Tags: addington, alberto gonzalex, bybee, CIA torture, condoleeza rice, constitutiion, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George Bush, human rights, International law, john yoo, jon queally, nuremberg, obama torture, roger hollander, rumsfeld, senate intelligence, torture, waterboarding
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Roger’s note: The United States government and military violate international law on a daily basis; the Bush/Cheney torture regime, which Obama has outsourced to Bagram and god knows where else, is one of its most blatant manifestations. Obama’s “we need to look forward not backward” excuse for violating his oath to defend the constitution does credit to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka. The next time you are before a judge accused of a crime, please remind her that it is time to look forward and not backward. Your charges are sure to be dropped.
According to sources who spoke with McClatchy, five-year inquiry into agency’s torture regime ignores key role played by Bush administration officials who authorized the abuse
According to new reporting by McClatchy, the five-year investigation led by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the torture program conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 will largely ignore the role played by high-level Bush administration officials, including those on the White House legal team who penned memos that ultimately paved the way for the torture’s authorization.
Though President Obama has repeatedly been criticized for not conducting or allowing a full review of the torture that occured during his predecessor’s tenure, the Senate report—which has been completed, but not released—has repeatedly been cited by lawmakers and the White House as the definitive examination of those policies and practices. According to those with knowledge of the report who spoke with McClatchy, however, the review has quite definite limitations.
The report, one person who was not authorized to discuss it told McClatchy, “does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.” Instead, the focus is on the actions and inations of the CIA and whether or not they fully informed Congress about those activities. “It’s not about the president,” the person said. “It’s not about criminal liability.”
Responding to comment on the reporting, legal experts and critics of the Bush torture program expressed disappointment that high-level officials in the administration were not part of the review. In addition to the president himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, others considered part of what it sometimes referred to as the “Torture Team,” include: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the specific legal memos authorizing specific forms of abuse.
“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said to McClatchy. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”
And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that limiting the report to just the actions of the CIA doesn’t make much sense from a legal or investigative standpoint. “It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction. It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”
As Mclatchy‘s Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report:
The narrow parameters of the inquiry apparently were structured to secure the support of the committee’s minority Republicans. But the Republicans withdrew only months into the inquiry, and several experts said that the parameters were sufficiently flexible to have allowed an examination of the roles Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials played in a top-secret program that could only have been ordered by the president.
“It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”
It’s not as if there wasn’t evidence that Bush and his top national security lieutenants were directly involved in the program’s creation and operation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a 2008 report on detainee mistreatment by the Defense Department that Bush opened the way in February 2002 by denying al Qaida and Taliban detainees the protection of an international ban against torture.
White House officials also participated in discussions and reviewed specific CIA interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003, the public version of the Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded.
Several unofficial accounts published as far back as 2008 offered greater detail.
Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relentlessly pressured interrogators to subject detainees to harsh interrogation methods in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, McClatchy reported in April 2009. Such evidence, which was non-existent, would have substantiated one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003.
Other accounts described how Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Secretary of State Colin Powell approved specific harsh interrogation techniques. George Tenet, then the CIA director, also reportedly updated them on the results.
“Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft said after one of dozens of meetings on the program, ABC News reported in April 2008 in a story about the White House’s direct oversight of interrogations.
News reports also chronicled the involvement of top White House and Justice Department officials in fashioning a legal rationale giving Bush the authority to override U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. They also helped craft opinions that effectively legalized the CIA’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and sleep deprivation.
Though President Obama casually admitted earlier this, “We tortured some folks.” — what most critics and human rights experts have requested is an open and unbiased review of the full spectrum of the U.S. torture program under President Bush. And though increasingly unlikely, calls remain for those responsible for authorizing and conducting the abuse to be held accountable with indictments, trials, and if guilty, jail sentences. In addition, as a letter earlier this year signed by ten victims of the extrajudicial rendition under the Bush administration stated, the concept of full disclosure and accountability is key to restoring the credibility of the nation when it comes to human rights abuses:
Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.
These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.
As McClatchy notes, a redacted version of the report’s summary—the only part of it expected to be released to the public—continues to be under review. Its release date remains unclear.
Tags: cia interrogation, CIA rendition, CIA torture, isis, islamic state, james foley, jon queally, rendition, roger hollander, torture, water boarding, waterboarding
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Sources quoted by the Washinton Post say ISIS “knew exactly how it was done” as it employed brutal techniques also approved by Bush administration
The Washington Post reports on Thursday that at least four individuals taken captive by the Islamic State were tortured and that the group—also known as ISIS—appeared to be modeling the CIA’s use of torture as it employed waterboarding as one of the painful techniques they used.
Worldwide condemnation followed revelations that in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration approved the CIA to torture suspected terrorists during interoggations conducted at secret ‘Black Sites’ – or clandestine holding facilities.
Among those subjected to the brutal treatment by ISIS, according to sources quoted in thePost‘s reporting, was American journalist James Foley who was subsequently executed by the group.
From the Post:
“They knew exactly how it was done,” said a person with direct knowledge of what happened to the hostages. The person, who would only discuss the hostages’ experience on condition of anonymity, said the captives, including Foley, were held in Raqqah, a city in the north-central region of Syria.
James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State last week in apparent retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq where the militant group has seized large swaths of territory. The group, which also controls parts of Syria, has threatened to kill another American, journalist Steven J. Sotloff. He was seen at the end of a video showing Foley’s killing that was released by the militant group. Two other Americans are also held by Islamic State.
A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding.
“Yes, that is part of the information that bubbled up and Jim was subject to it,” the person said. “I believe he suffered a lot of physical abuse.”
Foley’s mother, Diane, said in a brief phone interview Thursday that she didn’t know her son had been waterboarded.
The FBI, which is investigating Foley’s death and the abduction of Americans in Syria, declined to comment. The CIA had no official comment.
As the Huffington Post‘s Jack Mirkinson points out:
Waterboarding became perhaps the most notorious method of torture practiced by American interrogators in the years after September 11th.
Interestingly, while the Post has, like most mainstream outlets, typically been reluctant to call methods such as waterboarding “torture” when it was practiced by Americans, the paper had no apparent problem calling what ISIS did to Foley “torture.”
“A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding,” the Post wrote.
Still, the paper has not followed the New York Times in vowing to use the word “torture” more firmly in its articles.
One unnamed “U.S. official” quoted by the Post scoffed at the idea that there could be any comparison between the torture conducted by ISIS and the torture conducted by U.S. military or intelligence agents.
“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” the unnamed official said. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”
But early reactions on Twitter were not niave to the implications of the news relative to the consistent and continued defense of torture by U.S. officials—and members of the U.S. media—when it was conducted by the CIA against their perceived enemies:
Rendition Victims Urge Obama to Declassify Senate Torture Report
‘You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.’
As officials continue to delay the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on post-9/11 CIA interrogation techniques, 10 victims of CIA rendition and torture have signed an open letter (pdf) to President Obama asking him to declassify the heavily redacted report.
The 500-page summary of the report, which includes details about secret overseas prisons, waterboarding of suspected enemy combatants, and rendition — the practice of sending a terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a foreign country — was so extensively redacted as to render it “impossible to understand,” as one critic put it. The report was expected to be released in August, but has been delayed and is currently thought to be sitting on President Obama’s desk while negotiations over declassification continue.
The signatories to the letter want these blackouts removed, in order to force a public reckoning with and official acknowledgement of their experiences.
“Despite living thousands of miles apart and leading different lives today, a shared experience unites us: the CIA abducted each of us in the past and flew us to secret prisons for torture,” reads the letter, which was coordinated by the international human rights group Reprieve. “Some of us were kidnapped with our pregnant wives or children. All of us were later released without charge, redress or apology from the US. We now want the American public to read that story, in full, and without redactions… You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.”
The letter, which details prolonged confinement in small boxes and dark spaces, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and “bombardment with noise and weapons,” continues:
Torture, we thought, was something only dictators did. Colonel Gaddafi’s thugs were infamous for maiming and killing political opponents in Libya. In Egypt activists often disappeared. Moroccan interrogation techniques include “bottle torture,” where bottles are used to violate prisoners. We understood the Syrian regime’s brutality well before it murdered thousands of its citizens.
Before our abductions, though, none of us imagined the torturers standing over us one day would come from the United States.
Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.
These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.
In advance of an August 29 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing deadline, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has reportedly asked for an additional one-month delay due to “ongoing negotiations” between the Committee, the Obama administration, and the CIA regarding declassification.
Earlier this week, the ACLU filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding the CIA release all three reports about “its post-9/11 program of rendition, secret detention, and torture of detainees” — the 6,000-page Senate Select Committee Intelligence Committee report; the CIA’s report in response, defending the agency’s actions; and a report commissioned by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, which is reportedly consistent with the Committee’s investigative report findings, but contradicts the CIA’s response to the SSCI.
The Guardian reports:
While Feinstein and the CIA have reached the nadir of their relationship — the CIA intends to attack her report’s credibility — there are concerns that the CIA has weighed the scale in favor of secrecy. Obama allowed it to lead the declassification review, despite its interest in keeping the report secret. McClatchy reported this week that the main declassification interlocutor with Feinstein, top intelligence lawyer Robert Litt, represented CIA clients in private practice in undisclosed lawsuits.
“We believe the public should know the full story of what took place in the CIA’s secret prisons and that all of these documents – the Senate report, the CIA response, and the Panetta review should be released to the public,” said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, which filed the freedom-of-information case.
“It’s disappointing that the government is seeking further delay, but, given Senator Feinstein’s assurances, we’re hopeful that all of the documents will be released with very limited redactions in September.”
Tags: barak obama, eric holder, forced feeding, George Bush, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, hunger strike, indefinite detention, john laforge, religious freedom, roger hollander, torture, War Crimes
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Roger’s note: Congratulations. Barak Obama and Eric Holder, with the essential contribution of George Bush, have managed to score a trifecta: a policy and implementation at Guantanamo Bay that is all three, Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Lewis Carroll at the same time. Torture, indefinite detention, and people who are not persons. “Execution first, then the trial” shouted the Queen.
And by the way, the three fifths of a person of African slaves that was in the original constitution is even worse than it appears at face value. Slaves would have been better off if not considered as persons at all. The southern states lobbied for three fifths so that their slaves would be counted in the census, which in turn determined their level of representation in the House of Representative. More slaves on the roll via the three fifths gave the southern state more political clout with which to defend slavery. Thus, being counted as less than fully human was a double whammy against the slaves. Kafka would have loved it.
Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans — whom the US Constitution once called “3/5 of a person” — it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be “non-persons.” The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.
Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder’s Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren’t entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo’s prisoners “are ‘persons’ to whom RFRA applies.”
Holder calls the men “unprivileged enemy belligerents detained overseas during a period of ongoing hostilities.” Calling them prisoners of war would require respecting their human rights.
Cori Crider, an attorney with the legal charity Reprieve who represents some of the men, said in a statement, “I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court. If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people — most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”
According to AG Holder, US Appeals Court rulings mean Guantánamo’s POWs — whom he calls “nonresident aliens outside the US sovereign territory” — are “not protected ‘person[s].’” In the infamous Hobby Lobby case Holder argues, the Supreme Court refused to say that the word “‘person’ as used in RFRA includes a nonresident alien outside sovereign United States territory.”
Even if RFRA applied to the POWs, Holder claims, the law “cannot overcome the judicial presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.” Translation: US Law doesn’t apply at Gitmo, or, the reason the US isolates non-persons at an off-shore military penal colony in the first place is so we can ignore or violate “statutes” with impunity. And if we convince ourselves that “unprivileged enemy belligerents” are not people, we should be able to sleep even if we violate the US torture statute (18 USC, Sec. 1, Ch. 113C), the Convention Against Torture and the US War Crimes Act (18 USC, Sec. 2441) ¾ for years on end.
America’s indefinite imprisonment without charges, hunger strikers and force-feeding
My own jail and prison time, all for political protests, has always come with a clear sentence: six days, 90 days, 180 days; 54 months in all. Anybody who’s been on the inside knows that a release date gives you something fast to hold on to, even if you’re called by a number, fed through a slot, handcuffed for court. But imagine 156 months in a nihilistic “extraterritorial” military prison, with no charges, no trial, no sentence, no visits, phone calls or mail, and no hope.
This is what the USA imposes at Guantánamo, a torturous psychological vice of legal oblivion and manufactured futurelessness. Add to this appalling construction the fact that 72 of 149 remaining inmates were approved for release more than four years ago — but are chained up anyway. Scores of Gitmo’s inmates have looked into this man-made oblivion and decided to die. They are using the only power they have left, the dreadful hunger-strike, both as a protest against their endless detention without trial and their only means of eventually ending it.
The US military has chosen to force-feed hunger strikers, gruesomely plunging plastic tubes up the non-persons’ noses. This abuse violates laws against torture, and the force-feeding schedule is the original basis for the religious rights petition so vigorously opposed by Obama and Holder. The ghastly traumatic stress resulting from enduring force-feeding and the regime of its application make Ramadan’s prayerful group reflection impossible. US District Judge Gladys Kessler has, according to Charlie Savage in the New York Times, publicly condemned the abuse for causing “agony.” For PR purposes the Pentagon and Justice Department call the abuse “enteral feeding.”
Mr. Holder has called “not credible” the prisoners’ complaints about “alleged aspects of enteral feeding” and “allegations that detainees who were being enterally fed were not permitted to pray communally during Ramadan in 2013.” But after the number of hunger strikers reached 106 last year, the military halted its public reporting of the strike.
Significantly, a Navy medical officer at Guantánamo has become the first prison official known to refuse force-feeding duty. The unidentified nurse’s refusal was acknowledged by the Pentagon July 15.
If Holder wins his frightening argument denying the humanity of the men at Guantánamo, even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could object. The ASPCA says its vision is that “the US is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”
Obama Did Not End Torture May 26, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
Tags: bagram, eric holder, force feeding, Guantanamo, hunger strike, jeannie khouri, jeff bachman, Obama, roger hollander, torture
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Roger’s note: If you have ever voluntarily had a tube pushed through your nose and down your throat into your stomach, as I have had as a diagnostic procedure, you will know that having it done daily and non-voluntarily, clearly constitutes torture. As for Obama outsourcing his torture to the Afghani authorities at Bagram, “see no evil, hear no evil …” And for Obama, who has just announced that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan will continue beyond this year, “speak no evil” does not apply.
On January 9, 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama announced, in what was to be a departure from Bush administration era “war-on-terror” tactics: “I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture.” In April 2014, Senator Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Bush administration era torture programs “a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again.” Attorney General Eric Holder also weighed in, arguing that declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee report would ensure that “no administration contemplates such a program in the future.”
While it is essential that the truth be revealed regarding the systematic torture of detainees under the Bush administration, it is equally essential that we recognize the claim that President Obama ended torture as the myth that it is. Under President Obama, the United States continued to imprison individuals in Afghan detention facilities fully aware of the systematic torture that takes place. The continued practice of transferring detainees to Afghan detention facilities despite full knowledge of the systematic torture being perpetrated therein is an unequivocal violation of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Obama has also directly authorized and publicly defended the force-feeding of Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers. Despite Obama’s claim that force-feeding is “performed in a humane fashion, with concern for petitioners’ well-being,” his administration is doing everything in its power to hide or destroy evidence that documents what we already know—that the force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have been cleared for years to be transferred out of the prison, is a clear violation of U.S. obligations under the Torture Convention.
On May 16, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a temporary order that required the Obama administration to abstain from forcibly removing Abu Wa’el Dhiab from his cell and from force-feeding him until yesterday’s hearing. Kessler also ordered the Obama administration to “preserve and maintain all relevant videotapes” of Dhiab’s forcible removal from his cell and enteral feeding. According to Kessler, “Videotapes of Petitioner’s FCEs and/or force-feedings are likely to demonstrate that Petitioner’s detention is unlawful to the extent they amount to unlawful conditions of confinement.” The Court continued, “Petitioner’s full medical records are likely to support his allegations of abuse.” During yesterday’s hearing, Kessler ordered the Obama administration to produce 34 videotapes and Dhiab’s medical records.
In July 2013, in response to a previous emergency motion aimed at stopping the force-feeding, Judge Kessler stated, “It is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the organizations just cited, that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.” And at a Senate Judiciary hearing, also in July, retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D., testified that force-feeding amounted to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” and violated “medical ethics and international and U.S. law.”
The number of detainees being force-fed peaked at 45 detainees during Ramadan in 2013. At the moment, it is unclear how many detainees remain on hunger strike and how many continue to be force-fed, because the U.S. military will “no longer publicly issue the number of detainees who choose not to eat as a matter of protest.” However, in a letter published by Al Jazeera on March 13th, Guantanamo Bay detainee Moath al-Alwi describes himself as one of sixteen prisoners who are still being force-fed:
“I, too, am strapped down and force-fed for over an hour every single day. During the session, I am constantly vomiting the feeding solution into my lap. As I am carried back to my cell, I cannot help but vomit on the guards carrying me. They put a Plexiglas face mask on my head to protect their clothes from my vomit. They tighten the facemask and press down on it, pushing it into my face. I almost suffocate because I am vomiting inside the facemask and am unable to breathe.”
In an earlier piece written by Mr. al-Alwi for Al-Jazeera, he describes the chairs used to restrain prisoners as they are being force-fed as “torture chairs.” I guess no one has clued him in yet that President Obama ended torture.
Inside the Brutality of Egypt’s New Regime: 2,500 Killed, 16,000 Political Prisoners, Torture Allegations Are Widespread April 23, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Torture, Women.
Tags: civilian casualties, codepink, egypt, egypt coup, egypt dictatorship, egypt massacres, egyptian junta, human rights, kate chandley, kerry, medea benjamin, morsi, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: just to document one more time that the United States doesn’t give a shit about democracy as long as a government is in alliance with its geopolitical objectives. Emperor Obama declared the Egyptian coup not to be a coup, and that is that. Egypt’s military government, led by a US trained general, probably as much or more brutal than the overthrown Mubarak regime, continues to support Israel and the isolation of Gaza in accord with US wishes. And “we wonder why they hate us.”
After a recent CODEPINK delegation to Egypt ended up in deportations and assault, we have become acutely aware of some of the horrors Egyptians are facing in the aftermath of the July 3 coup that toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Over 2,500 civilians have been killed in protests and clashes. Over 16,000 are in prison for their political beliefs and allegations of torture are widespread. Millions of people who voted for Morsi in elections that foreign monitors declared free and fair are now living in terror, as are secular opponents of the military regime, and the level of violence is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. With former Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi set to become the next president in sham elections scheduled for May 26-27, the Egyptian military is trampling on the last vestiges of the grassroots uprising that won the hearts of the world community during the Arab Spring.
The most publicized case is the trial of the three Al Jazeera journalists and their co-defendants, charged with falsifying news and working with the Muslim Brotherhood. On April 10, there was a ludicrous update in the trial, when the prosecution came to courtpresenting a video that was supposed to be the basis of their case but consisted of family photos, trotting horses, and Somali refugees in Kenya. The judge dismissed the “evidence” but not the charges.
The high-profile case is just a taste of wide-ranging assault on free expression. The government has closed down numerous TV and print media affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents. The Committee to Protect Journalists named Egypt the third deadliest countries for journalists in 2013, just behind Syria and Iraq.
An incident that shows how the judicial branch is now working hand-in-glove with the military is the horrific March 24 sentencing of 529 Morsi supporters to death in one mass trial. The entire group was charged with killing one police officer. The trial consisted of two sessions, each one lasting less than one hour. Secretary of State Kerry said that the sentence “defies logic” and Amnesty International called the ruling “grotesque.”
And if you think that a US passport entitles a prisoner to due process, look at the tragic case of 26-year-old Ohio State University graduate Mohamed Soltan. Soltan served as a citizen journalist, assisting English-speaking media in their coverage of the anti-coup sit-in at Rabaa Square that was violently raided by police and resulted in the death of over 1,000 people. In jail for over 7 months, Soltan has been on a hunger strike since January 26 and is now so weak he can’t walk. His situation in prison has been horrifying. When he was arrested, he had a wound from being shot that had not yet healed. Prison officials refused to treat him, so a fellow prisoner who was a doctor performed surgery with pliers on a dirty prison floor, with no anesthesia. His trial has been postponed several times, and there is no update on when it might actually take place. (Activists in the US are mobilizing on his behalf.)
Female activists also face dehumanizing experiences. In February, four women who were arrested for taking part in anti-military protests say they were subjected to virginity testswhile in custody–a practice that coup leader Abdel al-Sisi has supported. In addition to the horror of virginity tests, Amnesty International has also reported that women in prison in Egypt face harsh conditions, including being forced to sleep on the floor and not being allowed to use the bathroom for 10 hours from 10pm to 8am every day. Egyptian Women Against the Coup and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights has reported beatings and sexual harassment of female prisoners.
The internal crackdown may be getting worse, not better. New counter-terrorism legislationset to be approved by Egypt’s president would give the government increased powers to muzzle freedom of expression and imprison opponents. Two new draft laws violate the right to free expression, including penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for verbally insulting a public employee or member of the security forces. They broaden the existing definition of terrorism to include actions aimed at damaging national unity, natural resources, monuments, communication systems, the national economy, or hindering the work of judicial bodies and diplomatic missions in Egypt. “The problem with these vaguely worded ‘terrorist offenses’ is that they potentially allow the authorities to bring a terrorism case against virtually any peaceful activist,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International.
The draft legislation also widens the scope for use of the death penalty to include “managing or administering a terrorist group.” The Muslim Brotherhood was labelled a terrorist group by the Egyptian authorities in December (though no factual evidence was provided that it is engaged in terrorist attacks).
The US government refuses to call Morsi’s overthrow a coup, and has continued to give Egypt $250 million in economic support, as well as funds for narcotics controls, law enforcement and military training. But the bulk of the foreign military funding of $1.3 billion has been suspended.
On March 12, Secretary of State Kerry indicated that he wanted to resume the aid and would decide “in the days ahead.” Egypt has long been one of the top recipients of US aid because of its peace treaty with Israel, its control over the Suez Canal and the close ties between the US and Egyptian militaries. To renew the funding, Kerry must certify that Egypt is meeting its commitment to a democratic transition and taking steps to govern democratically. The constitutional referendum was held January 14-15, but opponents werearrested for campaigning for a “no” vote. The May presidential election, taking place under such repressive conditions with the main opposition group banned, will certainly not be free and fair. The same can be said for the parliamentary elections that are expected to occur before the end of July.
“The question is no longer whether Egypt is on the road to democratic transition, but how much of its brute repression the US will paper over,” said Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson. “An accurate appraisal of Egypt’s record since the military-backed overthrow of President Morsi would conclude that, far from developing basic freedoms, the Egyptian authorities are doing the opposite.”
The Obama Administration should insist that political dissidents be released, laws restricting public assembly be lifted, the Muslim Brotherhood be declassified as a terrorist organization and allowed to participate in all aspects of public life, and criminal investigations be launched into the unlawful use of lethal force and abuse of detainees by security officials. Only when the Egyptian junta lifts its iron curtain should the US consider resuming military aid.
Lynch Law: The Root of US imperialism April 3, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, History, Human Rights, Imperialism, Race, Racism, Torture, War.
Tags: danny haiphong, history, ho chi minh, imperialism, jim crow, kill list, KKK, lynch law, lynching, ndaa, Race, racism, roger hollander, slavery, solitary confinement, torture, white power
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Roger’s note: there are strong words. Back in the late 1960s those of us protesting the US aggression in Vietnam were criticized for using the word “fascist” to characterize the U.S. government. It seemed to many then, as it may seem to many now, that the use of such language was going overboard. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. And believe me, friends, in terms of the kinds of governmental actions that can be described as fascist, we have come a long way since then.
Domestic U.S. lynch has morphed into imperialist terrorism. “Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources.”
by Danny Haiphong; http://www.blackagendareport.com, April 1, 2014
“The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s ‘kill list’ or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a ‘terrorist’ label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its ‘national security.’”
The political and economic foundation of the United States is built on the corpses of legal lynching, or “lynch law.” Without the genocide and enslavement of Black and indigenous peoples, the US capitalist class could not have amassed its profits, wealth, or power. Following the passage of the 13th Amendment that supposedly ended Black chattel slavery at the close of the Civil War, the US capitalist class moved quickly to reorganize the capitalist economy so newly “freed” Blacks would remain enslaved. Convict-leasing, sharecropping, and legalized segregation ensured Black exploitation and white power. These brutal forms of exploitation were kept intact by white terrorism in the form of lynching.
Thousands of Black people were lynched by white supremacists from the end of the Civil War until 1968. Ho Chi Minh, the first revolutionary president of socialist Vietnam, worked in the US in the mid-1920s and examined the horrors of lynching. He described the gruesome details of white vigilantes torturing and killing Black people with impunity. Local law enforcement officials protected white lynch mobs like the KKK and Black Legion and often participated in lynching alongside their white counterparts. ‘Uncle Ho’ states in his work Lyching (1924) that “the principal culprits [of lynching] were never troubled, for the simple reason that they were always incited . . . then protected by the politicians, financiers, and authorities . . . “ It wasn’t until Black people organized themselves to defend and arm their communities that white mobs were forced to curtail their racist murder sprees.
“80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law.”
The so-called end of “Jim Crow” racism only changed the form in which Black people would be lynched by the US racist order. The US capitalist class responded to the force of the Black liberation movement by institutionalizing “lynch law” into its criminal injustice system. Today, some form of law enforcement murders a Black person in this country every 28 hours. Nearly half of the estimated 3 million US prisoners are Black and nearly all are “people of color.” 80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law. Numerous states in the US have “Stand your ground” laws that allow white supremacists to murder Black people with impunity. Sound familiar? And President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of US imperialism, is too concerned with pathologizing Black America than forwarding substantive policies that address “lynch law” on behalf of his most loyal constituency.
In this period of heightened exploitation for the oppressed in general and Black America in particular, the propertied classes are becoming increasingly paranoid about the potential for popular unrest. “Lynch law” is becoming the law of the land for the entire populace. A homeless man in Albuquerque, New Mexico was shot dead by local police for being homeless on March 16th. More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period. The surveillance US imperialism had to conduct in secret on radical dissent in the past has expanded to the entire population through a massive surveillance state of federal intelligence agencies, private contractors, and US multinational corporations. The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s “kill list” or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a “terrorist” label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its “national security.”
“More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period.”
“Lynch law” is also a global tactic for US imperialism to maintain its global domination. Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources. This can be examined in specific instances like the thousands of people in the Middle East and Africa murdered by Obama Administration drone strikes or the NATO bombing of Libya that killed tens of thousands and nearly exterminated the Black Libyan population. The CIA has overthrown over 50 foreign governments since the end of World War II. These are just a few important examples of how Washington and its masters, the capitalist class, must lynch the majority of the world’s people to obtain their wealth and power.
The increasing violence, suffering, and social death imposed on oppressed people by US imperialist “lynch law” exposes the bankruptcy of the liberal wing of the capitalist class. Propped up by the corporate media like MSNBC, this self-proclaimed “left” actively participates in bi-partisan lynching in all of its forms to further their careers with the liberal imperialist Democratic Party and the untouchable fascist Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Any movement that depends on this corporate brand of leftism to bring about the end of US lynch law is destined to fail. A people’s movement for complete justice will have to be led by the struggle of Black America’s oppressed majority and all communities suffering from US fascist rule. We must spend each day building a movement that empowers oppressed people to demand the power to collectively determine their own destiny. This movement is far from victory’s reach, but each day we fail to act, another exploited human being is lynched by the US imperialist system.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and case manager. You can contact Danny at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Report: Thousands of Iraqi Women Illegally Detained, Tortured, Raped February 7, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War, Women.
Tags: al-Maliki, andrea germanos, human rights, illegal detention, Iraq, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, iraqi women, rape, roger hollander, torture, violence against women, women
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Roger’s note: A US invasion of your country to bring prosperity and democracy is a gift that keeps giving. Iraqi security forces, trained by Americans, have learned to treat women the way that we do in order to earn their confidence and respect. Of course Iraq continues to be plagued by sectarian violence and the destruction of their infrastructure, which for some reason that no one can understand, has not been reconstructed despite the lucrative contracts given on a no-bid basis to American corporations. A real mystery.
Many analysts believe that Iraqi women were better off under Saddam (as brutal as his regime was in other respects). This report tends to support that conclusion.
“The abuses of women we documented are in many ways at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq.”
Iraqi security forces are illegally detaining thousands of women, subjecting many to torture, abuse, rape, and forcing them into confessions, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.
“The abuses of women we documented are in many ways at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq,” says Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch. (Photo: James Gordon/cc/flickr)
In ‘No One Is Safe': Abuses of Women in Iraq’s Criminal Justice System, HRW reveals a pattern of systemic abuse within a failed judicial system characterized by corruption.
The report estimates that over 1,100 women are detained, often without a warrant, in Iraqi prisons or detention facilities. Frequently, the women are arrested not for their won alleged actions but for those of a male relative.
Sexual abuse during interrogations of women is so common that Um Aqil, an employee at a women’s prison facility, told HRW, “[W]e expect that they’ve been raped by police on the way to the prison.”
On top of rape, many arrested women are subjected to electric shocks, beatings, burnings, being hung upside down and foot whipping (falaqa). Following the torture the women may be forced to sign a blank confession paper or one that they are unable to read.
In the video below published by HRW, one woman reveals her story of abuse:
The report authors write that the failed criminal justice system revealed in the report shows that “Prime Minister al-Maliki’s government has so far failed to eliminate many of the abusive practices that Saddam Hussein institutionalized and United States-led Coalition Forces continued.”
“The abuses of women we documented are in many ways at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq,” adds Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement from the organization. “These abuses have caused a deep-seated anger and lack of trust between Iraq’s diverse communities and security forces, and all Iraqis are paying the price.”
If I recall correctly, things were better for women during Sadam’s regime because he kept the pseudo-religious predators mashed flat.
You recall correctly.
Despite all his dictatorial and excessive practices, during the regime of Saddam Hussein, many women played important roles in all facets of Iraqi society (except in the fundamentalist religious groups).
Also religious sectarianism became muted and people of different religions intermingled, lived together and inter-married frequently creating new Iraqi citizens who recognized the nation, rather than a tribe or sect as their central organizing principle.
It is ironic (and instructive) that only after it became apparent that his allies in the West were going to terminate Saddam Hussein did he revert to the worst forms of tribalism and adopted the language of religious fundamentalism.
The lesson is simple and obvious: despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, the nation of Iraq was internally strengthening as a nation and eventually the Iraqi people would have ended the dictatorship in their own ways.
Of course the West could not allow that because it would be a threat to the hegemony of Israel (the forward operations base for US/EURO governments and corporations0 and the control of Iraqi oil.
And of course Iraqi women and children pay the highest costs for the Western-created insanity.
one Big Mistake there tom. It was not the West that could not allow that, it was what your President called the “Coalition of the Willing”. It consisted of the U.S., the Brits, the Aussies, Spain and a couple of other bit players. It did not include Canada, France, Germany, Belgium, Scandinavian countries and a host of others. Iraq invasion was NOT sanctioned by the U.N. or NATO. Don’t get confused with UN, NATO sanctioned mission to go after you might remember who in Afghanistan. Too many Americans forget this.
With his Iraq lies and decision, Bush brought world support for reprisal against Bin Ladden for 9-11 attacks to majority of world identifying U.S. as biggest threat there is to world peace. A distinction the U.S. still holds. Other than lining the pockets of his Corporate friends, creating the world’s biggest private run army (Blackwater), making a mockery of international law and human rights, and destroying democracy everywhere, etc. U.S. public voted him back into Office for a 2nd term and today let’s him sleep in peace making more money on the rubber chicken circuit.
The terrible dictator was one of the friends of G.H.W.Bush for 8 years until he refused an order. Bush enticed him to invade Kuwait then told him to get his butt out, ..if you remember the headlines in the paper. The reason being Bush expected Kuwait to be thankful to him, he intended to bring down the Kuwait monarcy, and have the right to put in the oil pipe line… It backfired.
The reason Bush Sr. did all he could to have his son made president, to illegally invade Iraq out of revenge.
Yes I read Riverbend’s book some years back and she said women could wear makeup and dresses, hold civil servant jobs, did not have to cover their heads, and could tell the religious fruitcakes who stopped them on the street to eff off and there wasn’t a thing they could do about it.
Now of course…not.
You must be wrong, because everywhere the US militarily intervenes, part of the rationale is to help women.
Yeah, I too tend to forget that Bush 1, Slick Willie, W and BO set Iraq “free”. It’s a really nice place now…
I read the official military history of SOG…special operations group…a program designed to infiltrate spys and saboteurs into North Vietnam. The incompetent manner in which the program was run by US Special Forces resulted in 100% of the participating South Vietnamese recruits being killed or captured (and then killed). Upon hearing of the miserable performance of the program one ranking general said we might as well skip all the training, save a few bucks, take them out back and shoot them ourselves. This is what it means to be a “friend” of the US. Much better to be our enemy…at least then one has a fighting chance. Those we “care” about are on the short end of the stick. Look at what a wonderful job we have done in Iraq. I think we surpassed the number of Iraqis killed by Saddam long ago. Our own govt. kills more Americans through various policies than the 911 terrorists could ever dream of.
Made in the USA.
The best way towards religious fundamentalism is to suppress and destroy all the more advanced and complex ideologies by force. This is a direct result of Western persecution of every even remotely left-wing movement and unifying ideology, especially Communism. It is possible – and even easy – to destroy the more complex stuff. It is almost impossible to destroy religion.
good comments below. the only thing to add is an action plan.
the reasons are obvious. only the plan remains to be implemented.
the longer the status quo has to improve their machinery of suppression and their technology of spying the more difficult the change will be. talk is cheap. time for everybody, all at once,
to work together to “throw the bums out”. no more 2 party system.
vote 3rd / 4th parties if possible or don’t vote and tell anyone who will listen why.
There were international interests, notably in energy and banking. Britain holds a large share of the blame as well.
“The Iraq war provides a good example. Until November 2000, no OPEC country had dared to violate the US dollar-pricing rule, and while the US dollar remained the strongest currency in the world there was also little reason to challenge the system. But in late 2000, France and a few other EU members convinced Saddam Hussein to defy the petrodollar process and sell Iraq’s oil for food in euros, not dollars.”
Contrary to Obama’s Promises, the US Military Still Permits Torture January 27, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: army field manual, bagram, detainees, Guantanamo, human rights, jeffrey kaye, obama administration, roger hollander, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, torture
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Roger’s note: we live in two different worlds, the world of illusionary rhetoric (from presidents and other political prostitutes, the mass media, etc.) and the world of reality. Most of us who are middle class and/or live in a first world industrial nation live in the former fantasy world. The vast majority of the rest of the world (third world non elites, victims of American military activities including drone missiles and corporate tyranny, etc.) live in reality. Obama says torture is no more and the vast majority of Americans believe this lie; the thousands who continue to suffer under the continued regime of torture know better, they know the reality. We live with the illusion that the United States is a civilized nation living according to Christian principles. The reality is that that kindly articulate former community organizer, with his elegant wife and pleasant well-dressed children, oversees a nation whose barbarity more and more knows no limits.
The Obama administration has replaced the use of brutal torture techniques with those that emphasize psychological torture
The United States Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogation (pdf) has been sold to the American public and the world as a replacement for the brutal torture tactics used by the CIA and the Department of Defense during the Bush/Cheney administration.
(Photo: Futureatlas.com/ cc via Flickr)
On 22 January 2009, President Obama released an executive orderstating that any individual held by any US government agency “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3.”
But a close reading of Department of Defense documents and investigations by numerous human rights agencies have shown that the current Army Field Manual itself uses techniques that are abusive and can even amount to torture.
Disturbingly, the latest version of the AFM mimicked the Bush administration in separating out “war on terror” prisoners as not subject to the same protections and rights as regular prisoners of war. Military authorities then added an appendix to the AFM that included techniques that could only be used on such “detainees”, ie, prisoners without POW status.
Labeled Appendix M, and propounding an additional, special “technique” called “Separation”,human rights and legal group have recognized that Appendix M includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.
According to Appendix M, sleep can be limited to four hours per day for up to 30 days, and even more with approval. The same is true for use of isolation. Theoretically, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement could be extended indefinitely.
According to a 2003 US Southern Command instruction (pdf) to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, sleep deprivation was defined “as keeping a detainee awake for more than 16 hours”. Only three years later, when a new version of the AFM was introduced, detainees were expected to stay awake for 20 hours. Meanwhile, language in the previous AFM forbidding both sleep deprivation and use of stress positions was quietly removed from the current manual.
The use of isolation as a torture technique has a long history. According to a classic psychiatric paper (pdf) on the psychological effects of isolation (aka solitary confinement), such treatment on prisoners can “cause severe psychiatric harm”, producing “an agitated confusional state which, in more severe cases, had the characteristics of a florid delirium, characterized by severe confusional, paranoid, and hallucinatory features, and also by intense agitation and random, impulsive, often self-directed violence.”
The application of the Appendix M techniques – which are considered risky enough to require the presence of a physician – are supposed to be combined with other “approaches” culled from the main text of the field manual, including techniques such as “Fear Up” and “Emotional Ego Down”. In fact, at the end of Appendix M, a combined use of its techniques with other approaches, specifically “Futility”, “Incentive”, and “Fear Up”, is suggested.
While “Fear Up” and “Incentive” approaches act somewhat like what they sound – using fear and promises to gain the “cooperation” of a prisoner under interrogation – “Futility” has a vague goal of imparting to a prisoner, according to the AFM, the notion that “resistance to questioning is futile”.
According to the manual:
This engenders a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness on the part of the source.
A review of documents released under FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act) shows that use of the “Futility” approach in the AFM was the rationale behind the use of loud music, strobe lights, and sexualized assaults and embarrassment on prisoners. The “Futility” technique pre-dates the introduction of the current Army Field Manual, which is numbered 2-22.3 and introduced in September 2006. In fact, the earlier AFM, labeled 35-52 (pdf), was the basis of numerous accusations of documented abuse.
In the executive summary of the 2005 Department of Defense’s Schimdt-Furlow investigation into alleged abuse of Guantanamo prisoners, the use of loud music and strobe lights on prisoners was labeled “music futility”, and considered an “allowed technique”. Defense Department investigators looked at accusation of misuse of such techniques, but never banned them.
Military investigators wrote,
Placement of a detainee in the interrogation booth and subjecting him to loud music and strobe lights should be limited and conducted within clearly prescribed limits.
Those limits were not specified.
Additionally, the Schmidt-Furlow investigators looked at instances where female interrogators had fondled prisoners, or pretended to splash menstrual blood upon them. According to military authorities, these were a form of “gender coercion”, and identified as a “futility technique”.
President Obama’s January 2009 executive order would seem to have halted the use of what the Defense Department called “gender coercion”, but not “music futility”. But we don’t know because of pervasive secrecy exactly what military or other interrogators do or don’t do when they employ the “Futility” technique.
Numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and Open Society Foundations have called for the elimination of Appendix M and/or the rewriting of the entire Army Field Manual itself.
What has been lacking is a widespread public discourse that recognizes that swapping waterboarding and the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” torture with the Army Field Manual as an instrument of humane interrogation only replaced the use of brutal torture techniques with those that emphasize psychological torture.
Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco. He has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, and writes regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter. He has published previously at Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record.
US Court: Military’s Prisoners in Afghanistan Have No Rights December 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
Tags: afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, bagram, bagram prison, Guantanamo, roger hollander, sarah lazare, torture, unlawful detention, us contstitution
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Roger’s note: this article, of course, contradicts the myth that under Obama torture and illegal detention has stopped.
In Christmas Eve ruling, judges say U.S. Constitution does not apply to notorious Bagram prison
In a Christmas Eve ruling that passed with little fanfare, three U.S. Appeals Court Judges gave their legal stamp of approval to indefinite detentions without trial for prisoners of the U.S. military in occupied Afghanistan.
In a 44-page decision, penned by George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Karen Henderson, the habeas corpus petitions filed by five captives at Afghanistan’s infamous Bagram military prison—known to some as the “Other Guantanamo“—were rejected.
The petitions were invoking the men’s rights to challenge unlawful detention—rights recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court for Guantanamo Bay inmates (though not fully implemented in practice).
The ruling claimed there are “significant differences between Bagram and Guantanamo” because “our forces at Bagram… are actively engaged in a war with a determined enemy.”
Yet, as Michael Doyle writing for McClatchy notes, “[O]ne might wonder whether a ‘war’ has changed into an ‘occupation,’ and whether that affects the legal analysis.”
The court statement expressed concern that “orders issued by judges thousands of miles away would undercut the commanders’ authority” and “granting the habeas corpus petitions would distract “from the military offensive abroad to the legal defensive at home.”
The report claimed there are many “practical obstacles” to honoring these inmates’ constitutional rights.
The decision followed in the path of a 2010 similar ruling, which involved three of the five appellants who report having been captured outside of Afghanistan—in Thailand, Iraq and Pakistan.
The U.S. maintains control over the prison’s non-Afghan inmates, many of whom were captured in other countries then transported to this prison, giving the U.S. military broad latitude to violate their rights and hold them indefinitely.
The Play’s the Thing December 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Criminal Justice, Education, Poverty, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: august wilson, chris hedges, education, incarceration, poverty, prison, prisoners, Race, racism, roger hollander, solitary confinement, theatre, torture
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Posted on Dec 15, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
|AP/Ted S. Warren|
|Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson in his Seattle neighborhood in 2003.|
By Chris Hedges
I began teaching a class of 28 prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey during the first week of September. My last class meeting was Friday. The course revolved around plays by August Wilson, James Baldwin, John Herbert, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka and other playwrights who examine and give expression to the realities of America’s black underclass as well as the prison culture. We also read Michelle Alexander’s important book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Each week the students were required to write dramatic scenes based on their experiences in and out of prison.
My class, although I did not know this when I began teaching, had the most literate and accomplished writers in the prison. And when I read the first batch of scenes it was immediately apparent that among these students was exceptional talent.
The class members had a keen eye for detail, had lived through the moral and physical struggles of prison life and had the ability to capture the patois of the urban poor and the prison underclass. They were able to portray in dramatic scenes and dialogue the horror of being locked in cages for years. And although the play they collectively wrote is fundamentally about sacrifice—the sacrifice of mothers for children, brothers for brothers, prisoners for prisoners—the title they chose was “Caged.” They made it clear that the traps that hold them are as present in impoverished urban communities as in prison.
The mass incarceration of primarily poor people of color, people who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and who are often kept behind bars for years for nonviolent crimes or for crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful mass injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in my class have cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Some of their sentences are utterly disproportionate to the crimes of which they are accused. Most are not even close to finishing their sentences or coming before a parole board, which rarely grants first-time applicants their liberty. Many of them are in for life. One of my students was arrested at the age of 14 for a crime that strong evidence suggests he did not commit. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 70. He never had a chance in court and because he cannot afford a private attorney he has no chance now of challenging the grotesque sentence handed to him as a child.
My stacks of 28 scenes written by the students each week, the paper bearing the musty, sour smell of the prison, rose into an ungainly pile. I laboriously shaped and edited the material. It grew, line by line, scene by scene, into a powerful and deeply moving dramatic vehicle. The voices and reality of those at the very bottom rung of our society—some of the 2.2 million people in prisons and jails across the country, those we as a society are permitted to demonize and hate, just as African-Americans were once demonized and hated during slavery and Jim Crow—began to flash across the pages like lightning strikes. There was more brilliance, literacy, passion, wisdom and integrity in that classroom than in any other classroom I have taught in, and I have taught at some of the most elite universities in the country. The mass incarceration of men and women like my students impoverishes not just them, their families and their communities, but the rest of us as well.
“The most valuable blacks are those in prison,” August Wilson once said, “those who have the warrior spirit, who had a sense of being African. They got for their women and children what they needed when all other avenues were closed to them.” He added: “The greatest spirit of resistance among blacks [is] found among those in prison.”
I increased the class meetings by one night a week. I read the scenes to my wife, Eunice Wong, who is a professional actor, and friends such as the cartoonist Joe Sacco and the theologian James Cone. Something unique, almost magical, was happening in the prison classroom—a place I could reach only after passing through two metal doors and a metal detector, subjecting myself to a pat-down by a guard, an X-ray inspection of my canvas bag of books and papers, getting my hand stamped and then checked under an ultraviolet light, and then passing through another metal door into a barred circular enclosure. In every visit I was made to stand in the enclosure for several minutes before being permitted by the guards to pass through a barred gate and then walk up blue metal stairs, through a gantlet of blue-uniformed prison guards, to my classroom.
The class, through the creation of the play, became an intense place of reflection, debate and self-discovery. Offhand comments, such as the one made by a student who has spent 22 years behind bars, that “just because your family doesn’t visit you doesn’t mean they don’t love you,” reflected the pain, loneliness and abandonment embedded in the lives of my students. There were moments that left the class unable to speak.
A student with 19 years behind bars read his half of a phone dialogue between himself and his mother. He was the product of rape and tells his mother that he sacrificed himself to keep his half brother—the only son his mother loves—out of prison. He read this passage in the presentation of the play in the prison chapel last Thursday to visitors who included Cornel West and James Cone.
Terrance: You don’t understand[,] Ma.
Terrance: You’re right. Never mind.
PauseTerrance: What you want me to say Ma?
Terrance: Ma, they were going to lock up Bruce. The chrome [the gun] was in the car. Everyone in the car would be charged with murder if no one copped to it …
Terrance: I didn’t kill anyone Ma… Oh yeah, I forgot, whenever someone says I did, I did it.
Terrance: I told ’em what they wanted to hear. That’s what niggas supposed to do in Newark. I told them what they wanted to hear to keep Bruce out of it. Did they tell you who got killed? Did they say it was my father?
Terrance: Then you should know I didn’t do it. If I ever went to jail for anything it would be killing him … and he ain’t dead yet. Rape done brought me into the world. Prison gonna take me out. An’ that’s the way it is Ma.
Terrance: Come on Ma, if Bruce went to jail you would’uv never forgiven me. Me, on the other hand, I wasn’t ever supposed to be here.
Terrance: I’m sorry Ma … I’m sorry. Don’t be cryin’. You got Bruce. You got him home. He’s your baby. Bye Ma. I call you later.
After our final reading of the play I discovered the student who wrote this passage sobbing in the bathroom, convulsed with grief.
In the play when a young prisoner contemplates killing another prisoner he is given advice on how to survive prolonged isolation in the management control unit (solitary confinement, known as MCU) by an older prisoner who has spent 30 years in prison under a sentence of double life. There are 80,000 U.S. prisoners held in solitary confinement, which human rights organizations such as Amnesty International define as a form of torture. In this scene the older man tells the young inmate what to expect from the COs, or correction officers.
Ojore (speaking slowly and softly): When they come and get you, ’cause they are gonna get you, have your hands out in front of you with your palms showing. You want them to see you have no weapons. Don’t make no sudden moves. Put your hands behind your head. Drop to your knees as soon as they begin barking out commands.
Omar: My knees?
Ojore: This ain’t a debate. I’m telling you how to survive the hell you ’bout to endure. When you get to the hole you ain’t gonna be allowed to have nothing but what they give you. If you really piss them off you get a ‘dry cell’ where the sink and the toilet are turned on and off from outside. You gonna be isolated. No contact. No communication.
Ojore: ’Cause they don’t want you sendin’ messages to nobody before dey question some of da brothers on the wing. IA [internal affairs officers] gonna come and see you. They gonna want a statement. If you don’t talk they gonna try and break you. They gonna open the windows and let the cold in. They gonna take ya sheets and blankets away. They gonna mess with ya food so you can’t eat it. An’ don’t eat no food that come in trays from the Vroom Building. Nuts in Vroom be spittin’, pissin’ and shittin’ in the trays. Now, the COs gonna wake you up every hour on the hour so you can’t sleep. They gonna put a bright-ass spotlight in front of ya cell and keep it on day and night. They gonna harass you wit’ all kinds of threats to get you to cooperate. They will send in the turtles in their shin guards, gloves, shank-proof vests, forearm guards and helmets with plexiglass shields on every shift to give you beat-downs.
Omar: How long this gonna go on?
Ojore: Til they break you. Or til they don’t. Three days. Three weeks. You don’t break, it go on like this for a long time. An’ if you don’t think you can take it, then don’t start puttin’ yerself through this hell. Just tell ’em what they wanna know from the door. You gonna be in MCU for the next two or three years. You’ll get indicted for murder. You lookin’ at a life bid. An’ remember MCU ain’t jus’ ’bout isolation. It’s ’bout keeping you off balance. The COs, dressed up in riot gear, wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you. They bring in dogs trained to go for your balls. You spend 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. They put you in the MCU and wait for you to self-destruct. An’ it works. Men self-mutilate. Men get paranoid. Men have panic attacks. They start hearing voices. They talk crazy to themselves. I seen one prisoner swallow a pack of AA batteries. I seen a man shove a pencil up his dick. I seen men toss human shit around like it was a ball game. I seen men eat their own shit and rub it all over themselves like it was some kinda body lotion. Then, when you really get out of control, when you go really crazy, they got all their torture instruments ready—four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains. But the physical stuff ain’t the worst. The worst is the psychological, the humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat and the long weeks and months of solitary. If you don’t have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive. They want to defeat you mentally. An’ I seen a lot of men defeated.
The various drafts of the play, made up of scenes and dialogue contributed by everyone in the class, brought to the surface the suppressed emotions and pain that the students bear with profound dignity. A prisoner who has been incarcerated for 22 years related a conversation with his wife during her final visit in 1997. Earlier his 6-year-old son had innocently revealed that the woman was seeing another man. “I am aware of what kind of time I got,” he tells his wife. “I told you when I got found guilty to move on with your life, because I knew what kind of time I was facing, but you chose to stick around. The reason I told you to move on with your life was because I didn’t want to be selfish. So look, man, do what the fuck you are going to do, just don’t keep my son from me. That’s all I ask.” He never saw his child again. When he handed me the account he said he was emotionally unable to read it out loud.
Those with life sentences wrote about dying in prison. The prisoners are painfully aware that some of them will end their lives in the medical wing without family, friends or even former cellmates. One prisoner, who wrote about how men in prolonged isolation adopt prison mice as pets, naming them, carefully bathing them, talking to them and keeping them on string leashes, worked in the prison infirmary. He said that as some prisoners were dying they would ask him to hold their hand. Often no one comes to collect the bodies. Often, family members and relatives are dead or long estranged. The corpses are taken by the guards and dumped in unmarked graves.
A discussion of Wilson’s play “Fences” became an exploration of damaged manhood and how patterns of abuse are passed down from father to son. “I spent my whole life trying not to be my father,” a prisoner who has been locked up for 23 years said. “And when I got to Trenton I was put in his old cell.”
The night we spoke about the brilliant play “Dutchman,” by LeRoi Jones, now known as Amira Baraka, the class grappled with whites’ deeply embedded stereotypes and latent fear of black men. I had also passed out copies of Robert Crumb’s savage cartoon strip “When the Niggers Take Over America!,” which portrays whites’ fear of black males—as well as the legitimate black rage that is rarely understood by white society.
The students wanted to be true to the violence and brutality of the streets and prison—places where one does not usually have the luxury of being nonviolent—yet affirm themselves as dignified and sensitive human beings. They did not want to paint everyone in the prison as innocents. But they know that transformation and redemption are real.
There are many Muslims in the prison. They have a cohesive community, sense of discipline and knowledge of their own history, which is the history of the long repression and subjugation of African-Americans. Most Muslims are very careful about their language in prison and do not curse, meaning I had to be careful when I assigned parts to the class.
There is a deep reverence in the prison for Malcolm X. When the class spoke of him one could almost feel Malcolm’s presence. Malcolm articulated, in a way Martin Luther King Jr. did not, the harsh reality of poor African-Americans trapped in the internal colonies of the urban North.
The class wanted the central oracle of the play to be an observant Muslim. Faith, when you live in the totalitarian world of the prison, is important. The conclusion of the play was the result of an intense and heated discussion about the efficacy and nature of violence and forgiveness. But by the end of a nearly hourlong discussion the class had unanimously signed off on the final scene, which I do not want to reveal here because I hope that one day it will be available to be seen or read. It was the core message the prisoners wanted most to leave with outsiders, who often view them as less than human.
The play has a visceral, raw anger and undeniable truth that only the lost and the damned can articulate. The students wrote a dedication that read: “We have been buried alive behind these walls for years, often decades. Most of the outside world has abandoned us. But a few friends and family have never forgotten that we are human beings and worthy of life. It is to them, our saints, that we dedicate this play.” And they said that if the play was ever produced, and if anyone ever bought tickets, they wanted all the money that might be earned to go to funding the educational program at the prison. This was a decision by men who make, at most, a dollar a day at prison jobs.
We read the Wilson play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” The character Bynum Walker, a conjurer, tells shattered African-Americans emerging from the nightmare of slavery that they each have a song but they must seek it out. Once they find their song they will find their unity as a people, their inner freedom and their identity. The search for one’s song in Wilson’s play functions like prayer. It gives each person a purpose, strength and hope. It allows a person, even one who has been bitterly oppressed, to speak his or her truth defiantly to the world. Our song affirms us, even if we are dejected and despised, as human beings.
Prisoners are given very little time by the guards to line up in the corridor outside the classroom when the prison bell signals the end of class. If they lag behind they can get a “charge” from the guards that can restrict their already very limited privileges and freedom of movement. For this reason, my classroom emptied quickly Friday night. I was left alone in the empty space, my eyes damp, my hands trembling as I clutched their manuscript. They had all signed it for me. I made the long and lonely walk down the prison corridors, through the four metal security doors, past the security desk to the dark, frozen parking lot. I looked back, past the coils of razor wire that topped the chain-link fencing, at the shadowy bulk of the prison. I have their song. I will make it heard. I do not know what it takes to fund and mount a theater production. I intend to learn.