Friday, January 18, 2008

Guantanamo Update

Guantanamo Bay has been in the news again.

On Monday, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, was quoted in the Guardian as expressing a desire to close the detention site down:

"I'd like to see it shut down.....
More than anything else it's been the image - how Gitmo has become around the world, in terms of representing the United States..... I believe that from the standpoint of how it reflects on us that it's been pretty damaging.''

Mullen made the comments to reporters during the course of his first visit to the camp since becoming chairman in October 2007.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International last week co-ordinated a series of protests against the camp in various locations around the world as the following videos illustrate.

The legal framework against the cruel and degrading treatment practiced at the many detention camps around the world which the United States uses is quite clear.

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified in December 1984 and based on an earlier convention of 1975) is both clear and principled in its tone. It defines torture as

" any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

Anticipating the pressure that the Convention would be subjected to in the future, it goes on to state categorically that:
  • No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
  • An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
  • No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

Readers will note that this is not a matter of debate. The United States Government has a legal duty to implement the principles of the Convention, regardless of the views of individual members of the government or the military. That is the nature of law - it has authority even if I don't like it.

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