Cruel and Unusual Punishment

The 1949 Geneva Convention was established in order to institute a legally binding modicum of humanness into modern warfare. This ‘humanness’ was established through Prisoner of War provisions, making constitutionally inadmissible interrogation practices (like torture) illegal to those deemed Prisoners of War. This treaty is hailed by many as one of the most important and proactive steps towards universal humanity ever taken. However, the very practices warned against by the Geneva Convention, like physical or psychological torture (seemingly both “cruel” and “unusual”), the Bush administration has shamelessly sponsored within the detainee camp, Guantánamo Bay and others very similar.

According to a not-so-confidential International Red Cross report, the American interrogators within the Guantánamo Bay camp (and others) used coercive tactics against detainees such as “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, and use of forced positions…and some beatings.” These reports, clearly, indicate that the atrocities committed within the Abu Ghraib prisons were not part of an isolated incident, rather, what seems like, a government sponsored propensity towards disrespect, ethnocentrism, and torture. Despite the polite language of the Red Cross Report, it’s not “tantamount to torture.” It’s torture. It’s not “detainee abuse.” It’s torture. An American administration, who issues a report grading other countries on their sponsorship or violations of human rights, seems to endorse similar violations of human rights when the legal system leaves our homeland.

Don’t get me wrong, I love our country, and I believe any terrorist who threatens it should be sought out and killed. However, patriotism will never becloud my moral compass and should never serve as a mandate to perpetuate evil and hatred. I have no sympathy for terrorists, but I believe in due process of the law and I also believe in decency. If you don’t, so be it. However the assertion that these roughly 600 detainees are ''the worst of a very bad lot,'' as Vice President Dick Cheney has called them, is just blatant untruthfulness. In fact, evidence against these detainees, evidence of the crimes they committed, is so sparse that investigators have barely been able to make a case for more than 20 prisoners! Not only are the names of the detainees not being released, but they are imprisoned for indefinite amounts of time, not even charged with a crime—essentially, they awarded no due process of the law. Scratch that, no law at all.

Some optimists, certainly naive ones, claim that detainees are afforded very hospitable living conditions within Guantánamo. This, for some, may be so. However this is hardly the case for all (or even most). For example, 100 supposedly “high value” detainees have been held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, for more than 5 months. Those who perceive solitary confinement and other psychological coercive tactics as hospitable are grossly misinformed.

However, unfortunately, torture can extend much farther than psychological limitations. For example, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, the former chief of Iraqi air defenses, was brutally killed on November 26 at a detention facility at Al Qaim, northwest of Baghdad. According to autopsy evidence, he died from "asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression." This smothering and compression, according to the Denver Post documents and Pentagon investigators, is due to soldiers tying him in a sleeping bag, sitting on his face, beating him, and hitting him against a wall until he died. Eight more homicides, according to the Pentagon a briefing, have occurred "either before or during interrogation sessions that may have led to the detainee's death.” It is disgusting and horrifying to fathom torture and death at the hands of United States investigators. However, sadly we must acknowledge this as truth.

Do terrorists deserve torture? That’s a moral conviction. Do un-convicted nameless detainees—out of 600 only about 12 of whom are even affiliated with Al Qaeda—deserve inhuman treatment unregulated by international law, potentially leading to death? No (and that’s a logical conviction not a moral one). Harsh treatment of terrorists might be necessary to extract valuable information, I’ll concede that point. However, after three long years with detainees who, according to research done by The New York Times, are significantly overestimated in value, torture has no strategic implications, only evil intents.

This behavior, seemingly, would violate the Geneva Convention protocol. You’d think, wouldn’t you? Not according to the now-Secretary of Defense Alberto Gonzales, who, in a memo to George W. Bush in 2002, claims that The War on Terror “renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning…and quaint some of its provisions”. Essentially, the Bush administration has unilaterally decided that humane treatment of detainees is a “quaint” provision by which the United States does not have to abide. Subsequently, former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld invented the term “illegal combatants” to bypass this international Geneva protocol (and not to mention the United States precedent). Under the Geneva Convention, a prisoner is only protected if he is considered a Prisoner of War (POW). Though this POW status needs to be determined by a “qualified tribunal” (not merely Bush, Gonzales, and their cronies), if it is not awarded, the detainee is not protected under the Geneva Convention and not guaranteed basic human rights such as adequate food supply and medical treatment.

Ironically, in anticipation of the reversal of this “enemy combatant” status by a higher (legally and ideologically) court, these detainees will most likely have to be released back to Iraq. What will they do there? Fight, of course. Inevitably, if they weren’t enemies before, now enraged by their unregulated and dishonorable detainment, these ‘combatants’ will become card-carrying United States terror seekers to a radical degree. If anything, poor treatment of Iraqis prisoners, will guarantee even more poor treatment of United States’ soldiers.

It is horrifying and even shameful to acknowledge that the United State’s interrogators, in the 21st century, have stooped to such archaic and barbaric levels of warfare by torturing and brutally killing detainees. Why? The strategic importance of torture, frankly, is not evident; rather, it seems torture is merely used to channel inbred ethnocentrism and fundamental disrespect for Muslim culture. Even more disgusting is the apathy of higher governmental powers towards the atrocities committed and the utter denial of their existence. As Americans, we should demand the extension of the Geneva Convention to detainees, we should make sure that Abu Ghraib does not occur again and again, and we should fight for the same decency and lawfulness abroad that we enjoy at home. The United States should stand for the universal respect of mankind.

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