Torture Is Over (if we want it)

By David Swanson

Chairman John Conyers’ reasons not to impeach Bush or Cheney do not even include an assertion that they have not committed impeachable offenses or crimes. How could they, when Conyers is selling a book listing many of Bush and Cheney’s impeachable offenses and crimes? Conyers’ reasons do not include an assertion that he can end the ongoing crimes through some other approach. And they do not include any claim that a successful impeachment wouldn’t end the crimes effectively and deter their future commission. Impeachment, in fact, could and would end, among much else, torture by U.S. public servants.

Conyers’ reasons not to proceed are, in that context, laughable. Here are the excuses he recently provided to Code Pink – New York activists:

“1. The majority does not want impeachment.”

This is nonsense. Very few polls have been done, none of them recent. Some of them have found a majority in favor. That is unprecedented prior to impeachment proceedings even being initiated. If they were initiated, a strong majority would back them.

“2. The corporate media.”

Anyone afraid of being called names by assholes on television is not a serious statesman or even a strategic politician. That Conyers so openly uses his fear of Fox News as an excuse to toss out our Constitution is outrageous.

“3. No time.”

In fact, there are past impeachments that have taken literally one day. And there is nothing else for Congress to do with the next several months anyway.

“4. No votes.”

Nonsense. Pelosi and gang have whipped the Democrats to vote as a block for things a majority of them claimed to oppose and will do so again next week for the war if we don’t stop her. And who’s to say how many will dare oppose impeachment AFTER hearings are held on it?

“5. Election defeat.”

It is ludicrous to put a single election on the same level as preserving our democracy. But once he’s done so, Conyers gets it wrong on his own terms. When he and others went after Nixon, they won big. When they let Reagan go, with very similar excuses, they lost. Forcing John McCain to discuss Bush and Cheney’s impeachable offenses is the strongest move the Democrats could make.

Why bother? Well, let me tell you. Or, rather, let Congressman Dennis Kucinich tell you in the following three articles of impeachment, introduced along with 32 others on Monday evening:

Article XVII
ILLEGAL DETENTION: DETAINING INDEFINITELY AND WITHOUT CHARGE PERSONS BOTH U.S. CITIZENS AND FOREIGN CAPTIVES

In his conduct while President of the United States, George W. Bush, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed”, has both personally and acting through his agents and subordinates, together with the Vice President, violated United States and International Law and the US Constitution by illegally detaining indefinitely and without charge persons both US citizens and foreign captives.

In a statement on Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush declared that in the US fight against Al Qaeda, “none of the provisions of Geneva apply,” thus rejecting the Geneva Conventions that protect captives in wars and other conflicts. By that time, the administration was already transporting captives from the war in Afghanistan, both alleged Al Qaeda members and supporters, and also Afghans accused of being fighters in the army of the Taliban government, to US-run prisons in Afghanistan and to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The round-up and detention without charge of Muslim non-citizens inside the US began almost immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with some being held as long as nine months. The US, on orders of the president, began capturing and detaining without charge alleged terror suspects in other countries and detaining them abroad and at the US Naval base in Guantanamo.

Many of these detainees have been subjected to systematic abuse, including beatings, which have been subsequently documented by news reports, photographic evidence, testimony in Congress, lawsuits, and in the case of detainees in the US, by an investigation conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.

In violation of US law and the Geneva Conventions, the Bush Administration instructed the Department of Justice and the US Department of Defense to refuse to provide the identities or locations of these detainees, despite requests from Congress and from attorneys for the detainees. The president even declared the right to detain US citizens indefinitely, without charge and without providing them access to counsel or the courts, thus depriving them of their constitutional and basic human rights. Several of those US citizens were held in military brigs in solitary confinement for as long as three years before being either released or transferred to civilian detention.

Detainees in US custody in Iraq and Guantanamo have, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, been hidden from and denied visits by the International Red Cross organization, while thousands of others in Iraq, Guantanamo, Afghanistan, ships in foreign off-shore sites, and an unknown number of so-called “black sites” around the world have been denied any opportunity to challenge their detentions. The president, acting on his own claimed authority, has declared the hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be “enemy combatants” not subject to US law and not even subject to military law, but nonetheless potentially liable to the death penalty.

The detention of individuals without due process violates the 5th Amendment. While the Bush administration has been rebuked in several court cases, most recently that of Ali al-Marri, it continues to attempt to exceed constitutional limits.

In all of these actions violating US and International law, President George W. Bush has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and Commander in Chief, and subversive of constitutional government, to the prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore, President George W. Bush, by such conduct, is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office.

ARTICLE XVIII
TORTURE: SECRETLY AUTHORIZING, AND ENCOURAGING THE USE OF TORTURE AGAINST CAPTIVES IN AFGHANISTAN, IRAQ, AND OTHER PLACES, AS A MATTER OF OFFICIAL POLICY

In his conduct while President of the United States, George W. Bush, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed”, has both personally and acting through his agents and subordinates, together with the Vice President, violated United States and International Law and the US Constitution by secretly authorizing and encouraging the use of torture against captives in Afghanistan, Iraq in connection with the so-called “war” on terror.

In violation of the Constitution, US law, the Geneva Conventions (to which the US is a signatory), and in violation of basic human rights, torture has been authorized by the President and his administration as official policy. Water-boarding, beatings, faked executions, confinement in extreme cold or extreme heat, prolonged enforcement of painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, and the defiling of religious articles have been practiced and exposed as routine at Guantanamo, at Abu Ghraib Prison and other US detention sites in Iraq, and at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The president, besides bearing responsibility for authorizing the use of torture, also as Commander in Chief, bears ultimate responsibility for the failure to halt these practices and to punish those responsible once they were exposed.

The administration has sought to claim the abuse of captives is not torture, by redefining torture. An August 1, 2002 memorandum from the Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel Jay S. Bybee addressed to White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales concluded that to constitute torture, any pain inflicted must be akin to that accompanying “serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memorandum went on to state that even should an act constitute torture under that minimal definition, it might still be permissible if applied to “interrogations undertaken pursuant to the President’s Commander-in-Chief powers.” The memorandum further asserted that “necessity or self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.”

This effort to redefine torture by calling certain practices simply “enhanced interrogation techniques” flies in the face of the Third Geneva Convention Relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which states that “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”

Torture is further prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the paramount international human rights statement adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly, including the United States, in 1948. Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is also prohibited by international treaties ratified by the United States: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

When the Congress, in the Defense Authorization Act of 2006, overwhelmingly passed a measure banning torture and sent it to the President’s desk for signature, the President, who together with his vice president, had fought hard to block passage of the amendment, signed it, but then quietly appended a signing statement in which he pointedly asserted that as Commander-in-Chief, he was not bound to obey its strictures.

The administration’s encouragement of and failure to prevent torture of American captives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the battle against terrorism, has undermined the rule of law in the US and in the US military, and has seriously damaged both the effort to combat global terrorism, and more broadly, America’s image abroad. In his effort to hide torture by US military forces and the CIA, the president has defied Congress and has lied to the American people, repeatedly claiming that the US “does not torture.”

In all of these actions and decisions in violation of US and International law, President George W. Bush has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and Commander in Chief, and subversive of constitutional government, to the prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore, President George W. Bush, by such conduct, is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office.

ARTICLE XIX
RENDITION: KIDNAPPING PEOPLE AND TAKING THEM AGAINST THEIR WILL TO “BLACK SITES” LOCATED IN OTHER NATIONS, INCLUDING NATIONS KNOWN TO PRACTICE TORTURE

In his conduct while President of the United States, George W. Bush, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed”, has both personally and acting through his agents and subordinates, together with the Vice President, violated United States and International Law and the US Constitution by kidnapping people and renditioning them to “black sites” located in other nations, including nations known to practice torture.

The president has publicly admitted that since the 9-11 attacks in 2001, the US has been kidnapping and transporting against the will of the subject (renditioning) in its so-called “war” on terror—even people captured by US personnel in friendly nations like Sweden, Germany, Macedonia and Italy—and ferrying them to places like Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, and to prisons operated in Eastern European countries, African Countries and Middle Eastern countries where security forces are known to practice torture.

These people are captured and held indefinitely, without any charges being filed, and are held without being identified to the Red Cross, or to their families. Many are clearly innocent, and several cases, including one in Canada and one in Germany, have demonstrably been shown subsequently to have been in error, because of a similarity of names or because of misinformation provided to US authorities.

Such a policy is in clear violation of US and International Law, and has placed the United States in the position of a pariah state. The CIA has no law enforcement authority, and cannot legally arrest or detain anyone. The program of “extraordinary rendition” authorized by the president is the substantial equivalent of the policies of “disappearing” people, practices widely practiced and universally condemned in the military dictatorships of Latin America during the late 20th Century.

The administration has claimed that prior administrations have practiced extraordinary rendition, but, while this is technically true, earlier renditions were used only to capture people with outstanding arrest warrants or convictions who were outside in order to deliver them to stand trial or serve their sentences in the US. The president has refused to divulge how many people have been subject to extraordinary rendition since September, 2001. It is possible that some have died in captivity. As one US official has stated off the record, regarding the program, Some of those who were renditioned were later delivered to Guantanamo, while others were sent there directly. An example of this is the case of six Algerian Bosnians who, immediately after being cleared by the Supreme Court of Bosnia Herzegovina in January 2002 of allegedly plotting to attack the US and UK embassies, were captured, bound and gagged by US special forces and renditioned to Guantanamo.

In perhaps the most egregious proven case of rendition, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria, was picked up in September 2002 while transiting through New York’s JFK airport on his way home to Canada. Immigration and FBI officials detained and interrogated him for nearly two weeks, illegally denying him his rights to access counsel, the Canadian consulate, and the courts. Executive branch officials asked him if he would volunteer to go to Syria, where he hadn’t been in 15 years, and Maher refused

Maher was put on a private jet plane operated by the CIA and sent to Jordan, where he was beaten for 8 hours, and then delivered to Syria, where he was beaten and interrogated for 18 hours a day for a couple of weeks. He was whipped on his back and hands with a 2 inch thick electric cable and asked questions similar to those he had been asked in the United States. For over ten months Maher was held in an underground grave-like cell – 3 x 6 x 7 feet – which was damp and cold, and in which the only light came in through a hole in the ceiling. After a year of this, Maher was released without any charges. He is now back home in Canada with his family. Upon his release, the Syrian Government announced he had no links to Al Qaeda, and the Canadian Government has also said they’ve found no links to Al Qaeda. The Canadian Government launched a Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, to investigate the role of Canadian officials, but the Bush Administration has refused to cooperate with the Inquiry.

Hundreds of flights of CIA-chartered planes have been documented as having passed through European countries on extraordinary rendition missions like that involving Maher Arar, but the administration refuses to state how many people have been subjects of this illegal program.

The same U.S. laws prohibiting aiding and abetting torture also prohibit sending someone to a country where there is a substantial likelihood they may be tortured. Article 3 of CAT prohibits forced return where there is a “substantial likelihood” that an individual “may be in danger of” torture, and has been implemented by federal statute. Article 7 of the ICCPR prohibits return to country of origin where individuals may be “at risk” of either torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Under international Human Rights law, transferring a POW to any nation where he or she is likely to be tortured or inhumanely treated violates Article 12 of the Third Geneva Convention, and transferring any civilian who is a protected person under the Fourth Geneva Convention is a grave breach and a criminal act.

In situations of armed conflict, both international human rights law and humanitarian law apply. A person captured in the zone of military hostilities “must have some status under international law; he is either a prisoner of war and, as such, covered by the Third Convention, [or] a civilian covered by the Fourth Convention….There is no intermediate status; nobody in enemy hands can be outside the law.” Although the state is obligated to repatriate Prisoners of War as soon as hostilities cease, the ICRC’s commentary on the 1949 Conventions states that prisoners should not be repatriated where there are serious reasons for fearing that repatriating the individual would be contrary to general principles of established international law for the protection of human beings Thus, all of the Guantánamo detainees as well as renditioned captives are protected by international human rights protections and humanitarian law.

By his actions as outlined above, the President has abused his power, broken the law, deceived the American people, and placed American military personnel, and indeed all Americans—especially those who may travel or live abroad–at risk of similar treatment. Furthermore, in the eyes of the rest of the world, the President has made the US, once a model of respect for Human Rights and respect for the rule of law, into a state where international law is neither respected nor upheld.

In all of these actions and decisions in violation of United States and International law, President George W. Bush has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and Commander in Chief, and subversive of constitutional government, to the prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore, President George W. Bush, by such conduct, is guilty of an impeachable offense warranting removal from office.

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