“By turning its back on international law, America has set a dangerous precedent. In many ways it has legitimized war crimes, justifying torture as a necessary evil,” one political analyst tells MintPress News.
WASHINGTON — The United States was traumatized by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, shocked by the notion that dark powers might seek to destroy freedom and democracy, the very principles upon which the nation was built. Yet it is the broader world which bears the scars of America’s war on terror.
Reeling from the attacks on its soil on 9/11, the U.S. government declared itself at war against terror and anyone who dared to stand in its way. Although international law stipulates that every nation has the inherent and absolute right to defend its people and territorial sovereignty, Washington’s desire and will to do so has often translated to grave legal infringements on the ground — against people, against nations and against international law.
“In just over a decade America’s war on terror has become a euphemism for aggravated human rights violations, which is a bit ironic considering Washington has claimed the moral high ground against groups such as al-Qaida and ISIS,” Marwa Osman, a political analyst and lecturer at Lebanese International University in Beirut, told MintPress News.
“In order to fight terror, the so-called ‘free world’ has committed as many, if not worse, atrocities than the very people and groups it so despises. Rendition, torture, unlawful arrests, unlawful imprisonments, the list goes on and on,“ Osman continued.
Though President Barack Obama has often stated his dedication to defending freedom and democratic values wherever and whenever people rise up against oppression, this sentiment has lost some of its luster now that Washington’s modus operandi against terror has become public knowledge.
In December, a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report recounted in unsparing detail the CIA’s post-9/11 program to detain and interrogate those suspected — often erroneously — of terrorism between 2002 and 2006. The report details instances in which prisoners were tortured, misleading or altogether false information about classified CIA programs was disseminated to the media, government oversight and internal criticism impeded, and the program mismanaged. It also revealed the existence of previously unknown detainees, as well as the facts that more detainees were subjected to harsher treatment than was previously disclosed and that more forms of torture were implemented than previously disclosed.
The 6,000-page report, which took five years to compile and cost the American government $50 million, remains largely redacted. Indeed, only 525 pages have been released.
Though some argue that the need can sometimes justify the means, especially when millions of innocent civilians stand in harm’s way, the report clearly concludes that the CIA failed to disrupt a single terrorist plot from 2002 and 2006. Still, U.S. officials have yet to pull the plug on America’s black sites
Could it be that in its pursuit of democracy and in the name of self-defense, the U.S. became the very monster it so fervently vowed to destroy by creating a legal black hole in which only the U.S. can maneuver freely?
The right to self-defense
The legal premise that all nations have a right to self-defense has taken on a new dimension over the past decade, at least as far as the U.S. is concerned.
As Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of law at the Notre Dame Law School, established in “Research Handbook on International Conflict and Security Law,” “Humanity has always recognized that individuals should have the right to defend themselves from violence. In international law this basic normative intuition is codified for states in the UN Charter Article 51.”
While Article 51 continues to act as a legal matrix, it is its legal reach and the nature of self-defense which the U.S. has not only challenged, but reformed.
Since its inception in 1945, the Charter of the United Nations has become the most authoritative document on national self-defense. Yet American scholars and government officials have often attempted to revisit this concept, looking for means to expand the right to use force to either match their own requirements or to justify their actions.
Most notably, prominent American lawyer Derek Bowett challenged Article 51 in 1958 in his book, “Self Defense in International Law,” in which he argues that the use of threat of force by any state can be a delict, an approved sanction, or a measure taken in self-defense, on the assumption that states have an unlimited right to go to war.
Bowett’s theory was overturned by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1986, in the case Nicaragua v. United States. The ICJ ruled that the U.N. Charter rules on self-defense had entered into customary international law. The court even pointed to references by the U.S. characterizing the prohibition on the use of force as a peremptory norm of international law, known by jurists as jus cogens. The ICJ emphasized the limits on self-defense found in Article 51 and in general international law beyond the U.N. Charter, especially in the form of the principles of necessity and proportionality.
The 1986 ruling still holds, but the U.S came to challenge the core principle of self-defense in 2002, when it declared a global war in self-defense against terrorism. In its 2002 National Security Strategy report, the George W. Bush administration introduced the notion of preemptive self-defense when it announced it would reserve the right to strike at any threats — immediate or potential — to safeguard national security. This would include terrorist threats and threats posed by nuclear weapons programs, among a host of others.
Despite a general legal consensus that Article 51 does not support the right to attack in self-defense in situations other than an armed attack, the U.S. nevertheless decided to walk a fine line as it pursued its covert war program.
America’s covert war
In the wake of 9/11, reports emerged that individuals — including U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals — were being picked up from around the world to be held captive incommunicado by the CIA.
“Rather than go through the usual legal channels, U.S. officials decided to bypass international law and throw alleged terror suspects in legal black holes with no oversight other than their own and more importantly no accountability,” Osman, the political analyst, said.
As reported by Reprieve, a U.K.-based nonprofit organization focused on exposing such illegal practices, there are “extrajudicial proxy detention and military detention in secret prisons around the world. America’s network of secret prisons spanned the globe. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001, the US rendered people to prison camps in Afghanistan, the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia, Djibouti, Egypt, Syria and Poland, among many other countries.”
While the CIA acted in defiance of international law, it did so under the strict authorization of the Pentagon. On Sept. 17, 2001, Bush issued a classified presidential directive that sanctioned such operations and detentions.
Five years into the program, in September 2006, after mainstream media reports alleged that the U.S had begun operating outside the parameters of international law, using torture and other unlawful means to collect intelligence, Bush publicly acknowledged what many officials came to refer to as undisclosed locations abroad, arguing that the U.S. had every right to use them.
As the Bush administration came clean it also confirmed it would transfer 14 “high value detainees” to the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, once again advocating national security while acknowledging the practice of “ghost detentions.”
Yet while Bush confirmed the existence of black sites, he categorically denied ever sanctioning torture. “The U.S. does not torture. I have not authorized it and I will not,” he emphasized, quickly adding, “This program has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they have a chance to kill.”
Whether or not torture was indeed expressly ordered, it is now apparent that it was systematically practiced.
As noted by Amnesty International, “In the years since 9/11, the U.S. government has repeatedly violated both international and domestic prohibitions on torture and CID [cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment] in the name of fighting terrorism.”
“Numerous instances of torture and CID by U.S. personnel – confirmed by U.S. officials who took part in or witnessed these events – have been fed by a climate of impunity and the failure of either the executive branch or Congress to conduct a comprehensive, impartial, and independent investigation into detention policies and practices,” the rights group continued.
In his book, “El Monstruo. Memorias de un interrogado,” journalist and writer Pablo Pardo recounts with chilling detail the testimony of Damien Corsetti, a U.S. soldier involved in interrogations in Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Corsetti confessed to perpetrating many abuses during his years of service, including poking bound prisoners in the face with his penis and making threats of sexual assault. Charged with dereliction of duty, maltreatment, assault and performing an indecent act with another person, Corsetti was acquitted of all charges in June 2006, yet a number of “cleared prisoners” remain stranded at Guantanamo Bay, trapped by red tape.
War and an emerging industry
“A decade into America’s covert war, secret prisons and torture have become the norm. So much so that neither the American public nor the international community have been able to muster more than quiet dismay before the sheer gravity of Washington’s crimes against humanity,” warned Mojtada Mousavi, editor in chief of Iran’s View.
“What the world fails to understand is that by acting unlawfully, by degrading civilians and trivializing civil liberties, the U.S. government has eroded the very foundations of its democracy. In this story the U.S. cannot be both the hero and the villain. By turning its back on international law, America has set a dangerous precedent. In many ways it has legitimized war crimes, justifying torture as a necessary evil,” Mousavi added.
The U.S. government is not alone, though. A new industry has emerged since 2001, as defense contractors have become complicit in rendition cases, enabling and assisting the CIA in moving, capturing and delivering assets across the globe. America’s covert war has become a lucrative business indeed, one which operates above and beyond any legal scrutiny or accountability.
Abu Zubaydah is a case in point. According to Reprieve, Zubaydah was falsely suspected of being a high-value member of al-Qaida and the organization’s head of operations in Pakistan. He was transported from Pakistan to Thailand to Poland in 2002 by DynCorp Systems and Solutions to be delivered to CIA operatives at a cost of $330,000.
With fees reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, private contractors have been eager to maintain close ties with the U.S. government.
“In 2002, the United States Central Intelligence Agency began using private contractors to transport prisoners to secret ‘black sites’ around the world, where they were held incommunicado, interrogated and tortured,” according to an investigation by Reprieve.
The investigations by Reprieve’s Renditions Inc. have focused on Computer Sciences Corporation, DynCorp, Universal Weather and Aviation, Rockwell Collins and Richmor Aviation so far.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed out in an interview with Democracy Now in December, “The CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were not an effective way to gather intelligence information.”
If what Feinstein says is true, then why carry on? More importantly, what will befall those officials who signed off on rendition orders and torture orders?
“How can a nation invoke the principles of law and claim to be democratic when everything it does flies in the face of ethic and morality? And though it is difficult to reconcile morals with wars, somehow, somewhere a line should be drawn in the sand,” Osman, of Lebanese International University, said.
“Otherwise, how else to describe U.S. crimes but by comparing it those groups it labelled as terrorist? ISIS rapes and tortures, the U.S. rapes and tortures. ISIS kidnaps men and women, the U.S. rendered men and women.
“How do we tell which is evil and which is good? When do intentions speak louder than actions?”