Americans who support the continued use of torture in what they call the “war on terror” say that they want to get tough on terrorists. What they don’t understand is that the torture of alleged terrorists by the American government may be making it more difficult to bring terrorists to justice.
U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings discussed this problem yesterday on the floor of the House of Representatives. He reflected upon the testimony from Physicians for Human Rights about the impact of torture upon prisoners, but then moved his focus to the impact on the American system of justice. Hastings commented,
Over the years, we have raised concern about the nearly constant reports of torture and abuse in Chechnya. We have pressed Turkey to provide detainees with prompt access to lawyers and medical personnel, because we know that when people are held incommunicado, they are more likely to experience torture. We have expressed alarm regarding the number of people who walk into Uzbekistan jails on their own two feet–and who have been returned to their families in boxes.
Last week, it was my sad duty to hear representatives from Physicians for Human Rights describe the torture and ill-treatment some detainees have experienced at the hands of U.S. personnel. As I noted then, I certainly expected to hear about the medical and psychological impact of this torture on the individuals whose cases were investigated by Physicians for Human Rights. But, coincidently, there was a different kind of impact on display last week, when the U.S. also opened its first war crimes trial since World War II.
In the trial of Salim Hamdan, alleged to be Osama bin Laden’s driver, the military judge overseeing the case found it necessary to exclude from evidence several statements of the defendant because they were obtained under what the military judge deemed “highly coercive” conditions. Another one of the government’s efforts to bring a defendant before a military tribunal had already been put indefinitely on hold, reportedly because the evidence in the case cannot be disentangled from the impermissible methods that were used to extract it. In other words, the use of abusive interrogation methods has undermined the government’s ability to prosecute people suspected of terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.
We at Irregular Times have made the point many times that coercive interrogations are blatantly unconstitutional. American supporters of torture don’t seem to care much about the Constitution, though. Congressman Hastings speaks to them. Torture muddies the effort to determine who is a terrorist and who is not, and can prevent the punishment of people who have truly committed violent crimes against Americans.