For those of us Americans who oppose torture, including the use of water-boarding during the interrogation of detainees, it is a national priority to address the past human rights abuses committed by U.S. military personnel and military contractors in Iraq, Afghanistan and the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. If the present system inherited from the Bush administration continues, there should be criminal convictions of military personnel for human rights abuses committed during the course of the "war on terror." However, Congress seems to be in no mood to chase U.S. military operatives who have committed human rights abuses. Nor does the White House seem inclined to investigate, let alone prosecute, human rights abuses. Hopefully, the Supreme Court might be found to be a haven for rights. Just maybe. So, realistically then, aside from our appropriate rage and continuing protest, what can be done to reform how we protect our national interests while upholding human rights standards?
Our military people believe that the present system of detaining and interrogating people suspected of being connected to terrorism allows for C.I.A. and Blackwater types to enjoy relative immunity while the average soldier runs a risk of going to jail for following orders. Thus, in cases where someone with good information is picked up and he or she needs to be interrogated properly and efficiently, we have a split in American military operations at a critical time. The prisoner, it is assumed, has real information which would save lives and help our soldiers avoid bodily harm. How best to get this information is the question. Who is responsible for that work? How can the United States operate so that the rules of warfare are not violated? And how can the United States credibly assert that it is not torturing detainees? The average soldier is not likely to know the rules and appropriate procedures for interrogating detainees. The C.I.A. and Blackwater types are not to be trusted without oversight and enforceable guidelines. A clear-cut process is needed.
My answer is a new kind of 'SWAT' team (Stop Water-boarding and Torture) for the military. I believe that a fundamental and structural change in the military is required to ensure that some degree of transparency and accountability is maintained for the treatment of detainees. The military should set up the SWAT school (unlike the School of the Americas which has taught torture methods) in order to teach military and C.I.A. personnel how to best get information and data from a prisoner while conforming to international human rights standards. The use of military contractors for interrogation of detainees should be banned outright, unless they are made to conform to the same standards as that of our enlisted personnel.
The SWAT school will work to develop efficient methods for training people to achieve the goal of getting information that will help prevent terrorist activity and/or bodily harm while keeping in mind human rights standards. Presently, this task is left to the darker side of our intelligence agencies or to some untrained soldier. Because of their lack of training or the lack of accountability, a person charged with interrogating a detainee can resort to the use of violence. Because interrogators are under pressure from their superiors to deliver good information, they can feel compelled to use whatever means necessary to extract information from those in their custody. When an interrogator cannot deliver, he/she may think that torture is the means to get what they feel they need to relax the pressure from a commanding officer. Furthermore, battle field conditions sometimes do not allow for the luxury of time to obtain information from a prisoner. So the closest soldier gets the nod to do the dirty work. He or she knows that, in their case, if they violate the rules, prosecution can result. If left to the darker side of our intelligence agencies, there is little threat of prosecution and so operatives can torture detainees with impunity.
What is needed is a training center unit that can develop people for deployment wherever the U.S. military is engaged in combat and the capture of prisoners. The established center would set appropriate standards with input from Congress and the White House. With clear standards for human rights protection in place, prosecutions would result without question in a case where human rights are violated during the course of an interrogation. Once this "SWAT school" is fully implemented into the operations of the military, the world might believe the U.S.A. when it says it is not torturing people in its custody. It would restore the balance between protecting our national interests and maintaining human rights standards for individuals.
Follow Jack Healey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HRAC