Thursday, March 31, 2005

JUSTICE: Torturing detainees puts us on the road to moral ruin

JUSTICE: Torturing detainees puts us on the road to moral ruin

The Bush administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging. But there is no longer any doubt that prisoners seized by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been killed, tortured, sexually humiliated and otherwise grotesquely abused. People have been rounded up, stripped, shackled, beaten, incarcerated and in some cases killed, without being offered even the semblance of due process. No charges. No lawyers. No appeals.

These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law and, thus, accountable to no one. Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi who was detained by the U.S. military for nearly a year at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to a lawsuit filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Ali was beaten into unconsciousness during interrogations. He was stabbed, shocked with an electrical device, urinated on and kept locked - hooded and naked - in a wooden, coffin-like box. He said he was told by his captors that soldiers could kill detainees with impunity.

Ali's story is depressingly similar to other accounts pouring in from detainees, human rights groups, intelligence sources and U.S. government investigators. If you pay close attention to what already is known about the barbaric treatment of prisoners by the United States, you can begin to wonder how far we've come from the Middle Ages.

No charges were filed against Ali, and eventually he was released. But what should be of paramount concern to Americans is this country's precipitous and frightening descent into the hellish zone of lawlessness that the Bush administration, on the one hand, is trying to conceal and, on the other, is defending as absolutely essential to its fight against terror.

The lawsuit against Rumsfeld was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First, a New York-based group, on behalf of Ali and seven other former detainees from Iraq and Afghanistan who claim to have been tortured by U.S. personnel.

The suit charges that Rumsfeld personally authorized unlawful interrogation techniques and abdicated his responsibility to stop the torture and other abuses of prisoners in U.S. custody. It contends that the abuse of detainees was widespread and that Rumsfeld and other top administration officials were well aware of it. It cites a wealth of evidence readily available to the secretary, including the scandalous eruptions at Abu Ghraib prison, the reports of detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay, myriad newspaper and magazine articles, internal U.S. government reports and concerns expressed by such reputable groups as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Whether this suit ultimately will be successful in holding Rumsfeld personally accountable is questionable. But if it is thoroughly argued in the courts, at least it will raise another curtain on the stomach-turning practices that have shamed the United States in the eyes of the world.

The primary aim of the lawsuit is, quite simply, to re-establish the rule of law. "It's that fundamental idea that nobody is above the law," said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First. "The violations here were created by policies that deliberately undermined the rule of law. That needs to be challenged."

Lawlessness should never be an option for the United States. Once the rule of law has been extinguished, you're left with an environment in which moral degeneracy can flourish and a great nation can lose its soul.

originally published 03/30/2005