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Extraordinary Rendition Report Finds More Than 50 Nations Involved In Global Torture Scheme February 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: the following article on the Bush/Obama torture regime uses the words “mistake” and “blunder” to describe the infamous barbarism.  Next time you are about to get a traffic ticket or are charged with robbing a bank, tell the judge it was just a mistake or a blunder, and you are certain to be excused.  After all, if government officials can “mistakenly” violate constitutional and international law, you certainly should be able to do the same for “minor” offenses.

 

Joshua Hersh

joshua.hersh@huffingtonpost.com

Posted: 02/04/2013 11:14 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/05/2013 9:26 am EST

 

Extraordinary Rendition

More than 50 nations played a role in the extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects in the years after 9/11, a new report has found. The program, started under President George W. Bush, involved shipping suspects off to foreign prisons and CIA “black sites,” where they often faced torture. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/File)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. counterterrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which suspects were quietly moved to secret prisons abroad and often tortured, involved the participation of more than 50 nations, according to a new report to be released Tuesday by the Open Society Foundations.

The OSF report, which offers the first wholesale public accounting of the top-secret program, puts the number of governments that either hosted CIA “black sites,” interrogated or tortured prisoners sent by the U.S., or otherwise collaborated in the program at 54. The report also identifies by name 136 prisoners who were at some point subjected to extraordinary rendition.

The number of nations and the names of those detained provide a stark tally of a program that was expanded widely — critics say recklessly — by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and has been heavily condemned in the years since. In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, condemned the CIA’s detention and interrogation efforts as “terrible mistakes.”

Although Bush administration officials said they never intentionally sent terrorism suspects abroad in order to be tortured, the countries where the prisoners seemed to end up — Egypt, Libya and Syria, among others — were known to utilize coercive interrogation techniques.

Extraordinary rendition was also a factor in one of the greatest intelligence blunders of the Bush years. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national and top al Qaeda operative who was detained in Pakistan in late 2001, was later sent by the U.S. to Egypt. There, under the threat of torture, he alleged that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda in biological and chemical warfare. He later withdrew the claim, but not before the U.S. invaded Iraq in part based on his faulty testimony.

When he came into office, President Barack Obama pledged to end the U.S. government’s use of torture and issued an executive order closing the CIA’s secret prisons around the world.

But Obama did not fully end the practice of rendition, which permits the U.S. to circumvent any due process obligations for terrorism suspects. Instead, the administration said it was relying on the less certain “diplomatic assurances” of host countries that they would not torture suspects sent to them for pretrial detention.

This decision, the OSF report concludes, was tantamount to continuing the program, since in the absence of any public accounting, it was impossible to measure the accuracy of those “assurances.”

Without any public government records to read, Amrit Singh, the OSF’s top legal analyst for national security and counterterrorism and the new report’s author, turned to news reports, the investigations of a global network of human rights organizations, and the proceedings of a handful of foreign courts that have investigated their own countries’ practices.

What Singh saw was a hasty global effort, spearheaded by the United States in the months after 9/11, to bypass longstanding legal structures in order to confront the emerging threat of international terrorism.

Singh condemned the consequences of that effort in the report’s introduction. “By enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law — including, in particular, the norm against torture,” she wrote.

“Responsibility for this damage does not lie solely with the United States,” Singh added, “but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out.”

The list of those nations includes a range of American allies (Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany) and familiar Middle Eastern partners in the messy fight against radical Islam (Jordan, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates). Their alleged levels of participation vary widely, from countries like Poland, which agreed to host CIA black-site prisons, to nations like Portugal and Finland, which merely allowed their airspace and airports to be used for rendition flights.

A few of the nations involved, such as Australia and Sweden, have begun a process of public accounting and compensation for their roles in the process. Others, including Italy and Macedonia, have recently become embroiled in trials of local officials and CIA agents in absentia over their actions.

 

Extraordinary rendition lawsuit also window into low point for American experiment September 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Sep  2, 2011 17:30 ET

www.salon.com

By Alex Pareene

A lawsuit between two aviation companies concerning a couple hundred thousand dollars in unpaid expenses has inadvertently led to the publicizing of a great deal of information about the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. (The program involved the illegal transport of thousands of terrorism suspects to secret CIA prisons in foreign nations and then to countries where suspects could be tortured. It is basically “kidnapping” followed by “torture” but the CIA did it so no one went to jail for it.)

The records from this lawsuit between two sub-contractors involved in the renditions will eventually be taught in an undergrad history course titled “America: Where It All Went Wrong.” Detainees were transported by the same companies that fly billionaires on private jets to their resort vacations. (The CIA doesn’t have an air force, so they relied on massive government contractor DynCorp, which… just rented some private planes.)

We learn that the CIA provided the flights with letters from a fictional State Department official (the State Department was almost certainly not involved in the rendition program) providing diplomatic cover.

We learn that one the planes used to transport a suspect (Abu Omar, captured in Italy and tortured in Egypt) was owned by the co-owner of the Boston Red Sox. The plane sported a Red Sox logo on the tail. I mean a Yankees plane might’ve been more poetically apt but either way it seems like such a pat symbol of America’s behavior in the wretched first decade of the 21st century that I’d roll my eyes at it if it turned up in a piece of fiction. An executive’s private plane, sporting the logo of a rich baseball team and carrying an Imam captured overseas by the CIA, touches down in Egypt, a nation led by an American-backed strongman, where the Imam is to be tortured. What preachy liberal hack dreamed up that one? (The executive also owns part of Liverpool FC, because we can’t forget Great Britain’s help in all this.)

Then the hedge funds took an interest in privatized torture:

DynCorp was purchased in 2003 by Computer Sciences Corp., another leading federal contractor, in a $940 million merger. Computer Sciences Corp. then took on a supervising role in the rendition flights through 2006, according to invoices and emails in the court files. CSC sold three DynCorp units in 2005 to Veritas Capital Fund, a private equity firm, for $850 million, but retained ownership of other parts of the old company. Veritas in turn sold the restructured DynCorp — now known as DynCorp International — for about $1 billion in 2010 to Cerebrus Capital Management, another private equity fund.

So at least a couple rich people got even richer off of our national shame. There’s an upside to everything.

  • Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon. Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene More: Alex Pareene

One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists December 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Published on Monday, December 28, 2009 by TruthDig.comby Chris Hedges

Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better person to tell you this, but he is not allowed to speak.

This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements—who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism—have discovered that his fate is their fate. Courageous groups have organized protests, including vigils outside the Manhattan detention facility. They can be found at www.educatorsforcivilliberties.org or www.freefahad.com. On Martin Luther King Day,  this Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. EST, protesters will hold a large vigil in front of the MCC on 150 Park Row in Lower Manhattan to call for a return of our constitutional rights. Join them if you can.

The case against Hashmi, like most of the terrorist cases launched by the Bush administration, is appallingly weak and built on flimsy circumstantial evidence. This may be the reason the state has set up parallel legal and penal codes to railroad those it charges with links to terrorism. If it were a matter of evidence, activists like Hashmi, who is accused of facilitating the delivery of socks to al-Qaida, would probably never be brought to trial.

Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. His “proclivity for violence” is cited as the reason for these measures although he has never been charged or convicted with committing an act of violence.

“My brother was an activist,” Hashmi’s brother, Faisal, told me by phone from his home in Queens. “He spoke out on Muslim issues, especially those dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His arrest and torture have nothing to do with providing ponchos and socks to al-Qaida, as has been charged, but the manipulation of the law to suppress activists and scare the Muslim American community. My brother is an example. His treatment is meant to show Muslims what will happen to them if they speak about the plight of Muslims. We have lost every single motion to preserve my brother’s humanity and remove the special administrative measures. These measures are designed solely to break the psyche of prisoners and terrorize the Muslim community. These measures exemplify the malice towards Muslims at home and the malice towards the millions of Muslims who are considered as non-humans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The extreme sensory deprivation used on Hashmi is a form of psychological torture, far more effective in breaking and disorienting detainees. It is torture as science. In Germany, the Gestapo broke bones while its successor, the communist East German Stasi, broke souls. We are like the Stasi. We have refined the art of psychological disintegration and drag bewildered suspects into secretive courts when they no longer have the mental and psychological capability to defend themselves.

“Hashmi’s right to a fair trial has been abridged,” said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Much of the evidence in the case has been classified under CIPA, and thus Hashmi has not been allowed to review it. The prosecution only recently turned over a significant portion of evidence to the defense. Hashmi may not communicate with the news media, either directly or through his attorneys. The conditions of his detention have impacted his mental state and ability to participate in his own defense.

“The prosecution’s case against Hashmi, an outspoken activist within the Muslim community, abridges his First Amendment rights and threatens the First Amendment rights of others,” Ratner added. “While Hashmi’s political and religious beliefs, speech and associations are constitutionally protected, the government has been given wide latitude by the court to use them as evidence of his frame of mind and, by extension, intent. The material support charges against him depend on criminalization of association. This could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of others, particularly in activist and Muslim communities.”

Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations can now become a crime. Dissidents, even those who break no laws, can be stripped of their rights and imprisoned without due process. It is the legal equivalent of preemptive war. The state can detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.

“Most of the evidence is classified,” Jeanne Theoharis, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College who taught Hashmi, told me, “but Hashmi is not allowed to see it. He is an American citizen. But in America you can now go to trial and all the evidence collected against you cannot be reviewed. You can spend 2½ years in solitary confinement before you are convicted of anything. There has been attention paid to extraordinary rendition, Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib with this false idea that if people are tried in the United States things will be fair. But what allowed Guantánamo to happen was the devolution of the rule of law here at home, and this is not only happening to Hashmi.”

Hashmi was, like so many of those arrested during the Bush years, briefly a poster child in the “war on terror.” He was apprehended in Britain on June 6, 2006, on a U.S. warrant. His arrest was the top story on the CBS and NBC nightly news programs, which used graphics that read “Terror Trail” and “Web of Terror.” He was held for 11 months at Belmarsh Prison in London and then became the first U.S. citizen to be extradited by Britain. The year before his arrest, Hashmi, a graduate of Brooklyn College, had completed his master’s degree in international relations at London Metropolitan University. His case has no more substance than the one against the seven men arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower, a case where, even though there were five convictions after two mistrials, an FBI deputy director acknowledged that the plan was more “aspirational rather than operational.” And it mirrors the older case of the Palestinian activist Sami Al-Arian, now under house arrest in Virginia, who has been hounded by the Justice Department although he should legally have been freed. Judge Leonie Brinkema, currently handling the Al-Arian case, in early March, questioned the U.S. attorney’s actions in Al-Arian’s plea agreement saying curtly: “I think there’s something more important here, and that’s the integrity of the Justice Department.”

The case against Hashmi revolves around the testimony of Junaid Babar, also an American citizen. Babar, in early 2004, stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks. In his luggage, the government alleges, Babar had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks, which Babar later delivered to a member of al-Qaida in south Waziristan, Pakistan. It was alleged that Hashmi allowed Babar to use his cell phone to call conspirators in other terror plots.

“Hashmi grew up here, was well known here, was very outspoken, very charismatic and very political,” said Theoharis. “This is really a message being sent to American Muslims about the cost of being politically active. It is not about delivering alleged socks and ponchos and rain gear. Do you think al-Qaida can’t get socks and ponchos in Pakistan? The government is planning to introduce tapes of Hashmi’s political talks while he was at Brooklyn College at the trial. Why are we willing to let this happen? Is it because they are Muslims, and we think it will not affect us? People who care about First Amendment rights should be terrified. This is one of the crucial civil rights issues of our time. We ignore this at our own peril.”

Babar, who was arrested in 2004 and has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support for al-Qaida, also faces up to 70 years in prison. But he has agreed to serve as a government witness and has already testified for the government in terror trials in Britain and Canada. Babar will receive a reduced sentence for his services, and many speculate he will be set free after the Hashmi trial. Since there is very little evidence to link Hashmi to terrorist activity, the government will rely on Babar to prove intent. This intent will revolve around alleged conversations and statements Hashmi made in Babar’s presence. Hashmi, who was a member of the New York political group Al Muhajiroun as a student at Brooklyn College, has made provocative statements, including calling America “the biggest terrorist in the world,” but Al Muhajiroun is not defined by the government as a terrorist organization. Membership in the group is not illegal. And our complicity in acts of state terror is a historical fact.

There will be more Hashmis, and the Justice Department, planning for future detentions, set up in 2006 a segregated facility, the Communication Management Unit, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nearly all the inmates transferred to Terre Haute are Muslims. A second facility has been set up at Marion, Ill., where the inmates again are mostly Muslim but also include a sprinkling of animal rights and environmental activists, among them Daniel McGowan, who was charged with two arsons at logging operations in Oregon. His sentence was given “terrorism enhancements” under the Patriot Act. Amnesty International has called the Marion prison facility “inhumane.” All calls and mail—although communication customarily is off-limits to prison officials—are monitored in these two Communication Management Units. Communication among prisoners is required to be only in English. The highest-level terrorists are housed at the Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, known as Supermax, in Florence, Colo., where prisoners have almost no human interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation, replicating the conditions for most of those held at Guantánamo. If detainees are transferred from Guantánamo to the prison in Thomson, Ill., they will find little change. They will endure Guantánamo-like conditions in colder weather.

Our descent is the familiar disease of decaying empires. The tyranny we impose on others we finally impose on ourselves. The influx of non-Muslim American activists into these facilities is another ominous development. It presages the continued dismantling of the rule of law, the widening of a system where prisoners are psychologically broken by sensory deprivation, extreme isolation and secretive kangaroo courts where suspects are sentenced on rumors and innuendo and denied the right to view the evidence against them. Dissent is no longer the duty of the engaged citizen but is becoming an act of terrorism. 

Copyright © 2009 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Bagram: A living hell November 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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Friday 20 November 2009
Paddy McGuffin

http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/

 

The US military has allowed journalists into its newly expanded secret detention centre at Bagram air base in Afghanistan this week.

The base has been described by campaigners as Guantanamo Bay’s “more evil twin” and the allegations of torture and murder within its secretive walls continue to this day.

The US claims this is proof of its determination to provide greater transparency and openness in its policy of extraordinary rendition and detention without trial.

The claim was somewhat undermined by the fact that the touring journalists had no access to the hundreds of inmates held at the facility.

Omar Deghayes is one man who has personal experience of both Bagram and Guantanamo. He was not impressed by US grandstanding.

He had seen it all before and has strong reason to doubt the announcement of improved conditions at Bagram.

Having suffered hellish torture there himself, he has now discovered that his brother-in-law has been detained at Bagram for the last two months and, if anything, he appears to have been treated even more brutally.

Deghayes was born in Libya in 1969. He was forced to flee the country with his mother and siblings after the torture and murder of his father by the Gadaffi regime.

Arriving in Brighton as a teenager, he went on to study law in Wolverhampton. The family were granted refugee status here in 1987.

In 2002 Deghayes was arrested in Pakistan and was “sold” to the US for a bounty. He was taken first to Bagram and then Guantanamo, where he was imprisoned without trial for five years.

During his time at Guantanamo he was blinded in one eye, which was already damaged since childhood, after guards repeatedly rubbed pepper spray in it.

The only “evidence” against him was a clip from an Islamic propaganda film showing Chechen fighters, one of which the US authorities claimed was him.

It later transpired that the image was not of Deghayes but of an Abu Walid, a Chechan rebel who had been killed some time in 2004.

Deghayes had in fact never been to Chechnya and had always maintained as much.

Speaking to the Morning Star, he gave his opinion on the US press tour of Bagram.

“This is how they manipulate things,” he says.

“I have experienced it personally at Guantanamo. They gave guided tours of the camp like it was a tour of the Himalayas or something.”

In 2002 a group of congressmen were given a guided tour of “Gitmo,” albeit a much sanitised one.

Following his tour of the facility Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe told CNN: “We are giving very good treatment to these people.

“Quite frankly, I personally think better than they deserve. We’re dealing with terrorists here.”

As if to complete the bizarre theme park atmosphere, each congressman was given a souvenir cap, a Guantanamo flag and a DVD of their visit to take home with them.

Select journalists were also given guided tours, reminiscent of this week’s at Bagram.

Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who represented Deghayes and many other Guantanamo prisoners, notes in his invaluable book Bad Men that, for one tour, “there was a show block in camp four … there was a show interrogation cell in camp five, designed to make solitary confinement look like a private suite.”

He goes on to say that “various military personnel were wheeled out for interviews about one humanitarian highlight of the prison or another.

“Whenever an inconvenient question might arise, they could shelter politely behind the barricade of institutional security.”

Deghayes agrees. “Those on the tour, the congressmen and reporters were not allowed to meet the prisoners. They were shown all the new facilities and it was like a nice party for them.

“Then they went back and gave glowing reports about how good it all was there,” he says.

“It was only when a whistle-blower told the real story that they became aware of what it was really like.

“The Obama administration is just copying the same policy as Bush. It is the same bureaucrats giving the same camouflage and using the same deceptions.”

Asked what credence he gave to the US claims of improved conditions at Bagram, he stated: “My brother-in-law is in Bagram now.

“He was just picked up a few months ago. He went to visit his in-laws in Afghanistan and they arrested him.

“My sister was finally able to visit him and she said the conditions were even worse than when I was there.

“She said he was in very bad condition. His eyes and face were battered and bleeding. It is worse there now than it ever was.

“They are saying there are all these new facilities, but that is not the issue,” says Deghayes.

“The real issue is that they are subjecting people to brutal and inhuman torture.”

Perhaps the most perfidious aspect to the situation in Bagram is that the US has stated that Afghan nationals held there have no legal rights.

Foreign nationals held there are said to have “some” legal rights, but those imprisoned in their own country by an invading foreign power have none.

The only way to ensure the freedom of those who still suffer torture and indefinite imprisonment is for the people of the US, Britain and elsewhere to continue to campaign and vocally criticise the policy. This is something Deghayes is keen to emphasise.

“When Obama came into power it was under a mandate of closing Guantanamo and stopping these abuses, but he has not done it. He has not come up with any new system,” says Deghayes.

“There is no legal system, no court system in Guantanamo or Bagram.

“Everyone who has been released from either Guantanamo or Bagram has been released due to campaigning and pressure brought on their behalf, not by any legal system or by being found innocent. Many people have been told they should have been released but are still there.

“I know from personal experience that campaigning is the only thing that works and we will continue to campaign for the release of my brother-in-law and all the others.”

Bagram’s brutal record

Bagram air base is located 27 miles north of Kabul and is estimated to house in excess of 600 prisoners. The recent extension will bring the number of prisoners it can hold to over 1,000.

The reason for this extension of the facility is seen by many to indicate an intention to increase US troop numbers and presumably therefore prisoners in the region.

The base was originally used to process prisoners during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 – part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

But since then Bagram has been filled with detainees held for years without charge, trial or legal rights.

Unlike Guantanamo where, after a hard-fought struggle, US lawyers have been granted access to detainees, those incarcerated in Bagram remain in a legal black hole.

Since 2002 there have been numerous reports of torture and at least two cases of murder.

In one of the worst cases a taxi driver by the name of Dilawar was beaten to death there in December 2002. His body was found to have suffered over 100 savage blows to the legs, apparently for the sadistic amusement of guards.

The autopsy report said that his legs had become “pulpified” and that he had died from blunt force trauma.

Omar Deghayes described his time at Bagram as follows: “Lying on the floor of the compound, all night I would hear the screams of others in the rooms above us as they were tortured and interrogated.

“My number would be called out and I would have to go to the gate. They chained me and put a bag over my head, dragging me off for my own turn.

“They would force me to my knees for questioning and threaten me with more torture.”

Wounded Knee to Vietnam to Today November 6, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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vietnam war photo napalm

 

I highly recommend Philip Caputo’s “A Rumor of War,” which I have just completed.  Caputo was a Marine lieutenant who served for nearly a year in Vietnam and later went on to become a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.

 

The book is a work of non-fiction, a virtual day by day account of the madness that was Vietnam.  The author takes pains to make no overt political analysis or judgment, but along the undercurrent flows the unmistakable notion that political ambition and mindless bureaucracy at the highest levels sent hundreds of thousands to senseless death and suffering.

 

For me the experience of reading “A Rumor of War” was a reminder, one that in truth I shouldn’t need, that the United States has a long history of wartime atrocity.  It didn’t all begin with George W. Bush.  From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli; from tubercular blankets and other forms of genocide perpetrated on the First Nations peoples to training grounds for Latin American Death Squad colonels at Fort Benning, Georgia.

 

Here’s what I learned about U.S. military practices in Vietnam forty some years ago that have eerie echoes today:

 

Although on paper the U.S. military treated prisoners of war according to the Geneva Conventions, they routinely turned over captured suspected Viet Cong to the ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) to be tortured and killed.  This has been the case with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan where prisoners have been turned over to local armies for torture and death; not to mention extraordinary rendition.

 

In Vietnam Mai Lai was probably the tip of the iceberg.  U.S. ground forces routinely used white phosphorous grenades to incinerate entire villages.  Apparently U.S. supplied white phosphorous was used by the Israeli military in its recent massacre of civilians in Gaza.

 

The military leaders in Vietnam were obsessed with kill ratios.  They wanted favorable stats on the number of Viet Cong killed.  The policy handed down was as follows: if it’s dead and it’s Vietnamese, then it’s VC.  One thinks of Colombia, a U.S. client state, where U.S. trained Colombian military have gone as far as killing civilians and dressing their corpses as guerrillas in order to up the count.

 

Caputo points out certain ironies, that, for example, it was forbidden to execute a Viet Cong prisoner while it was legitimate to kill him at long range; that it was forbidden to use white phosphorous grenades on civilians while at the same time napalming them from the air.  He concluded that when in doubt you could always get away with killing at a distance with high tech weapons.  Today’s overall U.S. military strategy from Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan is to bombard with so-called smart weapons.  Unmanned Predator Missiles are a favorite.

 

In Caputo’s account we see U.S. marines growing frustrated and vengeful towards Vietnamese villagers who gave aid to the Viet Cong.  This is a natural reaction because, after all, it is the Viet Cong who are intent on killing U.S. marines.  It is what led to a number of atrocities committed against Vietnamese civilians, including children and the elderly.  A marine, of course, has been trained to the bone to take orders without question.  That he should be in Vietnam, 10,000 miles from home, fighting a guerrilla army made up of Vietnamese for the purpose of Vietnamese national liberation – this is not supposed to occur to him.  So, while the war criminals in Washington, those who put him there in the first place for reasons that have nothing to do with the fundamental interests of either the Vietnamese or the American people, act with impunity; the marine grunt finds himself turning into a desensitized and dehumanized killing machine.

 

The tragic and undeniable conclusion is that fundamentally no lessons were learned from the Vietnam debacle (where hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese were killed and wounded).  You do not win the “hearts and minds” of a people (much less instil democratic values and institutions) by invading a country with overpowering weaponry administered by soldiers inculcated with racist stereotypes and triumphalist attitudes.  Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, extraordinary rendition, CIA torture chambers: these are today’s atrocities.

 

As the song goes: “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?”

 

afghanistan war

Ministers Must Explain Destruction of ‘Torture Flight’ Papers, Says Panel of MPs August 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Criminal Justice.
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Published on Sunday, August 9, 2009 by The Observer/UK

Foreign affairs select committee calls for disclosure on why Diego Garcia documents have vanished

by Mark Townsend

Ministers must explain why crucial documents relating to CIA “torture flights” that stopped on sovereign British territory were destroyed, a panel of MPs has said.

[Britain's Foreign Minister David Miliband looks on ahead of an European Union Foreign Ministers meeting on Iran in Corfu June 28, 2009. (REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis/Files)]Britain’s Foreign Minister David Miliband looks on ahead of an European Union Foreign Ministers meeting on Iran in Corfu June 28, 2009. (REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis/Files)

A damning appraisal by the influential foreign affairs select committee on Britain’s role in the rendition of terror suspects and alleged complicity of torture condemns the government’s lack of transparency on vital areas of concern.In particular, the MPs, in a report released today, call for an explanation for the missing papers, which might explain the role of Diego Garcia, the British overseas territory, in the US’s “extraordinary rendition” programme. The report says: “We recommend that the government discloses how, why and by whom the records relating to flights through Diego Garcia since the start of 2002 were destroyed.”

Foreign secretary David Miliband admitted 18 months ago that two US planes refuelled on the Indian Ocean island. The committee now wants a detailed account of the record-keeping and disposal policy regarding flights through the territory and “elsewhere through UK airspace”.

It also criticises the government’s inability to offer assurances that ships anchored outside Diego Garcia’s waters were not involved in the rendition programme. “The government must address the use of UK airspace for empty flights that may be part of a rendition circuit,” says the report.

Amnesty International said the MPs’ verdict underlined the need for a full, independent inquiry into the UK’s involvement in “war on terror” and human rights abuses.

The committee also voiced disquiet over claims that British intelligence officers were complicit in the torture of detainees held overseas. According to documents revealed by the high court last month, an MI5 officer visited Morocco three times during the time British resident Binyam Mohamed claims he was secretly interrogated and tortured there.

Of concern to the foreign affairs committee were claims relating to the involvement of the British security services and the practices of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence officers, who are known to routinely condone torture.

Details of the investigations the government has carried out into any of the claims should be made public, according to MPs. Mike Gapes, chairman of the committee, said it was time ministers also disclosed the guidance given at the time to intelligence officers interviewing suspects.

He said details of people captured by UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and placed in US custody should be divulged as part of a drive to improve transparency. The committee report notes: “We conclude that the potential treatment of detainees transferred by UK forces to the Afghan authorities gives cause for concern, given that there is credible evidence that torture and other abuses occur within the Afghani criminal justice system.”

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Terror and torture May 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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abu-ghraib-matthew-langleyArtwork: Matthew Langley

Jim Miles

www.onlinejournal.com, May 1, 2009

The current media frenzy concerning Obama’s coming release of more information on U.S. torture between 2000 and 2005 is a political storm conveniently kept out of context.

There are two aspects to the context that are missing. First, this is not new information and well before current events erupted into the news, the case has been made all along that the Bush administration in general — Bush and Cheney, their political advisors and legal representatives — are all complicit in contravening the Geneva Conventions on torture and the treatment of prisoners of war. Secondly, terror and torture go hand in glove, the two are fully related and have been used by the U.S. and its proxies in many different contexts around the world — and are still doing so as Obama has put an end to torture at Guantanamo, but has not denied renditions to friendly torturers elsewhere.

The spin-doctors in the White House are no longer allowing the use of the term “war on terror” although the facts of the war have not changed. As the global war on whatever or the long war on whomever continues, the abuses associated with terror and torture will continue to spread.

The initiator of terror, of course, is the occupier of foreign territories creating the obvious wish on the part of the indigenous populations for the occupier to go home, currently involving most of the Middle East from Israel/Palestine through to Pakistan. This has happened throughout history, ancient and modern, from the Crusades and the Mongol hordes through the genocide of native populations in the Americas to the more modern terrors of a highly developed technological warfare that readily conquers “enemies” as defined by the political elites for a variety of reasons, from religious zealotry to political zealotry, frequently one and the same thing, seen most evidently in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . and Pakistan?

Put in simpler terms, the U.S. uses terror, the U.S. uses torture, its allies and compatriots use terror, use torture, and as the U.S. expands its war frontiers further into Pakistan, so will the edges of terror and torture expand.

Power and control

Torture is ultimately about power and control. It ranges from the pure brutality of physical torture often described in many of the wars for suppression of indigenous control in Central America to the more ‘refined’ torture currently used to break down a prisoner’s psychological persona without leaving the physical scars of the less sophisticated forms of torture. Torture is used to create terror, to create a population that is subservient and easily controlled by the very fear of the terror that it spreads. In turn, as terror and torture strips away the thin layers of civilization that control man’s baser instincts, terror and torture become devices used by the combatants on both sides.

As the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. role in abrogating human rights and crimes against humanity have a powerful effect elsewhere in the world. “The actions of the United States have also made it more difficult to critize the violations of international law by other countries, most notably Israel.” What occurred at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Bagram airbase “bear more than a passing resemblance” with the “testimonies of Palestinians released from Israeli prisons.” [1]

As expressed shortly after Abu Ghraib, “the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.” Even though torture does not do what it is purported to do, provide useful information, “a plea to torture one terrorist with a ticking bomb becomes the rationale for insecure leaders to win the right to torture someone, anyone, to assuage the uncertainties of rule and empower themselves for dominion.” [2]

Obama

I have no sympathy — and perhaps a seed of disdain — for Obama’s current problems on the political front with his inheritance of the Bush legacy of torture. If the world is to look forward with “hope” for “change” it needs to start at home. Simply releasing more information will provide neither hope nor change. If Obama wishes to be more than a man of wonderful sounding phrases, he will have to do what is correct by international law and arrange whatever is necessary under U.S. law to investigate and prosecute those involved with the torture — not just the low level people, those “following orders,” but the ones in the executive and legislative branches who formed the concept and provided the legal okay for it, contrary to international laws.

From readings of international law, Obama himself becomes guilty of torture as anyone who is complicit with aiding and abetting torture becomes guilty of the crime. If he refuses to act, then under international standards, Obama becomes guilty of the crime. Unfortunately the U.S. is one of the most contradictory countries when it comes to upholding laws, always telling others that they need to be transparent, open, democratic, but when it suits its own purposes it relies on ignoring, abrogating, or denying international law.

Guilty until proven innocent

Phillippe Sands’ work “Torture Team” examines one particular case related to Guantanamo and arrives at the clear conclusion that there is good case for prosecuting Bush, Cheney, Feith, Haynes, Gonzales, Yoo, Bybee and others from this case in itself. [3] Others included in this list are the medical workers, physicians and psychologists, who supported those actually applying the torture.

Within its own internal laws the U.S. has provided immunity from prosecution under the Military Commissions Act as it “Gives US officials immunity from prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before the end of 2005 by US military and CIA.” [4]

Sands adds, “Legislation creating such an immunity would allow the crime to be covered up: it was almost an admission that a crime had occurred.” [5] That immunity, however arguable under U.S. law, does not extend outside the U.S.: “Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, any country may prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by anyone anywhere.” [6]

Alfred McCoy in “A Question of Torture — CIA Interrogation From the Cold War to the War on Terror” examines the history of torture up to the days of Abu Ghraib. He starts by stating “five intertwined aspects of its perverse psychology,” the fifth of which needs to be restated strongly today: “ . . . a nation that sanctions torture in defiance of its democratic principles pays a terrible price. For nearly two millennia, the practice has been identified with tyrants and empires. For the past two centuries, its repudiation has been synonymous with the humanist ideals of the Enlightenment and democracy. When any modern state tortures even a few victims, the stigma compromises its majesty and corrupts its integrity. Its officials must spin an ever more complex web of lies that, in the end, weakens the bonds of trust and the rule of law that are the sine qua non of a democracy.” [7]

For Obama to avoid complicity, for Obama to not be seen as opposing basic human rights, for Obama to avoid being labelled an ineffective orator, he needs to act on the information that is at hand and proceed with some form of investigation that has the power it needs to fully complete its legal tasks. For the U.S. to not be seen as it has for the past decade as a country that trammels other people’s international rights, the people of the U.S., and their elected representatives, need to support that investigation.

Canadian complicity

Canada is a minor player on the world political scene, increasingly seen as nothing more than a U.S. puppet, a minion succouring favour, trying to be one of the big boys on the global stage by supporting the Bush doctrine, even after Bush is gone. The Canadian government under Harper has supported the U.S. in Afghanistan and currently on into Pakistan without considering the context of who started the great mujahideen warriors in the first place (the U.S. CIA and Pakistani ISI) and why they are now fighting them in Central Asia (gas, oil, containment of China and Russia).

This complicity extends to torture. The case of Maher Arar is a relatively well-known extradition case that the government aided in. More recently, now that Guantanamo is being shut down, a Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is being denied entry back into Canada even though the Federal Court has said it should be allowed. One of the government’s arguments is that Khadr needs to be processed through the U.S. legal system (hmm . . . see above) even though under international law he could be tried here in Canada. While Harper wishes to appear tough on terrorism, he is only making himself complicit in the illegal practices utilized by the U.S. at Guantanamo, soon perhaps to be sanctioned by Obama as well.

The Canadian pretender to the throne, whom I do not always agree with, appears to understand the situation more clearly than Harper. Michael Ignatieff states, . . . even in emergency, even if some liberties must be suspended, a constitutional state must remain answerable to the higher law, a set of standards that protect foundational commitments to the dignity of every person. [8]

Terror’s answer

Terror is an act of aggression. It is part and parcel of the nature of warfare, and is a particular conjoint of unilateral preemptive warfare. The answer to terror is twofold. First the initiating countries, those that are doing the invading, manipulating, coercive activities, need to stop. The second is that terror used in response to terror cannot be stopped by war, but needs to be stopped by international police work and the upholding of international law internally and internationally by all parties.

For Canada, hopefully, Harper will see the last of his controlling reign in the next election and equally hopefully, Ignatieff can stand up his own beliefs in human rights extending beyond state legalities. Obama needs to act in his own backyard and ignore his own state legalities of the Military Commissions Act, or terror will continue regardless of any war label applied to U.S. actions. If it cannot be contained and brought to justice in the U.S., it will not happen internationally.

[1] Byers, Michael. War Law — Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 2005. p. 154.

[2] McCoy, Alfred W. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2006. p. 207.

[3] Sands, Phillippe. Torture Team — Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law. Allen Lane (Penguin), 2008. See review at

[4] Anup Shah. “Military Commissions Act 2006—Unchecked Powers?Znet. October 02, 2006.

[5] Sands, ibid, p. 252.

[6] Byers, ibid, p. 143

[7] McCoy, ibid, p. 14.

[7] Ignatieff, Michael. The Lesser Evil — Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Princeton University, 2004. p. 44.

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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100 Days to Restore the Constitution: Assessment April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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100-days-header_overview

For an excellent summary of the pros (almost none) and cons (way too many) of the Obama Administration’s actions or lack thereof with respect to constitutional issues, I highly recommend the following assessment compiled by the Center for Constitutional Rights:

http://ccrjustice.org/100daysassessment

Federal Court to Obama DOJ: ‘State Secrets’ Excuse is Bogus, Torture Victims’ Lawsuit Can Proceed April 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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 jeppesen-supports-torture

Posted by Liliana Segura, AlterNet at 1:39 PM on April 28, 2009, www.alternet.org

In a crucial defeat for the Obama administration, an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of five victims of extraordinary rendition will move forward.

In February, lawyers for the Obama administration dismayed many of his supporters by attempting to block a lawsuit on behalf of five victims of  extraordinary rendition on the same bogus “state secrets” grounds so often invoked by his predecessor.

“This case cannot be litigated,” Department of Justice lawyer Douglas Letter argued at the time. “The judges shouldn’t play with fire in this national security situation.”

This claim, a throwback to the shameless secrecy and fearmongering of the Bush era, was devastating to those who had hoped that the Obama presidency would mark a shift towards seeking justice for the countless men wrongfully swept up in the early days of the so-called “war on terror” — and accountability for those who sanctioned their torture.

As I explained at the time:

 

 

The case was Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, a lawsuit originally brought in 2007 by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of extraordinary rendition, the notorious CIA program in which terror suspects are kidnapped, thrown on a plane and flown to another country to be tortured and interrogated.

Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, is said to have provided the logistical support for the rendition of all five plaintiffs, among them, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national who, in July 2002, was taken from Pakistan to Morocco, where for 18 months he was imprisoned and brutally tortured, including being cut with razorblades on his testicles. Mohamed was later sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he supposedly awaits imminent plans for his release. He has never stood trial.

 

 

Two weeks later — and seven years after his initial capture — Binyam Mohamed was finally released.

 

 

“The very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers,” he said in a statement released upon his arrival to Britain.

 

 

Likewise, the same administration many hoped would finally allow torture victims to have their day in court instead has followed the Bush administration’s footsteps by seeking to block their lawsuits.

Today, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came down on the side of Mohamed and his fellow plaintiffs, ruling that the ACLU case against Jeppesen Dataplan can move forward.

“The Executive’s national security prerogatives are not the only weighty constitutional values at stake,” the court concluded, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark opinion in Boumediene v. Bush that security depends on the “freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adhering to the separation of powers.”

 

 

According to the court’s decision, the government can only use the state secrets privilege with respect to specific evidence, not to throw out the lawsuit itself.

In a statement released today by the ACLU, staff attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case for the plaintiffs, said, “This historic decision marks the beginning, not the end, of this litigation. Our clients, who are among the hundreds of victims of torture under the Bush administration, have waited for years just to get a foot in the courthouse door. Now, at long last, they will have their day in court. Today’s ruling demolishes once and for all the legal fiction, advanced by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, that facts known throughout the world could be deemed ‘secrets’ in a court of law.”

“I am happy to hear this news,” said Bisher Al-Rawi, a plaintiff in this case who was released from Guantánamo last year without ever having been charged with a crime. “We have made a huge step forward in our quest for justice.”

 

 

The ACLU has more.

How Obama Excused Torture April 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein writes that Obama’s decision to release CIA memos without prosecuting Bush administration officials flouts his constitutional duty.

by Bruce Fein

On Thursday, April 16th, in response to a lawsuit initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union, President Barack Obama released four redacted Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memoranda from the Bush administration to the CIA justifying torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. (The CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were modeled on the Chinese Communist coercive brainwashing program against Americans captured in the Korean War to induce false confessions). Each memorandum hedged its conclusions with substantial caveats, such as the absence of judicial precedents and concessions that reasonable persons could dispute their exculpatory conclusions. The memoranda were later renounced as bad law.

Obama, however, promised non-prosecution of all CIA personnel complicit in torture who relied on the flawed OLC advice. He further pledged to defend them from criminal investigations initiated by foreign jurisdictions and to indemnify them if they are held liable in damages for constitutional or statutory wrongdoing. Obama is similarly defending former OLC Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo against a torture suit initiated by Jose Padilla, convicted of terrorism in 2007 after the government dropped charges that as an “enemy combatant” he plotted to set off a “dirty bomb.” The Yoo memoranda on torture have also been renounced and discredited. Obama also promised to follow the Bush-Cheney duumvirate in claiming secrecy for alleged national security secrets because “the world is dangerous.” Indeed, he did not voluntarily initiate release of the four OLC memoranda, but responded to a Freedom of Information Act suit. And President Obama has echoed the Bush-Cheney state secrets arguments to block lawsuits challenging the legality of spying on Americans without warrants in contravention of the Fourth Amendment or federal law, or seeking damages for torture. Moreover, Obama has been unable to recite a single instance where transparency proved more dangerous to the liberties of the American people than has secrecy, the birthplace of COINTELPRO, Shamrock, Minaret, Abu Ghraib, and torture of 14 so-called “High Value Al Qaeda” detainees in secret prisons abroad (according to the International Committee of the Red Cross).

On the same day Obama was excusing torture and promising more secret government, The New York Times published a front page story disclosing the National Security Agency’s apparently illegal interceptions of emails and phone calls of American citizens in the United States without individual judicial warrants. The interceptions exceeded even the sweeping group warrant authority to spy on persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States that were authorized in amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) enacted last September. President Obama has declined to sanction a single official implicated in the latest apparent violation of a statute he supported as a senator. He has similarly chosen non-prosecution for former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney, and high level officials at the National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA who authorized more than five years of FISA felonies: namely, warrantless NSA spying on American citizens on American soil in flagrant contravention of FISA, about which more anon.

The evidence is now undeniable. President Barack Obama is flouting his unflagging constitutional obligation enshrined in Article II, Section 3 to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” He is also reneging on his signature campaign promise to restore the rule of law, transparency, and accountability to the White House. He is displaying the psychology of an arrogant Empire as opposed to a modest Republic in continuing and escalating the Bush-Cheney duumvirate’s global and perpetual war against international terrorism heedless of foreign sovereignties or the lives of civilians.

Even more disappointing, Obama has proven a political coward dangerous to the Republic. Before April 16, he had decided against any criminal investigation of the Bush-Cheney duumvirate or their inner circles for their boasted complicity in torture, i.e., waterboarding, which Attorney General Eric Holder has declared is torture. He has similarly declined investigations of extraordinary renditions that have occasioned, among other things, the indictments and in absentia trials of 26 CIA operatives in Milan, Italy, for the kidnapping and torture of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar.

Obama made no effort to square his refusal to investigate credible and substantial evidence of felonies with his constitutional obligation to faithfully execute, not sabotage the laws. He relied solely on politics, as though law was nothing more than a constellation of political calculations with ulterior motives. Obama insisted that investigations of Bush-Cheney would disturb the Toscanini-like symphony he had promised to the political class in the corridors of power. Comparable political calculations explain why Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai declines to prosecute the countless officials implicated in staggering corruption, inefficiency, and subjugation of women-all of which are deplored by President Obama.

In sweeping the Bush-Cheney lawlessness under the rug, Obama has set a precedent whitewashing White House lawlessness in the name of national security that will lie around like a loaded weapon ready for resurrection by any Commander-in-Chief eager to appear “tough on terrorism” and to exploit popular fear. Obama urges that the crimes were justified because the duumvirate acted to protect the nation from international terrorism. But Congress did not create a national security defense to torture or commit FISA felonies.

President Obama should have invoked his pardon power if he believed circumstances justified the crimes by Bush and Cheney and the CIA’s interrogators. A pardon or lesser clemency properly exposes the president to political accountability, as Bush discovered with Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby and President Ford with former President Nixon. More significant, a pardon does not set a precedent making lawful what was unlawful. It acknowledges the criminality of the underlying activity, and acceptance of the pardon is an admission of guilt by the recipient. Pardons leave unsullied the doctrine of Ex parte Milligan (1866):”The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men at all times and in all circumstances. No doctrine involving more pernicious consequences was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government.”

Obama can be summoned against his own non-prosecution policy, secrecy, and non-accountability. In releasing the four OLC memoranda on April 16, Obama asserted: “Enlisting our values [like the rule of law or transparency] in the protection of our people makes us stronger and more secure. A democracy as resilient as ours must reject the false choice between our security and our ideals [like the rule of law or government in the sunshine]… I believe strongly in transparency and accountability… The United States is a nation of laws.”

These words should be taken cum granis salis. Bush and Cheney also insisted that everything they did was constitutional and indispensable to thwarting another 9/11. Obama’s promise of change has proven nothing more than verbal jugglery.

Bruce Fein was associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, and has authored Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for our Constitution and Democracy.
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