Torture continues under Obama

Patrick Minder

This month, President Obama broke his commitment to release photos showing the torture of prisoners at U.S. military and CIA jails. The Justice Department would not have blocked the release of these photos, yet Obama decided against it, choosing to protect Bush administration officials over protecting our civil liberties.
As for the ongoing Guantanamo debacle, Obama has not made any progress. His supposed intention to shut down the facility within a year has gained little traction, and he has not laid out a detailed plan for its closure. One of the new developments is Obama’s proposal of a new military tribunal system for prosecuting Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Similar systems were struck down by the Supreme Court in the Bush years, and Obama previously opposed them, having voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Major David J. R. Frakt of the Air Force, a defense lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee, called Obama’s modifications to the Bush tribunal system “minor cosmetic changes.”
Frakt also noted that the tribunal system doesn’t afford detainees enough choice: “The problem is they don’t want military counsel at all, and this does nothing to address that.”
Investigative journalist and best-selling author Jeremy Scahill published an article detailing the continued use of torture under President Obama May 15. A military force called the Immediate Reaction Force, which was operating in Guantanamo under Bush, is still operating there today.
The goal of the IRF is to provide discipline for prisoners that are deemed to be misbehaving. Examples of punishments include gang-beatings wherein five officers enter a cell and beat the prisoner, each having been assigned a body part. Just this February, while Obama was hard at work in the oval office on his “changes,” a group of prisoners went on a hunger strike.
The IRF force-fed them, shoving tubes down their throats without anesthetics or painkillers. Further details are too graphic. According to Reuters, incidents that have taken place under Obama include, “beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper, and over-force feeding detainees who are on hunger strike.”
In January of 2003, an active-duty US soldier, Sgt. Sean Baker, was ordered to play a prisoner in a training drill at Guantanamo. Here is a partial account from Baker: “They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and, unfortunately, one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down. Then he – the same individual – reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor.”
He continued, “After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn’t breathe. When I couldn’t breathe, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise, which was ‘red.’ …That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air. I muttered out: ‘I’m a U.S. soldier. I’m a U.S. soldier.'”
The soldiers slammed Sgt. Baker’s head against the floor one more time, then stopped. When the story broke to the media in 2005, The New York Times reported that the military “says it can’t find a videotape that is believed to have been made of the incident.” Meanwhile, Baker has permanent brain damage and has as many as 10 to 12 seizures per day.
Last week, President Obama acknowledged his support for holding prisoners for indefinite periods of time without trial. In a letter to the President, Wisconsin’s own Senator Feingold said of Obama’s new detention plan, “any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional. … Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.”
This weekend, The New York Times reported, “The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan…”
The foreign governments involved in these cases then share the information gathered from their interrogations with the U.S. Many human rights groups are worried about potential prisoner abuse and how this will shape our policy of detaining people unlawfully.
The barrage of developments around torture and detainment policies in the last few weeks has been worrisome at best. President Obama’s steps away from a transparent government and his obvious continuation of U.S. torture are becoming increasingly frightening.
The brutality of the “enhanced interrogation” being carried out under his administration is clearly extreme, as is the moral deficiency required on the part of the President to allow such acts to continue. Hopefully change will come soon.