Frederick Douglass, the renowned abolitionist, began life as a slave on Maryland's Eastern Shore. When his owner had trouble with the young, unruly slave, Douglass was sent to Edward Covey, a notorious "slave breaker." Covey's plantation, where physical and psychological torture were standard, was called Mount Misery. Douglass eventually fought back, escaped to the North and went on to change the world. Today Mount Misery is owned by Donald Rumsfeld, the outgoing secretary of defense.
It is ironic that this notorious plantation run by a practiced torturer would now be owned by Rumsfeld, himself accused as the man principally responsible for the U.S. military's program of torture and detention.
Rumsfeld was recently named along with 11 other high-ranking U.S. officials in a criminal complaint filed in Germany by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. The center is requesting that the German government conduct an investigation and ultimately a criminal prosecution of Rumsfeld and company. CCR President Michael Ratner says U.S. policy authorizing "harsh interrogation techniques" is in fact a torture program that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld authorized himself, passed down through the chain of command and was implemented by one of the other defendants, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller.
The complaint represents victims of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, the U.S. prison at Guantanamo. Says Ratner, "I think it is important to make it very clear that CCR's suit is not just saying Rumsfeld is a war criminal because he tops the chain of command, but that he personally played a central role in one of the worst interrogations at Gitmo."
Ratner is referring to Saudi citizen Mohammed al-Qahtani. An internal military report as well as leaked interrogation logs show how the Guantanamo prisoner was systematically tortured.
His attorney, CCR's Gita Gutierrez, described his ordeal on my TV/radio news hour Democracy Now!: "He was subjected to approximately 160 days of isolation, 48 days of sleep deprivation, which was accompanied by 20 hourlong interrogations consecutively. During that period of time, he was also subjected to sexual humiliation, euphemistically called 'invasion of space by a female' at times when MPs would hold him down on the floor and female interrogators would straddle him and molest him."
Gutierrez added, "At one point in Guantanamo, his heart rate dropped so low that he was at risk of dying and was rushed to the military hospital there and revived, then sent back to interrogations the following day and was actually interrogated in the ambulance on the way back to his cell."
The complaint follows one filed in 2004, which was dismissed. The 2006 complaint differs principally with Rumsfeld's departure as secretary of defense. Without the immunity of government office shielding him, Rumsfeld now falls under the jurisdiction of the German courts. Germany is among several nations that employ the concept of universal jurisdiction, which states that crimes against humanity or war crimes can be prosecuted by a state (such as Germany) regardless of the jurisdiction where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the accused. If an indictment follows, then Rumsfeld will have to be very careful when traveling abroad, as are former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Torture is a noxious, heinous practice and should not be tolerated. Slavery was once legal and tolerated in the U.S. (it is still practiced in some parts of the world). But people fought back, organized and formed the abolition movement. Pioneering legal and human-rights organizations, such as CCR, aggressively and creatively are working to stop torture, and to hold the torturers and their superiors accountable. Ultimately, it will be the U.S. populace -- not the German courts, not the U.S. Congress -- that stops the U.S. torture program. Frederick Douglass summed it up most eloquently -- in 1849:
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."
The owner of Mount Misery should take heed.