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Posts Tagged ‘Torture

Obama Moves to Massively Expand Covert Military Abroad

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Via The New York Times, President Obama has just ordered a “broad expansion of clandestine military operations” in an attempt to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda”. The ‘covert operations’ will likely include anything from target assassinations, ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, secret bombing campaigns, money transfers to client states (a la Karzai and Maliki), and many things in-between. This is a significant move for a variety of reasons, not least of which stands the utter lack of public consultation for such a policy.

Mr. Greenwald has a timely essay on why Mr. Obama can undertake such extreme actions in the absence not only of opposition to his imperial policy, but indeed, any discussion whatsoever. Our major news outlets have reported the order in classic ‘objective’ style, assigning as little controversy to it as possible and treating it instead as a run-of-the-mill executive action. But it is interesting to examine why, in this year 2010, after nine continuous years of war, public opinion is such that a unilateral expansion of our secret military complex can occur with as little discussion as imaginable.

First, Mr. Greenwald notes, because this military expansion is taking place under a “Democratic” President, it creates the illusion of so-called ‘bipartisan support’. Back when President Bush was carrying out covert operations in Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc., they were painted as the actions of an ‘extremist’ administration, one which regards the opposition with disdain and made a point of treating international law with utter contempt. However, after 18 months of military escalation, these wars are as much Mr. Obama’s (that is, “Democratic” wars), as they were Mr. Bush’s. As such, the number of “Democrats” willing to risk their political futures by opposing military action has dropped precipitously, as have the number of war-opposers in the general population. Specifically, the subset of people for whom Mr.Obama can do no wrong will automatically agree with his war policy – or if they disagree, put forth some excuse as to how Mr. Obama ‘has no choice’.

The biggest reason Mr. Greenwald identifies, however, is the complete lack of documented impact these wars have on our livelihood. It has been often mentioned that, unlike in Vietnam, very few Americans have had to go to war against their will. Our press is largely censored as to the true cost of our warfare not only on the beleaguered people of Iraq and Afghanistan, but even our own soldiers. Recall the recent dust-up when our Secretary of War, Robert Gates, “harshly condemned” the media’s display of a flag-draped coffin. And that was just one soldier, who had admittedly died in combat, but whose grisly death we had been totally shielded from.  As much as possible, we citizens are encouraged not to think about our military “commitments” abroad, and instead to simply carry on with our daily lives, a few dollars shorter than the day before, a little more ragged perhaps, but still inestimably “proud” of our “commitment” to “democracy in the Middle East”. One wonders just how far that pride would take us if more than 1% of the US population was involved in our military escapades, as the statistic stands now.

But beyond that, what Mr. Greenwald hints at but never explicitly states, is the psychology of powerlessness to which we citizens are routinely subjected. We literally have no say in what our government does abroad, and we have less and less of a say in even its domestic policies. In the 2008 elections, both candidates were unabashedly pro-war, Mr. Obama more so than even his most fervent supporters might have dreamt. For whom are we to vote if we wish to exit Iraq and Afghanistan immediately? Which Congressman, which Senator would even entertain such a possibility? To whom do we donate that we can be sure our paltry $50 will not be rendered irrelevant by the millions of dollars industry interests donate in order to keep these wars going? It is an implacable question, one made all the more urgent by President Obama’s dramatic escalation of our already over-stretched ‘commitments’.

The feeling of powerlessness can lead to apathy, but also to fear. When one recalls the brutality to which previous “anti-war protesters” have been subjected in the US, including savage beatings with nightsticks, water-cannons, ear-splitting sound emitters, tear gas and rubber bullets, it is not hard to imagine from whence this fear of dissent arises. Recall, also, that since the Homegrown Terrorism Act of 2007 passed, civil disobedience – the mere act of peaceful protest – has been defined as ‘terrorism’. And once you are accused of ‘terrorism’, citizen or no, you are immediately stripped of every right you think you have.

This latest move towards military hegemony is particularly insidious, and I suppose it follows that Mr. Obama merely announced his policy, in true decree style, with little or no discussion. With one stroke of a pen, Mr. Obama has resserved the right to carry out military operations anywhere around the globe, from “surgical strikes”, bombing campaigns, ground incursions, assassinations, or, indeed, anything his enigmatic mind may wish. It is worth remembering at this point that Mr. Obama also reserves the right to assassinate US citizens in their beds (that is, far from a battlefield), and ‘render’ accused terrorists to a global prison complex where no defense attorney dares enter. There, they can be beaten, tortured, or even murdered, far from the watchful eye of the Red Cross.

It is easy to imagine this latest move on the part of Mr. Obama is merely a continuation of Mr.  Bush’s odious policies. It is that, of course, but its implications go far deeper. Mr. Bush’s covert actions were largely piecemeal: an assassination here, a few ‘drone’ attacks there, maybe some ‘cash assistance’ to some friendly dictator or another for spice. In contrast, Mr. Obama’s new ‘national security strategy‘ systematizes these covert acts of aggression, and sets up, in essence, a new governmental body, with no congressional or popular oversight, to carry out his murderous will around the globe. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this ‘overhaul’, yet it is even more difficult to convince anyone of that significance.

Mr. Hitler once coined the term for the Germans as a ‘sleep-walking people’, but the same could easily be said of Americans (or, for that matter, anyone else). We face, in our generation, a confluence of crises of which we are only just beginning to see the magnitude, and unfortunately the first step to solving a crisis is to realize it exists, something for which, at least with regards to our present constitutional crisis, we still have quite some ways to go.

Written by pavanvan

May 27, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Lieberman Wants to Revoke NYC Bomb Suspect’s Citizenship

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At Harper’s, Scott Horton makes a great catch:

Senator Joseph Lieberman has developed a knack for craven fearmongering. His latest proposal was born from the police operation by New York’s finest that led to the capture of Faisal Shahzad last weekend. Shahzad, a financial analyst, is a United States citizen and, as a long-time resident of Bridgeport, one of Lieberman’s constituents, which Lieberman considers a troublesome complication. Lieberman says he will sponsor legislation under which the president will be given the power to deprive a person of his citizenship simply by bringing certain charges.

Lieberman is vague about the proposals, and he offers no explanation of how a citizen could be stripped of his citizenship by executive fiat consistently with the Constitution,a step that would have all the traditional badges of tyrannical government. He also apparently believes, incorrectly, that only U.S. citizens have a right to receive aMiranda warning. (That’s the sort of mistake that a young lawyer sitting for the bar would never make, although Lieberman has been a lawyer since 1967 and was a former Connecticut attorney general.)

Though obviously legislative adventures such as those of Mr. Lieberman should be avoided at all costs, I think it is important to remember that the “facts” of the Times Square incident are now murky and inconclusive at best. We have a “suspect”, but no idea if he actually did it; we have a confession, but no idea how it was extracted. For all the front-page accusations of his supposed “links” to “The Taliban”, we know only for sure that

1) – A crude, incompetent bomb consisting of M-88 firecrackers (the sort children play with), a sealed tank of propane, and a couple bags of fertilizer was placed at the back of an SUV in Times Square. This is not how you make a bomb, and given that the sort of firecracker he bought cannot undergo self-reignition (one M-88 can’t set off another M-88 with its detonation), I have real doubts that the “explosion” would have even broken through the car. It was hardly the sort of device one envisions upon hearing the phrase “car bomb”, particularly as the citizens of Baghdad have come to know it.

2) – A Pakistani-American citizen was picked up at an airport attempting to leave the country with a ticket he paid for in cash. The Times sent its reporters scurrying to find his relatives the moment the NYPD released his name, and they emerged with a hit piece on how the suspect, Mr. Shahzad, “fit the profile of a Terrorist”. Rife with circumstantial evidence, the article describes his “‘money woes”, his newfound “zeal for Islam”, his “strong religious identity” and so forth. The article does not mention the evidence against Mr. Shahzad, and takes his guilt as a foregone conclusion.

3) – The suspect confessed. But I should stress emphatically that that is all we know of his confession. Mr. Shahzad has been accused of five terrorism-related charges, according to the New Statesman, and apparently gave his interrogates “the goods” – that is, he confessed to having trained in Pakistan, having “links” with “The Taliban”, etc – precisely what our policy planners might have wanted. The AFP was kind enough to note that Mr. Shahzad has not been in a court, and has in fact, “disappeared” since his “dramatic arrest” 4 days ago. We don’t know where he was taken, who interrogated him, or what exactly he confessed to.

I do not wish to be called a “conspiracy theorist”, but it is well known (and given the tone of coverage, tragically well accepted) that if you are accused of the crime of Terrorism, you will be interrogated in secret and tortured at the very least by days or weeks of sleeplessness (try it, reader!). I have no idea how Mr. Shahzad was interrogated, except that it was done by the military. Unless I see documentary evidence to suggest otherwise, I think that given the military’s past experiences with interrogation, we can assume Mr. Shahzad was tortured.

Then what is his confession worth? Very little, it would seem, and even less given the almost hilarious nature of his “crime”. The contents of his car were essentially inert. Is it a crime to have firecrackers, a sealed propane tank, and a few bags of fertilizer in your car at Times Square on a Saturday night? Evidently, if you happen to be on a particular list, everything is a crime.

It would be difficult to overstate the danger of Mr. Lieberman’s proposal and those like it. By classifying a certain class of crime (“Terrorism”) as one for which normal rules do not apply, one creates a dangerous precedent. Who, after all, is a Terrorist? Mostly Muslims, for now, but the Administration has given indications for years that it plans on expanding the definition to, say, civil disobedience.

This is an unhealthy trend, and ought to be stopped. To have two sets of laws – one for people accused of “Terrorism” and the other for everyone else – is illogical and absurd; and worse, it demolishes the idea of whether or not we can conclusively ascertain a “Terrorist’s” guilt. Precisely because Mr. Shahzad likely confessed under torture, we shall never know whether or not he was actually guilty.

Written by pavanvan

May 7, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Bush Administration Officials Knew Guantanamo Detainees Were Innocent

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We had been routinely subjected to pronouncements from the Bush Administration that those held in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst” for some time, and many wondered whether any of them were aware that most of the detainees were totally innocent – that is, tortured for no reason.

Well, wonder no more. (Via Harper’s), the Times of London reports today that senior Bush officials, including, presumably, President Bush himself, were well aware that a majority of the 743 inmates of Guantanamo Bay were there for no reason other than bad luck, but that it would be “politically impossible” to release them.

Behold:

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

This is outstanding work from The Times of London, and yet further evidence in favor of war crimes prosecution for senior Bush administration officials, including, one hopes, President Bush himself. These guys knew as far back as 2002 (the year Guantanamo opened) that they were torturing and imprisoning people for no reason, yet they continued to spout for almost a decade that the inmates of Guantanamo were all hardened terrorists, “the worst of the worst”, etc., etc.

As Scott Horton notes, this would explain why Dick Cheney has been running a massive propaganda campaign to harden American public opinion against an investigation into the previous administration’s conduct at Guantanamo. If any official inquiry got a hold of the documents The Times of London describes in its article, then Mr. Cheney would necessarily have to appear for questioning, and would likely end up in jail.

And how ironic that even if he were sent to jail, he wouldn’t be tortured.

Written by pavanvan

April 11, 2010 at 10:48 pm

John Yoo and the Self-Satisfied Defense

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John Yoo, the primary author of the legal memoranda that gave President Bush the power to detain and torture anyone he likes, has written a slimy op-ed in the Wall Street Journal defending his ethical lapses. I know that Mr. Yoo is a big-shot Berkeley Law professor (and I’m just a 22-year-old nothing), so for fear of sounding ignorant I suppose I won’t give his article too much time. But it does beg for comment.

He begins, detailing the marvelous gift he bestowed upon President Obama:

Barack Obama may not realize it, but I may have just helped save his presidency. How? By winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.

He sure didn’t make it easy. When Mr. Obama took office a year ago, receiving help from one of the lawyers involved in the development of George W. Bush’s counterterrorism policies was the furthest thing from his mind. Having won a great electoral victory, the new president promised a quick about-face. He rejected “as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” and moved to restore the law-enforcement system as the first line of defense against a hardened enemy devoted to killing Americans.

This is confusing for so many reasons. As I’m sure Mr. Yoo knows, President Obama has endorsed kidnapping “terrorism suspects” and holding them indefinitely at various sites around the globe. He’s opposed to any further investigation into our torture policy (something for which I imagine Mr. You would be quite grateful), and has, in fact, expanded the legal black hole at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where no defense attorneys, judges or prosecutors can set foot.

Mr. Yoo mentions that President Obama has ordered Guantanamo closed (actually, Obama hasn’t closed it yet, and probably never will), but no other evidence to suggest President Obama has endorsed a meaningful review of executive power. I just don’t understand how one promise that anyway went unfulfilled  means Obama is “[determined] to take us back to a Sept. 10, 2001, approach to terrorism”, as Yoo later writes.

Then Mr. Yoo complains of being “hounded” in the form of a superficial Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) review. I admit I have not read the report, but Mr. Yoo claims:

OPR’s investigation was so biased, so flawed, and so beneath the Justice Department’s own standards that last week the department’s ranking civil servant and senior ethicist, David Margolis, completely rejected its recommendations.

Which says more, perhaps, about the Office of Professional responsibility than it does about the tactics which Mr. Yoo authorized, which include being forced to stand for weeks while shackled to the ceiling. And, of course, Mr. Yoo doesn’t deign to mention that the very “enhanced interrogation techniques” that he advised Presidents Bush and Obama to use, and defends in this article, are unconstitutional according to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Yoo lauds himself for sitting through the tedious hearings, even though he was under “no legal obligation to do so” and even though they had no impact on his lucrative professional career. Why should he make such a non-sacrifice?

I did not do this to win any popularity contests, least of all those held in the faculty lounge. I did it to help our president—President Obama, not Bush. Mr. Obama is fighting three wars simultaneously in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against al Qaeda.

Forgive me, but if one of the wars is specifically against al Qaeda, whom are we fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are those merely “wars” in the general sense of the term, with no clear enemy or end? If they are, Mr. Yoo’s lengthy and repeated defenses of executive rule-by-decree during “wartime” means he advocates for a vast and permanent expansion of the President’s power. I don’t get it. Is that what he’s trying to say?

He ends his “op-ed piece”, which was really a self-serving polemic, with a bizzare example from five years ago:

n 2005, a Navy Seal team dropped into Afghanistan encountered goat herders who clearly intended to inform the Taliban of their whereabouts.

The team leader ordered them released, against his better military judgment, because of his worries about the media and political attacks that would follow. In less than an hour, more than 80 Taliban fighters attacked and killed all but one member of the Seal team and 16 Americans on a helicopter rescue mission.

So, according to John Yoo, those few American deaths justify the indefinite detention of any and all goathearders (and anyone else we might happen not to trust). Do not bother asking Mr. Yoo why it is we’re in Afghanistan in the first place, who it is we’re fighting, or what our ultimate goals are. That’s not his department.

Written by pavanvan

March 21, 2010 at 11:03 pm

New “Enemy Belligerent” Act Allows for Indefinite Detention of US Citizens

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Lilliana Segura of Alternet reports:

The bill is only 12 pages long, but that is plenty of room to grant the president the power to order the arrest, interrogation, and imprisonment of anyone — including a U.S. citizen — indefinitely, on the sole suspicion that he or she is affiliated with terrorism, and on the president’s sole authority as commander in chief.

A subsequent section, titled “Detention Without Trial of Unprivileged Enemy Belligerents,” states that suspects “may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” In a press conference introducing the bill earlier this month, Sen. Joe Lieberman said, “I know that will be — that may be — a long time, but that’s the nature of this war.”

I’ve never seen a piece of legislation so baldly committed to subverting the rule of law. Remember, former Chief of Defense Staff has explicitly stated that the War on Terror (‘hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners’) could last 50 years. Or forever! No one knows!

Thankfully we still have a half-way independent judiciary which has repeatedly struck down similar legislation; so the odds are that this bill, if passed, will eventually be found unconstitutional (which, of course it is). But until then, anyone caught up in the drag-net of police state action this bill recommends will find themselves very lonely indeed, while they wait for the ‘war on terror’ to end.

And can we drop all this nonsense about “well, if you’re not a terrorist, you don’t need to worry”? Tell that to the 90% of inmates at Guantanamo Bay who are totally innocent. Tell that to the taxicab drivers, bakers and welders who were sold for bounties and found themselves held and tortured for years at the various US “black sites” around the globe. This bill isn’t so much an “anti-terrorism” bill as it is an “anti-Muslim” bill.

Seeing that the guy who flew his plane into a Texas IRS building (the very definition of Terrorism) was labeled a “tax protester” by our government and media, and our own Homeland Security department is on record saying that Timothy McVeigh (who bombed an Oklahoma government building, killing 168 people, including children) “wasn’t a terrorist“, it should be clear who that epithet refers to.

And if there’s any doubt still remaining, just check Newsweek‘s “handy guide” as to who is and is not a “terrorist”:

Lone wolfish American attacker who sees gov’t as threat to personal freedom: bomber, tax protester, survivalist, separatist

Group of Americans bombing/kidnapping to protest U.S. policies on war/poverty/personal freedom/ – radical left-wing movement, right-wing separatists

All foreign groups or foreign individuals bombing/shooting to protest American gov’t: terrorists

So it should be clear that this bill is specifically designed to more easily arrest “foreigners” (even those who happen to be US citizens), hold them indefinitely without trial, and – what the hell, why not – torture them. White people cannot, by definition, be terrorists. Only brown people can.

Written by pavanvan

March 19, 2010 at 9:00 pm

US Holding 27,000 Secret Prisoners Around the World

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Many people think that since Guantanamo only holds around 700 prisoners, and since that’s the only US secret prison that happens to be in the news, our crimes when it comes to torture and indefinite detention only extend to a few hundred prisoners. But Clive Stafford Smith, a valiant defense lawyer for many of the innocent US ‘ghost prisoners’, claims that the US is holding more than 27,000 secret prisoners in undisclosed hell-holes around the world.

Remember, 95% of detainees in US custody were seized randomly and brought to us to us by bounty hunters – sold, essentially, for a few thousand dollars –  and ex-Bush officials are already on record saying that most of them are innocent. Everyone who has the rotten luck to end up in US custody gets tortured in some manner or another, be it by sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, “stress positions” (being forced to stand, arms outstretched for days at a time), or whatever else the soldiers decide to do with you. There are no exceptions.

And lest we forget, at least 100 of these detainees, and likely far more, were horrifically tortured to death. The most terrifying part about this is that there’s no law. None. You can be a US citizen, minding your own business one day, and the next be transported to an unknown location, placed in sensory deprivation for 1,301 days, pumped full of LSD and PCP, beaten within an inch of your life, shocked with electrodes, mock-executed, water-boarded, etc. The ‘interrogators’ are limited only by their imaginations. There are no written rules.

“Sensory deprivation” is a rather euphemistic phrase for what I am convinced is the most horrifying and brutal torture ever devised. The procedure is precisely as it sounds – you are “deprived” of your senses – but that description fails to convey the sheer terror involved. Imagine: you are sitting there with blackout goggles, thick ear-pads, and heavy gloves. You float in a sea of nothingness, seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling nothing. You don’t know how long this will last – maybe a day, maybe a week – but what’s more, you feel your sensation of time and space breaking down. Just imagine it! Total silence and darkness for days, weeks at a time!

Jose Padilla, who remained this way for 1,301 days.

Donald O. Hebb, the psychiatrist who pioneered the technique, found that his subjects experienced “acute hallucinations” after just one day in the “deprivation chamber” and “total psychosis” after only two days. He estimated that six to eight days would be the maximum anyone could endure while keeping their sanity intact, and later claimed he had “no idea what a potentially vicious weapon this technique could be”. Jose Padilla was kept in sensory deprivation for 1,301 daysthat is, 43 months. Can you imagine it – continuous silence and darkness for almost four years? They say “don’t try this at home”, but do try it! Sit in a room for just one day with blackout goggles and earmuffs on, wearing thick gloves, and preferably shackled to a fixed object. I have nightmares about this. But for Jose Padilla, a US citizen, it was all too real.

Finally, I should hasten to remind the Obama Administration, who has already endorsed kidnapping, interrogation by torture, and indefinite detention, that these practices are illegal via the Supreme Court’s Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, which stipulates that all detention practices must conform to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I wonder if this constitutional lawyer cares with the Supreme Court thinks.

So You’d Like to Waterboard: A Step-By-Step Manual

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Mark Benjamin at Salon reviews some CIA documents and emerges with the authoritative US Government Guide to Torture.

Some excerpts:

One of the more interesting revelations in the documents is the use of a saline solution in waterboarding. Why? Because the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid – enough to conceivably kill them from hyponatremia, a rare but deadly condition in which ingesting enormous quantities of water results in a dangerously low concentration of sodium in the blood.

Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee’s mouth and nose using his hands. “The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee’s nose and mouth to dam the runoff,” the Bradbury memo notes. “In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water.”

The CIA’s waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown.

The memo also contains a last, little-noticed paragraph that may be the most disturbing of all. It seems to say that the detainees subjected to waterboarding were also guinea pigs. The language is eerily reminiscent of the very reasons the Nuremberg Code was written in the first place. That paragraph reads as follows:

“NOTE: In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”

But yeah, you know – torture is no big deal. Especially since most of these people we’re torturing are innocent anyway.

Written by pavanvan

March 11, 2010 at 10:35 am