By Robert Scheer
Onward Bush’s soldiers, torture as ye may, but do it in Guantanamo, and not in the USA.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the habeas corpus plea of a Canadian national, captured in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old, because the possible deprivation of his human rights was not conducted on “U.S. soil.” The court, with three judges dissenting, cited a law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress last year that the fate of Guantanamo prisoners will be determined by secret military tribunals outside the purview of U.S. courts.
The case was brought on behalf of Omar Khadr, one of roughly 380 Guantanamo prisoners and one of only 10 finally charged with a crime. He has been in custody five years. So much for the right to a speedy trial, not to mention a fair trial, which after years of systematic torture is dubious.
That was the judgment of Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who refused to continue with prosecution of another prisoner, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, one of 14 “high value” Guantanamo prisoners. The refusal of Couch—whose Marine buddy was the copilot of United Flight 175 before it smashed into the World Trade Center—to go along with the charade was not taken lightly. In a chilling account in The Wall Street Journal, “The Conscience of the Colonel,” by Jess Bravin, Couch recounts how he came to be convinced that the confession of Slahi was obtained after torture.
Couch, a prosecutor at Guantanamo, inadvertently witnessed other prisoners being tortured, but he was denied access to the man he was prosecuting, who suddenly began telling his captors what they wanted to hear after being subjected to the “varsity program.” That’s the nickname for the Special Interrogation Plan which then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized. In cooperation with a military investigator, Couch was able to ascertain details of the defendant’s torture, which subsequently have been documented in other official investigations.
Aside from the beatings, water-boarding, stress positions and sexual degradation that have been the norm at Guantanamo, Slahi was taunted with details of his mother’s incarceration and rape in an elaborate hoax by an officer who claimed to be representing the White House. One hopes the Iranian captors of those British sailors do not learn of our modern Western ways of obtaining information.
Couch does not claim Slahi is innocent of all charges but rather that the evidence is not believable because of the methods used to obtain it and the fact that it has not been independently corroborated. This is a critically important observation, because the defendant is one of the “high value” prisoners, all of whom were presumably similarly treated, who provide our basic understanding of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
The official narrative of that tragedy is recorded in the 9/11 commission report, where it is admitted that the credibility of the key evidence is highly questionable. “Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses ... is challenging. Our access to them has been limited to the review of intelligence reports. ... We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting. We were told our requests might disrupt the sensitive interrogation process.”
That “sensitive interrogation” in the case of Slahi, according to Senate testimony of Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, assigned by the Pentagon to investigate conditions at Guantanamo, was conducted by an interrogation chief who the general concluded “was a rogue guy,” a “zealot” who “essentially was having a ball.”
Aside from the sadistic example being set by the United States for the world, the other cost is that torture does not produce credible intelligence results or legally recognized convictions of the guilty, even employing the sorry military tribunal standard accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The only prisoner convicted to date is the Australian “Taliban” David Hicks, who, after being attached to the most heinous of crimes by the United States, last week was given a mere nine-month sentence to be served in Australia. The plea bargain held one key element for the White House: that Hicks accept a media gag order and waive his rights to sue the United States over his treatment. The point, once again, is not to get at the truth about 9/11 but rather to make George Bush look vigilant, despite the facts, in fighting his phony war on terrorism.
AP Photo / Brennan Linsley
An American flag waves behind razor wire and fences within the prison compound at the Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.