REPORT: 98 Detainees Have Died While In U.S. Custody

Human Rights First just released a report concluding that since Aug. 2002, 98 detainees have died while in U.S. custody in the global war on terror. “According to the U.S. military’s own classifications, 34 of these cases are suspected or confirmed homicides; Human Rights First has identified another 11 in which the facts suggest death as a result of physical abuse or harsh conditions of detention.” The report also found that officials often failed to report the deaths and “effective punishment has been too little and too late.”

Yesterday on BBC Newsnight, Bush administration apologist David Rivkin defended the administration’s practice of torture. He argued that even if the report is true, torturing people to death is no big deal. Watch the exchange here.

BBC: If that [HRF report] is true, then this is a big scandal.

RIVKIN: No, with all due respect, it is not. … Let’s assume that 10 individuals were tortured to death. And again, I’m not conceding it to be the case. Let’s assume for the sake of a discussion that this is the case. The biggest problem of criticis like Deborah and most other criticis, is that terrible historical amnesia and a failure of perspective. Ten people were tortured to death out of over 100,000 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. That, according to my math, is 1,000th of 1 percent, which is a better rate than the situation in either Vietnam, WWI, or WWII, or most civilian penal systems. So from a standpoint of sheer numbers, it’s not a scandal. Unfortunately, bad things happen in detention. Bad things happen in confinement.


When the President insists, “We do not torture,” reserves the right to bypass a ban on torture, and then fails to punish officials who do torture, there’s something like a scandal going on.