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Emerging police state: imprisonment without trial and the torture of prisoners are hallmarks of an oppressive police state, yet George Bush and his administration openly promote these practices.

CIA prisoner Benyam Mohammed al Habashi, an Ethiopian refugee who obtained residence in Britain in 1994, hung by his hands from electrical cords in a secret Moroccan jail in August 2002. After the Muslim convert had been picked up by Pakistani immigration officials and given to the American CIA, Pakistani jailers had beaten him regularly with a leather strap as he hung by his hands.

But the Moroccan interrogators acting on behalf of the CIA found a new way to torture al Habashi. According to al Habashi, interrogators brandished a surgical scalpel, cut his chest, and urged him to confess to being a terrorist. The interrogators did not stop at cutting his chest: "One of [the guards] took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying.... They must have done this 20 to 30 times. There was blood all over."

The helpless prisoner described his two-hour ordeal: "They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists." The interrogators next poured pain-inducing chemicals over the open wounds.

Habashi has testified that throughout his 18-month incarceration in Morocco his interrogators cut his chest and genitals with a scalpel monthly, and subjected him to psychological torture in-between. This was al Habashi's introduction to the Bush administration policy of "extraordinary rendition," where the CIA farms out torture to the most barbaric governments on Earth.

Al Habashi also spent nine months in two U.S. prisons inside Afghanistan where--he alleges--he was forced to sign confessions and swear false testimony against other prisoners before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

Inhumane and Unreliable

Why should law-abiding American citizens care about the troubles of this Guantanamo Bay prisoner? Because much of his "confession" against his supposed "terrorist" confederates was made after his torture in Morocco, and this "evidence" is being used to keep at least one American citizen in jail today. Americans need to ask themselves: "Do I really want my freedom to hinge upon whether or not some suspect whimpers out my name as a surgical scalpel is applied to his genitals?"

A detainee under such a situation would understandably be willing to "confess" whatever the interrogator wanted. This explains in part why evidence obtained under torture is so notoriously unreliable. In fact, the Bush administration's case for the war against Iraq was based largely upon the false testimony of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda training camp official captured in Afghanistan who concocted tales of "ties" between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime in order to stop his torture sessions. Hussein's ties to al-Qaeda turned out to be false.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a radio interviewer on June 27, 2005 of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners: "These are people all of whom were captured on a battlefield. They're terrorists, trainers, bomb makers, recruiters, financiers, [Osama bin Laden's] body guards, would-be suicide bombers, probably the 20th hijacker, 9/11 hijacker."

However, they weren't all captured on the battlefield. Al Habashi had been ar rested--unarmed--at the Karachi, Pakistan airport by Pakistani immigration officials before being transferred to CIA custody. Yet the CIA considers him an "enemy combatant." Al Habashi is not the only case that proves Rumsfeld wrong. A study of Guantanamo detainees on behalf of the counsel for some released defendants suing the U.S. government found that only seven percent of the detainees whose method of apprehension had been revealed had been captured on the battlefield.

The rest had been "captured" by governments cooperating with the Bush administration or by bounty hunters seeking cash rewards for turning in suspected terrorists.

It should hardly be surprising that many of those captured turned out to be innocent. Coalition forces distributed leaflets promising huge bounties for Afghans and Pakistanis who informed on their neighbors. One leaflet distributed in Afghanistan promised: "Get wealth and power beyond your dreams.... You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces catch al-Qaida and Taliban murderers. There is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life."

Boston-based Attorney P. Sabin Willett represents one such innocent client, Adel al Hakim, one of five innocent ethnic Uighurs (Chinese Muslims), detained at Guantanamo. Willett explains:
 Adel is innocent. I don't mean he
 claims to be. I mean the military says
 so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled
 that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban,
 not a terrorist. The whole thing was
 a mistake. The Pentagon paid $5,000
 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.
 The military people reached this conclusion,
 and they wrote it down on
 a memo, and then they classified the
 memo and Adel went from the hearing
 room back to his prison cell.

Adel and his four Uighur compatriots never received a trial during their more than four years of incarceration at Guantanamo. Only after a legal battle during a habeas corpus petition was Willett even informed that the military had already determined his client was innocent. But the determination did not affect his incarceration. Officials have stated that they cannot repatriate Adel to China because he may face torture from the Chinese government for being a Muslim, and don't know where to send him and his fellow Uighurs. So back to Guantanamo they went.

In December 2005, Congress passed a law banning torture by a veto-proof majority. After signing the bill, President Bush issued a so-called signing statement: an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law. In it Bush said:

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

The Boston Globe reported the administration's position, in the words of an anonymous official: "Of course the president has the obligation to follow this law, [but] he also has the obligation to defend and protect the country as the commander in chief, and he will have to square those two responsibilities in each case. We are not expecting that those two responsibilities will come into conflict, but it's possible that they will" By issuing the "signing statement," Bush essentially signed the law with his fingers crossed behind his back.

How have such gross violations of justice and basic human decency occurred?

Official Torture

The Bush administration--from President Bush on down--has openly defied the plain meaning of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments," and the Seventh Amendment right to a "speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury."

The Bush administration promulgated a new torture policy shortly after 9/11 which gave the green light to any kind of torture by American interrogators short of organ failure or death. Justice Department Assistant Attorneys General Jay S. Bybee and John C. Yoo explained in a 2002 memo that for an action to be deemed torture, physical pain "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

While the Bush administration officially pioneered such torture techniques such as "waterboarding," where detainees are strapped to a plank and have wet towels or cellophane wrapped around their heads to simulate drowning, other more forceful torture techniques received only tacit approval and were therefore "outsourced" to foreign governments such as Egypt, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Syria.

Just how far Bush administration officials are willing to carry this was revealed in a December 1, 2005 Chicago debate between Yoo, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Notre Dame professor and international human rights scholar Doug Cassel:

Doug Cassel: If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty.

Cassel: Also no law by Congress--that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo....

Yoo: I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that. Yoo's testimony does far more than make al Habashi's description of his torture credible; it also puts to lie the administration claim that the abusive excesses of Abu Ghraib and other detainees throughout the CIA rendition program were cases of "renegade" agents. Abu Ghraib was not a case of a few jailers who have gone wild, but rather part of the program approved by the Bush Administration, which openly claimed the power to torture--regardless of what the law as passed by Congress says.

A March 2003 Defense Department memorandum stated that laws passed by Congress are irrelevant: "In order to represent the President's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign, 18 USC 2340A (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority.... Congress may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."

The ethnic Uighurs are not the only cases of innocent persons being sent away to prisons to be tortured. The U.S. government apprehended Canadian computer programmer Maher Arar at JFK airport in New York while he was on his way home from a family vacation in Tunisia, and renditioned him without trial to Syria for nine months of torture. Arar endured beatings and was forced to live in a tiny underground cell he likened to a tomb. Syrian officials eventually realized his innocence, and set him free after Canadian diplomatic pressure was brought to bear on his behalf.

Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen born in Egypt and father of four, was released from Guantanamo on January 11, 2005 without charges after enduring beatings, electrocution, and injection of drugs in an Egyptian CIA rendition prison. He never received a hearing or trial during his three-and-a-half years of imprisonment.

Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen, was apprehended in Macedonia in September 2002 and renditioned to Afghanistan, where U.S. officials beat, stripped, and sodomized el-Masri. He was released without charges in May 2004.

Americans as the Enemy

Many Americans may remain unconcerned--or perhaps comforted--by the fact that most of the names of those who have been tortured at the hands of the Bush administration are Arabic names. They shouldn't be. Denial of the right to trial by jury and torture of American citizens is already underway.

The Bush administration has openly stated that U.S. citizenship is no guarantee against indefinite detention without trial. In fact, the administration took all the way to the Supreme Court the cases of two U.S. citizens--Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi--detained without trial. The administration settled the Hamdi case out of court in order to avoid an embarrassing precedent in favor of the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury. In a similar fashion, the administration finally decided to charge Padilla with a crime last year, when it appeared likely the Supreme Court would rule that Padilla was entitled to a trial. But the charges came more than three years after Padilla had been incarcerated after being apprehended unarmed at Chicago's O'Hare Airport and personally designated as an "enemy combatant" by President Bush.

The primary proof against Padilla for alleged crimes of plotting terrorist acts in the United States are al Habashi's statements while under CIA torture in Afghanistan (al Habashi has since recanted his statements) and statements by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, senior al-Qaeda members who fingered Padilla only under torture.

That ordinary innocent Americans could be imprisoned without trial based upon "evidence" obtained through torture is hardly far-fetched. After the recent crackdown on alleged terrorist cells in Florida, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales noted on June 23 that American citizens may soon be on the "enemy combatant" block: "The terrorists and suspected terrorists in Madrid and London and Toronto were not sleeper operatives sent on suicide missions. They were students and businesspeople and members of the community. They were persons who, for whatever reason, came to view their home country as the enemy. And it's a problem that we face here in the United States as well." Also, it wasn't that long ago when some 325,000 Americans, including several congressmen, were put on the "terrorism watch list."

If Americans do not demand a restoration of the universal right to trial by jury and strict adherence to the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment -along with prosecution of those officials who have violated and sanctioned those constitutional violations--they may find themselves the next ones on the cutting end of the surgical scalpel.
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Article Details
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Author:Eddlem, Thomas R.
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 24, 2006
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