Assure Victory against Torture

From the Shalem Center:

The time is close when we can win a strong legislative barrier against the use of torture by the US government – AND WE NEED TO ACT TO ASSURE THIS MAJOR VICTORY for morality and for religious ethics.

Our action suggestions are below. Save time for them this coming Monday.

First, a review of where we are:

If you thought the torture of US prisoners was over, think again. Lawyers for the Guantanamo prisoners report disgusting & criminal acts toward helpless prisoners who have gone on hunger strike because their efforts to appeal for court hearings have been ignored or denied. See Item III below for the lawyers' report.

Yet – victory at least in legal terms is in sight.

In early May 2004, just days after revelation of the use of torture in Abu Ghraib, The Shalom Center began a campaign to win religious (and especially Jewish) support to condemn and abolish the clearly systemic and clearly sinful use of torture by the US government.

No other Jewish organizations and few in other religious communities were ready to act. At a time when the Forward newspaper reported silence in most of the official Jewish community, we condemned that silence vigorously.

Now things have begun to change. Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America took this issue as a major concern. The Union for Reform Judaism board only a few months ago adopted a condemnation of torture. It allowed Rabbi David Saperstein to join RHR/NA in meeting with
Senator John McCain – probably the only Senator in American history who has himself been the victim of torture --- to support his efforts to reaffirm existing law to forbid the use of torture.

By a vote of 90-9, the Senate has passed the McCain amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill to establish uniform guidelines for treatment of detainees and to reaffirm the prohibition on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

But the President of the United States, defining the Pharaohs, Caesars, and Inquisitions of history as his spiritual and political lineage, has threatened to veto the bill if it comes with that provision.

To prevent his having to do that public act of infamy, the Administration has been working hard to block that provision in the House of Representatives, and keep it out of the bill.

The House and Senate have different versions of the Defense appropriations bill, requiring the legislation to go to a “conference committee” that will reconcile the two versions and agree on a final text.

It is crucial that the Senators and Representatives who are assigned to the conference committee retain the McCain amendment as is.

What you can do next:

Call the chair and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and the Subcommittees on Defense Appropriations. To do this, simply call the Capitol Hill switch board: (202) 224 - 3121 and ask to be connected to one of the following legislators. (Call as many as you can.)

• Senator Tad Cochran (Republican – Mississippi): Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee

• Senator Robert Byrd (Democrat – West Virginia): Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee

• Senator Ted Stevens (Republican - Alaska): Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the Senate

• Senator Daniel Inouye (Democrat - Hawaii): Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the Senate

• Representative Jerry Lewis (Republican – California): Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee

• Representative David R. Obey (Democrat – Wisconsin): Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee

• Representative Bill Young (Republican – Florida): Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House

• Representative John Murtha (Democrat – Pennsylvania): Ranking Member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in the House

What to ask:

• Make clear that you are calling out of your religious, spiritual, and ethical connections and values. If you are a clergyperson, say so; if an active member of a religious community, say so.

Ask them to ensure the McCain amendment is retained as is by the conference committee and to encourage the President to sign it into law.

• Tell them the United States must stand without exception for the principle of human decency and against the use of torture and all forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

• Also, take the opportunity to urge Congress to establish a fully independent commission to investigate all allegations of torture and cruel treatment by agents of the U.S. Government around the world.


The thanks you get from this action come only in a minor way from me. Far more, they come --
• from the millions of human beings who through history have been shattered in body and sometimes in spirit by torture;

• and from those who founded the United States of America with the absolute conviction that its government must never take part in that loathsome practice;

• and above all from the God Who placed the Divine Image in every human being so that It will be honored and nurtured -- neither twisted in those who use torture nor broken in those who suffer it.

An attorney from one of New York's highest-prestige law firms, working also with the Center for Constitutional Rights, reports disgusting and criminal behavior by guards and physicians against hunger-striking prisoners in Guantanamo.

Julia Tarver is an attorney with the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and cooperating counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights. She obtained a court OK for public release of her declaration regarding the situation at Guant?namo.

Tarver's notes detail her interviews with her clients, Yousef Al Shehri, Abduhl-Rahman Shalabi, and Majid Al Joudi, who are currently engaged in a hunger strike. The declassified notes reveal the dire conditions of these men. According to Tarver's declaration:

. Force-feedings resulted in prisoners "vomiting up substantial amounts of blood. When they vomited blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like 'look what your religion has brought you.'"_

. "Large tubes - the thickness of a finger - were viewed by detainees as objects of torture. They were forcibly shoved up the detainees' noses and down into their stomachs. Again, no anesthesia or sedative was provided."_

. "[D]etainees were verbally abused and insulted and were restrained from head to toe. They had shackles or other restraints on their arms, legs, waist, chest, knees, and head... with these restraints in place, they were given intravenous medication (often quite painfully, as inexperienced medical professionals seemed incapable of locating appropriate veins). Their arms were swollen from multiple attempts to stick them with IV needles... If detainees moved, they were hit in the chest/heart._

. "In front of Guant?namo physicians - including the head of the detainee hospital - the guards took NG tubes from one detainee, and with no sanitization whatsoever, reinserted it into the nose of a different detainee. When these tubes were reinserted, the detainees could see the blood and stomach bile from other detainees remaining on the tubes. A person detainees only known as Dr. [redacted] stood by and watched these procedures, doing nothing to intervene."
. Detainee Abdul-Rahman communicated that, "one Navy doctor came and put the tube in his nose and down his throat and then just kept moving the tube up and down, until finally Abdul-Rahman started violently throwing up blood. Abdul-Rahman tried to resist the 'torture' from this physician, but he could not breathe."_

. Detainees complying with the nasal tube feeding were doing so only because they believed it had been ordered by a U.S. court, a belief that is simply untrue.

After years in U.S. custody without formal charges or a hearing on the legality of their detention - despite a Supreme Court ruling in their favor - the hunger-striking detainees at Guant?namo have come to the conclusion that, according to Abdul-Rahman,"now after four years in captivity, life and death are the same."

While the Center for Constitutional Rights and cooperating habeas counsel have continuously voiced concern for their clients' health given the length of their detention without trial and the conditions of their confinement, the situation has become acutely dangerous since detainees began their latest hunger strike on August 8, 2005.

It is unclear how many detainees are on hunger strike at this time, but as many as 200 men have participated at various times.

"What we learned on our last trip to Guant?namo was troubling to us as lawyers, as human beings, and as Americans. We never thought we would see the day when this sort of treatment took place at a facility run by the United States government.

"It is inconsistent with the rule of law this country was founded upon, and it is inconsistent with the spirit and values of the American people," said Julia Tarver.

CCR cooperating attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and many other firms have emphasized the life-threatening nature of the situation at Guant?namo. They have informed the court that the DOD has invited representatives of the American Medical Association to visit Guant?namo and investigate the medical treatment provided to prisoners on the hunger strike.

The attorneys urged the court to appoint physicians to investigate the medical treatment or to consider allowing counsel to bring their own medical experts to Guant?namo. Attorneys also asked that they be able to accompany the AMA representatives if they go.

"It is both depressing and yet profoundly moving that this hunger strike continues in the face of such horrible adversity.

"Despite the very real possibility that some of these men may die, it is deeply life-affirming that so many of these detainees living in such dire circumstances are willing to risk their lives and bodies for the sake of basic democratic values that should be, and sadly are not, part of American policy today," said Barbara Olshansky, Deputy Legal Director of the Center of Constitutional Rights.

There are plans afoot at CCR for a Fast for Justice on Noveember 1 in affirmation of the detainees' human rights. We will send more information as these plans develop.

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