Thursday, August 21, 2008

US accused of war crimes over torture methods

US accused of war crimes over torture methods

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The use of torture by the US Government in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001 has come under increasing criticism.

In 1863 at the height of the US civil war, president Abraham Lincoln set the principles for interrogation of prisoners with a famous instruction "military necessity does not admit of cruelty".

It took the September 11 attacks to change those principles and Vice-President Dick Cheney said the US would now have to work through the dark side.

In response, government lawyers drew up the so-called torture memos that would ultimately unleash the abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and at a host of secret CIA "black sites".

In his new book, lawyer Philippe Sands argues that the responsible officials, and the lawyers who advised them, should be charged with war crimes.

Popular TV drama '24' regularly show terror suspects being tortured so the hero can save the day but does this reflect a new tolerance of torture tactics in the United States?

At the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq there was little heroism on display among those who humiliated and tortured Iraqi prisoners.

The US Government blamed rogue soldiers but its own top officials had made it plain that US standards dramatically changed following the September 11 terror attacks.

"We also have to work the the dark side if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world," said Mr Cheney shortly after the New York attacks in 2001.

"A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies if we're going to be successful."

The former director of the CIA Counterterrorist Centre, Cofer Black, echoed Mr Cheney's words.

"All you need to know is that there was a before 9/11 and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off," he said.

As a result, terror suspects held by the US endured what US officials termed "aggressive coercion".

Former US Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora describes some some of the interrogation techniques.

"[Guantanamo Bay detainee] Al-Qahtani was interrogated for and I'm illustrating now, not the exact, something like 48 out of 52 days, often for stretches exceeding 12 to 14 or even 16 hours a day," he said.

"He was kept in cold rooms such that he was shivering uncontrollably, his heart rate would drop; he was provided fluids intravenously without the opportunity to go to the bathroom. He was sexually humiliated by female US guards and other treatments of this sort."

In December 2002 then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a now infamous memo which justified these new methods.

The memo detailed a variety of enhanced interrogation techniques such as leaving people standing for up to four hours.

Mr Rumsfeld wrote at the bottom "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?".

The US Justice Department declared treatment only amounted to torture if it intentionally resulted in pain equivalent to serious injury, organ failure or death.

Some are now questioning whether the officials who authorised these techniques may be open to being charged with war crimes.

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