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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Company We Keep 

You have undoubtedly read elsewhere that an FBI document, just released to the ACLU, documents numerous allegations of Quran desecration by detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The prisoners' accounts are inevitably described as "unsubstantiated" because no member of the U.S. occupying force has stepped forward to confirm them, and because detainees, unlike their captors, are not permitted the use of digital cameras:
On Wednesday, the Pentagon dismissed the reports as containing no new evidence that abuses of the Koran had actually occurred and said that on May 14 military investigators had interviewed the prisoner who mentioned the toilet episode to the F.B.I. and that he was not able to substantiate the charge.
"The" prisoner who mentioned "the" incident "was not able to substantiate the charge"? We ask only because "the" prisoner in the variant story Command Sgt. John VanNatta told the newly-cooperative team from Newsweek had already seen, and repented, the error of his ways:
VanNatta recounted that in 2002, the inmates suddenly started yelling that the guards had thrown a Qur'an on or near an Asian-style squat toilet. The guards found an inmate who admitted that he had dropped his Qur'an near his toilet. According to VanNatta, the inmate then was taken cell to cell to explain this to other detainees to quell the unrest.
Was there more than one prisoner? -- more than one incident? -- or was the FBI for some reason unable to substantiate Sgt. VanNatta's charge?

In tomorrow's NYT Bob Herbert excoriates those moral homunculi George Bush and Tom DeLay, who promote a "culture of life" for embyonic cell clusters that have never been alive and never will be, and a culture of torture for living, breathing humans:
A recent report from Physicians for Human Rights is the first to comprehensively examine the use of psychological torture by Americans against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The employment of psychological torture, the report says, was a direct result of decisions developed by civilian and military leaders to "take the gloves off" during interrogations and "break" prisoners through the use of techniques like "sensory deprivation, isolation, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, the use of military working dogs to instill fear, cultural and sexual humiliation, mock executions, and the threat of violence or death toward detainees or their loved ones" . . . .

Warfare, when absolutely unavoidable, is one thing. But it's a little difficult to understand how these kinds of profoundly dehumanizing practices - not to mention the physical torture we've heard so much about - could be enthusiastically embraced by a government headed by men who think all life is sacred. Either I'm missing something, or President Bush, Tom DeLay and their ilk are fashioning whole new zones of hypocrisy for Americans to inhabit.
Mr. Herbert got a little backup earlier today when Irene Khan of Amnesty International, introducing that organization's annual report on human rights, described Guantanamo as "the gulag of our times":
"A new agenda is in the making, with the language of freedom and justice being used to pursue policies of fear and insecurity. This includes cynical attempts to redefine and sanitise torture," said Ms Khan . . . .

As the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, the US sets the tone for governments' behaviour worldwide, said Ms Khan. "When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity," she said. "From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and 'counter-terrorism'."

Although the US supreme court ruled a year ago that federal courts had jurisdiction over Guantánamo detainees, no detainee had had the lawfulness of his detention judicially reviewed, the Amnesty report says.

And although the US government told the detainees they could file habeas corpus petitions in a federal court, it also argued that they had no basis under constitutional or international law to challenge their detention.
The Amnesty International checklist of international human-rights abusers:
  • Israel and the Palestinian territories: Israeli forces killed more than 700 Palestinians, including 150 children in 2004. Armed Palestinian groups killed 109 Israelis in 2004, including 67 civilians, eight of them children.

  • Greece: The authorities "tortured and ill-treated" immigrants, and hundreds of children under state supervision disappeared. There were allegations of torture by police in December of about 60 Afghan asylum-seekers, including at least 17 minors.

  • Afghanistan: Lawlessness and insecurity increased and anti-government forces killed civilians involved in the electoral process, making much of the country inaccessible to humanitarian groups. US forces continued "arbitrary and unlawful" detentions and failed to investigate complaints of prisoners being tortured or mistreated.

  • China: There was some progress toward reform, but still "serious and widespread human rights violations". Tens of thousands were detained in violation of their rights and were at high risk of torture or ill-treatment; thousands were sentenced to death or executed.

  • Haiti: Scores were killed before, during and after the rebellion that toppled the former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

  • Russia: "Serious human rights violations" continued in the Chechen conflict. Russian forces enjoyed "virtual impunity" for abuses, and armed Chechen groups launched bomb attacks and the hostage-taking in Beslan, in which hundreds were killed.

  • Sudan: Government forces and allied militias killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands in the Darfur region. The ceasefire signed in April was violated by all sides.

  • US: Hundreds still held without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay. Thousands detained during US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and routinely denied access to families and lawyers.

  • Zimbabwe: Government continued campaign of repression aimed at eliminating political opposition and dissent. Hundreds arrested for holding meetings or participating in peaceful protests.
UPDATE: And then there's this, from our esteemed colleagues at BagNewsNotes:


If you're going to mark, could we talk about the psychology (and humiliation factor) of marking the forehead instead of say, the more unobtrusive shoulder or ankle. (Of course, I could understand them ruling out the inside forearm. That would be too reminiscent of Auschwitz.)

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