U.S. Torture Happened, and Obama Must Investigate

The Constitution Project (TCP), an independent research think tank, published a 600-page report last week condemning the U.S. as engaging in torture and associated special rendition programs during the Bush era to apprehend terrorists on foreign soil in a collaborative effort with nations such the UK, Poland, Lithuania, Jordan and Egypt.

The TCP report summarizes two main finding from their extensive two-year research; first, the panel asserts that it is utterly "indisputable" that the U.S. government and its personnel indulged in torture. Second, clear directives for illegal practices of interrogation came straight from high-ranking officials that included that president of the United States.

Torture of suspects or alleged terrorists is a crime, punishable under United Nations statues (UN) and the Geneva Conventions to which the U.S. is a signatory. The Obama administration has previously stated that they would not open an investigation into the Bush-era rendition programs and cases of prisoner abuse. The current U.S. government should be aware that its standing in the world, precarious as it is, will further deteriorate if they continue to neglect the abuse committed by U.S. personnel.

In matters of detainee treatment, the TCP report provides numerous disturbing accounts of prisoner abuse. Australian prisoner David Hicks (in Kandahar, Afghanistan) recounts anal cavity searches by military officials. Hicks writes that "I was bent over and held down by two soldiers who were escorting me. The soldier at this station held a large piece of white plastic and shoved it up my anus ... I heard a soldier say, “Extra ribbed for your pleasure." 

While rectal cavity searches were authorized as a legitimate practice in matters of security, the TCP paper cites findings of the Jacoby Report that full body searches and nude examinations did not provide any substantive evidence of security threats. It recommended that anal cavity searches be removed as routine procedure in security inspections. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz issued a decree to reduce the incidence of these activities, but acknowledging their use should be permitted in situations deemed critical.

On prisoner abuse in Iraq, the report asserts that several deaths were likely a consequence of torture. Manadel al-Jamadi was brought to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison half naked (waist down), and was "shackled" to the wall as CIA personnel were reportedly interrogating him. At one point, a military personnel is reported saying that Jamadi's arms were "literally coming out of his sockets. I mean he was hanging that bad." He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. His autopsy report detailed various injuries, including broken ribs, "blunt force injuries," and "compromised respiration."

The existence of the rendition programs was first acknowledged in Bush's second term, when Condelezza Rice admitted to the existence of the controversial system. Referred to as Black Sites, these were secret prisons around the world established outside U.S. territory where foreign nationals were transferred on a basis of suspicion to commit terrorism and duly interrogated. This way, the U.S. government could try and deny the existence or presence of such sites on U.S. soil and refute claims of foul play in matters of prisoner interrogation and treatment.

In Egypt, the TCP report details the story of Muhammad Alzery and Ahmed Agiza, who were rendered from Sweden three months after 9/11. They describe the severity of their torture routine, which included electric shocks to their genitals. In one scenario Alzery was made to lie on an electric bed frame.

One of the most damning sections of the report is the involvement of high-ranking officials in directing and approving techniques that are a clear violation of numerous treaties and rights, including the American Bill of Rights. Bush wrote in his memoirs how he approved several enhanced interrogation techniques himself, including waterboarding. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally sought and was eventually successful in not limiting interrogation methods to what was permitted by the Geneva Conventions.

The incumbent administration made it clear in its inaugural term that it would not pursue the previous government's controversial (to say the least) techniques and rendition protocols. President Obama said he wanted to "look forward, not backwards." Unfortunately, incidences like these have been of colossal detriment to the U.S.'s image around the world.

In the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib incident, riots and violent protests ensued in Iraq, risking the lives of American personnel in the region, and infatuated Muslim nations with vicious anti-American sentiment. Americans are perceived as hypocrites for invading to spread democracy and freedom, whereas their treatment of civilians and prisoners of foreign nations tell a different story.

Little doubt, if any, exists that U.S. military and intelligence personnel committed acts of torture. The more damaging verdict is the approval of such grotesque techniques from the highest officials present in government. With the controversy over the failure to end detention at Guantanamo, avoiding an investigation in reported torture cases will further dent the credibility of the Obama led government. Its promise to rebuild the image of America across the globe looks set to fail, if it hasn't already.