Condoleezza Rice has become the second American Secretary of State in as many years who has addressed a global audience and presented misinformation, half truths and outright lies in order to defend the malicious and relentless attacks on human rights and human dignity that are being perpetrated by the Bush administration.
The first great lie was the one presented by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, when he shook a fake bottle of anthrax in the face of world leaders on Feb. 5, 2003, insinuating that Iraq possessed 25,000 liters of the same, and also told tall tales of Iraqi mobile production facilities for biological weapons, Iraqi chemical weapons stockpiles and an advanced Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
When outraged U.N. weapons inspectors politely demanded evidence for these charges they were provided red herrings and false leads. When the frustrated U.S. inspectors complained that none of the U.S. charges could be substantiated after their searches in Iraq, they were ridiculed by the Bush administration and its lapdog press and labeled as corrupt, lazy and incompetent.
Now we have Condoleezza Rice, the Cold Warrior who professed the need for relentless battle against the ‘evil empire’ and who now puts that crusade to good use against America's latest enemy – Anyone that Bush accuses of supporting terrorists.
Rice stated on Monday, with unabashed gumption, that the U.S. had never tortured anyone, and that the U.S. followed its laws, and torture was illegal.
“Torture is a term that is defined by law,” said Rice. “We rely on our law to govern our operations.”
That is all very well and good until one digs deeper into what the Bush administration defines as torture. According to the executive orders signed by the president, and the findings authored by the attorney general, and the guidelines approved by the defense secretary - torture is the use of force that causes organ failure or death.
If it doesn't cause organ failure or kill you, the Bush administration says, it is not torture.
This is a blatant, though obviously Orwellian, approach to cover one’s self with honorable labels - legal, lawful, ethical, and justifiable - after changing the parameters of such standards. The U.S. standard for defining torture now is so loose that most draconian countries that have long been known to practice torture would, under the Bush administration’s definitions, be completely in the clear.
If it doesn't cause organ failure or death it can't be torture!
One practice allowed by the administration is water boarding - sounds like fun, doesn't it? Snowboarding, surfing, skiing and water boarding - just an afternoon of youthful fun. The fact that water boarding essentially implies drowning a person without killing him is lost to most people. Many people think of it as the childish five second dip that passes for torture in Hollywood movies.
When I was a cadet in a military academy in India there were many such draconian attempts at machismo and ‘torture training’ cooked up and practiced by eighteen and nineteen year olds. The one that comes to my mind when I hear of water boarding was called ‘brain washing’ - a punishment wherein a cadet’s head would be forced down the toilet bowl and held down while it was flushed. Most cadets would risk a severe beating in order to escape this brain washing.
There were many other ways in which a young person could be traumatized with water without causing organ failure or death. A cadet would be forced to drink a couple of pitchers of water and then asked to perform physical exercises that would induce nausea - summersaults, spinning and rolling at high speeds across the floor. The exercises would continue after the cadets vomited up all the water, and continue until the cadets were well drenched in each other’s puke.
These are but a couple of examples of ‘torture training’ exercises that teenaged ‘seniors’ would produce, along with long hours of night time exercises and duties designed to induce sleep deprivation. This was the kind of nonsense that was forced upon young cadets by their seniors who had vain visions of toughness and torture survival.
As I read the transcripts of reports by human rights organizations and the declassified reports of FBI officers I am shocked to see the same kind of nonsensical rubbish being passed along as effective interrogation techniques. I saw many a young cadet break down and admit to anything they were accused of - this at the hands of their own seniors. Imagine what a person would be willing to admit to when pressured in the same way at the hands of a relentless foreign brute.
The most outrageous lie that Condoleezza Rice offered on Monday was that the U.S. had never, repeat never, deported anyone for the purposes of torture.
“The United States does not transport, and has not transported, detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture,” said Rice.
The most glaring expose to this lie is the case of Canadian Maher Arar, whose allegations of illegal deportation to Syria for the purposes of torture were found to be true by an independent Canadian investigation in October 2005.
As Reuters reported on Oct. 27, 2005: The report was commissioned by an independent inquiry investigating how and why Canadian engineer Maher Arar was deported from New York and sent to Damascus in September 2002.
Arar spent almost a year in jail in Damascus, during which he said he was beaten repeatedly. He also alleged that his Syrian interrogators had asked questions based on information provided by Canadian intelligence agents.
Stephen Toope, a former dean of law at Montreal's McGill University and the author of the report, questioned Arar and three other dual Canadian-Syrian nationals who said they too had been tortured in Syria.
"I conclude that the stories they tell are credible. I believe that they suffered severe physical and psychological trauma while in detention in Syria," Toope said in the 25-page document, which was released on Thursday.
The AFP news service added that same day that:
US authorities claimed he was connected to Al-Qaeda, an accusation Arar has always denied, and one which his lawyers say was made without a shred of evidence. Arar was never charged with any crime.
This, in fact, is the obvious retort of most Bush torture supporters – only terrorists in possession of information relating to imminent attacks are detained and interrogated by the U.S. forces. This is a laughable argument given that the U.S. has detained thousands of Sunnis in Iraq merely on the suspicion of links to insurgents (not terrorists) and hundreds more have been airlifted from the battlefields of Afghanistan to the cages of Guantanamo after being sold to the U.S. by headhunters of enemy tribes and opposing militia. Those lucky few who have been released from these facilities due to pressure by their native U.S.-allied governments have returned home with horrific tales of abuse and humiliation.
Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented various cases of abuse and torture of detainees by U.S. forces. Indeed, by its own admission, the U.S. forces admit that people have died in captivity and detention during interrogation at U.S. hands.
This current situation reminds me of a visit in June 2000 to the then recently-freed South Lebanon Army detention facility in al Khiam in South Lebanon. The inmates of al Khiam had been freed a couple of weeks earlier by Lebanese militiamen belonging predominantly to Hizbollah and Amal and local villagers who participated in the rout of the Israeli Defense Force and the SLA in May 2000. The freed prisoners were now offering tours of the prison and explaining the various methods of torture that were practiced upon them by their captors.
One detainee showed me how prisoners would be pushed down stairs while blindfolded, and how his teeth had been kicked out in a beating, another held a stun gun and explained how it was used by SLA militiamen during torture.
Many of these reports of torture and illegal detention had been documented by human rights groups in Lebanon since 1982. It was only in 2000 that I got to go inside the dreaded al Khiam facility and see it with my own eyes. The blankets in the small dingy solitary detention cells were still soaked in urine, and some walls were still marked with recently spilled blood.
When I read and watch reports of what goes on behind closed doors in U.S. detention facilities across the world I can only imagine it by remembering the horrid sights and smells of al Khiam. The difference now, of course, is that is isn’t some heavy handed Lebanese militia that is carrying out the brutalities, and there’s Condoleezza Rice telling us that everything is legal and ethical.
After all, if it doesn’t cause organ failure or death it can’t be torture, right?
Abhinav Aima is a Journalism Professor at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org