MCCAIN TORTURE BILL A BUST
Despite the fanfare, the McCain bill banning cruel and degrading treatment is less a shot in the arm than a shot through the head. The bottom line? All forms of abuse are now illegal, but no torturers will go to prison. For survivors of US-sponsored torture in Latin America, this “wink and a nod” approach gives a chilling sense of déjà vu.
(Torture, of course, is prohibited by our Constitution and treaties. Under 18 USC 2340, torture abroad is a felony. The statute’s definition includes virtually all the techniques now used on detainees. War crimes trials are already required. The Administration has tried to side-step this by insisting that waterboarding and other techniques are “merely” cruel and degrading but not torture. That is for the courts to decide. However, it is good that this second, lesser category is now also banned.)
The damning provisions of McCain’s bill grant new legal defenses to torturers. The agents can say they were following orders. Rumsfeld will claim he was relying on advice of counsel, and Gonzales will say he merely gave his legal opinion. Meanwhile, the Graham amendment blocks the detainees from going to court directly. These new provisions face fierce legal battles. If we are to comply with international standards, let alone our own laws and treaties, this de facto grant of immunity for war crimes must fall.
Why are trials for torturers necessary? For the same reason Nuremburg was: to assure that this never happens again. A decade ago my husband was tortured for two years, then thrown from a helicopter by CIA informants in Guatemala. Throughout this ordeal, the CIA knowingly paid his torturers. Congress promised “never again,” but no one was ever charged or tried. Hence, the crimes continue today.
HAITI THRU ROSE-COLORED GLASSES?
New York City
Having spent the better part of a decade living and working as a journalist in Haiti, I would be remiss if I did not respond to Mark Weisbrot’s “Undermining Haiti” [Dec. 12]. Articles like this, hatched in a cocoon of ideology where rude reality never intrudes, do little to help that long-suffering country.
While Weisbrot is content to blame the ouster of the Aristide government on the suspension of international aid to Haiti and a dark cabal of “mass murderers and former death squad leaders” and to bemoan that democracy is being destroyed “openly and in broad daylight,” the political landscape in Haiti is far different from the one he paints, just as the popular movement against the brutality and criminality that came to typify the Aristide government in fact has roots that go far beyond recent armed insurrection.
From the summer of 2002, when the Aristide government attempted to seize control of Haiti’s state university system and a cooperative pyramid investment scheme that was closely linked to regime loyalists collapsed, the cracks in the government’s house began to widen, long before members of the Cannibal Army street gang (which served as a progovernment group until the murder of its leader, Amiot Metayer, in September 2003) rose up to seize the northern city of Gonaives in February 2004.