President Obama has made it clear since taking office that no one will be punished for torture. As I have repeatedly written before, that’s reprehensible. But what about compensating torture victims?
According to the recent report issued by the Senate intelligence committee, torture under the Bush Administration was more brutal and widespread than previously understood. According to CIA torturers themselves, many of the victims were as innocent as innocence gets. Mistranslations of Arabic names, for example, led to the torture of people wrongly identified as anti-American militants.
Former State Department official under Bush Lawrence Wilkerson, admitted that Gitmo was never filled with evil America-haters: “It became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantánamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all. We relied upon Afghans…and upon Pakistanis, to hand over prisoners whom they had apprehended or who had been turned over to them for bounties, sometimes as much as $5,000 per head. Such practices meant that the likelihood was high that some of the Guantánamo detainees had been turned in to U.S. forces to settle local scores, for tribal reasons, or just as a method of making money.”
Dick Cheney says he has no problem with torture of innocents “as long as we achieve our objective” (whatever that is), but in a quiet moment away from a Fox News microphone, even he has to have his doubts about freezing and beating an Afghan taxi driver to death – a man who had no ties whatsoever to terrorist or militant groups.
It’s too late to save the murdered cabbie, but not Mohamed Bashmilah, a 46-year-old Yemeni whom CIA documents certified to have been “wrongfully detained.” After receiving the news that his ordeal had been officially validated by the torture report, he asked his lawyer: “Would there be an apology? Would there be some kind of compensation?” She was “not able to answer,” reported The New York Times. “No apology was forthcoming from the CIA.”
Well, why not?
Reparations would fall far short of justice. But remuneration would be better than nothing.
Torture victims should be compensated for lost wages, medical expenses, counseling, and other direct costs of their detention and physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the United States. In addition, they are entitled to receive substantial punitive damages for the physical and emotional distress that they, as well as their families, endured in American custody. Punitive damages should be sufficient not only to guarantee that they should never have to work again, but to impose a financial burden on the responsible government agencies (CIA, DOD, etc.) harsh enough to prompt future leaders to hesitate before resorting to similar violations of fundamental human rights.
“You break it, you own it,” General Colin Powell supposedly told George W. Bush before invading Iraq. He called it the Pottery Barn Rule.
We broke hundreds, probably thousands of men under torture.
We are morally responsible for them. We can’t erase what we did to them, but we can do our best to make it right, or at least as less wrong, as possible. If you have been tortured by the US government, you have earned a US passport and a free place to stay in the United States for the rest of your life. Job counseling? College degree? Anything you want or need, you receive.
American law allows victims of torture to seek redress in US courts regardless of where the torture took place – even in a foreign country, and even if both the victims and their assailants are foreign nationals. As usual, the US pompously requires others to uphold high legal standards while it wallows in moral sludge.
Thirteen years after becoming a torture nation, the US government still hasn’t issued apologies or compensation to victims by the United States, including those it admits should never have even been detained in the first place.
Because the US Supreme Court has denied the right of detainees to sue the government, no torture victim has had his day in court. To the contrary, the privatized goon squad/defense contractor CACI International has sued torture victims.
The Obama Administration has assured the United Nations that it complies with Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty obligation to which the US is a signatory. Article 14 requires governments to issue financial redress to torture victims. In practice, however, there is no evidence that any victim of torture by the United States after 9/11 has received one red cent.
Other countries do better. In late November, a Chilean court ordered that country’s government to pay $7.5 million to 31 political dissidents subjected to hard labor after the 1973 coup by General Augusto Pinochet. In June 2013 the British government agreed to pay £19.9 million to over 5,000 Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse during the Mau Mau insurgency of the 1950s.
American exceptionalism apparently applies even to local municipalities. It has been well established that Chicago police tortured countless innocent men into confessing to crimes that they didn’t commit, yet the city still refuses to establish a compensation fund for its victims.
Money for torture victims? It’s much much much less than the very least we can do — yet we won’t even do that.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
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