Vice President Dick Cheney recently announced his approval of simulated drowning techniques allegedly used against terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay. MSNBC further reported Cheney’s implication that the tactic has been used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, a suspected senior Al-Qaeda operative. Since the radio interview aired two weeks ago, the White House has been struggling to clean up the mess as they deny the use of torture by U.S. military agencies. Meanwhile, the rest of the coherent American public is left with their heads in their hands, wondering just how and when this great nation lost its dignity.
The controversy was set off when Cheney was interviewed on Oct. 27 by Scott Hennen, a conservative radio talk show host in Fargo, North Dakota. ‘Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?’ Hennen asked.
‘Well, it’s a no-brainer for me,’ Cheney replied. ‘But for a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in. … I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high-value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, has been a very important tool that we’ve had to be able to secure the nation,’ he said.
‘The V.P. was talking about the interrogation program, clearly noting that we do not torture and we live up to our international treaty obligations,’ said Cheney spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride. ‘He does not discuss any techniques or methods that may or may not be used in questioning.’
Essentially, Cheney has nonchalantly excused water-boarding as a category separate from torture. It is time for a little education. Water-boarding is not simply a dunk in the water, it is the covering of a subject’s face with a wet cloth to make breathing more difficult. It is often used aggressively so that the subject’s intake of oxygen is almost completely eliminated. It is as if someone were to be suffocated and only allowed to breathe while verbally giving a confession. So here we have the vice president of the United States saying not only that this is not a form of torture but that obstructing airways of ‘suspected terrorists’ is a ‘no-brainer.’
As for McBride’s defense of living up to international treaty obligations, torture is in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions. The Supreme Court ruled that Al-Qaeda is entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention. Any pursuance of questionable tactics would thus have to be in compliance with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.’
John Bellinger, the State Department legal advisor, declined to answer specific questions on water-boarding. It was up to Congress to decide whether the interrogation technique was permissible under the Geneva Conventions. Meanwhile, the three primary authors of the Military Commissions Act argue that water-boarding is not permissible under the law. Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Warner have all publicly stated that under current legislation, water-boarding is considered a war crime.
When Lynne Cheney, the Vice President’s wife, was asked on CNN about the comments, she told Wolf Blitzer, ‘That is a mighty house you’re building on top of that mole hill there, a mighty mountain. This is complete distortion. He didn’t say anything of the kind.’
The fact of the matter is that Cheney slipped a little information that has put the War on Terror back onto American televisions and into American homes. It is becoming increasingly impossible, and rightly so, for people to turn a blind eye about the detainees being held without charges in Guantanamo Bay. This can no longer be out of sight and out of mind. Cheney’s slip reminds us that there are detainees in Cuba being held without charges, without the right to legal counsel, without access to their families and evidently being subjected to inhumane treatment. It is in violation of international law and against the very essence of human ethics.
For those that support the inhumane treatment of terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, I ask this question. How many of those labeled ‘enemy combatants’ are indeed terrorist threats? Since the War on Terror began five years ago, individuals have been picked up in Gambia, Bosnia, Mauritania, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Afghanistan. Many are detained, tortured and released years later with no explanation other than being told that the threat is over. These detainees leave physically and psychologically damaged by ‘the land of the free.’
Sarah Ghulamhussain is a first-year criminology and political science double-major.