Marjorie Cohn: US Continues Complicit in Torture


Marjorie Cohn, Law Professor, Author, Former President of The National Lawyers Guild

Below is the first paragraph of Marjorie Cohn’s article in the American Constitution Society Blog:

“Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is facing court-martial for leaking military reports and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico brig in Virginia. Each night, he is forced to strip naked and sleep in a gown made of coarse material. He has been made to stand naked in the morning as other inmates walked by and looked. As journalist Lance Tapley documents in his chapter on torture in the supermax prisons in The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations and suicide; it is considered to be torture. Manning’s forced nudity amounts to humiliating and degrading treatment, in violation of U.S. and international law.” (not bold in original).

I read the Geneva Conventions that are also US law a few years ago and discovered that humiliation of prisoners is illegal as well as any form of torture. Marjorie Cohn, professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former President of the National Lawyers Guild, edited The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, a collection of essays.  She has been among the forefront of legal authorities who have spoken out strongly against US torture.  Her work in this area is invaluable.

She continues in the article with the absurd statement by Obama who consulted the Pentagon about its own practices.  [He should have instituted an independent investigation.  The man is a constitutional lawyer and knows full well what the US is doing, that it is illegal, and he continues to authorize it.]  Cohn also says that this is like Bush deferring to the government lawyers who authorized the torture during his administration.

The following paragraph is one that I appreciated very much:

“Although there is general consensus that torture does not work – the subject will say anything to get the torture to stop – what if it did work? Would that justify torturing people into providing information? Philosopher John Lango’s chapter asks whether an extreme emergency can ever trump the absolute prohibition of torture. Lango rejects the nuclear weapon and ticking bomb scenarios as ‘fantasy’ and declares, ‘Terrorism can never warrant terroristic torment.’ He suggests a protocol to the Convention against Torture to fortify the moral prohibition of torture and cruel treatment.”

Whatever happened to this country that has allowed many people here to believe that torture is ever justified?  Cohn addresses the point in this essay and the book expounds on that point.

The last paragraph of this essay says:

“In The United States and Torture, an historian, a political scientist, a philosopher, a psychologist, a sociologist, two journalists and eight lawyers detail the complicity of the U.S. government in the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners both at home and abroad, and strategies for accountability. In her compelling preface, Sister Dianna Ortiz describes the unimaginable treatment she endured in 1987 when she was in Guatemala doing missionary work while the United States was supporting the dictatorship there. The first step in changing policy is to understand its history and the motivation behind it. I hope this book will accomplish that goal.”

You can read the full article here on the American Constitution Society Blog.  The book itself sounds well worth reading.  We definitely need to see how to hold the country and its leaders accountable for widespread ongoing torture both abroad at Guantanamo and Bagram and in other black sites as well as inside the US in prisons like the one where Bradley Manning is held and in many others where the world’s largest prison population is also subject to torture.

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