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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2006-10-16/2006-10-16-838696

by Quand Washington légalise la torture

Washington Legalises Torture

Translated Saturday 28 October 2006, by B. G.

The recent bill legitimises arbitrary detention and threatens civil liberties.

“Washington legalises torture.”

USA: Congress has just approved a bill legitimising the detention of certain detainees for an arbitrary period. This means it violates the very foundations of democracy.

In response to the Bush administration’s commands, the Republican majority and several Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate have opened the way to a legitimisation of torture, as well as detention without a time limit, without charge or trial, for foreign nationals, whether residents of the USA or not. Also authorised from now on is the use of indirect proof or evidence obtained by torture.

To this end, in the general language framework of Bush’s “lasting war on terror”, a new category of suspect has been created by the law: the “ alien unlawful enemy combatant”. An unusual qualification which totally sidesteps general principles of law. So in fact, what can the criteria be of the “lawful” or “unlawful” nature of an “enemy combatant”, and who will decide? [note 1 - trans]

The text voted through by Congress carries the title: “The Military Commissions Act of 2006”. These commissions, which are a kind of substitute for military tribunals, will be made up of at least five military personnel, lawyers or otherwise. They will have absolute freedom to pass secret judgement on all foreign nationals suspected of endangering or trying to endanger the interests of the United States.

The accused cannot claim the right to choose his defence counsel, nor can he know the charges against him, or, if the need arises - “when the security of the United States is at stake” - the nature of the evidence brought against him. Able to be detained without time limit, there is not even any right to demand a trial.

The presumed terrorist may not question either the legality or the conditions of his detention, or the “techniques” of interrogation which may have been used on him.

The Act confers on the US President the “authority” to “interpret the significance and applicability of the Geneva Conventions” banning torture and defining the rules of war, notably the rules relevant to the treatment of prisoners. These cannot be invoked “as a legal source before any US tribunal”. In a more general way, section V of the Act stipulates that

“No person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”


“no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.”

The heavy style does nothing to relieve the anti-democratic, freedom-stifling and terrifying nature of such legislation. It confers to the executive power the right to fix the rules of detention and interrogation of prisoners, and to define what is torture and what is not. Now the White House has always refused to indicate precisely which interrogation practices are prohibited. At the same time, all the abuses committed by the CIA and the military in detention centres either stateside or overseas, are forgiven. Worse still, confessions obtained through torture perpetrated in foreign prisons on behalf of the United States are also legally admissible from now on.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims to have proof of numerous acts of violence perpetrated by Federal Agents against foreign detainees, such as “soaking the prisoner’s hand in alcohol prior to setting fire to it; administering electric shocks; inflicting repeated sexual violations including sodomy with a bottle”; and the new practice of waterboarding, “where the prisoner is tied to a plank with their head lower than their feet and water is poured over their head, provoking an unbearable sensation of drowning.”

Let’s not kid ourselves: the so-called Military Commissions Act threatens all foreigners, whether actual combatants captured with their weapons in hand, or a simple visitor imprudent enough to provoke, even unknowingly, the American Intelligence Services. In the same way, the USA’s Patriot Act violates the elementary rights and freedoms of US citizens.

How can the regime in power in Washington still aspire to impose on the rest of the world its idea of what it persists in calling “Democracy”? A model that certain European politicians, however, would like to import, raising the spectre of “insecurity” or the “terrorist threat”.

Michel Muller

Translator’s Note 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unlawful_combatant has a lot of useful discourse.
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h109-6166 has the full text of the Act.

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