Life in the Time of Torture

This week Jews and Christians celebrate two of their most sacred
holidays — Passover, remembering the liberation of Israelites from
bondage, and Easter, commemorating Christ’s resurrection from
death. In such a season of release and renewal, it seems
appropriate for all Americans to contemplate the moral question of

In the next months we will hear this issue debated in our
courtrooms and before military tribunals. But as citizens and as
human beings we must answer for ourselves the question: Is
torture ever justified?

This is a moment of truth for America, and perhaps the most
important moment it has ever faced.

The articles in the ollowing special report wrestle with the
ethics, the history, and the laws governing torture.

We have all seen the photographs from Abu Ghraib. Most of us
have heard that more than 600 detainees have been held at
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for years without being charged with any
crime and that for the first time in our history, the United States
has refused to allow its soldiers to follow the Geneva Convention,
a wartime code of conduct.

In another April long ago, in the spring of 1945, triumphant
allied armies raced toward Berlin — Soviet troops from the east and
American and British forces from the west.

Huge numbers of German soldiers, officers, and men, now
convinced of Hitler’s defeat, rushed toward the advancing Allies to
surrender. They all went in one direction — west. They knew that if
they were captured by American soldiers they would be treated as
human beings.

In many ways, it was the greatest honor America received in
World War II. Will our nation, our government, our citizens ever be
accorded such an honor again? —  Marianne Partridge

BAGHDAD, IRAQ – OCT. 28 An Iraqi detainee screams “Allah”
while tied down in a “human restraint chair” at the maximum
security section of the Abu Ghraib Prison October 28, 2005 on the
outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. His jailers, U.S. Army military police,
said that he was being punished for disrespecting them, and that he
would spend two hours in the chair as punishment. The suspected
insurgent, a juvenile, had earlier been moved to the maximum
security section of the prison for 30 days for attacking a guard in
another section of the facility.

Pear Tree: Is Torture Ever Justified?

As an investigator for human rights organizations, Eric
Stener Carlson has spent a lifetime pondering the reality of
torture. He has interviewed victims of the Serbian rape centers,
exhumed and identified bodies of Argentina’s Disappeared, and
assessed prison conditions of alleged terrorists throughout Peru.
In this excerpt of his most recent book, The Pear Tree, Carlson,
who holds a doctorate in political science from UCSB, attempts to
honestly answer a most complicated question: Is torture ever

We civilians are usually not the ones who commit torture.
Rather, driven by the fear that our children may be harmed by what
I call “The Stranger” — call him rapist, terrorist, or
revolutionary — we authorize our soldiers and police to do whatever
they can to protect them, to protect us. Sometimes this
authorization is tacit, and, as long as the State achieves results,
we — people from all walks of life, under democracy or
dictatorship — turn a blind eye. Sometimes this authorization is
explicit, and we demand that they extract an eye for an eye. Either
way, our leaders often fan this fear in us, and they capitalize
upon our nightmares to pursue their own agendas.

My foundational work in the study of torture was the Argentine
“Dirty War” in the late 1970s, a study that led me to the mass
graves, to exhume and identify bodies of the “disappeared.”
Although some would deny it now, many Argentines greeted the
overthrow of democracy in 1976 with jubilation. Finally, finally,
someone was going to do something about the Communist subversives,
the terrorists, the left-wing kidnappers.

And the military did do something. They did kill the
revolutionaries who were threatening the stability of Argentina and
the security of their children.

And then the soldiers tortured and killed labor union leaders
who did not agree with their new economic plan. And then they raped
and murdered schoolchildren who protested for subsidized bus
passes. And then they kidnapped the librarians who shelved books
they considered subversive, and they drugged and dumped into the
sea anthropologists and psychologists and priests whose thoughts
and prayers they believed were subversive, too. And, as the
soldiers cattle-prodded pregnant women, and as they stole their
babies to raise as their own, many Argentines whispered under their
breath “por algo será” —“they must have done something”— to deserve
being brutalized. In the midst of this butchery, common citizens
turned up the volume of their radios, so as not to hear the screams
of their neighbors being dragged away.

In country after country, we have seen the Argentine experience
repeated with such consistency that we must cease to consider it
“Argentine” and realize it is universal. The Nazis “invented”
disappearances in the 1940s, the French used torture in Indochina
and Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s, and U.S. troops have
recently — and proudly — filmed themselves sexually assaulting
prisoners in Iraq …

It’s a simple truth that most acts of torture are committed by
States — by their agents or their proxies — in pursuit of their own
ends, instead of by parents pushed by extreme events. Indeed, if we
follow the letter of international law, torture — let us call it
“certified” torture — can only be committed by States. According to
Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel,
Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “the term ‘torture’
means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical
or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person … when such pain
or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the
consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting
in an official capacity.”

This prohibition against States employing torture is so deeply
entrenched in customary international law that it falls under the
category of jus cogens, meaning there is no greater class of
prohibition. Torture, like slavery and genocide, is something so
forbidden, so dishonorable for a soldier to engage in, that, even
in times of total war, there is no legally acceptable excuse for
it, ever. No justifiable situation. No escape clause.

Yet, regardless of the weight of this prohibition, regardless of
the fact that the overwhelming majority of religions, cultures, and
national legal systems throughout the world openly condemn this
practice, a number of States do, indeed, torture. This is the case,
sadly and shamefully, of the United States in its recent “War
Against Terror.” As a report from Human Rights Watch notes,

The recent capture of high-ranking Al Qaeda suspects has
rekindled a debate in the United States about whether torture is or
should be used during their interrogation. Many
Americans — including, apparently, U.S. officials — are unaware of
the absolute, unequivocal prohibition against torture or other
cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of any person, including
terrorist suspects. The right to be free from such mistreatment is
one of the most fundamental and unequivocal human rights. As the
United States confronts terrorism, legitimate national security
needs, public anxiety, and the desire for retribution may give rise
to the temptation to sacrifice certain fundamental rights.

In this last sentence of the excerpt above, we see those two
pressurized streams, so integral to the Argentine Dirty War,
converge once more: “national security needs” and “public anxiety.”
Certainly, there are real threats to our security. Certainly, there
are terrorists, and we must stop them and kill them, if need be.
However, in the face of this reality, the U.S. government plays
upon our anxiety, continually ratcheting up the threat levels,
forever implying a “dirty bomb” is about to be detonated in the
United States. Our leaders characterize prohibitions under
international law as a coddling of terrorists, to such a point, I
now fear, that U.S. public opinion regarding torture is alarmingly
close to “por algo será.” Do we torture in Iraq and Afghanistan and
Guantánamo Bay? “Well, they must deserve it,” seems to be the
response of a good many people. That is because we believe “our
government knows what it’s doing.”

Indeed, I do believe the government knows what it’s doing. While
I accept the thrust of the Human Rights Watch report, I do disagree
on one point: U.S. officials cannot possibly be unaware of the
prohibition against torture. As a result of Eleanor Roosevelt’s
unwavering vision, we helped draft the United Nations’ Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, Article Five of which proclaims, “No
one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment.” In the 1940s, we judged Nazi
torturers at Nuremburg. In the 1990s, we judged Serb torturers in
The Hague. And, ever since the violations we committed in the
Vietnam War, we have placed such emphasis on soldiers’ respect for
the Geneva Conventions, I can only assume that, when our troops
tortured in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, this was the result of a
wider policy, either of omission or commission.

In the end, no matter how hard States try to bend international
law, if they want to torture, then they either have to do it in
such extreme secrecy so that we never find out, or they must
convince us it is something good …

In a time when lawyers and soldiers, politicians and even
presidents support the use of torture, the only hope is that you
and I, our mothers and our fathers, our next door neighbors and our
friends, reject torture, reject it for what it really is — the most
demeaning, degrading, and dishonorable act we could ever commit as
human beings. If we reject torture, not because the law tells us
to, or because our spiritual or political leaders advise us against
it, but because we feel it in our bones, in our hearts, in our
homes, then we may be able to rescue, among all this human misery,
the very best in ourselves …

It’s awfully tempting to imagine how we could have prevented
those deaths on September 11th with one act of torture. But how far
would that — still unacceptable act — be from the acts we committed
at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay and at all the other places we
haven’t heard about yet? How far is it from forcing men into cages,
stripping them naked, making them masturbate each other? How far is
that from jeering at their naked, bloody bodies while they defecate

This “War Against Terror” is much like the French Revolutionary
Warfare doctrine of the 1950s and ’60s and the U.S. National
Security Doctrine of the 1970s and ’80s, both of which fortified
the Argentine military in its method of mass torture and
disappearances. It formalizes, authorizes, and legitimizes our most
prohibited desires to demean and to degrade, to rape and to defile,
all in the name of our children, all in the name of protecting
them. And, yet, how many of us would want some soldier from some
other country to use any one of those “interrogation” methods
listed above on our son — to strip him, sodomize him, make him
perform oral sex on his childhood friends, and then parade him
around on a dog leash to be photographed for his family and all the
world to see? Does that make up for the thousands dead in New York?
Does it make us feel any safer?

Excerpted from The Pear Tree: Is Torture Ever
by Eric Stener Carlson, published in 2006 by
Clarity Press, Inc. Visit: or call (800) 729-6423.

Is this torture?

U.S. Interrogation Techniques According to
Amnesty International, U.S. troops are alleged to have used, or
been authorized to use, the following interrogation techniques
against men, women, and children in their War against Terror: •
Abduction • Death threats • Dietary manipulation • Dogs used to
threaten and intimidate • Dousing in cold water • Electric shocks,
threats of electric shocks • Excessive and cruel use of shackles
and handcuffs, including “short shackling” • Excessive or
humiliating use of strip searches • Exposure to weather and
temperature extremes • “False-flag” (making a detainee think his
interrogators are not U.S. agents) • Forced shaving (of head, body,
or facial hair) • Forcible injections • Forced physical exercise •
Hooding and blindfolding • Humiliation (forced crawling, forced to
make animal noises, etc.) • Immersion in water to induce perception
of drowning • Incommunicado detention • Induced perception of
suffocation or asphyxiation • Isolation for prolonged periods
(months or more than a year) • Light deprivation • Loud music,
noise, yelling. • Photography as humiliation • Physical assault
(beating, punching, kicking) • Prolonged interrogations (20 hours)
• Racial and religious taunts, humiliation • Religious intolerance
(disrespect for Koran, religious rituals) • Secret detention •
Sensory deprivation • Sexual humiliation • Sexual assault • Sleep
adjustment • Sleep deprivation • Stress positions (prolonged forced
kneeling and standing) • Stripping • Strobe lighting • Threats of
reprisals against relatives • Threat of transfer to third country
to inspire fear of torture or death • Threat of transfer to
Guantánamo • Threats of torture or ill-treatment • Twenty-four-hour
lighting • Withdrawal of “comfort items” • Withholding of
medication • Withholding of food and water • Withholding of toilet
facilities, leading to defecation and urination in clothing

The above list is quoted textually from Amnesty International,
“Human rights not hollow words: An appeal to President George W.
Bush on the occasion of his re-inauguration,” (January 19, 2005).
It appears on Amnesty International’s Web site,

BAGHDAD, IRAQ – OCT. 27: Suspected foreign insurgents stand
inside their pen in the Abu Ghraib Prison October 27, 2005, which
is located on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. With the continued
arrests of suspected insurgents across Iraq, the population of
prisoners at Abu Ghraib has grown to almost 5,000 in 2005. There
are about 12,000 suspected insurgents currently under U.S. military
custody nationwide, according to military officials.

Road toGuantánamo

by Nick Welsh In the four years since President George
Bush declared war on global terrorism, Americans have experienced a
ferocious public debate balancing national security against
individual rights and constitutional values. Nowhere have these
issues been crystallized more than in the eight-by-seven foot
holding cells at Guantánamo Bay, the United States’ naval base in
western Cuba. Here, the revolutionary legal theories espoused by
the Bush administration quickly collided with bedrock American
ideals and laws. Most contentious is the government’s insistence
that people captured in Afghanistan and Iraq are not prisoners of
war, but something it calls “enemy combatants.” As such, neither
the prisoners nor the U.S. military holding them are subject to the
Geneva Convention, the code of wartime conduct signed by the United
States in 1949. The Convention allows prisoners to be held for as
long as the war continues, but guarantees them humane

Since Guantánamo is in Cuba, the administration also insists
detainees be denied due process, the constitutional protection
afforded to citizen and non-citizen alike who are imprisoned in the
United States. In their legal twilight zone, the detainees have
been held without charge or access to counsel. Through most of
human history, such unfettered state power has been a fact of life.
But for the past 200 years, U.S. citizens have had reason to
believe their government operated differently. George Bush is
hardly the first president to shake that belief. His vision of
unchecked executive authority, however, is genuinely unprecedented.
Now the nation is facing a constitutional showdown of historic
proportion, pitting the executive branch — and to a lesser extent
Congress — against the prerogative of law and the rights of
individuals. And it all started at Guantánamo Bay.

Guantánamo Facts: • In 1903, the United States
acquired rights to 45 square miles on the western tip of Cuba as
part of the settlement of the Spanish-American War. Since then, its
deep-water port has remained a U.S. naval station, even after Fidel
Castro came to power in 1958.

• The base was first used as a detention facility in 1991 when
thousands of Haitian boat people fled a violent military coup for
the U.S. Then president George H. W. Bush ordered the refugees
intercepted and detained at Guantánamo. Human rights advocates sued
to prevent indefinite detention. Though the government contended
that constitutional protections did not apply because Guantánamo is
on Cuban land, a federal judge disagreed. By January 1996, the
refugee camps were closed.

• On January 11, 2002 alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were
brought to Guantánamo for interrogation. Vice President Dick Cheney
called them “bomb makers” and “facilitators of terror.” Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them “the worst of the worst.” But
a review of the combat status assessments of 517 Guantánamo
detainees, released last year by Seton Hall University School of
Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, concluded only eight percent of the
detainees were classified as actual Al Qaeda warriors; 55 percent
had committed no hostile act against the United States or its
allies; five percent had been captured by American troops; and 86
percent had been turned over to American authorities by Pakistani
forces or Afghani warlords, some of whom were bounty hunters.

• The Pentagon recently reported that more than 187 detainees
have already been released, and 123 are scheduled to be released
soon. Of the nearly 600 detainees at Guantánamo, only 10 have been
charged with war crimes.

• By 2003, inmates were moved to a $12 million facility where
they are allowed out of their small concrete cells twice a week for
bathing and exercise. Each cell comes with a copy of the Koran and
an arrow pointing to Mecca.

• By 2004, 300 interrogations were held weekly, as base
commanders were pressured to produce “actionable intelligence.”

• In late 2002, Marine Commander Geoffrey Miller took charge of
Guantánamo. He quickly refocused a program training American
soldiers to withstand torture, ordering the psychiatric staff to
develop interrogation methods for enemy combatants. The techniques
used at Guantánamo included hooding the prisoners, subjecting them
to noise bombardment and sleep deprivation, exposing them to
extreme temperatures, interrogating them for 30-hour durations,
dunking bound men in water until they believed they were drowning,
and subjecting them to spiritual and sexual humiliation.

• In October 2003, Miller was transferred from Guantánamo to Abu
Ghraib in Iraq. In May 2004, published photographs showed violent
interrogations and sexual humiliation of prisoners. Pentagon
officials initiated court martial proceedings against a few
enlisted military personnel calling them aberrations.

• The International Red Cross — one of the few organizations
with access to prisoners — concluded in 2004 that some of the
interrogation techniques practiced at Guantánamo were “tantamount
to torture.”

• In December 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected
administration arguments that constitutional safeguards do not
apply at Guantánamo, deciding instead that since the United States
controlled the naval base, the rules of due process must apply.
Left unresolved was whether the military tribunals met the
standards of a fair trial.

• In June 2005, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) read from the
Senate floor a scathing denunciation of prison conditions at
Guantánamo, including an FBI report detailing prisoner abuse there.
But when Durbin compared American treatment of its prisoners to
that of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, he sparked a firestorm of
criticism. One week later, he apologized.

• The same summer, international criticism of Guantánamo
escalated when recently released detainees claimed widespread
prisoner abuse, hunger strikes, forced feeding, and increased
suicide attempts. The Pentagon denied the charges, saying those
ex-detainees were trained by Al Qaeda to make false

• In early 2006, after United Nations inspectors demanded
unfettered access to prisoners and the U.S. balked, the UN declared
Guantánamo an American Gulag, and demanded its closure. The Bush
administration dismissed the charges as absurd.

• In December 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Detainee
Treatment Act, pushed through by Republican Senator John McCain.
Vice President Dick Cheney heavily lobbied Congress to drop the
bill. Failing that, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham powered
through an amendment barring new detainees at Guantánamo from due

• In spring 2006, Pentagon officials claimed their interrogation
techniques helped obtain information from Mohammed al Qahtani,
described as the 20th hijacker in the September 11 attacks. Qahtani
described how Osama bin Laden avoided capture and how Al Qaeda
members cross borders undetected. Qahtani was subjected to a
multitude of interrogation methods in a 50-day period: His head and
beard were shaved; he was placed in isolation for 30 days; and he
was stripped naked, forced to stand nude, poked and cuffed, and
kept awake by recorded music of Christina Aguilera blasting in his
cell. A photo of a 9/11 victim was taped to his trousers and
aggressive female interrogators hung pictures of scantily clad
women around his neck.

• In March 2006, the Pentagon released 5,000 pages of documents,
detailing the combat status evaluations of 186 detainees.

• On April 3, 2006 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on
whether the Guantánamo military tribunals qualify as due process
according to constitutional standards. Prior to the hearing,
Justice Antonin Scalia ridiculed the idea that enemy combatants
were entitled to a fair hearing, yet refused to excuse himself from
the hearing. During the hearing, many justices expressed serious
skepticism about administration arguments.

• On April 6, Canadian-born prisoner Omar Khadr, charged with
killing an American soldier in Afghanistan with a hand grenade,
claimed he’d spent only two hours with his attorney, had not been
allowed to examine government evidence, and had been transferred to
solitary confinement shortly before the tribunal was to begin.
Efforts by Khadr’s attorney, Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, to disqualify
the presiding magistrate on the grounds that he’s seeking to be
appointed an immigration judge by the Bush administration,

Outside the Law

An Attorney’s Account of Life at Guantánamo
by Melissa Hoffer As a corporate attorney specializing
in environmental law, Melissa Hoffer hardly expected her job would
carry her to Cuba to meet with alleged enemy combatants. But when
the Center for Constitutional Rights — a nongovernmental
organization in New York — contacted Hoffer’s firm in 2004, seeking
attorneys to represent six Bosnian men held at Guantánamo Bay,
Hoffer was immediately drawn into the case. After learning that
these men had been imprisoned, investigated, and ordered released
by the Bosnian government before the U.S. took them into custody,
she and 19 lawyers from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr — a
large firm in downtown Boston — got right on board.

The following piece is excerpted from a speech Hoffer gave
at Le Memorial de Caen in Caen, France at the 17th Concours
International de Plaidoiries, a conference at which lawyers from
around the world present cases of human rights violations. The
information in Hoffer’s speech is based on declassified notes from
meetings with her clients. “Every time someone hears this story,
they are shocked and upset,” Hoffer said. “This is not what America
is about.” To see a video of the full speech, go to

Four-and-a-half years ago, Mohamed Nechla, Lakhdar Boumediene,
Hadj Boudella, Belkacern Bensayah, Saber Lahmar, and Mustafa Ait
Idir were living ordinary lives in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mohamed and
Lakhdar worked with children orphaned in the civil war. Mustafa
repaired computers and provided technical support services. Saber
and his wife were expecting a child.

In October 2001, their lives were shattered when the U.S.
insisted that Bosnia arrest the six men — all Muslims of Algerian
descent — based on unfounded U.S. allegations that they were
involved in a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Bosnia. One by one,
each man was taken into custody. As news of the arrests filled
Bosnian media, not one fled. The men spent three months in jail
while the federal prosecutor investigated the charges. No stone was
left unturned — investigators searched computer files, phone
records, questioned witnesses and the men. Finally, the federal
prosecutor recommended to the Bosnian high court that the six be
released. He had identified no evidence to justify their detention.
The high court agreed, and ordered their release.

Despite this order, the U.S. placed tremendous pressure on
Bosnians to turn over the six to U.S. custody, threatening to
withdraw support if Bosnia failed to comply. As the six were
released from jail in Sarajevo on January 18, 2002, they were
turned over to nine soldiers and then hooded, handcuffed, and
jammed into waiting vehicles. The huge crowd of community members
that had gathered to protest the seizure tried to prevent the cars
from passing; wives strained to catch glimpses of their

As Mohamed Nechla tells it, the six were taken to an airport and
handed over to the Americans, who removed Mohamed’s hood, placed
sensory-deprivation goggles on his eyes, a mask on his mouth, and
coverings over his ears. The pain from the extremely tight wrist
restraints was excruciating. He cried, “My hands!” His hands and
arms grew numb. He was placed in a seated position on the floor of
the plane. If he slumped or fell, he was slammed back upright by
soldiers. The flight lasted several hours. When the plane landed,
they were in an extremely cold place. Mohamed believes it was
Turkey or Germany. There were dogs barking very close to him. He
was terrified they would bite or attack him. They boarded a second
plane. Mohamed’s hands were still in pain. The trip lasted many
hours. Before the plane landed, he was given an apple — the only
food he received during his nearly two-day journey.

After the plane landed, he was painfully dragged to a bus by his
biceps. Soldiers repeatedly screamed, “Don’t move! Don’t talk!”
When the bus stopped, Mohamed was pulled down the boarding stairs.
He was dragged to a gravel area and placed in a painful position,
with his legs straight out in front of him, shackled, and his
wrists still shackled. Soldiers screamed insults about him and his
family. A soldier punched his head. The intensely hot sun pounded
down on him. He fainted. A soldier shoved him upright. A long time
passed. He began to have difficulty breathing through the mask and
felt he was going to suffocate. He cried out for help. A soldier
snapped the mask against his face. He began to cry. Mohamed had
arrived in Guantánamo.

Indefinite Detention After the U.S. Supreme
Court’s landmark decision in Rasul v. Bush to grant Guantánamo
prisoners the right to bring claims of habeas corpus in U.S.
courts, I and a team of lawyers at my firm filed habeas petitions
for the six. In fall 2004, the U.S. government moved to dismiss all
the habeas petitions filed on behalf of Guantánamo prisoners,
arguing they had no rights that could be vindicated on
habeas — that Rasul had been an empty promise, allowing access to
the courts for the sole purpose of dismissing the petitions on the
grounds the prisoners had no rights. Although the pending cases
were before federal Judge Joyce Hens Green of the District of
Columbia, my case and one other were pulled back for decision to
Judge Richard Leon — a recent President Bush appointee — the judge
to whom they had originally been assigned. In January 2005, Judge
Leon ruled against us, agreeing with the U.S. government that
Guantánamo prisoners have no rights under the Constitution or any
international law. A few weeks later, Judge Green ruled in favor of
the prisoners, maintaining they had fundamental due process rights,
and those had been violated. Both rulings are on appeal to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for D.C.

While the litigation drags on, the Bosnians have been held at
Guantánamo for more than four years as alleged “enemy combatants.”
They have never been charged with a crime. The U.S. maintains
Guantánamo prisoners are not protected by the Geneva Conventions
and that Guantánamo is beyond the reach of U.S. law. In so doing,
the U.S. has attempted to create a new category of human beings
wholly exempt from the protection of any law.

The U.S. position is that it may seize anyone, anywhere, at any
time, if there is reason to believe that person is an “enemy
combatant” — someone who is part of or “supporting” (even
unwittingly) Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or forces “associated” with
these groups. The global dragnet cast by this definition is so
broad that an attorney for the U.S., arguing before Judge Green in
December 2004, admitted it would include a little old lady from
Switzerland who gave money to an Afghan charity organization
that — unbeknownst to her — funneled the contribution to Al

Once seized, the men may be held as long as the War on Terror
lasts — a potentially lifelong sentence — without ever being
charged with a crime. They are not permitted to see or speak to
their families. Letters are heavily censored. They are routinely
tortured during interrogations as a means of enforcing camp
discipline, disorienting their minds, and degrading their

Inhuman Treatment Shortly after arriving at
Guantánamo in early 2002, Lakhdar Boumediene was subjected to a
13-day period of extreme interrogation and near total sleep
deprivation. He was interrogated from midnight until 5:00 a.m., and
for several hours during the day. After interrogations, he was
returned to his cage, his wrists shackled and his feet shackled to
an anchor on the floor. Several times, while incapacitated in this
position, guards repeatedly lifted him up and threw him to the
floor. When I first met him in May 2005, he showed me a scar on his
knee from one such incident.

His captors threatened to send him to Jordan where “they could
make him talk” and to a U.S. prison where he would be raped. They
threatened to shave his beard and apply lipstick to him. He was
violently choked by a Jordanian interrogator. Each time Lakhdar
made a request, he was told to ask his interrogator. Access to
medical treatment was granted or denied based on the interrogators’
assessment of his cooperation. In April 2005, my colleagues and I
filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit seeking records
concerning our clients’ treatment at Guantánamo. As a result, the
U.S. produced thousands of documents, including one confirming
medical personnel involvement in interrogation. Lakhdar has been
interrogated between 100 and 200 times.

Our clients have been severely beaten, and two spent 15 months
in solitary confinement. On one occasion, Mustafa Ait Idir was
alone in his cell when guards said they wanted to search it. They
instructed him to sit on the floor, and secured his hands behind
his back. They slammed his body and head into the steel bunk. They
threw him on the floor, pounding his body and banging his head into
the floor. They banged his head on the toilet. They stuffed his
face down the toilet and repeatedly pressed flush. Mustafa feared
he would drown. The guards carried him outside and threw him on the
ground. They held him down and stuffed a garden hose into his
mouth. They opened the spigot. Mustafa began to choke. He could not
breathe. The guards took the hose out of his mouth and sprayed his
face. This violent assault was wholly unprovoked.

In early 2004, Guantánamo guards undertook a systematic effort
to interfere with certain prisoners’ ability to worship as Muslims
by removing their pants. Muslim men cannot pray without pants. The
Immediate Response Force (IRF) — a riot squad frequently called
upon to subdue and intimidate prisoners — was present, as were
several U.S. military officers. When guards approached Mustafa for
his pants, he explained he needed them to pray, and begged the
guards not to take them. The IRF members sprayed him in the face
with chemical irritant, and one squeezed his testicles until he
fell to the ground. They repeatedly jumped on his body. They
secured Mustafa’s hands behind his back, and one IRF member slowly
bent one of his fingers back until it broke. The pain was
excruciating, but he did not scream for fear the beating would
continue. He was refused medical attention.

A few days later, guards again came to search his cell. An
officer ordered Mustafa to sit on the floor with his hands behind
his back, which he did. The officer sprayed chemical irritant into
his face. Two or three guards entered the cell. One forced
Mustafa’s body onto the steel floor and jumped on his back. The
second guard did the same thing. They secured his hands behind his
back, carried him outside, and threw him onto the gravel. An IRF
member jumped on his head. After this beating, half of Mustafa’s
face was paralyzed for several months. He was in constant pain.
When he tried to eat, food and liquid leaked from his mouth. Guards
mocked him. He continues to experience pain.

These are only a few examples of the torture and inhuman
treatment my clients have endured while being held without charge
at Guantánamo. These incidents are corroborated by numerous similar
incidents observed by FBI agents at Guantánamo, as documented in
records produced in FOIA litigation brought by the American Civil
Liberties Union and witnessed by former U.S. military

My clients do not understand why they are being held. The high
court of their country ordered their release. The Bosnian
government has publicly stated its willingness to repatriate them.
They struggle to maintain sanity, composure. They long for their

The Lesson of Guantánamo I did not know what to
expect the first time I visited them. I knew they had been held
under extremely difficult conditions. I tried to place myself in
their shoes, and wondered if they would trust me, a citizen of the
country that had, in a matter of hours, torn their lives apart and
stolen years which cannot be replaced. Maybe they would think I was
just another interrogator. But when I greeted them each separately
in the small cells allotted for lawyers to meet with prisoners,
each welcomed me, smiled, and thanked me. Their graciousness and
warmth was overwhelming; I found myself pressing back tears I had
not expected. Toward the end of my stay, one of the guards told me
Mohamed wanted to speak with me again. He had already been placed
behind the barred portion of the cell, and I had to stoop to speak
with him from the other side of the barrier. At the end of our
conversation, he held up his palm to the wire, and I did the

Guantánamo is devoid of living things. The ground is covered in
gravel. The cells are housed in brown sheds, surrounded by a
chain-link fence topped with razor wire. The trust and strength of
character these men have shown is a wave wearing down rock over
time; it is a single blade of grass, somehow managing to grow among
Guantánamo gravel. If we extinguish that humanity with lawlessness
and cruelty, we extinguish hope for the future of humankind. For
when we causelessly take away a person’s freedom, we erode our own.
But as we join with others around the world fighting unjust
imprisonment and torture, we honor and preserve our humanity. This
is the lesson of Guantánamo.

Understanding Habeas Corpus

“Give us the body, so we can examine it.”
Fundamental to American and British jurisprudence, habeas corpus is
the ancient legal principle that prohibits state authorities from
detaining citizens indefinitely without bringing charges against
them. Latin for “Let us have the body, so we can examine it,”
habeas corpus guarantees that those held by the state will have
their day in court. Legal scholars suggest that habeas corpus
predates the Magna Carta of 1215, which established the rule of law
as a significant counterforce to the caprice of kings. By 1679, the
rule of law had been so abused during the preceding centuries of
political upheaval in the British Empire that Parliament felt
compelled to pass a new law, requiring charges be filed within
three days of a prisoner’s detention.

The right of habeas corpus was so vital to early American
thought that it was written directly into the body of the United
States Constitution, rather than later amendments; habeas corpus,
then, trumped such essential human rights as the freedoms of speech
and religion and the right to bear arms. According to the nation’s
founders, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be
suspended, unless when in Case of Rebellion or Invasion the public
Safety may require it.”

During the last two-plus centuries, habeas corpus has been bent
and ignored but only once has it been officially suspended by the
government. During the anti-draft race riots that erupted during
the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 formally suspended
habeas corpus and ordered martial law, authorizing mass arrests and
indefinite detention of draft dodgers. The Supreme Court later
ruled that only Congress, not the president, had the authority to
suspend habeas corpus. However, amid the anti-communist hysteria
that followed World War I, the Justice Department rounded up scores
of immigrants and shipped them back to their native lands without
due process. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese and
Japanese-Americans living in California were forced into internment
camps and held without being charged until the war’s end.
Traditionally, the benefits of habeas corpus were conferred upon
citizen and non-citizen alike. But in 1996, with the passage of the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Congress greatly
restricted the habeas corpus protections afforded to immigrants who
entered the country illegally, making it easier to obtain
deportation orders without judicial review; late last year,
Congress inserted fine print into the Detainee Treatment Act that
would effectively deny habeas corpus protections to future
prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. —Nick Welsh

The Law:

What GovernsTorture and Dentention in America
In June 2004, the Center for Constitutional Rights rejoiced when
the Supreme Court ruled in its favor that Guantánamo detainees may
challenge the lawfulness of their detentions through habeas corpus
claims in U.S. courts. As a result of that case — Rasul v.
Bush — many of the approximately 600 Guantánamo prisoners filed
habeas petitions. Also in June 2004, the Supreme Court held in
Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that a detainee is entitled to a fair process to
determine whether he was a so-called enemy combatant.

To satisfy the Supreme Court’s demand of due process for the
detainees, the Pentagon unveiled Combatant Status Review Tribunals
(CSRTs), in which three military officers review prior enemy
combatant determinations made by their superiors. Evidence obtained
through torture and hearsay is admissible, and detainees have no
right to legal counsel or access to secret evidence used against

In 93 percent of cases, these tribunals confirmed the detainee’s
enemy combatant status. And 32 of the 38 reviews in which a
detainee was not deemed an enemy combatant occurred right after a
federal judge ruled the CSRT process was unconstitutional in
January 2005. As part of their pending appeal, attorneys for the
U.S. used these cases as evidence of CSRTs’ fairness. Attorneys
representing Guantánamo prisoners — including Melissa Hoffer’s
team — await the ruling on the appeal, which will also determine
whether detainees are protected by constitutional rights, the
Geneva Conventions, and international laws prohibiting arbitrary
detention. Any ruling will likely be appealed to the Supreme

Meanwhile, in December 2005, Congress passed the Detainee
Treatment Act (DTA), whose constitutional scope is hotly contested.
Government lawyers argue it strips Guantánamo prisoners of the
right to challenge any aspect of their detention, effectively
overturning Rasul. The DTA is better known for the McCain
Amendment, which prohibits the cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment of prisoners. Ironically, the same law that prohibits
torturing Guantánamo detainees makes it impossible to enforce that
law. Shortly after the DTA was passed, the Bush administration
moved to dismiss all petitions filed on behalf of Guantánamo
detainees, arguing that the section of the DTA stripping prisoners
of the right to habeas corpus applies to all pending cases.
Detainees’ lawyers fiercely opposed this retroactive reading of the
DTA, and it is under review by the Supreme Court. — Hannah

Web Resources To learn more about human rights
abuses in the War on Terror, check out:

» » » and (for legislative updates) » » » » »
online articles by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer

4•1•1 Amnesty International and the American
Civil Liberties Union is slated to present “Torture and American
Practice,” on Tue., Apr. 25 from 7-9pm at the Faulkner Gallery in
the downtown library. Eric Sears of Amnesty’s Denounce Torture
initiative and Michael Rapkin — a Santa Monica attorney
representing a Guantánamo detainee — will speak.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.