International Law

Red Cross: U.S. Tortured Prisoners


American intelligence agents tortured terrorist suspects captured after Sept. 11 in secret foreign prisons for years, suspending the practice only after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it illegal in a ruling last summer, according to a magazine article that appears on newsstands today.

In doing so, the Central Intelligence Agency not only violated international law concerning the treatment of prisoners but may have elicited worthless confessions that will make it virtually impossible to bring the tortured suspects to trial, according to the New Yorker magazine’s Aug. 13 issue.

Methods used, according to a confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, included “simulated drownings, sensory deprivation, intense heat and cold and even repeated rape-like body-cavity searches to force suspects to talk,” reports the New York Daily News, citing the New Yorker article. One source told the magazine: “It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever. … It is just chilling.”

The Red Cross for the first time was able to interview prisoners, after they were transferred to the Guantanamo Bay military prison in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (PDF) (provided by National Public Radio). The case confirmed that all prisoners, including those held by the CIA, must be treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions. The 1949 treaties bar cruel treatment, degradation, and torture.

Among those allegedly subject to CIA mistreatment: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an al-Qaida leader believed to have masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He reportedly confessed—after he was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and subjected to what the CIA terms “enhanced interrogation techniques”—to involvement in the terrorist killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. But there is reason to think that he may not have been involved, according to the New Yorker.

U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, have repeatedly said they do not torture prisoners, as noted in a recent ABAJournal.com post, and new standards for treatment of prisoners were imposed by executive order last month. However, as discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, it isn’t yet publicly known how they will be applied in actual practice.

Washington Post (Report: Harsh Methods Used On 9/11 Suspect).

CBS News (New Yorker: CIA Tactics Amount To Torture).

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