Little has changed despite Abu Ghraib (or Condi’s visit)

By Chip Pitts in

“We are convinced that once people living in America understand the scope of abuses taking place, these unlawful actions will end and our government’s actions will again be brought within the rule of law.”

[This] month marks the second anniversary of the now-iconic images of torture emerging from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. While Amnesty International would like to report that the situation for detainees being held by agents of the U.S. government has improved, it cannot. Contrary to the Bush administration’s claim that the abuses in U.S.-run prison facilities in Iraq were the work of a few bad apples, Amnesty International has documented a systemic pattern of abuses by agents of the U.S. government that spans the globe.

The use of torture and other inhuman treatment is firmly outlawed in both U.S. and international law. There is arguably no other principle of law more established than the absolute prohibition on torture. Perhaps this partly explains why the Bush administration shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, set out to redefine policies and practices in ways that pushed the limits on the prohibition against torture and inhuman treatment. In a series of memos composed between August 2002 and April 2003, the Justice Department, the White House counsel’s office and counsel to the secretary of defense attempted to redefine what constitutes physical and mental torture.

Widespread allegations reveal that torture and other inhuman treatment of detainees is occurring through the use of extraordinary rendition, in Department of Defense custody and in secret CIA detention facilities called black sites. Extraordinary rendition or outsourcing torture is the process by which the United States outside court purview transfers a person to another country for the purposes of interrogation and detention, often by first kidnapping them.

Under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which is ratified by the United States, it is unlawful to send a person to a country where he or she might face torture or other inhuman treatment. It has been well established that the United States has rendered people to countries such as Syria, Egypt and Morocco, all of which the State Department and Amnesty International have documented as engaging in widespread use of torture and other inhuman treatment.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib prison graphically illustrate the types of abuses that have emerged from Defense Department detention centers around the world. Amnesty International remains concerned that the military and intelligence services have not instituted appropriate mechanisms to stop these abuses, which generally occur during interrogation sessions.

Amnesty International has documented 60 types of abusive interrogation techniques that include, but are not limited to, beatings, the use of dogs to frighten detainees, prolonged standing, sleep deprivation, mock drowning and manipulation of medication. These techniques, when used alone or in combination, constitute torture or other inhuman treatment under international law. These actions run contrary to the military’s own historical experience and policies in the U.S. Army Field Manual that conclude that torture yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.

The U.S. government has been operating a network of secret detention centers around the world known as CIA black sites. These black sites hold an unknown number of unregistered ghost detainees that the U.S. government considers high value. Amnesty International considers individuals held in these secret detention centers to be effectively disappeared, which is illegal under international law.

Amnesty International USA launched the special initiative Denounce Torture to educate a broad spectrum of people living in America about the U.S. government’s use of torture in the war on terrorism and to provide opportunities to help stop these abuses. We are convinced that once people living in America understand the scope of abuses taking place, these unlawful actions will end and our government’s actions will again be brought within the rule of law.