Tags: binyam mohamed, british government, british intelligence, british national security, cia, dahlia lithwick, dana milbank, David Miliband, department of defense, dod, dominic grieve, foreign office, geneva conventions, geneva standards, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, house of commons, International law, jacqui smith, journalism, journalistic ethics, m15, media complicity, media ethics, micael mcconnell, michael hayden, president obama, roger hollander, state secrets privilege, tom friedman, torture, us media, War Crimes
add a comment
(updated below – Update II)
Binyam Mohamed is the British resident who, two weeks ago, was released from Guantanamo and returned to Britain after seven years of detention, often in brutal conditions. Since his return, compelling evidence has been steadily emerging that British agents were knowingly complicit in Mohamed’s torture while in U.S. custody — including the discovery of telegrams sent by British intelligence officers to the CIA asking the CIA to extract information from him. How does a country with a minimally healthy political class and a pretense to the rule of law react to such allegations of criminality? From the BBC:
MPs have demanded a judicial inquiry into a Guantanamo Bay prisoner’s claims that MI5 was complicit in his torture. . . .
[Mohamed's] allegations are being investigated by the government, but the Foreign Office said it did not condone torture.
Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the “extremely serious” claims should also be referred to the police. . . .
Daniel Sandford, BBC Home Affairs correspondent, said Mr Mohamed’s claims would be relatively simple to substantiate.
“As time progresses it will probably become quite apparent whether indeed these are true telegrams and I think it’s unlikely they’d be put into the public domain if they couldn’t eventually be checked back.”
The Conservatives have called for a police inquiry into his allegations of British collusion.
Mr Grieve called for a judicial inquiry into the allegations.
“And if the evidence is sufficient to bring a prosecution then the police ought to investigate it,” he added.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Ed Davey said there was a “rock solid” case for an independent judicial inquiry. . . .
Shami Chakrabati, director of campaign group Liberty said: “These are more than allegations – these are pieces of a puzzle that are being put together.
“It makes an immediate criminal investigation absolutely inescapable.”
New revelations by Guantánamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed, claiming that British intelligence played a central role in his torture and interrogation, must be answered by the government, the former shadow home secretary David Davis said last night. . . .
[Mohamed's] allegations appear to contradict assertions by foreign secretary David Miliband and home secretary Jacqui Smith that the British government would never “authorise or condone” torture.
Davis said Mohamed’s testimony demanded a response from these ministers. “His revelations show that the government’s claims about its involvement in the interrogation of Mohamed are completely untenable,” Davis said. “Either Miliband or Smith should come to the House of Commons and reveal exactly what the government knew.”
Last night other public figures said there should be wider efforts to look into the allegations that the British government had colluded in Mohamed’s torture.
Notice what is missing from these accounts. There is nobody arguing that the dreary past should simply be forgotten in order to focus on the important and challenging future. There’s no snide suggestion that demands to investigate serious allegations of criminality are driven by petty vengeance or partisan score-settling. Nobody suggests that it’s perfectly permissible for government officials to commit serious crimes — including war crimes — as long as they had nice motives or were told that it was OK to do these things by their underlings, or that the financial crisis (which Britain has, too) precludes any investigations, or that whether to torture is a mere ”policy dispute.” Also missing is any claim that these crimes are State Secrets that must be kept concealed in order to protect British national security.
Instead, the tacit premise of the discussion is that credible allegations of criminality — even if committed by high government officials, perhaps especially then — compel serious criminal investigations. Imagine that. How shrill and radical.
If one stays immersed in American domestic political debates, it’s easy to lose sight of just how corrupted and rotted our political and media class is, because the most twisted ideas become enshrined as elite orthodoxies. Britain is hardly the paragon of transparency and adherence to international conventions; to the contrary, they’ve been with the U.S. every step of the way over the last eight years, enabling and partaking in many of the worst abuses. Yet this one single case of documented complicity in torture — mere complicity with, not actual commission of, the torture — is generating extreme political controversy and widespread demands across the political spectrum for judicial and criminal investigations. The British political class may not have wanted to see it, but when compelling evidence of criminality is rubbed in their faces, they at least pay lip service to the idea that crimes by government officials must be investigated and subjected to accountability.
By stark and depressing contrast, America’s political class and even most of its “journalists” — in the face of far, far greater, more heinous and more direct war criminality by their highest political leaders — are explicitly demanding that nothing be done and that it all be kept concealed. They’re surveying undeniable evidence of grotesque war crimes committed over many years by our government — including enabling legal theories that even Fred Hiatt described as “scary,” “lawless” and “disgraceful” — and are literally saying: ”just forget about that; it doesn’t matter.” Our country is plagued by “journalists” like The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank, giggling with smug derision over the very few efforts to investigate these massive crimes — and then even lying on NPR by claiming that support for investigations is confined to “a small but very vocal minority within the Party – these are the same folks who were pushing for the impeachment of the President and the Vice President right up [dismissive chuckling] basically to the time of the Inauguration” (to see how flagrantly false is Milbank’s statement about support within the Party for investigations, see here and here and here; the NPR host, needless to say, said nothing to correct him).
The accountability-free, self-loving mentality that demands that nothing be done about America’s war crimes over the last eight years is hardly confined to America’s detention, surveillance and interrogation policies. This is exactly the same bloated, insular corruption that allows multi-billion-dollar insider frauds like this one not only to go unexamined but also to result in those responsible being further empowered with high government positions. It’s what lets someone like Tom Friedman think he can lecture us all with a straight face on the evils of overconsumption, the ravaging effects of our “growth model,” and the environment-destroying impact of consumerism as he lives in this house, financed by his heiress-wife’s shopping-center-developing company, his books urging unfettered globalization, and his columns urging various wars.
In sum, we have the only country, and the only results, that it’s possible to have given who has been wielding influence. And nothing expresses more vividly what they are than their explicit insistence that systematic war crimes committed by their own Government be immunized and forgotten, underscored by their bizarre feelings of “centrism”-smugness and Seriousness-superiority for expressing that definitively lawless and amoral view.
* * * * *
One other point about Mohamed: Last month, the Obama DOD claimed that it conducted an investigation and concluded that Guantanamo now fully comports with all Geneva standards. In a New York Times interview yesterday, President Obama claimed (for the first time, to my knowledge) that most of the problems with Bush’s detention policies were confined to what he called ”the steps that were taken immediately after 9/11,” and that most of those problems were fixed by CIA Director Michael Hayden and DNI Michael McConnell “by the time [Obama] took office” because Hayden and McConnell “were mindful of American values and ideals.”
Compare all of that to Binyam Mohamed’s post-release statements — supported by other corroborating evidence — that “conditions at the US detention camp in Cuba have worsened since President Barack Obama was elected. . . . “‘Since the election it’s got harsher,’ Mohamed told the newspaper.” Isn’t this something that the U.S. Government should be called upon to address?
UPDATE: Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick reviews, and dismantles, each of the justifications being offered by the Obama administration for keeping Bush crimes concealed and shielding them from investigations and prosecutions (h/t Bystander). It’s quite concise and well worth reading in its entirety (as is Digby’s discussion of that article).
UPDATE II: In comments, Cocktailhag writes:
It is something of an upside down world wherein journalists, as a class, comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, and see nothing odd about this.
At times I’ve wondered whether Watergate would have even been discovered by the mindless media we have today, but even worse, whether they all would have just explained it away.
It’s difficult to select what one thinks is the single most illustrative symbol of how our country now functions, but if I were forced to do so, I would choose the fact that it is America’s journalists — who claim to be devoted to serving as a check on Government and exposing its secrets — who are, instead, leading the way in demanding that the Government’s actions of the last eight years be concealed; in trying to quash efforts to investigate and expose those actions; and in demanding immunity for government lawbreakers. What kind of country does one expect to have where (with some noble exceptions) it is journalists, of all people, who take the lead in concealing, protecting and justifying government wrongdoing, and whose overriding purpose is to serve, rather than check, political power? ”Upside down world,” indeed.
Tom Friedman Offers a Perfect Definition of ‘Terrorism’ January 14, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Media.
Tags: al-Qaeda, civilian deaths, collateral damage, gaza, glenn greenwald, hamas, hezbolloh, idf, israel, jeffrey goldberg, lebanon, Middle East, new york times, noncombatant targets, Palestine, propaganda, rashid khalidi, roger hollander, terror, terrorism, tom friedman, War Crimes
1 comment so far
Tom Friedman, one of the nation’s leading propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, has a column today in The New York Times explaining and praising the Israeli attack on Gaza. For the sake of robust and diverse debate (for which our Liberal Media is so well known), Friedman’s column today appears alongside an Op-Ed from The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the nation’s leading (and most deceitful) propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel’s wars, who explains that Hamas is incorrigibly hateful and radical and cannot be negotiated with. One can hardly imagine a more compelling exhibit demonstrating the complete lack of accountability in the “journalism” profession — at least for those who are loyal establishment spokespeople who reflexively cheer on wars — than a leading Op-Ed page presenting these two war advocates, of all people, as experts, of all things, on the joys and glories of the latest Middle East war.
In any event, Friedman’s column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of Lebanon was, contrary to conventional wisdom, a great success. To make this case, Friedman acknowledges that the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians was not an unfortunate and undesirable by-product of that war, but rather, was a vital aspect of the Israeli strategy — the centerpiece, actually, of teaching Lebanese civilians a lesson they would not soon forget:
Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians – the families and employers of the militants – to restrain Hezbollah in the future.
Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon – when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”
Friedman says that he is “unsure” whether the current Israeli attack on Gaza is similiarly designed to teach Palestinians the same lesson by inflicting “heavy pain” on civilians, but he hopes it is:
In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.
The war strategy which Friedman is heralding — what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as “exacting enough pain on civilians” in order to teach them a lesson — is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of “terrorism.” Here is how the U.S. Department of State defined “terrorism” in its 2001 publication, Patterns of Global Terrorism:
No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, Section 2656f(d). That statute contains the following definitions:
The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .
(1) For purposes of this definition, the term “noncombatant” is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.
Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a “subnational group,” can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as “terrorism”? I doubt anyone can. Isn’t Friedman’s “logic” exactly the rationale used by Al Qaeda: we’re going to inflict “civilian pain” on Americans so that they stop supporting their government’s domination of our land and so their government thinks twice about bombing more Muslim countries? It’s also exactly the same “logic” that fuels the rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas into Israel.
It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is Israel’s motivation isn’t proof that it is. The sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader can’t fairly be projected onto those who are actually prosecuting the war. But one can’t help noticing that this “teach-them-a-lesson” justification for civilian deaths in Gaza appears with some frequency among its advocates, at least among a certain strain of super-warrior, Israel-centric Americans — e.g.: Marty “do not fuck with the Jews” Peretz and Michael “to wipe out a man’s entire family, it’s hard to imagine that doesn’t give his colleagues at least a moment’s pause” Goldfarb — who love to cheer on Middle East wars from a safe and sheltered distance.
Some opponents of the Israeli war actually agree with Friedman about the likely goals of the attack on Gaza. Writing last week in The New York Times, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi noted:
This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”
This AP article yesterday described how “terrified residents ran for cover Tuesday in a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City as Israeli troops backed by tanks thrust deeper into the city.” It reported that “an Israeli warplane fired a missile at the former Gaza city hall, used as a court building in recent years . . . . The 1910 structure was destroyed and many stores in the market around it were badly damaged.” And it quoted an Israeli military officer as follows: “Soldiers shoot at anything suspicious, use lots of firepower, and blast holes through walls to move around.”
The efficacy of Friedman’s desired strategy of inflicting pain on Palestinian civilians in order to change their thinking and behavior is unclear. The lack of clarity is due principally to the fact that Israel is still blocking journalists from entering Gaza. But this Sunday’s New York Times article — reporting on unconfirmed claims that Israel was using white phosphorus on the civilian population (a claim the IDF expressly refused to deny) — contains this anecdotal evidence that The Friedman Strategy is actually quite counter-productive:
Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern Gaza City. When exposed to air, it ignites, experts say, and if packed into an artillery shell, it can rain down flaming chemicals that cling to anything they touch.
Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.
The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. “Do you think I’m against them firing rockets now?” she asked, referring to Hamas. “No. I was against it before. Not anymore.”
It’s far easier to imagine a population subjected to this treatment becoming increasingly radicalized and belligerent rather than submissive and compliant, as Friedman intends. But while the efficacy of The Friedman Strategy is unclear, the fact that it is a perfect distillation of a “war crime” and “terrorism” is not unclear at all.
One might ordinarily find it surprising that our elite opinion-makers are so openly and explicitly advocating war crimes and terrorism (“inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large” and “‘educate’ Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population”). But when one considers that most of this, in the U.S., is coming from the very people who applied the same “suck-on-this” reasoning to justify the destruction of Iraq, and even more so, when one considers that our highest political officials are now so openly — even proudly — acknowledging their own war crimes, while our political and media elites desperately (and almost unanimously) engage in every possible maneuver to protect them from any consequences from that, Friedman’s explicit advocacy of these sorts of things is a perfectly natural thing to see.