The Guardian June 16, 2004

Justifying torture

The Washington Post has revealed the existence of 
reports written by US government experts in 2002 and 2003 
justifying torture, but US Attorney General John Ashcroft has 
refused to turn them over to Congress.

According to the Post, the US Justice Department commented 
in an August, 2002 memorandum addressed to the White House that 
resorting to torture in the battle against terrorism could be 
justified by arguments of legitimate defence.

The Post affirmed that in August 2000, the memorandum was 
sent by the office of the Justice Department's legal counsel in 
response to a request by the CIA and was directed to the White 
House counsel, Alberto Gonzalez.

The memorandum, the Post adds, also argues that to inflict 
moderate or temporary harm does not necessarily constitute 
torture, which "should be equivalent in intensity to the pain 
that accompanies a serious physical injury, such as damage to an 
organ, impeding a bodily function or even death."

That 2002 memorandum served as the basis for a secret report in 
March 2003 that was prepared by Pentagon lawyers for Defense 
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, after commanders at the Guantanamo 
Naval Base (on illegally occupied Cuban territory) complained 
that they were not getting enough information out of prisoners.

Torture highlights

A few examples to illustrate the history of Washington's use 
of torture:

In Iran, the CIA instructed SAVAK, the Iranian secret police, in 
torture techniques. The New York Times quoted Jesse J Leaf, a 
former head Iran analyst for the CIA, "I do remember seeing and 
being told of [CIA personnel] who were there seeing the rooms and 
being told of torture. And I know that the torture rooms were 
toured and it was all paid for by the USA."

The notorious Operation Phoenix, set up by the CIA to wipe out 
the infrastructure of the Vietnamese Liberation Front, subjected 
suspects to torture such as: electric shock to the genitals of 
both men and women, and insertion of a six-inch dowel into the 
ear, which was tapped through the brain until the victim died.

The "School of the Americas" is an infamous CIA training school 
where many South American military personnel are still taught 
torture techniques. Under public pressure, SOA officials released 
training manuals that offered instruction of various methods of 

In response to the torture revelation in Iraq, George W Bush said 
"that's not the way we do things in America", but there is plenty 
of evidence to the contrary. In US-colonised Puerto Rico, 
Socialist and Vieques activist leader Angel Rodriguez Cristobal 
was arrested at a protest then taken to the federal detention 
facility in Tallahassee, Florida where he was discovered dead 
from hanging. An independent examination of Christobal's body 
revealed that he was also tortured.

In New York City, Abner Louima is the best-known recent example 
of what can happen at the hands of US law enforcement, who has 
been granted greater powers to terrorise poor communities. In a 
country with a prison population of over two million, the highest 
incarceration rate in the world, torture is a well hidden but 
common event.

Torture is traditional in the way this country is ruled. Since 
the earliest days of US history, physical terror was used against 
Native peoples and African Americans to maintain their 
subjugation at a time when the rulers of the country were 
building their political power and accumulating wealth by 

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