Anti-Torture Heroes

Recent political news is very depressing. So I'll go positive with two anti-torture heroes, Antonio Taguba and Alberto Mora.

Alberto MoraAlberto Mora was appointed General Counsel of the Navy in 2001. He learned of physical abuse and degrading treatment of Guantanamo detainees in December of 2002. He immediately fought to repudiate the legal analysis that justified the abuse, including the "Torture Memo" written by John Yoo on August 1, 2002. But when he brought up his objections to his colleagues and Pentagon General Counsel William "Jim" Haynes III, he was locked out of the discussions and work that produced the memos authorizing "enhanced interrogation techniques." The rest is history.

From Jane Mayer's 2006 New Yorker article, The Memo:
Mora thinks that the media has focussed too narrowly on allegations of U.S.-sanctioned torture. As he sees it, the authorization of cruelty is equally pernicious. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he told me. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.”
He expanded on this during his testimony before Congress June 17, 2008:
This interrogation policy – which may aptly be labeled a “policy of cruelty” – violated our founding values, our constitutional system and the fabric of our laws, our over-arching foreign policy interests, and our national security. The net effect of this policy of cruelty has been to weaken our defenses, not to strengthen them, and has been greatly contrary to our national interest.

Before turning to this damage, it may be useful to draw some of the basic legal distinctions pertinent to interrogation. The choice of the adjectives “harsh” or “enhanced” to describe these interrogation techniques is euphemistic and misleading. The more precise legal term is “cruel.” Many of the “counter-resistance techniques” authorized for use at Guantanamo in December 2002 constitute “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment that could, depending on their application, easily cross the threshold of torture.

Many Americans are unaware that there is a legal distinction between cruelty and torture, cruelty being the less severe level of abuse. This has tended to obscure important elements of the interrogation debate from the public’s attention. For example, the public may be largely unaware that the government could evasively if truthfully claim (and did claim) that it was not “torturing” even as it was simultaneously interrogating detainees cruelly. Yet there is little or no moral distinction between cruelty and torture, for cruelty can be as effective as torture in savaging human flesh and spirit and in violating human dignity. Our efforts should be focused not merely on banning torture, but on banning cruelty.
Antonio TagubaTaguba was a Major General in the U.S. Army when he was tasked with writing a report on the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq on January 31, 2004. His orders explicitly said to only investigate the military police and not anyone above them in the chain of command. He turned in his report, known as the Taguba Report, on March 3, 2004 and it was leaked to the press soon afterward. The conclusion stated:
Several US Army Soldiers have committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law at Abu Ghraib/BCCF and Camp Bucca, Iraq. Furthermore, key senior leaders in both the 800th MP Brigade and the 205th MI Brigade failed to comply with established regulations, policies, and command directives in preventing detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) and at Camp Bucca during the period August 2003 to February 2004.
The Pentagon disavowed knowledge of the abuse until just before the release of the report and generally refuted anything in the report that said the MP's were directed by others, especially the finding that military intelligence told the MP's to "soften up" the detainees before interrogation. Taguba was laterally transferred to the Pentagon in 2004 and asked to retire within a year in January of 2006.

Perhaps leaving the military was for the best, as Taguba publicly accused the Bush43 administration of war crimes in 2008:
After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
This appeared in the preface to the Physicians for Human Rights report, Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact.

Coincidentally, Taguba is an immigrant and Mora is the son of immigrants. Mora was born in Boston, where his Cuban father was studying medicine, but the family left for Cuba when Mora was still an infant. The family escaped back to America seven years later as Castro took power. Mora's mother is Hungarian - her father finally left Hungary just before the Soviets took control of the country.

Taguba's father was a member of the Philippine Scouts and endured the Bataan Death March. He escaped and was a part of the underground resistance to the Japanese through 1945. Eleven year old Antonio arrived in Hawai'i in 1961 and was naturalized a year later.

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