Friday, September 22, 2006

Is Savagery Good For America?

Photo of Bush demanding torture (or "alternative" interrogation) by Khue Bui for Newsweek September 25th issue

If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, our uncertainty, our craving, how can we have the time to stop and look deeply into the situation---our own situation, the situation of our beloved one, the situation of our family and of our community, and the situation of our nation and of the other nations?

---Thich Nhat Hanh

Negotiations then turned to the amount of time that a detainee's suffering must last before the tactic amounted to a war crime. Administration officials wanted "prolonged" mental or physical symptoms, while the senators wanted something milder. They settled on "serious and nontransitory mental harm, which need not be prolonged."

---from The Seattle Times edition of the LA Times story by Julian E. Barnes and Richard Simon



The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantánamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

---from Financial Times (London) September 20, 2006 [link]

I can't recall a morning when the headlines were more confusing and even contradictory. The LA Times says "Bush Bows to Senators on Detainees." [link] The Washington Post says, in editorial, "The Abuse Can Continue; Senators won't authorize torture, but they won't prevent it, either." [link] Bloomberg has it that "President to Define Prisoner Abuse in Agreement With Senators By James Rowley Sept. 22 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush would be able to write secret rules on how to treat suspected terrorists during interrogations under an agreement the administration worked out with dissenting Republican senators." The New York Times editorial says, "Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession. About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence." [link]

The bottom line of course is to get some kind of legislation before the election in November to protect the Bush-Cheney gang from prosecution under our own War Crimes Act. Should the Democrats win control of either House or both and regain subpoena power in committee, the business-as-usual of spreading the neo-Con brand freedom might be slowed down a mite. Incidentally, Robert Kennedy Jr. unblinkingly expands his campaign about the "e-government revolution" (that's a Diebold Electronic Elections Systems slogan by the way) in the October 5th issue of Rolling Stone, now online. [link]

But let me ask you this: what does it take to reduce a relatively civilized population to a condition of animal savagery? And if it happens, is that necessarily a bad thing? Animals are creatures of nature with instincts of survival. Savages are people with traditions of tribal gathering, hunting, celebration and warfare that perhaps are closer to nature than citified people. The Wild West was tamed sometimes in savage ways to show who was boss. Is this not how the world always has been? Is this how things really are?

There were reports the last few days about bodies found strewn around Iraq. They show signs of "alternate interrogation" techniques, some of which perhaps caused death. Acid was poured on the people. Electric drills were employed to illicit information. Hot wires burned them. If they die from this...and everyone finds out they did...what lesson does the population learn? Now the United States revives its tradition of getting tough. I'm sure my military friends, particularly from VietNam, will tell me we've always done this stuff, only it's been secret. Yeah, we've got to credit Bush for going public about it...although the photos from our "detention" centers may have had something to do with it. But is all this good for democracy and freedom?

I'd like a clean election this time to find out how Americans really feel about all this. I know there may be too much power and money involved to allow a clean election, but I'd really like to find out. Are we now the tough guys, the fearless rangers, the hanging judges the rest of the world must respect...or else? Are public executions good for the village morale? Is it invigorating and disciplinary at once for the tribe to see the enemy intestines dragged out of his body and into the campfire? Are we ready to enjoy the enemy torn apart by hungry animals in the stadium? Is it all really only a pep rally, with bonfire, before the homecoming game?

What happens to a civilization that goes this way? What does history tell us? Does it matter...when we are on a courageous path of creating our own reality? I have a friend who retired this year. He's a soldier who saw action and suffered from it. He's given his civilian career in a very helpful way to others, but he's maintained a hard edge about life. He knows how to survive and fishes and hunts and always has a weapon on hand. He doesn't take a walk in the woods without a handgun. He's fed up with government and will not be surprised if his pension and other funding vanish. He has a plan: he will live in a cave...and if necessary, eat other humans. He's kidding of course...or is he?

For a lighter view, here's Molly Ivins on Wednesday~~~ [link]

For statistics about torture and how well it works, here are 2 links to current Newsweek articles~~~ [link] [link]


jazzolog said...

Congress will recess through October for November elections at the end of this week. Anticipating some changes in the Republican majority that may result, despite an increasingly flawed electronic election system here, Congressional leaders have to make difficult choices as to what legislation to push through. At the top of the list, it seems, is the Torture Bill. Senator McCain went on television yesterday to make the "compromise" look as good as he could , even as the White House's own National Intelligence Estimate declared Bush's Terror War has made matters much worse around the world . Brent Budowsky, a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit, takes McCain to task this morning for continuing to try to cooperate with this president .

The news media lined up over the weekend in predictable fashion for or against the use of torture as official US policy. What members of Congress and the military have to say this week should tell a story to which hopefully voters will be paying attention. Arlen Specter is among the first. "The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says the compromise deal on terrorism-detainee legislation reached last week 'has to be changed,' and that he will 'vigorously oppose' a section of the bill that strips the detainees of their right to appeal to the federal courts." He's talking about habeas corpus, which of course is the very cornerstone of our system of justice.

Writing in The New York Times this morning Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, titles his piece along the lines of the Golden Rule~~~

The New York Times
September 25, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Do Unto Your Enemy...

IN 2002, I attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, Ga. At “the Schoolhouse,” every new Army infantry officer spent six months studying the basics of his craft, including the rules of war.

I remember a seasoned senior officer explaining the importance of the Geneva Conventions. He said, “When an enemy fighter knows he’ll be treated well by United States forces if he is captured, he is more likely to give up.”

A year later on the streets of Baghdad, I saw countless insurgents surrender when faced with the prospect of a hot meal, a pack of cigarettes and air-conditioning. America’s moral integrity was the single most important weapon my platoon had on the streets of Iraq. It saved innumerable lives, encouraged cooperation with our allies and deterred Iraqis from joining the growing insurgency.

But those days are over. America’s moral standing has eroded, thanks to its flawed rationale for war and scandals like Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and Haditha. The last thing we can afford now is to leave Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions open to reinterpretation, as President Bush proposed to do and can still do under the compromise bill that emerged last week.

Blurring the lines on the letter of Article 3 — it governs the treatment of prisoners of war, prohibiting “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment” — will only make our troops’ tough fight even tougher. It will undermine the power of all the Geneva Conventions, immediately endanger American troops captured by the enemy and create a powerful recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

But the fight over Article 3 concerns not only Al Qaeda and the war in Iraq. It also affects future wars, because when we lower the bar for the treatment of our prisoners, other countries feel justified in doing the same. Four years ago in Liberia, in an attempt to preserve his corrupt authority, President Charles Taylor adopted the Bush administration’s phrase “unlawful combatants” to describe prisoners he wished to try outside of civilian courts. Today Mr. Taylor stands before The Hague accused of war crimes.

It is not hard to imagine that one of our Special Forces soldiers might one day be captured by Iranian forces while investigating a potential nuclear weapons program. What is to stop that soldier from being water-boarded, locked in a cold room for days without sleep as Iranian pop music blares all around him — and finally sentenced to die without a fair trial or the right to see the evidence against him?

If America continues to erode the meaning of the Geneva Conventions, we will cede the ground upon which to prosecute dictators and warlords. We will also become unable to protect our troops if they are perceived as being no more bound by the rule of law than dictators and warlords themselves.

The question facing America is not whether to continue fighting our enemies in Iraq and beyond but how to do it best. My soldiers and I learned the hard way that policy at the point of a gun cannot, by itself, create democracy. The success of America’s fight against terrorism depends more on the strength of its moral integrity than on troop numbers in Iraq or the flexibility of interrogation options.

Several Republican combat veterans, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Senators Lindsay Graham, John McCain and John Warner, have recognized that the president’s stance on Article 3 is a threat to our troops and to our interests. It would be insulting for the president to assume he knows more about war than they do.

But the compromise the president struck with the senators last week leaves the most significant questions unresolved. The veterans must hold their ground — and the White House must recognize that our troops need all the moral authority they can get.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Yesterday Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean American writer and professor at Duke University, contributed a more personal view of what torture produces in human terms from her memories of fleeing the coup that toppled Allende. It's here in The Washington Post~~~

jazzolog said...

The healthy man does not torture others - generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.

---Carl Jung

Brave men do not gather by thousands to torture and murder a single individual, so gagged and bound he cannot make even feeble resistance or defense.

---Ida B. Wells

The coward wretch whose hand and heart
Can bear to torture aught below,
Is ever first to quail and start
From the slightest pain or equal foe.

---Bertrand Russell

The New York Times
September 28, 2006
Rushing Off a Cliff

Here’s what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans’ fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws — while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser.

Republicans say Congress must act right now to create procedures for charging and trying terrorists — because the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks are available for trial. That’s pure propaganda. Those men could have been tried and convicted long ago, but President Bush chose not to. He held them in illegal detention, had them questioned in ways that will make real trials very hard, and invented a transparently illegal system of kangaroo courts to convict them.

It was only after the Supreme Court issued the inevitable ruling striking down Mr. Bush’s shadow penal system that he adopted his tone of urgency. It serves a cynical goal: Republican strategists think they can win this fall, not by passing a good law but by forcing Democrats to vote against a bad one so they could be made to look soft on terrorism.

Last week, the White House and three Republican senators announced a terrible deal on this legislation that gave Mr. Bush most of what he wanted, including a blanket waiver for crimes Americans may have committed in the service of his antiterrorism policies. Then Vice President Dick Cheney and his willing lawmakers rewrote the rest of the measure so that it would give Mr. Bush the power to jail pretty much anyone he wants for as long as he wants without charging them, to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, to authorize what normal people consider torture, and to deny justice to hundreds of men captured in error.

These are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

•There is not enough time to fix these bills, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seems to have misplaced its spine. If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it.

We don’t blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they’ll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won’t remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.

They’ll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation’s version of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

jazzolog said...

In Case I Disappear
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 29 September 2006

I have been told a thousand times at least, in the years I have spent reporting on the astonishing and repugnant abuses, lies and failures of the Bush administration, to watch my back. "Be careful," people always tell me. "These people are capable of anything. Stay off small planes, make sure you aren't being followed." A running joke between my mother and me is that she has a "safe room" set up for me in her cabin in the woods, in the event I have to flee because of something I wrote or said.

I always laughed and shook my head whenever I heard this stuff. Extreme paranoia wrapped in the tinfoil of conspiracy, I thought. This is still America, and these Bush fools will soon pass into history, I thought. I am a citizen, and the First Amendment hasn't yet been red-lined, I thought.

Matters are different now.

It seems, perhaps, that the people who warned me were not so paranoid. It seems, perhaps, that I was not paranoid enough. Legislation passed by the Republican House and Senate, legislation now marching up to the Republican White House for signature, has shattered a number of bedrock legal protections for suspects, prisoners, and pretty much anyone else George W. Bush deems to be an enemy.

So much of this legislation is wretched on the surface. Habeas corpus has been suspended for detainees suspected of terrorism or of aiding terrorism, so the Magna Carta-era rule that a person can face his accusers is now gone. Once a suspect has been thrown into prison, he does not have the right to a trial by his peers. Suspects cannot even stand in representation of themselves, another ancient protection, but must accept a military lawyer as their defender.

Illegally-obtained evidence can be used against suspects, whether that illegal evidence was gathered abroad or right here at home. To my way of thinking, this pretty much eradicates our security in persons, houses, papers, and effects, as stated in the Fourth Amendment, against illegal searches and seizures.

Speaking of collecting evidence, the torture of suspects and detainees has been broadly protected by this new legislation. While it tries to delineate what is and is not acceptable treatment of detainees, in the end, it gives George W. Bush the final word on what constitutes torture. US officials who use cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to extract information from detainees are now shielded from prosecution.

It was two Supreme Court decisions, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that compelled the creation of this legislation. The Hamdi decision held that a prisoner has the right of habeas corpus, and can challenge his detention before an impartial judge. The Hamdan decision held that the military commissions set up to try detainees violated both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions.

In short, the Supreme Court wiped out virtually every legal argument the Bush administration put forth to defend its extraordinary and dangerous behavior. The passage of this legislation came after a scramble by Republicans to paper over the torture and murder of a number of detainees. As columnist Molly Ivins wrote on Wednesday, "Of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the innocent that has already taken place."

It seems almost certain that, at some point, the Supreme Court will hear a case to challenge the legality of this legislation, but even this is questionable. If a detainee is not allowed access to a fair trial or to the evidence against him, how can he bring a legal challenge to a court? The legislation, in anticipation of court challenges like Hamdi and Hamdan, even includes severe restrictions on judicial review over the legislation itself.

The Republicans in Congress have managed, at the behest of Mr. Bush, to draft a bill that all but erases the judicial branch of the government. Time will tell whether this aspect, along with all the others, will withstand legal challenges. If such a challenge comes, it will take time, and meanwhile there is this bill. All of the above is deplorable on its face, indefensible in a nation that prides itself on Constitutional rights, protections and the rule of law.

Underneath all this, however, is where the paranoia sets in.

Underneath all this is the definition of "enemy combatant" that has been established by this legislation. An "enemy combatant" is now no longer just someone captured "during an armed conflict" against our forces. Thanks to this legislation, George W. Bush is now able to designate as an "enemy combatant" anyone who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States."

Consider that language a moment. "Purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" is in the eye of the beholder, and this administration has proven itself to be astonishingly impatient with criticism of any kind. The broad powers given to Bush by this legislation allow him to capture, indefinitely detain, and refuse a hearing to any American citizen who speaks out against Iraq or any other part of the so-called "War on Terror."

If you write a letter to the editor attacking Bush, you could be deemed as purposefully and materially supporting hostilities against the United States. If you organize or join a public demonstration against Iraq, or against the administration, the same designation could befall you. One dark-comedy aspect of the legislation is that senators or House members who publicly disagree with Bush, criticize him, or organize investigations into his dealings could be placed under the same designation. In effect, Congress just gave Bush the power to lock them up.

By writing this essay, I could be deemed an "enemy combatant." It's that simple, and very soon, it will be the law. I always laughed when people told me to be careful. I'm not laughing anymore.

In case I disappear, remember this. America is an idea, a dream, and that is all. We have borders and armies and citizens and commerce and industry, but all this merely makes us like every other nation on this Earth. What separates us is the idea, the simple idea, that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are our organizing principles. We can think as we please, speak as we please, write as we please, worship as we please, go where we please. We are protected from the kinds of tyranny that inspired our creation as a nation in the first place.

That was the idea. That was the dream. It may all be over now, but once upon a time, it existed. No good idea ever truly dies. The dream was here, and so was I, and so were you.

and on the other side~~~,2933,216557,00.html

jazzolog said...

Uncomfortably Numb to Torture
As America's politicians, media and citizens get used to wartime abuses, Bush's horrific policies get a pass.
By JoAnn Wypijewski
JOANN WYPIJEWSKI covered the Abu Ghraib trials at Ft. Hood, Texas, for Harper's magazine.
September 30, 2006

A YEAR AGO this week, a military jury convicted Army Reserve Pfc. Lynndie R. England of maltreating detainees. The face of the Abu Ghraib scandal, England is forever fixed in photographs as the girl with the bowl cut and the pixie smile who pointed at Iraqi prisoners while they were forced to masturbate and who held a writhing, naked man by a leash. Before sentencing, the Army prosecutor thundered: "Who can think of a person who has disgraced this uniform more? Who has held the U.S. military up for more dishonor?"

Indeed, it was that uniform — not the breach of immutable standards of decency held by this nation — that put England in the dock and eventually in prison. It was that uniform and nothing else, because if England and the others charged in the scandal had been civilian interrogators instead of military police, they would be among the privileged torturers whom President Bush and members of both parties in Congress are determined to keep on the job and to shield from future prosecution.

Abu Ghraib has become shorthand for the kind of abhorrent behavior that, in the latest discussion about interrogation techniques, nobody ventures to allow. In that sense, Abu Ghraib is the new American standard, a negative one, marking the line that must not be crossed. A positive standard — that is, humane treatment of unarmed prisoners — being inconceivable, debate turns on permissible degrees of inhumanity; "rough stuff," as New York Times columnist David Brooks and others justifying pain say lightly.

So here is the bitter joke: England, the public emblem of torture, was convicted for nothing so awful as what the president and his flank have chosen to protect. Her crime was to smile, to pose, to jeer at naked, powerless men, and to fail to stop their humiliations or to report them afterward. She did not shackle men in stress positions, strip them of their clothes, deny them sleep, force them to stand for hours or days, douse them with icy water, deprive them of heat or food or subject them to incessant noise or screaming.

Despite Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's compromise, none of those brutalities is expressly outlawed in the legislation that Congress just passed and the president is about to sign.

Such brutalities were regular fare at Abu Ghraib because interrogation, by civilian and military personnel, was regular fare. But interrogation was largely sidestepped in the Abu Ghraib trials, in which prosecutors focused on what soldiers did for "fun," for "laughs," with common criminals "of no value" to U.S. intelligence. The infamous pyramid and sexual mortifications were not part of interrogations, so these formed the centerpiece of criminal charges. The daily application of fear and cold and want and pain — what Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., the putative ringleader of the scandal at Abu Ghraib, called his job of "terrorizing prisoners" — was an accompaniment to questioning, so it went unpunished.

"We just humiliated them," England said; it could have been worse. For many detainees, it was. Two days before England was photographed laughing at prisoners, Manadel Jamadi died in a shower stall at Abu Ghraib. Army investigators found that he entered the stall under his own power with civilian interrogators said to be from the CIA. Later, soldiers smiled in pictures with his corpse. The interrogators had vanished, and no one was charged.

Congress would never justify murder by interrogators, but it hasn't insisted that anyone be held accountable for Jamadi's death either. There's a similar indifference to accountability in the one case in the Abu Ghraib scandal unavoidably linked to interrogation.

The Army never took a sworn statement from the prisoner who was forced to stand atop a box, draped in a hood and cape and told he would get a shock if he moved. Then the Army conveniently lost him, and though the MPs who improvised his ghoulish torment went to prison, the civilian interrogator who the MPs said instructed them to keep the prisoner awake was never charged. Take away the bogus wires and the iconic costume and this is the kind of treatment the president says is absolutely necessary for our safety.

The bold opposition wags a finger but leaves it to the president to set the rules. Where is the outrage? Like England and the others who went from good to bad, or bad to worse, through acquaintance with cruelty, finally accommodating themselves to it or even administering it, the citizenry, the media and the politicians have become insensible to horror.

Years of conditioning to abuse and war have had a numbing effect. So the president's advocacy of an "alternate set of procedures" for detainees gets a pass. The Democrats' official response, a pass. The McCain compromise, a pass masquerading as courageous dissent. Public reaction to legislating indefinite detention, the admissibility of hearsay, prosecutions based on torture, a pass.

As at Abu Ghraib, up is down, day is night.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times,0,69229.story (Warning: photo of Lynndie at Abu Ghraib)