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Torture Team: How the United States, Under Bush, Came to Abrogate the Geneva Conventions

November 02, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 168

Torture Team by Philippe Sands 598 words Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, hardcover, 254 pp, $26.95

If there were a literary casting agency and it was assigned the task of finding a writer to investigate and craft a book on just how the United States came to abrogate the Geneva Conventions and inaugurate torture at its prisons, it could not find a more qualified prospect than Philippe Sands. Sands is an attorney, a British barrister who has taught law in the United States, and an author in his own right. Moreover, he has been personally involved in high-profile international torture cases, those of Chile's General Pinochet, Liberia's Charles Taylor and the British detainees at Guantanamo. Plus, he is witty and very good with his pen.

As one would expect, Sands is a stickler for facts and exact definitions; Torture Team is researched and laid out as meticulously as evidence in a court case. And it may well be exactly that as Sands has kindly provided a copy to Judge Baltasar Garzon of Spain, the same judge who had General Pinochet arrested and extradited from England for crimes against humanity.

As signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, since 1988 under Reagan, the U.S. is obliged to prosecute torturers found in its own territory or extradite them to other countries for prosecution. In early 2010, after a ten-month inquiry into the facts, Judge Garzon determined that a full criminal investigation is warranted. Barrister Sands' helpfulness could bear fruit.

Because his interest is the law, Sands interviewed key legal players in the Bush administration and the U.S. military, something an American journalist could not have done between 2001 and 2008. "I've got a particular bugbear about lawyers," he told the New Yorker. "If not for lawyers, none of these abuses would have occurred."

Torture Team was published in 2008, prior to the horrific reports released in April 2009 on the repeated waterboarding and other tortures of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Zubaydah. So Sands could not address them or the revelation that their relentless, cruel interrogation was allegedly directed by the White House to coerce "proof" of a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terror attacks of 9/11 -- to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Sands' focus is on Detainee 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose 53-day interrogation log was published by TIME Magazine March 3, 2006. In retrospect, he got off relatively easy compared to the agonies of KSM and Zubaydah. In any event, according to Sands, the six U.S. attorneys comprising the torture team, Bybee, Yoo, Haynes, et al, could well face prison time for their role in counseling the Pentagon and the White House to dismiss long-established international law.

During his two years of interviews, Sands asks whether the torture actually elicited any militarily useful information. His analysis of the answers he received: no. Sadly, because of the U.S. use of torture, anti-American fanatics now have a perfect terrorist recruiting tool. Does the fact that the U.S. no longer tortures captured detainees eliminate that tool? No. We did it and the all-too-graphic photos have been seared permanently into the brains of three generations of the Islamic population. The blowback from this dark era will endure for decades.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, recommends this book: "... read it to learn how, under George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney, America abandoned its strongest pillar of power - its own integrity."

Reviewed by John Stickler. What was it like in the years after Hiroshima, for a student in the United States growing up in the shadow of the mushroom cloud? One young man, who graduated from high school in 1955, captured those youthful fears eloquently in a series of poems collected now in a 50-page volume. Growing Up Afraid: Poems of the Atomic Age 1953-1963 by John C. Stickler is available here:

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