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“A Future Cheney Could Do It All Again”: The U.S. Will Torture Again—And We’re All To Blame

Reliably enough, out came Dick Cheney to trash the Senate torture report and to say of the use of torture: “I’d do it again in a minute.” None of us doubt that he would. But the more interesting and challenging question is: Could he?

More precisely, could a future Cheney, after a future terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland, get away with it? Could a future administration set up the whole fraudulent and immoral apparatus—a Department of Justice defining torture so narrowly that it somehow magically doesn’t include sleep deprivation or rectal hydration or waterboarding, followed by a CIA and military saying “Hey, what’s the big deal? It’s all legal!”? (Even in his press conference Thursday, CIA chief John Brennan acknowledged that it all could happen again: “I defer to the policymakers,” he said, as to what might occur.)

People like me are supposed to say something like: No, we’re better than that. Alas, I say we are not better than that. It could happen again. Easily.

In fact, let’s go further. Cheney is a figure of horror and ridicule these days (although by no means to everyone—to the Fox News audience to which he spoke the above words Wednesday, he’s oracular). But can we honestly say that back in 2002, 2003, 2004, he wasn’t carrying out the people’s will? We get the government we deserve, de Tocqueville said. And in the Bush-Cheney regime, we got exactly that.

There exist four mechanisms in our democracy by which the state can be compelled to live up to what we call, rather farcically in a gruesome week like this one, “our ideals.” There is the will of the people; the resolve of the political class; the courage of the media; and the authority of the courts. With regard to our torture regime, all four failed, and failed completely.

The people were, in theory, against torture. I have on my screen here a study from Reed College (PDF)  that asserts that from 2001 to 2009, majorities of public opinion consistently opposed torture, by averages of about 55 to 40 percent. That may be, in the abstract. But were Americans ever so worked up about the practice that they demanded it not be undertaken in their name? Never.

In fact, for most of the Bush era, the opposite was the truth. I remember very clearly the public mood after the 9/11 attacks. There was appropriate anger and shock and sorrow. But it bled into other less honorable manifestations, a paradoxical combination of, on the one hand, a lust for revenge in any form among a certain segment of the populace, and on the other hand a tremulous fear among a different segment that sanctioned anything being done in its name. Too many people reverted to a childlike state, and they wanted a daddy-protector. And no, this wasn’t understandable under the circumstances.

As for the political class, I doubt I need to give you a very hard sell on its failure. It was thoroughgoing and bipartisan. The timorous Democrats, with a few noble exceptions like Robert Byrd, largely bought into the global war on terror. The Republicans, well, you know about them. The foreign-policy establishment of Washington and to some extent New York lined up behind the administration on nearly every important question. The urge among this class is always to swim with the tide: In 2003, when the Council on Foreign Relations was casting about for a new leader, it settled on Richard Haass, who had been in Bush’s State Department. He has said since that he was 60-40 against the war, but one would have been hard pressed to know that then, back when his boss, Colin Powell, was warning us about those weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. On the torture question, this class was outraged when it was easy to be outraged, like when the Abu Ghraib story broke, but the outrage was never sustained.

Among the media, there were to be sure many brave journalists—Jane Mayer, Robin Wright, many others—who broke story after story about torture. We’re in their debt. But their great work was more than balanced out by the equivocation caucus—well, we can’t really be sure it’s torture. And then there was the segment of the media that actively cheered it all on. More broadly, the media as a whole were afraid to break ranks. I have had a number of conversations with prominent media people—in TV and radio, names you’d know—who, by way of trying to defend their lack of zeal and confrontation in those post-9/11 days, tried to explain how many furious emails they got when a report diverged modestly from the accepted line.

And the legal system? Again, there were some courageous judges who tried. A Virginia federal judge named Gerald Bruce Lee ruled in 2009  that four Abu Ghraib detainees could sue CACI, the private military contractor in Iraq. But overall the legal system has done little to say “this was against the law.” Much of the fault for that, of course, lies with Barack Obama, who chose early on not to seek prosecutions of Bush administration officials. And even now, in the wake of this report, what is your level of confidence that anyone will be prosecuted as a result of the release of this report? I thought so.

Failures top to bottom. Now, one would like to say that we as a society have learned the lessons of these failures and would not permit this to happen again. Don’t count on it. If there is another terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland, the odds are strong that we will reenact this grim tragedy from start to finish, if a neoconservative regime happens to be ensconced in the White House. The people would respond with the same fear, which would give license to the same behavior, and the political class and the media and the courts would probably go along.

So yes, it’s a moral horror that Cheney says he’d do it all again. But it’s also all too likely that a future Cheney could do it all again. That’s the far greater moral horror, and the one we don’t want to face, because it implicates us.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, December 12, 2014

December 14, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, CIA, Torture | , , , , , , , , | 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

“Rights Are Not Entitlements”: Fundamental Human Rights Are Not Items That legislation Should Be Able To Take Away

As Americans discuss our system of social supports, we constantly hear the word “entitlements” and rarely the word “rights.” Of course, in America the word “entitlements” is not a neutral word. Rather, it is a loaded word, laced with specific attitudes and associations in both the speaker’s mouths and listener’s ears.

Instead of repeating facts about how America’s system of social supports is substantially smaller than nearly every other wealthy democratic country or the simple fact that America is the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is important to pause to think about the concept of human rights.

A good starting point for thinking about human rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration authored by a number of international delegates (including former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt) and adopted by the United States and other members of the United Nations in 1948. This document builds on other declarations of human rights that have occurred in the past including our own Declaration of Independence’s statement of the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In our era of drone strikes without a judicial process, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

In our era of for-profit prisons pushing legislation to increase America’s already world-leading incarceration rates even higher, our era of prison gerrymandering and prison labor, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.”

In our era of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

In our era of attempts to slash support for the unemployed and aggressive attempts to dismantle the rights of labor to organize, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

In our era of attacks on America’s already minimal social security system, it is important to point out that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

There was a time when our nation eloquently wrote and spoke in support of the basic rights of humans yet we have consistently abandoned those words, time after time, action after action, century after century.

Often when someone suggests that America needs to slash “entitlements,” I find myself asking two simple questions, “What are the most fundamental human rights and what role should governments play in guaranteeing those fundamental human rights?” After all, fundamental human rights are not items that legislation should be able to give and take away with the stroke of a pen or the barrel of a gun.

 

By: Howard Steven Friedman, Open Salon Blog, Salon, February 28, 2013

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Human Rights | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Tortured Logic Of Enhanced Interrogation

Did torture work? This is the question everyone is asking after Osama bin Laden’s death and the revelation that his fate was sealed by the identification of a courier whose nom de guerre emerged from the interrogation of top al Qaeda operatives who were known to have been subjected to waterboarding and similar techniques. “Did brutal interrogations produce the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?” a May 3 New York Timesstory asked.

This is hardly the first time we’ve had this debate. In 2006, my team of interrogators in Iraq located local al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by identifying and following one of his spiritual advisors, Abu Abd al-Rahman. Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army interrogator, found Saddam Husseinby similar means, identifying his former bodyguards. It’s these little pieces of information that form the mosaic that gradually leads to a breakthrough. But how best to get those little pieces?

Current and former U.S. officials and their supporters have been quick to argue that “enhanced interrogation techniques” and waterboarding led to the identification of the courier’s alias, which started U.S. intelligence down the road to bin Laden. The day after the al Qaeda leader’s death was announced, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the House Homeland Security Committee chair, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “For those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information [from waterboarding] that directly led us to bin Laden.” John Yoo, the former U.S. Justice Department official who drafted the George W. Bush administration’s legal rationales for officially sanctioned torture, repeated the claim and praised“Bush’s interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week’s actionable intelligence.” The torture bandwagon has started to kick into high gear. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In fact, the information about the existence of a courier working for bin Laden was provided by several detainees, not just waterboarded al Qaeda operatives Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi — we had one detainee in Iraq who provided information about a courier in 2006. The key pieces of information, however, were the courier’s real name and location. His family name was first uncovered by CIA assets in Pakistan through other sources. The NSA subsequently figured out his full real name and location from an intercepted phone call. Waterboarding had nothing to do with it.

Moreover, common sense dictates that all high-ranking leaders have couriers — and their nicknames do little to lead us to them. This is because many members of al Qaeda change names or take on a nom de guerre after joining for both operational security and cultural reasons. The names are often historically relevant figures in the history of Islam, like the Prophet Mohamed’s first follower, Abu Bakr. Think of it as the equivalent of a boxer taking on a nickname like “The Bruiser.”

Understanding these cultural nuances is just one critical skill interrogators must have to be effective. The other is an understanding of the social science behind interrogations, which tells us that torture has an extremely negative effect on memory. An interrogator needs timely and accurate intelligence information, not just made-up babble.

What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources — a false nickname, for example. Finally, it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations.

But to understand the question “Does torture work?” one must also define “work.” If we include all the long-term negative consequences of torture, that answer becomes very clear. Those consequences include the fact that torture handed al Qaeda its No. 1 recruiting tool, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s interrogators in Iraq who questioned foreign fighters about why they had come there to fight. (I have first-hand knowledge of this information because I oversaw many of these interrogations and was briefed on the aggregate results.) In addition, future detainees will be unwilling to cooperate from the onset of an interrogation because they view all Americans as torturers. I heard this repeatedly in Iraq, where some detainees accused us of being the same as the guards at Abu Ghraib.

The more you think about, the less sense torture makes. U.S. allies will become unwilling to conduct joint operations if they are concerned about how detainees will be treated in U.S. custody (an argument made by the 9/11 Commission, among others). And future enemies will use our actions as justification to torture American captives. Torture also lowers our ethical standards to those of our enemies, an ugly shift that spreads like a virus throughout the Armed Services; witness the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the recent murders of civilians in Afghanistan.

Most importantly, we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy. When the U.S. infantry becomes bogged down in a tough battle, they don’t turn to chemical weapons even though they are extremely effective. The reason they don’t is because such weapons are illegal and immoral.

During the Revolutionary War, one top general made the point that torture was inconsistent with the fundamental beliefs of our founding fathers. “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to insure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require,” he wrote to his troops in the Northern Expeditionary Force in the first year of the war. The general in question was George Washington. There’s a reason we pledge to believe in “liberty and justice for all” and not “liberty and security for all”: It’s because we place our values and principles higher than we place our security. When we cease to do so, we forfeit our right to be called Americans.

We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him. American interrogators safely guided us through World War II without the use of torture, fighting an enemy and interrogating prisoners every bit as brutal and dedicated as the members of al Qaeda. Our interrogators continue to prove time and time again that they are smart enough to outwit al Qaeda’s best and brightest. No one should ever doubt that we have the mental and ethical fortitude to win this war — and to do it without lowering ourselves to the level of our foes.

By: Matthew Alexander, Foreign Policy, May 4, 2011

May 6, 2011 Posted by | 911, Democracy, Foreign Policy, GITMO, Government, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Ideology, Middle East, Military Intervention, National Security, Neo-Cons, Pentagon, Politics, President Obama, Right Wing, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s Soft On Terror Now?

By the time U.S. Navy SEALs shot Osama bin Laden dead in his Pakistan hideaway, he was already becoming a historical anachronism. During his 10 years of running and hiding, events had passed him by. In the end, he appeared more David Koresh than Hitler or Napoleon — a religious zealot imprisoned by his own homicidal delusions, and little more.

“I am confident that Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America,” bin Laden once said. Like most fanatics, however, he failed to grasp the resilience of our democracy. America had largely recovered from the terrible strategic blunders that fear and outrage over the 9/11 atrocity had driven it to.

Al-Qaida’s hope was to lure the United States into Afghanistan, where they imagined it would destroy itself like the Soviet Union. That the neoconservative cabal inside the Bush administration would use the attack to justify invading Iraq provided an unanticipated propaganda boost.

The U.S., bin Laden told a CNN interviewer in 1997, “wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to this … If we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists.”

But images of Abu Ghraib faded as Iraq’s fratricidal strife yielded to steadfast military and diplomatic effort; America’s intention to leave Iraq became clear. Recent political tumult across the Arab world has owed nothing to bin Laden’s fever dream of a restored Islamic empire.

Writing from Benghazi, Libya, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen celebrated the liberation of “the captive Arab mind.”

“Bin Laden’s rose-tinged caliphate was the solace of the disenfranchised, the disempowered and the desperate,” Cohen added. “A young guy with a job, a vote and prospects does not need virgins in paradise.”

None of which should diminish our satisfaction at bin Laden’s death. I happened to be watching the Phillies-Mets game Sunday night when spontaneous cheers of “USA, USA!” broke out as fans got the news on their cellphones. For once, ESPN delivered a non-sports headline at the bottom of the screen.

My brother the Mets fan called the next day to express his feelings. Thirteen people from our New Jersey hometown, he reminded me, died on 9/11. I didn’t know any of them personally, but he knew several victims. Nothing can bring the victims back or erase their loved ones’ pain. Avenging those deaths, however, brought exactly what President Obama said it did: justice.

Bin Laden could have surrendered. Instead, he took the easy way out. Good riddance to him.

Everybody’s got their own way of remembering. Me, I get out my “Concert for New York” DVD and watch the Who turn Madison Square Garden upside down with a thunderous rendition of “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” — maybe the most powerful rock anthem ever written — for an audience of uniformed New York cops, firefighters and EMTs.

Announcing themselves honored to be invited, the English band played in front of a huge projection of the U.S. flag, the Union Jack and the World Trade Center. I can’t watch it dry-eyed. Everybody in the crowd looks like my cousin or somebody I grew up with.

No doubt you’ve got your own 9/11 memories. The question is: What to do with those thoughts and emotions now? Will the feelings of unity — those cheering fans in Philadelphia were Democrats and Republicans alike — bring about a lessening of partisan political anger?

President George W. Bush was quick to offer congratulations. Even Dick Cheney was gracious for once. It was Cheney’s classless accusation that President Obama was risking national security by dropping the “Global War on Terror” trope that set the tone for strident rejection of his legitimacy.

Soft on terror? Obama not only accomplished what the previous administration hadn’t done in eight years of trying, he’d put his presidency on the line. Had the SEALs’ mission in Pakistan failed like President Carter’s 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran, the recriminations would never have ended. Instead, it revealed Obama as one tough, shrewd cookie.

“For most Americans,” writes the New Yorker’s George Packer, “the killing of Osama bin Laden is the equivalent of a long-form birth certificate in establishing Barack Obama’s bona fides as commander-in-chief.”

Realistically, however, not much has changed except American self-confidence. The truth is that the nation panicked somewhat after 9/11. Anxious to find an opponent worthy of their own revolutionary romanticism, Bush administration neoconservatives turned Osama bin Laden into a virtual Hitler to suit their own Churchillian fantasies.

“Islamofascism” they called it. Enraged and distraught, many Americans bought it. Except that bin Laden’s deluded followers posed no military threat to the integrity of the United States or any Western nation. At worst they were capable of theatrical acts of mass murder like the 9/11 attacks.

And that was sufficient evil indeed.

By: Gene Lyons, Salon War Room, May 4, 2011

May 5, 2011 Posted by | 911, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Muslims, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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