Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Getting Away With Torture

Human Rights Watch has put out a comprehensive report entitled Getting Away With Torture that exhaustively documents the torture and abuse of detainees that went on during the Bush administration, the undeniable fact that those actions violated federal law and treaties that we’ve signed, and the slam dunk legal case against those who authorized it. The summary begins with this quote from Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the man the Pentagon put in charge of investigating the abuses at Abu Ghraib:

There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.


But Taguba said much more than that in his introduction to a Physicians for Human Rights report on the abuse of detainees around the world.

This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals’ lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.

The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted–both on America’s institutions and our nation’s founding values, which the military, intelligence services, and our justice system are duty-bound to defend.

In order for these individuals to suffer the wanton cruelty to which they were subjected, a government policy was promulgated to the field whereby the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice were disregarded. The UN Convention Against Torture was indiscriminately ignored. And the healing professions, including physicians and psychologists, became complicit in the willful infliction of harm against those the Hippocratic Oath demands they protect.

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

The answer to that question, sadly, remains a resounding no — at least not in this country. President Obama has done everything he could to prevent any investigation or indictment of those who authorized or carried out torture, repeating his mantra that we need to “look forward, not back” whenever asked about it — a standard he applies only to high-ranking officials, not to lower level staffers who have blown the whistle on government wrongdoing and illegality.