Very soon, the Senate will meet to debate and vote on whether or not to confirm Judge Alberto Gonzales for the post of Attorney General. At the center of the debate over Gonzales is his apparent endorsement for redefining the definitions of torture, and his apparent claim that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to prisoners of the so-called “War on Terror.” Many groups, such as the ACLU, have expressed serious concern at the nomination of Gonzales. Other groups also take strong issue with Judge Gonzales stemming from his tenure in Texas. The Center for American Progress calls Mr. Gonzales’ record one of “Injustice.”
I also expressed my deep concern at his nomination. Recent news reports seemed to have bolstered my reasons to be scared. On January 27, 2005, CBS News reported that a former U.S. Army linguist, Erik R. Saar told the Associated Press that he began witnessing “disturbing” practices about three months after he arrived at Guantanamo Bay. The alleged practices are detailed in a manuscript of his forthcoming book, Inside the Wire, to be published by Penguin Press later this year, obtained by the Associated Press. One incident is particularly “disgusting,” as Maureen Dowd said.
A female military interrogator questioned an uncooperative 21-year-old Saudi detainee about his alleged flying lessons in Arizona before the September 11 attacks. Saar wrote, “His female interrogator decided that she needed to turn up the heat.” So, she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner’s back and commenting on his apparent erection. He looked up and spat in her face, according to the manuscript. She then asked a “Muslim linguist” how she could break the prisoner’s reliance on God, and the linguist told her to tell the detainee that she was menstruating.
Thus, “She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee. As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand, She said, ‘Who sent you to Arizona?’ He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred. She then wiped the red ink on her face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward” The detainee began to cry “like a baby,” and the interrogator said, “Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself.” According to the manuscript, “The concept [of this technique] was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength.”
In November 2004, in response to a request by the Associated Press, the military reported that in early 2003 a female interrogator “wiped dye from red magic marker on detainees’ shirt after detainee spit (cq) on her,” telling the detainee it was blood. She was verbally reprimanded, according to the military.
Another account by a recently-released Australian detainee, Mamdouh Habib, seemed to corroborate such practices. Mr. Habib’s lawyer said that a “prostitute” had stood over Mr. Habib “naked while he was strapped to the floor and menstruated on him.” His lawyer continued, “The Americans in their wisdom have taken the heads off the pictures [of his wife and their four children], enlarged them and superimposed them with the heads of animals and then strung them up all over the walls of the interrogation room. As they sat there talking to [Mr. Habib] asking him about his terrorist activities, they held up a picture of [his wife] and said, ‘It’s a shame we had to kill your family, it’s a shame you will never see these people again.'”
And this is not torture? How could this not be torture? How could any American stand for this to be done in our name? How could Lt. Col. James Marshall, spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, keep a straight face and say, “U.S. forces treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, humanely and consistent with U.S. legal obligations, and in particular with legal obligations prohibiting torture.”
According to Mr. Saar, “Interrogators were given a lot of latitude under Miller.” That’s Major General Geoffrey Miller who, after his stint at Guantanamo Bay, went to Iraq to head the…Abu Ghraib prison. We all know what happened there.
Again, I must ask the question: how could this treatment not be torture? Is it because it is not mental pain that requires “suffering not just at the moment of infliction” but also requires “lasting psychological harm, such as seen in mental disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder”? This is the definition of mental torture that was given by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in an August 2002 memorandum.
There have been reports of attempted mass suicides at Guantanamo Bay. Could it be that they are being subjected to the kind of treatment I talked about above? Isn’t attempted suicide an indication of having to endure suffering that causes “lasting psychological harm,” in the words of the Office of Legal Counsel? Menstruating on strapped down Muslim men; sexually taunting them, knowing it would cause enormous psychological stress; lying about killing one’s family; this is not torture? Then what in God’s name is?