Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Turning point"

Is it true, as Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands assert in Slate, that the fact that a "top Bush administration official" admitted(on the record) to Bob Woodward that "We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani" means there is no possible way that Obama can sweep the Bush administration's interrogation practices under the rug? I certainly hope so. Accounts like this don't seem like they should go unpunished:

"For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators," said Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani's interrogation records and other military documents. "Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister."

At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani "was forced to wear a woman's bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation" and "was told that his mother and sister were whores." With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room "and forced to perform a series of dog tricks," the report shows.

The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post, was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani's heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows.

Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands think that, with a former chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and general counsel for the Department of the Army saying we've entered the legal definition of torture, the end game is clear:
The only real issue now is: What happens next?

The answer to that question takes you to a very different place when the act is torture, as Crawford says it is. Under the 1984 Torture Convention, its 146 state parties (including the United States) are under an obligation to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law." These states must take any person alleged to have committed torture (or been complicit or participated in an act of torture) who is present in their territories into custody. The convention allows no exceptions, as Sen. Pinochet discovered in 1998. The state party to the Torture Convention must then submit the case to its competent authorities for prosecution or extradition for prosecution in another country.

Certainly nobody can say it's just leftwing peacnik pinko commie bloggers who think we bear the terrible shame of torture anymore... but will it be enough to force Obama's hand?

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