On torture-18: And now, executions without even a trial?

(For previous posts on torture, see here.)

As I said in a previous post, practicing torture leads to the problem that you cannot then allow people to talk about the treatment they received.

It appears that the Obama administration is now circulating a new proposal to solve that pesky problem by executing people without even a trial, based purely on their guilty pleas, even though those might have been obtained under torture. According to Saturday’s New York Times:

The Obama administration is considering a change in the law for the military commissions at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that would clear the way for detainees facing the death penalty to plead guilty without a full trial.

The provision could permit military prosecutors to avoid airing the details of brutal interrogation techniques.

The proposal would ease what has come to be recognized as the government’s difficult task of prosecuting men who have confessed to terrorism but whose cases present challenges. Much of the evidence against the men accused in the Sept. 11 case, as well as against other detainees, is believed to have come from confessions they gave during intense interrogations at secret C.I.A. prisons. In any proceeding, the reliability of those statements would be challenged, making trials difficult and drawing new political pressure over detainee treatment.

Note the use of the euphemisms ‘brutal interrogation techniques’ and ‘intense interrogations’ which the media uses instead of the word ‘torture’ when it is talking about US actions. It only uses the word torture when those practices are done by other countries.

Imagine what would have been the reaction if Roxana Saberi or Euna Lee or Laura Ling were to be executed without an open trial. But the Times, ever sympathetic to the needs of the political establishment, simply refers to this appalling proposal as a possible way to ‘ease’ the ‘government’s difficult task’.

The article quotes David Glazier, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who has written about the commission system, as saying: “This unfortunately strikes me as an effort to get rid of the problem in the easiest way possible, which is to have those people plead guilty and presumably be executed. But I think it’s going to lack international credibility.”

So this is where the torture policies have driven us. We throw people into prisons, keep them without charges or trial for years on end, we torture them, and then based on their confessions, we execute them without giving them a chance to give their version of the story.

The original drafters of the US constitution were trying to create a document that they hoped would be a model to other nations of how the rights of government and people would be balanced by providing checks and balances. Their document was flawed (particularly in the way it allowed slavery to continue) but I think it is fair to say that the drafters would be appalled at the level of impunity with which the current government acts in violating the basic human rights of people. We seem to have restored the unilateral and unchecked power of kings, the very thing they sought to oppose.

POST SCRIPT: The case of Lakhdar Boumidienne

Lakhdar Boumedienne is an Algerian and Bosnian citizen who was doing humanitarian work for the Red Crescent Society when he was abducted in Bonia by the US, shipped to Guantanamo, and tortured there for nearly eight years. When the US Supreme Court, in a landmark 5-4 decision, said that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 under which he was being held was unconstitutional because it denied the right of habeas corpus, he was finally given a trial and the district court judge ruled in November 2008 that there was no credible evidence to keep holding him and ordered his release.

He now lives in France with his family. (See Glenn Greenwald for the full story.) You can see an interview with him that Jake Tapper of ABC News conducted.

A much more detailed account of the interview can be read here. In it we are told that in addition to the harsh treatment he received, the letters from his family were never given to him. There is a particularly poignant passage:

Last month, in a tearful ceremony at an airport outside Paris, Boumediene was reunited with his family. His daughters, who were toddlers when he was detained, are 13 and 9 years old.

“I cried, just cried. Because I don’t know my daughters,” he said. “The younger, when I moved from Bosnia to Gitmo, she had 18 months, only 18 months. Now 9 years. Now she’s big. Between 18 months, baby and 9 years, she walking, she’s talking, she play, she’s joking. It’s a big difference.”

It is important to realize that Boumedienne was eventually released only because he was brought to trial and allowed to make his case. Obama’s new proposals of “preventive detention” seeks the authority to keep people like Boumedienne in prison and tortured indefinitely and even executed without trial.

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