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“Trump’s Big, New, Stalinesque Idea”: A Concept With A Dark And Profoundly Un-American History

In a season full of comments we never thought we’d hear during a modern American presidential campaign, this one, spoken at the debate Tuesday night by of course Donald Trump, is arguably the most shocking: “I would be very, very firm with families. Frankly, that will make people think because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

It’s not the first time Trump has said it, but it hasn’t gotten the focus it deserves. This idea of punishing or somehow threatening the family members of criminals has a name. It’s called collective punishment. And it has a history, which as you’d imagine is not pretty—think, oh, Stalin, for starters. And finally it has a status in international law. Under the Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime.

Collective punishment can take and has taken different forms. It doesn’t have to mean family members. In many cases it has meant the relocation/eradication of entire villages in response to rebellious or perceived treasonous acts by a few. It might also mean a kind of generalized and indiscriminate violence visited upon a population. Scholars debate, but surely Southerners would all agree, that William Tecumseh Sherman engaged in collective punishment during his infamous March to the Sea. You know, the one through that state, Georgia, where in the latest poll Trump holds a 27-point lead.

But in many cases, it does refer to families. Trump’s antecedents here are chilling. The Nazis used collective punishment against Poles and others who harbored Jews. The website of Yad Vashem tells the horrifying story of the Ulma family, who hid a Jewish family on their farm in 1942. They got ratted out, and the entire family, including six living children and one more in utero, was shot.

But Stalin was the master of collective punishment. It was for a time against the law in the USSR to be a family member of a counter-revolutionary or obscurantist or what have you. Stalin said in November 1937: “And we will eliminate every such enemy… we will eliminate his entire lineage, his family! Here’s to the final extermination of all enemies, both themselves and their clan.”

In our own time, Israel is practicing a form of collective punishment every time it blows up the home, often in occupied East Jerusalem, of the family of a suspected terrorist or even in some cases a teenager who got caught throwing some stones at the military. North Korea has been known to imprison the family members of dissidents.

This behavior is covered in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which reads in its entirety: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

The definition of “protected persons” is a little complicated, and you can read it here, but it includes both citizens of a given country (“nationals”) and non-nationals who find themselves in the hands of a hostile power, which President Trump’s America would surely be to Muslim non-citizens, morally if not always legally.

So now comes the question: What does Trump mean by “very tough”? He probably won’t say. Let’s grant that he doesn’t mean execution. He’s not that crazy. In his mind, he might “just” mean detaining family members, putting the screws to them, seeing what they know. Obviously, under any number of circumstances, interrogation of family members of those who commit crimes is reasonable. It happens every day, hundreds of times across the country.

But Trump sounds like he’s talking about more than that. The way he appears to think about these things, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched to imagine that he might envision, say, detaining the family of someone who commits a future terrorist act. You know, just to teach the others a lesson.

A Trump administration could probably find some antique (or not) federal law under which to do such a thing, and then fight the inevitable court challenges and see what happens. And if such a case landed before the right kind of Federal Society judge, well, it seems unlikely that any American federal judge could possibly justify such a thing, but in a country that actually elected Donald Trump president, who knows? And would the GOP really object? After all, we already have the precedent of Republican officials from John Yoo to Dick Cheney telling us that we don’t have to bother with all that Geneva twaddle.

It’s yet another new Trump low, and it raises the specter of a lawless government ditching norms that we’ve (mostly) stood by for decades. And if we ditch them, look out, because others will too. One doubts we will, but the mere fact that the front-runner for the Republican nomination is putting this stuff into the national discourse is horrible enough. And good God, what’s coming next week?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 17, 2015

December 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Geneva Conventions, Joseph Stalin, War Crimes | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Forget The Geneva Conventions And The Bill Of Rights”: Cruz And Trump’s ISIS Plans Sound A Lot Like War Crimes

Carpet-bombing with no regard for civilian casualties. Murdering the possibly-innocent families of terrorists just to make a point. The line between official U.S. policy and action movie fantasy was unfortunately blurred during the Republican debate on Tuesday night, when Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the frontrunners for the nomination—Trump with 33 percent in the polls, Cruz with 16—tried to out-macho one another on foreign policy.

The result was both candidates doubling down on strategies that involve war crimes.

Cruz has often said that he wants to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion,” joking that we’ll find out if “sand can glow in the dark” in the process.

Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “Does that mean leveling the ISIS capital of Raqqa in Syria, where there are hundreds of thousands of civilians?”

Cruz replied, “What it means is using overwhelming airpower to utterly and completely destroy ISIS.”

By way of example, he pointed to the first Gulf War, when “we carpet-bombed them for 37 days, saturation bombing, after which our troops went in and in a day and a half, mopped up what was left of the Iraqi army.”

The architects of that Gulf War effort, which featured the first major use of precision-guided bombs, would probably disagree that it was was “saturation” or “carpet” bombing. And according to the International Criminal Court, war crimes include “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population.” Cruz said the objective would be to kill members of ISIS, not civilians, but there’s no such thing as a precise, narrowly-targeted carpet-bombing campaign. The tactic, which began in the Spanish Civil War and flowered fully in World War II, is to drop thousands of munitions on a single area—and flatten in. It is the opposite of precise.

Not long after Cruz’s exchange, Trump was asked a question by Josh Jacob, an earnest, yellow sweater vest-wearing student from Georgia Tech. He wanted to know how Trump justified his assertion that the U.S. should kill the families of terrorists, when that “violates the principle of distinction between combatants and family members.”

He asked, “How would intentionally killing innocent civilians set us apart from ISIS?”

Trump puffed up like a blowfish. “We have to be much tougher and stronger than we’ve been,” he said. He pointed to the San Bernardino attack, arguing that people who knew the terrorist husband and wife no doubt were aware that they were up to no good. “They knew exactly what was going on,” he said.

“When you had the World Trade center go, people were put into planes that were friends, family, girlfriends, and they were put into planes and they were sent back, for the most part, to Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. “They knew what was going on. They went home and wanted to watch their boyfriends on television.”

To Trump, there is no possibility that the families, friends or loved ones of terrorists could be disconnected from terrorism, and so, “I would be very, very firm with families. And, frankly, that will make people think—because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families’ lives.”

Earlier this month, Trump was even bolder. “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” he said on Fox & Friends. “You have to take out their families.”

Inconveniently enough for Trump, murder is also classified as a war crime.

But that may not matter to the audience at the debate.

Advocating for breaking international humanitarian laws almost looked reasonable next to Trump’s North Korea-influenced proposal to “close” parts of the Internet frequented by terrorists. (As if the U.S. doesn’t gather all sorts of intelligence from those corners of the digital world.)

And applause predictably broke out when Hillary et al. were criticized for failing to decry “Islamic terror.”

Other ideas, like Rand Paul’s meek suggestion that America might perhaps consider the Bill of Rights from time to time, hardly received any notice.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, December 16, 2015

 

December 17, 2015 Posted by | Carpet Bombing, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Manifestly Immoral And Clearly Illegal”: Senate Report Shows That The U.S. Answered Evil With Evil

The “debate” over torture is almost as grotesque as torture itself. There can be no legitimate debate about the intentional infliction of pain upon captive and defenseless human beings. The torturers and their enablers may deny it, but they know — and knew from the beginning — that what they did was obscenely wrong.

We relied on legal advice , the torturers say. We were just following orders. We believed the ends justified the means. It is nauseating to hear such pathetic excuses from those who, in the name of the United States, sanctioned or committed acts that long have been recognized as war crimes.

According to the Senate intelligence committee report on the treatment of detainees after the 9/11 attacks, members of a CIA interrogation team were “profoundly affected . . . some to the point of tears and choking up” at the brutal treatment in 2002 of an important al-Qaeda detainee named Abu Zubaida.

Captured in Pakistan and whisked to a secret facility in Thailand, Zubaida was initially cooperative, willingly providing answers under normal, non-coercive questioning. But the CIA abruptly halted his interrogation, placed him in isolation for 47 days and then began a regime of astonishing and gratuitous cruelty.

Torturers slammed him against walls, confined him in coffin-size boxes for a total of nearly 300 hours and subjected him to 83 sessions of waterboarding, which simulates drowning — a practice for which Japanese war criminals were tried, convicted and harshly punished following World War II. After one waterboarding assault, according to the Senate report, Zubaida was “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

In all, 119 detainees were held in the CIA’s archipelago of secret prisons, according to the report; at least 26 of them were wrongfully detained and never should have been arrested in the first place.

The report says 39 prisoners were tortured with what the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — a chilling bit of Orwellian newspeak. They were kept awake for up to 180 hours, often standing, sometimes in “stress” positions designed to induce pain. Their arms were shackled above their heads. They were stripped naked and placed in ice baths. At least five prisoners were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or “rectal feeding.” While the CIA says only three detainees were waterboarded, Senate investigators found waterboarding equipment at a site where supposedly no such torture took place.

We know of two men who were tortured to death. One of them, Gul Rahman, was held at a facility in Afghanistan that the Senate report refers to as COBALT, described in a CIA memo as a “dungeon.” Rahman was put in a dank, frigid cell wearing only a shirt — no pants or underwear — and chained so that he had to sit or lie on a bare concrete floor. He was found dead the next morning, apparently of hypothermia. The other man, Manadel al-Jamadi, died in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after being beaten and shackled to a window.

The report seeks to demonstrate that the torture was useless because valuable information in the fight against al-Qaeda came from conventional interrogation methods, not the brutal treatment. Torture’s apologists — including Cheney, who says he’d “do it again in a minute” — claim otherwise. This dispute cannot be settled. No one can say that a name, date or phone number extracted by torture could never have been obtained by other means.

But efficacy is not the point. What matters is not whether torture produces more information or less. What matters is that torture is manifestly immoral — and clearly illegal under U.S. and international law.

The CIA says it relied on Bush administration legal opinions attesting that torture is not really torture. The Senate report shows, however, that the CIA was less than honest in its representations to the Justice Department lawyers about what was being done to the detainees. Again, this argument misses the big picture: Those who ordered and committed torture would not be so eager to hide behind a paper-thin legalistic veneer if they truly believed what they did was right.

Why would the CIA officer in charge of the program destroy all videotapes of waterboarding sessions? Why would the agency fight the Senate investigators so fiercely, at one point hacking into the committee’s computers? Why would there be such a coordinated attempt by torture’s apologists to steer the “debate” toward subsidiary questions and away from the central issue?

There is only one answer: They decided to answer evil with evil rather than with justice. And they knew it was wrong.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 11, 2014

December 14, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Torture, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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