A contentious senate debate for the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales is expected next week, we speak with Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Michael Ratner about Gonzales’ role in laying the legal groundwork for torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. [includes rush transcript]
- Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is the author of Guantanamo: What the World Should Know and his writings appear in a new book by Seven Stories press titled America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the "War on Terror." Last week he was awarded the Columbia Law School’s Medal for Excellence, the university’s highest award to its alumni.
AMY GOODMAN: We talk to now the Center for Constitutional Rights president Michael Ratner about the latest news of torture and how it relates to the man who could be Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael.
MICHAEL RATNER: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we start off with these hearings and what you think was raised and wasn’t, what’s important to understand about Alberto Gonzales?
MICHAEL RATNER: I think the clip you played of President Bush being asked, "What about cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment? Isn’t there a loophole where you can still do that basically inhumane treatment to foreigners overseas?" and he answers, "We have a policy against torture," really says a lot of it, because what Gonzales said here is that, "Yes, I’m against torture,"—and we can talk about that in a second—"but I don’t think that the prohibition of the torture convention prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment applies to foreigners held overseas." Well, you can drive a huge truck through that. That’s basically saying if you’re a noncitizen held outside the United States, you can be treated inhumanely. What does it mean? It’s defined in the law. All this kind of stuff—stress positions, stripping, hooding—all that kind of stuff is considered cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, violates international law, violates treaty commitments of United States. So this is not just about what Gonzales and this government has done in the past. This is about what they’re doing right now and currently. So that’s the first thing I want to say about Gonzales.
The second thing is we’re putting in someone who really has his hands deep in the blood of the conspiracy of torture in this country. He is the one who wrote the memo saying the Geneva Conventions shouldn’t apply. He is the one who asked for the memo redefining torture so narrowly that the worst abuses we’ve seen would not constitute torture under his definition. And here’s what they’ve done to this guy. Not only has he basically said he agreed with those conclusions, but they’ve put him in as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. That means that there’s now a conspiracy to continue the cover-up so that this does not go to the higher-ups at all, so that nobody—not Rumsfeld, not down from him, not Cambone, not Gonzales—will obviously ever be investigated. These are the people responsible. These are the people who lower-level soldiers are really angry at, because they’re the ones who got led into this by these guys at the top.
AMY GOODMAN: What about these guys who have been released from Guantanamo? Four men from Britain have just returned home, and an Australian, as well.
MICHAEL RATNER: You know, I got called just as Mamdouh Habib arrived in Australia, and I have to tell you, it was incredible to me and incredibly moving. After three years in a prison where this man, Habib, was—first he was sent to Egypt and tortured for six months in Egypt, electroshocked, the whole thing, and then recent revelations by Mr. Habib about the use of women and even, whether it was real or fake, menstrual blood, rubbing it on his face as a way of making him unclean, taking away water from him so that he couldn’t wash himself and that therefore he couldn’t communicate with God in any sense at all. These are recent revelations that have come out. And, in fact, recently there’s—the last couple of days, there are some revelations about one of the people who was in Guantanamo, one of the interrogators or a soldier, trying to write a book about this and revealing how women were used in this way. That’s Mr. Habib’s story: Torture in Egypt, women being used in a sexual way.
AMY GOODMAN: Women interrogators?
MICHAEL RATNER: Right. These are women interrogators who either stripped in front of the men or in this case it was menstrual blood, whether it was real or not, we don’t know. But they certainly, the Muslim men may have thought it was real, and it was done specifically, specifically to make the Muslim man feel unclean so that he could not pray in the Muslim way.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael, there have also been reports in the past week that the conditions at Guantanamo got so bad for some of the detainees that there were attempts and a protest in terms of suicide hangings. Do you have any information on that or any speculation about that particular—
MICHAEL RATNER: Yeah, there’s been—there’s been attempts at suicide throughout the Guantanamo period, and serious ones. And the United States decided they don’t like the word "suicide," so they call them self-injurious behavior or, you know, words that don’t use that. But this one happened about a year ago. It was 23 people who attempted to commit a mass suicide, got stopped. Some of them had to be hospitalized. But that is about the conditions. When we talk about Alberto Gonzales, we cannot separate him from Guantanamo. Guantanamo is where this stuff began. It’s where they—it’s an experiment in torture, in cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment. And it’s not just Habib in Australia. You know, the other people who were released, the other four British people, also subject to all of this kind of stuff, from dogs to stripping to the whole range of stuff. And the sad thing is, it’s still going on. It’s still going on, whether it’s in Guantanamo or Iraq.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But it seems that the more that the revelations come out about how systemic this kind of treatment was, the less attention it is getting in the U.S. corporate media compared to obviously when the Abu Ghraib scandal first broke. You’re getting less and less actual coverage, or even outrage, about how systemic this has been.
MICHAEL RATNER: You know, I don’t get it. It’s not only systemic. I mean, you had Gonzales essentially admitting it, I mean, essentially saying, "This is the way we do it. This is what we’re willing to do." And these guys are going to confirm this guy. I mean, I think almost anybody who votes for him could conceivably be, if this were Germany, part of a conspiracy to commit and cover up war crimes that are being committed at the highest-level officials. We’re having that vote next week. We have a Senate that’s 55 to 45 in favor of the Republicans. I don’t know what the vote will be like. That eight Republicans—that eight Democrats finally voted against him—I think had there been a screaming outcry in the beginning against Gonzales by all these—all human rights organizations, all the Democrats, it’s possible the guy could have been beaten. But I agree with you: The media has been a disaster here. I’m saying to you right now, no one is complaining in any of the major media about the fact that we are saying we can inhumanely treat people right now, as we speak, who are noncitizens all over this globe.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Germany, Michael Ratner, you went to Berlin. We spoke to you when you filed a suit against Donald Rumsfeld, the war secretary, the defense secretary. He is now not going to a conference in Germany in February because the German government did not quash this suit. Can you explain?
MICHAEL RATNER: There’s actually a lot going on here in Germany right now. There was an article in The Washington Post today that said that the Pentagon denies he isn’t going because of the lawsuit. What I think has really happened here is they floated a—not a rumor, it may be true he’s not going—but floated it as a way of putting pressure on the German government to say, "Get rid of this lawsuit. This is serious business. We’re considering not sending Rumsfeld there." But on the high—on the level of calling them, "No, no, no, this isn’t what this is about." And I think what—the conference is February 11th and 12th. It’s the major security conference for Europe. The secretary of defense has gone for 40-some years. My view is, we’re reaching a point in this lawsuit in Germany where something’s going to give. We’re filing major new papers, actually, today and Monday. One of them, of course, names Alberto Gonzales now as an additional defendant in the case. I mean, his testimony is one that really they could have put into a war crimes trial in Germany and said, "You’re convicted." Someone told me this incredible story about Germany and what happened with torture. One of the key people, Keitel, who got a death sentence in Germany, was the man who scrawled on a memo to the high command about Russian soldiers, that said, "Geneva Conventions? Obsolete rubbish." Remember the words that Gonzales used to describe Geneva: "obsolete." And when they sentenced Keitel to death, what they said was, "One of the reasons we’re giving you the death penalty is for writing—is for basically saying the Geneva Conventions are obsolete." So, this is a very serious issue in Germany. We hope to have some really big news about this case in terms of our filing next week. But one of the things we’ve done is add Alberto Gonzales. Again, this is crunch time. I mean, if there’s listeners out there who want to support this case or oppose Gonzales, go to the center website, it’s ccr-ny.org. Send a letter to the German prosecutor, send a letter to your Senator about Gonzales. It’s just critical. I mean, we should not be implicated, as Americans, in what our government is doing right now.