How the U.S. Military Responded to the Drift Toward Torture

Below is the summary of the session:

 

How the U.S.
Military Responded to the Drift Toward Torture



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Speaker:  Don Guter, Dean, Duquesne University School of Law and former Navy Juge Advocate
General

Respondent:  Steve Xenakis, retired U.S. Army Brigadier General and Advisor to Physicians for Human
Rights

 

Guter:  I'm sure every one of you, when you're asked
to discuss torture, ask yourselves, "how in the world did we get to this point
that we have to hold multiple day summits on the issue?"  It began on 9/11 and it is somewhat useful to
begin on that day if only to remember the raw emotion.  With your indulgence I would like to return
to that day.  I was still in the service
and in a meeting in the Pentagon.  My
secretary interrupted our meeting to announce two planes hit the World Trade
Center, not long after the Pentagon shook and I simply told everyone "We've
been hit."  U.S. interests have been hit
in the past, many times, but these attacks paled in comparison to 9/11.  The brutality of this attack would be matched
by policies adopted in the War on Terror. 
The first efforts focused on recovery and care, but on a parallel track plans
were made for Afghanistan.  As the
President put it at that time, we were going to play offense.  But the signs that pointed to torture were
not yet recognized.  My first notion that
we might be heading in that direction came in early 2002.  Secretary White said we would need a charter
that would make it clear that the intelligence piece would control
interrogation in order to have a firewall between that and prosecution.

 

[. . .]  At the time we were still under the
impression that we would be treating detainees under the spirit and law of the
Geneva Conventions.  When the Torture
Convention was ratified by the Senate in 1984 it was with the intention that
there be a distinction between coercion and torture, but the convention makes
no such distinction, it only gave a vague definition of torture.  The fourth Geneva Convention also states that
no forceful coercion can be put on "protected persons."  Lawyers could have field days with these
definitions.  We just weren't alert to pick
up on the words being used about torture or that the holes in its definition were
big enough to drive a truck through.  It
is the Yoo-Bybee memo that many of us believe was responsible for the Abu Ghraib
scandal.  How did the definition of
torture come so far to be stretched beyond any kind of international
standard?  The government's policy was a
shameful down turn for a country that since WWII was known for setting the
world's humane standards. 

 

Even the
people who were talking about interrogation techniques did so without some kind
of qualifying statement.  It seems like
even then they knew something wrong was going on.  Conclusions were made that the Geneva
Conventions do not apply to war on terror detainees.  Lt. Col. Beaver was given four days to draft
a memo on the legality of the interrogation techniques and she concluded there
was nothing illegal, but that interrogators should be given immunity before
had.  This memo should have undergone a much more serious review at the level of
the Joint Chiefs than it did.   Despite
numerous concerns being raised by military commanders, nothing was done and the
memo was sent to Rumsfeld and approved only 5 days later, along with his famous
written statement asking why standing was limited only to 4 hours.  It has become clear that the administration
planned early on to implement increasingly harsh interrogation techniques.  Nowhere is this clearer than the working
group formed to review interrogation techniques, which was headed by Mary
Walker, who was the most compliant in the Bush administration.  Despite all concerns, Rumsfeld signed off on
the working group report in 2003.

 

There is a
marked difference between something that happens in spite of official policy
and something that happens because of it. 
Information was sought on the SEAR program that helps soldiers resist
severe interrogation in order to reverse engineer how to create interrogation
techniques.  In Sept. a group went to
Guantanamo to learn about the SEAR program and interrogation techniques.  The group was told techniques were basically
subjective, if a detainee dies you know you are doing it wrong.  Techniques didn't only come from the SEAR program,
but were also adapted from the tv series 24. 
By Dec. senior staff at Guantanamo began drafting policy based on the
SEAR interrogation techniques. 

 

When
Rumsfeld approved abusive interrogation techniques he unleashed a virus that
spread to Afghanistan and elsewhere.  But
the army field manual has always made
it clear that anything an interrogator does must be confined by the Geneva
Conventions.  These standards were most
certainly not upheld in the interrogation of Al-Kahtani and no one at the upper level has been held
responsible for the techniques used.  It
is also apparent the techniques were not only used on Al-Kahtani.  Also, it is apparent that the techniques do
not yield reliable information.

 

Our moral
standards our lowered, what once was considered horrifying is now
commonplace.  You can't eliminate
torture, someone will always do it, but the act of an individual in battle is
different from policy.  The U.S.
military's response has been an attitude complicity, complacence, and now is outright
rebellious.  I ask you to join forces and
sign the Declaration of Principles.

 

Xenakis:  I'm going to speak from a different
perspective, but hopefully will add to what Admiral Guter has said.  The attack on the World Trade Towers marked
the beginning of the War on Terror for many. 
The plain fact is that every war is different and nothing that has been claimed in the name of defending our country
can justify the inhumane treatment of prisoners.  Despite the growing public record, Abu Ghraib
and other instances have been blamed on lower level officials and have been
accompanied by the assertion that we have done nothing wrong.  With all due respect we shouldn't need a
lawyer to tell us what is right and respectable, but that is what has happened.  Our nation was absorbed by a climate of shock
and fear, reinforced by the repetitive scenes of the World Trade Center
vaporized over and over.  Most Americans
didn't blink an eye when detainees were labeled the worst of the worst and when
it came to saving American lives to torture or not became not much of a
question.  Recently I met an old friend
who was on tour in Iraq during Abu Ghraib. 
He told me the officers actively undermined those who worked to uphold
the law and that it was clear the actions taken were sins of commission, not
omission.

 [. . .]

Torture is
un-American, unreliable, unnecessary, and damaging for the person tortured, the
torturer and the nation.  Sometimes
decent people get caught up in indecent acts. 
Our men and women on the frontlines are endangered because of the
increased risks on the battlefield.  We
are all weakened by these measures and it is time to correct them.


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