Monday, October 13, 2008

Torturing Democracy

"I have become an old man here. Death in this situation is better than being alive and staying here without hope." — Detainee #232
Those are the words of an unnamed Guantanamo detainee. The torture of prisoners in U.S. custody is documented in a new film Torturing Democracy (viewable online).

With exclusive interviews and little-known archival footage, the documentary traces how the secret U.S. military training program – “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” or SERE – became the basis for many of the harshest interrogation methods employed first by the CIA and subsequently by interrogators at Guantanamo and in Iraq. The tactics designed to “inoculate“ elite American troops mirror tactics used by “a totalitarian, evil nation with complete disregard for human rights and the Geneva Conventions,” according to Malcolm Nance, the former SERE master trainer for the U.S. Navy.

One of the most shocking memos -- more shocking than the infamous Yoo "torture memo" -- is the recently released JTF GTMO "SERE" Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure. This most disturbing document describes our government's cold standards on how to abuse prisoners including bureaucratic details on degradation, physical debilitation, isolation and monopolization of perception, and demonstrated omnipotence tactics.

The accused have faced many hopeless years of these tactics. It wasn't until June 2008 that the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees have the right to appeal to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges.

How are these trials going? The unsurprising answer is not so fairly. The surprising news, however, is who is blowing the whistle:
Darrel J. Vandeveld was in despair. The hard-nosed lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, a self-described conformist praised by his superiors for his bravery in Iraq, had lost faith in the Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunals in which he was a prosecutor.
That's the prosecutor speaking out, and he is at least the fourth Guantanamo Bay prosecutor to resign under protest. His claims are explosive:
In a declaration and subsequent testimony, he said the U.S. government was not providing defense lawyers with the evidence it had against their clients, including exculpatory information -- material considered helpful to the defense.

Saying that the accused enemy combatants were more likely to be wrongly convicted without that evidence, Vandeveld testified that he went from being a "true believer to someone who felt truly deceived" by the tribunals. The system in place at the U.S. military facility in Cuba, he wrote in his declaration, was so dysfunctional that it deprived "the accused of basic due process and subject[ed] the well-intentioned prosecutor to claims of ethical misconduct."
I applaud anybody who stands up to the Bush administration, but there remains a bitter irony. The good guys leave, and the ones without a conscience keep on running the country.

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