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PM's daughter co-authors book on torture in US jails abroad

October 25, 2007 21:56 IST

In a strong indictment of the Bush administration's treatment of detainees in its war on terror, a book co-authored by Amrit Singh, the US-based lawyer daughter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asserts that the torture took place because of policy -- not in spite of it.

The book -- Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond -- written by Amrit Singh and Jameel Jaffer, gives a powerful account of the torture of detainees in the prisons outside the US, including the infamous Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, which, it says, resulted from decisions made by military and civilian officials.

'The maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian,' it says, adding that they were reaffirmed repeatedly despite complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that they were illegal and ineffective.

The maltreatment, according to the book, continued even after countless prisoners were abused, tortured or killed in custody.

The book is based on the documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under Freedom of Information act.

'The documents show that senior officials endorsed abuse, sometimes by encouraging as a matter of policy, sometimes by tolerating it and sometime by expressly authorising it,' the authors write.

The documents given in the book show then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was 'personally involved' in overseeing the interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani, a Guantanamo prisoner who was stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators and led around on a leash.

While Rumsfeld did not himself authorise those specific methods, he failed to place a 'throttle' over abusive 'applications' of the 'broad techniques' that he did authorize and that interrogators who used abusive 'SERE' (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantanamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods, the documents show.

They also show that FBI personnel, who complained of abuse at Guantanamo, were complaining of abuse that had been authorised by the Defence Department chain of command.

Some the Abu Ghraib photos showed prisoners being subjected to the very same interrogation methods that Rumsfeld had endorsed for use at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

'It is imperative that senior officials who authorised, endorsed, or tolerated the abuse and torture of prisoners be held accountable, not only as a matter of elemental justice, but to ensure that the same crimes are not perpetrated again,' Amrit Singh and Jaffer write.

When the American media published photographs of US soldiers abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration assured the world that the abuse was isolated and aberrational.

But by quoting government documents, the authors systematically demolish the Bush administration claims, including that abuse took place in spite of policy, not because of it.

The book includes more than 350 pages from government documents concerning the abuse and torture of prisoners. It, according to ACLU, builds on work that the ACLU and its partners have been doing in recent years.

In October 2003, the ACLU -- along with the Centre for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace -- filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in the US custody abroad.

While the government continues to withhold key records, litigation (which is ongoing) has resulted in the release of thousands of government documents totalling more than 100,000 pages, it says.

Amrit Singh is a staff attorney at ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, where she has litigated cases relating to the torture and abuse of prisoners held in US custody abroad, the government's use of diplomatic assurances to return individuals to countries known to employ torture, the indefinite and mandatory detention of immigrants, and post 9/11 discrimination against immigrants.

Jameel Jaffer is a litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union and director of ACLU's National Security Project.

Administration of Torture provides a detailed account thus far of what took place in America's overseas detention centres and why.

Singh and Jaffer draw the connection between the policies adopted by senior civilian and military officials and the torture and abuse that took place on the ground. They also have to collect and reproduce hundreds of government documents -- including interrogation directives, FBI e-mails, autopsy reports, and investigative files -- obtained by the ACLU and its partners through the Freedom of Information Act.

The documents show that abuse of prisoners was not limited to Abu Ghraib but was pervasive in US detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

Even more disturbing, ACLU says, the documents reveal that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy. The documents constitute both an important historical record and a profound indictment of the Bush administration's policies with respect to the treatment of prisoners in US custody abroad, the ACLU says.

Commenting on the book, former US Navy Counsel Alberto J Mora says Amrit Singh and Jaffer remind the administrators that when years ahead continue to test the security, 'we will again be tempted to violate our values in the mistaken belief that we will be made more secure by doing so.'

The authors 'remind us that when test comes, we must find the courage to defend our principles more firmly,' he added.

Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson describes the book as a 'powerful account of devastating effects of deviating from longstanding legal prohibitions on the mistreatment of prisoners.'

'Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh bring to light the grim reality of the torture and abuse of prisoners held in US custody abroad. This book will serve as a historic reminder of the dangers of curtailing human rights protections in the name of national security,' she says.

'After the Second World War, the United States played a leading role in developing the rules that govern the conduct of states during times of peace and war. Simply by letting the facts speak for themselves, Jaffer and Singh show how far the country has strayed from that tradition. They go on to present a compelling case for rebuilding what the Bush administration has torn down,' says George Soros, chairman of the Open Society Institute.

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