ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Citizens unite against torture

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Citizens unite against torture

Renown activist Marjorie Cohn comes to Ventura

By Cindy Piester 05/03/2012

Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past president of the National Lawyers Guild, will be speaking on The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse on Sunday, May 6, 3 to 5 p.m. at the Topping Room of the Foster Library located at 651 East Main St., Ventura. The event is free and open and to the public, sponsored by Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions and Veterans for Peace. Cohn is also the editor of a recent anthology (NYU Press) by the same name. Cohn testified before Congress about Bush administration interrogation policy, and she is a frequent commentator for regional, national and international media. For more information, see



VCReporter: PFC Bradley Manning remains incarcerated for leaking the Collateral Murder video Does the video reveal war crimes?


Cohn: People trying to rescue the wounded were fired upon and killed. A U.S. tank drove over one body, cutting the man in half. The video depicts evidence of war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit targeting civilians, preventing the rescue of the wounded and defacing dead bodies. It was after seeing evidence of war crimes, such as those depicted in Collateral Murder, the Iraqis refused to immunize U.S. forces from prosecution for their future crimes. 


Your recent anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse, brings together experts who shed light on everything from the CIA’s pursuit of psychological torture to the impact of the School of the Americas. Why did you write it and what are you hoping to achieve with it?


With the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos, torture entered the national discourse. But the Bush administration is not the first to use torture. I sought to compile a collection that traces the history of torture and abuse committed by the U.S. government, as well as many other aspects of torture. The book contains chapters by a psychologist, philosopher, sociologist, historian, political scientist, journalists and lawyers.


Why hasn’t the government brought to justice those responsible for torture during the Bush administration?


President Obama’s Justice Department has granted a free pass to Bush officials and their lawyers who constructed the regime of torture and abuse. Attorney General Holder announced last year that his office will investigate only two instances of detainee mistreatment. Both incidents Holder has agreed to investigate involved egregious treatment and resulted in death. These two deaths should be investigated and those responsible punished in accordance with the law. The investigation must have a much broader scope, however. More than 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody, many from torture. And untold numbers were subjected to torture and cruel treatment in violation of U.S. and international law. 


Has torture been used in the United States or is its use limited to other counties?


As journalist Lance Tapley points out in his chapter in my book, cell extractions — where prisoners are dragged and beaten, as well as solidary confinement, which is considered torture as it can lead to hallucinations, catatonia and suicide — are commonplace in America’s supermax prisons. Bradley Manning has been held for 21 months in military custody. During the first eight months, he was kept in solitary confinement. Manning was also humiliated by being stripped naked and paraded before other inmates. This treatment violates the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 


I am concerned about the disconnect that we, as a society, seem to have between the reality of U.S. policies and actions versus the perceptions we have formed based on the information we are actually given. Do you see such a gap and if so, what do you see as a means of bridging it?


Much of the mainstream media sanitizes information about what our government is doing in our name. People who seek to discover the facts must resort to the alternative media, such as websites like as well as public television and radio.


Recently, the L.A. Times released photos of our troops posing with body parts of dead Afghans. While officials have denounced the actions of those involved, we have also seen our government backing away from international law and the Geneva Conventions.  Is there a connection?


When the military objectifies Arabs and Muslims as “ragheads” and “haji,” it makes it more palatable to abuse and kill them. This mentality persists in some parts of our military. Denouncing international law and seeking to portray this misconduct as the work of “bad apples” prevents people from questioning the legality of these actions.


Cindy Piester, a local peace activist, hosts Pulse TV and is the director-producer of the on-line documentary, On the Dark Side in Al Doura - A Soldier in the Shadows, which received hits from 150 countries within days of its release in December 2011.


Other Stories by Cindy Piester

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