Why We Need a Torture Commission, And Why We Won’t Get One

The true Bush legacy: 54% of us believe torture is justified to “gain information from terror suspects”: Harper’s Index, April 2010. No wonder, then, that the Obama Administration has, according to Scott Horton’s latest report “The Guantanamo ‘Suicides’,” actively covered up the deaths of three prisoners that took place in June 2006.

Go buy the magazine or subscribe. Harper’s seems to be the only “mainstream” (for a very generous definition) news organization pursuing a topic that most of us either endorse or prefer to know nothing about.

Last June, Horton explored the fifth “apparent suicide” to occur at Guantanamo.

But there’s another detail to Saleh’s death that U.S. officials are particularly anxious to avoid discussing: it appears to be tied to practices that the Pentagon defends as “force-feeding” but other officials decry as “torture,” and that, no matter how you cut it, do not comport with accepted medical standards. Saleh is apparently one of seven inmates held in the psychiatric ward for the purpose of being exposed to what the Pentagon calls “force-feeding.”

Harper’s has sent Horton around the world to investigate these deaths. His reporting, along with research conducted by Seton Hall University law school faculty and students, paints a picture of the U.S. government and military that every American should read. (Harper’s seems to think so, too, as the article is available on the free/public portion of the web site.)

Last week, Horton shared the case for a torture commission, a case made by UCLA law professor David Kaye in Foreign Policy (emphasis added):

… in the light of the Justice Department’s OPR report, the case for a commission to review the failure in the process of government policy is still more compelling… the essential figures included Jim Haynes and Doug Feith at Defense, John Rizzo at the CIA, and John Bellinger, Alberto Gonzales, and David Addington at the White House.

Kaye’s point is clearly right. In fact, the issue isn’t really whether some lawyers at Justice violated the essentially dysfunctional Code of Professional Responsibility. It’s whether the United States has decided to treat the prohibition on torture as a nullity. It is scandalous that our self-important political class still views the whole matter as just another policy dispute, in which the Democrats see things one way and the Republicans see them another.

Amen.

I am particularly incensed that a commanding officer who reportedly told the entire company at Guantanamo to lie about the “suicide” deaths from June 2006 is now an ROTC instructor at my alma mater, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

According to independent interviews with soldiers who witnessed the speech, Bumgarner told his audience that “you all know” three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. This was a surprise to no one—even servicemen who had not worked the night before had heard about the rags. But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored. The meeting lasted no more than twenty minutes. (Bumgarner has not responded to requests for comment.)

Why is this man still an officer in the military? Why is he instructing officers-in-training?

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