The ugly truth in the mirror

From declassified FBI documents to a new report from Amnesty International, will the U.S. confront mounting evidence of its brutal practices in the war on terror?

By Mark Follman
Published May 26, 2005 11:50AM (EDT)

"Is it really necessary at this late date to point out that the problem is torture and abuse, not dubiously sourced reports of torture and abuse?" asks Hendrik Hertzberg in the current issue of the New Yorker, regarding the recent uproar over Newsweek's botched Quran-abuse story.

Wednesday brought two more versions of the same answer to Hertzberg's rhetorical question about U.S. practices in the war against terrorism. (Previous versions available here.) One came via declassified FBI documents obtained by the ACLU, which show that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained repeatedly to FBI agents about disrespectful handling of the Quran by military personnel and, in one case in 2002, said interrogators had flushed a Quran down a toilet. (Incidents of Quran desecration have not been verified to date; another FBI memo released by the ACLU detailed a false allegation of Quran desecration, while a former U.S. military translator told the Times that "detainees actually liked to complain about how the Quran was handled because they viewed it as a cause to rally around." But it's indisputable that tactics intended to degrade or humiliate detainees based on their religious beliefs were both approved by the U.S. government and have been used by the U.S. military.)

The other came via Amnesty International, whose 2005 annual report on human rights around the world blasted the U.S. for setting an egregious example by, among other practices, snubbing the Geneva Convention, holding hundreds of people without trial -- or even charges -- at Guantanamo and other military bases, and "subcontracting torture" to foreign governments.

"When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity," wrote Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan in an introduction to the report. "Guantanamo," she added, "has become the gulag of our time."

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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