Posts Tagged ‘Geneva Conventions’

The US and our hunger for torture

Thursday, May 31, 2012 at 7:10 pm by

Abu Zubaydah RedactedMarch 28 marked the ten-year anniversary of when Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, was captured by the CIA and, along with some others like him, held in secret prison complexes organized by the United States government.  Over the course of the past ten years, Abu Zubaydah was transferred from secret facility to secret facility, leaving the prisons when it seemed like those responsible for holding him were about to get caught. Throughout these ten years, he was tortured by CIA officials. His condition has deteriorated significantly as a result.

He suffers from serious mental and physical health problems and debilitating on-going pain and suffering. Publicly available records describe how prior injuries were exacerbated by his ill-treatment and by his extended isolation. As a consequence, he has permanent brain damage and physical impairment. He suffers blinding headaches, and has an excruciating sensitivity to sound. Between 2008 and 2011 alone, he experienced more than 300 seizures. At some point during his captivity, the CIA removed his left eye. His physical pain is compounded by his awareness that his mind is slipping away. He suffers partial amnesia, and has trouble remembering his family.


Book review: Civilian or Combatant?

Friday, June 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm by

Anicée Van Engeland’s Civilian or Combatant? A Challenge for the 21st Century is the latest in a series of books discussing terrorism and global justice. The book brings international human rights to the forefront of a dialogue on war and violence. Van Engeland goes into great detail to address what defines a civilian and what in turn defines a combatant, delving into international law and the consequences that haunt prisoners of war, soldiers without uniform, and, above all, unarmed civilians.

The post-9/11 world has introduced an entirely new kind of warfare, one in which civilians have become targets and active participants in war are no longer easy to identify. The problems presented by terrorists who align themselves with no military, civilians who become party to military activity, and soldiers hindered by illness and other limitations are very real, as is the conundrum they present to modern international law. Describing the practice and slow evolution of the mechanics of warfare, Van Engeland’s book serves primarily as a translation for those previously unfamiliar with international humanitarian law.

Identifying the issues confronting advocates for civilian rights, she discusses genocide, rape, and other violations of human rights in war, before concluding that while the laws set down by the Geneva Conventions serve as the basis for humanitarian law, they can do only so much to distinguish a civilian from a combatant. Though Van Engeland may offer only a basic presentation of the issues concerning civilians in war, she nevertheless covers the issue thoroughly.

News Digest 5/16/11

Monday, May 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm by

News Digest 11/2/10

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm by

Omar Khadr sentenced after eight years of detention

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 9:31 am by

Omar Khadr was given what the New York Times calls a “symbolic term” by the military commission at Guantánamo Bay late Sunday, October 31. Khadr, now 24 years old, was brought to Guantánamo Bay in 2001 when he was 15 for engaging in firefight in Afghanistan during the initial US invasion. Khadr plead guilty to the five charges brought against him by the United States.

Although prosecutors asked for a sentence of 25 years, the panel instead decided on a 40-year term. After the official sentence was announced, the judge disclosed that Mr. Khadr’s plea agreement had capped the time he would serve at eight years.

Charlie Savage of the New York Times calls Khadr’s sentencing “symbolic” largely because he can be transferred to a Canadian jail after one year served in the United States, where he will be eligible for parole in 2 years and 8 months. Savage does not take into account time served while detained without being charged—as a juvenile—in his assessment of Khadr’s sentencing.


Khadr has been illegally and excessively punished for his crimes. Criticisms of his “lax sentencing” do not take into account the human rights violations perpetrated against Khadr during his detention by the US military. Human Rights First explains:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and international juvenile justice standards require prompt determination of juvenile cases and discourage detainment of juveniles at all except as a last resort. Such standards have not been heeded by the U.S. government in the case of Khadr. Khadr was held for two years prior to being given access to an attorney, waited more than three years prior to being charged before the first military commission, and is now in his eighth year in U.S. custody. During Khadr’s time in detainment, he has been held both in solitary confinement as well as with adult detainees, contrary to international standards requiring that children be treated in accordance with their age and segregated from adult detainees. Khadr also claims he was subjected to abusive interrogation practices in violation of U.S. humane treatment standards, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and other binding prohibitions against torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Khadr is one of just a handful of Guantánamo Bay detainees that has been charged with any crime.

Bush administration tried to legitimize human experimentation

Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 11:43 am by

This past summer, Physicians for Human Rights revealed that beyond merely participating in torture—which has long been decried throughout the medical profession, as well as by religious leaders from across the spectrum of faiths—psychologists and other medical professionals working with government officials also engaged in human experimentation.

Today, Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye of Truthout broke the story that the Bush administration actually tried to provide legal cover for this program, which blatantly violates international human rights law:

In 2002, as the Bush administration was turning to torture and other brutal techniques for interrogating “war on terror” detainees, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz loosened rules against human experimentation, an apparent recognition of legal problems regarding the novel strategies for extracting and evaluating information from the prisoners….

Despite its title—”Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research“—the Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to “prisoners of war.”…

One former Pentagon official, who worked closely with the agency’s ex-general counsel William Haynes, said the Wolfowitz directive provided legal cover for a top-secret Special Access Program at the Guantanamo Bay prison, which experimented on ways to glean information from unwilling subjects and to achieve “deception detection.”

“A dozen [high-value detainees] were subjected to interrogation methods in order to evaluate their reaction to those methods and the subsequent levels of stress that would result,” said the official.