Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Active Denial of the Torture Industrial Complex

The other day on Glenn Greenwald's blog, bystander cited Digby who remarked about a nasty crowd control device that has been documented by the BBC recently. That led to track down more about the two systems referred to in the article, the Active Denial System, and the Silent Guardian. It turns out that the relationship between these two is that Active Denial System is the U.S. military's requested, and largely implemented weapon for something in between crowd control and counterinsurgency, and that Silent Guardian is Raytheon's implementation of the main weapon, a collimated 1 millimeter (95GHz) beam 45 inches square, and has a range of 250 meters.

A Device for Crowd Control?

I posted a longish set of quotes about this device and plan, and Reilly referred me to the complete shebang, a mobile device that has gone under the rubric of Project Sheriff. This mobile unit includes both weaponry for shooting and killing enemies after they are flushed out of crowds, but for the crowd flushing operation itself, the vehicle has brilliant laser driven lights to disorient, painfully loud noises, and, of course the Silent Guardian. The rationale is that you point these devices, whose specific purpose is to create disorientation and pain, and an overwhelming reflex to run away, and anyone who doesn't run away must be enemy and can be shot.

Comparisons on military discussion sites and sites for weapons afficianados are to the Taser, a device that shoots two straightened fishhooks on wires at the target, and then delivers specially "shaped" electrical charges of between 0.75 and 1.5 joules, causing the target to collapse in involuntary reflex. That device is common already among police departments, where it was originally introduced as a substitute for firing a gun at someone, but has been much more widely used than guns ever would be, in no small part because each use, unlike a police revolver, does not have to be accounted for in detail.

Raytheon describes this new device, the Silent Guardian, as a pain gun, they dislike the use of the term ray gun. Their interviews with the BBC, with Michael Hanlon (who has tried the demonstration, and posted the pictures), allude to a highly sophisticated manipulation of nocioceptive pain, to create a weapon that causes pain, but no lasting physical or psychological damage. Many of the commentators cited above have made the connection with torture, one would be remiss to fail to do so. But before delving into that, some care should be used examining that claim, which would, if true, amount to an achievement of something of a 'Holy Grail' of what Darius Rejali calls 'clean torture' (Rejali, Torture and Democracy), and what Physicians for Human Rights refer to as "Leave No Marks". Not that that is anything to celebrate, anyone who shares goals with the worst of the French Gestapo has nothing to be proud of.

But, to Raytheon's claim: The device is not a transmitter of signals directly to sensory or nocireceptor nerve endings at all. Most devices that do such things in the most direct way would be electrical, would require contact, and would have to be exquisitely precise to only affect the nerve endings in the dermis, as most electrical devices affect nerves considerably deeper and in a larger area (for instance, the Taser). The device causes burning pain over most of the body facing the beam, even through light clothing, this is supposed to cause a reflexive desire to flee, as when your hand accidentally encounters boiling water. It does this, however, by actually heating the first 1/64th of an inch of skin to 50° C, in three seconds, the one-millimeter wave does not penetrate any deeper into the skin, and herein is the claim of no physical damage.

Newton's law of cooling provides a simple approximation for what happens if the time increases beyond three seconds, or even for what really transpires within that time. If the surface of the skin is at 50° C, and the deep layers of flesh, or perhaps the bone and organs, are at 37° C (normal body temperature), there is a linear gradient between the two temperatures, and heat flows from the higher temperature to the lower one. So as time goes by, giving Raytheon the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the statistics after 3 seconds are maintained (they aren't), the heat flows into the body at a rate somewhat higher than that of the sun on a day at the beach. In time, that body will lose it's ability to maintain its temperature with so much heat being added, failing progressively through heat exhaustion to heat stroke, at which point the maintenance fails and the core temperature rises. Since 50° C is higher than 41° C, the temperature at which body chemicals begin to break down or denature, the body literally starts to come apart chemically and a person will die if not treated. However, long before this happens, the level of heat will continue to rise and the result will be burns. Even Raytheon admits that these have been observed after 250 seconds.

And, as usual when people are trying to create clean pain, tests are run on volunteers, who are carefully screened and protected from adverse consequences. Were someone to pass out or become unable to walk in front of the device (perhaps trampled by the crowd as they reflexively ran), they would be an injured party sustaining an injury they could not avoid, and if conscious, they would be experiencing an intolerable pain that they could not stop, from a hostile source, that provoked flight reactions to avoid death that could not be acted upon. In other words, there isn't much difference between the device used on anyone who cannot run, and, say, waterboarding. The potential for abuse is quite clear, as is the attempt to preempt concern for it. By specifically referencing no lasting physical or psychological damage, promoters are referencing only one set of documents: The Convention Against Torture, or its implementing laws.

A Torture Industrial Complex?

What is truly disturbing about this is the collection of tools on the Project Sheriff Active Denial System machine, and the insistence that this is a pain gun. Further is the military's lengthy planning for the device, and the apparent belief that the device will civilize war the way the Taser is supposedly civilizing police use of force. The military is already set to deploy more than a dozen of these. But if you throw in the Taser, the list of "less than lethal" weaponry has an eerie ring: Bombardment with intense light, bombardment with intense sounds, application of burning heat, and application of electric shocks, all heralded as a good thing, and all in production and deployment. To be sure, there are a couple of other methods of delivering "clean torture", stress positions and prolonged solitary confinement, but otherwise, the list is fairly complete, compared against the cleaner techniques of the Gestapo, or of the Soviet NKVD, as precursor to the Chinese techniques that gave rise to all the consternation about brainwashing, the experiments on sensory deprivation, and the development of the now notorious SERE program, the KUBARK manual, and all the other toxic brew that went into the U.S. torture program of the past few years.

Tasers are big business, and were carefully constructed to avoid laws requiring accounting of each application of force for deadly weapons like guns, among the police. The company that makes them, and their advocates, of which there are many, insist that they are used for a gun substitute and not control or punishment, and try to counter each instance of a death from Taser use with alternative explanations.

Now there are companies or corporate divisions which specialize in the application of intense light, or intense sound. There is this new collimated beam weapon, which appears to perfect the "electric bench" of the Vichy Gestapo (Rejali, Torture and Democracy, p. 113). These are, for the time being, military contractors, members of the Military Industrial Complex, if you will. Sensory and sleep deprivation is practiced at Guantanamo, documented by Human Rights Watch, in 2008. Solitary confinement is practiced at U.S. supermax prisons by what is now even commonly known as the Prison Industrial Complex (also documented in the HRW document).

We are now creating, or amalgamating from other "Industrial Complexes" an industry that supplies the government of the United States with clean pain. Clean pain for crowd control, clean pain for counterinsurgency, clean pain for punishment, for interrogation, for confession. All of it ludicrously justified as legal and even humane because it supposedly does no lasting damage (the current very narrow definition, which somehow fails to take into account the severity of the pain). But none of it is tested on real subjects -- that is to say people who are hostile, who are captive, who do not volunteer for a test that will soon end. Those tests will come in the form of lawsuits under the Torture Victims Protection Act, or perhaps in the Hague. Because clean pain isn't really clean. And the psychological damage, and probably the physical damage once the device becomes routinely used (as in the Taser), are real. And no amount of lobbying from any Torture Industrial Complex will change that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Torture and the U.S. Election

The issue of torture is important in the political race this Fall in the United States. No, it isn't an issue at the tip of many tongues, the candidates are not debating it, and the media, for their part, believe that both candidates views on the subject are known, and that they at least agree that torture should not be practiced, and that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be shut down. Occasionally, it gets tossed in, in a list of epithets, when someone wants to express distaste over the fact that issues of importance are not being discussed. Less frequently than the two wars the U.S. is fighting, maybe even less frequently than those some advocate starting. It is less important in political advertisement than the economy, even less important than the price of gasoline. If it got mentioned at either political convention (and it did), it was certainly in passing.

The issue of torture is important in the political race this Fall in the United States. Even the local, the time frame, and the methodology have been circumscribed. There are many human rights organizations concerned with the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, less if the subject is the prisons elsewhere, or renditions to foreign countries, still less, or not at all, about the reaction to our practices in other parts of the globe. Somehow, once the prison is closed down at Guantanamo Bay, our dark period, when U.S. officials wrote memos reinterpreting the law and international treaties, when cabinet members worked out which technique would be done next, when a national debate raged for months over whether or not strapping a man to a board, covering his head with a towel, lowering his head below his feet, and pouring water into his nose and mouth until he started to drown, was torture, will be over. Somehow once those 270 inmates are repatriated, or moved to U.S. supermax prisons, or whatever is supposed to happen to them, a foul chapter in American history will be over, and everyone can concentrate on their own happiness, on the gas prices and the values of their homes, on good jobs and quality health care once again, like, well like they have been doing all along.

To be sure, it is important to put torture into the litany, to add it to the list of things to be fixed when the big change comes. To be sure, it is also important that whoever is elected in the United States be against torture. To be sure, it is also important that the military commissions be criticized for the mock justice that they are, that the details of what has been done to Mohammed Jawad must be enunciated by Major David Frakt eloquently, for the world to know what has happened to these boys. To be sure, we must close down the prison that has become the symbol of American human rights abuse at Guantanamo Bay.

And so torture is an important issue in the political race this Fall in the United States. Too important to talk about. In a parody of what elections in democratic societies are all about, the issues that are the most important ones facing the United States in the Fall of 2008 are those which are receiving the least attention. There is perhaps no greater indication of the feel good nature of American discourse, than that precisely those subjects which cause the most pain to listen to, precisely those for which Americans are faced with stark choices and grave implications, precisely those issues for which our forbears fought and died, for which many in this world would still fight and die, which do the most to define us, our character, our mettle, our sense of responsibility to our country and to our world, are those which may not be mentioned, unless in passing, unless as one in a list of epithets, unless there is another subject to which the speaker or the media can quickly segue, fearful that the magic which sells will fail to sell if the buyer hears something discordant, a break in the façade, a breach in the fabric of the wonderful life.

What matters elsewhere

But torture and human rights are an important election issue outside the U.S. How the U.S. chooses to repudiate these recent practices is important to other countries. How the U.S. chooses to uphold its treaties, whether the perpetrators of grave injury to the minds and bodies of citizens of other countries will be prosecuted matters elsewhere. A delegation from the Pakistani Senate will arrive in the U.S. this month, they had asked to meet with the Pakistanis interned in Guantanamo Bay. They have been refused. They will meet with Aafia Siddiqui, maybe. They have been told U.S. officials have no objection to the meeting, but she has not met with many people, because a strip search is a pre-requisite for such meetings. And the fact that Bush administration officials do not object to the meeting is secondary to the permission of the MDC prison in Brooklyn where she is held. Khalid Hasan, in the Pakistani Daily Times, vents frustration over both proposed meetings, calling the meeting with Siddiqui a "consolation prize", and wondering what it will accomplish. Exactly why members of a foreign government which is said to be an ally of the U.S. cannot meet with their nationals at Guantanamo is a mystery -- or not.

In truth, Pakistan has been through more than a few upheavals since February 2007 over the fate of its nationals who have disappeared. Ms. Siddiqui is only a poster child for these, a well known figure and someone who would have seemed above the fray to Pakistanis, because of her gender and education. She symbolizes the plight of the 580 or possibly thousands, of missing people, taken by the government, and handed over, at least so it is believed, to the United States for torture. As the U.S. deepens its penetrations into Pakistan, and enunciates a doctrine of not requesting permission to fight on either side of the border, the level of anger over people the Pakistanis are sure have been tortured, is not something that can be dismissed.

Across the border in Afghanistan, a country that went from 600 or so prisoners before the U.S. invaded to close to 15,000 now, the issue of imprisonment and abuse under U.S. control is also prominent. While the candidates in America debate how many more brigades will solve every problem in Afghanistan, debate whether or not the Iraq war drew off so many resources that the effort there is slowly failing, and debate the policy of incursions into Pakistan which has so many Pakistanis up in arms, a very clear statement on locking up Afghans in prisons at American direction was made in Kandahar last June. On June 13th, at around 10 pm, the Afghani Taliban assaulted the prison there with suicide bombs and armed men on motorcycles. They set free perhaps a thousand prisoners.

Americans, perhaps, concentrate on the 400 Taliban that were released, the danger they pose, and the Taliban freeing their own. The deeper message is that many local Afghans were waiting as the prisoners walked out of the prison, looking for their relatives, rejoicing over reuniting with them, and thankful, perhaps for the first time, to the Taliban militias who set them free. It went this way once before. When the British were wearing out their welcome in Afghanistan, the first step in a rebellion that ended in beheadings of British officers, was freeing Afghans from British prison. The conditions of the prisons that have been filled under U.S. control is frightening. Even the U.S. military does not consider most of them fit for housing any prisoner except on an interim (two week) basis, yet prisoners are kept in pens there for months. There are reports of abuse, use of the exposure to the elements to effect sleep deprivation, pouring water over inmates' exposed skin in the winter so that it will freeze. Sleep deprivation, exposure to heat and cold, causing injuries, softening up prisoners for interrogation. Torture is an issue in these prisons too, and there have been transfers to Afghan prisons from elsewhere, as the Supreme Court of the United States has gradually clamped down on Guantanamo, and the legal theories that held that it was beyond the law (B. Olshansky, Democracy Detained). Afghanistan is the new Guantanamo, it is much bigger, more abusive, and it is still unclear whether those Supreme Court decisions apply.

In Europe, torture is an issue, American torture. Philippe Sands' book The Torture Team reflects this, as does the demands of the high court there to MI5 to relinquish information on British government complicity, and the finding that MI5 was complicit in the torture of Binyam Mohammed (Sands was involved in arguing this case as well). In Germany and France, there are efforts to bring charges for torture against American officials. The latest poll by the BBC showing that most countries in the world have definite preferences in the upcoming U.S. elections, combined with the knowledge that these preferences come from wanting a change from the current foreign policy, cannot be devoid of feelings about the tortures and abuses that have come to light.

Even in countries that are known for their harsh abuse and torture of prisoners, there is a desire that America be not among the torture states. An editorial on the Aafia Siddiqui case last month in the Arab News, the editors invoke America's Founding Fathers, and then the human rights doctrine which America has championed in the past:

This is yet another instance of how, in their zeal to fight terror, the US authorities are undermining the ideals and values that once inspired America’s Founding Fathers. More important, they are trampling on everything that the world has come to view as sacrosanct, from the rule of law to human rights to a fair trial, as enshrined in the UN Human Rights Charter and Geneva Conventions.
While candidates vie for testimonials on patriotism in America, it is tough to have our own core values and Founding Fathers invoked back to us, as a plea from Saudi Arabia, not to "play into
the hands of terrorists by confirming the worst things they say about their enemies in general and the West in particular."

Those for whom it is paramount

There is one group of Americans who are completely focussed on the issue of torture during this election cycle, you can be sure of it. There is the group for whom it is the paramount issue, and far exceeds the importance of anything else. That would be the group which, in the world as it should be, would be prosecuted for the acts of torture committed under color of U.S. law, by the military, and those who, above all, created the system, approved its application, and directed the implementation of the plan.

These are people who will not go gently into the night, should a new government have no place for them. Darius Rejali warns of such people (Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy), invoking the Battle of Algiers, and the fall of the Fourth Republic in France. When Henri Alleg's La Question hit France, and after the claims of its untruth fell one by one, the French were faced with only one conclusion. There are, Rejali claims, only two things that a democracy can do: It can reconcile itself to the cruelties of torture, which plants the seed of its destruction through loss of its moral authority, or it can face an attempt by the perpetrators to usurp power, in order that they can avoid prosecution. Some democracies are, truthfully, already gone by the time the torture occurs. Upon restoration, they may purge themselves of what has been done in the national name. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, currently the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, describes this process in the movie Darfur Now, in Argentina, where they put the military junta members on trial. Moreno-Ocampo was the deputy prosecutor.

Many of the names and faces associated with the torture regime in the United States have been in power circles in the U.S. for quite some time. Some, mostly political operatives, harken back to the Nixon administration. Some were staff in the White House during Gerald Ford's term. Many were involved, either directly or indirectly, in the Iran-Contra scandal in the Reagan administration, or in efforts to create loopholes in the fabric of international humanitarian law at that time. And some were new to this administration. Many are young.

All of these people need the protection of the government. They need to either have an ironclad provision that they will never be prosecuted, or they need a continuation of the current government to the extent that their participation in government will protect them. There is a wider diaspora of people involved. There are prisoners. What will happen to the prisoners in Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world, under the next administration? There are calls to close Guantanamo, yes. But the prisoners, in many plans, would be transferred to American supermax prisons. Those are the prisons cited by the Commission Against Torture for -- well -- torture. There is an international incident festering in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn over the treatment of Aafia Siddiqui with regards to strip searches. Sexual degradation and abuse was also cited by the Commission Against Torture.

In short, there are people who have nothing to lose by doing whatever is necessary to prevent the exposure and prosecution of torture here in the United States. There are domestic issues that will follow any of the solutions proposed by either major candidate for closing Guantanamo into the international arena: It may seem a solution to move the nationals of other countries from Cuba to prisons in the U.S., but this means international scrutiny on the very prisons which violate international norms. The American public may be doubly surprised to learn that the rest of the world will believe we torture as a matter of course, if we do that.

One way or another, then, the issue of torture is among the most important to be discussed this Fall in the United States. And the discussion should not wait until after the election. We need to know more than whether a candidate opposes torture. That isn't enough while thousands of prisoners wait in abusive pens. It isn't enough while thousands of relatives wait for word about people who have disappeared. The moral inheritors of the black shawls and photographs of the women who stood every day in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires will be standing in front of American embassies in country after country. To them, those who have done this are no better than those Argentine generals, and deserve equal punishment. We don't just need to know our candidate will feel their pain. We need to know what his plan is to end the torture.

Monday, September 1, 2008

An Open Letter to the ACLU

To whom it may hopefully concern,

The case of the supposed al Qaeda "Mata Hari", Aafia Siddiqui, is a case of significant human and civil rights implications, and has resonated as a major issue in her home country, Pakistan, as well as elsewhere. In the United States, where there is a genuine ability to affect the situation, civil and human rights groups have been strangely silent.

There is much about the whole case that is controversial. We don't know about the older allegations by the F.B.I., which were made quite publicly at times in 2003 and 2004, but were never expressed on the F.B.I. web site as anything more than that the F.B.I. wanted to question her, and had no solid links of her to terrorism. Some of them sound ludicrous, in that they require people to be at two places at one time, and require a whole second life, lived outside of any notice by her friends, thesis advisor, or anyone else.

We also don't know about the allegations of her family and of Asian human rights groups, that she was detained at Bagram for 5 years and tortured. She was listed by Amnesty International as missing and probably detained for quite a while, but we don't know who is being detained in that part of the world, and the Pakistani government lately went through major upheavals in no small part because a Supreme Court judge there ordered the government to produce the disappeared prisoners in court and charge or release them.

Much of these two sets of competing allegations, and how they are sorted out, if they ever are, will depend on a fair venue and a proper investigation. This is something everyone hopes for who has worked hard to hold the United States government accountable for prisoners, both those we know about in Guantanamo, and those whose only mark on our consciousness is that their relatives say they disappeared one day, like many in prisons far fuller than Guantanamo, abroad.

But at the current moment, we are at a far more rudimentary and basic stage with the case of Aafia Siddiqui. We must concentrate on the present, and on what is more easily verified. And the present doesn't look very good.

On June 17th, according to both the F.B.I. and two groups of police in Afghanistan, the Ghazni police arrested her and her child, Ahmed, 11, in Ghazni. They claimed she had been wandering around the governors palace and used vocabulary indicating they thought she was planning a suicide attack on the building.

They transferred her and her son to the Afghan National Police that day, after giving a "press conference" which is available in part on YouTube, and shows the police asking Ms. Siddiqui and her son questions and Ms. Siddiqui telling her son not to answer them, followed by a long statement by the police spokesman.

The next day, we know for sure, Ms. Siddiqui was shot by an American warrant officer twice in the torso, once in the chest and once in the lower abdomen, in the presence of interpreters, Afghan police, and F.B.I. interrogators. There are two versions as to how this happened, the version on the affidavit the F.B.I. filed in New York District Court says she grabbed the warrant officer's M-4 assault rifle and attempted to shoot it at them, the version from the Afghan police is that the Americans were disarming the Afghan police when she approached them to complain about police abuse, and the warrant officer panicked thinking she was going to blow herself up and shot her twice. But we know she got shot.

She was transported to Bagram for medical treatment, and remained there in the hospital for two weeks. During the time she was there, the F.B.I. and the U.S. military both denied publicly that she was in custody, or that they knew where she was. There is no indication she was registered with the Red Cross (she may have been, there is no indication). She was then "arrested" on charges of attempting to kill a (U.S.) federal agent, put on a plane to New York, and put in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn New York. Her son remained in custody in Afghanistan. The Afghan police say they had no means to hold him, so they transfered him to the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS). At some point he was transfered to the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

At her arraignment, she was in a wheelchair, and her lawyers complained about lack of access to a doctor, that they had requested medical attention 6 days previously and it had not been provided. They also complained that she was subject to strip search before and after meetings with counsel. The judge made a few relevant comments, for instance, marveling over the speed of the "extradition", that he could not get an extradition from the Bronx to Manhattan that fast. He ordered a doctor's visit, over the objections of the prosecutor, who claimed that she was to high a security risk. Given that she has been talking to counsel through a food slot in lieu of submitting to strip searches, she is in solitary confinement.

The Pakistani consulate, who was allowed to visit her in Brooklyn, has also complained about her treatment, notably they asked for a Koran and proper food and an end to the strip searches.

Her bail hearing was postponed to September 3rd until she is in better medical health. There has been a new complaint about lack of access to proper medical care, and a complaint that the strip searches have been reinstated, along with having her climb stairs to meet with counsel, which her lawyers say is painful due to her injuries. The Pakistani ambassador, Hussain Haqqani, has complained again about her treatment. The Pakistan Senate has sent a delegation to try to make sure she gets a fair trial.

Which brings us to her bail hearing on Wednesday, September 3rd. It is a sad tribute to the perception of American rule of law and American justice that very few people abroad believe that Aafia Siddiqui will get anything resembling a fair trial. There are already many indications that lead one to believe otherwise:
  • The circumstances of her arrest. She was in Afghan custody, then she was in American military custody, then F.B.I. custody, then extradited. There were no extradition hearings in front of any magistrate, her consulate (the Pakistani government in general) was not informed of either her arrest or extradition. If she was in U.S. military custody and that custody was legal, what was her status? How can the F.B.I. make arrests on foreign soil? When a law enforcement officer (in this case U.S. military) fires on a prisoner in custody, shouldn't there be an investigation? Why were there so many conflicting stories about the circumstances of her original arrest by Ghazni police?
  • Her treatment before August 4th. She was in U.S. military and/or F.B.I. custody in a foreign country, her detention, even if it was for hospital care, should have been reported to the Red Cross at minimum. Why did these groups deny her custody or knowledge of her whereabouts, even to Pakistani human rights organizations, during this time? Why was her government not notified of her arrest and hospitalization?
  • Her treatment after August 4th. She is being held in a U.S. federal detention center. Allegations from ambassadors of strip searches in U.S. detention, not as a matter of safety but as an obvious harrassment and to interrupt meetings with counsel? Is this not an American human and civil rights issue? Is it so par for the course in American justice that American civil rights organizations have no interest? Allegations of denial of medical treatment? Both strip searches and denial of medical treatment, combined with solitary confinement (if prolonged), butt right up against the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Is the interest in this issue suspended for a person against whom there are allegations?
  • The detention of her son. Detaining her son, as pointed out by Human Rights Watch, is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and of Afghan law, because of the child's age. The detention continued, and included interrogation and DNA testing, for several weeks. Only when a sharp protest was lodged by HRW did the matter move, and the Afghan Foreign Ministry now says the child will be remanded to relatives. The child is a U.S. citizen by birth. There is no interest in the civil and human rights of children forced on foreign police forces by U.S. agents intent on prosecuting their mothers?
In the coming weeks, there will undoubtedly be more issues. Witnesses to the arrest and shooting are not all in the United States, for instance, and if the F.B.I. seeks charges on its allegations of terrorism and al Qaeda affiliation, there will be tremendously important issues related to evidence in a U.S. court room derived from torture -- the F.B.I. decided she was a terrorist after Khalid Sheikh Mohammad mentioned her name during the so-called enhanced interrogation that the rest of the world calls torture. Nothing derived from that should be admissible in a U.S. court of law, or anywhere else for that matter, and this requires scrutiny.

The ACLU is not an organization that traditionally shies away from controversy. They (in older form) marched during Sacco and Vanzetti, they defended George Lincoln Rockwell, they have put up with twenty years of abuse since George H.W. Bush's famous "card-carrying member of the ACLU" comment in the 1988 debates. And this case is not without the possibility of negative public opinion. This woman has been characterized as an al Qaeda mastermind, a sorceress who has conjured up everything from blood diamonds to biological and nuclear weapons. She is being tried down the street from Ground Zero.

But before anyone debates whether or not she is a "Female Osama Bin Laden", the "Grey Lady of Bagram, prisoner 650", or anything else, can we not have some attention from the civil and human rights organizations in the United States as to the state of her current detention, and the detention of her young children? Is it no longer the purview of civil rights lawyers in this country to worry about illegal extraditions, shootings in police custody, fair trials for publicly denigrated figures, or degrading treatment and denial of proper medical care? Look what happened when Human Rights Watch opened their mouths about her child. The Afghan government jumped. They had ignored Asian civil rights organizations like AHRC and HRCP for weeks, but they jumped into action when an American group spoke up.

Aafia Siddiqui will not get fair treatment without the voices of Americans: Civil Rights groups, citizens, American media, and someday members of Congress. This is a plea for those voices. It doesn't matter who she is or what she is. The ACLU taught us that. Didn't they?