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Friday, January 19, 2007

It's not Torture, It's Coercion

Like everything this administration is responsible for, the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay is controversial. There have been allegations of torture and abuse, religious insults, detainment of the innocent without charge or trial, and people brought in by a bounty system that amounts to human trafficking. Despite assurances that Guantanamo holds 'the worst of the worst,' hundreds have been released without charge, trial, or apology.

Given everything we know about Gitmo, we should've seen this coming:

BBC News:

The US defence department has outlined new rules that could allow terror suspects to be imprisoned on the basis of hearsay or coerced testimony.

The Pentagon has sent the draft of a new manual for trying detainees at Guantanamo Bay to Congress.

Judges would have wide latitude to decide what evidence may be presented.

The full manual is available here (PDF).

This is a document created by people without shame or wisdom. It reveals that the Defense Department is so unsure of the guilt of detainees that it they won't be able to see classified evidence against them. "Actually things are worse under this new system," said Maj. Michael Mori, the Pentagon-appointed lawyer for Australian detainee David Hicks.

On the bright side, the manual tells us that "No evidence obtained under torture is to be admissible." Well, that is, the bright side if you forget that this is an administration that defines 'torture' so narrowly that waterboarding isn't included. Which makes another provision disturbing; that "Evidence obtained by coercion before December 2005 will be admitted if a judge decides so." If waterboarding and other tortures-that-aren't-tortures aren't abusive, then we have a pretty damned good idea what 'coercion' means to these people.

Let's go over this one more time -- torture (or 'coercion') doesn't work. There's no magic in torture that forces anyone to tell the truth. The motive of a person being tortured is entirely self-serving -- to stop the torture. Torture me long enough and I'll confess to shooting Lincoln, assassinating the Archduke Ferdinand, and starting the Great Chicago Fire. Hell, you might even drive me crazy enough to believe it myself. There's no way that 'confessions' obtained through torture (Oops! I'm sorry, 'coercion') are decent evidence of anything.

This isn't justice, this is expedience. And, if torture isn't reliable, then what can we possibly learn from the people who actually have done something? The purpose here is not security, but to clean up the legal mess they've made out of Gitmo with kangaroo courts and secret trials. For a nation that holds itself up as a beacon of justice to the world, it is an embarrassment and an insult. We can do better.


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