Sometimes I wonder if we at TNS as too pessimistic in our coverage of the governmentâ€™s actions, too willing to see the glass as half-empty, instead of half-full. Such was the case when we reported back in December that the so-called McCain "torture ban," hailed as an instant fix for the torture scandals embroiling America, might not be all it was cracked up to be.
Back then, TNS staff journalist Michelle Chen highlighted the gnawing concerns of some civil rights groups that companion amendments, shoved into the bill to placate the White House, might trump some of the very protections that McCainâ€™s law purported to establish...
Though many support the spirit of the amendment, approved by the Senate in October and by the House last week, several civil liberties organizations contend that political jockeying has produced legislation that would likely abet abuse, rather than deter it.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has led litigation to defend the rights of hundreds of detainees, is among the most vocal critics. Ratner told The NewStandard that legislators have "left the people at GuantÃ¡namo possibly subject to the very thing theyâ€™ve tried to prohibit. They gave with one hand and took with the other."
Now we have learned that the worst fears of civil liberties groups may finally be coming true. On Wednesday, we reported on a case brought by GuantÃ¡namo detainee Mohammed Bawazir, who alleges that United States soldiers holding him captive violated the torture ban just weeks after it was enacted. Bawazir was engaged in a hunger strike for nearly six months, saying, according to his attorneys, that heâ€™d rather die than continue enduring the miserable conditions of his confinement. In response to his refusal to eat, soldiers had been force-feeding him through a nasal tube for months. But in January, his captorsâ€™ tactics allegedly grew harsher:
According to the complaint, soldiers began removing the nasal tube between feedings and insisted on reinserting it at each force-feeding. They also left him strapped to the dangerous chair for up to two hours at a time, the maximum allowed by the manufacturer. And, the complaint also alleged, the soldiers poured large amounts of liquids into Bawazirâ€™s stomach and then refused to allow him to go to the bathroom, causing cramping, vomiting, diarrhea â€“ eventually forcing Bawazir to urinate and defecate on himself.
McCainâ€™s bill, the Detainee Treatment Act, declares, "â€¦no individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
Nevertheless, government lawyers argued in court yesterday that the Act does not apply to Bawazirâ€”simply because he is in GuantÃ¡namo. But how could that be, you ask? Doesnâ€™t the law say "regardless of nationality or physical location?" Yes, it does. But an amendment, introduced by Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and Lindsey Graham (R-North Carolina) and passed alongside the torture ban, specifically restricts Gitmo detaineesâ€™ access to US courts. Thus, as the Washington Post reported:
Justice Department lawyers argued that even if the tactics were considered in violation of McCain's language, detainees at GuantÃ¡namo would have no recourse to challenge them in court.
The Post also quoted Human Rights Watch spokesperson Tom Malinowski as saying "Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the lawâ€¦The law says you can't torture detainees at GuantÃ¡namo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."
So, there we have it. It might have felt nice to have taken an uncharacteristically optimistic tack and reported that the government was finally dealing with the systemic brutality of its international prison system. But now, it turns out the glass-half-full viewpoint taken by our corporate counterparts last year has come up empty.