Official American Sadism

Guantanamo: Beyond the Law

a series of five articles by Tom Lasseter
in the McClatchy Newspapers, June 15–19, 2008, available at

Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact

a report by Physicians for Human Rights, with a preface byMajor General Antonio M. Taguba
Physicians for Human Rights, 130 pp., available at


Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan accused of throwing a grenade at a convoy of American soldiers in Kabul in late 2002, wounding two, was brought to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in February 2003. He was then seventeen years old. In December 2003 he attempted suicide. The following May he was subjected to what Guantánamo officials called the “frequent flyer program.” Every three hours, day and night, he was shackled and moved to another cell—112 times over fourteen days.

We know about what was done to Mr. Jawad because the military lawyer assigned as his defense counsel, Major David J.R. Frakt (Air Force Reserve), sought and won from a military judge an order for his jailers to produce the records of his captivity. Major Frakt brought out the realities of Jawad’s treatment in his closing argument at a pre-trial hearing on June 19, 2008—an argument that was a remarkable display of legal and moral courage.

“Why was Mohammed Jawad tortured?” Major Frakt asked. “Why did military officials choose a teenage boy who had attempted suicide in his cell less than five months earlier to be the subject of this sadistic sleep deprivation experiment?” Officers at Guantánamo said they did not believe he had any valuable intelligence information, and he was not even questioned during the “frequent flyer program.” “The most likely scenario,” Major Frakt said, “is that they simply decided to torture Mr. Jawad for sport, to teach him a lesson, perhaps to make an example of him to others.”

But Major Frakt did not stop with those who tormented Mohammed Jawad. He addressed President Bush’s order of February 7, 2002, that those detained at Guantánamo as alleged al-Qaeda or Taliban members and supporters were not to be given the protections of the Geneva Conventions. “February 7, 2002,” he said,

America lost a little of its greatness that day. We lost our position as the world’s leading defender of human rights, as the champion of justice and fairness and the rule of law….

Sadly, this military commission [which was holding the Jawad hearing] has no power to do anything to the enablers of torture such as John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Robert Delahunty, Alberto Gonzales…, David Addington, William Haynes, Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld….

Major Frakt’s reference to “the enablers” raised a fundamental question: How did the United States government get into the business of torturing prisoners? Sleep deprivation was by no means the only harsh technique used on prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere. Others included forcing prisoners into stress positions, exposing them to harsh lights and extreme hot and cold temperatures, sexual humiliation, nudity, and waterboarding, the “water cure” that inflicts partial suffocation. 1

Since the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was exposed, in April 2004, the Bush administration has maintained that any mistreatment was the work of a few “bad apples.” No action has been taken against any higher-up, military or civilian. But a steady accumulation of disclosures, capped in June by…

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