Amnesty Reports to U.N. on U.S. Torture and Abuse
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for release May 15, 2006
Amnesty International Reports to U.N. on U.S. Torture and Abuse
Interview with Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director of Amnesty International USA, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio:
A report issued by Amnesty International May 3 asserts that torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees by U.S. forces is widespread and in many cases sanctioned by high-level government officials. The 32,000-word report was released prior to the beginning of hearings in Geneva on U.S. compliance with the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
Amnesty says that evidence continues to emerge that prisoners held by the U.S. are subjected to torture in American-run facilities in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Iraq and other locations. The report goes on to say that there is clear evidence that much of the physical and psychological ill-treatment has stemmed directly from officially sanctioned procedures and policies, including interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for use in Guantánamo and later exported to Iraq.
At least 34 detainees who died in U.S. custody have been classified by the Pentagon as suspected homicides. But Amnesty believes that the number may well be higher due to cover-ups. Britain's Attorney General Lord Goldsmith has recently joined Amnesty and other human rights groups in calling for the closure of America's Guantanamo, Cuba detention center. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Joshua Rubenstein, northeast regional director of Amnesty International USA, who summarizes his group's report on U.S. torture.
JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN: The U.S. is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture. And all the signatories -- there are well over 120 -- are obliged on a periodic basis to appear before the committee to answer questions. And often this, may be a routine thing or there are some minor matters that have to be raised. I think it's a good component of accountability under the Convention.
But, of course in recent years, there are serious reports and allegations of mistreatment and torture by U.S. forces in Iraq; we all know what happened in Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo.
So Amnesty, on the eve of the U.S. appearance before the Committee -- which actually happened (May 6th and 9th); we issued about a 50-page report summarizing all we've learned in the last few years about this; really a pattern of torture. We wanted to bring it to the attention of the committee so it would have it on hand when it questioned U.S. officials.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What kind of documentation has Amnesty International done on the continuing conditions in which detainees are being held?
JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN: Well, everyone is familiar with the fact that two years ago now the scandal broke at Abu Ghraib. And, the administration had to own up to the fact that there were these incidents . But, of course, the administration wants to say that there are always "bad apples" and that they are holding people accountable , of course, for the most part, only lower-down officers, not high-ranking officials.
But, how can you separate the memos that circulated in Washington in the White House Counsel's office , in the Department of Justice, in the Pentagon where they recommended harsh treatment and torture? Where they tried to limit the definition of torture so that the interrogation techniques they wanted to use would not be defined as torture as they saw fit?
We believe there's a consistent pattern between what Washington was advocating and what soldiers and officers in Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan were actually doing. That you can't dismiss these incidents as an aberration.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Now what do you hope to accomplish with this report that documents these conditions?
JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN: Look, a lot of this news, of course, has been in our national magazines, it's in our newspapers, it's not a secret anymore. Congress has discussed it and tried to explore it, but really in a very limited way, because Congress does not wish to hold the White House accountable. The Republicans control both houses of Congress and frankly, they're not living up to their Constitutional obligation to hold the White House accountable.
So, it's up to human rights organization s like Amnesty International to collect this information, to interview lawyers, to interview detainees when they're released, to get their hands on government documents. And a lot of government documents have been released that have confirm ed our worst fears. After all, the American Civil Liberties Union has done a wonderful job under the Freedom of Information Act to get documents out of the government. And this has all confirmed to our satisfaction that this is not an aberrant act of irresponsible or immature individuals, but in fact it's a consistent pattern of abuse that reflects government policy. And that's what we want the U.N. to explore.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell us about your thoughts on the chain of command and where the responsibility lies in terms of these policies that have allowed or encouraged this kind of treatment of prisoners.
JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN: Look, we have a document over (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld's signature where he calls for various forms of very harsh interrogations including sleep deprivation, manipulation of the environment -- meaning making things hot, making things cold -- holding prisoners naked, holding them in stress positions.
There's no question that Rumsfeld was trying to have it both ways. Trying to say, we're not going to use torture, but we're going to use interrogation techniques that obviously will lead officers over the line.
Secondly, we know that Gen. Geoffrey Miller at Guantanamo was transferred from Guatanamo to Iraq -- and the word is, he was told to "Gitmo-ize" Abu Ghraib, to "Gitmo-ize "I raq, to use the techniques that he had employed at Guantanamo and then expand on them in Iraq.
And then when Gen. Miller was initially called to testify at a hearing or a trial, he said he would invoke the Fifth Amendment. Now, would he do that if the techniques he had been advocating -- he had been insisting on using -- (had not) crossed the line into torture and mistreatment? Of course not. That's a common sense question.
So, it seems to us that there's more than adequate evidence, not just allegations, but really evidence -- that what was going on at Abu Ghraib that what was uncovered at Abu Ghraib two years ago shows a consistent pattern of government policy. And that's where we need to hold this government accountable.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Now, it's unlikely that the United Nations has any influence or power to hold our elected officials accountable for the abuse and torture in U.S. prison facilities. But what is Congress doing? Maybe you can comment on the congressional ban that was recently signed into law on torture . However, George W. Bush, as he's done -- and the Boston Globe documented these some 700 "signing statements" which really provides some kind of loophole in the minds of the backers of the "unitary executive" theory or philosophy -- that he doesn't really have to comply with congressional law. Tell us a little bit about that.
JOSHUA RUBENSTEIN: What you cited is very worrisome. The president has issued these hundreds of signing statements, in particular, after he signed the McCain amendment which forbade the use of torture, and said that all U.S. interrogations have to take place in a way that are consistent with the field manual of our soldiers which prohibits torture. The president said, "Sure, I'll sign it, but if I feel it's necessary not to abide by this law, I'll just order people not to abide by it."
So he's simply saying that when he chooses to, he's above the law, which is outrageous. I think this shows that the president and his people are not speaking in good faith when they say that they do not support the use of torture; they prohibit the use of torture ; they will prosecute people who are caught mistreating prisoners. But, they can't say that on the one hand, and be taken seriously when the president issues this signing statement which more or less says, "I am above the law."
Contact Amnesty by calling (212) 807-8400 or visit their Web site at www.amnestyusa.org.
Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl051906.html#1hed
* Amnesty International Report on U.S. Torture
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending May 19, 2006. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.