Tuesday, February 26

Water Torture

I am now a Staff Writer for UMBC's student newspaper The Retriever Weekly


Counterpoint: Waterboarding is cruel and unusual

On February 11, the U.S. Military announced charges against six individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay. The men will be charged under the Military Commissions Act (MCA), passed in 2006 (after the prior system of military tribunals was ruled unconstitutional). The sole purpose of this act was to revise the standards previously outlined in the War Crimes Act in order to protect U.S. government officials that ordered waterboarding. The act allows trials to continue in the absence of a defendant, allows the Secretary of Defense to appoint judges, allows hearsay and evidence obtained without a warrant, and denies the defendant the right to see all of the evidence against him. Defense attorneys are not allowed to meet their clients without governmental monitoring and all of their notes and mail must be handed over to the military. The MCA also permits evidence obtained by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment if it was secured before December 30, 2005. Recently CIA director Michael Hayden became the first administration official to admit the use of waterboarding. The men that he named are three of the men that were charged on the 11th: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubayda and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. This announcement came after the CIA admitted to destroying several hundred hours of videotapes depicting interrogations and waterboarding of Zubaydah and al-Nashiri. Another man being charged, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was forcibly administered drugs and enemas and subjected to prolonged restraint, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, and exposure to extreme temperatures.

Waterboarding is a euphemism for water torture. Whatever you call it, the practice is illegal under United Nations’ Convention against torture. This convention prohibits treatment resulting in long-term physical or mental damage. The Third Geneva Conventions also states that torture is a war crime. According to these precedents, water torture should be illegal under the MCA as well. Proponents of the method however believe that water torture is not cruel, and does not cause long term mental or physical damage. Water torture involves forced suffocation and inhalation of water. This sensation is commonly referred to as drowning. Physical injuries that may result from water torture include brain damage, lung damage, heart attack, and death. Dr. Allen Keller, who has treated water torture victims, describes the potential mental effects as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fear of water.

Water torture was used during the Spanish Inquisition, by agents of the Dutch East India Company during the Amboyna massacre, by the Japanese Kempeitai and the Gestapo during World War II, and by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. After the Spanish-American War, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the court-martial of an American General for allowing his troops to water torture. Our current president contends that under threat of imminent attack water torture is an acceptable method. This must be a recent revelation because after World War II our country executed eight Japanese officers for water torturing allied soldiers under threat of a nuclear attack. Apparently dropping two nuclear bombs does not constitute imminent attack.

Unfortunately, in this article I have fallen into the same circle of discussion that is replayed in the pundit realm of network television. We should not be discussing whether water boarding is torture when it plainly is. This is merely the obfuscation of the issue at hand. We should be arguing over what direction our country is heading in and what company these presently employed tactics keep us in. It is shameful when we use a practice employed by the Gestapo and Khmer Rouge. In discussing the retirement of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, George Bush mentioned the release of political prisoners. Ironically, our military base in Cuba has a population of questionable, to say the least, prisoners. According to the governments’ own documents, 55 percent of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Only eight percent of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. 40 percent have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18 percent are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban. Only five percent of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86 percent of the detainees were arrested by either the military dictatorship of Pakistan or the Northern Alliance. Detainees captured by Pakistan and the Northern Alliance were captured at a time when the United States offered large bounties. The Northern Alliance warlords in Afghanistan are reported to have captured neighbors with whom they had disputes, and random villagers.

Recently Colonel Morris Davis, the general counsel of the Department of Defense, is reported to have said that the Guantanamo trials cannot have acquittals because it would be impossible to explain the prisoners’ six-year-long captivity. This is significant because as general counsel the prosecutors report to him, the defense counsel reports to him, the judges report to him, and the convening authority reports to him. If the system wasn’t rigged already there is no doubt that it is now.

The attacks on September 11, 2001 were heinous and deplorable by any standard. They will go down in history as perhaps one of the most brutal non-wartime attacks. Unfortunately, our reaction to it will also go down in history. Our country has violated international law and violated generally accepted standards of war and detention. Any conviction that is reached will forever be tainted by the six years of solitary confinement and torture these men suffered. Not to mention any torture they underwent while at secret CIA black sites in foreign countries that openly torture prisoners.

The true measure of a nation is how it reacts under the toughest circumstances and most tenuous conditions. Above all this act is shameful to everyone who was personally affected on that day. Convictions will come quickly but has justice been served? It does not appear that justice is the aim of these trials. Instead the smack of attempt at polishing a legacy of administration marred by failure and lawlessness.

Copyright: The Retriever Weekly

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