Torture and Hooded Justice

This administration continues to assert the right to utilize torture by playing gymnastics with its legal definitions

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: June 26, 2008

Torture and Hooded Justice

In any language, torture is a four-letter word. While the repugnant practice is primarily associated with the Inquisition and the darkest chapters of human history, as a result of the release of hundreds of pages of declassified memos, torture will forever in history also now
be associated with American President Bush.

Contrary to his July 26, 2003 insistence ‘«Ű that the United States does not torture ‘«Ű as a result of those memos, we have learned that torture and the abuse of prisoners have had the U.S. presidential seal of approval since 2001. Contrary to all the documented evidence, this is
also a president who claims he did not lead the nation into war under false pretenses.

On both the topic of torture and illegal wars, this has set the worst possible example. As Amnesty International recently reported: "The so-called "war on terror" has led to an erosion of a whole host of human rights. States are resorting to practices which have long been prohibited by international law, and have sought to justify them in the name of national security." These fear-driven practices include abductions, illegal detentions, extraordinary renditions, illegal
deportations and secret prisons, specifically designed to be outside of the reach of international law. Physicians for Human Rights also recently concluded that despite the administration's denials, the U.S. Government has tortured prisoners in its "war on terror."

It is for this reason that the world human rights community nowadays calls for the end of torture every year on June 26.

That an American president, with professed Christian values, would embrace state-sponsored torture, should shock the human conscience. And yet beyond the "war on terror," after five years of waging a criminal war in Iraq, why should anyone be shocked that that embrace violates a series of International treaties and the 1996 Federal War Crimes Act, plus the clear wishes of Congress?

Because of those memos ‘«Ű through the prodding of the ACLU ‘«Ű we now know that the dehumanization of prisoners was policy and not the doings of a few bad apples, as was claimed after the release of the Abu Ghraib photos. History will judge President Bush as a torture enabler who continually sought exemptions and loopholes via a redefinition of torture. But no need to wait for history; in its 2008 annual report regarding torture, Amnesty International also noted that
the Bush Administration has distinguished itself in "defiance of international law."

The memos reveal that the Bush administration since Sept. 11, 2001 engaged in extensive discussions about how to get around U.S. and international laws (including the Geneva Conventions) against torture. This included assertions that torture was only illegal if carried out on U.S. soil (thus Guantanamo) and it was only illegal if carried out by members of the U.S. Armed Forces ‘«Ű which left an opening for the CIA, mercenaries and the secret services of allied rogue nations. Other assertions included the argument that torture was not illegal if carried out against members of irregular forces.

Such assertions have been a boon to despots everywhere. Additional assertions have included the "right" to secretly arrest and detain suspects indefinitely and incommunicado, without legal representation, without charges and without trials. All this is predicated on the notion that this president has special powers during times of [legal] war, thus the need for permanent war.

While seemingly "old news," revelations regarding torture continue to make the news. The nation recently learned that FBI agents in 2002 created a "war crimes file" against U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo, though the agents were directed to disband it in 2003 because creating such a file was not their mission (NY Times, May 21, 2008).

However, torture is not old news; it remains U.S. policy. This administration continues to assert the "right" to utilize torture by playing gymnastics with its legal definitions. All of this while insisting that other nations exempt the United States from the International War Crimes Tribunal. (It also asserts the right to war against Iran).

Fortunately, the European Court of Human Rights ‘«Ű which earlier this year reaffirmed its ban on torture ‘«Ű is not vacillating in the same manner as the Bush administration‘«™ or even Sen. John McCain, who supports the CIA torture exemption. Even the nation's top law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, purportedly opposes torture, yet declines to define the
Inquisition-era water-boarding as such.

These assertions have begun to erode the moral fabric of our society. That fabric is increasingly orange and the faces are hooded. The hoods dehumanize not simply the prisoners, but all those that permit these barbarities in the name of America.

* For information regarding the July 26 event, go to the Torture Abolition Support & Solidarity Coalition International website at:

About Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez:
Rodriguez, a research associate at Mexican American Studies at the
University of Arizona can be reached at: 520 743-0376 or

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