Remember 90 days ago when torture stories and analyses were so difficult to find? Nowadays, they are front page news everywhere. What follows is just a small sample of what appeared in the traditional media and on blogs during the past week.
A.J. Langguth points out that the U.S. has a 45-year history of torture:
The difference between American involvement in South American atrocities in 1964 and 'enhanced interrogation' now is that some modern-day officials appear proud of themselves.
We DID Torture. Now We Don’t. Should We?
Charles Krauthammer is against torture ... except when he isn’t. There should be two exceptions, he writes. The first, of course, is the familiar "ticking time bomb" scenario.
The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. ... We know we must act but have no idea where or how — and we can't know that until we have information. Catch-22.
Thus do we arrive at Krauthammer’s bottom line: Torture is okay whenever somebody thinks that somebody might have information that might save somebody's life sometime in the future. In other words, whenever the torturer and the torturer’s bosses feel like it.
Doctor Pauline W. Chen, M.D. writes The Surgeon and the Torture Memos:
As I see it, the problem now with these documents is not that our trust in those accountable has been shattered. It is that the rest of us are beginning to show signs of becoming habituated to such transgressions.
Americans have been aware of brutal interrogation techniques for several years now: the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were shown five years ago this week, and the declassified documents in fact hold little new information. And while our current president speaks of moving forward, and not looking back at this chapter of our history, can we afford to turn away?
In doing so, we accept how we have become habituated. We risk seeing the brutality not as an atrocity but as part of who we are. We become the surgeon who might have shook when first taking the knife in hand but who now dares to cut with eyes closed.
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Bob Cesca writes The Tortured Logic of the Torture Superfans
Without explanation or logic, and following months of screeching about tea parties and tyranny and big government, the usual suspects on the right appear to be demanding that the government retain the power to do anything -- anything! -- in order to protect us from a terrorist attack. This, naturally, includes torture, but from what I'm hearing, there's no limit to what they'd allow. Whatever it takes, right?
Former CIA interrogator Frank Snepp writes Tortured by the Past: There's a disturbing link between Gitmo and the interrogation tactics I used in Vietnam.
Joe Scarborough informs us that everybody supported torture in 2002.
So What's Next on Torture? is the question Eugene Robinson would probably have asked had he been at the President’s press conference:
President Obama's words on torture at his "100 days" news conference were, to my ears, sharp and unequivocal. What he didn't tell us is what happens next.
Obama has said previously that he's not fond of the idea of a blue-ribbon "truth commission." He hasn't ruled out a Justice Department investigation -- but hasn't ruled one in, either. The fact of torture is there for all to see. What we're going to do about it remains opaque.
Maybe Obama is saving that decision for some time in the next 100 days...
In his Nothing but the Truth on Torture, Albert R. Hunt calls for accountability but no prosecutions over torture, never explaining exactly how the first can be accomplished without the second.
Alberto Mora says it’s "politically unthinkable" to criminally prosecute the top Bush administration officials who sanctioned torture. He also says it’s "legally unthinkable" not to hold them accountable.
Few Americans better understand the precarious stakes of looking into what role torture played in the "war on terror" than Mr. Mora, a once-staunch political conservative whom President George W. Bush appointed as general counsel of the U.S. Navy in 2001. Mr. Mora was horrified at the legal justifications for the "enhanced interrogation" techniques like waterboarding. After he left, he became an outspoken critic.
He argues passionately and persuasively that the Bush-Cheney practices broke international law, hurt the United States’ standing in the world and fundamentally violated American values.
Mr. Mora, a Republican, has no desire to see former Vice President Dick Cheney or the authors of the secret legal opinions tried for war crimes.
That would tear the country apart and set a dreadful precedent.
Jeremy Scahill wonders What if Instead of the Nuremberg Trials There Was Only a Truth Commission?:
The lawyers who fought for the release of the torture memo explain why prosecutions, not a truth commission, are the only right thing.
Clarence Page writes Blue-ribbon commission needed on torture:
We need a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission in the spirit of the 9/11 Commission to hear some of that. A truth commission won't satisfy everyone. Americans still argue, for example, about the Warren Commission and whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. But at least those of us who have a quaint, old-fashioned interest in facts will have something on which to build new laws and a new torture policy.
In Better Living Through Torture, Katha Politt at The Nation thinks she missed out:
I should have been a torturer. You too, reader. Well, maybe not an actual physical torturer, because then there'd be a small chance I'd go to prison like Lynndie England or Charles Graner. My picture might be in the paper doing nasty things to naked men with a goony smile and a thumbs-up. I might even have disturbing memories and bad dreams, because surely, unless one is a sociopath, throwing people into walls and hanging them from the ceiling all day is likely to have its troubling moments. What I mean is, I should have been a member of the torture creative class--a conceptual torturer, a facilitator of torture, perhaps an inventor of torture law, an architect of the torture archipelago, a dissimulator, concealer, denier, rationalizer, minimizer and pooh-pooher of torture. ...
Why should I have joined the torture creative class? Because now I would be having a great life
More Evidence & More Excuses
|If, like us, you may be having trouble keeping up with what happened when and where, Annie Lowrey at Foreign Policy has written a helpfulThe Torture Timeline.|
Jason Leopold writes that the Senate Panel's Report Links Detainees' Murders to Bush's Torture Policy
The Senate Armed Service Committee report released last week officially concluded that the murder of two prisoners held at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in December 2002 were a direct result of the Bush administration’s "advanced interrogation" policies.
Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse writes Special Torture Prosecutor Appointed...In Chicago:
The Chicago police torture probe has many instructive parallels to the Bush gang. The torture methods are generally the same, government officials generally tortured nonwhites, and delay resulted in the running out of the statute of limitations that we are also approaching now. We can appoint a special prosecutor now, prosecute the torturers and provide some restitution to the tortured. Or, we let justice fester until a tenacious advocate indicts the criminals years later on nontorture charges, like perjury. If politicians truly want this country to move, justice is needed first.
In his strongest language yet on torture carried out by his predecessor, Obama says Bush-approved waterboarding was torture.
How The Times and Churchill shaped Obama's torture policy
As others also pointed out after President Obama’s press conference Wednesday, Ben McIntyre explained that President Obama had a couple of details wrong about British policy toward torture during World War II.
The President said in his press conference "an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, ‘We don’t torture’, when the entire British — all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat." But Churchill didn’t say: "We don’t torture."
That policy, McIntyre first wrote in 2006, was the product of a right-wing xenophobe at MI5 named Colonel Robin "Tin-Eye" Stephens. The colonel, who spoke of "shifty Polish Jews," commanded Camp 020, Britain’s wartime interrogation center. Some 500 – not 200 – captured spies were questioned at the camp, but, on Stephens’s orders, none was physically tortured. The colonel, according to McIntyre:
...was determined that interrogators must never resort to violence. His reasoning had nothing to do with ethics or humanity and everything to do with efficiency. "Never strike a man," he said. "It is unintelligent, for the spy will give an answer to please, an answer to escape punishment."
But the ultimate violence was held over their heads. Sixteen captured Nazi spies who refused to talk were executed.
And that, apparently, isn’t all:
The Cage. It was in the lordly manors of the tony Kensington Palace Gardens that British intelligence used during and even after the war.
Tomasky wrote: "It was on one of the poshest streets in all of London, then and now; it was run by MI19, and specifically by a fellow called Alexander Scotland; it was of course a closely guarded secret; and — most shockingly — it operated until two or three years after the war ended, still mistreating captive Germans." ...
What is the proof. Anecdotes such as this: "Years later Tony Whitehead, a consultant psychiatrist in Brighton, recounted in his memoirs how, as a young aircraftsman delivering a belligerent SS sergeant to the Cage, he was shocked to see a German naval officer in full dress uniform on his hands and knees, cleaning the entrance hall floor. An enormous Guardsman stood with one foot on the prisoner’s back, casually enjoying a smoke. When Whitehead collected his prisoner three days later, the man was completely subdued, rarely looked up, and addressed him as sir. ‘I do not know what had happened to him at the London Cage,’ Dr Whitehead wrote."
Scott Horton at Harper’s discussed Condi’s Really Bad Day
For eight years, Condoleezza Rice dealt with the Beltway punditry and the access-craving White House press corps. The reception she got, with a handful of exceptions, was fawning. Which leaves her totally unprepared for a return to an academy populated with the Daily Show generation: bright young minds with a very critical attitude towards the last eight years. In a meeting with Stanford students at a dormitory reception on April 27, the school’s former provost got off to a shaky start and ended in a train wreck. She may in fact have her last words in the exchange quoted back to her some day in a law court. ...
Rice insists that no one was tortured at Guantánamo. She cites an OSCE report that called it a "model medium security prison." But, as the report’s author stressed, this was a characterization of the physical facility. How about the treatment of the prisoners? On that score, the OSCE had a different conclusion: it was "mental torture." The Red Cross did complete two studies of detainees at Guantánamo, and Condi’s characterization of them is false. The first report concluded that the treatment of prisoners, particularly isolation treatment, was "tantamount to torture." The second examined the use of the Bush Program and concluded it was "torture," no qualifications. Rice was furnished copies of these reports. Did she take the time to read them?
In Newsweek, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write in Fresh Questions About the CIA’s Interrogation Tapes:
When president Obama decided to release the Bush-era Justice Department's interrogation memos last month, he tried to calm an anxious CIA by publicly declaring that operatives who "reasonably" relied on them would not face criminal prosecution. But agency officials still have plenty to worry about. Despite Obama's assurances, a Justice Department special counsel is quietly ratcheting up his probe into a closely related subject: the CIA's destruction of hundreds of hours of videotape showing the waterboarding of two high-value Qaeda suspects. At the same time, a Senate panel is planning the first public hearing dealing with CIA interrogations, including testimony from a star witness: Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who vigorously protested the questioning of one of the detainees, terror suspect Abu Zubaydah.
In recent weeks, prosecutor John Durham has summoned CIA operatives back from overseas to testify before a federal grand jury, according to three legal sources familiar with the case who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters. The sources said Durham is also seeking testimony from agency lawyers who gave advice relating to the November 2005 decision by Jose Rodriguez, then chief of the CIA's operations directorate, to destroy the tapes. The flurry of activity has surprised some lawyers on the case who had assumed Durham was planning to wind down his probe without bringing charges. Now they're not so sure.
Dealing with the Remaining Captives
Schaeuble, a leader in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, has expressed reservations about Germany accepting detainees.
But Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat leader and chancellor candidate, has said Germany should take in some prisoners as a token of solidarity after Germany had long urged the United States to close the prison.
US Weighs More Detention For 50-100 Guantánamo Inmates. Many of these might never go on trial, Secretary Robert Gates said:
But the defense secretary didn't say if the detention would be temporary or for an indefinite period, and what legal terms would apply.
The U.S. administration is closely reviewing the files of the some 240 detainees held at the center to determine who could be transferred to other countries or tried in U.S. courts or military tribunals set up under former president George W. Bush, Gates said.
About 60 detainees have been cleared of wrongdoing and the previous administration had planned to charge about 80 of the detainees.
The administration was asking Congress for about $50 million to help cover the costs of possible further detention [in a cellblock on U.S. soil] for some of the inmates, Gates said.
''Please not at Leavenworth,'' Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., urged Gates. ``This is a hot topic in my state.''
There might be another "solution" in the works, however:
The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.
Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.
Lessons learned at the centre, and the generous life support it comes with, have helped Baddah, 29, lose interest in politics. Now he works in his family's real estate business and is married with two daughters.
Ali Saleh Kahlah Marri faces up to 15 years in prison. He is seeking to serve his time in Qatar. His plea agreement is seen as disposing of a legally thorny case that was once bound for the Supreme Court. As an 'enemy combatant' he spent five years in a U.S. brig, uncharged.
Iraqi prisons are torturing detainees, locking people up for months without charges and, in most cases, allowing the perpetrators of these human rights to escape justice, according to a new United Nations report.
"Security may not be sustainable unless significant steps are taken in the area of human rights such as strengthening the rule of law and addressing impunity," the report warned. ...
It said the last half of 2008 "was also characterized by the attacks against minority leaders and the large displacement of over 12,000 Christians from Mosul in October. Violence against women in the Region of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq remained one of the issues of serious concern as the pattern of the recorded incidents of suicide often points towards ‘honor’-related homicides."
"There's a whole string of captures and interrogations that lead to other captures and interrogations to subsequent captures," said Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and CIA.
In fact, Khalid Sheik Mohammed provided information that exposed a plot to launch a Sept. 11 style attack on the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles -- information obtained through enhanced interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
"Two of the people against whom waterboading was used created a significant fraction of our reporting on al Qaeda over a period of several years," Hayden said.
Glenn Greenwald writes:
As more videotapes emerge documenting the torture inflicted on numerous victims by Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a prince of the United Arab Emirates, the controversy is beginning to jeopardize the UAE's relationship with the United States, a country that absolutely loathes torture and demands real accountability for those who do it. ...
Note that the UAE apparently compensated the victims of the prince's torture, whereas the U.S. blocked -- and continues to try to block -- its own torture victims from even having a day in court.
As Greenwald points out, the sheikh could have avoided all this if he had done what U.S. officials did: destroy the torture tapes. If you have the stomach for it, you can see one here.
Prison wardens say that experiencing solitary confinement one time is usually enough to incite a more cooperative behavior among prisoners, but statistics show that this is not the case. In fact, psychologists share, it may be that living alone drives certain prisoners mad altogether, on account of the fact that, deep inside, humans are all social creatures, unaccustomed to forcefully living alone.
Andy Worthington writes Torture ‘to Achieve a Political Objective’
In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. Burney wrote that "a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link ... there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."
Bybee has kept a low profile since the memos were released by President Obama last month, breaking his silence only in an e-mail to the New York Times in which he defended his guidance on interrogating terrorism suspects as "a good-faith analysis of the law."
On Thursday, law clerks for the judge said variously that Bybee would respond to an appeal by Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee; that he would explain his reasoning in a statement to the San Francisco-based appeals court; and that he would have nothing more to say to anyone on the subject..
Jurist Contributing Editor Jordan Paust of the University of Houston Law Center says that far from providing real legal cover for CIA harsh interrogations, the newly disclosed second Bybee memo is a "smoking gun" providing further evidence of serial criminality and demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt why a memo writer is reasonably accused of complicity whether or not he knew that certain conduct would be "torture" ...
As Katherine Eban first noted in Vanity Fair in July 2007, psychologists were deeply involved in the torturing of terror suspects. But are two of them getting too much of the blame as a means to let higher-ups in the CIA and Department of Defense off the hook? ABC News is the latest to report in Waterboarding, Interrogations: The CIA's $1,000 a Day Specialists:
According to current and former government officials, the CIA's secret waterboarding program was designed and assured to be safe by two well-paid psychologists now working out of an unmarked office building in Spokane, Washington.
Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, former military officers, together founded Mitchell Jessen and Associates.
Both men declined to speak to ABC News citing non-disclosure agreements with the CIA. But sources say Jessen and Mitchell together designed and implemented the CIA's interrogation program.
emptywheel recently asked a crucial question Who Gave James Mitchell the Al-Qaeda Resistance Manual?: Several points of note in that piece, the key one being that, before December 2001, Mitchell was probably putting together a torture program for the CIA’s CounterTerrorism Center, based on the Al Qaeda documents and the military’s SERE program (which is designed to prepare American military personnel to endure captivity).
Having retired from the military and been sidelined from the war on terror, Mitchell and Jessen were eager to get involved. "Mike knew these guys," the source working with the intelligence community recounted," and when his colleagues were wimps, he said they would fit the bill."
And it seems likely that CTC--which would have been the central custodian of intelligence coming back from the Afghan war--gave Mitchell that intelligence.
Which then leads us to the unsurprising likelihood that CTC had already engaged Mitchell to reverse-engineer SERE before the time Jim Haynes' office contacted JPRA for help on interrogation in December 2001.
While you’re reading emptywheel’s take on this, you might also want to take a look at The Gestation of Bradbury’s Torture Memos, a detailed examination (does she do any other kind?) of how ridiculous was the Cheney-Bush administration’s efforts to justify its violation of the Constitution regarding torture.
Torture in Court
The omnipotent power claimed by the CIA was dealt a major blow Tuesday by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Binyam Mohamed et al v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.
The five plaintiffs are victims of the CIA’s kidnapping, rendition, and torture program. All five were kidnapped overseas by CIA agents, transferred to brutal but CIA-friendly foreign regimes, and tortured.
They filed suit against the provider of the airplane that did the transporting – Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. Before Jeppesen even filed an answer to the lawsuit, the U.S. government intervened and requested an immediate dismissal of the case on the ground that to permit it to go forward would result in the disclosure of "state secrets" that were vital to "national security."
Prison guards jailed for abusing inmates at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq are planning to appeal against their convictions on the ground that recently released CIA torture memos prove that they were scapegoats for the Bush Administration.
Class action suits have been cleared to proceed against Ford, GM and Daimler for allegedly "aiding and abetting" torture and extrajudicial killing by supplying military vehicles used in the persecution of blacks during South Africa’s apartheid regime. IBM faces similar charges for allegedly providing computers for the surveillance of rebels, and Germany-based defence giant Rheinmetall may face a suit for its alleged role in arms dealing. "One who substantially assists a violator of the law of nations is equally liable if he desires the crime to occur or if he knows it will occur and simply does not care," wrote Judge Shira Scheindlin in her April 8 ruling.
IS It Torture?
GOP Lawyer Rivkin says: Waterboarding Not So Bad — It Alleviates Fear of Execution:
Well, Rivkin argued, waterboarding and those other techniques couldn’t have been torture, because despite the apparent threat, the detainees knew they weren’t going to get killed.
And how did they know that?
"Assuming even an average level of intelligence, you would have to be an idiot to think that they’re going to kill you," Rivkin said. "So the fact that you’d be killed deliberately is not a plausible scenario."
| The Torture Victims Relief Act (TVRA), HR-1511, first passed in 1998, authorizes funding to support torture treatment programs in the U.S. and abroad. With the continued practice of torture in over 100 countries, and the recent surge in political will to denounce torture, it is a crucial time for the U.S. to reaffirm its commitment to treatment for torture victims, both at home and oveseas.
American centers have been reporting increasing numbers of asylum seekers in need of services, and the U.S. has recently committed to resettle an increased number of Iraqi refugees over the next few years. The recession has made things extremely difficult for these new refugees. It has also seriously impacted victim rehab centers in the U.S. and overseas, with cutbacks in staff and services, and, in some cases, closing their doors.
The bill has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs and House Energy and Commerce committees. Call your Congressperson and ask them to reauthorize TVRA in 2009 and appropriate funds at authorized levels.