As Rebecca Gordon notes in her new book, Mainstreaming Torture, polls find greater support in the United States for torture now than when Bush was president. And it’s not hard to see why that would be the case.
A new book examines the ethics of modern American torture.
Fifteen years ago, it was possible to pretend the U.S. government opposed torture. Then it became widely known that the government tortured. And it was believed (with whatever accuracy) that officials had tried to keep the torturing secret. Next it became clear that nobody would be punished, that in fact top officials responsible for torture would be permitted to openly defend what they had done as good and noble.
The idea was spread around that the torture was stopping, but the cynical could imagine it must be continuing in secret, the partisan could suppose the halt was only temporary, the trusting could assume torture would be brought back as needed, and the attentive could be and have been aware that the government has gone right on torturing to this day with no end in sight.
Anyone who bases their morality on what their government does (or how Hollywood supports it) might be predicted to have moved in the direction of supporting torture.
Gordon’s book, like most others, speaks of torture as being largely in the past — even while admitting that it isn’t really. “Bush administration-era policies” are acknowledged to be ongoing, and yet somehow they retain the name “Bush administration-era policies,” and discussion of their possible prosecution in a court of law does not consider the control that the current chief perpetrator has over law enforcement and his obvious preference not to see a predecessor prosecuted for something he’s doing.
President-Elect Obama made clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be “looking forward” instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward. By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: “beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike.” In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoned a media outlet to report being tortured. As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military’s written policy would lead one to expect.
In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had “banned torture” by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the “banning”) Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney said that Obama’s continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney’s) authorization of torture. David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney’s assertion — also supported by Leon Panetta’s confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. In fact, it did. The New York Times quickly reported that the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries. The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it. Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.
As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation. It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure. And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice. While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).
“Look at the current situation,” Obama said in 2013, “where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?” Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.
The mainstreaming of torture in U.S. policy and entertainment has stimulated a burst of torture use around the globe, even as the U.S. State Department has never stopped claiming to oppose torture when it’s engaged in by anyone other than the U.S. government. If “Bush-era policies” is taken to refer to public relations policies, then there really is something to discuss. The U.S. government tortured before, during, and after Bush and Cheney ran the show. But it was during those years that people talked about it, and it is with regard to those years that people still talk about it.
The Associated Press is denying claims by two of its writers that cost-savings was a motivation. Rather, says editor Richard Giardino, an error resulted in the accidental re-publication last week of an article on a Senate committee report on torture, an article that had originally been published in 2011.
In defense of the wire service, Giardino noted in a 2,000-word explanation, that “while the article may have been dated, it ran in dozens of newspapers without anyone noticing.” In fact, wrote Giardino, were it not for a couple of bloggers, the incident “might have passed unnoticed.”
I think he has a point. Over the past eight years, there have been 73 separate moments in which major news stories have reported widely across the U.S. media that it has for the first time become clear that former President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, or their subordinates ordered the commission of torture. That count does not include several interviews, and memoirs, in which Bush and Cheney have openly admitted to the crime, bragged about it, or professed the sentiment that they “would do it again.”
While torture has been a violation of international law and U.S. treaty obligations, and a felony under U.S. law, since before George W. Bush moved into the White House, indictments have not been forthcoming. Instead, a series of investigations and reports, and censorship thereof, have generated stories around the possibility that individuals might have done what we’ve already seen them confess to on camera.
Questioned on CBS Evening News on Monday, Giardino became agitated. “Look,” he said, “if we just put out the sort of fact-based news that bloggers say they want, we’d be describing top authorities in this country as routine violators of the law. We have to find a balance between straight-forward reporting and the understanding that we aren’t locking up presidents and CIA directors because the investigations are ongoing. And when the investigations are ongoing for years and years and years, then breaking the same news more than once is actually more accurate than inventing new details that haven’t taken place.”
During the past eight years, thousands of U.S. news reports have discussed the possibility of criminalizing torture, without noting that it already is criminal. Frank Cretino, associate editor of the Washington Post, defends this record, saying, “The fact that torture is already banned does not negate the act of banning it, particularly as most people do not know it is already banned. Of course, we could so inform our readers, but that would be like noting that politicians take bribes, or indicating wherever relevant that our owner makes more money from the CIA than from our paper, or recognizing that torture is just one aspect of a collection of actions made criminal by the illegality of the wars they are part of, or pointing out to people that the date is April 1 at the beginning of a story.
Forza Italia! After years of appeals, Italy’s highest court has upheld the conviction of 23 Americans involved in a CIA kidnapping of a man off the street in Milan, whom the CIA shipped to Egypt to be brutally tortured. This ruling could result in Italy demanding their extradition. For, you see, the 23 are living comfortably in the United States. They look just like decent people. They blend in. I don’t advise Italy to kidnap (or “rendition”) these Americans just because President Obama says that’s legal. But I do encourage Italy to demand extradition. And I hope that one or another of them will be so good as to seek sanctuary in an Ecuadorean Embassy, just to see how many heads explode in Washington as people try to determine what they’re supposed to think of that.
For background on this case, sadly still relevant, here’s something I wrote on November 6, 2010:
One Place to Cut Spending: Kidnapping and Torture
By David Swanson
I know it seems like more of a noble sacrifice to cut spending on things people less fortunate than ourselves need, but can somebody explain to me why it wouldn’t be at least that noble to eliminate the budget of the CIA, which serves no one?
The Washington Post and the Obama administration have been busy telling us that it’s legal to kidnap people and send them to countries that torture. They may call it “renditioning” to nations that use “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but a new book details what this means in English.
A man was walking near his home in Milano, Italy, and was stopped and questioned by a policeman. When they had been engaged in conversation for some minutes, the side door of a van parked behind the man crashed open with a thunderous sound, two extremely large and strong men grabbed the civilian and hauled him inside, and the door slammed shut three seconds after it had opened, as the van accelerated and the two men hit and kicked their victim repeatedly in the dark of the van’s interior, pounding his head, chest, stomach, and legs. They stopped. They stuffed a gag in his mouth and put a hood over his head, as they cinched cords tight around his wrists and ankles. Hours later they threw him into another vehicle. An hour later they took him out, stood him up, cut his clothes off, shoved something hard up his anus, stuck a diaper and pajamas on him, wrapped his head almost entirely with duct tape, and tossed him in an airplane.
The torture he received when he got where he was going left him nearly dead, prematurely aged, and barely able to walk. It was US-sponsored and Egyptian administered. And it is described in all of its almost unbearable detail in Steve Hendricks’ “A Kidnapping in Milan: The CIA on Trial.”
Believe it or not, most of this book is enjoyable. Hendricks knows the United States and Italy and how to write about one for readers in the other. His remarks on Italian culture are outdone only by his background on Muslim terrorism, his account of who this kidnapping victim was, and the inclusion of dialogue picked up by Italian wiretaps of terrorism suspects’ private conversations. But just as terrific reading are Hendricks’ histories of the practice of rendition, of the use of torture, of U.S.-Italian relations, of domestic Italian terrorism, and of modern Egypt.
Not to ruin the punch line — and this has long been public knowledge — the kidnapping, transporting, imprisoning, and torturing of this man and many others is paid for with U.S. tax dollars. I’m sure it all sounds very important and rational given how demonically evil Muslims are supposed to be. But how do you justify the dozens of CIA agents living it up in Italy’s most luxurious hotels while plotting this operation? And how do you rationalize the damage done to U.S. relations with Italy? Of course, Italians quickly discovered that the CIA was behind this crime. It would have been harder to track them if they’d worn neon signs on their chests. They used cell phones and frequent flyer accounts that were easily identified, not to mention names and addresses similar to their real ones. Hendricks describes their methods as Keystone Kommandoism.
No doubt some of these CIA bunglers and butchers were outsourced and untrained, but they also believed they were above the law. They thought they had immunity. Italian law enforcement thought otherwise. For decades during the Cold War, the CIA kept an army and caches of weapons in Italy to be used if communists were ever able to gain significant political power. A long list of abuses has come to light and no one ever been held accountable. Magistrate Armando Spataro, like many Italians, adored the United States. When reporters asked him why he had indicted two dozen CIA agents, Spataro said he was opposing lawlessness, not his beloved United States. He warned of following the path of Mussolini. He pointed out that Italy had defeated domestic terrorists with the rule of law. He showed that the new U.S. lawlessness was just encouraging terror. His record of prosecuting leftist terrorists and his indictment for terrorism of the victim himself of the U.S. kidnapping made claims of bias difficult to pin on Spataro. The approach resorted to by the U.S. media was — to the extent possible — to ignore the whole thing, especially when Spataro won convictions of the agents tried in absentia.
The Italian legal system is one thing, its government in Rome quite another. The latter will never ask the United States to extradite the convicts unless the U.S. president requests it first, just as the United States would never kidnap a man in Italy without telling the Italian president and the Italian spy service first. So, none of the culprits are behind bars, but they are unable to live in or travel to Europe. And a strong signal has been sent about the likelihood of Italy tolerating more such crimes. This is the sort of message Nancy Pelosi would have sent by impeaching Bush even if the Senate had not convicted him.
Hendricks tracked down most of the scofflaws. They’re spread around the United States engaged in a variety of work, most of them completely unknown to the public. The man chiefly responsible, on the other hand, is undergoing a public rehabilitation and it about to open a presidential library, while the man responsible for the continued practice and for the freedom of his predecessor has two more years in the White House.
“Self-purification through suffering is easier, I tell you: easier — than that destiny which you are paving for many of them by wholesale acquittals in court. You are merely planting cynicism in their souls.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The United States Congress is outraged. Russia, it seems, may have wrongly imprisoned, tortured, and murdered a whistleblower. In the land of the free, our good representatives are outraged, I tell you. And not just I. NPR will tell you. This calls for action. There’s a bill in the Senate and a bill in the House. The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.
Who wouldn’t support the rule of law and accountability?
Well, let me think.
Oh, I know. The United States Congress.
Bush and Cheney are selling books confessing to the crime of war and all that comes with it, including lawless imprisonment and torture. They have openly confessed in their books and on television, repeatedly, to a form of torture that the current Attorney General of the United States admits is torture. Bush’s torture program tortured numerous people to death. And what has Congress wrought?
No enforcement of subpoenas.
No defunding of operations.
No criminalizing of secrecy.
No protection of whistleblowers.
No mandating of diplomacy, reparations, foreign aid, or commitments to international standards.
In other words, we have no Congress with the right to talk about the Rule of Law or Accountability without being mocked.
But keep hope alive.
Change is on the way.
Up in the sky!
It’s Captain Peace Prize!
Obama launches wars without bothering to lie to Congress or the United Nations, has formalized the powers of lawless imprisonment, rendition, and murder, and places the protection of Bush and Cheney above almost anything else — certainly above the rule of law or accountability. Read the rest of this entry →
Legal and Humane Frameworks for Opposing TortureCases come in by the thousands from all over the world. A man was beaten and whipped. A woman was beaten and raped. A boy was hooded with three empty sand bags in 100-degree heat all day, starved, beaten, and kept in stress positions. Alleged suicide victims had their hands tied behind their backs, had boot prints on their heads, or turned out to have been electrocuted. There are torture victims covered with cigarette burns, and torture victims with no visible injuries. They need the expert assistance of doctors and lawyers to heal, to win asylum, and to create any sort of accountability in courts of law.
I’ve participated in countless nonviolent protests of torture, including congressional lobbying, panels and seminars, online petition writing, bird-dogging of politicians and judges and professors. I’ve met victims and told their stories and reviewed their books. But I had never spent a day with a crowd of lawyers and doctors who deal with the medical and court struggles arising out of torture cases, not until I attended a conference in February at American University in Washington, DC, entitled “Forensic Evidence in the Fight Against Torture.”
The doctors, lawyers, and others attending and speaking at the conference were from the United States and many other countries. It was not lost on them that they were addressing something different from a “natural” disaster. In their public comments and private discussions I found universal agreement that torture has gained dramatically greater, world-wide public acceptance during the past decade, and that the United States has been the leader in promoting that greater acceptance. While Juan Mendez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, pointed his finger at Hollywood movies and TV shows in which harsh interrogation techniques succeed in aiding crime solvers, several experts independently told me that by granting legal immunity to torturers, the United States has led by example.
It may be hard to recall that a mere decade ago torture was almost universally condemned here, and had been almost universally condemned in the Western world for centuries (racist exceptions for slavery excluded). By 2004, 43 percent of U.S. respondents to a Pew Research Center survey were saying that torture was often or sometimes justified to gain key information. By 2009, 49 percent said so. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that public support for torture increased in the United States from 27 percent in 2004 to 42 percent in 2010. AP-GfK polling found U.S. public support for torture at 38 percent in 2005, increasing to 52 percent by 2009.
That was the society I left behind as I entered the conference rooms of AU’s Washington College of Law to join an international gathering of professionals who still viewed torture as the evil it had been considered by the authors of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which included an absolute ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
In broad historical terms, many forms of violence are being eliminated or are diminishing significantly in frequency, in the United States and abroad. But the flipside of recognizing that there is nothing “inevitable” or “natural” about cannibalism or infanticide or the burning of witches, or—for that matter—fist fights, spanking, child abuse, spousal abuse, or cruelty to animals, is that trends away from such practices can easily be reversed. We may be living through such a reversal on torture.
Some of the torture cases discussed at the conference involved U.S. victims; most did not. Some implicated governments that receive support from the United States, such as that of Bahrain. So the United States is unable to advocate against torture from a persuasive position to governments it opposes, not only because of its own conduct but also because of the conduct of governments it supports, including the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan. This problem was confirmed for me by various conference attendees, including U.S. government grant recipients and some federal employees.
Our government helps fund support of torture victims, both through the Office of Refugee Resettlement and through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), both of which create grants to aid the victims of torture by any government other than the United States. The United Nations, partially funded by the United States, provides grants without that limitation. I spoke with participants at the conference who worked at centers in the United States helping torture victims from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Fiji, and other countries. There is a National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs that was holding its own meetings in DC around the same time. While these groups were new to me, I had worked in the past with the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition, an organization that seems to bridge the gap between treating victims and addressing the root problem of torture acceptance through political mobilization.
Examination of how individual cases of torture are being addressed suggests another trend of recent years. Even as torture has been gaining acceptance, a nonprofit complex of treatment centers and non-governmental organizations has been developing the tools with which to more expertly diagnose, document, and testify on torture, and to aid the victims. While in the United States best-selling books by former president George W. Bush and former vice president Dick Cheney contain passages in which both openly admit to authorizing the waterboarding prisoners, numerous other nations have been codifying the procedures of the “Istanbul Protocol: Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” published by the United Nations in 2004. This conference, in fact, was the culmination of a three-year project funded by the European Union.
While both of these trends—the acceptance of torture and the development of a professional system of response to it—lead to greater public awareness of torture, they have opposite effects in terms of the amount of torture that occurs. It’s not clear whether torture is on the rise or is declining in practice, but I heard at the conference many stories of systematic state torture and careful documentation thereof, and many stories of aid provided to victims including helping them to obtain asylum. I didn’t hear any stories of top government officials being held seriously accountable for torture.
The possible exception to that rule is Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt overthrown by nonviolent protest in 2011. Speaking at the conference, Mostafa Hussein of the El Nadim Center for Psychological Treatment and Rehabilitation in Egypt told the story of Khaled Mohamed Saeed, a young man who was beaten to death by Egyptian secret police in June 2010. The police lied about the cause of death, but photos of their victim’s horribly disfigured corpse went viral online, and public pressure grew. Experts from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) produced a report. (The IRCT was a sponsor of the conference I attended.) Eventually two low-ranking police officers were given seven-year prison sentences, an outcome widely seen as insufficient after decades of systematically torturing thousands. Saeed was seen as a martyr, and the resulting outrage was channeled into the movement that took over Tahrir Square in Cairo in January 2011 and drove Mubarak out of power. Protesters painted Saeed’s portrait on the wall of the Ministry of the Interior.
But Hussein told me that the public prosecutor hasn’t changed, and dictatorship hasn’t been dismantled. Although activists entered the Ministry of the Interior in March 2011, he said, they brought away very few documents, destroying many more. Omar Suleiman, the former head of Egyptian intelligence, is out of office and being sued by an Australian who says Suleiman oversaw his torture in Egypt on behalf of the United States prior to shipping him to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Suleiman is also accused of having performed a key service for the United States by torturing Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi until he said that Saddam Hussein was tied to al Qaeda, a statement al-Libi later recanted and which conflicts absurdly with the facts. Will Suleiman be brought to justice? Mostafa Hussein wasn’t holding his breath. “Only the faces have changed,” he said of the new Egyptian government.
After Tunisia and Egypt, the Arab Spring of 2011 emerged in the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain, a protectorate of the United States and Saudi Arabia, and the port where the U.S. Navy keeps its Fifth Fleet. Bahrain has hired U.S. police chief John Timoney, who made his name by infiltrating and brutalizing nonviolent protesters in Miami and Philadelphia, to lead the crackdown on protesters in Bahrain. On the weekend of the conference on torture in DC, U.S. friends and allies of mine were being tear-gassed, beaten, and arrested in the streets of Bahrain. Speaking at the conference was Dr. Ala’a Shehabi, a British-born Bahraini civil rights activist, economist, writer, and a founding member of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO) established in January 2012.
Shehabi said that, according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry established by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, 3,000 protesters have been arrested in the past year, 500 of whom are still in prison. 4,500 people have lost jobs. There has been systemic excessive force and torture, with over sixty documented deaths, according to Shehabi. The commission’s report finds that torture has been used systematically as a deliberate government policy both for compelling confessions and for retribution and punishment. The report also found a culture of impunity and recommended prosecutions. But, said Shehabi, there hasn’t been a single conviction, and torture continues, including at the National Security Agency, the basement of which the commissioners were not permitted to enter. The judicial system in Bahrain still allows forced confessions as evidence and dismisses all allegations of torture.
A forensic doctor from Turkey, working for the IRCT, also attended the conference. She had produced expert opinions on torture cases in Bahrain that disproved claims made by the government, which routinely blames the deaths and scars of torture on responses to “resisting arrest.” This is dangerous work in Bahrain, where doctors and lawyers who try to help are themselves targeted. Thus far, fifty doctors have been prosecuted for treating protesters. Some doctors, having lost their jobs and been tortured themselves, are helping out at the rehabilitation center. However, Bahraini doctors are not allowed to study, be licensed in, or practice forensic medicine. That’s a job for the government. Not one psychologist has been found willing and able to assist. And only a handful of lawyers are putting up a defense for those charged with crimes for nonviolent demonstrations.
The man sitting next to me during the discussion of Bahrain turned out to be Mohammed Isa Al-Tajer, a lawyer currently representing over 150 protesters in Bahrain. He was himself imprisoned for three and a half months, tortured, and kept in solitary confinement last year. When he was arrested on April 15, 2011, the government also seized his computers, documents, mobile phones, and office keys, compromising his clients’ confidentiality. He still faces charges.
At the conclusion of a discussion of all-too-similar torture practices in Mexico and Zimbabwe, someone asked about the value of offering trainings for police in the requirements of the Istanbul Protocol. Exactly zero people in the room expressed a belief that such trainings would have much value in these countries. One person expressed the opinion that it would be of greater value to get these nations to ratify the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which would allow monitoring of interrogation sites. Others responded to this with accounts of secret sites and even ad hoc torture sites, which in Zimbabwe have even included hospitals. Several people passionately declared that the only thing that would actually work to stop the torture would be to end impunity and hold individuals accountable, especially the most powerful individuals. Ala’a Shehabi said that what was needed was fundamental governmental change from dictatorship to democracy.
Of course, a government can call itself a democracy while treating torture as a legal policy option. On the Monday following the conference, the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, filed a ruling against a petitioner seeking asylum who claimed that he would likely be tortured if sent back to India. Regardless of the merits of that ruling, it was made by Judge Jay Bybee, who had been appointed to his position by President George W. Bush after obediently signing off on memos legitimizing torture in the U.S. Department of Justice.
The asylum process was a major topic at the conference. Doctors and lawyers from Germany, New Zealand, and the United States described their experiences providing expert reports and testimony for asylum seekers. Roger Haines from New Zealand provided evidence that expert forensic reports detailing ingested substances, lesions found on the body, bone fissures or fractures indicating blunt force trauma, and so forth can make the difference in obtaining asylum. He also noted that an expectation has now developed that weighs against applicants lacking such reports. One example he cited was a case from Canada decided against the applicant by the Convention Against Torture committee in 2010. This man had been arrested and tortured in 1995 in Uzbekistan, Haines said. He fled to the United Arab Emirates and then to Germany, where his request for asylum was rejected. He tried to seek asylum in Norway, using a false name, and was rejected. He then tried Canada in September 2001 and was rejected “on credibility grounds.” Canada pointed out that he had no medical report from Uzbekistan. The CAT committee also rejected his claim, pointing out that he had no medical report from 1995 in Uzbekistan or from 2001 in Canada. Haines pointed out that torturers don’t usually provide medical reports with their services and that a report from six years later might not have shown anything at all.
The truth is that many torture victims don’t have visible injuries. Mental injuries can be examined by experts, whose testimony can at least suggest the likelihood that someone has been tortured or not. Their testimony can also assist judges and officials in understanding why torture victims might have difficulty coherently retelling their entire experience.
Mendez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur, described torture as prevalent and widespread: ”Some time ago we thought abolition was around the corner.” But, he added, no one thinks that now. Instead, he said it will take much more work and imagination to eradicate it. Mendez then proceeded to argue for an inclusive definition of the actions to be abolished. In Mendez’s view, solitary confinement and death row (for any period of time) meet the threshold of both “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” and torture, both of which are illegal. The United States has tens of thousands of people in solitary confinement, and still allows the death penalty. Mendez believes solitary confinement for over fifteen days should be absolutely forbidden. (Incidentally, following the conference Mendez formally accused the U.S. government of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment towards Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who was held in solitary confinement for almost a year on suspicion of being a major source for WikiLeaks.)
Mendez argued for greater educational efforts by forensic scientists. ”In daily life,” he said, “we talk about torture without the details. But it is the details that make a difference to our moral sense.” He also proposed forensic science as an alternative to harsh interrogation in the task of solving crimes, a moral and legal but also more effective alternative. That may be a lesson that even Hollywood is learning to accept as it proliferates crime-solving dramas with forensic scientist heroes.
Mendez rejected the notion that torture can work. Of course, some confessions will be true, he said, but others won’t be, whether in the imaginary ticking time-bomb scenario or otherwise. Meanwhile, he added, societies pay a heavy price for engaging in torture, damaging innocents and their families but also the institutions that do the torturing.
Let me end on something of a positive note.
It comes from the remarks of Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers in the UK. He has acted in significant recent human rights cases in the UK, including those of Al Skeini, Al-Jedda, and that of Rose Gentle, who sued Prime Minister Tony Blair for the death of her son as a soldier in Iraq. Shiner represents the family of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi man kicked and beaten to death while in British custody in 2003. The UK, Shiner explained, has done everything in Iraq that the United States has, including hooding prisoners. But the UK judicial system allows torture cases to be brought to court.
Shiner and his colleagues argued that hooding qualifies as cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, that it had been banned by the Ministry of Defense, and that all such policies of modern scar-free torture (hooding, stress positions, and deprivation of food, water, or sleep) had been banned by the UK in 1972. But British troops were hooding Iraqis, including Baha Mousa, with multiple sand bags in extreme heat for many hours. In Baha Mousa’s case and every other case known, Shiner said, the hooding was combined with other exacerbating factors creating medical risk. In this case, as well, the IRCT helped out with a statement pointing to numerous medical risks from hooding, including asphyxia and heat-related problems. Hooding also distances the torturer and thereby exacerbates torture, makes identification of the torturer by the victim more difficult, and spreads as a practice when photos are released, as in the case of the images of U.S. Army torture from Abu Ghraib prison brought to public attention in 2004.
So, why was hooding standard practice in Iraq? Shiner answered his own question: The invasion was illegal. It was an invasion along with the United States. The United States does not respect international law. And records were not being kept.
Shiner and his colleagues compelled the government of the UK to hold an extensive inquiry on the case of Baha Mousa, which released a report in September 2011. On October 3, 2011, the High Court ruled on another case brought by Shiner, that of Alaa’ Nassif Jassim al-Bazzouni. The court ruled that hooding is always cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. Shiner welcomed the decision, noting it means no UK forces anywhere may be associated with hooding and that any UK troop who thinks another state is hooding is required to report it.
I discussed the Baha Mousa case with a Professor Vivienne Nathanson, who was attending the conference from the British Medical Association. She pointed out that a doctor and a chaplain had witnessed hooding and beating but had done nothing, and that the report had recommended prosecution. “Sins of omission need to be prosecuted,” she said, as the day’s meetings wrapped up and the world went about its business.
Not yet 30, Evan Knappenberger has already lived several lives. His story destroys the U.S. government’s case against whistleblower Bradley Manning, exposes the toxic mix of fraud and incompetence that creates U.S. war policies, and highlights the damage so often done to soldiers who come home without visible injuries.
Knappenberger, seen in this video, was trained as an “intelligence analyst” at the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Training Center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona in 2003 and 2004, the same school attended by Bradley Manning. In April of this year, the PBS show Frontline, responding to an article Knappenberger had published, flew him to Los Angeles on a private jet, and interviewed him for four hours.
Knappenberger told Frontline that he, like Manning, had had access to the U.S. government’s SIPRNet database when he had been in Iraq. Knappenberger told Frontline that 1,400 U.S. government agencies put their information on SIPRNet, and that 2 million employees were given access to it. SIPRNet has secret blogs, secret discussions, and its own secret Google search engine. At one point, the Pentagon encouraged gambling on SIPRNet on the likelihood of future terrorist attacks. Knappenberger also pointed out that the United States had given the Iraqi Army access to the database, knowing full well that many members of the Iraqi Army were also on the U.S. target list as enemies fighting U.S. troops.
Knappenberger was in Iraq in 2006, but said he believes the practice of sharing SIPRNet with the Iraqi Army began in 2005. The U.S. Army ran cables to laptops in Iraqi command posts, and gave each post a CPOF (command post of the future) super computer. Each Iraqi command post had access to everything Bradley Manning allegedly leaked to Wikileaks. At some point in 2006, the U.S. Army decided to get serious about security by assigning two U.S. soldiers with security clearances to guard each site. Each soldier was on guard for 12 hours and off for 12. Another step taken to boost security was the creation of passwords to access SIPRNet, but because no one could remember the passwords they were written on sticky notes and stuck to the backs of the computers. Knappenberger says he had the password on the back of his computer and has read that every computer in Manning’s unit had it too.
So, Knappenberger related this kind of information to Frontline for four hours and says that for three or four months afterwards he expected to go to prison for violating nondisclosure agreements. He popped a lot of PTSD pills and gained a huge amount of weight as a result of nervousness, he says. Then, the day before he expected the Frontline story to air, he says, the show told him it would not be airing. Frontline was afraid of being held liable for inducing Knappenberger to violate his nondisclosure agreements.
Knappenberger has made the same information public without any charges being brought against him. Frontline would simply have made it more public. Like Bradley Manning, Frontline would not have provided enemies of the United States with tools to be used against us. Rather, like Bradley Manning, Frontline would have informed more of us what our government was doing in our name. And some of what it has been doing is extremely hard to look at without turning away.
This past January, Knappenberger says he testified on the record, via telephone, to the office of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner on the topic of torture. Knappenberger was not qualified to “interrogate” people, but Donald Rumsfeld’s reorganization of the Army found ways to put non-combat troops into combat roles. Used to test this model was Knappenberger’s First Special Troops Battalion. These cooks, military police, signals and chemical specialists, clerks, and analysts were called on to fight terror and spread freedom. Knappenberger says his platoon sergeant was a payroll specialist who “got his legs blown off in combat he was never trained for,” while a first sergeant “got his head blown off, and he was an intel geek.” Knappenberger says his roommate was a specialist in fixing radios who lost his hearing and suffered traumatic brain injury on an IED squad.
Knappenberger says that recruiters had told him he’d do desk work. But he also says that when he joined up he was ready to kill people. He ended up doing double duty. There would be 10 or 12 hours at your normal job, he says, followed by 8 hours on a combat job. Knappenberger’s combat job was not a shooting one. It was his duty to tell others where to shoot, what to blow up, whom to kill. Knappenberger at age 20 was one of three “intel” people in his unit at Camp Taji north of Baghdad, the other two being women aged 25 and 26. None of the three had experience, but they took over for eight well-trained veterans who had been there for two years, and some of whom even spoke Arabic. The 26-year-old woman in charge was a drone pilot now placed in charge of a combat area with 100,000 people around Camp Taji. Many FREs (former regime elements) lived right outside the base.
As the only male, Knappenberger says he was assigned to do the questioning of suspects brought in. Lacking any census, the only database of individuals Knappenberger possessed came from the oil-for-food program. A friend had found the information in Baghdad and typed it in. When someone was pulled over, soldiers would radio to Knappenberger who would search for them in the database. Usually they’d be released. If someone was caught “with a bloody knife or a tube of mortars” Knappenberger says, “they’d be brought in.” But without really good evidence they could not be booked for lack of space. So, good evidence had to be obtained within 24 hours. The method of choice was coerced confession.
Knappenberger told me they used sensory deprivation on these suspects. They blindfolded them, put bags on their heads, handcuffed them, sat them on the cold ground in their underwear, etc. In one case that he described to me, they drove a man in circles around the base blindfolded in a truck, put him on the ground, and gave him a cigarette. The man “freaked out because he thought he’d been driven to the middle of nowhere to be executed. But we never told him that, so it was legal.” The more common approach, Knappenberger said, was to tell someone you would drop him off in the middle of the market and give him $100. This would amount to framing someone with turning in others, and the penalty would likely be death . . . for the individual and for his family. “We’d show them pictures of dead bodies and say ‘This is what’s going to happen to you,’ and we’d talk about their wives and girlfriends.” Knappenberger says he did not engage in physical abuse, but that others did while he literally turned his back. Iraqi interpreters, wearing masks, hit, slapped, grabbed hair, etc. Turning your back was understood by the U.S. Army as making you a non-witness, Knappenberger says.
This went on from January to March, 2006, until “I finally got into trouble.” Afraid that a prisoner would file a complaint after being booked, Knappenberger’s boss promoted him from the tactical to the operational command staff. Knappenberger’s new job, too, provides a window into the madness of war.
Knappenberger came up with an analysis of likely weapons caches. Some were in junk yards and other random sites. But the largest was in a munitions depot supposedly guarded by the Iraqi Army. The further one moved away from this depot, Knappenberger found, the fewer weapons caches were found. Similarly, Knappenberger identified likely locations of ethnic killings as Iraqi Army checkpoints.
The Oil Protection Force, a special unit of the Iraqi Army, was headquartered in one of the hottest spots for IEDs in all of Iraq, Knappenberger says. “We were paying them and they were stealing oil out of the pipeline they were supposedly guarding.” When Knappenberger’s unit arrested the head of the Oil Protection Force for leading a Sunni militia against U.S. troops, within an hour, he says, a DIA helicopter arrived and “the guys in suits took him and put him back out on the streets.” Shortly afterwards the pipeline blew up and burned for 30 days.
Another Iraqi whom Knappenberger had an interesting encounter with is Ali Latif Ibrahim Hamad el Falahi. “I spent eight months trying to find that guy,” he says. Knappenberger met Falahi at a civil affairs dinner at a sheik’s house his first week in Iraq and spoke with him for about an hour. Three days later, Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped. Knappenberger says Falahi was “the suspect” and was “our number two target for a year and a half” as he engaged in ethnic cleansing, decapitation, and ambushing Shiite units in the Iraqi Army. “I spent 8 months trying to have him killed. We killed dozens of people trying to find him. We had a gunship fly around his orchard because of heat signals there. Thirteen people died there, none him.” Falahi was reportedly later killed in the same sheik’s house after failing to set off a suicide vest beside a U.S. soldier.
“I think about that guy every day,” says Knappenberger. “We raided his house. I had his diary translated. I had a whole file on this guy.” Remarkably, Knappenberger recognizes humanity in Falahi, saying “I don’t think he was a bad person because I didn’t get that vibe from him when I talked to him.” Knappenberger uses the example of Hitler to suggest that there is good in the worst of people. Of Falahi he says, “He did very bad things. He killed a lot of people. There were even allegations that he was raping women. But before the Americans came he was just a hardworking farmer taking care of his aunt.” Falahi had gone to his Imam and argued over how to get Americans to leave without violence, says Knappenberger. “Falahi and his nephews went through Camp Taji and took a bunch of weapons the day Saddam disappeared. And it was supposed to be for protection. They set up a militia to guard the village. They had check points on the road in and out.” Then the United States armed the Shiites as the new Iraqi Army, and Paul Bremer cut out the Baath Party and banned possession of over 30 rounds of ammunition per family. “That’s when he got radicalized.”
Evan Knappenberger says he began as an Ayn Rand fan, an atheist and a Republican (and you thought Karl Rove was the only atheist Republican!). Knappenberger has since turned against Ayn Rand and rightwing politics including war, and gone religious.
Evan says that he found the Army to be “a pretty socialist institution,” in which people are encouraged to protect their friends as a way to motivate them to kill. But, he says, “I was willing to kill without that.” Why? As revenge for 9-11, he says, and as an expression of hatred that Evan says he harbored even before 9-11. He remembers reading Readers Digest as a kid and learning about “terrorists who want to kill us.” In the end, Evan says he did not shoot anyone. But he prepared packets of information on targets, including maps to their homes, photos of them, the reasons they were targets, and what was to be done to them (kill/capture, exploit, source, etc.) Artillery officers, who Evan says are “notoriously stupid,” became a targeting cell, and whatever he told them (“This guy is bad. This is where he lives.”) they would work from to plan bombings and raids.
My impression from speaking with Evan Knappenberger is that what turned him against war and militarism, even more than the SNAFU experience in Iraq, even more than the gradual exposure of the lies that launched the war, and more than the “socialism” within the military, was coming into contact with radical inequality of wealth and power within the Army, mirroring our society at large.
On a two-week leave, completely exhausted, in the middle of his year in Iraq, Evan flew back to Charlottesville, Virginia. On the last leg from Atlanta, he was one of two people in uniform on the plane. The other was a JAG general with a gold watch and a leather briefcase but no combat patch. Evan, in contrast, hadn’t had a shower in a week, and it showed. Apparently the two of them regarded each other with mutual contempt. While on leave, Evan attended a jobs fair in Crystal City for people with security clearances like his. At lunch time, he says, lots of officers came over from the Pentagon looking for high-paying jobs. “I was the lowest ranking person in the room. And the thing that really shocked the hell out of me: You go six months in Iraq and the highest ranking person you see is a colonel. And I’m in a room full of generals and sergeant majors of the army and chief warrant officer fives, and not one of them had a combat job in the whole big ball room — not one of those m—– f—— had been in a combat zone for 30 days to get a combat patch — or if they did they weren’t proud of it. And these were the people making the decisions and making my life hell — and that had a lot to do with turning me against the war.”
Another factor was the unfairness of the policy of stop-loss. The Army had messed up Evan’s paperwork when he had shipped out, delaying him, and as a result his date for completing his contract just barely made it into the group the Army chose to hold over for additional “service.” To avoid being stop-lossed, Evan cut a deal with his commanders that would allow him to be honorably discharged for minor misbehavior. However, a brand new division commander gave Evan a general discharge, eliminating his GI Bill and other benefits. Evan says it took him three years to get any disability coverage from the V.A.
Evan still has PTSD, as well as a skin problem he attributes to toxic chemicals and garbage burned in open pits in Iraq by the U.S. Army. On tower guard duty adjacent to such a pit, Evan says he lost his sense of smell and coughed up a black substance. “That whole year was like a nightmare,” he says. “Getting mortared every night. Rockets coming in. The first couple of times I got shot at on guard duty I had no idea what was going on. . . . I thought it was bats. . . . I got so used to getting mortared. I was at the airport getting ready to leave and was in the portapotty when a siren went off. Then there were booms and after the last boom dirt clods falling on the portapotty. I walked out, doing up my belt, and there was a major and a sergeant major under a truck face down in the mud. And the guy screams at me: ‘Get to the bunker!’” Evan’s response was a casual “Whatever. It’s over now.”
In April of 2007, Evan Knappenberger came back to Charlottesville. He says he’d been dating long distance and had a bad break up on the phone while driving. He just kept driving for three months, living out of his car and spending his Army money. He ended up in Bellingham, Washington, where he met a woman at a peace vigil and married her in October. The marriage has “almost been ruined a few times by PTSD.”
Evan has done a lot of antiwar activism in Bellingham, including helping AWOL soldiers make it to Canada. He built and did guard duty on a tower in Bellingham and then in Washington, D.C., to protest the stop loss policy. I organized a press conference for his mother in Charlottesville.
Evan was nothing if not outspoken. This included informing an Ohio couple that their son was dead, despite a government coverup and propaganda campaign. In 2004 Iraqis produced a video of a U.S. soldier, Matt Maupin, held hostage, and then another of him being killed. According to Knappenberger, the DIA used facial pattern recognition and a study of the blotches on his uniform and was 100% certain that Maupin had been executed. But the military told the media to suppress the video, and the U.S. media complied. Maupin’s parents campaigned for Bush’s “reelection” in the swing state of Ohio in ’04 because “John Kerry wants to leave Matt behind,” even though Knappenberger says the government knew that Matt was dead. As part of the public relations push, Maupin was repeatedly promoted in rank, and his pay was placed in an account for when he was found.
Evan saw the video in 2006. In 2007 he told a Washington Post reporter who filed a FOIA and was told the information was classified. So, in September 2007, Evan says he told Maupin’s parents, who were reluctant to believe him. An hour later, an Army intelligence officer called Evan and threatened him with jail. According to Knappenberger, he replied, “If you tell the parents I won’t have to. If you don’t I will.” Meanwhile, says Knappenberger, “the poor dad was putting together a team to go find Matt.” Maupin’s dad, Evan says, told him “I’ve got Andrew Card’s number. I’m calling him right now.” Two weeks later he was allowed to watch the video at the Pentagon.
One’s heart breaks for those parents and so many others like them, and for the vastly greater number of Iraqis whose loved ones have been killed by U.S. loved ones. One’s heart breaks for Evan Knappenberger as well. He says he is committed to nonviolence, but it is a process he is working at. He grew up in a violent culture and was trained to use and value violence. Since getting out of the Army, he has repeatedly been accused of threatening violence. He recounted to me an incident in which he threatened President Bush with violence. He has threatened rightwing war supporters with violence in blog posts. Evan’s been hospitalized twice for PTSD. He’s had an on-again off-again relationship with antiwar groups like IVAW (Iraq Veterans Against the War).
During what Evan describes as a “really bad breakdown” in January 2009, he showed up at the V.A. hospital in Seattle. It was full, and he was told to come back Monday. He called a senator, and had an appointment within an hour. Within another hour, he says, he was loaded up with antidepressants and on the street. Four weeks of antidepressants later, he had a worse breakdown that landed him in jail following an attempted suicide and what he says was an unfounded charge of “unlawful imprisonment” of his wife, which he pled to a misdemeanor.
Despite everything our society places in the way of it, Evan Knappenberger has obtained an associate’s degree and is working on a bachelor’s. After a troubled but useful contribution to Occupy Charlottesville (he says he quit, others say they evicted him), Evan is headed back to Bellingham to work on his marriage and his mortgage payments. I wish him well and thank him for speaking out.
Two Years Ago Obama Decided Not to Prosecute Torturers
Now We Get An Account of Why
By David Swanson
If you can think back all the way to January 2009, back when wars were ending, Guantanamo was closing, the Pentagon was getting oversight, employees were going to have free choice, the rich would start paying taxes, the air would be getting cleaner, and so forth, you’ll recall that the Obama transition team was acting super populist and high-tech.
They had questions from ordinary people for the President Elect submitted on their website and voted up or down. The top question at the end of the voting had come from Bob Fertik of Democrats.com and it was this:
“Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor – ideally Patrick Fitzgerald – to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?”
-Bob Fertik, New York City
Not only was the answer no, but it had to be inferred because President Change U. Wish refused to answer the question. I’ve always assumed I could guess why: a president wouldn’t want previous presidents subject to the rule of law, because then he would be too. Just this week I was suggesting that allowing the Justice Department to enforce laws against Cheney could save Obama’s electoral prospects at the risk of seeing Obama, too, land in prison some day. I have no doubt that this really is a factor.
However, we now have an account from someone involved in the decision process way back when. And he reports two other reasons for the decision to let all the war criminals off and devote vast energies to protecting them and covering up their crimes. The first of the two reasons is not terribly shocking: the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt if their crimes were exposed and prosecuted. This explains the cover-up portion of the past two-and-a-half years’ immunity-granting campaign particularly well. It fits with the known record, which has included seven former heads of the CIA publicly writing to President Obama to tell him not to prosecute torturers in the CIA.
The second reason, we’re now being told, was that if laws were enforced against Bush, Cheney, or their subordinates, the Republicans in Congress would retaliate by trying to block any useful piece of legislation. This is sort of morbidly funny in that the Republicans in Congress have spent the past two-and-a-half years trying to block any useful piece of legislation and many horrendous ones as well. They’ve just done it with the background hum of war criminals on promotional book tours. This explanation fits with the theme of “looking forward, not backward.” Just as House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers told us in 2008 that it was more important to elect Obama than to impeach Bush or Cheney (as if you couldn’t do both), Obama’s preference in early 2009 (and in 2008 when he had told Will Bunch the same thing) was for looking forward to the passage of hideously corporatized legislation rather than enforcing laws against anyone powerful (as if you couldn’t do both). Nonetheless, there is something jarringly pathetic about the notion that Dick Cheney is unindicted because Barack Obama was dreaming of a working relationship with the party Cheney had left behind in Washington. This shouldn’t be as jarring now as it might have seemed in 2009, however, after watching Obama “negotiate” away anything Republcans opposed in any number of areas.
So, who is the source of these belated explanations?
The Dean of the University of California at Berkeley Law School Christopher Edley, Jr. His comments will probably be showing up on video, but here is a report I was just sent by long-time peace and justice activist extraordinaire Susan Harman:
“World Can’t Wait (in orange) and I (in pink) attended a surreal panel on 9/11 today at Boalt (UC Berkeley Law School), where John Yoo teaches.
“That should be surreal enough. But (unintentionally, I think) each of the panelists mentioned one of Yoo’s policies (warrantless domestic surveillance, aggressive war, and that old favorite, torture). One even talked about the need for accountability. I felt dizzy, and could barely speak.
“I said I was overwhelmed by the surreality of Yoo being on the law faculty, and having just been appointed the new head of the sponsoring Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law, when he was singlehandedly responsible for the three worst policies of the Bush Adm.
“They all burbled about academic freedom and the McCarthy era, and said it isn’t their job to prosecute him.
“Then Dean Chris Edley volunteered that he’d been party to very high level discussions during Obama’s transition about prosecuting the criminals. He said they decided against it. I asked why. Two reasons: 1) it was thought that the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt, and 2) it was thought the Repugnants would retaliate by blocking every piece of legislation they tried to move (which, of course, they’ve done anyhow).
“Afterwards I told him that CIA friends confirmed that Obama would have been in danger, but I added that he bent over backwards to protect the criminals, and gave as an example the DoJ’s defense (state secrets) of Jeppesen (the rendition arm of Boeing) a few days after his inauguration.
“He shrugged and said they will never be prosecuted, and that sometimes politics trumps rule of law.
“It must not, I said.
“It shouldn’t, he said, and walked off.
“This is the Dean of the Berkeley School of Law.”
Another approach was taken to the divergence of official conduct from clear demands of morality by an activist at Berkeley in 1964 named Mario Savio, who said,
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
Sigmund Freud once mentioned the defense offered by a man who was accused by his neighbor of having returned a kettle in a damaged condition. In the first place, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all.
That man’s name?
On “Morning Joe” on MSNBC on Thursday, the former Vice President claimed that the intelligence used to invade Iraq had been sound and accurate; the faulty intelligence was all Bill Clinton’s fault; the invasion didn’t do any damage but rather it was the Iraqis who damaged Iraq; and any invasion causes horrific things to happen, that just comes with the territory.
This incoherence was interspersed with gossip about Cheney’s marriage and his friends and his whole lovable social self. That lie may have overshadowed the more serious ones. When in the hell did Cheney become respectable, much less lovable? But that’s a distraction. Cheney’s crimes have long been catalogued.
Joe Scarborough began his Cheney interview by asking, not why did you commit so many crimes and abuses, but how did you, dear Dick, suffer from having the image of Darth Vader imposed on you? Cheney replies that he had fun wearing a Darth Vader mask. But listen carefully for the Freudian slip: he says he wore it in the President’s office, not the VICE President’s office.
Cheney claims he didn’t transform into Darth Vader, and of course he didn’t. Cheney was an immoral power-mad neocon for decades who consistently favored presidential prerogatives and aggressive militarism. But Cheney claims that what changed was that a terrorist act became an act of war rather than a crime. Did it do that all on its own?
Cheney slips in his usual baseless defense of torture and related abuses as having served some useful purpose. Scarborough does not follow up on that claim. Instead, he asks about Colin Powell’s comments on Cheney’s book. Nice and gossipy. But Lawrence Wilkerson’s more serious comments on the same topic, including his expression of willingness to testify against Cheney in court, go unmentioned.
Cheney then claims the Iraq lies were well-intended mistakes and basically accurate at the same time. Content with this, Scarborough focuses in on DC social scene changes over the decades. That’s journalism!
Mike Barnicle, a SERIOUS journalist, then asks Cheney if he regrets the death of a U.S. soldier in a humvee that was operating in Iraq without proper armor. This is a question along the lines of “Why did the military waste $60 billion in Iraq?” These talking heads are not 60 seconds from the topic of the lies that launched an illegal and immoral war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, almost none of them Americans, and Barnicle wants to know why the humvees weren’t better armored. Wednesday’s news of U.S. troops having murdered Iraqi children gets no mention. This is breakfast table reporting for goodness sake! And yet, even with the softball question about the humvee armor, Cheney makes excuses and points out that things like that just happen in wars.
Well, exactly. But why do the wars happen?
Finally Scarborough asks Cheney why the U.S. military invaded Iraq, and Cheney says it was the right thing to do. He paints it as defensive. We attacked an unarmed impoverished nation halfway around the globe IN DEFENSE. Cheney even regurgitates a long-debunked claim about Mohamed Atta meeting with Iraqi officials. Next, Mika Brzezinski asks Cheney about the war lies, and Cheney blames Clinton. Now, I’m no fan of Clinton, and he told plenty of his own lies and engaged in plenty of power abuses tied to wars and military actions, but the fixing of the facts around the policy on Iraq was a major operation created after Clinton was gone. On this, Scarborough and Brzezinski had no follow up questions.
Instead, Barnicle helpfully turned to the topic of moving troops early out of Afghanistan and into preparation for war in Iraq. Cheney dishonestly suggested that no troops were moved to Iraq until a year and a half later. Then Cheney claims the Iraqis are the ones who did all the damage in Iraq. And on that note, Scarborough insists on chattering about Cheney’s marriage, while Brzezinski insists on hearing about Cheney’s sedated dreams of Italian villas.
Cheney admitted in this interview that his vice presidential role was unique. But that’s not actually an argument for buying his book. It’s an argument for amending our Constitution to include a ban on vice presidents exercising executive, as opposed to legislative, power.
The trouble is that there’s little point in amending our laws until we start enforcing them. Dick Cheney is a human advertisement for the absence of the rule of law in the United States. Wilkerson thinks Cheney is bluffing because he is scared of being prosecuted. I think Cheney knows that could only happen abroad. He is safe here because the Justice Department answers to Obama, and Obama is protecting Cheney because Obama is continuing similar crimes and abuses.
If Obama were to allow Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce our laws against Dick Cheney, Obama might very well save his own electoral prospects. But he would put himself at risk of future prosecution. The question of whether we will have the rule of law becomes the question of whether Obama wants to trade four years of power for decades in prison. That’s not how it is supposed to work.
On September 18, 2009, seven former heads of the CIA publicly told President Barack Obama not to prosecute CIA torturers. On April 16, 2009, Obama had already publicly told Attorney General Eric Holder not to prosecute CIA torturers. On September 18th, Holder publicly reassured the CIA.
The coast was clear. The books started flowing. George W. Bush and John Yoo put their books out in 2010, Donald Rumsfeld in 2011, and Dick Cheney’s also later this summer.
Just as the torture techniques drifted down the chain of command from these dealers in death to the rank and file, so too the book contracts. The cogs in the machine are now documenting their bit parts in the past decade’s torture epidemic with pride and publishing deals.
Witness “The Interrogator: An Education” by Glenn L. Carle. This is the story of how a none-too-bright, self-centered, insecure, careerist bureaucrat with weak principles, a fragile ego, a troubled marriage, and no interrogation experience, but the ability to actually speak Arabic, was chosen to lead the interrogating (or “interviewing”) of an innocent man the CIA boneheadedly believed to be a “top al Qaeda terrorist” when they kidnapped him off a street and flew him to an undisclosed location outside any rule of law.
As to who got an education in the process of living, writing, or reading this book, your guess is as good as mine.
You may have spotted the author in the media last week, since he managed to get James Risen at the New York Times to print his revelation that the Bush White House had asked the CIA to investigate American blogger Juan Cole. That story is not in the book, but was apparently timed to boost the book’s sales. Who knows what other nasty anecdotes Carle is sitting on in hopes of productively producing them when and if he writes a sequel. Even with that prospect, let’s hope fervently that he does not.
What an awful book! What an awful example of how to live!
Yes, Carle asserts what all of the experts agree on: torture and abuse are not useful interrogation techniques. The most effective tools for eliciting useful information are the legal ones. But Carle simply asserts this. He provides no new evidence to back it up — not that there was a shortage.
Carle is like a veteran soldier joining in demonstrations against the war he was part of but still talking about how he “served” his country. “I made it possible for American children to sleep safe at night,” he brags. How exactly did he do this? Why, by participating in criminal operations that enraged billions of people against the United States of America. Good going, Glenn!
Carle discusses, by way of background, the “victims of the Iran-Contra scandal,” by which he means not the men, women, and children illegally killed, but the criminals prosecuted or otherwise inconvenienced. When Carle was yanked out of his cubicle to employ his linguistic skills in interrogating a kidnapping victim, he was not long in coming to view himself as the victim of most concern to the reader. He had concerns about what he was being sent into, but he “was not about to question the apparent basis for my involvement in a very important case.”
“Suppose our partners do something to CAPTUS [the kidnapped man] that I consider unacceptable?” he asked a superior.
“Well, then, you just walk out of the room, if you feel you should. Then you won’t have to see anything, will you? You will not have been party to anything.”
Wow, with that defense, get-away drivers aren’t guilty of robberies anymore. And that defense was plenty good enough for Carle. He was largely interested in venting his own emotions, he tells us, just as he must have been when composing the book:
“Every American — and perhaps we in the CIA more than anyone — was outraged and determined to destroy the jihadists who had killed our countrymen [on 9-11] and had been attacking our countrymen for years. I was being sent to the front lines, as it were. I was going to be part of the avenging and protective hidden hand of the CIA, striking al Qaeda for us all. I WANTED to interrogate the S.O.B. and play a key role in our counter-terrorism operations.”
I for one would prefer he had settled for tweeting a photo of his penis.
Carle presented himself with the important moral dilemma of whether to screw up this immoral operation or do it right:
“This conversation — this case — was clearly one of the key moments in my career; I needed to GET IT RIGHT, to exercise refined judgment, to see and act clearly where values and goals conflicted, in the murky areas where there might be no right choice, but one had to choose and act nonetheless.”
Why did one? Why was resigning and going public at any moment not always an available option?
Carle read one of John Yoo’s torture memos, thought it was illegal, and went along anyway:
“I recall thinking when I read it (a view shared by many colleagues at the time [not a one of whom said a damn word to the American people about it]) that it was tendentious and intellectually shoddy, an obvious bit of hack work, a bit of legal sophistry to justify what the administration wanted done, not a guideline and interpretation of the spirit and intention of the laws and statutes that had guided the Agency for decades [except for all the times they didn't]. . . . Challenging a finding, though, was, as the expression goes, way beyond my pay grade, and in any event, would be viewed as presumptuous and out of place at the moment.”
“We were talking about what some, what I, might consider the torture of a helpless man,” Carle recalls.
“What about the Geneva Convention?” he asked his superior.
“Which flag do you serve?” was the reply.
“I flew out of Dulles two days later,” Carle recounts, having chosen knowingly and inexcusably to become a cog in a machine of kidnapping, torture, and death.
Was it really rage over 9-11 that drove Carle onward? He tells us that when the planes hit the towers, he was too busy being petty and self-centered on the telephone to be bothered to watch. He then tried to go shopping and couldn’t get clerks in stores to stop obsessing over 9-11 long enough to help him.
Carle’s wife inexplicably became an alcoholic, resulting in this touching scene:
“One evening I was working on the computer in the bedroom, not wanting to think about work, or home; I just wanted to turn off my brain [how would one tell?]. Sally was cooking in the kitchen. I heard a plate crash. I paid no attention and was barely aware of it. Ten minutes later I wandered into the kitchen to get a soda from the refrigerator. Sally lay unconscious on the floor. I was angry, disdainful. I decided to leave her there to sleep it off. I stepped over her into a huge and growing pool of blood. It covered half the kitchen floor. ‘Oh no! Sally! What have you done?’”
Carle describes his interrogation of “CAPTUS,” whom he knew to have been kidnapped and who he knew was being held outside of any legal system. Carle repeatedly threatened him with harsh treatment by others.
The interrogation was helped by Carle’s preference for humane tactics, even while threatening others, as well as by his openness to recognizing the man’s innocence. But it was hampered by the CIA’s incredibly incompetent failure to get Carle access to the documents that had been seized along with his victim, and by the CIA’s refusal to consider the possibility that CAPTUS was not who they thought he was.
Carle took a don’t ask / don’t tell approach to the question of whether CAPTUS was being tortured in between periods of interrogation at the first location where Carle interrogated him. Carle did ask, but the CIA blacked out in the book whatever he tried to tell us, about what was done to CAPTUS upon relocating him to a different lawless prison.
When Bush gave a speech pretending to oppose torture, Carle “found this speech infuriating. I knew what we were doing; our actions soiled what it meant to be an American, perverted our oath, and betrayed our flag. Lawyers could argue our actions were legal. But I had lived what we were doing. I knew otherwise.”
Did Carle quit and go public? Of course not.
Did any of his colleagues? Of course not.
Carle sat in on meetings discussing blatantly false propaganda aimed at launching the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He saw through the lies.
Did he then, in that moment when a million lives could be spared, quit and go public? Of course not.
Carle concludes his book by opposing prosecuting anyone involved in the crimes he was involved in. “Punishment metes out no justice,” he claims.
Justice, these days, is presumably measured in book sales.
Brilliant and humane playwright Karen Malpede has produced another play that grabs this country by the lapels, shakes it, caresses its cheek, and kicks its ass. The play is called “Another Life” and the life it leaves me thinking about is the life of our dreams.
The play is not so much a national nightmare or a national fantasy as a surreal reproduction of the mixture of horrors and hopes that most dreaming is: the most gruesome and graphic and taboo of our collective fears without exactly the fear itself, the deepest of longings and desires in immediate and mundane form but recognizable as revelations upon awakened reflection.
I’ve read “Another Life” as military commissions have just been officially reinstated and the Pentagon has just defended forcing a lawlessly imprisoned young man to stand naked for review each day. The broken poetic dialogue of the half dozen characters of “Another Life” draw me in as they present what a decade ago would have been sick ravings and are today the understandable concerns lurking in the shadows of all of our minds: torture, terrorism, sadism, racism and religious bigotry, the sufferings of the victims and of the victimizers, mistaken identities, exposure, surveillance, humiliation. Scene 1 ends with these words, which make perfect sense when arrived at:
“And, now, he’s going to talk. No more of this. Mr. Nice guy. Picked her up. We know who you are. We know what you did. You want to see your wife, again, your kids. You want your wife raped, just like that, blood on the floor, you want to watch. You want your daughter deflowered. You want your virgins in the sky. We’ll have your eyeballs in highballs. We’ll have your cock in plastic wrap. A stick up your arse. The gloves are coming off. I’ll crush your balls in the palm of my hands. Eat them like olives. You’ll give me what I need. Believe me. You’ll tell us what we want to know.”
This is a scene in a home, where foreign relations and family relations have merged, and things Dick Cheney or John Yoo once said have seeped into the air. An old man has become the Global War of Terrorism and Erik Prince and Grandpa, while a young man is all things decent in public life going bad and possibly recovering and bearing a strong resemblance to Ali Soufan, and a young woman is the U.S. public becoming an accomplice and a whistleblower as well as a widow and a lover. Her tragic loss, the loss of 9-11, is depicted in scenes in which she speaks with her dead fiancé.
And as one reads this it begins to sink in that every single person complicit in and resisting the horrors of our age has personal pleasures and goals and losses and deep fears. Meanwhile a man in the coffee shop where I’m reading is ignoring a table full of toddlers, one of whom is screaming in fury, so that he can persuade a waitress who probably doesn’t care that the United States needs to send the Marines into Libya.
A torture victim in “Another Life” mutates into an “illegal” in the Homeland and from there into a slave, traveling back through the history it seems of our national criminal record. Then real, named torture victims enter the drama: al Libi, perfectly named for the alibi he provides warmakers; Zubaydah; and Emad Khudayir Shahuth Al-Janabi. The dead fiance remains in the September 10th mentality, the straightman to our national mental health crisis. And the play looks both backward and forward, like a dream, as the men in this coffee shop talk a little too loudly about the failure of Alcoholics Anonymous to help them find jobs, and I wander outside.
And there’s Thomas Jefferson staring at me from a statue, a guy who sent war ships to Tripoli when not enslaving human beings at his house on that hill, promoting the genocide of the native people of North America, or fighting wars for democracy. And there’s not a single thing a president could do today that anyone would punish him for, the accountability groups of the Bad Illiterate President Era are down to about 8 active members nationwide, and Chris Hedges says we’re all Easter Island on a course for catastrophe. But that’s only if we fail to change course. And if feeling in our bones the course we are on will help us change it, we can be grateful that Karen Malpede keeps writing.
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