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The Torturers Speak July 24, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: I often post articles and write on the theme of the United States as an imperial power which through economic and military might creates death and misery around the globe.  This, of course, is counter to the narrative that we learned in school and still thrives in popular culture that sees the U.S. as the “leader of the free world,” the world’s greatest champion of freedom and democracy.

Torture as the official policy of the United States government of Cheney/Bush was done away with under the presidency of Barack Obama, but it is poised to come back again under Trump.  This would not have been possible if Cheney, Bush and the rest of the Inquisition regime had been held legally criminally accountable.  Obama’s rationalization that it is better to look ahead rather that backwards is one of the most vacuous and disingenuous statements I have ever heard coming out of the mouth of a politician (and that is saying a lot).  And later he added, as if he was shooting the shit over cocktails, “yeah, we tortured some folks.”  

America the Beautiful. 

 

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The Editorial Board, New York Times, June 23, 2917

It’s hard to watch the videotaped depositions of the two former military psychologists who, working as independent contractors, designed, oversaw and helped carry out the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees held at C.I.A. black sites in the months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The men, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, strike a professional pose. Dressed in suits and ties, speaking matter-of-factly, they describe the barbaric acts they and others inflicted on the captives, who were swept up indiscriminately and then waterboarded, slammed into walls, locked in coffins and more — all in the hunt for intelligence that few, if any, of them possessed. One died of apparent hypothermia. Many others were ultimately released without charge.

When pushed to confront the horror and uselessness of what they had done, the psychologists fell back on one of the oldest justifications of wartime. “We were soldiers doing what we were instructed to do,” Dr. Jessen said. Perhaps, but they were also soldiers whose contracting business was paid more than $81 million.

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Still image taken from a video deposition of Dr. James Mitchell.

The Times on Tuesday published the depositions, taken earlier this year in the course of a federal lawsuit brought against Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell by two former detainees and the family of a third who died in C.I.A. custody in Afghanistan. The psychologists may be the only two people to face any meaningful legal consequences for their role in one of the darkest periods of recent American history. A federal civil trial is set to start Sept. 5 in Spokane, Wash.

The details of the treatment of dozens of detainees at the hands of American intelligence contractors are by now widely known, yet it is still chilling to watch Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen rationalize their use of techniques that the C.I.A.’s top lawyer at the time called “sadistic and terrifying.”

“I thought he would be uncomfortable,” Dr. Mitchell said of waterboarding, in which torturers simulate the sensation of drowning by pouring water over a cloth covering a person’s face. “It sucks. I don’t know that it’s painful, but it’s distressing.” Dr. Mitchell once said detainees would rather have their legs broken. A 2002 cable described the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, who officials wrongly believed was a leader of Al Qaeda, and who was subjected to the procedure 83 times over a matter of days. “At the onset of involuntary stomach and leg spasms, subject was again elevated to clear his airway, which was followed by hysterical pleas. Subject was distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate or adequately engage the team.”

Mr. Zubaydah did give interrogators key information about the Sept. 11 plot — not as a result of the waterboarding, but in response to traditional interrogation methods. Yet, thinking he might have more, torturers forged ahead with Mr. Zubaydah and with others, confident that physical abuse would lead to actionable intelligence. Some detainees were handcuffed to a bar on the wall so they could not rest or lie down for days at a time. During his own deposition, Jose Rodriguez, a top C.I.A. official who destroyed videotapes of the interrogations because of what he called their “ugly visuals,” compared the abuse to a gym workout. When Suleiman Salim, one of the plaintiffs suing the psychologists, was asked to describe his experience, he broke down in tears.

Even now, the psychologists claim that their techniques, which have been banned, caused no lasting damage. But Mr. Salim, like many other former detainees, still suffers psychological harm — including nightmares, flashbacks, headaches and sleeplessness.

Dr. Jessen admitted to some discomfort with the program he helped devise. “Jim and I didn’t want to continue doing what we were doing,” he said in his deposition. But the pressure from intelligence officials was intense. “They kept telling me every day a nuclear bomb was going to be exploded in the United States and that because I had told them to stop, I had lost my nerve and it was going to be my fault if I didn’t continue.”

The full story of what happened under the torture program may never be made public. Earlier this month, the Trump administration began returningcopies of a 2014 Senate classified report on torture to Congress, where it may be locked away for good. Meanwhile, President Trump, with no expertise on torture and its sad history, has at times promised to bring back waterboarding and other techniques banned by President Obama.

Many people bear responsibility for the depravity of the torture program, but most will never suffer any legal consequences. The suit against Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell may be the last opportunity for some accountability.

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Obama’s Embrace of Bush Terrorism Policies is Celebrated as “Centrism” May 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture, Uncategorized.
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by Glenn Greenwald

I wonder how many people from across the political spectrum will have to point this out before Obama defenders will finally admit that it’s true.  From Harvard Law Professor and former Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith, systematically assessing Obama’s “terrorism” policies in The New Republic:

Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence.  But there is a different problem with Cheney’s criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric. . . .

[A]t the end of the day, Obama practices will be much closer to late Bush practices than almost anyone expected in January 2009.

Most critically, Goldsmith expresses admiration for Obama’s rhetorical and symbolic changes — such as Obama’s emphasis on obtaining Congressional support for Bush’s  policies while highlighting his deep concern for “civil liberties” — because Goldsmith believes that Obama’s rhetoric vests Bush’s policies with more credibility, ensures more bipartisan and Congressional support for these policies, makes them more palatable to Democrats, and thus ensures that those policies will endure in a stronger and longer-lasting form:

The new president was a critic of Bush administration terrorism policies, a champion of civil liberties, and an opponent of the invasion of Iraq. His decision (after absorbing the classified intelligence and considering the various options) to continue core Bush terrorism policies is like Nixon going to China. . . .

If this analysis is right, then the former vice president is wrong to say that the new president is dismantling the Bush approach to terrorism. President Obama has not changed much of substance from the late Bush practices, and the changes he has made, including changes in presentation, are designed to fortify the bulk of the Bush program for the long-run. Viewed this way, President Obama is in the process of strengthening the presidency to fight terrorism.

What’s most striking about the denial of so many Obama supporters about all of this is that Obama officials haven’t really tried to hide it.  White House counsel Greg Craig told The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage back in February that Obama “is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency.”  It was in that same article where Savage — a favorite of Bush critics when Bush was president — warned that after the first week of Executive Orders, “the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda.” 

Notably, Savage’s article was written almost three months ago, well before Obama’s announcement that he was adopting many of the most extreme Bush policies.  At the time of Savage’s February article, I wrote: “while believing that Savage’s article is of great value in sounding the right alarm bells, I think that he paints a slightly more pessimistic picture on the civil liberties front than is warranted by the evidence thus far (though only slightly).”  But as it turns out, it was Savage who was clearly right.  As Politico‘s Josh Gerstein recently wrote about Obama’s Terrorism policies:  “A few, like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, have even hurled the left’s ultimate epithet — suggesting that Obama’s turning into George W. Bush.”

* * * * *

In his New Republic article today, Goldsmith reviews what he calls the “eleven essential elements” of “the Bush approach to counterterrorism policy” and documents how — with only a couple of minor exceptions — Obama has embraced all of them.  In those cases where Obama has purported to “change” these elements, those changes are almost all symbolic and ceremonial, and the few changes that have any substance to them (banning the already-empty CIA black sites and prohibiting no-longer-authorized torture techniques) are far less substantial than Obama officials purport.  None of Goldsmith’s analysis is grounded in the proposition that Obama hasn’t yet acted to change Bush policies, thus rendering a nonsequitur the response that “Obama needs more time; it’s only been 4 months.”  Goldsmith is describing affirmative steps Obama has already announced to adopt the core Bush “terrorism” policies.

Just consider some of Goldsmith’s examples:  Obama makes a melodramatic showing of ordering Guantanamo closed but then re-creates its systematic denial of detainee rights in Bagram, and “[l]ast month Secretary of Defense Gates hinted that up to 100 suspected terrorists would be detained without trial.”  Obama announces that all interrogations must comply with the Army Field Manual but then has his CIA Director announce that he will seek greater interrogation authority whenever it is needed and convenes a task force to determine which enhanced interrogation methods beyond the Field Manual should be authorized.  He railed against Bush’s Guantanamo military commissions but then preserved them with changes that are plainly cosmetic.

Obama has been at least as aggressive as Bush was in asserting radical secrecy doctrines in order to prevent courts from ruling on illegal torture and spying programs and to block victims from having a day in court.  He has continued and even “ramped up” so-called “targeted killings” in Pakistan and Afghanistan which, as Goldsmith puts it, “have predictably caused more collateral damage to innocent civilians.”  He has maintained not only Bush’s rendition policy but also the standard used to determine to which countries a suspect can be rendered, and has kept Bush’s domestic surveillance policies in place and unchanged.  Most of all, he has emphatically endorsed the Bush/Cheney paradigm that we are engaged in a “war” against Terrorists — with all of the accompanying presidential “war powers” — rather than the law enforcement challenge that John Kerry, among others, advocated.

* * * * *

What is, in my view, most noteworthy about all of this is how it gives the lie to the collective national claim that we learned our lesson and are now regretful about the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism.  Republicans are right about the fact that while it was Bush officials who led the way in implementing these radical and lawless policies, most of the country’s institutions — particularly the Democratic Party leadership and the media — acquiesced to it, endorsed it, and enabled it  And they still do.  

Nothing has produced as much media praise for Obama as his embrace of what Goldsmith calls the “essential elements” of “the Bush approach to counterterrorism policy.”   That’s because — contrary to the ceremonial displays of regret and denouncements of Bush — the dominant media view is this:  the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism was right; those policies are “centrist”; Obama is acting commendably by embracing them; most of the country wants those policies; and only the Far Left opposes the Bush/Cheney approach. 

Anyone who doubts that should consider this most extraordinary paragraph from Associated Press’ Liz Sidoti:

Increasingly, President Barack Obama and Democrats who run Congress are being pulled between the competing interests of party liberals and the rest of the country on Bush-era wartime matters of torture, detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.

When it comes to torture and Bush’s Terrorism policies, it’s the Far Left (which opposes those things) versus “the rest of the country” (which favors them).  And she described Obama’s embrace of Bush’s policies as “governing from the center.”  Apparently, Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies are Centrist.  Who knew?  Her AP colleague Tom Raum said virtually the same thing today:

Internationally, Obama reversed course and is seeking to block the court-ordered release of detainee-abuse photos, revived military trials for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay and is markedly increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. . . .

Still, even though Obama may be irritating liberal purists on both national security and domestic policy, he has no real choice but to move toward the middle.

Adopting the Bush/Cheney approach to war and Terrorism is to “move toward the middle.”  That’s because only “liberal purists” oppose those policies.  The Washington Post‘s CIA spokesman David Ignatius (who I would choose if I had to identify one individual who most embodies the rot of the American political press) celebrated Obama’s recent embrace of Bush Terrorism policies as his “Sister Souljah moment” as he “polished his credentials as a centrist,” and then returned again to announce that “Obama put his responsibilities as commander in chief first — and his loyalty to fellow Democrats second.”

As Maureen Dowd pointed out in the non-plagiarized part of her column on Sunday, the reason Bush was able to do what he did is because “very few watchdogs – in the Democratic Party or the press – were pushing back against the Bush horde in 2002 and 2003, when magazines were gushing about W. and Cheney as conquering heroes.”  But all of this recent media commentary makes clear that media stars and Democratic leaders now are only pretending to find Bush/Cheney policies repugnant because Bush is now so unpopular and his policies were proven to be failures.  As a result, a new face is needed for those policies, but the belief in the rightness of those policies hasn’t changed.  They still consider Bush/Cheney policies “centrist” and responsible — only Leftist Purists oppose them — and thus heap praise on Obama for embracing them.  We’re still the same country we were in 2003.  Our media stars and political leaders from both parties still think the same way.  That’s why the more Obama embraces the Bush/Cheney approach, the more praise he gets for Centrism.

What is most damaging about all of this is exactly what Goldsmith celebrated:  that Obama’s political skills, combined with his status as a Democrat, is strengthening Bush/Cheney terrorism policies and solidifying them further.  For the last eight years, roughly half the country — Republicans, Bush followers — was trained to cheer for indefinite detention, presidential secrecy, military commissions, warrantless eavesdropping, denial of due process, a blind acceptance of any presidential assertion that these policies are necessary to Keep Us Safe, and the claim that only fringe Far Leftist Purists — civil liberties extremists — could possibly object to any of that. 

Now, much of the other half of the country, the one that once opposed those policies — Democrats, Obama supporters — are now reciting the same lines, adopting the same mentality, because doing so is necessary to justify what Obama is doing.   It’s hard to dispute the Right’s claim that Bush’s Terrorism approach is being vindicated by Obama’s embrace of its “essential elements.”  That’s what Goldsmith means when he says that Obama is making these policies stronger and more palatable, and it’s what media stars mean when they describe Bush/Cheney policies as Centrist:  now that it’s not just an unpopular Republican President but also a highly charismatic and popular Democratic President advocating and defending these core Bush/Cheney policies, they do become the political consensus of the United States.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy

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

CCR to Argue for Prosecutions Before International Body as Evidence Accumulates March 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture, War.
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(Letter from the Center for Constitutional Rights with respect to the prosecution of the Bush Administration U.S. war criminals.  For furhter information: http://ccrjustice.org/100days)

Dear CCR Supporter,

As the atrocities of the Bush administration continue to be exposed, it is critical now more than ever to keep up the pressure and demand accountability from the high-ranking officials responsible for torture and war crimes.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a pan-American body dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, is conducting a hearing at the request of CCR and the World Organization for Human Rights USA. On Friday, March 20, 2009 CCR President Michael Ratner will argue that U.S. officials must be held accountable for human rights violations, on live webcast on Friday, March 20, from 3:15 PM to 4:15 PM at http://www.oas.org/OASpage/Live, the website of the Organization of American States. It will be archived thereafter at the IACHR website, http://www.iachr.org/.

CCR and HRUSA will argue that the Commission should:

In addition to the IACHR hearing, which further demonstrates the need for prosecutions of Bush administration officials, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compiled an extensive confidential report that was leaked to journalist Mark Danner. The ICRC report exposes the systematic use of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against detainees in secret CIA “black sites.” Using information from the report, Danner compellingly exposes the “enhanced interrogation techniques” for what they are – brutal crimes authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

Also in the news, former vice president Dick Cheney, once again justified the criminal conduct of the Bush administration and called for the resumption of his programs in an interview with CNN this week. Cheney participated in the so-called Principals Committee meetings that authorized torture and war crimes, and has repeatedly and openly defended the use of torture, including waterboarding. CCR’s 100 Days campaign offers actions, tools and resources to hold war criminals like Cheney accountable for torture and other human rights abuses..

Stand with us to secure justice for the victims and survivors of the Bush administration’s crimes.


Sincerely,

Annette Dickerson
Director of Education and Outreach

  •  Issue official recommendations to the United States to engage in criminal investigations and prosecutions for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
  • Reform laws that prevent the victims of U.S. policies from learning the truth about these abuses; and
  • Make reparations to victims of human rights abuses committed by the U.S. government.