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Proof of torture

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
An explosive debate is raging in the USA over whether those who engaged in or authorised torture during George W. Bush’s administration should face criminal charges. President Barack Obama has prohibited “harsh” interrogation practices, but has also announced he does not to intend to have CIA official prosecuted for torture. He authorised the release of memos showing that practices, which the Geneva Conventions define as torture, were approved by the Bush administration.

Manfred Nowak, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, says the USA would violate international law by not prosecuting CIA officials. Under the Convention against Torture, countries have a legal obligation to investigate and prosecute allegations of torture. In addition to the now-notorious practice of “waterboarding” – pouring water over a prisoner’s face to induce the sensation of drowning – other harsh techniques such as sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours and forced standing or cowering in “stress positions” were widely applied.

A report of the US Senate confirms that harsh interrogation was specifically approved by the Bush administration as early as 2002, first by the Attorney General and shortly after by then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. According to the declassified report, the methods were initially used only in Guantanamo Bay, but later also in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this view, Rumsfeld bears responsibility for the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In the meantime, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge, is pursuing a criminal investigation into what was going on at Guantanamo,where six citizens of Spain were detained. So far, no individual person is blamed for wrongdoing, but the Center for Constitutional Rights, a human-rights lolobby in the USA, hopes that will yet happen, putting pressure on Obama to prosecute culprits too. Earlier, Spain’s Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpido had stopped another case, in which Garzon had been investigating the role of former Vice President Richard Cheney and other high-ranking officials of the Bush era. Conde-Pumpido had argued that this first case had been of a political nature. (cir)