My wife and I recently rented a movie entitled Rendition. It told the fictional story of an Egyptian born American citizen who was unjustly accused of being a terrorist and shipped off to a prison overseas where he was subsequently subjected to various means of torture including waterboarding, electric shock and beatings.
Last Sunday night, in a case of life imitating art, 60 Minutes told the story of Murat Kurnaz, a German citizen, who was picked up on a bus in Pakistan three months after 9/11, and flown to a U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Kurnaz was kept in an outdoor pen in sub-freezing weather and interrogated daily. American soldiers shocked him with electricity, and he was hoisted up on chains and suspended by his arms from the ceiling of an aircraft hangar for five days. After six weeks in Afghanistan, Kurnaz was loaded onto another plane and flown to Guantanamo.
Once there, a military judge charged that Kurnaz had been picked up near Osama bin Laden's hideout in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban. This was a complete fabrication since it was the U.S. that flew him to Afghanistan.
At Guantanamo Kurnaz suffered months of interrogations, beatings and physical cruelty, which included going without sleep for weeks and solitary confinement for up to a month in cells that were set up to punish him with extreme conditions. All this despite the fact that six months after Kurnaz reached Guantanamo, U.S. military intelligence admitted they had no evidence that he was associated with al Qaeda or that he was any threat to the U.S.
German intelligence agents wrote their government, saying that the U.S. intended to release Kurnaz in a few weeks. Yet, Kurnaz was kept at Guantanamo Bay for three and a half years after this memo was written in 2002. He was finally released when the German Chancellor requested that President Bush release him.
A U.S. federal judge later ruled the Guantanamo military tribunals violated the prisoners' right to a defense, and she singled out Kurnaz's case as an example.
Yesterday, a recently declassified 2003 memo held that federal laws against torture could not prevent the President, as commander in chief, from authorizing the abuse of detainees. Incredibly, the memo argues that the Geneva Accords don’t apply to a president’s actions in wartime, when, of course, the whole point of the accords was to prevent torture during wartime.
This memo, which attempts to give the White House, the Defense Department and the CIA cover for acts of torture is further evidence that officials at the highest levels of our government have broken international and constitutional law, particularly the right of Habeas Corpus. All those involved in this abuse of power have committed war crimes and should be brought to justice.