In an open letter to Senator Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, lawyers, clergy and human rights activists voice alarm at mounting evidence of torture and human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information on their campaign, go to StopFundingTorture.com.
We call on our Congress to speak out and organize public hearings on the systemic human rights violations occurring with American funding and advisers in Iraq. While there continues to be considerable media and Congressional attention to torture in Guantánamo, there is comparatively little attention to the mounting evidence of human rights violations, including torture and targeted killings of civilians, in Iraq since the 2004 Abu Ghraib revelations, and virtually none at all devoted to Afghanistan.
We recall the powerful and effective public outcry against the Phoenix program during the Vietnam War and the death squads during the Central American wars. Yet the top counterinsurgency adviser to General Petraeus has called for a “global Phoenix program,” and the response in this country appears to be silent ignorance. The American diplomat charged with violating human rights in Central America became our ambassador to Baghdad, where militias, death squads and secret prisons were widespread. But few questions about human rights in Iraq were directed at Ambassador John Negroponte in Congressional hearings.
We believe that few Americans support spending our tax dollars on torture, which violates our moral, religious and legal traditions.
Most Americans expect an American-Iraqi policy leading to political reconciliation, not ethnic cleansing, detention camps, and sectarian militias hidden within the police and security forces that our tax dollars subsidize.
We believe most Americans would favor Congressional hearings as to whether our policies in Iraq violate the 1997 Leahy Amendment prohibiting material assistance to human rights violators.
Evidence of human rights violations sometimes is difficult to amass for purposes of litigation, if only because international observers and defense lawyers have so little access to detainees or secret prisons, and the critical reports of the international Red Cross are classified. But the evidence is more than enough to warrant our concern and justify a Congressional inquiry. This is a brief summary:
There are some 50,000 Iraqis currently detained in facilities operated either by the United States or the Iraqi regime we fund, equip and support. Human Rights Watch is calling on the UN Security Council to address the holding of some 25,000 detainees by the United States “for indefinite periods, without judicial review, and under military processes that do not meet international standards.” Detainees in Iraqi facilities appear to face even worse conditions. The whole process is described by an eyewitness human rights observer as “inquisitorial” with broad scope for relying on forced confessions. Human rights observers are loath to press for transfer of detainees to Iraqi prisons which are “at least as bad as under Saddam.” Rape is reported as widespread in these facilities.