Retired Officers Urge Obama to Erase the "Stain of Torture"
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
By William Fisher
As a group of retired military leaders prepared to urge U.S.
President-elect Barack Obama to quickly put an end to the harsh
interrogation practices inflicted on security prisoners, a new United
Nations report charged that Iraqi authorities were committing "grave
human rights violations" in their treatment of thousands of detainees.
"Grave human rights violations ... remain unaddressed," the UN report
said. It cited "ongoing widespread ill-treatment and torture of
detainees by Iraqi law enforcement authorities, amid pervasive
impunity of current and past human rights abuses."
The UN report cast doubt on whether Iraq will be prepared to
professionally manage control over thousands of security detainees
now in U.S. custody under a new security pact that would end the U.S.
mission here by 2012. Approved by Iraq's parliament last week, the
agreement mandates that American forces transfer to Iraqi custody all
detainees believed to be a major threat and to release the rest "in a
safe and orderly manner."
As an example, the UN report said that 123 men crammed had been into
a single 540-square-foot cell about the size of a studio apartment.
It urged the Iraqi government to speed up legal reforms and
strengthen the judicial system as it asserts more control over its
own affairs. The report also renewed concern about the U.S. detention
of suspects for prolonged periods without judicial review of their
The U.N.'s special representative in Iraq estimated that there were
now a total of 40,000 detainees, including some 15,800 being held by
the U.S. military.
Meanwhile, the issue of detainee treatment continued to be a front-
and-center issue for the newly elected U.S. president.
Today (Wednesday) members of the Obama team will meet with more than
a dozen retired military leaders who will urge the new president "to
restore a U.S. image battered by allegations of torturing terrorism
"We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on
our reputation overseas," said a member of the group, retired Vice
Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general.
The group plans to suggest a list of anti-torture principles,
including making the Army Field Manual the single standard for all
U.S. interrogators, revoking presidential orders allowing the CIA to
use harsh treatment, giving the International Red Cross access to all
prisoners held by intelligence agencies and declaring a moratorium
on "rendering" prisoners to third countries for harsh interrogations.
The Army Field Manual requires humane treatment and forbids practices
such as waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning widely
condemned as torture.
"If he'd just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address,
stating the new position, then everything would flow from that," said
retired Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, whose regiment in World War Two raised
the American flag on Iwo Jima.
Obama has denounced waterboarding and other forms of harsh
questioning allowed by secret orders.
"Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them," he said
in October 2007. He has also vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay prison
for terrorism suspects, an international symbol of prisoner abuse.
The retired military officers have previously met with Vice President-
elect Joseph Biden and with Senator Hillary Clinton, who has been
nominated b y Obama to be his Secretary of State.
U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly denied condoning
torture, but his denials have been widely doubted at home and abroad.
A Justice Department report this year found the White House ignored
reports it received that FBI agents viewed some Guantanamo
interrogations as "borderline torture."
While the issues of Guantanamo's closing, rendition, and harsh
interrogation techniques pose ongoing challenges for President-elect
Obama, the administration of George W. Bush is being accused of
continuing such abuses.
In the latest allegation, A Muslim American, Hossam Hemdan of Los
Angeles, charged that he was tortured and beaten into confessing to a
terrorism-related charge by the security services of Abu Dhabi part
of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- which he said held him
for nearly three months at the request of the U.S. government.
Hemdan, a 42-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, told his brother by
telephone this week that he confessed to terror-related charges after
continually being beaten and subjected to harsh treatment. "They beat
him very badly. They stood on his back and another person pulled his
feet. They beat him on the bottoms of his feet," he charged. "He said
he had a liver problem. They beat him on his liver on the right side
(of his body)" until he lost consciousness.
Following his confession, he was placed in the custody of the Abu
Dhabi criminal justice system, where he is currently being detained.
Hemdan was arrested in Los Angeles last August after several years of
surveillance by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The
FBI has acknowledged that the case involved counterterrorism but has
denied asking the UAE to hold him. How he got to Abu Dhabi is unclear.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in Federal
Court charging that the administration illegally asked the UAE
security services to hold Hemdan in order to avoid granting him his
constitutional protections against illegal and unlimited detention.
The lawsuit named President Bush, Attorney General Michael Mukasey
and FBI Director Robert Mueller as defendants and asked that the
administration be ordered to demand Hemdan's release.
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