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America Is Committing Brutal Acts of Torture Right Now December 12, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Imperialism, Torture.
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Roger’s note: the United States was founded on the genocide of the First Nations peoples, the brutal slavery of Africans, and — in later times — aggressive wars and imperial exploitation of its Latino neighbors.  Given the bleak and degenerated state of Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos in the United States, it is difficult not to look back, as Barack Obama (a war criminal himself) wants us to do when it comes to the American torture program.  Most want to believe that past atrocities are behind us.  That is a cruel illusion.  It is time to face the Truth.

NA/TORTURE

Torture has been an integral and systematic intelligence practice since WWII.

The grisly details of CIA torture have finally been at least partly aired through the release this Tuesday of the executive summary to a landmark Senate intelligence committee report. The extent of the torture has been covered extensively across the media, and is horrifying. But much of the media coverage of this issue is missing the crucial bigger picture: the deliberate rehabilitation of torture under the Obama administration, and its systematic use to manufacture false intelligence to justify endless war.

Torture victims, who had been detained by the US national security apparatus entirely outside any sort of recognizable functioning system of due process, endured a litany of extreme abuses normally associated with foreign dictatorships: 180-hour sleep deprivation, forced “rectal feeding,” rectal “exams” using “excessive force,” standing for dozens of hours on broken limbs, waterboarding, being submerged in iced baths, and on and on.

Yet for the most part, it has been assumed that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” originated under the Bush administration after 9/11 and was a major “aberration” from normal CIA practice, as one US former military prosecutor put it in the Guardian. On BBC Newsnight yesterday, presenter Emily Maitlis asked Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser under Carter, about the problem of “rogue elements in the CIA,” and whether this was inevitable due to the need for secrecy in intelligence.

High-level sanction

Media coverage of the Senate report has largely whitewashed the extent to which torture has always been an integral and systematic intelligence practice since the second World War, continuing even today under the careful recalibration of Obama and his senior military intelligence officials. The key function of torture, largely overlooked by the pundits, is its role in manufacturing nebulous threats that legitimize the existence and expansion of the national security apparatus.

The CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was formally approved at the highest levels of the civilian administration. We have known for years that torture was officially sanctioned by at least President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Yet the focus on the Bush administration serves a useful purpose. While the UN has called for prosecutions of Bush officials, Obama himself is excused on the pretext that he banned domestic torture in 2009, and reiterated the ban abroad this November.

Even Dan Froomklin of the Intercept congratulated the November move as a “win” for the “good guys.” Indeed, with the release of the Senate report, Obama’s declaration that he has ended “the CIA’s detention and interrogation program” has been largely uncritically reported by both mainstream and progressive media, reinforcing this narrative.

Rehabilitating the torture regime

Yet Obama did not ban torture in 2009, and has not rescinded it now. He instead rehabilitated torture with a carefully crafted Executive Order that has received little scrutiny. He demanded, for instance, that interrogation techniques be made to fit the US Army Field Manual, which complies with the Geneva Convention and has prohibited torture since 1956.

But in 2006, revisions were made to the Army Field Manual, in particular through ‘Appendix M’, which contained interrogation techniques that went far beyond the original Geneva-inspired restrictions of the original version of the manual. This includes 19 methods of interrogation and the practice of extraordinary rendition. As pointed out by US psychologist Jeff Kaye who has worked extensively with torture victims, a new UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) review of the manual shows that a wide-range of torture techniques continue to be deployed by the US government, including isolation, sensory deprivation, stress positions, chemically-induced psychosis, adjustments of environmental and dietary rules, among others.

Indeed, the revelations contained in the Senate report are a mere fraction of the totality of torture techniques deployed by the CIA and other agencies. Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany who was detained in Guantanomo for five years, has charged that he had been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, repeated beatings, water-dunking, electric shock treatment, and suspension by his arms, by US forces.

On Jan. 22, 2009, retired Admiral Dennis Blair, then Obama’s director of national intelligence, told the Senate intelligence committee that the Army Field Manual would be amended to allow new forms of harsh interrogation, but that these changes would remain classified:

“We have large amounts of unclassified  doctrine for our troops to use, but we don’t put anything in there that our enemies can use against us. And we’ll figure it out for this manual… there will be some sort of  document that’s widely available in an unclassified form, but  the specific techniques that can provide training value to  adversaries, we will handle much more carefully.”

Obama’s supposed banning of the CIA’s secret rendition programs was also a misnomer. While White House officials insisted that from now on, detainees would not be rendered to “any country that engages in torture,” rendered detainees were already being sent to countries in the EU that purportedly do not sanction torture, where they were then tortured by the CIA.

Obama did not really ban the CIA’s use of secret prisons either, permitting indefinite detention of people without due process “on a short-term transitory basis.”

Half a century of torture as a system

What we are seeing now is not the Obama administration putting an end to torture, but rather putting an end to the open acknowledgement of the use of torture as a routine intelligence practice.

But the ways of old illustrate that we should not be shocked by the latest revelations. Declassified CIA training manuals from the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, prove that the CIA has consistently practiced torture long before the Bush administration attempted to legitimize the practice publicly.

In his seminal study of the subject, A Question of Torture, US history professor Alfred W. McCoy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison proves using official documents and interviews with intelligence sources that the use of torture has been a systematic practice of US and British intelligence agencies, sanctioned at the highest levels, over “the past half century.” Since the second World War, he writes, a “distinctive US covert-warfare doctrine… in which psychological torture has emerged as a central if clandestine facet of American foreign policy.”

The psychological paradigm deployed the CIA fused two methods in particular, “sensory disorientation” and so-called “self-inflicted pain.” These methods were based on intensive “behavioural research that made psychological torture NATO’s secret weapon against communism and cognitive science the handmaiden of state security.”

“From 1950 to 1962,” McCoy found, “the CIA became involved in torture through a massive mind-control effort, with psychological warfare and secret research into human consciousness that reached a cost of a billion dollars annually.”

The pinnacle of this effort was the CIA’s Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation handbook finalized in 1963, which determined the agency’s interrogation methods around the world. In the ensuing decade, the agency trained over a million police officers across 47 countries in torture. A later incarnation of the CIA torture training doctrine emerged under Freedom of Information in the form of the 1983 Human Resources Training Exploitation Manual.

Power… and propaganda

One of the critical findings of the Senate report is that torture simply doesn’t work, and consistently fails to produce meaningful intelligence. So why insist on its use? For McCoy, the addiction to torture itself is a symptom of a deep-seated psychological disorder, rather than a rational imperative: “In sum, 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.”

He is right, but in the post-9/11 era, there is more to the national security apparatus’ chronic torture addiction than this. It is not a mere accident that torture generates vacuous intelligence, yet continues to be used and justified for intelligence purposes. For instance, the CIA claimed that its torture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) led to the discovery and thwarting of a plot to hijack civilian planes at Heathrow and crash them into the airport and buildings in Canary Wharf. The entire plot, however, was an invention provoked by torture that included waterboarding, “facial and abdominal slaps, the facial grab, stress positions, standing sleep deprivation” and “rectal rehydration.”

As one former senior CIA official who had read all KSM’s interrogation reports told Vanity Fair, “90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit.” Another ex-Pentagon analyst said that torturing KSM had produced “no actionable intelligence.”

Torture also played a key role in the much-hyped London ricin plot. Algerian security services alerted British intelligence in January 2003 to the so-called plot after interrogating and torturing a “terrorist suspect,” former British resident Mohammed Meguerba. We now know there was no plot. Four of the defendants were acquitted of terrorism and four others had the cases against them abandoned. Only Kamal Bourgass was convicted after he murdered Special Branch Detective Constable Stephen Oake during a raid. Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has also blown the whistle on how the CIA would render “terror suspects” to the country to be tortured by Uzbek secret police, including being boiled alive. The confessions generated would be sent to the CIA and MI6 to be fed into “intelligence” reports. Murray described the reports as “bollocks,” replete with false information not worth the “bloodstained paper” they were written on.

Many are unaware that the 9/11 Commission report is exactly such a document. Nearly a third of the report’s footnotes reference information obtained from detainees subject to “enhanced” interrogation by the CIA. In 2004, the commission demanded that the CIA conduct “new rounds of interrogations” to get answers to its questions. As investigative reporter Philip Shennon pointed out in Newsweek, this has “troubling implications for the credibility of the commission’s final report” and “its account of the 9/11 plot and al-Qaeda’s history.” Which is why lawyers for the chief 9/11 mastermind suspects now say after the release of the Senate report that the case for prosecution may well unravel.

That torture generates false information has long been known to the intelligence community. Much of the CIA’s techniques are derived from reverse-engineering Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, where US troops are briefly exposed in controlled settings to abusive interrogation techniques used by enemy forces, so that they can better resist treatment they might face if they are captured. SERE training, however, adopted tactics used by Chinese Communists against American soldiers during the Korean War for the purpose of eliciting false confessions for propaganda purposes, according to a Senate Armed Services Committee report in 2009.

Torture: core mechanism to legitimize threat projection

By deploying the same techniques, the intelligence community was not seeking to identify real threats; it was seeking to manufacture threats for the purpose of justifying war. As David Rose found after interviewing “numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic,” their unanimous verdict was that “coercive methods” had squandered massive resources to manufacture “false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts.” Far from exposing any deadly plots, torture led only to “more torture” of supposed accomplices of terror suspects “while also providing some misleading ‘information’ that boosted the administration’s argument for invading Iraq.” But the Iraq War was not about responding to terrorism. According to declassified British Foreign Office files, it was about securing control over Persian Gulf oil and gas resources, and opening them up to global markets to avert a portended energy crisis.

In other words, torture plays a pivotal role in the Pentagon’s posture of permanent global war: generating spurious overblown intelligence that can be fed-in to official security narratives of imminent terrorist threats everywhere, in turn requiring evermore empowerment of the security agencies, and legitimizing military expansionism in strategic regions.

The Obama administration is now exploiting the new Senate report to convince the world that the intelligence community’s systematic embroilment in torture was merely a Bush-era aberration that is now safely in the past.

Do not be fooled. Obama has rehabilitated and recalibrated the covert torture apparatus, and is attempting to leverage the torture report’s damning findings to claim moral high ground his administration doesn’t have. The torture regime is alive and well, but it has been put back in the box of classified secrecy to continue without public scrutiny.

Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, author and international security scholar. He writes the System Shift column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his former work at the Guardian. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel Zero Point, among other books. 

 

Report: Senate Report on CIA Will Sidestep Look at Bush ‘Torture Team’ October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: The United States government and military violate international law on a daily basis; the Bush/Cheney torture regime, which Obama has outsourced to Bagram and god knows where else, is one of its most blatant manifestations.  Obama’s “we need to look forward not backward” excuse for violating his oath to defend the constitution does credit to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka.  The next time you are before a judge accused of a crime, please remind her that it is time to look forward and not backward.  Your charges are sure to be dropped.

 

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According to sources who spoke with McClatchy, five-year inquiry into agency’s torture regime ignores key role played by Bush administration officials who authorized the abuse

 rumsfeld_bush_cheneyFrom left: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Thanks to an Obama adminstration that insisted on “looking forward, not backward” on torture, and a Senate investigation that has limited its scope to the mere “action or inactions” of the CIA, neither these men nor the others who helped authorize the torture program will likely ever face prosecution for what experts say were clear violations of domestic and international law. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

According to new reporting by McClatchy, the five-year investigation led by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the torture program conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 will largely ignore the role played by high-level Bush administration officials, including those on the White House legal team who penned memos that ultimately paved the way for the torture’s authorization.

Though President Obama has repeatedly been criticized for not conducting or allowing a full review of the torture that occured during his predecessor’s tenure, the Senate report—which has been completed, but not released—has repeatedly been cited by lawmakers and the White House as the definitive examination of those policies and practices. According to those with knowledge of the report who spoke with McClatchy, however, the review has quite definite limitations.

The report, one person who was not authorized to discuss it told McClatchy, “does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.” Instead, the focus is on the actions and inations of the CIA and whether or not they fully informed Congress about those activities. “It’s not about the president,” the person said. “It’s not about criminal liability.”

Responding to comment on the reporting, legal experts and critics of the Bush torture program expressed disappointment that high-level officials in the administration were not part of the review. In addition to the president himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, others considered part of what it sometimes referred to as the “Torture Team,” include: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the specific legal memos authorizing specific forms of abuse.

“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said to McClatchy. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”

And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that limiting the report to just the actions of the CIA doesn’t make much sense from a legal or investigative standpoint. “It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction. It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

As Mclatchy‘s Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report:

The narrow parameters of the inquiry apparently were structured to secure the support of the committee’s minority Republicans. But the Republicans withdrew only months into the inquiry, and several experts said that the parameters were sufficiently flexible to have allowed an examination of the roles Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials played in a top-secret program that could only have been ordered by the president.

“It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

It’s not as if there wasn’t evidence that Bush and his top national security lieutenants were directly involved in the program’s creation and operation.

The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a 2008 report on detainee mistreatment by the Defense Department that Bush opened the way in February 2002 by denying al Qaida and Taliban detainees the protection of an international ban against torture.

White House officials also participated in discussions and reviewed specific CIA interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003, the public version of the Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded.

Several unofficial accounts published as far back as 2008 offered greater detail.

Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relentlessly pressured interrogators to subject detainees to harsh interrogation methods in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, McClatchy reported in April 2009. Such evidence, which was non-existent, would have substantiated one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003.

Other accounts described how Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Secretary of State Colin Powell approved specific harsh interrogation techniques. George Tenet, then the CIA director, also reportedly updated them on the results.

“Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft said after one of dozens of meetings on the program, ABC News reported in April 2008 in a story about the White House’s direct oversight of interrogations.

News reports also chronicled the involvement of top White House and Justice Department officials in fashioning a legal rationale giving Bush the authority to override U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. They also helped craft opinions that effectively legalized the CIA’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and sleep deprivation.

Though President Obama casually admitted earlier this, “We tortured some folks.” — what most critics and human rights experts have requested is an open and unbiased review of the full spectrum of the U.S. torture program under President Bush. And though increasingly unlikely, calls remain for those responsible for authorizing and conducting the abuse to be held accountable with indictments, trials, and if guilty, jail sentences. In addition, as a letter earlier this year signed by ten victims of the extrajudicial rendition under the Bush administration stated, the concept of full disclosure and accountability is key to restoring the credibility of the nation when it comes to human rights abuses:

Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.

These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.

As McClatchy notes, a redacted version of the report’s summary—the only part of it expected to be released to the public—continues to be under review. Its release date remains unclear.

What if Instead of the Nuremberg Trials There Was Only a Truth Commission? April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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by Jeremy Scahill

Representatives John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler are officially asking Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent Special Prosecutor “to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute” participants in the Bush-era US torture system. “A Special Counsel is the most appropriate way to handle this matter,” Nadler said. “It would remove from the process any question that the investigation was subject to political pressure, and it would preempt any perceptions of conflict of interest within the Justice Department, which produced the torture memos.” But, as Politico reports, “Holder is likely to reject that request – his boss, the president, has indicated he doesn’t see the need for such a prosecutor.” The Democratic Leadership, particularly Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Diane Feinstein have pushed for secret, closed-door hearings in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Other Democrats, like Patrick Leahy, advocate establishing a Truth Commission, though that is not gaining any momentum. The fact remains that some powerful Democrats knew that the torture was happening and didn’t make a public peep in opposition.

This week, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell came out in favor of prosecutions of “the decision-makers and their closest advisors (particularly the ones among the latter who may, on their own, have twisted the dagger a little deeper in Caesar’s prostrate body – Rumsfeld and Feith for instance). Appoint a special prosecutor such as Fitzgerald, armed to the teeth, and give him or her carte blanche. Play the treatment of any intermediaries – that is, between the grunts on the ground and the Oval – as the law allows and the results demand.”

Wilkerson, though, understands Washington. “Is there the political will to carry either of these recommendations to meaningful consequences?” he wrote to the Huffington Post. “No, and there won’t be.”

As of now, Conyers and Nadler aren’t exactly looking for over-flow space for their meetings on how to get criminal prosecutions going.

Officially joining the anti-accountability camp this week was The Washington Post‘s David Broder who wrote this gem in defense of the Bush administration: “The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places – the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department – by the proper officials.” (For a great response to this, check out Scott Horton). Broder is urging Obama to “stick to his guns” in standing up to pressure “to change his mind about closing the books on the ‘torture’ policies of the past.” Don’t you love how Broder puts torture in quotes? I really wonder how Broder would describe it if he was waterboarded (and survived). Can’t you just imagine him making the little quote motion with his hands? Broder’s Washington Post column was titled “Stop Scapegoating: Obama Should Stand Against Prosecutions:”

[Obama was] right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices.But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more – the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps – or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability – and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.

Obama has opposed even the blandest form of investigation, a so-called truth commission, and has shown himself willing to confront this kind of populist anger.

Thank goodness we have a president who opposes “even the blandest form of investigation”-how uncouth such savagery would prove to be. While the elite Washington press corp works hard to make sure things don’t get too uncomfortable at the wine and cheese cocktail parties, some liberal journalists are also making the case against a special prosecutor (or at least the immediate appointment of one). Last week it was Elizabeth de la Vega, who made an interesting case for waiting to prosecute while evidence is gathered:

We must have a prosecution eventually, but we are not legally required to publicly initiate it now and we should not, as justifiable as it is. I’m not concerned about political fallout. What’s good or bad for either party has no legitimate place in this calculus. My sole consideration is litigation strategy: I want us to succeed.

This week it is Mother Jones Washington editor David Corn, who comes out in favor of a congressional investigation “that placed a premium on public disclosure” or “an independent commission.” Corn describes how he recently warned a Congressmember who supports the appointment of a Special Prosecutor, “That’s not necessarily a good idea.” Corn talks about how a coalition of groups from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU to Democrats.com and MoveOn.org have all petitioned for a prosecutor:

These liberals all want to see alleged Bush administration wrongdoing exposed. But there’s one problem with a special prosecutor: it’s not his job to expose wrongdoing. A special prosecutor does dig up facts-but only in order to prosecute a possible crime. His mission is not to shine light on misdeeds, unless it is part of a prosecution. In many cases, a prosecutor’s investigation does not produce any prosecutions. Sometimes, it leads only to a limited prosecution.That’s what happened with Patrick Fitzgerald. He could not share with the public all that he had discovered about the involvement of Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove, and other officials in the CIA leak case… A special prosecutor, it turns out, is a rather imperfect vehicle for revealing the full truth.

[…]

Prosecuting government officials for providing legal opinions that greenlighted waterboarding and the like would pose its own legal challenges. Could a government prosecutor indict the government lawyers who composed and signed the torture memos for aiding and abetting torture without indicting the government employees who actually committed the torture? (President Barack Obama has pledged that the interrogators will not be pursued.) And could a prosecutor win cases in which his targets would obviously argue that they were providing what they believed was good-faith legal advice, even if it turned out that their advice was wrong?… Several lawyers I’ve consulted have said that a criminal case against the authors of these memos would be no slam dunk. One possible scenario is that a special prosecutor would investigate, find out that sordid maneuvering occurred at the highest levels of the Bush-Cheney administration, and then conclude that he or she did not have a strong enough legal case to warrant criminal indictments and trials.

The bottom line: Anyone who wants the full truth to come out about the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of these interrogation practices cannot count on a special prosecutor.

Corn’s advice to that unnamed Democratic Congressmember wasn’t exactly well received by lawyers who have been pushing for prosecutions. Perhaps the most passionate advocate for the appointment of an independent Special Prosecutor right now is Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“To argue that we should not have prosecutions because it won’t bring out all the facts when taken to its logical conclusion would mean never prosecuting any official no matter the seriousness of the crimes,” Ratner told me. “Right now is not the time to be backing off on prosecutions. Why are prosecutions of torturers ok for other non-western countries but not for the US?  Prosecution is necessary to deter torture in the future and send a message to ourselves and the rest of the world that the  seven or eight year torture program was unlawful and must not happen again. The purpose of prosecutions is to investigate and get convictions so that officials in the future will not again dispense with the prohibition on torture.”

Constitutional Law expert Scott Horton says that the problems with a Special Prosecutor Corn lays out are “correct, but he makes the latent assumption that it’s either/or.  That’s absurd.  Obviously it should be both a commission and one or more prosecutors as crimes are identified.”

Jameel Jaffer, one of the leading ACLU attorneys responsible for getting the torture memos released by the Obama administration, agrees with Horton. “I don’t think we should have to choose between a criminal investigation and a congressional inquiry,” Jaffer told me. “A congressional committee could examine the roots of the torture program and recommend legislative reform to prevent gross human rights abuses by future administrations. At the same time, a Justice Department investigation could investigate issues of criminal responsibility. One shouldn’t foreclose the other.”

Jaffer adds, “It might be a different story if we thought that Congress would need to offer immunity in exchange for testimony.  But many of the key players – including John Yoo, George Tenet, and Dick Cheney – have made clear that they have no qualms about talking publicly about their actions (Yoo and Tenet have both written books, and Cheney is writing one now).”

The bottom line, Ratner argues, is that “prosecutions will bring out facts.” He cites the example of the Nuremberg Tribunals:

What if we had had a truth commission and no prosecutions?  Right now we have many means of getting the facts: FOIA, congressional investigations such as the Senate Armed Services Report, former interrogators, document releases by the Executive. There are plenty of ways to get information even if it does not all come out in prosecutions. Many of the calls to not prosecute are by those, particularly inside the beltway, who cannot imagine Bush, Cheney et al. in the dock or by those who accept the argument that the torture conspirators were trying their best. This is not a time to hold back on the demand that is required by law and fact: appoint a special prosecutor.

David Swanson, who for years has pushed for prosecutions of Bush administration officials, was one of the organizers of the petitions calling for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor. “My top priority is not ‘truth,'” he said. “My top priority is changing the current truth, which is that we don’t have the nerve and decency to enforce our laws against powerful people.”

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Are leading Democrats Afraid of a Special Prosecutor to Investigate Torture? April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Jeremy Scahill

There are not exactly throngs of Democratic Congressmembers beating down the doors of the Justice Department demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special Independent Prosecutor to investigate torture and other crimes. And now it seems that whatever Congress does in the near term won’t even be open to the public. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said this week that he prefers that the Senate Intelligence Committee hold private hearings. The chair of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has asked the White House not to take any action until this private affair is concluded. She estimates that will take 6-8 months.

“I think it would be very unwise, from my perspective, to start having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are,” Reid said Wednesday. “I don’t know a better way of getting the facts than through the intelligence committee.” It is hard to imagine other Democrats bucking Reid on this and there is certainly no guarantee that the committee will release an unclassified report when it concludes its private inquiry. While Representative John Conyers says he will hold hearings, that is not the same as the independent criminal investigation this situation warrants.

Then there is the deeply flawed plan coming from the other influential camp in the Democratic leadership. The alternative being offered is not an independent special prosecutor, but rather a more politically palatable counter-proposal for creating a bi-partisan commission. This is a very problematic approach (as I have pointed out) for various reasons, including the possibility of immunity offers and a sidelining of actual prosecutions. Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights has also advocated against this, saying this week it will lead to a “whitewash:”

We have reached a critical political moment on this issue. Obama has been forced or pushed to open the door to prosecutions, an opening I thought would take much longer to achieve. If there was ever a time to push that door open wider and demand a special prosecutor it is now. We have documented and open admissions of criminality. We have Cheney and Hayden admitting what they approved these techniques; and Cheney saying he would approve waterboarding again. We have the Senate Armed Services Report detailing how the torture program was authored and approved by our highest officials in the White House and employed in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have thousands of pages of proof. There is public outrage about the torture program and the media in the U.S. and the world are covered with the U.S. misdeeds.So at this moment, instead of human rights groups getting together and calling for a special prosecutor what do they do? Call for a commission. What this call does and it must be said strongly is take the pressure off what is the growing public push for prosecutions and deflects it into a commission. Outrage that could actually lead to prosecutions is now focused away and into a commission. Think if this list of human rights groups had demanded prosecutions. We would be closer and not farther from the goal.

There are some powerful Democrats who certainly would not want an independent public investigation, particularly those who served on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees when Bush was in power and torture was being ordered and authorized. That’s because in the aftermath of 9/11, some in Congress were briefed on the torture methods in real time and either were silent or, in some cases, supported these brutal tactics or, as some have suggested, possibly encouraged them to be expanded.

While Republicans are flailing to find ways of defending all of this torture and attempting to discredit or marginalize those who speak out against it, it is interesting to note the Op-ed Thursday in The Wall Street Journal by Reprentative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called “Congress Knew About the Interrogations.” In the piece where Hoekstra parrots the Dick Cheney blah-blah-blah about torture working, he manages to make an important point:

[M]embers of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Hoekstra cites the internal memo written last week by Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to his staff in which Blair said “[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country.” (This was the memo that was originally released to the public with that sentence conveniently ommitted).

Hoekstra writes:

Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can’t be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) added to this mix by saying that he had seen a partial list of Congressmembers “who were briefed on these interrogation methods and not a word was raised at the time, not one word.”

Among those on the House Intelligence Committee at the time was current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has said, “we were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or other enhanced methods were used.”

“What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel … but not that they would. And that further, further the point was that if and when they would be used they would brief Congress at that time.”

But contrary to Pelosi’s assertion, The Washington Post reported that Pelosi and other Democrats were “given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk:”

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

“The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough,” said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Is Torture Really Over? April 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Torture.
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Without a hard look at the Bush administration’s torture program, the United States could be condemned to repeat it, no matter what President Obama says.

by Mark Benjamin

In his statement announcing the release of the Bush administration’s torture memos Thursday, President Barack Obama ruled out prosecuting whoever was in the room during the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” sessions. “In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution,” he said.

Obama made it clear he is generally ready to move on from the whole issue. So don’t expect David Addington, former counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and self-appointed interrogation expert, to be hauled into court anytime soon. “We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history,” Obama said. “But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

In other words, the president turned the page. No prosecutions at any level, apparently. Based on Obama’s move-on tone, there may not even be an independent commission to dig into this issue (though the administration won’t formally rule that out for now — an internal Justice Department review of the lawyers who authorized the torture is still ongoing). “We have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again,” Obama said. See — he stopped the torture program. It’s all fixed. End of story.

Another major issue is lingering, however. Did the torture “work”?

Former Bush administration officials, of course, continue to insist that they got a lot of good intelligence from forcing water into people’s noses. Politico quoted one unnamed ex-Bush aide Thursday who blasted the decision. “It’s damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama’s action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are,” the official said. “We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again — even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake.”

Cheney went on CNN last month to specifically defend the United States’ organized torture program — which Cheney says was not torture: “I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoy, of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11,” he said. “I think it’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.”

There were no professional interrogators involved in the creation of the CIA’s torture program. The pros would likely have balked, because they unanimously think torture is stupid and ineffective: People will tell you whatever they think will make you stop the treatment, never mind what the truth is. Those pros also chuckle at the thought of torture as an effective intelligence-gathering tool. News reports have seriously questioned the value of intelligence gathered through torture of suspected al-Qaida operatives like Abu Zubaydah.

So who is right? Is Dick Cheney Jack Bauer, or something more akin to an evil Col. Klink?

Without a rigorous investigation into the alleged efficacy of U.S. torture, we’ll never know. A torture commission would have looked into this very issue. With Obama’s blessing, Congress could try to appoint a nonpartisan group of experts to carefully evaluate whether the torture program was an effective way to gather valuable intelligence or, as interrogators suspect, simply made desperate prisoners say whatever they had to say to make the pain stop, yielding a few gems among a flow of muck. But Obama hasn’t advocated a commission or any other vehicle to look into that, and today seems disinclined to do anything other than move on.

There are some indications that other Democrats are falling into line on ditching the commission idea, too. Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a leading proponent of a commission, released a statement Thursday applauding the Obama administration for releasing the memos. Whitehouse didn’t mention a commission that would look into whether torture worked. He referred only to an ongoing, and mostly secret, investigation of unknown scope by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But while Obama has turned the page, many others haven’t — including the people, and their allies, who think waterboarding was a good idea. Without a commission, if Mitt Romney (the man who pledged to double the size of the prison at Guantánamo) is president in 2013 — or 2017 — we could start torturing all over again.

–Mark Benjamin

Senate will advance torture commission February 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture, War.
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Is there a lot America doesn’t know about Bush torture policies? There is, says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “This is going to be big.”

By Mark Benjamin, www.salon.com

Feb. 24, 2009 | WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to move forward with a commission to investigate torture during the Bush administration. Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., told Salon Tuesday that his panel would soon announce a hearing to study various commission plans. His staff said the announcement could come as early as Wednesday.

While Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers and North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones drafted a bill to create a commission to review abuse of war powers during the Bush administration, Leahy’s Senate commission would represent the first concrete steps toward a broad review of U.S. torture since 9/11.

Spearheading Senate efforts to establish a torture commission is Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. As a member of both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee, Whitehouse is privy to information about interrogations he can’t yet share. Still, regarding a potential torture commission, he told Salon, “I am convinced it is going to happen.” In fact, his fervor on the issue was palpable. When asked if there is a lot the public still does not know about these issues during the Bush administration, his eyes grew large and he nodded slowly. “Stay on this,” he said. “This is going to be big.”

Whitehouse admitted he had not discussed the plan yet with President Obama, who has been notably wishy-washy on the notion since taking office. On the one hand, Obama has consistently said that “my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture.” Yet on the other hand, he has insisted that “nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen; but that generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”

According to Whitehouse, current politics dictate that Congress should take the lead on establishing a torture commission. “When you look at the economic meltdown that [Obama] was left by the Bush administration, you can see why he would want to reassure the American public that he is out there looking at these problems and trying to solve them and not focusing on the sins of the past,” he said.

Whitehouse, however, predicted that Obama would not object to a torture commission moving forward in Congress. Besides, he said, “When push comes to shove, we are the legislative branch of government. We have oversight responsibilities. And we don’t need the executive branch’s approval to look into these things just as a constitutional matter.”

Plans to establish the commission still remain in their infancy, as senators and staff look at previous panels, such as the 9-11 Commission, and investigations following Watergate. Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney, noted that a torture commission might need the power to immunize witnesses on a case-by-case basis. The prospect of future prosecutions, he said, are beside the point. Most important was putting a spotlight on abuses committed by the Bush administration.

“We have this American government, which has an architecture and a shape and a system that drives it and constrains it and that keeps it honest,” he said. “And what happened is that the Bush administration figured out a lot of ways to tunnel through the walls and sneak over the fences. So now we need to go back and say, ‘We have got to plant those walls deeper so you can not tunnel under them.’ We’ve got to spotlight how they did it,” Whitehouse explained. “The ultimate goal in this is to protect and enhance American democracy.”

Last week, retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, known for conducting an honest investigation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, discussed his support for such a commission in an exclusive interview with Salon. Taguba joined a group of former high-level diplomats and law enforcement officials who also announced their support for a torture commission late last week, along with 18 rights groups.

During that interview, Taguba stated that any review must include close analysis of claims from Bush administration officials that abusive interrogations worked. “Some of those activities were actually not effective and those who thought so were in the academic or pristine settings of their offices,” Taguba said. “What would they know?”

Whitehouse agreed, and depicted as ironic the fact that some members of the intelligence community saw themselves as “the Lance Armstrongs of interrogation,” while some members of the military objected to abuse as ineffective. “In fact, the exact opposite was true,” Whitehouse said about such claims from the CIA.”It was amateur hour with them, and the career, tough, serious military interrogators said that this just was not effective,” he said. “But it is important to prove the point, because they keep saying, ‘We saved lives. We interrupted plans. We did this, that and the other.'” Whitehouse added, “Well, when you drill down, there is never a fact there. It turns into fog and evasion.”

Bad News From America’s Top Spy February 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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Posted on Feb 16, 2009, www.truthdig.com
AP photo / Petros Giannakouris

Riots have become common occurrences in many countries as the financial meltdown continues. The U.S. military is preparing to quell civil unrest at home.

By Chris Hedges

We have a remarkable ability to create our own monsters. A few decades of meddling in the Middle East with our Israeli doppelgänger and we get Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, the Iraqi resistance movement and a resurgent Taliban. Now we trash the world economy and destroy the ecosystem and sit back to watch our handiwork. Hints of our brave new world seeped out Thursday when Washington’s new director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warned that the deepening economic crisis posed perhaps our gravest threat to stability and national security. It could trigger, he said, a return to the “violent extremism” of the 1920s and 1930s.

It turns out that Wall Street, rather than Islamic jihad, has produced our most dangerous terrorists. You wouldn’t know this from the Obama administration, which seems hellbent on draining the blood out of the body politic and transfusing it into the corpse of our financial system. But by the time Barack Obama is done all we will be left with is a corpse—a corpse and no blood. And then what? We will see accelerated plant and retail closures, inflation, an epidemic of bankruptcies, new rounds of foreclosures, bread lines, unemployment surpassing the levels of the Great Depression and, as Blair fears, social upheaval.

The United Nations’ International Labor Organization estimates that some 50 million workers will lose their jobs worldwide this year. The collapse has already seen 3.6 million lost jobs in the United States. The International Monetary Fund’s prediction for global economic growth in 2009 is 0.5 percent—the worst since World War II. There are 2.3 million properties in the United States that received a default notice or were repossessed last year. And this number is set to rise in 2009, especially as vacant commercial real estate begins to be foreclosed. About 20,000 major global banks collapsed, were sold or were nationalized in 2008. There are an estimated 62,000 U.S. companies expected to shut down this year. Unemployment, when you add people no longer looking for jobs and part-time workers who cannot find full-time employment, is close to 14 percent.

And we have few tools left to dig our way out. The manufacturing sector in the United States has been destroyed by globalization. Consumers, thanks to credit card companies and easy lines of credit, are $14 trillion in debt. The government has pledged trillions toward the crisis, most of it borrowed or printed in the form of new money. It is borrowing trillions more to fund our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And no one states the obvious: We will never be able to pay these loans back. We are supposed to somehow spend our way out of the crisis and maintain our imperial project on credit. Let our kids worry about it. There is no coherent and realistic plan, one built around our severe limitations, to stanch the bleeding or ameliorate the mounting deprivations we will suffer as citizens. Contrast this with the national security state’s strategies to crush potential civil unrest and you get a glimpse of the future. It doesn’t look good.

“The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair told the Senate. “The crisis has been ongoing for over a year, and economists are divided over whether and when we could hit bottom. Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression. Of course, all of us recall the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability, and high levels of violent extremism.”

The specter of social unrest was raised at the U.S. Army War College in November in a monograph [click on Policypointers’ pdf link to see the report] titled “Known Unknowns: Unconventional ‘Strategic Shocks’ in Defense Strategy Development.” The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” which could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies” or “loss of functioning political and legal order.” The “widespread civil violence,” the document said, “would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.”

“An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home,” it went on.

“Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD [the Department of Defense] would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance,” the document read.

In plain English, something bureaucrats and the military seem incapable of employing, this translates into the imposition of martial law and a de facto government being run out of the Department of Defense. They are considering it. So should you.

Adm. Blair warned the Senate that “roughly a quarter of the countries in the world have already experienced low-level instability such as government changes because of the current slowdown.” He noted that the “bulk of anti-state demonstrations” internationally have been seen in Europe and the former Soviet Union, but this did not mean they could not spread to the United States. He told the senators that the collapse of the global financial system is “likely to produce a wave of economic crises in emerging market nations over the next year.” He added that “much of Latin America, former Soviet Union states and sub-Saharan Africa lack sufficient cash reserves, access to international aid or credit, or other coping mechanism.”

“When those growth rates go down, my gut tells me that there are going to be problems coming out of that, and we’re looking for that,” he said. He referred to “statistical modeling” showing that “economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period.”

Blair articulated the newest narrative of fear. As the economic unraveling accelerates we will be told it is not the bearded Islamic extremists, although those in power will drag them out of the Halloween closet when they need to give us an exotic shock, but instead the domestic riffraff, environmentalists, anarchists, unions and enraged members of our dispossessed working class who threaten us. Crime, as it always does in times of turmoil, will grow. Those who oppose the iron fist of the state security apparatus will be lumped together in slick, corporate news reports with the growing criminal underclass.

The committee’s Republican vice chairman, Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, not quite knowing what to make of Blair’s testimony, said he was concerned that Blair was making the “conditions in the country” and the global economic crisis “the primary focus of the intelligence community.”

The economic collapse has exposed the stupidity of our collective faith in a free market and the absurdity of an economy based on the goals of endless growth, consumption, borrowing and expansion. The ideology of unlimited growth failed to take into account the massive depletion of the world’s resources, from fossil fuels to clean water to fish stocks to erosion, as well as overpopulation, global warming and climate change. The huge international flows of unregulated capital have wrecked the global financial system. An overvalued dollar (which will soon deflate), wild tech, stock and housing financial bubbles, unchecked greed, the decimation of our manufacturing sector, the empowerment of an oligarchic class, the corruption of our political elite, the impoverishment of workers, a bloated military and defense budget and unrestrained credit binges have conspired to bring us down. The financial crisis will soon become a currency crisis. This second shock will threaten our financial viability. We let the market rule. Now we are paying for it.

The corporate thieves, those who insisted they be paid tens of millions of dollars because they were the best and the brightest, have been exposed as con artists. Our elected officials, along with the press, have been exposed as corrupt and spineless corporate lackeys. Our business schools and intellectual elite have been exposed as frauds. The age of the West has ended. Look to China. Laissez-faire capitalism has destroyed itself. It is time to dust off your copies of Marx.