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Context of 'December 27, 2002: Human Rights Watch Asks President Bush to Investigate Allegations of Detainee Abuse; Bush Administration Not Interested'

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The United States begins a practice known as “rendition,” the official purpose of which is to bring suspected foreign criminals to justice. Suspects detained abroad are “rendered” to courts in the United States or other countries. In some cases they are transferred to countries with poor human rights records and tortured. Some are convicted, even put to death, without a fair trial. [Washington Post, 1/2/2005, pp. A01] The frequency of renditions will increase dramatically after the September 11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01]
Gore: "Go Grab His Ass" - The policy is proposed by Richard Clarke, head of the Counterterrorism Security Group, who is aware of a suspect he wants to have rendered. However, White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler opposes the policy, saying it violates international law, and demands a meeting with President Clinton to explain the issue to him. Clinton appears favorable to Cutler’s arguments, until Vice President Al Gore returns from a foreign trip. Gore listens to a recap of the arguments and comments: “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.” However, the first operation fails.
Comment by Clarke - Clarke will later write: “We learned that often things change by the time you can get a snatch team in place. Sometimes intelligence is wrong. Some governments cooperate with the terrorists. It was worth trying, however, because often enough we succeeded.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 144]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Lloyd Cutler

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In a front-page article, the Washington Post reports on the US intelligence program of rendition (see 1993) and reveals that US agents are using “stress and duress” techniques to interrogate captives detained in Afghanistan. Persons being held in the CIA interrogation center at Bagram Air Base who refuse to cooperate “are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours in black hoods or spray-painted goggles,…. held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights’ subject to what are known as ‘stress and duress’ techniques,” the article says. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] Each of the ten current national security officials who were interviewed for the article “defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] It quotes one official who reasons: “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job…. I don’t think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] Likewise, another official acknowledges that “our guys may kick them around a little bit in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath.” A different source comments, with reference to the medical services provided for captives, that “pain control [in wounded patients] is a very subjective thing.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Finally, in a very explicit remark, one of the officials interviewed by the Post, who is described as being directly involved in the rendition of captives, explains the program’s logic: “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] After the report is published, Maj. Stephen Clutter, the deputy spokesman at Bagram, denies the allegations (see December 29, 2002), claiming that the Washington Post article was “false on several points, the first being that there is no CIA detention facility on Bagram.” He says, “The accusation of inhumane treatment is something that I can clearly refute. The things that they talked about, the inhumane conditions… are things that do not go on here.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Stephen Clutter

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Human Rights Watch writes to President Bush about the allegations of torture reported in the Washington Post (see December 26, 2002), asking that the allegations be investigated immediately. [Human Rights Watch, 12/26/2002; BBC, 12/26/2002; CBC News, 12/27/2002; Washington Post, 12/28/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] White House spokesman Scott McClellan denies that US interrogation practices violate international law and indicates no interest on the part of the administration to investigate the allegations. “We are not aware we have received the letter.… [W]e believe we are in full compliance with domestic and international law, including domestic and international law dealing with torture.” He adds that combatants detained by the US are always treated “humanely, in a manner consistent with the third Geneva Convention.” [Washington Post, 12/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Scott McClellan, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A US military spokesman for Bagram, Maj. Steve Clutter, says allegations reported in the Washington Post (see December 26, 2002) are unfounded. He claims that the Post article was “false on several points, the first being that there is no CIA detention facility on Bagram.” He says, “The accusation of inhumane treatment is something that I can clearly refute. The things that they talked about, the inhumane conditions… are things that do not go on here.” [Agence France-Presse, 12/29/2002] “There is a facility run by the US Army, however, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that persons under control of the US Army have been mistreated,” he explains. “A doctor examines them daily. They have access to medical care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have dental care. They sleep in a warm facility and have three meals a day that are prepared according to Islamic cultural and religious norms. When they arrive, they go through an interview process to determine whether they are enemy combatants or have information that can help us prevent terrorist attacks against Americans or attacks against US forces. During this interview process, they are treated as humanely as possible. We routinely allow visits, about once a week, from the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure their treatment is humane. If they are deemed to be enemy combatants or pose a danger, they become detainees. If they are not, they are ultimately released.” [Reuters, 12/28/2002]

Entity Tags: Stephen Clutter

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Carolyn Wood.Carolyn Wood. [Source: CBC]On January 22, 2003, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood receives a Bronze Star for “exceptional meritorious service” as the head of military intelligence interrogators at Bagram. She and her small platoon of 15 interrogators from the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion returned from Afghanistan to their base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina earlier in the month. On May 8, 2003, Wood receives her second Bronze Star. [Knight Ridder, 8/21/2004] Wood was previously in charge of the US air base at Bagram, where detainees have alleged torture and where at least two detainees died as a result of physical abuse (see November 30-December 3, 2002) (see December 26, 2002) (see December 5-9, 2002). Wood and her battalion will be redeployed to Iraq and handle interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison while abuses go on there (see July 15, 2003). She will implement nearly the same interrogation rules used in Bagram (see July 15, 2003).

Entity Tags: Carolyn A. Wood

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, asks when the Obama administration intends on closing down the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The facility has been the site of repeated torture and brutalization of prisoners (see January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, December 26, 2002, Beginning 2003, February 2003, Spring 2003, October 2004, and May 20, 2005). Greenberg calls it a “far grimmer and more important American detention facility” than Guantanamo.
Little Information on Prisoners - Greenberg is unable to elicit specific information about how many prisoners are currently incarcerated at Bagram, who they are, where they are from, how they are classified—prisoners of war, enemy combatants, “ghost” detainees—how they are being treated, what human rights organizations have access to them, or what, if any, legal proceedings they have been put through. “It turns out that we can say very little with precision or confidence about that prison facility or even the exact number of prisoners there,” she writes. “News sources had often reported approximately 500-600 prisoners in custody at Bagram, but an accurate count is not available. A federal judge recently asked for ‘the number of detainees held at Bagram Air Base; the number of Bagram detainees who were captured outside Afghanistan; and the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens,’ but the information the Obama administration offered the court in response remains classified and redacted from the public record. We don’t even know the exact size of the prison or much about the conditions there, although they have been described as more spartan and far cruder than Guantanamo’s in its worst days. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the prison, but it remains unclear whether they were able to inspect all of it. A confidential Red Cross report from 2008 supposedly highlighted overcrowding, the use of extreme isolation as a punishment technique, and various violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Plans to Expand Facility - Greenberg says that the government is planning a large expansion of the Bagram facility, which is envisioned as holding up to 1,100 prisoners. She recommends:
bullet The administration stop being secretive about Bagram and release complete information on the prisoners being held there, or at the very least admit why some information cannot be released. “Otherwise, the suspicion will always arise that such withheld information might be part of a cover-up of government incompetence or illegality.”
bullet The reclassification of all detainees as “prisoners of war” who are protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Currently, they are classified as enemy combatants, as are the prisoners at Guantanamo, and so, in the perverse universe of the Bush administration, free from any of the constraints of international law. The idea that the conventions are too ‘rigid’ for our moment and need to be put aside for this new extra-legal category has always been false and pernicious, primarily paving the way for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”
bullet The rejection of the idea of “ghost prisoners” at Bagram or anywhere else. “The International Committee of the Red Cross must be granted access to all of the prisons or prison areas at Bagram, while conditions of detention there should be brought into accordance with humane treatment and standards.”
bullet The re-establishment of a presumption of innocence. “The belief that there is a categorical difference between guilt and innocence, which went by the wayside in the last seven years, must be restored. All too often, the military brass still assumes that if you were rounded up by US forces, you are, by definition, guilty. It’s time to change this attitude and return to legal standards of guilt.”
Greenberg concludes: “In the Bush years, we taught the world a series of harmful lessons: Americans can be as cruel as others. Americans can turn their backs on law and reciprocity among nations as efficiently as any tribally organized dictatorship. Americans, relying on fear and the human impulse toward vengeance, can dehumanize other human beings with a fervor equal to that of others on this planet. It’s time for a change. It’s time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base, and deal with it.” [TomDispatch (.com), 3/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Geneva Conventions, Obama administration, Karen Greenberg

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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