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“A Morass Of Human Rights Abuses”: Gitmo Is A Stain On Our Reputation For Upholding Human Rights

In his first presidential campaign, President Barack Obama pledged to close the infamous U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where torture has been practiced and due process flouted. The reviled facility is a stain on our reputation as a beacon for human rights and as a role model in a world where the innate dignity of the individual is still not universally accepted.

With his pledge to shut it down, Obama was merely building on the stated desire of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who knew the facility was a source of embarrassment for our allies and a recruiting tool for our enemies. Back then, Obama’s view was shared by his rival, GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who also pledged to close the prison.

But as president, Obama badly bungled the process, failing to make closing Guantanamo a priority and misjudging the inflammatory politics that are associated with the suspects who are held there. He was deserted not only by McCain, but also by Democrats who claimed — speciously — that bringing suspected terrorists into the continental United States was much too dangerous to consider.

In the final year of his presidency, Obama has returned to the incendiary politics of Guantanamo, promising again to shutter the prison. He has less chance of success now than he did when he began eight years ago. Since then, congressional Republicans have grown more rabid in their opposition (to everything), the GOP electorate has sunk into a miasma of xenophobia, and the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State have risen up to haunt our nightmares. Congress has passed laws making it virtually impossible to transfer Guantanamo detainees to prisons in the United States.

Still, Obama is right to bring the facility to the top of the national agenda. He has little leverage but his bully pulpit, little authority but the moral force of this righteous crusade. That’s a start.

From the beginning, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has represented the worst instincts of American leaders. In 2002, placing the first of nearly 800 terror suspects eventually held there, the Bush administration argued they were not subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

While the U.S. Supreme Court later disagreed, forcing the Bush administration to reverse itself, that arrogant and shortsighted abrogation of international norms gave our enemies good reason to call us hypocrites. And that was just the beginning of an appalling slide into a morass of human rights abuses: Some prisoners were tortured; some were held for years without formal charges; many were not, as the Bush administration initially claimed, captured on the battlefield, but rather turned over by Pakistanis and Afghans in exchange for money. Those men may never have raised arms against the United States or its allies.

Even the Bush administration eventually yielded to pressure and released or transferred more than 500 detainees. Obama has continued to reduce the population; an estimated 91 detainees remain.

But the very existence of the facility — “Gitmo,” as it’s often called — remains a blight on our reputation, a pall over the shining city on a hill. “Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” Obama said last Tuesday. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of (the) rule of law.”

He clearly means to use the last year of his tenure to keep pressure on Congress to close it, probably by speeding up the exodus of detainees. (While a handful of former detainees have returned to the battlefield, the vast majority of them have not.) He believes he can persuade other countries to accept an additional 80 or so, leaving only a few hard-core cases, men who are deemed too dangerous to release.

However, the cost of keeping them at Guantanamo would be exorbitant, as much as $10 million per detainee per year, according to some estimates. For a Congress that claims to be fiscally prudent, it ought to make a lot more sense to bring those men to a maximum-security prison in the United States, where they’d have no chance of escape.

That would keep us safe without destroying our ideals.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, February 27, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | GITMO, Human Rights, Republicans, Torture | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Painfully Obscene”: Dick Cheney’s Tortured Appearance On ‘Meet The Press’ Should Be His Public Swan Song

It pretty much goes without saying that any pundit or political writer coming from the left side of center can be expected to presume Vice President Dick Cheney to be nothing less than the political equivalent of Darth Vader.

However, there has remained a small cadre of left leaning pundits and commentators willing to give a fair hearing to the man who was arguably the most powerful Vice-President in the nation’s history—a group I previously would have included myself to be among.

After Mr. Cheney’s appearance on Sunday’s “Meet The Press”—where he employed twisted rationales coupled with outright, provable and painful lies to support his position on torture—finding a commentator from either side of the aisle willing to give credibility to Cheney, let alone those from the left, should prove exponentially harder if not completely impossible.

While there was nothing particularly surprising or odd about Cheney highlighting the politics that may have played a role in last week’s release of the Senate torture report, even the most ardent Cheney supporter had to question the logic of the Vice President’s answers—which are better characterized as retorts—most notably Mr. Cheney’s constant deflection of a question asking for his definition of illegal treatment of detainees.

Cheney’s response?

Torture is  “an American citizen on his cellphone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York on 9/11.”

Cheney would be right were he to pose this as an example rather than the defining metric when seeking to determine an act of torture.  The horrendous, unthinkable experience referred to by Cheney is, unquestionably, one example of inflicting torture—and a pretty good example of horrific torture at that—but hardly the sole method that Cheney insisted on pretending to be the case.

Yet, each time Cheney was asked for a more realistic and more encompassing definition of torture that would rationally go beyond any one particular example, he continuously returned to the experiences of our lost countrymen on 9-11. This seemed, in the mind of Dick Cheney, to be the only standard to be applied when determining if our interrogation methods may have exceeded the legal bounds imposed by the Geneva Convention for the treatment of detainees.

At a point, it became more than clear that Cheney had pre-planned this “non-answer” for his appearance, thinking it to be very clever.

By pretending that only a horrible infliction of agony similar to what was heaped on the victims of 9-11 would rise to a level that could be termed torture, the Vice-President was simply sending a coded message to his supporters to remind them that, given what the bad guys did to us, there was nothing too horrible that we could do to them—Geneva Convention be damned.

Of course, that includes waterboarding, a practice that Cheney continued to argue is not an interrogation method that constitutes torture or a violation of international law.

I can appreciate that there are a great many Americans who agree that torture should be employed in the circumstances we have faced in our battle with terrorists. Indeed, a CBS News poll out today reveals that while more than half of all Americans believe that waterboarding is torture, just a bit less than half of the American public believes that the use of torture is sometimes appropriate .

If Cheney had shown up on “Meet The Press” and argued that what we did was torture but that, in his estimation, it was completely appropriate to engage in such torture under the circumstances, a far more meaningful discussion could have ensured.

Instead, Cheney played a game of saying that what we did was not torture while winking to his loyal supporters in the audience in an effort to say that what we did certainly was torture…but you know you loved it.

In what might have otherwise been amusing, had the entire performance not been so painfully obscene, Cheney actually went on to admit that there did exist actions that constitute torture, separate and apart from the one and only criteria he was willing to subscribe to involving 9-11 victims.

When Chuck Todd reminded the Vice-President that the United States prosecuted and hung Japanese soldiers following WWII for engaging in the waterboarding of American soldiers, Cheney answered that this was not the reason we hung offending Japanese soldiers. According to Cheney, we prosecuted these people, “For a lot of stuff, not for waterboarding… and they did a lot of other stuff.”

 

By: Rick Ungar, Forbes, December 15, 2014

December 17, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Torture, Waterboarding | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enhanced Interviewing”: Five Questions Chuck Todd Should Ask Dick Cheney On Sunday

This Sunday, Dick Cheney will be interviewed by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. If the former vice president’s previous appearances on that program and others are any indication, he will likely say things that are untrue, and say them with that quiet yet firm Cheneyesque confidence that makes it clear that anyone who disagrees with him is either a fool or a traitor, if not both.

So I thought it would be worthwhile to offer Todd some suggestions on questions he might ask Cheney, in order to elicit the most revealing answers as we have this vital debate on our recent past.

You have long insisted that techniques like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation are not torture. In order to come to that conclusion, you must have a definition of torture that those techniques do not meet. So what is your definition of torture?

This may seem like a matter of semantics, but it is an absolutely central question to this entire debate, and one that neither Cheney nor any of the other Bush administration defenders of the torture program have ever answered. When asked, Cheney has always simply insisted that we didn’t torture, and that the “enhanced” techniques we used aren’t torture Why? Because they aren’t. Unlike most sane Americans, I’ve actually read Cheney’s turgid memoir, “In My Time,” and there too he simply states flatly that “The program was safe, legal, and effective,” but not torture.

There is a common definition of torture — the infliction of extreme physical or mental suffering in order to obtain information or a confession — that is reflected in U.S. law, the UN Convention Against Torture, and in the minds of pretty much everyone around the world. Under no reasonable interpretation of the term would something like stress positions, which are designed to produce excruciating pain and which have been used as a torture technique for centuries, not qualify. But Cheney doesn’t agree. So he really ought to tell us what he thinks does constitute torture.

We’ll have a new president in two years. Would you advise him or her to restart the torture program?

Two days after taking office in 2009, Barack Obama signed an executive order banning the use of cruel and degrading techniques, and declaring that all U.S. personnel, whether in the CIA or any other agency, would have to abide by the interrogation guidelines set out in the Army Field Manual. It also revoked a 2007 order signed by President Bush, which had declared that “members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces” were outside the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

What I asked yesterday applies here: Since Cheney is an enthusiastic defender of the torture program in place during the Bush years, and since there are still terrorists in the world, one might presume that he believes not only that it was right to torture suspects in the past, but that we should continue to torture suspects in the future. He should have the chance to make clear whether that is in fact what he believes, and what his advice to the next president would be.

If things like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation are “safe, legal, and effective,” but are not torture, would you recommend that other countries also use them on prisoners they hold?

Some liberals have noted that Cheney’s implicit position is that these techniques are not torture if we perform them, but would be torture if someone else did. Since this is obviously not something anyone would admit to believing, Cheney should be asked directly if he thinks other countries should also start using these techniques. That would apply to our allies, but it could also apply to less friendly countries like China or Russia. And of course, the natural follow-up is: If an American is captured in some conflict and is subjected to things like waterboarding and stress positions, would Cheney tell that person that not only hadn’t he been tortured, but he had been treated in a safe and legal manner?

During the run-up to the Iraq War and in its early days, you told the American people many things that were false. I know you still believe that all things considered, the war was the right thing to do. But do you think that if you and other members of the Bush administration had argued only from what you actually knew to be true, the public would have supported the war?

The Iraq War’s defenders furiously resist the idea that it was sold on false premises. Some of the things administration representatives said, like “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” were misleading bits of fear-mongering, but were technically hypothetical. However, many of the other things they said were provably false. That’s why, if and when Todd asks such a question, he should have some specifics at hand to keep Cheney from simply asserting that it was all a matter of interpretation and our judgment based on what we thought at the time. What distinguished Cheney’s remarks from those of some of his colleagues was that they were spoken without any qualification or hedging, but were stated as undeniable facts.

For instance, in an August 26, 2002, speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Cheney said: “We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” That was false. He also said: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Not only was this not true, the idea that there was “no doubt” about it was also not true — it was a matter of vigorous debate within the intelligence community, a fact of which Cheney was surely aware.

In an appearance a week later on Meet the Press, Cheney said, “we do know, with absolute certainty, that [Saddam Hussein] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” Tim Russert then asked: “He does not have a nuclear weapon now?” And Cheney replied, “I can’t say that. I can say that I know for sure that he’s trying to acquire the capability.”

Or there’s his statement that “it’s been pretty well confirmed” that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta traveled to Prague to meet with Iraqi intelligence officials, an utterly bogus story that was nothing like “pretty well confirmed” when Cheney made the claim. I could go on, but it’s worth probing whether Cheney thinks that deceiving the public in the manner they did was necessary to achieve what he sees as a greater good.

Since the end of the recession, the economy has created over 10 million new jobs. Even if we count from the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency when hundreds of thousands of jobs were being shedded every month, he has still overseen the creation of a net of six million jobs. In its eight years in office, the Bush administration created a net of 1.3 million jobs. Why has Barack Obama done better than your administration did on job creation?

This is a non-torture-related bonus question. Perhaps Cheney would respond, as many conservatives would, that Barack Obama deserves no credit for anything good that happens with the American economy. But the follow-up would then be, does that mean George W. Bush had no effect on the economy either? The Bush administration enacted huge tax cuts which, all the administration’s representatives assured the public, would result in an explosion of job growth. That never happened. How would Cheney explain it?

One thing we should be able to agree on is that Todd shouldn’t waste his time with Cheney doing things like handicapping the 2016 presidential race. Cheney doesn’t answer questions very often, so when he does, the interviewer ought to make the most of the opportunity.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 11, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Meet The Press, Torture | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Authority Crisis Roils America”: Police Abuse, Torture And Authoritarianism Run Amok

There is so much that’s horrifying about what’s now simply called “the torture report,” the redacted summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into years of unforgivable CIA abuse post-9/11. But one thing that recurs disturbingly often is anal rape imagery: examples of “rectal feeding,” of rectal exams that used “excessive force,” and “at least one instance,” according to the report, of threatened sodomy with a broomstick.

Am I the only one who thought about Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was not just threatened but actually sodomized with a broomstick by the New York Police Department’s Justin Volpe in 1997? The torture report’s release, in the wake of grand juries failing to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and right here in New York, where Louima was tortured, reminds us of the danger of unaccountable state power.

Yet an undercurrent of authoritarianism in American culture — and a particular American deference to authority figures who are supposed to “protect” us – threatens to let it go unchecked.

To be fair, many Americans are horrified by the torture report’s revelations. And many Americans believe police officers should be held accountable when they use excessive force and harm or kill Americans, of any race. But there’s a disturbing impulse evident lately, to excuse abuses of power on the part of those who are charged with protecting us, whether cops or the post-9/11 CIA. I don’t care what we did!former Bush flack Nicolle Wallace shrieked on “Morning Joe” Monday. And she spoke for too many Americans. (Though not for her former boss Sen. John McCain.)

I watched the debate over the torture report unfurl all day Tuesday, online, in print and on television. All the coverage focused on a few questions: whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein is right that torture didn’t work; whether the report might produce blowback by our enemies; whether the CIA is being scapegoated for Bush administration decisions. There was shockingly little emphasis on the fact that torture is illegal and a war crime, banned by the Geneva Conventions, a U.N. Convention against torture ratified under a supportive Ronald Reagan, and by Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code.

So much in the torture report should appall Americans, above and beyond the many details of depravity. CIA officials lied about who they had in custody. They lied about what they were doing. They destroyed evidence. They tortured two of their own informants. At least 20 percent of the people they detained, as examined by investigators, were held wrongfully. They paid $81 million to two psychologists who knew nothing about al-Qaida, terrorism or the war against them. They didn’t fully brief President Bush until April 2006, after 38 of 39 detainees had already been interrogated.

This should be an issue that unites civil libertarians on the left and the right – as should excessive force by police — but the authoritarian impulse is stronger on the right. Libertarianism also seems overwhelmed by the prevailing resentment of President Obama, and the changing America that he represents. Still, it’s amazing: Even as wingnuts deride Obama as a fascist and a tyrant, they applaud excessive force by police officers and CIA officials.

It’s also amazing that it’s taken two years to get a redacted executive summary of the “torture report” released. Let’s remember that we’re merely talking about sharing information about the Senate’s investigation into torture, not about indicting or punishing anyone. At least grand juries considered whether to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo in the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. There has been no such process regarding CIA torturers.

Which is not to say the grand jury process in Ferguson or Staten Island delivered justice to those men’s families. Nor have the families of John Crawford and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, African-Americans killed by police while holding toy guns, even gotten a fair and clear accounting of how their sons died. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white men, yet white people’s confidence in police fairness, and doubts about cops’ racial bias, have never been higher, while African-Americans’ is understandably at a record low.

Thankfully Abner Louima’s attackers were punished; Volpe is serving 30 years in prison, and Louima won a settlement of $8.7 million – the largest police brutality settlement in New York history at the time. The Louima rape happened to take place under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has emerged as the chief defender of cops who kill in the last two weeks. Giuliani’s career is an example of how the authoritarian impulse in American politics often prevails.

I don’t know why the worst element in law enforcement – locally and globally – turns to rape when left unchecked. But since rape is about power, it may be the ultimate example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Weirdly, the incorrigible neocon Danielle Pletka made a reference to rape, or at least the botched Rolling Stone story on rape, in the New York Times, when attacking the Senate’s torture report. “It has become the norm,” she complained, “to act based on false reports; to close fraternities because of rapes that may or may not have happened; to release terrorists because it is inconvenient to keep them.”

How strange that Pletka would reference rape in this context. Or maybe not. The right-wing backlash that defends torture and police abuse also agitates to restore a culture that blames rape victims for what happened to them, and excuses all but the most violent sexual assault as boys just being boys. Human progress is marked by the rejection of all such abuses of power; it feels like we’re living in a time when such progress is stalled, temporarily.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 10, 2014

December 12, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Police Brutality, Torture | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crowing” And The Torture Apologists

The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jose Rodriguez Jr. was the leader of counterterrorism for the C.I.A. from 2002-2005 when Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda leaders were captured. He told Time magazine that the recent events show that President Obama should not have banned so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. (Mr. Rodriguez, you may remember, ordered the destruction of interrogation videos.)

John Yoo, the former Bush Justice Department lawyer who twisted the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions into an unrecognizable mess to excuse torture, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the killing of Bin Laden proved that waterboarding and other abuses were proper. Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, said at first that no coerced evidence played a role in tracking down Bin Laden, but by Tuesday he was reciting the talking points about the virtues of prisoner abuse.

There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush’s illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture “played a small role at most” in the years and years of painstaking intelligence and detective work that led a Navy Seals team to Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.

That squares with the frequent testimony over the past decade from many other interrogators and officials. They have said repeatedly, and said again this week, that the best information came from prisoners who were not tortured. The Times article said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, fed false information to his captors during torture.

Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify President Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.

This was not the “ticking time bomb” scenario that Bush-era officials often invoked to rationalize abusive interrogations. If, as Representative Peter King, the Long Island Republican, said, information from abused prisoners “directly led” to the redoubt, why didn’t the Bush administration follow that trail years ago?

There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive. The Bush administration’s abuses — and ends justify the means arguments — did huge damage to this country’s standing and gave its enemies succor and comfort. If that isn’t enough, there is also the pragmatic argument that most experienced interrogators think that the same information, or better, can be obtained through legal and humane means.

No matter what Mr. Yoo and friends may claim, the real lesson of the Bin Laden operation is that it demonstrated what can be done with focused intelligence work and persistence.

The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions that cost this country dearly — in our inability to hold credible trials for very bad men and in the continued damage to our reputation.

By: Editorial Board, The New York Times, May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Foreign Policy, GITMO, GOP, Homeland Security, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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