Architecture is not justice

The U.S. is subjecting others to cruelties Americans have suffered in the past.

They have monuments to liberty and freedom of opinion, which is well and good. But I explained to them that architecture is not justice,” wrote Sami Al Haj, a former Al-Jazeera journalist, of his American captors at Guantánamo Bay, where he has been tortured and held without evidence since June 2002.

In spring 2005, according to a New York Times report last week, the U.S. Justice Department secretly authorized the CIA to use physically and psychologically abusive means of interrogation for terror suspects – effectively exempting the agency from adhering to Congress’ subsequent December 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. The act banned “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of those in U.S. custody throughout the world. However, the Justice Department’s pre-existing authorization of torture tactics, which Congress and the American public had no knowledge of, allowed the CIA to disregard Congress’ mandate.

Since at least 2005, the United States has condoned head-slapping, simulated drowning, prolonged stress positions, isolation and freezing temperatures when handling or questioning terror suspects. Though these techniques are considered torture by civilized countries, the Justice Department, under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and preceding acting Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury, ignored liberty – an individual’s right to due process and humanity – and freedom of opinion – the will of the U.S. Congress and people – in the name of justice.

The United States is the same country that endured the cruelty of the Japanese during the Bataan Death March in World War II and the torture of soldiers in Vietnamese war camps. It is the same country that signed the Geneva Conventions, agreeing to the humane treatment of noncombatants and POWs.

Our country has forgotten itself. When, in February 2002, President George W. Bush said Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – the prohibition of “mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” – does not apply to al-Qaida captives, the United States was no longer a country of justice.

Instead the United States is willing to subject others to cruelties Americans suffered – ruining the monuments in their memory.