Holding Rumsfeld and Bush accountable
June 15, 2005
Closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay should not be the issue. The issue should be holding Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush accountable for their role in the torture scandal.
In recent reports, both Amnesty International USA and Human Rights Watch say there is "prima facie evidence" that Rumsfeld has committed war crimes. Amnesty International adds that the same evidence exists against the president, as well.
In its April report, "Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees," Human Rights Watch urges the prosecution of Rumsfeld under the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the Anti-Torture Act of the same year.
Human Rights Watch cites Rumsfeld's Dec. 2, 2002, directive that approved many techniques that appear to violate the Geneva Conventions. Here are some of those techniques, in his words: "the use of stress positions (like standing) for a maximum of four hours," "removal of all comfort items (including religious items)," "deprivation of light and auditory stimuli," "isolation up to 30 days" and "using detainees' individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress."
Rumsfeld rescinded this directive on Jan. 15, 2003, but if soldiers relied on it while it was official Pentagon policy and abused prisoners accordingly, "Rumsfeld could potentially bear direct criminal responsibility," Human Rights Watch wrote.
Rumsfeld may also bear direct responsibility for the torture or abuse of two other prisoners, says Human Rights Watch, citing the Church Report -- a Pentagon study by the Navy Inspector General Vice Adm. Albert Church.
"The Secretary of Defense approved specific interrogation plans for two 'high-value detainees'" at Guantanamo, the Church Report noted. Those plans, it added, "employed several of the counter resistance techniques found in the Dec. 2, 2002, (policy). . . . These interrogations were sufficiently aggressive that they highlighted the difficult question of precisely defining the boundaries of humane treatment of detainees."
The Pentagon vehemently denies the allegation that Rumsfeld may have committed war crimes. "It's absurd," says Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. John Skinner.
Then there is Bush. He appears to have "authorized human rights violations, including 'disappearances and torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,'" Amnesty International states in its May report, "Guantanamo and Beyond: The Continuing Pursuit of Unchecked Executive Power."
The first solid piece of evidence against Bush is a Sept. 17, 2001, "Memorandum of Notification" he reportedly signed that unleashed the CIA, according to Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War."
On March 6, The New York Times also reported that "a still-classified directive signed by President Bush within days of the Sept. 11 attacks" gave the CIA broad authority to transfer suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogations.
If Bush authorized the CIA or other agencies to transfer detainees to countries where torture is routine, he appears to be in grave breach of international law. Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture explicitly prohibits this: "No State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
On Feb. 7, 2002, Bush issued another self-incriminating memorandum. In it, he asserted that "none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world."
Bush failed to recognize that the Geneva Conventions provide universal protections. Article 75 of Protocol 1 to the conventions states that "the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever, whether committed by civilian or by military agents." Those acts include: "violence to the life, health or physical or mental well-being of persons," "murder," "torture of all kinds, whether physical or mental" and "outrages upon personal dignity."
As citizens of a democracy, we must insist that our highest officials are not above the law. Congress should convene a special Watergate-style committee to investigate these charges, especially as they relate to the president. And a special prosecutor should be appointed to pursue the case against Rumsfeld.
Only then will we be able to get to the bottom of the torture scandal that is besmirching our nation's reputation.
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.