Imagine no more tortures. Wednesday will be one year since the Military Commissions Act. Wednesday will be the start of 86 days of action to repeal the worst features of this act; then to close Guantanamo prison, halt torture, restore the use of habeas and end extraordinary renditions -- the extra-judicial kidnapping of suspects to third nations that torture. Consider recent history.
The United States is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture). This agreement defines torture as severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, intentionally inflicted on a person for obtaining a confession, obtaining information, intimidating a third party (these acts of cruelty are inflicted by an agent of the state or other person acting in an official capacity).
The late El Salvadoran Jesuit and social psychologist, Ignacio Martin-Baro, asserted that torture can be understood as domination; directed at an entire community, a tactic to oppress humane social projects and ideals. Although individual suspects at Guantanamo seem remote from our daily life, the ramifications of detainee mistreatment are known around the world.
Conditions at Guantanamo include sensory deprivation, extreme isolation and confinement to mesh cages. Several detainees have taken their own lives; numerous others have been on hunger strikes. The individuals at Guantanamo have not been allowed the customary right of habeas -- to know the reason for their detention and nature of charges, and if there is valid evidence against them.
Consider this insight from the poem "Humiliated in the Shackles," by Sudanese journalist (now Guantanamo poet) Sami al Haj: "They have monuments to liberty/And freedom of opinion, which is well and good./But I explained to them that Architecture/is not justice." Will the U.S. standard for justice be equated with the architecture of anguish; the anguish of how many Guantanamos any individual must endure. Let us find alternatives.
The United Nations review team for the Convention against Torture criticized the U.S. in 2006 for the practice of these arbitrary detentions at Guantanamo, "disappearance" of suspects, secret detentions and indefinite detention without charge; all of which violate the Convention against Torture. This detention includes the 70,000 people under U.S. control in Iraq, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, secret detention centers and at Guantanamo. The review team reminded the U.S. that the Convention against Torture applies in peace and in war, and applies to all branches of the U.S. -- both military and CIA. The review team for the Convention against Torture calls for the closure of Guantanamo detention facility -- without opening a proxy Guantanamo.
According to Amnesty International, the CIA uses private aircraft operators and front companies to preserve the secrecy of illegal rendition flights and "black site" detention centers. Amnesty believes that the U.S. government has rendered, in this manner, hundreds of individuals -- for the purpose of interrogation and detention to countries with dubious human rights records. These countries include Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Morocco.
Legislation in the Congress can help to end all those harmful practices. Amnesty International USA has already been lobbying Congress in support of Sen. Tom Harkin's Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act of 2007. It would help close the U.S. facility, contribute to ending indefinite detentions; prevent the U.S. from returning prisoners to countries where suspects may be tortured. Amnesty believes that every person detained as a terror suspect has the right to trial in federal court or by court martial, instead of military commissions, which fail to meet international fair trial standards.
Early in November, Amnesty USA will host opportunities to view human rights films and to write letters to the concerned families of the Guantanamo suspects. These families do not know where their husbands, brothers (even youths) are being detained or if they are still alive.
The 86 days of action will culminate with a series of vigils across the nation on Jan. 11 to help close the Guantanamo facility. Imagine the impossible. Now take part.
Laurence H. Ebersole of Seattle is area coordinator for Amnesty International in Washington.
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