Bush: “Torture is Banned. No, we won’t define ‘Torture.'”
President Bush has issued an executive order banning the Central Intelligence Agency from using torture in interrogating terrorism suspects. So, human rights activists ought to be thrilled, right? Wrong. The order doesn’t define “torture” or specify what techniques may or may not be used in interrogation. (Bush says that this is to prevent al-Qaeda from training to resist such techniques.) The order does not specify whether or not detainees in Guantanemo Bay are covered or whether the order just applies to new suspects captured by the C.I.A. It apparently still allows for “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping suspects and transporting them to third countries) to secret prisons in countries where torture is allowed.
The new order forbids all “cruel and inhumane treatment,” which is similar to language used in UN Treaties to which the U.S. has long been a signatory, but it remains unclear as to whether the Geneva Conventions (which Attorney General Gonzalez, back when he was White House Chief Counsel, once described as “quaint and outmoded”) will be followed. Will “waterboarding” be forbidden? In the past, the U.S. has prosecuted foreign nationals (Japanese soldiers after WWII) and our soldiers (during Vietnam) for waterboarding, but this administration has defended the practice–while refusing to admit whether or not it uses it. What about sleep deprivation? Stressed positions? Mock executions? Cold rooms (which have enduced hypothermia)?
The new executive order DOES rule out “religious humiliation” (e.g., forcing Muslims prisoners to handle copies of the Qu’ran that one claims have been urinated upon or rolled in pork, etc.) and sexual humiliation (stripping prisoners nude, sexual tauntings, having female interrogators pretend to wipe menses on them, etc.) and so most people see it as a step in the right direction. But it is clearly not enough. To work for more comprehensive bans on torture and all cruel, inhumane, and degrading forms of punishment, one can join campaigns by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First, or other groups. Persons of faith are especially urged to join the campaigns of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and/or Evangelicals for Human Rights.
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