In a confidential report, the Red Cross concluded that the U.S. has been intentionally using psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. We go to Germany to speak with Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is filing a criminal complaint charging a group of U.S. officials with war crimes in Iraq. [includes rush transcript]
The International Committee of the Red Cross has concluded that the U.S. has been intentionally using psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. This according to a report in the New York Times.
The conclusion comes in a confidential report written by the Red Cross based on information the group obtained during a visit to Guantanamo in June.
The report also concluded that the military had a set up a system at Guantanamo devised to break the will of the prisoners , and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions.” The U.S. has rejected the charges.
Meanwhile in Germany, the Center for Constitutional Rights is filing a criminal complaint today on behalf of four Iraqi citizens who allege that a group of U.S. officials committed war crimes in Iraq.
The Iraqis claim they were victims of electric shock, severe beatings, sleep and food deprivation and sexual abuse. Among the officials named in the complaint are Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Former CIA Director George Tenet. Germany’s laws on torture and war crimes permits the prosecution of suspected war criminals wherever they may be found.
- Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Berlin to Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Welcome to Democracy Now!
MICHAEL RATNER: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what this lawsuit is all about?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, Germany has the best single law probably in the world right now for prosecuting alleged war criminals. You can prosecute them anywhere in the world. They have universal jurisdiction and we decided to come to Germany partly on the basis of that law and partly on the basis that three of the people involved in torture are actually in Germany. Ricardo Sanchez, who is the general in charge of all the of the military bases in Iraq, as well as the Iraq War during the Abu-Ghraib period, his Deputy Major Wojdakowski and Colonel Pappas, they are all at U.S. military bases in Germany, so that gives you another handle. They are actually here. They are people who we allege were deeply involved in the abuses and torture that took place. Germany is different than the United States in the sense that you can actually bring a criminal complaint and the prosecutor has to do something with it. He has to either investigate it, go ahead and do something, indict people, or he could reject it, but in that case you can always go to a court. We decided this, really, we have been working on it for a number of months. The German complaint is 160-some pages, quite detailed. Most of it is based on the public record of what these people have authorized over a period of years and we came here really for two reasons. One is the U.S. is not doing anything to investigate the chain of command going up. The investigations are a complete fraud. There are only criminal indictments at best against low-level officials and there’s nowhere you can turn to international courts; the U.S. isn’t in the ICC. So this is really, I consider this a major and important initiative and it will really say whether the German law has the teeth that it should and whether or not big torturers like the United States can get away with setting an agenda that is taking us into the Dark Ages. Coming on the heels of, of course, the Guantanamo article in the Times, it’s quite extraordinary. Coupled with the attempts to keep Bush out of Canada right now that are being made on the grounds that their immigration law doesn’t allow war criminals for people who violate laws of war into Canada. We’re really, I think, trying to make I think this world right now as uncomfortable for these people in the administration as we can.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, can you talk about this report on the front page of the New York Times today, “Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse at Guantanamo,” a confidential report calls practice tantamount to torture. You are representing some of the detainees at Guantanamo.
MICHAEL RATNER: Yes. I was really, I mean I was really—I wasn’t pleased at what I saw in the report, but I have known about this for a long time. In fact they talk about what happened to three of our clients, the three from the United Kingdom who told me their stories in March that, March of this year, that track exactly what happened, what the New York Times article says from shackling to isolation to stripping, a whole range of conduct both psychological and physical that now the Red Cross says, as of June 2004, that are tantamount to torture and what’s extraordinary to me is this is like the emperor has no clothes. Everybody in the world knows the U.S. is engaging in everything from cruel inhuman and degrading treatment to torture. They are doing it around the world, they’re doing it in Guantanamo, they’re doing it in Baghram, they’re doing it in Iraq. And United States insists as Donald Rumsfeld says in that article, as the Pentagon spokesman says, we treat people humanely. The world has become utterly Orwellian. War is peace, torture is humane treatment. That article is just extraordinary because it does detail exactly what happened to our clients, the Center’s clients in Guantanamo and it’s one of the reasons we are here in Germany. When you can call that treatment humane treatment, we have a world and we have a government, we have a government that has to be changed. Something has to be done that these people have to be held accountable. In 10 years or 20 years from now, I don’t want to see us then finally write “nunc amas” like they did in Argentina after all of the tortures that took place there. We should do something about it now. And what’s amazing is, this is not in the past. This is continuing today. What’s going on in Guantanamo, what’s going on in the detention facilities around the world is continuing today. And our highest level government officials are authorizing it, condoning it and then trying to say oh, no, it’s a few bad soldiers. But that’s not the case.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, the Red Cross report goes on to say, quote, “The construction of such a system whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.” I wanted to ask you about that linked to Congress expanding its threats to cut off aid, both military and civil aid, to countries which refuse to guarantee immunity to Americans from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it’s all related, Amy. What I have always said about our refusal to even join the International Criminal Court and now our desire, or our efforts to enter special agreements with these countries and to cut off aid, it’s related to our highest government officials know that they are engaged in basic violations of the laws of war and humanitarian law and they don’t want to be prosecuted anywhere in the world and they want their soldiers to be able to carry those illegal acts out all over the world without, with impunity from prosecution. And it goes right to the Gonzales memo that was written in January 2002 when he said well, we better not say the Geneva Conventions apply because if the Geneva applies, we can be charged with war crimes under Geneva and the best defense is to simply say they don’t apply. So what we’re doing around the world is we’re coercing countries with our political, economic, and military power into saying the United States is not just exceptional in its many ways it thinks but is exceptional even in the sense that the laws prohibiting torture should not apply to it. It’s an extraordinary moment. One that is taking us back really to the Middle Ages.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally Michael Ratner, President Bush making his first state visit to Canada today and Lawyers Against War, a legal organization, has called on the Prime Minister, the Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin, to issue a warrant for President Bush’s arrest for breaking the country’s Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
MICHAEL RATNER: What they have actually done in Canada is say that because Bush is president, he can’t actually be prosecuted right now in Canada until he’s out of office, but that he should be barred from entering Canada because alleged war criminals, people who violate humanitarian law, cannot come into Canada and he should be barred from coming into Canada and it is true, their law is very clear on that, and if the Canadians have any guts, that’s what they’ll do. But unfortunately, although the world knows that this country, the United States, is now harboring torturers at the highest level, so far we haven’t seen people stand up. I want to say one more word about the German case. We’re going to need support all over the world to make sure that prosecutor really does an investigation. If people visit the CCR web site at ccr-ny.org, they will in a few hours find a letter they can send directly to the German prosecutor urging the German prosecutor to begin a serious investigation. But really we are facing a moment that’s a very bad moment on terms of what the U.S. is doing but a very good moment in that lawyers and other activists all over the world are really pursuing these tortures to the end of the earth. We called them in our legal jargon, enemies of all humankind who can be brought to justice wherever found. And that is what we have to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Michael Ratner is President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is speaking to us from Berlin, Germany.