9.06.2008

war resister seeks refuge from being forced to torture

This Toronto Star story is about one of our Toronto resisters. He's a great guy, contributing mightily to the Campaign and to Canada.

He was originally here with his son, a lovely young man, but his son went home to live with his mother and sister. I really feel for Peter, so far away from his family. I hope the resisters and campaigners can provide a surrogate family for him.
Peter Jemley is unique among the growing ranks of war resisters who have sought refuge in Canada.

For one thing, he's old by military standards. The only reason the army considered the 38-year-old recruit three years ago was because the age cap had been raised to fill the U.S. military's growing void.

The Tacoma, Wash., father of two young children also bucks the soldier stereotype. Jemley is a college history major, both quiet and fervently independent. If describing a bad situation he's likely to say it "sucked," then apologize for his profanity.

Now Jemley's reasons for deserting set him apart too, and make his case a historic first.

He wants Canada to accept him as a refugee because he's opposed to torture.

Jemley argues that as one of only a small number of Arabic linguists with top security clearance, he could be forced to violate international law by participating in the interrogations of terrorism suspects. It was something he hadn't considered when he enlisted in 2005 and was handpicked to undergo two years of intense training due to his adeptness with languages.

Only last February did he discover that his government had sanctioned new rules on how terrorism suspects could be interrogated. He believes it's torture and when he realized he might be asked to be a part of it, he fled.

"It's a soldier's obligation to say `no' if their commander is doing things that are criminally complicit," Jemley, now 42, said in a recent interview in Toronto. "I think everyone is agreeing now that torture is really what has been going on ... I have every reason to believe that from my small pool that I belong to, with my credentials, that I'd be ordered to do such things."

`Torture' has become a much-debated word with profound legal implications since the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. administration's decision to re-write the laws of war.

Detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and the undisclosed CIA prisons around the world have claimed widespread abuse. The CIA has admitted to using `coercive techniques' during interrogations, such as waterboarding, a process whereby agents simulate drownings.

Much of the legal community considers this treatment torture and point to international laws such as the Geneva Conventions, which were established after WWII to impose legal restrictions on the barbarity of war.

Canada so far has largely been able to sidestep the debate about torture and the Bush administration's post-9/11 policies. Other cases of deserters in Canada have focused on the larger question of the legality of the Iraq war. About a dozen cases are working their way through the refugee board and courts with varying legal arguments and one deserter has already been deported back to face a court martial.

The issue of Guantanamo's legality arose earlier this year in the Supreme Court case concerning Canadian detainee Omar Khadr. The high court justices ruled that Canadian agents had acted illegally by interrogating the Toronto teenager in 2003 and 2004. But the high court relied on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed Guantanamo illegal, rather than debating issues of torture and indefinite detention specifically.

Jemley's case is the first to deal with the issue directly. The CIA has admitted it uses acts such as waterboarding. There's evidence that Guantanamo detainees were subjected to programs such as sleep deprivation, intimidation with dogs and sexual humiliation. If these tactics are torture, thereby violating international law, Jemley argues he could be prosecuted for war crimes if he participates.

Canada must decide whether the U.S. administration has sanctioned torture in deciding his case, his lawyer says.

"There are specific rules for soldiers and the basic idea is nobody should participate in torture, ever," said Jemley's lawyer Jeffrey House. "Nobody should associate themselves with torture or violations of the Geneva Conventions because if we start to wink at violations of the Geneva Conventions they're no longer law, they're just guidelines."

Calls to Jemley's commander at the 341st Military Intelligence Battalion at Camp Murray, Tacoma, were not returned this week. But a letter of "unexcused absence" emailed to Jemley from Maj. Brian Bodenman outlined what penalties he could face if he failed to show up to training by yesterday's deadline.

Punishment includes a court martial with possibility of jail time or a discharge and transfer to "inactive ready reserve." The latter means Jemley could still be called to duty for a period of five years.

"To me it's like being an indentured servant. You can't leave, and you can't give your skills back," Jemley said.

Since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003, there is no accurate account of how many deserters have fled to Canada – best guess is a couple hundred, with many remaining underground having not filed a refugee claim.

Comparisons are often made to the Vietnam War when thousands came to Canada. But during Vietnam there was a draft, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has little sympathy for today's deserters.

Jemley's decision to join the army was not one he took lightly, nor one borne of patriotic duty. "It wasn't a political decision. I didn't really like the Bush administration any more then, than I do now, but Iraqis are people too and I'm not afraid of doing difficult things. So I thought I could help," Jemley said.

After scoring extremely high on the army's Defense Language Aptitude Battery test he was asked if he'd become a linguist and was sent to the Army's language school in Monterey, Calif., for two years. Upon graduation, he spent a brief stint at the secretive National Security Agency, the U.S. government's electronic eavesdropping agency, and then sought independent contracts where he could work until his unit was deployed.

In February, he signed a lucrative contract with Washington's Office of Military Commissions, the legal arm of the Guantanamo trials that is prosecuting a couple dozen detainees, including Khadr. It was when Jemley started doing his own research into the Guantanamo cases that he came up with media reports about the waterboarding of suspects. When he was asked to sign an addendum to his OMC contract, which added that he must be available to be on-call for "other language related assignments," he refused and was fired.

A second contract offered him work in unspecified locations with "the agency" based in northern Virginia. No one would confirm it was the CIA and when he couldn't get answers about what he'd be doing he turned down the job.

By then he knew he was trapped. These were positions he could refuse, but if he was ordered to duty he couldn't say no.

"I did everything I was supposed to. I'm not afraid to be deployed. I'm not afraid to die," Jemley said.

"(But) I'm ashamed about what's going on."

His wife Sarah and children aged 8 and 3 have remained in Tacoma until Sarah can finish her master's nursing degree. They hate the separation but Jemley says he's confident in his decision.

"I know it sounds glib but I mean it. If one less person gets tortured then it'll all be worth it."

3 comments:

redsock said...

The CIA has admitted to using 'coercive techniques' during interrogations, such as waterboarding, a process whereby agents simulate drownings.

It does not "simulate" drowning -- IT IS DROWNING. The torturers merely stop the procedure in time to prevent death (usually).

L-girl said...

Good catch. Thank you.

Cornelia said...

Of course it`s torture. What else should it be??? Ugh, dreadful!!! It's absolutely awful.
That will increase even greater public support for the war resisters. Hope he can stay and that they will recognize he does have a case.
Of course I agree the right to be free of torture, degrading, cruel and inhumane treatment must be upheld, respected and implemented all the time, in all cases and in all situations and contexts - regarding interrogations in detention as well as in private life (important point against domestic violence and severe abuse and bullying at schools, too!)
I think (and I think other people said that, too) waterboarding is a form of mock execution and it does inflict extreme suffering to the victims. Of course it is torture. It is unacceptable and at odds with human rights and it is extremely inhumane, cruel and degrading and terrifying.
They also don't realize that they are very likely to get bad intelligence that way. (Those points have been stressed by many people, too, not only by myself, for luck!) For example, if they threatened to do something extremely shitty to me if I didn't tell them what they wanted to hear and I tell them, that only proves I don't want them to subject me to that shit and nothing else, right?
No good professional investigation work either. They have been doing a horrible job and they are criminals themselves.
I think detainee abuse even helps the terrorists because this way, they could say something like this: "Look, the US Government doesn't respect human rights themselves. They lack credibility. They commit torture themselves. Come on, make common cause with us, we at least will let you do in women and and abuse and bully them and take it all out on them and stay sexist and patriarchal."
Once some idiot wrote a story that took place in the Wild West and said it upheld American values. Then there was a great deal of torture and abuse and bullying and violence and reactionary patriarchal sexist backward unpleasant trash in the book. I wonder whether the guy who wrote that bangle consulted with Bush, Cheney and Rummy on the definition of American values??? Because I want to point out this is not American values and not about freedom and democracy but quite the contrary - opinions of Bush, Cheney, Rummy and their likes don't matter on the issue!!!
Anyway, thank God for Canada and for all what Canadians and Americans in Canada have been doing to truly uphold freedom and democracy, 3 cheers and a tiger, congratulations and keep up the good work and onwards!!!