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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2896

United States admits using torture in counter- terrorism: Advocates Sri Lanka to use 'humane way' to address terrorism

Daya Gamage – US National Correspondent Asian Tribune

Washington, D.C., 20 December (Asiantribune.com): The United States admitted on Monday December 15 that it authorized harsh interrogation techniques which amounts to torture was used to counter terrorism, and in the previous week a bipartisan U.S. Congressional report traced the U.S. abuse of detainees at U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba and Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq to President George W. Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, action memorandum that excluded "war on terror" suspects from Geneva Convention protections.

Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments to ABC News on Monday were made less than a week after a bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report found that the Vice President was part of a group – also including President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – responsible for the abuse of detainees that took place at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report released December 11 said Bush’s memo opened the door to “considering aggressive techniques,” which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior officials.

On Monday, December 15 Vice President Dick Cheney, who is considered the most influential and powerful second-in-command ever produced in the United States, made a startling statement on a nation-wide, televised broadcast.

When asked by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl whether he approved of interrogation tactics used against a so-called "high value prisoner" at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison, Mr. Cheney in a startling revelation admitted to giving official sanctioning of torture.

"I supported it," he said regarding the practice known as "water-boarding," a form of simulated drowning. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes in US courts for water-boarding, according to a report in Internet political daily The Public Record a practice which the Bush-Chaney administration attempted to enshrine in policy.

"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the (Central Intelligence) agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," Cheney said. "And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."

"There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source," Cheney said. "So, it's been a remarkably successful effort; I think the results speak for themselves."

ABC TV Network asked him if in hindsight he thought the tactics went too far. "I don't," he said.

Cheney made his comment in response to a question about whether he personally approved the harsh tactics used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

United States Federal laws prohibiting assault and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned 'enemy combatants' in America’s Global War on Terror because the president’s ultimate authority as commander-in-chief overrode such statutes, according to a newly declassified 2003 Justice Department memo released last April 2.

The memorandum was ordered to be released by the judiciary under the Freedom of Information Act.

The memo–which was rescinded just nine months after it was issued–provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war, contending that numerous laws and treaties, domestic and international, that forbid torture or cruel treatment should not apply to the interrogations of enemy combatants overseas.

"If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network," the US Justice Department memorandum states. "In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch's constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions."

The issue of torture, degrading and inhuman treatment of ‘enemy combatants’ in the Global War on Terror undertaken by the United States since 9/11 violating domestic Federal laws and international covenants ratified by the United Nations was brought to the attention of the World Body in January 2005 by a Washington-based prominent human rights organization The World Organization for Human Rights USA.

In its comprehensive investigative research paper submitted to the UN it reminded the moral duty of the United States to uphold the universally accepted practices on human rights in the following paragraph:

"For many years the U.S. Government has been among the most forceful advocates pointing out the major human rights abuses of other governments, especially where acts of torture were concerned, and working hard to prevent these types of abuses from occurring. Even today the U.S. is playing a major role in pointing out the emerging pattern and policy of genocide in Sudan, and seeking to prevent abuses there and in many other countries where persecution and violations of fundamental international human rights standards are taking place. For our government to remain credible in these efforts, and to continue to play a major role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide, the U.S. must use special care not to fall prey to the same types of actions, and the same justifications, that torturers, dictators and persecutors in so many other nations have used in the past, and which until now we have properly rejected."

Nevertheless America's overseas diplomats posted to countries that are facing homegrown terrorism which the United States never considered to have any connections whatsoever to its own Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) constantly advocate political solutions ignoring the imminent danger to those countries’ national security, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The Asian Tribune takes the liberty to quote U.S. State Department representative in Sri Lanka Ambassador Robert Blake in an interview he provided to the state-controlled Sunday Observer on 25 May 2008 declaring: "it is much better to use rule of law to address terrorism. Accountability of rule of law is extremely important."

The Asian Tribune urges Ambassador Blake to re-read the observation of The World Organization for Human Rights USA quoted above.

Ambassador Blake was responding to the question posed by Sunday Observer interviewer Shanika Sriyananda that "In this situation what are the priorities of a country - combating terror to save lives or safeguarding human rights?" to which Mr. Blake replied:

"Well. I do not think there is contradiction between the two. I think one has to devote. Clearly one has to defend one’s country against terrorism. That is extremely important. For any government the most important priority is to defend its citizens. It is true in the US and it is true in Sri Lanka and every other country in the world. But we also believe that it is possible to preserve human rights.

"So, for example, one of the very difficult problems the government faces is to identify suicide bombers. How they find these people before they carry out their murderous acts. And I believe that the way to do that is still to arrest, question in a humane way and if they are suspected of the crime produce them in courts.

"But do not use extra judicial killings and other kind of things. And those acts will undermine the long term solutions. So, it is much better to use rule of law to address terrorism. Accountability of rule of law is extremely important."

Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity have been severely threatened by separatist/terrorist group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or popularly known as Tamil Tigers who have been militarily battling the Sri Lankan state to carve-out a separate ethnic minority Tamil state in the nation’s north and east which is one third of the land mass since mid eighties.

The Northern Province is predominantly Tamil while the eastern province is a mixture of all three ethnic communities, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. Government forces liberated the east from the Tamil Tigers in 2007, held democratic elections in the province and handed over the administration to the democratically elected provincial administration after a14-year lapse.

Currently, the government forces are battling the Tamil Tigers in the northern enclaves where the Tigers have established their domain. Of the 12% ethnic Tamils in the country approximately 54% of them are now living in administrative districts away from the Tamil Tiger dominated areas in the north among the majority ethnic community Sinhalese getting about in their daily lives stripping the one time Tiger claim that the 'LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamil people.'

It’s in this scenario that Ambassador Robert Blake advocates a political solution and the importance of upholding human and civil rights when the Sri Lanka government, while combating the Tamil Tiger terrorism, endeavors to strike a delicate balance between national security and human rights under severe international, especially the United States, pressure facing reduction of U.S. economic assistance since the advent of the Rajapaksa presidency and the drastic U.S. cut back of military assistance that are much needed to defeat Tamil Tiger terrorism.

In combating Tamil Tiger terrorism torture and degrading treatment of LTTE terrorists is the last in Sri Lanka’s agenda despite Sri Lanka has not projected itself as paragon of virtue when it comes to civil and human rights in midst of a terrorist war in her soil but reports indicate that the United States in its Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) considered torture, degrading treatment and inhuman interrogation of ‘enemy combatants’ a necessary tool to safeguard the nation of another attack.

Vice President Cheney’s response to the December 15 ABC questions about torture was reminiscent of his casual comment in a radio interview in October 2006 when he said the decision to waterboard suspected terrorists was a "no-brainer."

Under the Freedom of Information Act documents released for public domain under court order since then (one noted above in this news report) would appear to show that methods used against detainees constituted cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of anti-torture statutes and international treaties signed and ratified by the United States.

The South Asian nation Sri Lanka is far behind in the 'torture business' to that of the United States, as revealed by documents released by the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act, and one wonders if Mr. Robert Blake would take to heart the observation of The World Organization for Human Rights USA which noted: "For our government to remain credible in these efforts, and to continue to play a major role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide, the U.S. must use special care not to fall prey to the same types of actions, and the same justifications, that torturers, dictators and persecutors in so many other nations have used in the past, and which until now we have properly rejected."

The Dec. 11 report of the Senate Armed Services Committee disputed the Bush administration’s rationale that the harsh interrogation methods were effective in extracting valuable intelligence and protecting the country from terrorist attacks.

Instead, the report said, "Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."

The findings, which were released by Senators Levin and John McCain of Arizona, this year’s Republican presidential nominee, drew no dissent from the 12 Republicans on the 25-member committee.

The 19-page report is the final installment in the Armed Services Committee’s 18-month investigation, which generated 38,000 pages of documents and relied upon the testimony of 70 people.

The report’s narrative of the prisoner abuse begins in early 2002 when Rumsfeld’s Defense Department inquired about what limits should be placed on interrogations of terror suspects detained during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

Those questions sparked an internal administration debate and led to Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo stating that the Third Geneva Convention, which sets standards for treatment of prisoners from armed conflicts, "did not apply to the conflict with al-Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention," the report said.

The Senate report further noted:

"The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees.

"While the President's order stated that, as 'a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,' the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody."

On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld authorized "aggressive interrogation techniques," leading to "interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials [that] conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US. military custody," the committee report said.

"What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely," the Congressional report noted.

Regarding the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Senate committee’s report concluded that it "was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own." The report added: “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.”

However, Democratic U.S. Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this week that he told President-elect Obama’s transition team that some of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies should remain intact.

In an interview with Congress Daily, Reyes, D-Texas, said dealing with suspected terrorists requires that "some options" beyond interrogation rules in the Army Field Manual need to be available.

"There are those that believe that this particular issue has to be dealt with very carefully because there are beliefs that there are some options that need to be available," Reyes said. "We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security. That’s where the new administration is going to have to decide what those parameters are, what those limitations are."

Now, let’s turn to what’s in stock for Asian nations like Sri Lanka in an Obama administration that will take effect on 20 January 2009:

“President-elect Barack Obama’s appointments demonstrate that his focus is on economic policy and that he is willing to put foreign policy on the backburner. His economic team is star-studded and clearly prepared to take on the economic challenges we face. His national security team is comprised of disparate individuals with world views at odds with each other and with Obama. There appears to be no commitment to reverse the militarization of American foreign policy and no willingness to confront a Pentagon that the Bush administration has placed at the top of the decision-making ladder on foreign policy. The Bush legacy includes the weakening of the State Department and the militarization of the intelligence community, which finds nearly all of the intelligence departments and agencies led by active-duty and retired general officers.”

The Asian Tribune took the above quote from Prof. Melvin A. Goodman of the National War College. Mr. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. He is a professor of international security studies and chairman of the international relations department at the National War College. Goodman worked at the CIA from 1966 to 1990 and was division chief and senior analyst at the agency's Office of Soviet Affairs from 1976 to 1986.

Says Prof. Goodman: “His national security adviser, retired General Jim Jones, while a solid performer, has never been known as a big thinker on foreign policy issues; his appointment, moreover, places another key position in the hands of the military. The election appeared to give Obama a popular mandate to reverse the wrongful policies of the Bush administration on arms control and disarmament, the use of force and preemptive attack, the unilateral pursuit of U.S. goals, and the unlawful policies of torture and rendition. Unfortunately, the composition of Obama’s team does not suggest a smooth transition toward reversing these policies”

And, here’s how Prof. Goodman describe the Obama foreign policy/national security team, their legacy and what they will bring to the agenda of the 44th president:

"Despite the problems within the intelligence community and the CIA, Obama apparently has paid little attention to changing directors in that key area of national security. His candidate for CIA director, John Brennan, was actively engaged in implementing and defending the CIA’s corrupt activities during the Bush administration. Brennan took himself out of the running for CIA director in the wake of liberal opposition.

"Nevertheless, Obama is still relying on advice on the intelligence community from individuals who took part in questionable actions of the Bush era, including the corruption of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War, and the use of torture and abuse of suspected terrorists. These individuals, including Brennan and former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, were involved in efforts to cover-up these abuses and others such as the Agency’s handling of the shoot-down of a missionary plane in Peru in 2001.

"Although he criticized the militarization of the intelligence community during the campaign, Obama now appears poised to name a retired admiral as director of national intelligence and, even worse, retain retired general Michael Hayden as director of CIA. Hayden was the director of the National Security Agency when the policy of warrantless eavesdropping was implemented, and he has been a dedicated defender of CIA’s rendition and detention programs.

"For the past sixteen years, the Clinton and Bush administrations have operated by the seat of their pants in the international arena, lacking any strategic policy planning. Obama appeared to offer better. Now, continuity appears to be the name of the game. The National Security Council has been given to a retired marine general who does not know the foreign policy community; this will complicate his ability to create a strategic-minded staff."

Meanwhile the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said he told President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team that some of the Bush administration’s controversial interrogation policies should remain intact.

In an interview with Congress Daily, Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said he also recommended Obama retain the directors of the CIA and national intelligence, both of who oversaw and implemented the White House’s domestic surveillance activities.

"The leadership of both the CIA and the [Director of National Intelligence] is going to be pivotal to keeping us safe and secure,” Reyes told Congress Daily. “I made a recommendation that they stay on during the transition so that there would be a period of time that there would be overlap."

Moreover, Reyes, who earlier this year voted in favor of reauthorizing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, said he advised Obama’s transition team that obtaining information from suspected terrorists is crucial and “some options” that extend beyond interrogation rules in the Army Field Manual need to be available.

Internet political daily The Public Record reports that Congressman Reyes, a Vietnam War veteran, is advocating that some aspects of torture programs remain in place.

"There are those that believe that this particular issue has to be dealt with very carefully because there are beliefs that there are some options that need to be available," Reyes told Congress Daily. "We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security. That’s where the new administration is going to have to decide what those parameters are, what those limitations are."

The Public Record further states: Reyes is just one of a handful of top Democrats in both Houses who in recent weeks have changed their positions in regard to the brutal techniques used by the CIA during interrogations, such as waterboarding, which has been widely regarded as torture.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pressed her colleagues earlier this year to back legislation to force the CIA to strictly adhere to the Army Field Manual. She won passage of the bill, which President Bush swiftly vetoed.

But in an interview with the New York Times earlier this month, Feinstein, who will become chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, said she would allow interrogators "flexibility" in "extreme cases."

"I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible," Feinstein told the Times, and added that an imminent terrorist threat might call for extreme measures.

To refresh the mind of the reader let’s conclude this analysis with what U.S. envoy to Sri Lanka Ambassador Robert Blake advocated to Sri Lanka in his interview to the Sunday Observer:

(Quote) So, for example, one of the very difficult problems the government faces is to identify suicide bombers. How they find these people before they carry out their murderous acts. And I believe that the way to do that is still to arrest, question in a humane way and if they are suspected of the crime produce them in courts.

But do not use extra judicial killings and other kind of things. And those acts will undermine the long term solutions. So, it is much better to use rule of law to address terrorism. Accountability of rule of law is extremely important. (Unquote)

Now, how could a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and his or her superiors in the U.S. State Department such as assistant secretary Richard Boucher advocate a "human way" of dealing with terrorists to a Third World country like Sri Lanka who is facing a severe threat to her sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security while the United States has adopted torture and degrading treatment to its captured terrorists while being a signatory to Geneva Conventions and other international covenants that spell out the manner in which a war prisoner, enemy combatant or a terrorist should be treated?

When it comes to degrading treatment and torture Sri Lanka in her survival struggle against the ruthless terrorist group is nowhere near the United States according to the reports that have emerged in recent times. And, vice president Dick Chaney was unapologetic when he endorsed torture in this week’s ABC interview.

- Asian Tribune -

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