In 2004, the American Red Cross charged the U.S. military with intentionally using psychological and physical coercion tantamount to torture at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo (Gitmo).
Prisoners there were: chained in uncomfortable positions for up to 24 hours and left to urinate or defecate on themselves, sexually abused by female interrogators, given forced enemas, and subjected to sleep deprivation and sensory overload.
An FBI inquiry found prisoners at Gitmo had lit cigarettes placed in their ears, besides the occasional beating or choking.
By 2006, Amnesty International accused the United States of committing widespread abuses, including torture and the continued detention of thousands of individuals without a trial. It even called Gitmo “the gulag of our times.”
As poorly as prisoners are treated at Gitmo, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, noted that the United States has been handing over some suspects to countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which are not averse to employing physical torture to gain information that could be passed along to the United States.
Ironically, while Syria in 2012 is being condemned by the international community for torturing its people and conducting a brutal and bloody civil war, the United States had no qualms in handing over its prisoners to Syrian torturers to gather information.
Take the example of Maher Arar, a naturalized Canadian citizen, who changed planes at Kennedy International Airport on Sept. 26, 2002, during his return trip home.
He was seized by U.S. authorities, held in solitary confinement for two weeks, deprived of sleep and food, denied contact with a lawyer or his family, then handed over to Syrian authorities to be interrogated under torture (beaten with a metal cable) and held for 10 months because he was suspected of being a member of al-Qaida. The Syrian authorities cleared Arar of having any terrorist connections.
Arar’s ordeal seems to have been based on nothing more than eating shawarma at a restaurant with a man who may or may not have known another man who may have had an al-Qaida connection.
In 2005, Arar brought a civil suit against the United States, but a three-judge panel dismissed Arar’s civil rights suit in 2008.
Arar appealed, but in 2009 the appeal was dismissed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals based on national security claims made by the Bush administration and extended by the Obama administration.
In 2010, the Supreme Court refused to consider Arar’s case based on President Obama’s then-solicitor general, Elena Kagan’s (now on the Supreme Court bench) usage of overwrought secrecy claims.
Ironically, in 2007, Canada apologized to Arar and paid $9.8 million in compensation. Being American means never having to apologize.
How can the violation of human rights be used in order to bring human rights to former oppressive regimes like Iraq or Afghanistan?
We are left wondering where the moral outrage to torture is. It does not help when Christian leaders like James Dobson (founder of Focus on the Family), Albert Mohler (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Daniel R. Heimbach (ethics professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) support the use of torture.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology.