Torture: The Scandal Among Scandals

BY ARSLAN SULEMAN

The indictment of Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice in an investigation into the outing of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, has led some to conclude what many have known for some time now: that the Bush administration deceived the American public regarding the war in Iraq. In addition to exaggerating and concocting a largely fictitious threat of weapons of mass destruction emanating from Iraq, Administration officials aimed to silence Iraq war-critic Ambassador Joseph Wilson by outing his wife, Valerie Plame, at the expense of national security and intelligence concerns. There is no telling the extent of the damage that outing Plame will have on U.S. intelligence-gathering capabilities, as every chain of contacts that she had developed is now compromised. But while the details of this scandal continue to emerge, the Administration is busy trying to preserve and widen another scandal in the war on Iraq and terrorism: torture.

In the October 13th issue of The Record, I wrote an opinion piece entitled “Addicted to Torture,” which described in detail Senator John McCain’s overwhelmingly bipartisan anti-torture amendment to the 2006 Defense Department Appropriations bill. The amendment would supply vital clarity regarding the illegality of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of any person in the custody or physical control of the United States, regardless of location. In other words, if the amendment were to become law, the administration would no longer be able to argue that detainees held outside of U.S. soil are not protected by the Convention Against Torture. The embarrassing and reprehensible practices that Americans have used on detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and other undisclosed locations would have to cease. The CIA too would be constrained in directly engaging in cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Apparently, trying to ban torture energizes the Administration to act quicker than a deadly hurricane bearing down on the Gulf Coast. Bush has repeatedly indicated his willingness to use his first veto ever on any bill with the McCain anti-torture amendment. Additionally, Dick Cheney and CIA director Porter Goss have met with Congressional officials, including McCain, to discuss their own proposed addition to McCain’s amendment. The pro-torture caveat would indicate that the prohibition “shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defense and are consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party, if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack.” In essence, the exemption sought would allow the President to authorize the CIA and other non-DOD entities to officially employ cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment to detainees not on American soil.

Senator McCain naturally rejected this additional language, and it is unlikely that the Administration will be able to successfully get the language into the bill. But in seeking official legislative approval of their controversial interpretation of the law on torture, the Bush Administration is trying to make a bad situation worse. Although the status quo has not stopped the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, there is at the very least a moral stigma attached to the Administration’s interpretation that allows such treatment to be used abroad. With Cheney’s proposed language, however, it would be very clear that while the DOD could not use cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, any other “element of the U.S. government” could do so. Thus, the CIA would have free reign to abuse and torture detainees so long as it was not on U.S. soil and the President approved of it.

Some may argue that the surviving limit on the DOD would have prevented the abuses at Abu Ghraib, given the infamous involvement of DOD personnel captured in picture. This is but a misleading rhetorical tool – even in these most public instances of torture and abuse, the CIA was intimately involved, engaging in the abuse and torture themselves during the interrogations and directing the soldiers to abuse and humiliate the detainees according to their instructions outside of the interrogations. A clear example of such CIA torture is the case of Manadel al-Jamadi, a former Iraqi army officer whose iced-down corpse was featured in many of the Abu Ghraib photos. Al-Jamadi died while being interrogated by the CIA; military autopsy concluded that his death was a homicide. He had bruises all over his arms and legs and had five broken ribs. Nobody has been charged or held to account for his death. (NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story on this case on October 27th, 2005.)

There are over a hundred cases of detainees having died in U.S. custody, many of whom probably died in circumstances similar to al-Jamadi. Is this type of behavior part of a “just war on terror”? Why do Bush and Cheney specifically want to allow the CIA to continue to have authority to behave in such a manner? This type of conduct has forever tarnished America’s image at home and abroad, and it has also inflicted a deep wound in the moral character of our nation and our armed forces. It takes a true leader to be able to convince the rest of the world that America does not condone such behavior. Unfortunately, we currently have a President who prefers to tell the rest of the world that we will not only continue to act as such, but we will also try to legalize the actions. This is the true scandal among scandals.

Arsalan Suleman, 2L, is from Kenner, LA.

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