The announcement of the charges is immensely significant. In one fell
swoop, many of the complaints about Guantánamo appear to have been swept aside.
These, chiefly, have centered on well-founded claims that the prison has mostly
held innocent men or low-level Taliban foot soldiers. Of the 749 detainees who
were held at the prison during its first two and half years of existence, none,
according to dozens of high-level military and intelligence sources interviewed
by the New York Times in June 2004, “ranked as leaders or senior operatives of
al-Qaeda,” and “only a relative handful — some put the number at about a dozen,
others more than two dozen —were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to
elucidate the organization’s inner workings.”
So we're supposed to believe it was all about 9/11 after all. We're finally putting on trial those "worst of the worst" dangerous terrorists and ridding the world of al-Qaeda and making justice and freedom and democracy a top US priority again.
In charging detainees for their alleged connections with the 9/11 attacks,
the administration has also managed to divert attention away from the stumbling
progress of the trial system which will be used to prosecute the six men. The Military Commissions, dreamt up by Vice President Dick Cheney and his advisors in November 2001, judged illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006 and reinstated later that year in the Military Commissions Act (MCA), have struggled repeatedly to establish their legitimacy.
So we're gonna shove aside all those nasty investigations and PR disasters surrounding torture, detention without trial, and coverups of the above for mostly INNOCENT people whom most Americans still think of as terrorists anyway, by this huge show of a terror trial.
Described by former military defense lawyer Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift as fatally flawed because they included “no right to habeas corpus, no attorney-client privilege, forced guilty pleas for charges never made public, secret and coerced evidence, juries and presiding officers picked by executive fiat, [and] clients represented even if they declined legal counsel,” the Commission process was supposedly cleaned up during the passage of the MCA, so that prosecutors are prevented from using secret evidence or evidence obtained through torture (although the use of information obtained through “controversial forms of coercion” — torture, perhaps, by any other name — remains at the discretion of the government-appointed military judge), but they have failed, to date, to secure a single significant victory.
Their only alleged success — in the case of David Hicks, who accepted a plea
bargain in March last year, admitting that he provided “material support for
terrorism” and dropping well-documented claims that he was tortured by
US forces in exchange for a nine-month sentence served in Australia —
was undermined last fall by Col. Morris Davis, the Commissions’ former chief prosecutor, who resigned his post and then complained that the entire system was compromised by political interference. Currently, the Commissions are bogged down in pre-trial hearings for two detainees — alleged “child soldier” Omar Khadr, and Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden — whose cases have done nothing to assuage widespread concerns that the whole process remains both unjust and futile.
Yet Bush wants with this Great 9/11 Trial Show to brush aside all these disasters and vital considerations. It's not about justice or democracy or freedom to Bush/Cheney. It's about PR and keeping power on the executive side and his agenda, a secret agenda that looks really horrible upon scrutiny.
And there's another point in the timing:
It is surely no coincidence, for example, that it came just six days after Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, admitted that three of the “high-value” detainees —
including KSM — had been subjected to waterboarding, a long-reviled torture
technique that simulates drowning.
And now that Congress has voted against torture, it looks even worse that Bush will veto it, thus making himself the Torture President. Oh, and it's illegal...
Under its international obligations — as a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, for example, which makes it a crime for American officials to torture people outside the United States — the administration is prohibited from practicing torture, and waterboarding is clearly torture.
But nobody's gonna impeach Bush or Cheney. And the PR keeps on coming. But will there really be a fair trial? How can it be possible if all the evidence was obtained by illegal means - namely, torture? That's another issue behind Bush's veto. If he doesn't veto this, what does that say about the evidence that was obtained against these Gitmo Six? After all, most of the evidence against them
...all came about during the three to four years that these men spent in a
succession of secret prisons run by the CIA. Moreover, it was in these prisons
that, in contrast to Michael Hayden’s claim that, of the six, only KSM was
waterboarded, CIA operatives who spoke to ABC News in
November 2005 said that 12 “high-value” detainees in total were subjected to an
array of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These included not only
waterboarding, but also “Long Time Standing,” in which prisoners “are forced to
stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for
more than 40 hours,” and “The Cold Cell,” in which the prisoner “is left to
stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees,” and is “doused with cold water”
throughout the whole period.
These statements make it clear that torture — which, in case we forget, is condemned not just because it is morally repugnant, but also because the confessions it produces are unreliable — contaminates almost the whole basis of yesterday’s charges, and casts doubt on at least some of the government’s assertions.
So how are we supposed to believe now that these detainees really did what they confessed to, since their confessions were coerced with the worst of methods, internationally recognized methods of torture? And what about Mohammad Al-Qahtani, who was subjected to the following:
As Time magazine revealed in an interrogation log (PDF) made
available in 2005, al-Qahtani was interrogated for 20 hours a day over a 50-day
period in late 2002 and early 2003, when he was also subjected to extreme sexual
humiliation (including being smeared with fake menstrual blood by a female
interrogator), threatened by a dog, strip-searched and made to stand naked, and
made to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists. On one occasion he
was subjected to a “fake rendition,” in which he was tranquilized, flown off the
island, revived, flown back to Guantánamo, and told that he was in a country
that allowed torture.
Are we supposed to accept evidence or confessions obtained under those conditions or by these methods? Are we supposed to assume that people accused of terrorism, if they are Muslim, are so depraved as to be only capable of admitting facts under the most horrific of coercion methods? And then we are supposed to feel justified in convicting and executing them, thus assuaging the anger and horror of 9/11? But we're not supposed to be angry or feel any fear or horror about how we reached this point, right?
In fact, these torture methods have destroyed any hope of obtaining justice for 9/11 or even of fighting terrorism itself. It's known that torture does not produce reliable evidence. It's as if Bush/Cheney just want heads to roll, no matter what. Screw justice, truth, or anything else. What does that say about us, about the rule of law, about democracy or freedom, or justice? It says none of that is important. All that matters is power, PR, and propaganda.
In addition, as I explain in my book The Guantánamo Files,
“The sessions were so intense that the interrogators worried that the cumulative
lack of sleep and constant interrogation posed a risk to his health. Medical
staff checked his health frequently — sometimes as often as three times a day —
and on one occasion, in early December, the punishing routine was suspended for
a day when, as a result of refusing to drink, he became seriously dehydrated and
his heart rate dropped to 35 beats a minute. While a doctor came to see him in
the booth, however, loud music was played to prevent him from sleeping.”
Even more significant, perhaps, is what al-Qahtani’s torture reveals about how the
whole process that led to these proposed trials could have, and should have been
It was the interrogation of al-Qahtani that finally prompted the FBI — which was already alarmed at the random, self-defeating violence at Guantánamo
perpetrated by other agencies — to make an official complaint to the Pentagon in
June 2004, highlighting abuses witnessed by its agents and singling out
al-Qahtani’s treatment for particular criticism. The letter stated that
al-Qahtani was “subjected to intense isolation for over three months” and began “evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).”
Reports of al-Qahtani’s treatment also provoked a
heroic attempt by Alberto J. Mora, the director of the Naval Criminal
Investigative Service (NCIS) to persuade the Pentagon to call off the use of
“enhanced interrogation.” Mora was ultimately unsuccessful — Donald Rumsfeld
temporarily dropped the use of the techniques, but secretly mandated a new panel
of pliant experts to reapprove them in an essentially undiluted form — but the
complaints of both the FBI and the NCIS indicate how the interrogation process
should have proceeded.
Dan Coleman, one of these old-school FBI interrogators, who retired from
the agency in 2004, knows exactly where the faults lie with the Pentagon-led
policy of combating terror with torture. As a top-level interrogator, who
interrogated many of the terrorists captured before 9/11 (and convicted in the
US courts) without resorting to “enhanced interrogation,” Coleman remains
fundamentally opposed to torture, because it is unreliable, and because it
corrupts those who undertake it.
“Brutalization doesn’t work,” he said. “We know that. Besides, you
lose your soul.”