Current Comment

The Torture Report

More than four years after President Obama promised to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the escalating desperation of its remaining 166 inmates, especially the 85 cleared for release or transfer, has shot back into public consciousness. A hunger strike that began on Feb. 6 has grown to include a hundred prisoners (*as of April 27). Twenty prisoners are being force-fed twice each day, and six are hospitalized.

On April 14, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the first time a feeding tube was shoved up his nose, down his throat and into his stomach. “I wanted to vomit, but couldn’t,” he said. “There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before.” Mr. Moqbel, held at Guantánamo since 2002, has never faced charges in a military or civilian court.


For those unaware of the ongoing hunger strike, a new 577-page report on detainee treatment in the past decade should shock the conscience. The landmark report, released on April 16 by the Constitution Project, relies on more than two years of research, analysis and deliberation. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who served in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2005, and James R. Jones, a Democrat, co-chaired the 11-member task force.

The majority of members called the use of indefinite detention at Guantánamo “abhorrent and intolerable,” and the task force unanimously agreed that the force-feeding of prisoners is “a form of abuse” that violates medical ethical standards and “must end.” But the most damning conclusion of the report relates to the horror of torture. It is “indisputable,” the report stated, that in the past decade the United States “engaged in the practice of torture” and that “the nation’s most senior officials,” including President George W. Bush, “bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to” its spread.

The United States is legally obliged under the Convention Against Torture (1984) to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for complicity or participation in torture. This convention by definition protects the human rights of the nation’s enemies. The commitment to the rule of law and human dignity, even for criminals, is what distinguishes civilized people from terrorists.

In December the Senate Intelligence Committee completed and adopted a 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The report should be made available to the public, and where crimes have been committed, the Justice Department should pursue prosecutions, regardless of party, even if it leads to the Oval Office. Under the convention, the United States must also provide “fair and adequate compensation” to those who were tortured. Even self-proclaimed mass murderers like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times while in C.I.A. custody, are not exempt from protection.

President Obama should move quickly to end the hunger strike at Guantánamo by addressing the prisoners’ legitimate grievance about languishing for more than a decade without charges. Those still held should be prosecuted in Article III courts, transferred or safely released. Mr. Moqbel, in his op-ed, wrote, “I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look at Guantánamo before it is too late.”

*Update: The number of prisoners on hunger strike continues to rise each day. As of April 27, the Pentagon counts 100 hunger strikers, with 20 being force fed and five hospitalized.

Forgetting Sandy Hook

The president has spoken; the public has spoken; Gabrielle Giffords has spoken. But apparently the only voice worth hearing, again, belonged to the National Rifle Association. Baby steps toward rational gun control were halted by the national gun lobby in a nausea-inducing déjà vu of past legislative performances. Once again the public was twirled in the gun control waltz—an act of unspeakable gun violence, this one arguably the worst ever, followed by a period of public soul searching, political posturing and the delivery of new gun control proposals; then the inevitable patient, methodical rolodexing of N.R.A. lobbyists, the prelude to another legislative coup de grâce.

At least this latest failure to establish common sense gun control measures like universal background checks should dispel any concerns about latent racism in Washington. Some wondered what it might say about the United States should its national legislators finally be moved to action on gun control only because of a massacre of Caucasian school children after ignoring for years the daily roll call of mayhem in U.S. cities. But never fear. It turns out that in Congress’s broken politics gun rights are valued more than all of America’s children, whatever their race or ethnicity.

This latest embarrassment proves that any meaningful social policy reforms will continue to be held hostage by a small cabal of Senate obstructionists until procedures are reformed to end the fake filibuster. Despite lofty rhetoric about constitutional principles, the only freedom the N.R.A. is really determined to protect is contained in the second clause of the Second Amendment (let’s forget about that troublesome “well-regulated militia” business). Perhaps come November, a fed-up American public will send a signal with their ballots: Enough is enough.

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Leonard Villa
4 years 6 months ago
Can Amnesty Int'l be trusted or is it simply another ideological anti-American organization at heart? Is the definition of torture defined? What was the majority vote of the 11? I still get the feeling that many folks still are missing the boat about radical terrorists about whom we were recently reminded in Boston. Are these folks simply criminals or terrorist/enemy combatants? The terrorist as criminal approach led to 9/11. Policies that do not reflect the reality of the enemy within our country and without inevitably lead to more deaths and bloodshed.
Luke Hansen
4 years 6 months ago

The act of torture is meticulously defined in the report, and the panel's conclusion that the United States "engaged in the practice of torture" was unanimous. Related to the Guantanamo findings and recommendations, only two of the 11 panel members dissented. Read the report at


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