America admits suspects died in interrogations

By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
07 March 2003
       American military officials acknowledged yesterday that two prisoners captured in Afghanistan in December had been killed while under interrogation at Bagram air base north of Kabul – reviving concerns that the US is resorting to torture in its treatment of Taliban fighters and suspected al-Qa'ida operatives.
       A spokesman for the air base confirmed that the official cause of death of the two men was "homicide", contradicting earlier accounts that one had died of a heart attack and the other from a pulmonary embolism.
       The men's death certificates, made public earlier this week, showed that one captive, known only as Dilawar, 22, from the Khost region, died from "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease" while another captive, Mullah Habibullah, 30, suffered from blood clot in the lung that was exacerbated by a "blunt force injury".
       US officials previously admitted using "stress and duress" on prisoners including sleep deprivation, denial of medication for battle injuries, forcing them to stand or kneel for hours on end with hoods on, subjecting them to loud noises and sudden flashes of light and engaging in culturally humiliating practices such as having them kicked by female officers.
       While the US claims this still constitutes "humane" treatment, human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have denounced it as torture as defined by international treaty. The US has also come under heavy criticism for its reported policy of handing suspects over to countries such as Jordan, Egypt or Morocco, where torture techniques are an established part of the security apparatus. Legally, Human Rights Watch says, there is no distinction between using torture directly and subcontracting it out.
       Some American politicians have argued that torture could be justified in this case if it helped prevent terror attacks on US citizens. Jonathan Turley, a prominent law professor at George Washington University, countered that embracing torture would be "suicide for a nation once viewed as the very embodiment of human rights".
       Torture is part of a long list of concerns about the Bush administration's respect for international law, after the extrajudicial killing of al-Qa'ida suspects by an unmanned drone in Yemen and the the indefinite detention of "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a number of whom have committed or attempted to commit suicide.
       President Bush appeared to encourage extra-judicial solutions in his State of the Union address in January when he talked of al-Qa'ida members being arrested or meeting "a different fate". "Let's put it this way," he said in a tone that appalled many, "they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."