Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Abuses Excuses I'm Not Buying

Nearly every day another aspect of the Bush-era torture policy is uncovered and published and discussed. Those who would excuse what we did keep coming up with new twisted arguments intended to justify the unjustifiable. This post outlines some of those arguments and counters them. 

modified image of what khalid sheikh mohammed looked like after interrogation

We Don't Torture (Therefore What We Did Wasn't Really Torture)

As Chris Matthews repeats frequently, any time you deprive someone of oxygen, it's torture. I'd go further. Anytime you do what we did in sum—with all the "enhanced" techniques—that is torture.  I believe that anyone who takes the time to read the detainees' personal accounts in the ICRC report (PDF), anyone with the ability to put themselves in their position, anyone with an ounce of empathy, would have to admit that we tortured them.  We caused severe pain and suffering on purpose.  We treated them cruelly and inhumanely.  We committed outrages upon their personal dignity by degrading and humiliating them. 

Besides, These Terrorists Are the Worst of the Worst

Torturing anyone (you can't create a special category of 'combatant' to get around this) is illegal according to the United States Constitution.  Torturing anyone is also immoral and unethical not to mention anti-Christian; it debases the torturers and elevates the tortured.  Out of the 770 people detained at Guantanamo, more than 500 have been released without charge.  Of the approximately 245 detainees remaining, after all this time, only 18 have been charged with anything.  Even if every detainee were guilty of something awful, that fact would not justify torturing anyone.

Lawyers Wrote Opinions Saying These Techniques Were Legal

A lawyer's opinion is just that: an untested and unsupported opinion. Such opinions can not change what the law is until and unless the opinion is written into law and upheld in the courts. Besides, torture began before any legal excuses were created.

The lawyers who wrote the now-infamous memos, most notably John Yoo and Jay Bybee, held some extremely unorthodox viewpoints.  Yoo was of the opinion that it would be perfectly legal if the President of the United States ordered crushing the testicles of a detainee's child in front of the detainee to get him to talk.  Bybee suggested that extreme sleep deprivation was fine because after it was over, you couldn't tell it had happened. 

We Did What We Did to Keep America Safe -- See, We Haven't Been Attacked Since 9/11

This correlation is false on at least two counts.  First, we were "attacked" after 9/11 by whoever mailed the anthrax letters.  Second, where is the evidence that Bush's torture policy prevented an attack of any kind? This reminds of me the joke:
A man is sitting on a park bench, making the STRANGEST noises.
'Are you all right?' asks a concerned stranger.
The man nods and keeps making the noises.
The stranger then asked, 'Then why are you screaming like that?'
The man replies 'It keeps the elephants away.'
The stranger mentioned that there weren't any elephants for miles.
The man smiled 'See, it works!'
There are serious questions about who was actually responsible for 9/11.  Some possible answers to those questions provide other reasons for why we haven't been "attacked again."  We have not satisfactorily investigated either 9/11 or Amerithrax.  I'll let it go at that.

Additionally, we know for a fact that Bush's torture policy was a boon to those who were recruiting zealots to take anti-American actions.  This has had a negative and deadly impact on our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, so it is quite false to say we are more safe as a result.

We Got Valuable Information Using These Methods

Interrogators and intelligence professionals agree that valuable information is not obtained by torturing people. Contrary to what GW Bush and Dick Cheney have claimed, there is no evidence that any information obtained by torture led to thwarting imminent terrorist attempts.  A White House fact sheet from the Bush archives justifying the use of abusive interrogation methods says,
In 2002, we broke up a plot by KSM to hijack an airplane and fly it into the tallest building on the West Coast.
Yet KSM (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the guy we waterboarded over 180 times in a month, the guy whose picture was used to create the graphic in this post) was not picked up and arrested until March 2003.  Therefore, torturing him had nothing whatsoever to do with preventing that attempt.  In fact, we are not even sure that plot was real at this point. 

Not only is there no evidence that we've gotten good information—there is evidence to the contrary.  According to testimony at a recent congressional hearing, FBI agent Ali Soufan claimed the flow of actionable information was interrupted when CIA contractors took over the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and began using "enhanced techniques."  There is even evidence that detainees gave false information to their interrogators to stop the torture.

The Democrats Knew About It and They Didn't Raise a Stink Then

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has recently been under fire for daring to say that the CIA was less than truthful during their mandatory Intelligence Committee briefings on "enhanced interrogation techniques."  Let's not forget that nothing anyone said or did in opposition to the GW Bush machine was given credence or air time during the first 6 years of the last administration—unless it was called un-American, traitorous, troop-hating garbage.

Regardless, there's still no proof that Democrats in Congress were fully briefed about the torture program.  And even if there were, that's hardly an excuse for going forward with the "torture program" in the first place.

What's Past Is Past, Let's Look Forward

Has Dick Cheney or Rudy Giuliani forgotten 9/11 yet?  Or think about this: if someone dear to you had been kidnapped and tortured, and you could pretty well figure out who was responsible, would you be comfortable saying, "Let the past be the past," and decline to go after the perpetrators and demand they be prosecuted?

What does it say to the rest of the world, never mind the citizens of the US, to sweep these abhorrent events under a rug labeled, "the past?"

Can we, as a nation, redeem ourselves and begin to restore our standing in the world if we fail to hold accountable the architects of our torture policy?  I'm looking at GW Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Yoo, Bybee and Gonzales along with everyone else who helped formulate and facilitate those who carried out the program of abuses.  It will be a pathetic miscarriage of justice to have prosecuted and jailed Lyndie England and Charles Graner while letting the authors of the torture policy avoid paying for their much greater crime.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I Call It Torture

I've been trying to find a way to post on this topic for weeks. The way the torture issue is being bandied about in the press lately has me incensed.  After all, that's why I started this blog—as an outlet for my outrage—so here goes.

The primary source material for this post is a recently-leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) (PDF). As far as I am concerned, the ICRC is an unimpeachable source of information. Sadly, the same cannot be said of politicians, government officials or even certain high level members of our intelligence community. Based on the following information about the CIA detention program, you tell me if what we've done (yes, WE have done this) to some human beings can be called anything other than torture.

Arrest and Transfer

The ICRC reported on 14 cases. Each of these individuals was captured between 2002 and 2005, not by US Armed Forces on a battlefield, but by national police or security forces in one of four countries. The fourteen were moved around from one detention site to another, at least 3 and for some, 10 times before finally arriving at Guantanamo in September 2006. They were never told where they were being sent, but several deduced that Afghanistan was the first stop. A CIA 'black site' in Poland was another likely destination.

The transfer routine was fairly standard. The detainees were stripped naked, cavity-searched, photographed, dressed in a diaper and tracksuit, blindfolded, fitted with earphones and shackled into position on a plane where they remained until arriving at the new location. Flight times varied from one hour to more than twenty-four hours.

naked man sitting, confined

Continuous Solitary Confinement

The length of detention for the fourteen ranged from sixteen months to four and a half years. They were held incommunicado the entire time. They were allowed no contact with anyone other than their interrogators and masked prison guards. No family. No news. No independent third parties.

posed naked man standing


The detention regime was extremely harsh, especially during the initial period which lasted up to several months and included:
  • Suffocation by water
  • Prolonged stress standing, naked, arms chained above head for two to three days at a time, often with no toilet access
  • Beatings by use of rope attached to a collar around the neck to forcefully slam the head and body against a wall
  • Beatings involving kicking to the body and face, slapping and punching
  • Lengthy confinement in a small box to severely restrict movement
  • Prolonged nudity for several weeks to several months
  • Sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours through forced stress positions, cold water, repetitive loud noise or music
  • Prolonged exposure to cold air, dousing with cold water and cold water immersion
  • Prolonged shackling of hands and feet
  • Threats of ill-treatment to the detainee and his family
  • Forced shaving of head and beard
  • Deprivation of solid food for up to a month

Further Deprivations

In addition to the torture treatment outlined above, the fourteen were also deprived of access to the open air, exercise, appropriate hygiene facilities and the basic items that go with it, and restricted access to their holy book. 

These 'enhanced techniques' must be viewed in their totality. The ill-treatment did not consist of a single technique now and then, but all the techniques one after another or in conjunction with each other.

The ICRC defines torture and other prohibited ill-treatement as follows:
  • Torture: existence of a specific purpose (e.g., to gain information) plus intentional infliction of severe suffering or pain;
  • Cruel or inhuman treatment: no specific purpose, significant level of suffering or pain inflicted;
  • Outrages upon personal dignity: no specific purpose, significant level of humiliation or degradation.
Yes, we did torture at least these fourteen "high-value detainees."  Yes, this ill-treatment is against the law.  Therefore, the people who authorized this treatment, the people who wrote legal opinions attempting to justify it, as well as the people who carried it out, are criminals.

I cannot imagine why anyone would allow these criminals to escape an impartial investigation and a rigorous prosecution.  We cannot turn the clock back and undo what we did.  Likewise, we cannot just turn away and leave this wound to fester.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

C4P Incites Blogosphere Outrage

So, this fellow named Chip Thoma who lives in a residential neighborhood with narrow, winding streets in Juneau near the Governor's Mansion, together with some of his neighbors, is asking that large tour buses stop cruising past their houses just so passengers can get a five-second glimpse of the house that Sarah doesn't live in.

As a result, Thoma is being blasted for his past, maligned and falsely accused by a plethora of right-wing Web outlets for trying to destroy the Alaska tourism industry and Piper Palin's lemonade stand along with it.

The Truth

There is a very short story in one of the local AK newspapers showing Piper and friend at a table selling lemonade on one Sunday when the sun is shining. Nothing about angry mobs trying to tear down the table.

Then, there is another story in the ADN reporting the fact that community members are requesting that large tour buses restrict their travel down certain residential streets in Juneau. The current Governor, as usual, plays the victim in this story by twisting it totally to mean that local residents are upset about Piper's trampoline—which has nothing to do with large tour buses of course. But it's just another occasion for Sarah to cry, "Poor me! Poor Piper! Leave my family alone!" Nothing about Piper AT ALL, except for Sarah's faux outrage.

That's it.

Well, except that C4P (if you don't know what this acronym is, someone is sure to mention it in comments and then you can look it up) has turned this local citizen's reasonable request into something very despicable. Joseph Russo has a story (I'm not going to link it) that is guaranteed to bring a tear to the eyes of Sarasites far and wide. Unfortunately he doesn't provide any source, but based on something he heard from some anonymous person, Russo claims that a very unsavory person is trying to destroy Piper Palin's little enterprise selling lemonade.

There is no evidence that Piper is running an ongoing lemonade business that residents are trying to shut down. There is no evidence that anyone was upset about Piper selling lemonade on that one Sunday. There is no evidence that anyone wants a trampoline moved or taken down. There is no evidence that Thoma wants to harm the tourism industry or the Governor's reputation or anything of the sort. "I'm trying to do what I can here to help the neighborhood. I don't want to make this personal between the governor and I," [Thoma] said. "She is obviously coming after me, and I've never met her before."

eyerollYet, if you Google "Piper Palin lemonade" you'll see quite a few sites repeating the unsourced rumor about how this awful man, who had some DWIs in the past, is trying to destroy a little girl's happiness. (IIRC, Dick Cheney and GWB both had DWIs in their past.) To be fair, I need to mention that Thoma went to a Woodstock reunion concert! And he even filed an ethics complaint against former AK Governor Hickel. I guess that's how you know he's a bad, bad person!

Much ado about nothing much, C4P'rs. Do you need someone to file another ethics complaint so you have something else to get your panties in a knot about?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Natural Red and White