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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

Dr Singh's daughter blasts Bush administration

June 22, 2007

New York-based lawyer Amrit Singh, a fierce critic of the Bush administration's alleged abuse of power in condoning torture and abuse, believes violent measures have resulted in some Americans feeling it is okay to racially profile South Asians, Sikh Americans and Arab Americans, whom they perceive as terrorist threats.

Amrit, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] youngest daughter, is a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants Rights Project and one of the US's leading civil rights advocates. She told Rediff India Abroad in an exclusive interview that rising xenophobia had resulted in an unprecedented incidence of racial profiling of and hate crimes against South Asian, Sikh Americans and Muslim Americans.

Singh, who never talks to the press, chatted with this correspondent briefly only after extracting a promise that no questions would be asked about her father's relationship with President George W Bush, and that all inquiries would be limited to civil rights issues.

She said there was certainly a connection between abuses perpetrated at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the detention centres in Afghanistan and Guantanamo "and the backlash against communities perceived in the United States to be associated with terrorism, when in fact, they are not." These, she stressed, are largely law-abiding communities.

"If you forget for one second about focusing on interrogations techniques under very tightly controlled circumstances. I think US soldiers were operating in a very uncontrolled situation using literally -- we have documents showing that (it was) literally -- techniques they adapted from the movies on (detainees) they thought were a threat or possessed actionable intelligence, when in fact they didn't, Singh said."

Thus, she argued, that this was a case of stereotypes being resorted to in the absence of any concrete information to rely on. "The result is a massive sort of infringement of the victims' rights."

Singh reiterated that there was a connection "between the kinds of contact that occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan and the kind of stereotyping that goes on within the United States with respect to people who are of a certain colour and background."

She said the unprecedented rise in racial profiling and hate crimes against South Asians, including Sikh Americans, "is a huge problem," and noted that like most Asian Americans "there is a lot of fear about reporting," these incidents.

The trickle-down effect of condoning torture had led to manifestations of bigotry and prejudice, she said, adding, "I do think it's an overall culture of the abuse of power," by the Bush administration.

Singh, however, pointed out that "hate crimes are slightly different because they are committed by private individuals usually. It's just law enforcement that doesn't necessarily set the conditions that would help prosecute these kinds of crimes and help in the reporting of these crimes," so that national statistics could be compiled of an increasing number of incidents against particular communities.

She was speaking after serving as the lead panelist in a seminar on Legal Standards and the Interrogation of Prisoners in the War on Terror, organised by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, DC.

Earlier, at the conference organised by the Centre's Division of International Security Studies, she made a slide presentation of documents confirming the torture of individuals held in US custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. "These documents relate to a Freedom of Information Act request that the ACLU filed in October 2003," she said.

"We received close to nothing by way of a response from the federal agencies with which we filed these requests for about six or seven months," up until April 2004 when "the Abu Ghraib photographs became available," after which some of the ACLU's requests slowly and grudgingly began to bear fruit.

She said they saw "documents related to treatment of individuals held in US custody abroad and documents relating to the rendition of individuals by the United States to countries known to employ torture.

"We have still not received anything on rendition, but we have received a large number of documents, mostly from the Defence Department that shed some light on what actually was going on," she said, adding that more documents were expected.

"The Department of Defence was forced to turn (the documents received) over after we filed a lawsuit and it was after a federal judge told the DoD that they have to respond that we slowly started getting documents more than a year after we filed that request," she said, adding that the litigation is pending in federal court in the southern district of New York.

Singh said the remaining documents are of critical to shed light on what the administration's policies were regarding interrogation techniques and detainee treatment.

She slammed the Bush administration, saying that even though it "has consistently taken the position that what happened at Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with policy was adopted by the Defence Department or the administration," the documents proved otherwise.

Singh acknowledged that while "we don't have anything by way of a smoking gun evidence, but certainly the circumstantial evidence that we have obtained through the use of documents suggests that the removal of clothing that was routinely depicted in the Abu Ghraib photographs was certainly a technique that was authorised by (then Defence) Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld," and so were the stressful positions techniques that the photographs show of individuals shackled to railings, doors and cell walls.

She argued that "the most important thing about these documents is that the torture debate must be formed by what is going on on the ground," and noted that "while all the facts are not presently available to us, we know that what was authorised for use in Guantanamo certainly spread around in Iraq and Afghanistan in forms that were perhaps much worse than what was originally intended."

Singh said although some documents showed that these techniques were approved for use over the Federal Bureau of Investigation's objections, which had said these tactics had produced no actionable intelligence of any utility, the agency was more worried about protecting itself.

"Nonetheless, we have numerous other documents that show that it's the FBI and the army's own criminal investigation task force that began injecting these harsh interrogation techniques applied in Guantanamo from late 2002 onwards." As evidence, Singh spoke of the documents revealing the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners that was "witnessed specifically by FBI agents."

Thus, she argued that "again, quite apart from whether or not this amounts to torture, is a somewhat irrelevant question. The administration has consistently taken the position that the allegations of prisoner abuse were concocted." and referred to by Rumsfeld as "hyperventilation."

"But the documents revealed eyewitness accounts of FBI agents which cannot be dismissed quite as easily as the nameless people who are locked up for years without any access to the public of any kind to be able to tell their story," she said.

Singh said the documents unambiguously proved "that torture did happen and there are a large number of government autopsy reports that torture happened," and that the army itself had labeled the death of some detainees in Iraq as homicides.

An alumnus of Cambridge University, Oxford University and Yale University, from where she received her BA in economics, M Phil and her JD respectively, Singh also was a lecturer in economics at Oxford -- also, her father's alma mater -- and later at Yale, where she was a visiting Fellow. From 1996 to 1998, she was an economist with the International Monetary Fund and then served as judicial clerk to Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum of the US District Court, southern district of New York.

Singh has fought numerous immigrants' rights cases with a special focus on post 9/11; these include ACLU vs Department of Defence, in which she is seeking the disclosure of photographs of prisoner abuse by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan; ACLU vs DoD, which seeks records related to treatment of detainees in US custody abroad; Ali vs Rumsfeld, brought on behalf of Iraqi and Afghan plaintiffs alleging torture while in US custody abroad; and Samadov vs Hogan, in which she is lead counsel in a case challenging the indefinite detention of a Uzbek prisoner in immigration custody.

Last year, on the eve of President Bush's visit to New Delhi, The Wall Street Journal noted how Singh was one of Bush's harshest critics and quoted Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University as saying, 'I tease her father that he has a diversified portfolio -- he gets along with President Bush while his daughter criticises him.'

First published in India Abroad

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