Four months after President Barack Obama signaled his intention to close down the military camp at Guantanamo Bay, a confidential Red Cross report was published that described in gruesome detail the horrors that took place there and at other black sites abroad. Water boarding, forced standing, beatings with collars, confinement in a box, prolonged nudity and food deprivation are just some of the egregious crimes that took place at these sites. These are the unfathomed events that Red Cross doctors helped administer. These are the measures that former Vice President Dick Cheney justified and deemed necessary to protect the country. However, these actions are downright unacceptable.
The report, published by journalist Mark Danner and written by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), describes in detail what 14 high profile detainees in various sites around the world, including Guantanamo Bay, were forced to endure. Furthermore, and even more disturbingly, the report alleges that not only were these detainees subjected to horrific torture but also that Red Cross doctors were present not to treat the detainees, but to make sure the prisoners were able to stay alive during the more atrocious parts of the torture.
The ICRC report has sparked a heated controversy about whether the Department of Justice should lead an investigation of the torture that took place at these black sites around the world. President Obama stated he does not want to focus on the past; however, at the same time, he said egregious violations should be prosecuted. When a one-legged man is made to stand for days at a time without rest, is only able to defecate either in a diaper or a bucket without cleaning himself and is subject to daily beatings, there can be no question that egregious violations were committed at these black sites.
These actions are not only considered international crimes, but also as crimes against humanity. That is, the actions taken at black sites such as Guantanamo Bay are so horrific they are considered to be inhumane. It would be incredibly disappointing to see the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder turn a blind eye to the events that took place at these black sites.
However, not everyone is on board with searching for criminal indictments. Patrick Leahy, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the press in early April that if he led an investigation, it “would be to find the truth – to provide accountability for the past. Not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments.”
The problem with that sort of mentality is first, we already know the truth and it’s very tough to swallow. Second, it undermines the very clear message that the Obama administration sent when they agreed to close down Guantanamo Bay its first day in office. Thirdly, and most importantly, if we are to set examples for other countries, we must prosecute violators of international law in our own country to retain the little respect we have left.
From a moral standpoint and a political one, it is obvious we must prosecute. Exposing the truth and providing accountability is by no means a remedy for the events that took place at these black sites, but prosecution is the only cure.
Fortunately, some politicians are on board with administering justice. Sen. Charles Schumer and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers both called for a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s “war on terror” and use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” However, despite pressure from Congress, the Department of Justice still has not indicated whether it will conduct an official investigation.
The absence of independent criminal investigations has even caused Judge Garzon of Spain to perform his own criminal inquiry of the Bush administration’s approval of torture methods. The fact that an investigation is being conducted is good; however, it is disconcerting to see countries overseas take on the obligations the United States should carry out. How can the Obama administration, much less the United States, be taken seriously in the eyes of the world when they cannot bring themselves to uphold their own obligation not only to United States law but also international law under the 1984 Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions? The fact is we can’t.
It is alarming that there is even a debate on whether the Department of Justice should investigate after such a gruesome report is made public. It is merely common sense. The United States is not above international law; the Bush administration violated sections of the Geneva Conventions as well as other international conventions on torture. Without question, it is absolutely necessary to delegate accountability and prosecute any and all perpetrators.
Neil Thakor is a first-year political science major. He can be reached at email@example.com.