The Problem with Human Rights/Humanitarian Law Taking Precedence over the Nuremberg Principle: Torture is Wrong but So Is the Supreme War Crime

A number of human rights issues converge on Friday January 11, 2013. In Washington DC and many other cities around the country, including the Twin Cities, people will don orange “Gitmo” jumpsuits and black hoods to protest the 11th year anniversary-travesty of Guantanamo as well as the (bizarrely coincidental) national release of the  despicable, CIA-inspired “zero conscience” film that falsely conveys the message that torture “works” and is somehow heroic.

This photo was taken a few days ago in Washington DC of a protest by Amnesty International and Witness Against Torture activists outside the opening of the Zero Dark Thirty film at the Newseum.

The third, far less known issue involves the resignation (effective on January 11) of Suzanne Nossel, Director of Amnesty International-USA.  Her resignation after only one year as American Director would be unimportant except for how it exposes more fundamental problems involving the way human rights principles during peace time and humanitarian rules governing warfare can function to undercut the more well established jus ad bellum prohibitions, under international law, of launching wars of choice.  Nossel’s statement itself gave little clue of the more fundamental problematic issues underlying her resignation (except for the fact that she only mentioned her appreciation for working to uphold “human rights” in the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Syria ­but left out the human rights violations that the US-NATO-Israel is responsible for).
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Gitmo Actually Was a Prison Camp Before

Historian Jonathan M. Hansen has a unique and wonderfully written piece today in the New York Times about Guantánamo — the base itself, not the terror-war prison camp. In it, he reminds us of the century-long imperialist project just a puddle-jumper ride from Miami, planned from the start as an evisceration of Cuban sovereignty. From the time McKinley stole the War for Cuban Independence from the revolutionaries who had almost won against the Spanish (we call it the “Spanish-American War”) the US sought to actually strong-arm Cuba into asking for full annexation — a “choice” Washington didn’t even bother extending to Puerto Rico and many other former Spanish possessions.

Hansen, author of a book on the base, Guantánamo: An American History, makes the argument that the US should finally hand GTMO back to Cuba and be done with it. This might even help relations between our countries — this of course naively assumes Washington operates in good faith in such matters. There’s nothing objectionable, but I do find it odd that neither in this piece nor in all the “Tenth Anniversary” articles on terror-Gitmo I have seen, the base’s immediately previous existence was a de facto prison camp.

I am old enough to remember when Guantánamo was where the Coast Guard held Cuban and Haitian refugees who tried to make the marine dash to Florida, but didn’t quite make it.

Reagan established the refugee center to throw away Haitians after it was decided “too many” were making it to the US and staying. In 1994, when Fidel Castro told Cubans they would not be stopped if they wanted to leave the island, thousands of rafters streamed toward Florida. Clinton ordered those apprehended sent to Guantánamo.

In this 1994 Philadelphia Inquirer piece, the miserable daily life of some forty thousand people, about two-thirds Cuban, the rest Haitian, is detailed. They couldn’t go home; they weren’t allowed in the US despite that many had relatives in Florida willing to help them on this side of the Straits. By 1995, the Haitians had gone home after the US reinstalled Aristide as president; by 1996, the Cubans were allowed into the US after months of lobbying from influential Cuban-Americans.

It’s perfectly consistent that the Bush administration would choose Gitmo as a prison camp for its uniquely limbo-like legal qualities. But it seems equally likely Rumsfeld would have valued the base staff’s previous two decades of practice on refugees.

Obama Should Veto NDAA to Save the Republic

The political, military industrial, corporate class in Washington DC continues to re-make our constitutional republic into a powerful, unaccountable military empire. On Thursday, the US Senate voted 93 to 7 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 which allows the military to operate domestically within the borders of the United States and to possibly (or most probably) detain US citizens without trial. Forget that the ACLU called it “an historic threat to American citizens”, this bill is so dangerous not only to our rights but to our country’s security that it was criticized by the Directors of the FBI, the CIA, the National Intelligence Director and the US Defense Secretary! For the first time in our history, if this Act is not vetoed, American citizens may not be guaranteed their Article III right to trial.
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Group Calls for Annulment of the APA’s Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics & National Security (PENS) Report

From Boiling Frogs:

Leading scholars and human rights groups from a range of fields — including psychology, medicine, law, military, and intelligence — have joined together in spearheading a broad-based effort to annul and delegitimize the American Psychological Association’s deeply flawed 2005 Report of the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS Report). In a joint declaration the coalition states:

Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical and effective.” With this stance, the APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged- the “do no Harm” standard.

Further, the coalition points out the inherent bias in the Presidential Task Force membership, where six of the nine voting members were on the payroll of the U.S. military and/or intelligence agencies, and five having served in chains of command accused of prisoner abuses. The group cites other significant conflicts of interest by the Task Force’s unacknowledged participants, such as the spouse of a Guantánamo intelligence psychologist and several high-level lobbyists for the Department of Defense, and direct funding for psychologists by the CIA.

The Coalition has launched a petition calling for the annulment of the APA’s PENS Report as part of their joint effort to remove psychologists from torture and abusive interrogations.

The Maintainence Costs of Gitmo

We’ve done a good amount here at Antiwar on Guantanamo, the torture, and the legal black hole that has kept people there without charge or trial for years on end. Not to mention the lies and corruption that came with it. But here’s Amnesty International, as if we needed another reason to close the torture prison.

The main detention facility at Gitmo cost about $220 million to build and, according to the White House, estimated annual operating expenses come in at around $150 million.

To give you an idea of the kind of value for money this investment represents, the Bureau of Prisons noted last year that it cost $27,251 to incarcerate someone in the federal prison system for a year, as compared to an estimated cost of $650,000 per inmate at Guantanamo.

Add to that the development of courtrooms for the Military Commissions at a cost of $13.4 million, Department of Defense spent $2.2 million renovating accommodation for staff and observers involved in the trials, and the Naval Station itself worth an estimated $500 million in part because it’s all spoofed up with sports fields, go-cart tracks, and playgrounds.

Last year, the Washington Post estimated that the total post-9/11 bill for spending on Guantanamo comes close to $2 billion. Yes, that’s $2 billion with a ‘b’ for a prison camp that currently holds around 170 prisoners, more than half of whom the administration would release tomorrow if a suitable country could be found to take them.

In the scheme of America’s budgetary problems, these are paltry sums. The US debt has surpassed the gross domestic product, fast approaching $15 trillion. But it’s a good reminder of how expensive are all the horrible things the warfare state does. What if we added to these costs the cost of all the black sites around the world that we’re not supposed to know about? What about our empire of bases? Certainly the unnecessary, criminal wars would begin to make a dent

Twenty-Four Anti-Torture Activists Acquitted

Breaking: Twenty-Four Anti-Torture Activists Acquitted in Trial for Protest at the US Capitol Calling for Guantanamo’s Closure and the Investigation of Deaths at the Prison.


On Monday, June 14, twenty-four activists with Witness Against Torture were acquitted in Washington, D.C. Superior Court of charges of “unlawful entry with disorderly conduct.” The charges stemmed from demonstrations at the US Capitol on January 21,2010 – the date by which President Obama had promised the closure of the Guantanamo detention camp.

“With his decision, the judge validated the effort of the demonstrators to condemn the ongoing crime of indefinite detention at Guantanamo,” says Bill Quigley, legal adviser to the defendants and the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“Our acquittal is a victory for free speech and for the right of Americans to stand up for those falsely imprisoned and abused at Guantanamo,” says Ellen Graves, one of the defendants. “We tried to shine a light on the unconstitutional policies of the Bush and now the Obama administrations. That light shone brightly today.”

“We will use our freedom to continue to work for the day when Guantanamo is closed and those who designed and carried out torture policies are held to account,” says defendant Paul Thorson.

On January 21, activists dressed as Guantanamo prisoners were arrested on the steps of the Capitol holding banners reading “Broken Promises,Broken Laws, Broken Lives.” Inside the Capitol Rotunda, at the location where deceased presidents lie in state, fourteen activists were arrested performing a memorial service for three men who died at Guantanamo in 2006. Initially reported as suicides, the deaths may have been – as recent evidence suggests – the result of the men being tortured to death (see [the other] Scott Horton, “Murders at Guantanamo, March, 2010, Harper’s).