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PTSD & Moral Sanction 

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Posted On: January 15, 2001          Updated On: February 03, 2002
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

PTSD & Moral Sanction
By Terence T. Gorski
January 22, 2002

Abstract:  This article by Terry Gorski explores the issue of the relationship between moral sanction, personal moral justification, and the severity of PTSD and anxiety symptoms in trauma survivors.  It points out that helping people to resolve moral conflicts related to the personal role and social role that they and their society plays in terrorist acts may be important in the management and resolution of terrorist- related PTSD, traumatic stress, and anxiety.  A series of articles related to human rights and prisoner detention of prisoners is presented to illustrate the issues.

There appears to be a link between the level of moral sanction and moral justification and the severity of PTSD episodes related to terrorist acts.  

Moral sanction is the explicit or implicit approval by a legitimate and credible government or non-governmental organization (NGO) of specific acts of violence as unavoidable, necessary, good, right, just, and proper.  

Moral justification is the personal conviction that the experiencing or witnessing of violence and suffering is personally meaningful, socially valuable, and spiritually justified.  The greater the perceived moral sanction the stronger the moral justification.  

The general principles governing the relationship between moral sanction and moral justification appear to be as follows:

1.    The higher the level of moral sanction (credible arguments from legitimate authority that the violence, sufferring and death are right, just and proper), the higher the level of personal moral justification (the belief that my pain and sufferring is somehow valuable, worthwhile, and has meaning).  

2.    People with high levels of of moral justification operating in a climate that successfully provides strong moral sanction for the acts of violence and sufferring of the victims are likely to experience less severe PTSD and manage PTSD symptoms more effectively than those who have low levels of personal moral justification.  

When doing critical incident stress management it is important to inquire into the personal meaning that involvement in the critical incident had for the person.  This can often be determined by asking the following series of questions:

1.   Where were you when the terrorist event occurred?

2.   What happened?  What happened next?  (Develop a sequence of events that make up a situation map of the terrorist act.  Help the person to objectify the events so they can be remembered rather being re-experienced in a flashback.)

3.   Empathize with the person's pain and sufferring by saying something like this:  

    "What I'm hearing you say is that you were deeply affected by this.  Is that correct?"

    If the person  says yes, say something like this:  "It seems to me that you've experienced a lot of physical and emotional pain as a result of what you experienced?  Is that correct?  

    If the person  says yes, say something like this:  It also seems to me that you are still sufferring as a result of being involved these horrible experiences?

    Then ask:  "What does this experience mean to you?"  You can explain it like this:  "You've been involved in a situation of horrible violence.  You've been deeply affected physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  You've experienced a lot of physical and emotional pain.  You're still suffering as a result of what you experienced.  In your own mind, how do you make sense out of all of these things?  How do you explain all of this to yourself?  How do you explain it to others?  Do you think its possible for any good to come out of these horrible events?

4.   Ask the person what they are doing to take care of themselves and the people they love.

The goal of this line of questioning is to give the person permission to think about the meaning of this experience for themselves and those they love.  My experience has been that people who believe that the violence they experienced was morally sanctioned by legitimate authority are more likely to find a strong meaning and purpose in their pain and suffering that makes it more easy to manage.  As a result they are more likely to handle it well and recover quickly.  

If the credibility of the legitimate authority providing the social sanction begins to diminish, the feeling of personal moral justification also begins to diminish.  As the level of person moral moral; justification goes down, a painful inner conflict begins to emerge.  Part of the person holds onto a moral justification even if it doesn't fit the facts.  Another part of the person fights back by finding evidence that the moral sanction was flawed and their personal involvement was not justified.  This can lead a person to develop a sense of guilt (based on the belief that I have done something wrong) and shame (based on the belief that I am somehow inherently damaged or flawed as a human being as a result of my involvement in these acts.  The inner conflict, shame, and guilt raise stress and defocus the person from effectively responding to their situation and participating in realistic and appropriate self-care activities.  As a result their other symptoms of traumatic stress and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) tend to get worse.

The process of doing a moral inventory and coming to terms with the basic "goodness" or "badness" of their involvement can help settle the cognitive emotional dissonance and encourage a process of self forgiveness and self-acceptance that normalizes their reaction to the event and diminishes the intensity of shame and guilt.

It is also important to make a conscious determination of the "rightness" and "wrongness" of what others did.  Seeing other people as bigger than life heroes who can do no wrong brings a short term sense of pride, but in the long-run can diminish self-esteem by leading to the logical question of "Why couldn't I have acted like that?"  The reverse is also true.  Seeing other people as totally evil can promote intensive anger and rage directed at the "evil ones" by engaging in acts of revenge or vengeance.  These tendencies can motivate people to engage in self-defeating behaviors and acts of revenge.  This leads to adverse consequences and increased shame and guilt.

The level of credible moral sanction is often shaped by the media in response to specific issues reflecting the question of overall morality.  The key question that begins to surface is this:  Who is really the victim and who is really the victimizer?  In our attempt to protect ourselves and bring the "evil ones" to justice have we gone to far?  And in going to far have we lost the moral high ground and lowered ourselves to their level?

The moral questions usually begin surfacing at about three to four months after a major act of public violence.  The first manifestation is often a phenomena of survivor guilt which starts with the question: "Why did I survive when so many others died?  What right did I have to live?"  These questions can lead to a train of thought that produces the conclusion that "If I were a good person" I would have died trying to save my colleagues, friends, and families.  The fact that I didn't die trying to save them means that I am weak, cowardly, bad, or defective as a caring and responsible human being."  

When people confront moral dilemma's they experience inner conflict.  Part of them is saying one thing and another part of them is saying something else.  Here's an example of a typical inner conflict related to Post traumatic Stress:  

Position #1:  We are good and they are bad.  We are justified in acting violent because they acted violently against us first.  What we're doing is right and just because these people are different from us.  They are the other and don't deserve the inherent rights that belong to normal human beings.  They have become evil.  They are not people.  They are things that deserve to be punished, to suffer, and to die.  The proof that they're all evil is the fact that they see us and the violence we are using to defend ourselves as evil.   

Position #2:  We're not as good as we think we are.  We're doing some terrible things in seeking revenge for the violence inflicted on us.  In many ways we're stooping to their level and becoming as bad or worse than they are.  

By working with both sides of this inner conflict and helping the person to find a morally acceptable view of what has happened, how they responded, and what what they are now thinking, feeling, and doing can resolve inner conflict, lower stress, and help the person to find a moral and spiritual frame of reference that allows a peaceful detachment and the ability to respond appropriately, realistically, and morally.

Individually each person exposed to acts of terrorism must work through this process.  Collectively, every society or culture must also work through these issues.  

I've attached a series of artciles that dramatrize different points in this moral conflict as it arose in the aftermath ofg the September 11th 2000 terrorist attacks on America.  As you read these article try to stay calm and detached and notice the two opposing points of view and the emerging indicators of a resolution as a code of morality emerges capable of containing and resolving the conflict. 

Remember, these issues are often kept as emotionally loaded secrets by people with the most severe symptoms of PTSD and anxiety disorders.  They are not only traumatized, they are question the their value and moral integrity as people and struggling to validate their belief in humanity and in the society of which they are a member.

As a result people with severe PTSD tend to block out or to fixate upon and exaggerate the issues reflected in these articles.  stimulate open discussion and resolution of the issues of moral sanction, personal moral responsibility, and striking a balance between justice and vengeance.

Experiential Exercise For Teachers

Below is a series of articles that reflect the surfacing of the moral dilemma surrounding the management of prisoners in Cuba.  The purpose of this sequence of articles is to demonstrate how the dynamic tension of extreme positions act themselves out in the mass mind.  

As you read these articles ...

1.    Try to remain detached and objective without taking one side or the other.

2.    Imagine how reading each articles would affect a person suffering from PTSD symptoms related to the war on terrorism.  

3.    See if you can identify the steps and stages in which this issue is moving toward moral resolution in the public mind.  

4.    Notice the extreme conflicting positions projected in each article and how they shift and change as they interact with each other over time.

5.    Stay focused upon the three core moral concerns at the center of the controversy:  (1) the value of each human life regardless of national religious or group affiliation; (2) the existence of certain "inalienable" human rights endowed by a power bigger than any government; and (3) the need to grant each human being dignity and freedom from cruel and inhuman punishment.   Note where in each article these core moral concerns are referred to directly, indirectly, or implicitly.

6.    As you read, keep in mind an idea from Immanuel Kant:  "No person is merely a means to an end.  The life of each person is and always must remain an end within itself.  To preserve our own dignity by taking away the dignity of any other we are taking away the dignity of all others.  It is upon this that the survival of all humanity depends."  Note where you objectively stand in terms of your agreement or disagreement with the general principle expressed in this quote.

7.    Ask yourself "should this principle be applied in the current war on terrorism and if so how?  Are there limitation in its applications?  Should there be exceptions?  Are there times when the violation of human dignity and human rights is necessary and justifiable?  Who should make these decisions?  How do those decisions reflect upon us as a people?  How do those decision reflect upon you as a member of the group (i.e. a citizen of the United States).

8.    Notice if thinking about and talking about these issues raises your level of stress.  Notice if you tend to automatically get angry and fight in defense of one side against another.  Imagine how these reactions could affect and be affected by the symptoms of PTSD.

Al Qaeda's Trip To Paradise (01-10-02)

Prisoners Must Be Treated Humanely
Amnesty International Says (01-10-02)

US Defends Handling of Afghan Captives (01-12-02)

Afghanistan: Red Cross Officials  Clarify 
Definitions Of Prisoners Of War, Detainees (01-13-02)

Amnesty International Calls for End to 
Legal Limbo of Guantanamo Prisoners (01-15-02)

Harsh Detention for Afghan Prisoners (01-16-02)

Amnesty International Report: 
'War On Terror' Degenerating Into Global 'Dirty War (01-18-02)

Court to Hear Case Of 
U.S. Terrorist Detentions At
Guantanamo (01-21-02)

Why Guantanamo Has Europe Hopping Mad (01-24-01)

Welcome to Camp X-Ray (01-28-02)

Al Qaeda's Trip to Paradise
January 10, 2002 
Some of the terrorists who were taken prisoner in Afghanistan are being brought to Guantanamo Bay. There won't be any black-eyed virgins, but it's nicer than home.

by Claudia Winkler

IN A KIND OF apotheosis of multiculturalism, the choicest al Qaeda suspects captured in the war on terrorism are about to take up residence under the American flag, at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. Navy base at the eastern tip of Cuba that has incongruously stayed in operation throughout the four decades of Castro's Communist rule. There, side by side--though separated by prison walls and the base perimeter--will coexist young men whose heads are filled respectively with the intoxication of jihad plus the trauma of defeat; newly burnished American patriotism; and whatever propaganda Castro's impoverished police state reserves for its trusted Frontier Brigade, which mans the only Cold War border in the hemisphere.

It's a border still to this day fortified against defectors with Soviet-style minefields, sirens, and searchlights. Almost every night there's an incident of some kind at the border, says Patrick Moore, an assistant professor of history at the University of West Florida who visited Guantanamo in August and is researching its history. "Sometimes it's just a rabbit hitting a mine," he says. "But the Frontier Brigade is pretty effective. They stop 95 percent of would-be defectors."

Away from the border, the base is normally peaceful. Residing in its 45-square-miles (most of that area covered by the waters of Guantanamo Bay) are military personnel and dependents, civilian employees, and contract workers from Jamaica and the Philippines, about 3,000 people in total, with all the attendant necessaries of life. The base newspaper, the weekly Guantanamo Bay Gazette, publishes the lunch menu for the local school. Under "What's Happening," the current issue lists a karaoke night at the Oasis Teen Center and free kayaking lessons at the Marina every Saturday and Sunday.

The arrival of the detainees from halfway around the world shouldn't directly affect those not interrogating or guarding them or otherwise involved in their care. The newcomers are currently expected to number in the hundreds--not tens of thousands, like the Haitians (1991-94) and Cubans (1994-96) housed at "Gitmo" in the last decade. Those economic and political refugees (and some criminals unloaded from Castro's jails) were put up in tent cities that sometimes became tense cities. People complained of boredom and poor conditions. They didn't like being told what to do by military guards. There were political frictions, too, even riots and a few suicide attempts, before the Haitians were mostly repatriated to "democratic" Haiti, and the Cubans were mostly admitted to the United States.

The new arrivals, high-security prisoners, will hardly be in a position to make demands. Besides, after the crumbling towns and dank caves of Afghanistan, they should find conditions at Guantanamo luxurious. They will trade frigid deserts and mountains for a bright, balmy Caribbean winter. Gitmo also is desert, known for its cactus and iguanas; locals are urged to conserve water, even to pour used water on their gardens instead of down the drain. But there are sea breezes year round. The detainees will be provided proper sanitation, medical care, and a Koranically correct diet, say officials, along with access to the International Red Cross.

Contrast all this with the Taliban's treatment of prisoners--the five months' crippling torture meted out, for example, to a Kabul man suspected of having converted to Christianity. The Washington Post's Reporting suggests that the man, who worked in a warehouse of the International Red Cross, was guilty only of liking to read and owning some books.

Any Gitmo detainees familiar with the Taliban's jails will probably think they've gone to paradise.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.

Prisoners Must Be Treated Humanely
Amnesty International Says
January 10, 2002

Amnesty International expresses its grief and solidarity with the victims of the September 11 atrocities and their families. The perpetrators of those heinous crimes must be brought to justice. But in seeking justice, the world must be vigilant about respecting human rights.

"All those in US custody following the military operations in Afghanistan must be treated humanely, with full respect for international standards," Amnesty International said today.

"Reports that al-Qaeda and Taleban prisoners due to be transferred to a US base in Guantanemo, Cuba, may be drugged, hooded and shackled during the 20 hour transportation flight are worrying".

According to international standards restraints may be used when strictly necessary as a precaution against escape, damage or injury. However, if restraints are necessary, they must be applied humanely, with adequate opportunity for the prisoner to move limbs, use the bathroom and eat and drink.

Furthermore, sedating prisoners for other than medical purposes would be in breach of interntional standards. According to Principle 5 of the UN Principles of Medical Ethics any administration of sedative drugs should be in accordance with purely medical criteria.

In a letter to the authorities earlier this week Amnesty International expressed concern at photos showing detainees in Afghanistan hooded while under guard by US marines. Hooding suspects in detention may violate international standards prohibiting "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment. The standards emphasize that the term "cruel, inhuman or degrading" covers mental as well as physical abuse, including holding detainees in conditions that deprive them, even temporarily, of the use of any of their natural senses such as sight or hearing or awareness of time or place. The hooding or blindfolding of suspects during interrogation also violates international standards.

"Housing detainees in Guantanamo in 6x8 feet chain-link "cages" at least partially open to the elements would also fall below minimum standards for humane treatment," the organization said. Standards for the treatment of detainees require adequate shelter from the elements. The cage size would be less than that considered acceptable under US standards for ordinary prisoners confined to cells.

Amnesty International's letter to the US Authorities

Saturday, 12 January, 2002, 10:18 GMT
A US Navy security officer stands guard at Guantanamo Bay
Security at the base has been massively beefed up
The United States has defended its treatment of prisoners airlifted from Afghanistan to a American military base in Cuba, amid international concern about their conditions.

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, contradicting the Red Cross, said the 20 Taleban and al-Qaeda captives "will be handled not as prisoners of war, because they're not, but as unlawful combatants".

Prison conditions
Individual cells measuring 1.8 by 2.4 metres
Cells partly open to elements, with walls of chain-link fence
Camp has barbed wire fences, watchtowers and floodlights
Surrounded by marshes and shark-infested sea
But he insisted the prisoners - who are under heavy guard - would be treated humanely and within the terms of the Geneva Conventions.

The prisoners were transferred aboard a cargo plane to a temporary site - called Camp X-ray - at the US Guantanamo Bay military base on Friday.

They will be kept separate, in cells measuring 1.8 by 2.4 metres (six feet by eight feet) with open, chain-link walls, a concrete floor and wooden roof.

The human rights group Amnesty International has voiced concern about the "cages" used for accommodation, saying they would "fall below minimum standards for humane treatment".

Cuban co-operation

Despite years of hostility, the Cuban Government has said it will help the US authorities at Guantanamo Bay.

Cuba map
"We are willing to co-operate with the medical services required as well as with sanitation programmes in the surrounding areas under our control," an official statement said.

Cuba said it differed from the United States on the method but not on the need to "eradicate terrorism".

The prisoners arrived with hands bound and some with shackles on their legs. Some appeared to resist as they got off the plane.

They were dressed in orange jumpsuits, orange caps, white shoes and wore goggles covered with tape.

They also wore surgical masks as some prisoners had tested positive for tuberculosis and at least one prisoner was sedated.

The International Red Cross (ICRC) says it regards the prisoners as POWs with full rights under the Geneva Conventions.

The ICRC says it plans to start visiting the prisoners early next week to ensure they are being treated humanely.

Amnesty International said that "all those in US custody following the military operations in Afghanistan must be treated humanely, with full respect for international standards".

Military tribunals

None of the prisoners has yet been charged but some could face military courts authorised by President George Bush following the 11 September attacks.
A US watch tower at Guantanamo Bay
The camp is being expanded to house hundreds more prisoners

A new prison is being built at Guantanamo Bay to hold up to 2,000 prisoners behind razor wire.

Experts say the use of Guantanamo is carefully calculated - it is technically Cuban territory, leased to the US military - and if the detainees are never brought to American soil, they can have no recourse to appeals under US federal law.

The landing was witnessed by about two dozen journalists, but the US military enforced strict media controls - banning all photographs and recordings of the transfer.


The detainees, who arrived from Kandahar, were described by task force commander Marine Brigadier General Michael Lehnert as the "worst elements" of the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The extraordinary security measures have been put in place amid fears of a prisoner uprising such as happened at Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

ICRC delegates have so far visited nearly 5,000 prisoners in about 40 facilities in Afghanistan, and the humanitarian organisation says it will expect the same free access to prisoners in Cuba.

Afghanistan: Red Cross Officials 
Clarify Definitions Of Prisoners Of War, Detainees

Reported For Radio Free Europe
By Dan Alexe
January 13, 2002

There are gray areas in the definitions of "prisoner of war" and "unlawful combatants," at least judging by the explanations of Catherine Deman, legal adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Deman, who is visiting camps in Afghanistan where Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners are being held, gave a press conference in Kabul on 13 January to explain the legal background for the application of Geneva Conventions to the Afghan conflict.

Kabul, 14 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- According to the Geneva Conventions, a prisoner of war (POW) is defined as a soldier, a member of a party to an international conflict, or a member of a militia or volunteer corps -- even if the prisoner professes allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the detaining power into whose hands he has fallen.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, this definition of POWs appears to apply to Taliban soldiers detained in Afghanistan by the U.S., but it is not the case for suspected members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Nevertheless, the ICRC's legal adviser, Catherine Deman, says nationality is not one of the criteria. She says a member of a pan-national force still could be considered a POW. Deman and other Red Cross officials spoke on the topic at a press conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 13 January.

What is yet to be determined, the ICRC says, is whether Al-Qaeda members should be considered part of the Taliban armed forces, or whether they were a militia or a volunteer group not integrated into the Taliban. The Red Cross says members of Al-Qaeda could be declared POWs if they fulfilled additional conditions, such as carrying arms openly or conducting their operations in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.

The term "prisoner of war" is thus a legal term, the Red Cross says, and offers a specific status. In cases of doubt, as with "unlawful combatants" or "illegal combatants," only a court can decide who falls into these categories. This court, the ICRC says, should be a "competent tribunal" -- independent, impartial, and legally constituted according to the domestic law of the detaining power.

Answering reporters' questions, ICRC officials refused to comment on whether the U.S. has infringed on the rights of Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners, including whether the reported sedation of some prisoners during their transfer to a U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba violates international law.

Michael Kleiner, the representative of the ICRC in Kabul, said, "The question of sedation during a transfer, for example, is not mentioned in International Humanitarian Law. What is mentioned is that the transfer should happen in humane conditions and that the security of the detainees should be guaranteed. And that's all that is mentioned in International Humanitarian Law."

As for that other term used by American officials, "battlefield detainees," the ICRC says it is not a legal category and has "no legal meaning." Nevertheless, Kleiner says the ICRC is in no position to question the U.S. or the current Afghan government over the reasons behind its detention of prisoners.

"The International Committee of the Red Cross is not questioning the reasons why people are being detained. All that we need to know is that they are detained in acceptable conditions -- I mean, that they should be given food, water, allowed to wash and pray, and have access to fresh air," Kleiner said. "This is the minimum standard that should be fulfilled. Beyond that, there are no particular concerns that I can voice here. This is dealt with on a confidential basis, and then we intervene to the adequate authorities and try to improve the situation like this."

RFE/RL asked the ICRC's legal adviser, Catherine Deman, what happens when a detaining power does not respect the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

"When a state or a party in a conflict -- be it a rebel group or any other entity that takes part in a conflict -- does not carry out its obligations in terms of humanitarian rights, the ICRC starts by gathering the most precise and the most reliable information, after which we go directly to the authorities in charge and try to discuss with them how they could maintain their obligations," Deman said. "This implies, of course, a certain form of goodwill on their part."

What happens if the detaining power still refuses to fulfill its obligations? Can the ICRC apply pressure on intractable governments?

"No, these are the limits of what the ICRC can do. We work on a confidential basis, and this confidence is based on a mutual contract with the authorities in the hope that they would take into account our remarks and that they would try to improve what has to be improved. But if we lack this minimal working basis, at that moment, we are totally powerless," Deman said.

Finally, the Red Cross insists upon a semantic distinction. It says that only persons apprehended by the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition should be called "prisoners." The others, held by Afghan forces, should be called "detainees."

Amnesty International Calls for End to Legal Limbo of Guantánamo Prisoners
A Statement By Amnesty International
January 15, 2001

Amnesty International expresses its grief and solidarity with the victims of the September 11 atrocities and their families. The perpetrators of those heinous crimes must be brought to justice. But in seeking justice, the world must be vigilant about respecting human rights.

<Read This Article On The Amnesty International Website>

(Washington, DC) -- Amnesty International today urged the United States to ensure respect for the human rights of all people who have been or may be transferred from Afghanistan to a US military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Amnesty International considers that those who are held in Guantánamo, who are said to have been captured during the war in Afghanistan, are presumed to be POWs. If there is any dispute about their status, the US must allow a "competent tribunal" to decide, as required by Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention. This is also the position held by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the most authoritative interpreter of the Geneva Conventions.

"The US is placing these people in a legal limbo. They deny that they are Prisoners of War (POWs), while at the same time failing to provide them with the most basic protections of any person deprived of their liberty," Amnesty International said. "The US has obligations under international law to ensure respect for the human rights of all persons in their custody -- including the duty to treat them humanely and ensure that they have recourse to fair proceedings, regardless of the nature of the crimes they are suspected of having committed."

"It is not the prerogative of the Secretary of Defense or any other US administration official to determine whether those held in Guantánamo are POWs," Amnesty International said. "An independent US court, following due process, is the appropriate organ to make this determination."

POWs are afforded specific rights. For example, they should be held in conditions "as favorable" as those of US soldiers; they are not required to divulge information beyond their name, rank, serial number and date-of-birth; they cannot be tried merely for having taken up arms against enemy combatants in the context of the conflict and they should be granted access to delegates of the ICRC. POWs, unless they are to be tried for war crimes or other criminal offenses, must be repatriated at the end of "active hostilities."

Any detainee who is suspected of a crime, whether or not he is a POW, must be charged with a criminal offense and tried fairly or released. Denying POWs or other people protected by the Geneva Conventions a fair trial is a war crime. Amnesty International is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances.

The international safeguards governing the treatment of all detainees facing criminal charges include those of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the US is a party since 1992, and the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. These include the right to challenge the lawfulness of detention, to be brought before an independent tribunal, the right to silence, and access to legal counsel.

Amnesty International is also concerned about alleged ill-treatment of prisoners in transit and in Guantánamo, including reports that they were shackled, hooded and sedated during transfer, their beards were forcibly shaved, and that they are housed in small cages in Guantánamo that do not protect against the elements. "Degrading treatment of prisoners is a flagrant violation of international law which cannot be justified under any circumstances," the organization stated.

Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 12:10 GMT
US Marine, Guantanamo bay
Marines constantly patrol the razor wire perimeter
Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners flown from Afghanistan to an American naval base in the Caribbean are being held in tough conditions of detention.

A temporary detention centre called Camp X-Ray has been set up at the base in Guantanamo Bay, an isolated US outpost on the edge of Fidel Castro's Cuba.

The prisoners are being housed in cells measuring 1.8 by 2.4 metres (six feet by eight feet) with open, chain-link walls, a concrete floor and wooden roof.

They face intense interrogation by US officials anxious to track down Osama Bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the 11 September suicide attacks on New York and Washington.

The US authorities have not granted the detainees prisoner-of-war status, meaning they are not protected by the Geneva Convention.

Washington wants military tribunals to try the prisoners, and the cases are expected to be heard outside the US.

As the base is located outside sovereign territory, the prisoners have no legal rights under the US constitution, and no right of appeal to federal courts.

'Are they kennels?'

Jeffrey Kofman, an American journalist who has visited the base, said the facility was "very, very minimal".

One person said: 'Are they kennels?', to which one of the military staff in charge said: 'No they're not kennels, they are cells, and they're within the bounds of the Geneva Convention'

The cells had concrete floors, wooden roofs and wire mesh walls. Prisoners had a foam mat to sleep on, two towels - one for washing, the other to use as a prayer mat - and some form of chamber pot, he said.

"It was a far more bares bones facility than frankly I expected to see. They say they will be holding the detainees in cells, but really they are cages...

"One person said: 'Are they kennels?', to which one of the military staff in charge said: 'No they're not kennels, they are cells, and they're within the bounds of the Geneva Convention. What we are operating is humane treatment, but we're not offering comfort'."

International concern

The human rights group Amnesty International voiced concern about the "cages" used for accommodation, saying they would "fall below minimum standards for humane treatment".

Orange US prison jumpsuit
Prisoners will wear standard orange jumpsuits at all times

The first group to arrive - 20 prisoners described by US military officials as "the worst elements of al-Qaeda and the Taleban" - wore goggles covered with tape and had their hands tied. Some also wore leg shackles.

They wore surgical masks as some prisoners had tested positive for tuberculosis and at least one prisoner was sedated.

They will spend most of their time separated, although they will be allowed out of their cells in small groups for meals, showers and some recreation.

They will be allowed to pray according to their faith.


The camp gets chilly at night and there are swarms of mosquitoes.

The base - known by US servicemen as "Gitmo"- is surrounded by mangrove swamps, salt marshes and dense bush - and the sea is shark-infested.

The camp perimeters - lit up at night - has watchtowers and two fences topped with razor wire constantly patrolled by heavily armed marines.

At night the camp is lit up with halogen floodlights.

Members of a movement that tried to prevent women working may be disconcerted to find that some of their guards are women.

"We have no intention of making it comfortable," Marine Brigadier-General Michael Lehnert told Reuters news agency. "It will be humane."

Hundreds of marines and military police have been flown to Guantanamo Bay to expand the compound to house up to 2,000 prisoners.

American marines landed in Guantanamo during the Spanish-American war in 1898, and the base was established under a 1903 treaty.

After Fidel Castro led the Communists to power in Cuba in 1959, then US President Dwight Eisenhower refused to relinquish the base despite strong objections from Havana.

Although Washington continues to pay the rent - set 100 years ago at 2,000 gold coins a year, and now worth about $4,000 - Mr Castro refuses to cash the cheques.

Cuban Frontier Battalion troops continue to watch their US counterparts along the 28-kilometre fence, but tension has diminished since the end of the Cold War.

Hunt continues

American officials have named al-Qaeda and Taleban leaders killed or captured as frustration grows that some senior Taleban figures are reportedly slipping through the net.

Among those who have not been questioned by the US military are three former Taleban ministers who turned themselves into the new Afghan authorities - only to be allowed to return to their homes.
Taleban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar
Mullah Omar: still on the run

The most important is former Justice Minister Mullah Nuruddin Turabi - known to be close to Taleban leader Mullah Omar - former Defence Minister Mullah Ubaidullah and former Industry Minister Mullah Saadudin.

US officials are eager to question the three, who they believe may have vital clues about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden.

The hunt continues for Bin Laden himself and Mullah Omar, who is believed to have escaped by motorbike as thousands of Afghan soldiers closed in on his suspected hideout.

Also on the wanted list are many more of Bin Laden's top lieutenants who are believed to have evaded capture. They include Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader who is Bin Laden's close adviser and personal doctor.

Amnesty International Report: 
'War On Terror' Degenerating Into Global 'Dirty War
January 18, 2001

<Read The Report "Rights At Risk" On The Amnesty International USA Website>

(New York) -- In a new report today, Amnesty International indicts governments' actions following September 11 that put human rights at grave risk worldwide. The report, "Rights at Risk," was released to coincide with a meeting of the UN Security Council that will review the work of the Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee.

"Amnesty International is concerned that the 'war on terror' may be degenerating into a global 'dirty war' of torture, detentions and executions," said Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director for Amnesty International USA. "A number of states have introduced new laws that violate human rights standards while others have used existing measures to crack down on opposition."

The Counter-Terrorism Committee was established by the Security Council following the September 11 attacks to monitor the far-ranging steps the Council said they must take to combat terrorism. Today it will start examining more than 100 reports from states about those measures.

Amnesty International's 50-page report describes human rights violations arising from "anti-terrorist" measures taken by countries around the world both before and after the attacks of September 11, including indefinite detention without charge or trial; incommunicado detention, which facilitates torture; unfair trials; and infringement of rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Amnesty International's Secretary General, Irene Khan, wrote to the Security Council urging it to take concrete steps to ensure that governments do not violate the obligations and standards of international human rights law in the process, stressing that "otherwise there is a grave risk, already borne out in some countries, that security considerations will prevail over human rights."

In addition, as none of the six experts the Committee appointed to assist it in its monitoring task are experts in human rights, Amnesty International is calling upon the Security Council to request the Counter-Terrorism Committee appoint an expert in international law, including human rights, to assist the Committee in monitoring the actions of states, and provide specific guidance on how states can comply with international human rights standards in the context of implementing measures to combat "terrorism."

"When the security of a state and the safety of its people are at risk," Amnesty International said, "it is vital that human rights standards and the rule of law are upheld. Respect for all human rights is the only way to ensure real security for all."

Court to Hear Case Of 
U.S. Terrorist Detentions At

Associated Press
January 21, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal court hearing was set for Tuesday morning on a petition from civil rights advocates challenging the detention of terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.

U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz decided late Sunday night to consider the petition, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by a coalition of Los Angeles clergy, journalism professors and civil rights attorneys.

The attorney for the petitioners is Stephen Yagman, known for representing plaintiffs in police abuse cases. 

It is the first court challenge of the detention of al-Qaida suspects and demands that the U.S. government bring the suspects before a court and define the charges against them.

Several issues were to be considered at the 8 a.m. hearing.

Among them were whether the petitioners exhausted military and administrative procedures, whether they have standing to pursue the case, and whether the court has jurisdiction over prisoners held in Cuban territory leased to the U.S. government.

The petition was prepared on behalf of about 110 al-Qaida suspects who were taken into custody in Afghanistan and transferred to the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.

It alleges they are being held in violation of the Geneva Convention and the U.S. Constitution, and seeks to guarantee due process and to block any transfer of the detainees from the base.

``These individuals were brought out of their country in shackles, drugged, gagged and blindfolded, and are being held in open-air cages in Cuba,'' said Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of Southern California who is among the petitioners. ``Someone should be asserting their rights under international law.''

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said the detainees are being held for questioning and some could face a military tribunal, while others could be referred to criminal courts.

Why Guantanamo Has Europe Hopping Mad
Time Magazine - January 24, 2002

The handling of al Qaeda prisoners 
raises old fears of the U.S. making its own rules


Detainees sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of military police
Related: Scrutinizing Camp X-Ray
CNN: Walker Lindh in Court

Thursday, Jan. 24, 2002
The fuss over the status and treatment of the 158 Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners held at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo cuts to the heart of European skepticism over President Bush's "you're either with us or against us" mantra. What it shows is that even allies have their limits, and even a nation as strong as the U.S. needs friends.

Amid criticism from European governments and international human rights organizations, the U.S. announced Wednesday that it had suspended further transfers of detainees out of Afghanistan, pending new construction at the Cuban facility. Officially, the U.S. line was that the suspension had nothing to do with the criticisms and was based solely on the fact that the current holding cells were full to capacity. But Camp X-Ray's commander, Brigadier General Michael Lehnert, indicated that changes being made at the camp would incorporate some of the recommendations made by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which sent a delegation to inspect the camp earlier this week.

Even so, European alarm persists: Britain's foreign secretary Jack Straw said Thursday that his government would press for the British subjects held at Guantanamo to be returned to the U.K. to stand trial there, rather than before a U.S. military tribunal. An American diplomat had further inflamed European tempers by telling the British media that British subjects held at Guantanamo would face the death penalty if tried by U.S. military courts — capital punishment is forbidden in the European Union, and most EU countries won't extradite prisoners who may face the death penalty elsewhere.

POW or detainee?

Three sets of issues define the controversyThe first is simply their treatment: Humanitarian concerns over keeping the detainees in open-sided cages, for example, were inflamed by the U.S. inexplicably releasing photographs of newly-arrived detainees bound, gagged, blindfolded and on their knees, as part of a PR effort designed to show their humane treatment. But it was a relatively simple matter for the U.S. to defuse those concerns by allowing Red Cross inspections and accepting some recommendations for improving conditions at the base. British diplomats who visited the camp on Monday reported that British detainees were being treated well.

The second issue -- whether the captives enjoy Prisoner of War status, and the third issue -- how they are to be tried -- are closely linked — , and . The U.S. has not indicated a preference on this front, although it may be tending towards using military tribunals — the option least favored by the Europeans, who would prefer to see the captives tried in either the U.S. or their home country's court systems, or in some form of international criminal court.

Information, please

But the immediate purpose for holding the prisoners is not to prepare charges against them; it's to interrogate them in order to more effectively wage the fight against al Qaeda. According them POW status would necessarily impede that process, if not render it impossible. After all, the Geneva Convention obliges a POW to reveal only his name, rank and number, and protects him from any form of duress.

Even though European security and intelligence agencies share Washington's concern to extract whatever information the prisoners may have in order to prevent future terrorist strikes, the European Union has looked skeptically on Washington's claim that the captives are not POWs, but "unlawful combatants." No such category exists in international law, say the Europeans, backed up by many leading international jurists who insist the captives are entitled either to the rights of POWs, or else to those of common criminals.

The dispute doesn't detract from the fact that the Europeans have enthusiastically and effectively taken up the war against al Qaeda. They have uprooted its European networks, shared intelligence and offered thousands of troops to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. But the controversy over Guantanamo has reminded them of the reasons they regarded the Bush administration with suspicion before September 11. Tempers were not cooled by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's initial reaction last week to concerns over the fate of the detainees: "I do not feel the slightest concern at their treatment; they are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else." In European eyes, Rumsfeld's response confirmed fears that the U.S. was using its military might to set its own rules, rather than abiding by accepted international legal norms.

"I do not feel the slightest concern at their treatment; they are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else." 

- Defense Secretary Rumsfeld

And that brought back European concerns over the perceived unilateralism of President Bush. The administration's reactions to everything from the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to the proposed International Criminal Court, the convention against landmines and the Kyoto Accords have painted Bush, in European eyes, as the bully on the block rather than a global citizen in good standing. And while his record on the death penalty may be in keeping with the American mainstream, it's beyond the pale in Europe.

It depends on what you mean by "we"

But the schism over Guantanamo between the U.S. and its European allies isn't simply about continental perceptions of Bush. The Europeans who signed up for the anti-terror war feel excluded from any decision making over its basic principles. In other words, beyond "with us or against us" is the question of what exactly "we" stands for. The British, for example, have grown exasperated trying to get Washington to take more seriously Arab concerns over the deteriorating prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Europeans were, for the most part, content to let the U.S. call the shots in Afghanistan — although they did feel a little slighted by the fact that the Americans had little use for the men and machines they offered to send. But they're unlikely to simply accept Washington applying its own reading of international law in the aftermath of battle. There's no question that the detainees on Guantanamo represent a challenging category of combatant — indeed, of warfare — not envisaged by the framers of the Geneva Convention. Indeed, the Europeans may have been somewhat placated by being drawn into a discussion at an earlier stage over how to deal with al Qaeda captives.

The Europeans who signed up for the anti-terror war feel excluded from any decision making over its basic principles. In other words, beyond the question of are you "with us or against us" is the question of what exactly "we" stands for. 

Instead, the atmospherics of the anti-terror coalition have been soured. The Guantanamo controversy won't have any negative effect on European intelligence cooperation or other concrete aspects of the war on terror. But the administration's early handling of the issue may have sealed European public opinion of President Bush's war effort in ways not helpful to the U.S.

With reporting by J.F.O. McAllister/London

Time Magazine
Welcome to Camp X-Ray
Monday, Jan. 28, 2002

When is a war prisoner not a POW? 
When the U.S. brings Afghan detainees to Guantanamo Bay

It's not going to be a country club," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week, describing the new military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and nobody ever expected it would be. The 110 al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners admitted to "Gitmo" by the end of last week are, said Rumsfeld, "the hardest of the hard core," men who had killed "dozens and dozens of people." But though it may lack tennis courts and a putting green, the amenities are better than you'd find in a cave at Tora Bora. True, prisoners are now confined to 6-ft. by 8-ft. chain-link enclosures with concrete floors and tin roofs (Rumsfeld thinks it's "pejorative" to call them cages). But relief will come; in three months, the Pentagon hopes to replace the facility with something more permanent.

In the meantime, the prisoners at Camp X-Ray--as the place has been called since the early 1990s when it housed Haitian refugees--have been given thin green mats and blankets on which to sleep and pray, and are allowed to shower and exercise. They are provided with a medical exam upon admission, and their diet (is someone making a point about diversity here?) ranges from bagels and cream cheese to rice and beans--all eaten with plastic utensils--after which the prisoners may clean their teeth with specially shortened brushes. (The caution makes sense; in 2000 Mamdouh Salim, an al-Qaeda operative awaiting trial in New York City for his part in the 1998 embassy bombings, used a comb to stab a prison guard through the eye.)

So far, humanitarian groups have been muted in their criticism of the conditions at Guantanamo. Last week a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived to inspect the camp and offer private recommendations on its operation. But in the European press, the prisoners' lot has become a public issue of contention among those who demand that U.S. conduct be above suspicion. Three detainees are said to have claimed to be British citizens. Politicians and commentators in London are now clamoring that all held in Gitmo must be guaranteed treatment in accordance with international law. The Daily Telegraph, a paper usually so conservative that it makes Pat Buchanan look vegetarian, warned Washington of the need to draw a "distinction between civilized society and the apocalyptic savagery of those who would destroy it."

At the heart of the matter is a question of legality. The Pentagon has resisted calling the detainees prisoners of war, preferring the terms unlawful combatants or battlefield detainees. It's easy to see why. Under the Geneva Convention, those holding true POWs are bound to release them at the end of hostilities; but that is the last thing the U.S. wants to do with men who may be al-Qaeda operatives. Moreover, by convention (though the law seems to be murky here) POWs don't need to tell their captors anything other than their name, rank, serial number and birthday. But for Washington, the whole point of the detention is to conduct interrogations and thus head off new acts of terrorism.

The Geneva Convention does contemplate that some irregular forces captured in battle need not be considered POWs. That may well apply to members of al-Qaeda, a free-floating band of terrorists. But not all of those at Gitmo are al-Qaeda men. Some--the Pentagon won't say how many--were members of the Taliban and presumably thought they were part of the Afghan army. Are they POWs? Washington says no, because the Taliban had no clear chain of command and was not a legitimate government. That may be so; unfortunately, as Amnesty International has pointed out, under the Geneva Convention the Pentagon has no business making such a determination. Those who fall into the enemy's hands are entitled to POW status until a "competent tribunal" has determined their status. In the case of those in Cuba, that hasn't happened.

More curious still is the matter of the prisoners' ultimate fate. Rumsfeld has laid out four options: a military trial, a trial in U.S. criminal courts, return to their home countries for prosecution, or continued detention "while additional intelligence is gathered." The last seems a distinct possibility; the Pentagon plans to build 2,000 cells at Camp X-Ray. "This will be a big deal down there for at least two years, guaranteed," says Army Lieut. General B.B. Bell, who commands Fort Hood, Texas, the base from which military police have been deployed to Cuba. But it's hard to find a justification for such detention in the Geneva Convention or anywhere else. Leaving the prisoners "indefinitely beyond the reach of any legal regime," said the Economist last week, "would put America--pre-eminently a nation of laws--itself outside the law."

Until the Pentagon sorts out the legal issues, criticism from Europe is likely to grow. Still, things could be worse. The prisoners may be in Cuba, but nobody has yet forced them to listen to Fidel Castro's long-winded speeches. Now that really would be cruel.

With Reporting by Mark Thompson/Washington


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