Substantive challenges to Bush's rampant abuses of executive power have become so rare that it was truly a shock to learn the US Supreme Court ruled that military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay are illegal, under both military law and the Geneva Convention.
The same day the Supreme Court issued its ruling, another revelation hit the press with much less of a splash. On Thursday, Salon.com broke Mark Benjamin's story about an important document found among the thousands of pages of Defense Department pages obtained by the ACLU in a Freedom of Information Act request.
In his article "Torture Teachers," Benjamin explains the special function of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school at Fort Bragg, NC. Officially, the SERE school provides training to elite US troops in how to resist torture. Benjamin's evidence shows that SERE instructors have also been teaching students how to be effective torturers.
A March 22, 2005, sworn statement by the former chief of the Interrogation Control Element at Guantánamo said instructors from SERE also taught their methods to interrogators of the prisoners in Cuba.
"When I arrived at GTMO," reads the statement, "my predecessor arranged for SERE instructors to teach their techniques to the interrogators at GTMO ... The instructors did give some briefings to the Joint Interrogation Group interrogators...."
There are striking similarities between the reported detainee abuse at both Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and the techniques used on soldiers going through SERE school, including forced nudity, stress positions, isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and exhaustion from exercise.
Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, said, "This is the missing link," proving that "that the SERE training was in fact used, for a time at least, as a basis for interrogations at Guantánamo." [Disclosure: I am an employee of Physicians for Human Rights.]
This missing link--this evidence that US torture practices were cultivated in an elite military training program at Fort Bragg, NC--ought to make it clear the extent to which the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are the function of concerted US policies in the US War on Terror.
The missing link should also be occasion to counter again what Naomi Klein has called "Our Amnesiac Torture Debate," the glossing over by liberals and conservatives, alike, of the long history of the use of torture by the US. Klein cites, as one example, the evidence, gathered by Alfred McCoy, of how
monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture," based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.
The significance of the Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld is therefore not that the judicial branch is finally beating back the executive excesses the Bush administration (though the legal victory is important for those reasons).
When torture is covertly practiced but officially and legally repudiated, there is still the hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail.
Klein's point is, essentially, that the rule of law provides seekers of justice with a vehicle for demanding that our governments live up to objective standards of behavior. The Hamdan ruling provides some hope for the rule of law in the US.
I'd like to find the spot behind the White House, where they've got the flag hung out to dry. I'll wave it this Fourth of July the same as I always do: in celebration of the patriots who believe enough in this country--in its people--to demand, often at great risk to themselves, that the US live up to its stated values. A country that produces such seekers of justice--that's something to wave a flag for.