What can we do?

GTMO.jpgWe ask this question: If it is the case that American military personnel tortured those in GTMO, and this piece from The Washington Post shows that torture occurred, what can we do? To whom do we write? The Obama Administration will be challenged both to acknowledge such cases and respond to the justice issues.


The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military
tortured a Saudi national
who allegedly planned to participate in the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that
included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged
exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her
first interview since being named convening authority of military
commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. …

Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney
was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration
official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly
state that a detainee was tortured.

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques,
their duration and the impact on Qahtani’s health led to her
conclusion. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the
manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too
persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous
physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular
act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on
him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And
coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me
over the edge” to call it torture, she said.

… Qahtani was denied entry into the United States a month before the
Sept. 11 attacks and was allegedly planning to be the plot’s 20th
hijacker. He was later captured in Afghanistan and transported to
Guantanamo in January 2002. His interrogation took place over 50 days
from November 2002 to January 2003, though he was held in isolation
until April 2003.

“For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” said
Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani’s interrogation records and
other military documents. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of
18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female
agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and
sister.”

At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus,
according to a military report. Qahtani “was forced to wear a woman’s
bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his
interrogation” and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.”
With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced
to perform a series of dog tricks,” the report shows.

The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post,
was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo
with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60
beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and
death. At one point Qahtani’s heart rate dropped to 35 beats per
minute, the record shows.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Eric

    What should we do? Call and write our own Senators and Congresspersons, who tend to take notice when their constituents are upset about things. When we call, we should make clear that we view this as very serious, and request:
    (1) full investigation and complete public disclosure of all that happened, not just to this person but to all at Gitmo and elsewhere;
    (2) acknowledgement at the highest levels of our government of the facts, and acknowledgement that it is unlawful and will not happen again; and
    (3) criminal prosecution of those who carried out the torture and approved it.
    In short, call and complain, and ask for transparency, repentance and justice.

  • Kevin D. Johnson

    It might be more appropriate to consider what could happen under the new administration – see this article in the Washington Times:
    http://washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jan/15/panetta-faces-rendition-queries

  • http://getrad2.blogspot.com RonMck

    Pointing the finger at the President or Congress is not the solution. The important question to ask is what is going on in the American hearts that made it possible for so many people to remain silent about this evil. What does this tell us about American culture? James Leroy Wilson had this thought.

  • Scott

    I would listen to this interview on the NPR show Fresh Air:
    Philippe Sands Considers A Legacy Of ‘Torture’
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99061358
    And then write to our senators, congressmen and President Obama and ask that a comprehensive, independent investigation of alleged abuses committed against detainees since Sept. 11, 2001.
    If the investigation shows that torture took place, those people should be tried before an international tribunal under the terms of the 1984 The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which the United States is a signer of.

  • Tom

    Write and speak out consistently.
    Whether or not Bush and his crew are war criminals, they clearly broke laws and now brag about it.
    I would think conservative religious types would find that fact hard to swallow, but in my experience conservative politicians can introduce almost anything down the throats of ‘true believers.’
    Phillipe Sands has something to say. Check it out.
    Appreciated this take by Andrew Sullivan:
    ‘The truth is, at some point, prosecutions for something as grave as war crimes will surely rise up through the legal system and demand some response from the Justice Department regardless of what we decide now. I favor a Truth Commission because I think it would help enormously to have a bipartisan factual resource for people to refer to in sorting through all this. The Commission need not be tasked with prosecuting or finding the evidence to prosecute anyone in the Bush administration. But if a credible and substantiated case emerges that a senior civilian in the Bush administration did commit war crimes – and the facts merit no other conclusion – then I cannot see how the Justice Department refuses to respond. On what grounds? That war crimes are unimportant? That it is within the attorney general’s discretion to ignore them?
    Remember: even the Pentagon concedes that a dozen prisoners have been tortured to death by US interrogators. Human rights groups put that number at close to a hundred. Most of the techniques we saw displayed at Abu Ghraib were authorized by the president and vice-president. And they monitored the waterboarding sessions very closely and then sat around while the CIA openly destroyed the taped evidence of them – evidence that would prevent anyone from ever believing this wasn’t torture.
    As the president said yesterday, connect the dots.’

  • ChrisB

    Intersting emphasis in the article. My twist:
    “the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks
    Few hearts will bleed for him.
    I’m curious where they found cold in Cuba.
    That said, he was tortured. Notice that this is coming from a DoD investigation. Courts will be martialed. We’ll do the right thing. Relax.

  • Pat

    My church has been active on this issue through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (http://www.nrcat.org/index.php). They sent us educational material, banners, and periodic suggestions for action.

  • Patrick

    Please have a look at an award winning essay on ‘The Theology of Guantanamo Bay’ by a friend of mine http://zoomtard.furiousthinking.org/?p=652
    #6 ‘We’ll do the right thing. Relax’
    Chris – Wow, what optimism in human nature. What trust of (fallen) Government. I hope you are right – and Obama looks serious about this issue which bodes well. But please allow me an outsiders comment: I have many American friends and love visiting your country – but I wonder if you realise that it is the rhetoric of the ‘assumed righteousness’ of America as the land of freedom and God’s special favour that so alienates (and often scares) non-Americans. Such unquestioning trust blunts Christians’ ability to be counter-cultural – whether the issue be consumerism or ‘the war on terror’ or whatever.
    I believe Guantanamo is a national and moral disgrace – an affront to the very values that have made America a truly great nation. Given that such blatant injustice has been perpetrated by the United States govt in the name of America, I would have hoped would have sparked a massive campaign headed up by Christians who belong to a different kingdom to that of the world – a kingdom of justice. Maybe I’ve missed it and others can correct me (and it is great to read other comments about action being taken)- but I have not heard much (anything?) from major US evangelical figures on moral black-hole of Guantanamo. So thanks Scot for raising this issue – i just wish there were 100 comments and not a handful, is it just not a pressing issue for US Christians?

  • ChrisB

    Patrick,
    I generally don’t trust this government any farther than I can throw it, but given that this is coming out of an official report made public by the government (as opposed to some kind of leak), it’s safe to assume they intend to do something about it.
    “I believe Guantanamo is a national and moral disgrace”
    If that’s true, believe you’ve been misinformed about what’s gone on there.
    What people tend not to understand is that these men fall outside of every previously established category. We don’t know what to do with them — they’re not criminals, they’re not prisoners of war, they’re not spies — and in many cases don’t want them but no one else will take them. If we just let them go, they just rejoin the terrorists (as 61 have done at last count).
    They’ve been reasonably well treated with this one exception — and even he was subjected to reasonable interogation methods; it’s just been judged that they were excessively applied.
    I’m not sure what you’re calling “blatant injustice,” but — sorry to disappoint — many American Christians are willing to let terrorists wear thongs on their heads if it keeps our children from glowing.

  • Doug Allen

    Hi Patrick #8,
    We religious liberals, speaking for myself, have been out front on this issue. Most of us supported Obama, but McCain also strongly protested our governments use of torture. I think he also planned to close down Gitmo. One of the great things about the internet is that we Americans get to know what citizens all over the world are thinking. I appreciate your criticism. I do have a worry and a question. What do we do with the terrorist prisoners?
    Doug

  • ron

    There is overwhelming evidence that the problem goes all the way to the top (Bush/Cheney). While Bush said the other day that what they did was “legal”, it was only legal in the “opinions” that the administration solicited from handpicked lawyers like John Yoo and David Addington, individuals who declared “quaint” the Geneva conventions. Constitutionally ratified treaties are as much the law of the land as any legislation passed by the Congress and approved by the President.
    There is one point of view that prosecution of responsible individuals would do more harm than good, since it would inevitably be corrupted by partisanship (would that we had been so inhibited a decade ago). On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that the Constitution, Separation of Powers, and the Rule of Law have been violated at the highest levels. If there is no redress, if those responsible appear to be able to suffer no consequences for their usurpation, then the notions of the Constitution and the Rule of Law lose their meaning, and we become more and more at the mercy of the whims of whichever party, cabal, or individuals happen to be in power.
    Scott Horton is a Constitutional lawyer and educator who blogs on this topic and others at Harpers Magazine. A lot can be learned by going back through his posts on this subject:
    http://www.harpers.org/subjects/NoComment

  • ChrisB

    “Constitutionally ratified treaties are as much the law of the land as any legislation…”
    According to SCOTUS Congress must pass legislation enacting whatever provisions of a treaty need to be made into law.
    “declared “quaint” the Geneva conventions”
    Actually, the prevailing opinion was the Geneva conventions don’t apply to “enemy combatants” who belong to no nation and wear no uniform. They are more like mercenaries than soldiers.
    Did you see that the FISA appeals court has ruled that the “warrantless wiretaps” were perfectly constitutional?

  • Eric

    ChrisB,
    Surely you are not suggesting that Congress hasn’t ratified the Geneva Conventions? That was done long ago. And several US statutes adopted by Congress provide criminal and other penalties for torture.
    As to your second point, it is well establashed that torture is a crime even if it is not against an enemy combatant.
    As a lawyer that doesn’t lean toward either party, I am disgusted by the wholly unreasonable and unjustifiable legal position of the Bush administration on this issue.
    This is unambiguously very serious criminal conduct.

  • Patrick

    Thanks Doug
    On what to do with the prisoners. Some British citizens were transferred back to the UK where it was concluded that there was no evidence at all to justify their original imprisonment.I suspect this applies to many still locked up for years with no trial. The prisoners should be returned to their countries or to other countries where they will be treated with justice. The administration needs to say ‘we got this terribly wrong’ and show some generosity and mercy.
    The other outstanding issue here is the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition (introduced by Clinton in 1995) where a suspect is kidnapped, taken to a secret third country and interrogated / tortured with impunity – all completely outside the rule of international justice. While Obama has promised to close Gitmo, he has made no such promise on this. I hope he does.

  • ron

    ChrisB,
    The “prevailing opinion” that you refer to was the opinion generated by individuals like Yoo and Addington at the behest of Cheney, and it is only in their insulated circle that it prevailed.
    Does it not bother you a little that “enemy combatants” were so designated by one man (the President) and that once this disignation occurred, they were wholly at his mercy and “judgment”? This same man, who when he was governor of Texas, said their were no innocent men on death row in that state. (Since then several individuals on death row in Texas have been exonerated by DNA testing.) And yet he presumed to have this power over anyone (including American citizens) he judged necessary to exert it on in the prosecution of the war on terror. Does anyone have the wisdom, purity of motive, and depth of understanding to assume such a task? Such power is nowhere to be found in the Constitution; nevertheless, the bottom line in the position of Cheney and Bush is that the President is above the Constitution in his role as Commander-in-Chief.
    It boggles the mind that the American people in general have stood for this, and it is dismaying in the extreme that the portion of the public that has most consistently supported this policy is the evangelical wing of the Christian church.
    It has been clear for quite some time that a substantial number of the individuals taken to Guantanamo were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and were swooped along with the herd. Others were not terrorists, but were “turned in” by some warlord who wished to get rid of them.
    I would point once again to Scott Horton, who yesterday analyzed the Bush years, using the writings of Augustine as his touchstone:
    http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/01/hbc-90004222


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