, exporting and use of torture by U.S. government in past covert operations abroad and in current operations during the war on terrorism, as well as attempts to make torture, cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners legal and to grant immunity to those who use it.


Our speakers included:


Prof. Alfred McCoy, Ph.D., author of A Question of Torture (statement read)

Jennifer Harbury, Atty., Torture Abolition Survivor & Support Coalition

Elizabeth Alexander, National Prisoner Project, ACLU

Morton Sklar, World Organization for Human Rights, USA

Dr. Juan Romagoza, Central American torture victim

Tara McKelvey, American Prospect magazine editor, ACLU plaintiff in NSA suit

Joey Mogul, Atty., Chicago attorney, police torture of African Americans


They covered a range of topics we want that have arisen since 9/11 as well as current legislative efforts to legitimize its use, including:


* Historical development of specific techniques by both Army and CIA operations, which were visible at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and throughout covert operations in Central America.


* History of US experimentation with, use, training, exporting, funding and direct supervision of torture since the end of WWII.


* The flawed logic of those who support the use of torture, even in "ticking time-bomb" scenarios, including recent legislation on these issues as well as attempts to secretly revise the Army Field Manual rules on interrogations.


* Abandonment of Geneva Convention and international standards in relation to covert operations and the war on terror, the creation of a dual legal system that allows abuses, and the effective legal immunity for torture in US courts, despite the existence of laws that ban and punish it.


* US-run secret renditions and secret prisons documented by the Council of Europe, and the treatment of "enemy combatants" in detention at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere, including the role of military medical personnel in these procedures.


* The use of torture in US prisons, jails and military brigs, and the transfer of these practices to and from military combat situations, including the findings of the UN Commission on Human Rights about US activities.


* The role of the new military commissions and interrogation detention encouraging these abuses, including the legal and Constitutional issues currently being debated and decided in the courts.


* The experiences of survivors of US-supervised torture and illegal activities, including the use of medical personnel in torture.


We cannot assess the method of using military tribunals and their relation to domestic, military and international laws and conventions without addressing the broader issue of the legality of the war on terror, the vague definitions of terrorist suspect and enemy combatant that are used to deny habeus corpus and other legal and judicial rights to a large range of thousands of individuals, including American citizens, legal and illegal aliens, and alleged combatants captured on battlefields abroad and far from them for rendition, indefinite detention, secret confinement, exemption from Geneva Conventions and other Constitutional and international protections and torture by US military, law and intelligence agents who are themselves immune from prosecution.


This administration has waged a war against the Constitutional and internationally recognized rules of war and law since the attacks of 9/11. The Military Commissions Act is just one of many attempts to make legal the patently unjust and un-Constitutional methods justified by White House and Justice Department officials on behalf of an increasing shift of unchecked power to the Executive Branch that consistently puts imagined security in opposition to historically known protections that have not only served the American people but have inspired the rest of the world. Abandoning these principles not only invites a trend toward the centralized powers that our founders fought and created the Constitution to curb, but also risks having any standard for international law and behavior once we are willing to compromise and demean our own.


Liberty is the only real source of our security, and a foreign policy that supports and respects national sovereignty, treaties and conventions, social and economic justice and shuns covert operations, undemocratic rulers, and the violations of law and principle that we publicly condemn when done by others.


To compromise our own internationally respected history of integrity, democratic standards and adherence to the rules of war and codes of conduct in relation to prisoners of any kind invites a world where no rules hold firm because none can honestly claim to hold a higher ground.


Torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, degrading methods of interrogation, and abandonment of basic civil and legal rights are not acceptable, regardless off the severity of the alleged external or internal emergency. We have historically faced much worse threats and excesses in these directions were always eventually found by the courts to be un-Constitutional and publicly condemned. We invite a much longer war, much more terrorist activity, and real instability at home unless we refuse to allow any violation of our Constitutional rights and the human rights due others here and abroad, in battle or not.


To see my full dissent to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, see http://www.house.gov/mckinney/DISSENT%20TO%20HR%206054.pdf


For witness statements and summaries contact my assistant john.judge@mail.house.gov.