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Obama Has Decriminalized Torture: Do Americans Care?

7:07 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

From President Barack Obama’s inauguration to now, he has treated the issue of torture and the legalization of this supreme violation of human rights as an inconvenience. Obama has kept the possibility of holding former Bush Administration officials accountable for torture shrouded in remarks that contain platitudes on nobody being above the rule of law, yet, in those same remarks, he has shifted the responsibility to people like Attorney General Eric J. Holder to prosecute Bush officials, effectively freeing him of any obligation or liability that might stem from having to launch an investigation.

A new report from Human Rights Watch, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” provides opportunity to reflect on the reality that Bush Administration officials committed and effectively legalized torture and the Obama Administration, in its failure to hold these officials accountable, has in a way decriminalized torture.

As a number of news organizations and blogs have noted, the critical thing about the report is that it appears to give up on any possibility of a thorough investigation being launched by the Obama Administration. It encourages “judicial systems in foreign states to pursue investigations” and prosecute “under the doctrines of ‘universal jurisdiction’ and ‘passive personality’ jurisdiction. Under the principle of international that states have an interest in bringing to justice “perpetrators of particular crimes of international concern.” And, it notes that under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the US has ratified, “grave breaches” including “willful killing; torture or inhuman treatment; willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health; and willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial” puts an obligation on countries that have signed to search for those alleged to have committed “grave breaches” and even push for extradition of officials suspected of violations.

While urging foreign countries to prosecute may show human rights groups are desperate, that human rights groups are now pursuing this as an option says a lot about America’s contempt for the rule of law. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch explained on Democracy Now! torture is the “intentional infliction of severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental.” Mock executions, like waterboarding, have been prosecuted by the US previously. But, the political class and establishment lawyers argue that prosecuting violations under the law will “politicize criminal law.” Or, they display as much interest in addressing the misconduct as those who know the war in Libya is a downright illegal war.

Those who were opposed to Bush Administration policies of torture, like human rights groups and lawyers, have been understandably disappointed with the Obama Administration. It has failed to close Guantanamo, indicated support for indefinite detention of terror suspects without a trial, bowed to the rancor of neoconservatives and decided to prosecute terror suspects with military commissions, refused to release “torture photos” and chosen to not charge any former CIA officials with the destruction of interrogation tapes.

Human rights groups have been very patient with the administration. Not only has the Obama Administration failed to uphold its duty to investigate and prosecute Bush officials under signed treaties like the Convention against Torture but it has let Bush officials tour around with their memoirs—books which contain prideful admissions of torture.

When Osama bin Laden was killed in a targeted operation, the administration put up with people like former Vice President Dick Cheney, who suggested torture had likely helped the Obama Administration kill him. And, with the news that the Justice Department was dropping ninety-nine of the one hundred and one cases against the CIA for abuse and torture, Bush officials were effectively absolved of any real threat of prosecution from the Obama Administration.

Jeff Kaye draws attention to how the “fight for transparency” makes this renewed push for prosecutions important. Kaye highlights how the Department of Defense is now considering a new policy for unclassified information that would enable less openness and more secrecy. This proposal is to be expected from an administration that has derailed torture lawsuits by invoking “states secrets” privileges. For example, in Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., in a suit brought by five survivors of the CIA’s rendition program, the ACLU reports, the Obama Administration argued against a lower court ruling, claimed the “case could not be litigated without the disclosure of state secrets.”

What’s more striking is how this report further demonstrates the US has no culture of accountability for those in power who do not commit crimes that involve sexual misbehavior. Probe after probe and investigation after investigation can produce pages of evidence that would fill an entire room. Recommendations on what to do and blueprints for moving forward can be drafted. Nobody in Washington wants to be bothered with the business of correcting injustice.

Today, President Obama could call for a criminal investigation into US government detention practices, as recommended in the HRW report. But, in America, those guilty of crimes in the national security establishment are permitted to commit crimes so long as it appears it happened while trying to protect America from terrorism. They can trash people’s civil liberties, torture people and violate treaties that are law and get away with it just like bank executives on Wall Street can get away with collapsing the US economy.

The effect of not investigating and prosecuting torture is not only that laws are violated but that torture becomes normalized. A rot spreads throughout the American population as Americans find power should be granted the benefit of the doubt and be allowed to torture terror suspects. Ignoring the number of people detained by the US, who are innocent and have no relationship to any terror group, they remember the mythology of 9/11 that has been seared into their brain by leaders like President Bush and President Obama, who countlessly retell the story of 9/11 in war speeches, and see no problem dehumanizing people.

Torture legalized as a tool for those carrying out “counterterrorism operations” becomes legitimate for use throughout America. Guards in Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, who tortured detainees, can come home and become guards at prisons like the Pelican Bay prison and torture prisoners by subjecting them to solitary confinement in a prison-within-the-prison called the Security Housing Unit or the SHU. They can get away with using interrogation techniques, which are tantamount to torture, on political prisoners like Bradley Manning, the alleged military whistleblower to WikiLeaks.

As reported yesterday, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez has been restricted from having access to detainees in the US so he can conduct inquiries into torture or inhumane treatment. Mendez reports:

I am assured by the US Government that Mr. Manning’s prison regime and confinement is markedly better than it was when he was in Quantico. However, in addition to obtaining first hand information on my own about his new conditions of confinement, I need to ascertain whether the conditions he was subjected to for several months in Quantico amounted to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. For that, it is imperative that I talk to Mr. Manning under conditions where I can be assured that he is being absolutely candid.

The US Department of Defense has said they would allow Mendez to visit but that he would not be able to have an unmonitored visit, violating “long-standing rules that the UN applies to prison visits.” Mendez reluctantly agreed to a monitored visit, but Manning declined to agree to speaking to Mendez while under close watch by any agents or guards. Now, Mendez concludes the US may no longer wish to allow him to visit detainees in any US prisons if he makes a country visit to the United States.

This prevention of access is not unique to the Obama Administration, as the Bush Administration also put unacceptable conditions on UN visits to Guantanamo Bay. This is part of the “new normal,” an era where officials who commit crimes are shielded from accountability for engaging in warrantless wiretapping, torture, or rendition; state secrets are invoked to prevent transparency; detainees are denied habeas corpus; prisons like Guantanamo and Bagram (along with black prison sites that likely still exist) continue to hold detainees perhaps indefinitely; navy ships hold prisoners that can no longer be sent to Guantanamo because there will be public outrage; the right to target and kill U.S. civilians and bypass due process is asserted; and military commissions or “kangaroo courts” force detainees into Kafkaesque proceedings that make it nearly impossible to not be found guilty.

America purports to have moral authority in the world to push for prosecutions for crimes in Third World countries. It condemns Middle Eastern and African countries (excluding Israel), which do not allow access to their countries for investigations of human rights violations. But, it does not investigate and prosecute its own officials, who are responsible for committing and legalizing torture.

The country appears to care little when it is suggested that what happened under Bush could happen again because all too many fail to see how shopping around for legal arguments to create justification for torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques” was wrong. The idea of moving forward instead of looking backward to hold Bush officials accountable enchants the population. And so, the population presses on without collectively confronting the system that has been put in place over the past ten years.

Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strike Shines Light on True Character of US Prison System

12:42 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Harold Koh, legal advisor to the US State Department, went before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in November of last year and declared that the US is very proud of its human rights record. He responded to recommendations the UNHRC made in its universal periodic review of the United States’ respect for human rights. Koh said in the section addressing recommendations on criminal justice, “The U.S. criminal justice system rests on the protection of individual human rights and basic principles of due process and fair and equal treatment.” Prisoners striking at the Pelican Bay supermax prison in California are demonstrating to Americans and the world the scale of fraudulence behind the above statement.

On July 1, 2011, Pelican Bay prisoners began an indefinite hunger strike to protest the conditions in the prison. Across prison-manufactured racial and geographical lines, prisoners came together behind five core demands to force the prison officials to end the use of “group punishment”; abolish a “debriefing policy and the current criteria for determining who is and who isn’t a gang member; comply with the US Commission 2006 Recommendation Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement and end conditions of isolation, make segregation a last resort, end long-term solitary confinement and grant access to adequate healthcare and sunlight; provide adequate food and stop using it as a tool to punish inmates; and expand constructive programming and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

SHU stands for “Security Housing Unit.” In some prisons, the SHU is called “the hole.” The SHU is a “prison-within-a-prison.” Solitary Watch explains the SHU became more widely used after two guards were killed in the Marion, Illinois, federal prison in 1983. That led to the Marion Lockdown with prisoners being “confined to their cells without yard time, work or any kind of rehabilitative programming.” Read the rest of this entry →

Glenn Greenwald: Bush/Cheney Approach to Civil Liberties Has Been Continued & Embraced by Obama [VIDEO]

3:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The Socialism Conference was held in Chicago, IL, over the weekend. On Saturday, July 3, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald delivered a speech on civil liberties in the age of President Obama.

I attended the conference and recorded Greenwald’s speech. Throughout the next couple of days, I will be posting video of his speech and, eventually, a full transcript of it will be made available.

In this first part, Greenwald discusses how it has become conventional wisdom that Obama has continued many of the Bush Administration policies, which were once regarded as policies that shredded the Constitution, but now in Democratic circles it is considered to be “Democratic consensus.”

He describes how one year ago it was “controversial” and “provocative” to utter observations that President Obama had virtually continued “the entirety of the Bush/Cheney approach to the war on civil liberties and terrorism.” It was something people found “repellent.” But, now, it has become “so obvious” and “self-evidently true.”

That it has become so blatantly obvious means one no longer has to spend time proving the existence of continuity between the two administrations, Greenwald argues.

One of Greenwald’s most salient points is made as he highlights how the Bush-following American right has had to acknowledge Bush policies have continued under Obama and thus admit he has been strong and courageous on national security.

“The reason why I find it interesting that even the right wing is willing to acknowledge these policies have continued under the Obama presidency is for decades the Republicans have gained really potently on a political level from accusing Democrats of being weak on national security or soft on terrorism in the age of terror,” Greenwald suggests.

He adds:

Now, weak on national security in American political parlance doesn’t mean that somebody shies away from acts of strength and courage. And similarly, strength and national courage doesn’t mean that one acts strongly or engages in acts of courage. It means the opposite. What strength and national security means is a willingness to send other people’s children off to war to risk their lives to kill large numbers of civilians in foreign countries.

Greenwald cites Jack Goldsmith, former National Security Agency head under former President George W. Bush, Michael Hayden, and former Vice President Dick Cheney as proof that one of Obama’s greatest achievements among the political and ruling elite in America is that he has made what was once controversial, and seen as right wing radicalism, part of a bipartisan political consensus. And, by making this part of a consensus, Greenwald argues, debate is effectively ended; the policies are no longer objectionable to the political class in Washington.

Finally, Greenwald notes liberal professors and leaders of liberal groups like the ACLU have noted the continuity and expressed their disgust and outrage at the fact that the assault on civil liberties has continued and in some cases escalated under President Obama.

Discussion of civil liberties and the Obama administration’s assault has been largely absent from conversations. At liberal conferences, discussion has been pushed to the margins.

Netroots Nation had one panel, “What the Government Wants to Know About You,” that looked at some of the policies expanding under Obama. There was little talk about Guantanamo and lack of accountability for torture. Liberal organizers focused on the right wing attack on the middle class, avoiding outright condemnation of the bipartisan support that President Obama has created on national security (although Kaili Joy Gray of Daily Kos did ask White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer why Guantanamo hasn’t been closed).

In October, the liberal Campaign for America’s Future that holds a “Take Back America” conference each year is rebranding their conference, “Take Back the American Dream.” Led by Van Jones, there will likely be minimal conversation on civil liberties or national security policy, as the focus will involve a much more politically safe discussion on jobs and unemployment.

A key difference between those who attend Netroots and “Take Back America” conferences and those who attend Socialism conferences is the fact that those in attendance seldom consist of people with radical views, which in American history have been openly condemned and in many cases left people with those views open to government smearing and prosecution. Those with socialist views understand what many liberals take for granted, why civil liberties must be protected.

How can one fight a right wing assault on what Democratic Party operatives term the middle class if one’s civil liberties or rights under the constitution have been entirely stripped away or rendered meaningless, especially in cases when one is challenging power?

There’s a Twitter town hall tomorrow at 2 pm ET. This is an opportunity to undermine liberal organization leaderships’ efforts to make nice with the Obama Administration and overlook the Administration’s ever-expanding assault on civil liberties by doubling down on Bush Administration “war on terror” policies.

Purify the Tweet stream for #AskObama with lots of questions and remarks on the continuity between the Bush and Obama Administrations.

*Go here for Part 2 of Glenn Greenwald’s speech.

Most in LGBT Community Don’t Even Know of Bradley Manning

6:24 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Chicago “Free Bradley Manning” Contingent (photo: ChicagoGeek)

(update below)

In San Francisco, New York and Chicago, support contingents for Pfc. Bradley Manning, the accused WikiLeaks whistleblower, participated in Sunday’s gay pride parades. Those who marched in contingents aimed to make the LGBT community more aware of Bradley Manning.

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network and Bradley Manning Support Network Advisory Board member, says he and others in the LGBT community organized a contingent because Manning is a gay man and “we think it is important to stand up for those in our own community who are being victimized.”

The Bradley Manning Support Network finds Manning is “being increasingly hailed by LGBT activists as a hero.” Lieutenant Daniel Choi, an active and well-known gay rights advocate who helped contribute to the movement that ultimately results in the repeal of DADT, recently announced he was “proud to stand by side with Bradley Manning” and on the day of the pride parades tweeted, “I dedicate this Pride to American Hero Private Bradley Manning, our fellow gay freedom fighter currently locked up in Ft. Leavenworth, KS.”

The pride parade in Chicago was one of the first major events for the Chicago chapter of Bradley Manning supporters. Here in Chicago, activists are confronting the fact that many do not know of Manning.

“I thought that we need to do more work in Chicago to make people more aware of Bradley Manning and the fact that he’s been in prison for over a year now and he hasn’t had a trial,” shares Stansfield Smith, an antiwar organizer and someone who has done work to defend twenty-three activists given subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. “He was in solitary confinement and he’s basically being framed up because President Obama’s already said he’s guilty for leaking this information to WikiLeaks. I [feel] some obligation to defend this young guy.”

An organizer in San Francisco, Stephanie Tang, who is with World Can’t Wait and other groups, reports up to a million crowded the city’s Market Street to watch the parade. Around forty to fifty marched in a contingent. Orange and pink Manning stickers were handed out. The contingent was able to get pockets of the crowd to cheer and join chants like “Free Bradley Manning! Stop These Wars!” In some instances, it was clear people didn’t know Manning and the contingent would inform the crowd and then those they were talking to almost always wanted stickers and flyers so they could learn more and perhaps even begin to support him. [Photos of the SF contingent.]

Up to this point, there has been hesitation and division among the LGBT community over whether to support Manning. Thayer suggests this has to do with class and party affiliation.

“[We] have a whole section of leadership of various LGBT organization, which is like leaderships of other minority organizations that try to curry favor with the politicians,” explains Thayer. They are “loathe to do anything controversial.” He believes that can be turned around “once the majority of LGBT people know what Bradley Manning” has allegedly done.

One aspect of the Manning story that carries particular resonance is the abuse he experienced at Quantico. Thayer says what he was subjected to was “very reminiscent of the sexual humiliation that was tinged with homophobia that we saw the US conduct against prisoners in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in that country.” He doesn’t think the sexual humiliation he was subjected to was an accident.

The key for LGBT people (and all other activists) appears to be convincing Americans that what he did was a “signal service.” Thayer recently participated in an illegal pride parade in Moscow, Russia, with LGBT people from the country and Eastern Europe. They all know Bradley Manning’s case unlike many LGBT people in America.

Making Americans aware of how WikiLeaks cables he allegedly released helped contribute to the Arab Spring and communicating to Americans how he has helped to expose the most serious war crimes committed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan could potentially help grow the community of supporters here in the United States.

*For more, here’s a “This Week in WikiLeaks” podcast I produced that features Stan Smith and Andy Thayer.

Update

Dido Rossi of the Lesbian Bi Trans Queer (LBTQ) in the Global Women’s Strike and Dean Kendall of the Payday Men’s Network have signed on to a letter to the LGBTQ community. The letter calls attention to the silence of LGBT organizations in North America. It declares:

We say “There’s no pride in the slaughter of others!”

We take pride in our LGBTQ sisters and brothers who refuse to be killers, such as gay Filipino/Native-American Stephen Funk, the first US soldier to be convicted and jailed for refusing to fight in Iraq; Mehmet Tarhan, gay Kurdish military refuser in Turkey, whose torture and imprisonment were ended by an international campaign in which grassroots LGBTQ organizations were prominent; and now Bradley Manning.

Similar to Thayer’s comment, the letter points out:

The campaign against the punitive conditions of Bradley’s confinement at Quantico has likewise shone a light on the solitary confinement and other torture endured by many tens of thousands of prisoners, not only but especially in the US. [3] The blueprint for Bradley’s treatment at Quantico, for Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Baghram, is the US gulag of civilian prisons, where most prisoners are people of color, and where especially those perceived as LGBTQ may endure endless sexual violence.

UK Bradley Manning supporters are preparing a contingent for the London Pride parade that will take place on July 2.

Here’s a photo from @payamtorabi of the banner for the upcoming parade:

Release the Dead bin Laden Photos

12:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Celebration Photos Just as Likely to Inflame ‘Terrorists’ as Bin Laden Death Photos

The decision to not release photos of a dead and fatally wounded Osama bin Laden rests on at tenuous set of reasons that rest purely on Beltway conventional wisdom.

The argument that the release of photos could inflame the Middle East has been made before (recall the Obama Administration blocked the release of “torture photos” in May 2009 that the ACLU was seeking to obtain through a Freedom of Information Act request). Greg Mitchell with The Nation reminds Americans of the debate that surrounded the decision to release photos of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after his death.

Jon Stewart made a good point last night on “The Daily Show”:

We’ve been fighting this war for nearly ten years. Thousands of US deaths, tens of thousands of Iraqis have died and we’ve seen nearly zero photographic evidence of it. Member how long the media had to fight to show military coffins returning from overseas? Maybe not because you saw pictures of it the day they won the case and not since. Maybe we should always show pictures. Bin Laden, pictures of our wounded service people, pictures of maimed innocent civilians. We can only make decisions about war if we see what war actually is and not as a video game where bodies quickly disappear leaving behind a shiny gold coin.

Essentially, the key argument should not be that the photos should be released to debunk conspiracy theories (which the White House has helped fuel by not really getting all the details straight on the bin Laden killing). It shouldn’t be don’t release the photos because it will hand Republicans a victory and they won’t be satisfied and will just ask for more like Donald Trump wants to know more even though he got the president to release his long-form birth certificate.

The argument should be that Americans see the photo so they can see what they have been celebrating. They should see the image of brutality, which so many vehemently believe is justified.

What makes anyone think photos of celebration at Ground Zero or the White House on the day bin Laden was killed won’t inflame the Middle East or haven’t already provoked some cell of terrorists to plan a new scheme for attacking America?

This guy with “Rest In Hell Osama” scrawled on his body could be on a recruiting poster for al Qaeda (if they use recruiting posters).

This guy could be on a recruiting poster too. Not because he looks like he lusts for blood but because he looks like a dopey Westerner whose ideals those in al Qaeda likely despise vehemently.

Even this seemingly benign photo could inflame those who would support al Qaeda’s mission against the West. The flag-waving in celebration of the execution of a human being on their side is enough to move them to organize an attack.

The front pages of the editions of The Daily News and the New York Post that ran the day after bin Laden was killed are enough to inflame those sympathetic to al Qaeda’s cause too. The Daily News’ front page said, “Rot in Hell!” The Post’s front page cried, “Vengeance at last! US nails the bastard!” The first sentence in the Post read, “We finally got the miserable son of a bitch.”

This irresponsible tabloid journalism was being gobbled up by New Yorkers as a reasonable characterization of what went down. People hung the front pages up nearby Ground Zero and took photos of the front pages posted on a wall.

This photo of university students should have the US national security establishment frightened not because students shouldn’t be allowed to go to spontaneous and patriotic Spring Break-type events, where they act like they are at a pep rally for an upcoming football game. The photo should have those in government worried because that girl with the cigar in her mouth could easily remind the terrorists of this girl with the cigar(ette) in her mouth.

The point is not that people shouldn’t be able to go out and celebrate and mark the deaths of America’s with American flags and signs that express satisfaction. The point is, if the photos of a dead bin Laden could be a potential threat to America if released, what about the photos of people celebrating his death?

Jeremy Scahill of The Nation appeared on “The Tavis Smiley Show” to discuss how he really thinks the death of bin Laden is a “somber occasion.” He thinks Americans should reflect on the destruction that has taken place since 9/11 and those who have died in wars instead of simply treating the killing like a “sporting event.” And, he finds the celebrations give off an image of a “culture that celebrates execution.”

Additionally, Donna Marsh O’Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter on 9/11 writes:

As a family member of a young woman killed in the attacks, I want the response to the death of bin Laden to be one of somber reflection, one that marks how far we have come from the days of that attack and accounts for all we have lost—our civil rights, our trust in our government to act ethically. I want our civil liberties back, our reliance on the Constitution and the rule of law. I want, again, for my children to feel free.

Let’s take that energy and reclaim our land as the land of the free, the civilized and the just. There are dire costs to shirking this duty. We’ve just seen it in our streets.

O’Connor also states, “We should recognize the energy that came from the elimination of this criminal at the hands of the U.S. government and we should try to craft, instead, the end of the terror years.”

Back to the photos themselves, Michael Shaw at HuffingtonPost has this to say:

What the powers-that-be never get is that an erasure is not without it’s own moral baggage and trace. Disappearing the photo, given the reality that an image represents (especially these days, when in Egypt, in Libya and in Syria, we see citizens dying by the day just for the cause of pushing pictures to twitpics), the willful act of suppressing the photo, in our every more visually-mediated and documented society, equates to the intention of keeping the killing in the dark. It’s this signal, by way, this act of omission reinforced by the President’s dismissive and defensive tone, that not just insults the intelligence of the American people but actually reinforces the suspicions of the Muslim street.

By not releasing the photos, we are letting the terrorists win—just as we have been letting them win since 9/11. We are adapting our behavior and applying more restraints to freedom and transparency. Doing this likely empowers terrorists.

Release the photos. They will do the US no harm. Now, continuing the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and continuing to support dictatorial regimes in the Middle East will.

The Hunger Strikers of Guantanamo As Detailed in Files Released by WikiLeaks

12:48 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Photo by onlyforward.

Hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay are known to have engaged in hunger strikes at the prison in protest of conditions and their prolonged confinement without trial. A recent report from Jason Leopold of Truthout.org details how, as of March, detainees continue to participate in hunger strikes with the hope that the conditions of their detention will improve or so they will no longer have their basic due process rights violated.

Detainees first began to engage in hunger strikes in 2002. The hunger strikes had a definite impact. The strikes from 2002 to 2005 effectively changed the dynamics in the prison. Former detainee Binyam Mohamed said there was no law and a colonel was saying, “’I do what I like’ but after the hunger strike – the big hunger strike of 2005 – they actually started implementing some kind of law that we knew about.” But, come 2006, the prison began to force feed detainees that were striking and would force tubes down detainees’ throats in a manner that successfully convinced many of the detainees to end their resistance.

There are a number of detainees that are known to have engaged in hunger striking (thanks to the great investigative journalism of Andy Worthington). Some known to have engaged in strikes are: Binyam Mohamed, Sami al-Hajj, Mohammed al-Amin, Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, Yasser Talal Zahrani, Saber Lahmer, Omar Khadr, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, Tarek Baada, Ahmed Zuhair, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, Ali Al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi, and Shaker Aamer. With the release of the Guantanamo Files by WikiLeaks, more details on hunger striking in the military prison can be gleaned.

In order to further understand the details in the “Guantanamo Files,” it is important to consider the Standard Operating Procedure for handling hunger strikes was outlined in a document titled, “Voluntary and Voluntary Total Fasting and Re-Feeding.”

As of August 11, 2005, this was JTF GTMO’s policy on hunger strikes:

Joint Task Force (JTF)-GTMO policy is to avert death from hunger strikes and from failure to drink as well as to monitor the health status of detainees who are fasting voluntarily. Every attempt will be made to allow detainees to remain autonomous up to the point where failure to eat or drink might threaten their life or health. The Detention Hospital (DH) is responsible for providing health care monitoring and medical assistance as clinically indicated for detainees who are voluntarily fasting or on a hunger strike. The Officer in Charge (OIC) of the DH will ensure that the appropriate standards of care for the medical and administrative management of fasting detainees are adhered to. The DH OIC will do everything within his/her mean to monitor and protect the health and welfare of hunger striking detainees including involuntary intravenous hydration and/or enteral tube feeding if necessary. DH medical personnel will make every effort to obtain consent from a voluntary faster for treatment

What’s the distinction between a voluntary faster and a hunger striker?

Voluntary fasting (VF) “occurs when a detainee communicates his intent to JTF-GTMO personnel to undergo a period of fasting for a specific purpose, has had no solid food intake for a period of 72 hours (9 consecutive meals), but is taking adequate liquids/fluids by mouth.” And, hunger striking involves a “detainee who communicates his intent to JTF-GTMO personnel to undergo a period of voluntary or total voluntary fasting as a form of protest or to demand attention from authorities.”

A further distinction appears in the released reports. For example, Tarek Baada, who is one of the few detainees known to have engaged in a long-term hunger strike, is not regarded as hunger striker by JTF GTMO. The euphemism appropriated to Baada is voluntary total faster. Under “Detainee’s Conduct” in his assessment report, it reads, “He is currently in voluntary total fast status since 07 January 2007, refusing 1,065 consecutive meals. In 2006, he had a total of nine Reports of Disciplinary Infraction and fourteen in 2007.”

Voluntary total fasting (VTF) “occurs when a detainee communicates his intent to JTF-GTMO personnel to undergo a period of fasting for a specific purpose and has not taken any solids or liquids for a period of more than 48 hours.

The JTF GTMO Surgeon, along with the DH medical staff the Commander Joint Detention Group (JDG), and the Commander, Joint Intelligence Group (JIG), in order to make a “hunger striker” designation, must prove intent, purpose and behavior, according to JTF GTMO. Religious fasting, severe depression with suicidal intent manifested by not eating or drinking are two examples where a detainee would not be designated a hunger striker but rather a voluntary faster or voluntary total faster.

The designations, which appear in some of the released Guantanamo Files, all appear designed to lower the number of people who can be considered as people who are resisting authority. It appears to be a divide-and-conquer strategy. By deciding from the top that which detainees were part of a hunger strike, it gives them the ability to lower the detainees’ fortitude and courage in keeping a strike going in the prison.

The JTF-GTMO Surgeon is only to remove “a detainee from the Hunger Striker list. Detainees are not to be removed from the list until a “DH medical officer has evaluated him and has determined that he is no longer on a VF, VTF or hunger strike.” This clearly demonstrates the prison staff has aimed to assert top-down authority by deciding who is and who is not striking. Detainees who claim to be striking will have to be approved for a list in order to strike. Thus, it appears some detainees could be refused the “right” to engage in a hunger strike.

In July 2007, then-outgoing commanding officer of the Naval Station Guantanamo Hospital and head of the JTF JMG, Navy Captain Ronald L. Sollock, addressed the care of his team of medical professionals, which the prison had typically provided to the striking population. He said, “Involuntary feeding is not used to break the hunger strike…we are using sound medical indicators when necessary to preserve the life and health of detainees. We do not let the detainees get to the point of losing consciousness or becoming comatose to intervene. We will intervene to preserve their health and life before that time.”

But, as noted in the cited release, military commanders consider hunger striking to be a tactic that “al Qaeda recruits” are encouraged to use to “attract media attention to their detention.” So, should one actually believe commanders who assert force-feeding or involuntary feeding of detainees has not been the military prison’s way of stifling resistance from detainees, who seek to assert themselves and gain rights in the prison along with greater access to legal counsel?

It appears in some instances detainees were questioned about hunger strikes during their interrogation. Shakir Abd Al Rahim Muhammad Aamer [ISN:239] allegedly stated “the death of a detainee at JTF-GTMO would ‘open the eyes of the world and result in the closure of the base.’” With regards to him, Humud Dakhil Humud Sa’id Al-jad’an allegedly stated “the primary reason the JTF-GTMO detainees went on the hunger strike was because detainee’s lawyer told them exactly what they needed to do.” Abd al-Rahim Abdul Raza Janko allegedly said of Aamer he would pass information to other detainees who came to Camp Echo for Habeas visits.”

All of the above details on Aamer’s hunger striking can be found under the line, “Detainee has continued to participate in activities against the US,” indicating hunger strikes are a kind of militant tactic to the staff.

Abd Al Khaliq Ahmed Salih Al Baydani [ISN:553] allegedly wrote in a letter to Bader Al Bakri Al Samiri [ISN:274] that Al Samiri’s “hunger striking and violent fights with the guards” were “wonderful.” An analyst notes the detainee addressed the letter to Al Samiri’s “Paternal Uncle,” which means the letter likely went to Al Samiri’s relatives in Saudi Arabia. Whether it came back to the prison from a relative for Al Samiri to read is unclear.

Hani Saiid Mohammad Al Khalif [ISN:438] allegedly helped to train other detainees at JTF-GTMO and served in a “leadership role” among detainees. The assessment suggests Al Khalif taught Adel Zanel Abd al-Mahsenal-Zanrel [ISN:568] “military tactics” like “how to use RPGs.” Al-Mahsenel-Zanrel and Adel Fattough Ali Algazzar alleged Al Khalif was an “emir.” He also suggested Al Khalif had encouraged others to participate in hunger strikes. (But, an “analyst” notes no other evidence Al Khalif is “serving in a leadership role” in the prison. Interestingly, Algazzar is one of a number of detainees whom JTF GTMO and the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) could not agree on when assessing whether Algazzar posed a risk.)

Mahmoud Omar Muhammad Bin Atef [ISN:202] In a report filed on December 28, 2007, Atef is alleged to be a “key leader for 2007 detainee unrest in his cell block through the attempted organization for “2007 detainee unrest in his cell block through attempted organization of a hunger strike and surveillance against the guard force.” He reportedly stated, in a demonstration of support for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s attacks on US forces, “All Americans shall die because these were the rules of Allah,” and claimed upon release he would “research guard force personnel’s names and faces on the internet and sneak into their homes to cut their throats like sheep.”

Looking at the reports, it appears many of the detainees that engaged in hunger strikes have one thing in common: they were labeled a “HIGH threat from a detention perspective” in their reports.

It is also worth noting that sometimes the detainee reports mention hunger striking under the “Health” section. Sometimes it is mentioned under the “Detainee’s Conduct” section, indicating that hunger striking has been considered a disciplinary problem. And, in some cases, detainees that were known to have engaged in hunger striking had no details on their prison resistance recorded in their report at all.

For example, Abdul Rahman Shalabi, who the Associated Press reported in 2010 was now Guantanamo’s longest-term hunger striker, had been engaging in hunger striking in the months before the date of his detainee assessment report. By then, he was being strapped down into a padded restraint chair and then force-fed with a flexible feeding tube that was inserted through his nose and throat. Yet, while he is listed as a “HIGH” threat from a detention perspective, there are no details on his engagement in hunger striking and in the “Health” section there is nothing on his hunger striking or his force-feeding.

Reprieve, an organizations based in the United Kingdom that “uses the law to enforce human rights of prisoners from death row to Guantanamo Bay” tracked Shalabi. In a news story published on their website on November 11, 2009, Andrew Wander reported independent doctors who had evaluated Shalabi said “the insertion of the [feeding] tube has done permanent damage to his nose and throat, making inserting new feeding tubes difficult and stopping him from receiving the calories he needs.”

In March 2009, his weight had dropped to “107 pounds, 30 percent below his ideal body weight and at the threshold of major organ failure.” Dr. Emily Keram, a psychiatrist, concluded Shalabi exhibited symptoms and disorders that likely were a result of coercive interrogations and other mistreatment. And, she said records indicated he had been “subjected to Forced Cell Extraction in connection with his feeding multiple times per day through the months of January and February “ in 2009.

As Shalabi wrote in a letter, “I am a human who is being treated like an animal.”

The following is a list of detainees whose hunger strikes are mentioned in the released files:

-Zaid Muhammad Sa’ad Al Husayn [ISN:50]: In his report filed on December 5, 2005, Al Husayn is described to be in good health and noted to have gone on hunger strike in August 2005.

-Yasser T Al Zahrani [ISN:93]: In his report filed on March 20, 2006, Al Zahrani is said in the “Health” section to have a “history of rheumatoid arthritis.” He is said to have “a history of dehydration due to hunger strike treated with intravenous fluids.” It is noted in the “Detainee’s Conduct” section, “On 11 July 2005, detainee told a guard that he would use a knife to cut his stomach open, cut his face off, and then drink his blood, smiling and laughing as he said it. The detainee was a major participant in the voluntary total fast of 2005-2006.” [Note: Al Zahrani is one of the detainees known to have died in the Guantanamo prison.]

-Mubarak Hussain Bin Abul Hashem [ISN:151]:In his report filed on March 25, 2005, under the “Health” section, it is mentioned that Hashem went on a hunger strike on time.

-Fayiz Ahmad Yahia [ISN:153]: In his report filed on April 14, 2008, Yahia is noted to be “on a list of high-risk detainees from a health perspective.” He has significant health problems, “a history of a Hunger Strike,” along with a G6PD deficiency. [Interestingly, the file indicates JTF-GTMO does not know why he was transferred to Guantanamo.]

-Majid Abdallah Husayn Muhammad Al Samluli Al Harbi [ISN:158]: In his report filed on July 7, 2006, it is noted under “Detainee’s Conduct” that on December 15, 2003, Al Harbi “spat in the face of the medical officer who was inserting a feeding tube into him.”

Abdullah Kamel Abudallah Kamel [ISN-228]: In his report filed on December 27, 2005, Kamel is said to have a BMI on February 11, 2002, of 20%. It is noted he went on hunger strike in October 2002 and September 2005.

-Mohammed Abd Al Al Qadir [ISN:284]: In his report filed on July 212, 2004, under the “Health” section, Al Qadir is said to have “a history of unidentified left- side weakness, hunger striking, and acid reflux disease.”

-Ahmed Bin Saleh Belbacha [ISN:290]: In his report filed on January 15, 2006, under “Health” it is noted that Belbacha has “latent TB and is noncompliant with treatment.” He reportedly went on hunger striked in November 2002 and August 2005. Under “Detainee’s Conduct,” it is noted that Belbacha was a “major participant in the voluntary total fast, missing over a hundred meals.” Apparently, on November 24, 2005, he “declared a voluntary total fast. However, his fast lasted less than two hours as [he] later claimed that guards had helped him so he would eat.” [Unclear what is meant by “helped him.”]

-Wasim [ISN:338]: In his report filed on February 17, 2006, it is noted he “has a history of bilateral pterygium” and “went on a hunger strike in September 2002.”

-Sami Mohy El Din Muhammed Al Hajj [ISN:345]: In his report filed on April 4, 2008, the cameraman for al Jazeera that was detained is noted in the “Detainee’s Conduct” section to be overall “compliant and rarely hostile to the guard force and staff, although he still carries on with a long-term hunger strike.”

-Muhammad Ali Abdallah Muhammad Bwazir [ISN:440]: In his report, which was filed on October 27, 2008, Bwazir’s hunger striking is mentioned in the “Executive summary, worth reading in full:

If released without rehabilitation, close supervision, and means to successfully reintegrate into his society as a law-abiding citizen, it is assessed detainee would probably seek out prior associates and reengage in hostilities and extremist support activities at home and abroad. Since transfer to JTF-GTMO, detainee continues to demonstrate his commitment to extremist activities within the camp. Detainee volunteered to be a suicide operative and actively participates in the hunger strikes. Detainee has been mostly non-compliant with guard force personnel. He has responded cooperatively during debriefs in the past, but currently withholds information of intelligence value.

-Abdul Rahman Mohammed Hussein Khowlan [ISN:513]: In his report filed on March 31, 2006, Khowlan is said to be a “former hunger striker.”

-Mamdouh Ahmed Habib [ISN:661]: In his report filed on August 6, 2004, it is noted that Habib has “a history of depression and behavioral disorders, benign prostatic hypertrophy, hunger striking, and had a knee surgery performed.”

-Emad Abdallah Hassan [ISN:680]: In his report filed on October 31, 2008, it is described in the “Health” section that he is a “high-risk detainee” from a health perspective. He is “a repeated hunger striker with subsequent complications and has a history of chronic pancreatitis for which he is receiving medication.”

-Muhammad Abdallah Taha Moaten [ISN:684]: In his report filed on April 16, 2008, Moaten is described in the “Health” section as a “high-risk detainee” from a health perspective. He has “major depression.” He has a “history of a Hunger Strike.” It is noted that “behavioral health” is following him.

-Allah Muhammed Saleem [ISN:716]: In his report filed on July 2, 2004, under he is noted to have been a hunger striker in the “Health” section.

-Abdul Al Zaher [ISN:753]: In his report filed on November 19, 2008, he is said to have “a history of malaria prior to detainment, chronic lower back pain, sciatica, and hunger striking not requiring enteral feeding. Additionally, he has a history of Major Depressive Episode currently in full remission that is followed by the Behavior Health Unit routinely.”

-Bisher al-Rawi [ISN:906]: In his report filed on October 19, 2005, under “Health,” the reports indicate no “ongoing medical conditions” and that “he went on a hunger strike in August and September 2005.”.

Mohabet Khan [ISN:909]: In his report filed on June 7, 2005, Khan is noted to have over the past six months failed to return to the bay when asked, saluted another detainee, engaged in a short-lived hunger strike (one day on March 2, 2005), and said to have been found “unresponsive breathing with his eyes open.” He also is noted to have asked to be moved because he was not getting along with other detainees.

Husayn Salim Muhammad Al Matari Yafai [ISN:1015]: In his report filed on January 14, 2009, he is said to be “uncooperative indicating continuing support to extremism.” His report alleges he “uses counter-interrogation techniques, expressed he posed a threat to his debriefer, and threatened to kill US personnel at JTF-GTMO.” And, he prayed, “God help us overcome those infidels, God help the ones [hunger] striking God may curse those oppressors,” on December 25, 2008. [Yafai is a “probable recidivist candidate.”]

For the latest on the hunger strikes at Guantanamo, follow the reporting of Jason Leopold at Truthout or the work of Andy Worthington.

The Guantanamo Children: These Aren’t What You’d Call ‘Little League’ Terrorists

3:28 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(Photo:Omar Khadr)

Pakistani national Naqib Ullah (also Naqibullah) was 14 years old and out doing an errand for his father when he was kidnapped from his village in Khan, Afghanistan by 11 men that called themselves, “Samoud’s people.” The men, according to Ullah, “forcibly raped him at gunpoint”. He was taken back to the men’s village encampment and “forced to do manual work.”

Ullah was in the camp for three days when, in December 2002, US forces raided the camp. The group had been forewarned. They ordered Ullah and others to stay behind and fight US forces. He was captured and had a weapon but it had not been fired. He was transported to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in January 2003 because the military believed he might have knowledge of “Taliban resistance efforts and local leaders.”

This teenager is just one of twenty-two juveniles who wound up in Guantanamo. And, with the release of the Gitmo Files by WikiLeaks, more details on the capture, transfer, detention and release of juvenile detainees are becoming known.

Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”

UN officials have called on the US to “respect the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” which “aims to increase the protection of children during armed conflicts. It requires that all States parties ‘take all feasible measures’ to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities.” The UN has tried to remind the US “that children under 18 are entitled to special protection and so any voluntary recruitment under the age of 18 must include sufficient safeguards.” But, the Pentagon has effectively shrugged off the concerns of the UN in the same way they shrugged off the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s concerns about Bradley Manning when he was being held at Quantico.

For example, eight years prior to the release of the Gitmo Files, then-Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, when asked about “the juveniles in Guantanamo,” complained, “This constant refrain of “the juveniles,” as though there’s a hundred of children in there — these are not children. Dick Myers responded to that. There are plenty of people who have been killed by people who were still in their teens.”

Indeed, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dick Myers did respond. This was his characterization of the children in Guantanamo:

I would say, despite their age, these are very, very dangerous people. They are people that have been vetted mainly in Afghanistan and gone through a thorough process to determine what their involvement was. Some have killed. Some have stated they’re going to kill again. So they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little-league team anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team. And they’re in Guantanamo for a very good reason — for our safety, for your safety.

These remarks represent the Pentagon’s disregard for the reality that “juveniles” or children might be armed and exploited by terrorist groups. They may have no way out. They may be assaulted sexually or violently if they refuse to fight.

Seventeen year-old Abdullah R. Razaq was with a group of thirty-one other “Arabs, which consisted mostly of Usama Bin Laden bodyguards,” when Pakistani authorities captured him in December 2001. He was transferred to a prison facility in Peshawar and then transferred into the custody of US forces on December 26, 2001, and transported to Kandahar.

His continued detention rests on JTF-GTMO’s assessment that he is “an al-Qaida member” and has “associated with numerous other al-Qaida members, including senior al-Qaida operatives.” It also rests on JTF-GTMO’s assessment that he was “selected and prepared by al-Qaida senior leadership for a special mission to attack US forces at PSAB in Saudi Arabia” and is “a former member of UBL’s 55th Arab Brigade who engaged in combat action against US and Coalition forces at Tora Bora.”

Razaq, however, denies being a member of al-Qaida. JTF-GTMO’s “Evaluation of Detainee’s Account,” reads:

Detainee has denied that he was a member of al-Qaida, but admitted that he traveled to Afghanistan to join the jihad and become a martyr, trained extensively at al-Qaida training camps, was selected by senior al-Qaida leaders for a mission to attack PSAB, and fought on the Bagram battle lines. He has also acknowledged having been present at Tora Bora during meetings of senior al-Qaida commanders during the battle. Detainee has reported about his brother SA-231, and has provided much of what is known about SA-231’s timeline. However, he continues to omit specific details regarding SA-231’s activities and his associates at Tora Bora, and has not acknowledged being a UBL bodyguard or a member of UBL’s security detail. He has provided very little information of value about UBL, Sayf al-Adl, or other senior al-Qaida figures to whom he had access, and it is not clear whether he has no valuable information about them or if he is deliberately withholding important information. Detainee has been generally cooperative, though he has used resistance techniques to protect certain past activities and associates, such as periodically changing his account and filling in recent chronological gaps in his timeline with activities conducted at earlier times.

He is assessed to be a “HIGH risk” but, Razaq’s testimony before an Administrative Review Board in 2006 raises doubts about whether Razaq’s was ever involved and cooperated with al-Qaida. During Round 2, he does not appear to have any information that would connect him to al Qaida other than the fact that he went to fight in Chechnya and trained at the al Farouq Training Camp, where others connected to al Qaida have trained. He explicitly says he is not “friends with Usama Bin Laden.” He is alleged to be on a “list” but corrects the military charging him with being on a list of suspected al Qaida members by stating the list is a print-out from a computer in Karachi that was taken by a person who “took all the prisoners’ names to see if they were listed as being missing.”

A Designated Military Officer at the hearing claims again that he and his brother received specialized training on SAM-7A and B missiles. He says it is not true. Then, he explains that “psychological torture” has been used on him to find out if he had trained on the weapon.

This is not the first board I have attended. I attended three other boards. For each Board, I get a new interrogator. Each new interrogator made the allegation that I had trained on SAM-7. Three years ago I was at Camp III and they interrogated me for a month. The air conditioning temperature was 54 degrees. It was very cold. They let me sit there for long hours and they brought big speakers with loud noises. They tortured me while standing up and they insulted me and my religion. They have done many things to me. They have done worse to my brother. While I was being tortured, they asked me whether I had trained on SAM-7 and I told them no. Up to this point, they still ask me and this allegation is still in my folder. If I wanted to lie and say yes, I would have told them when I was being tortured. Please excuse me for what I just said, but this is what happened.

Razaq says he told the interrogators at Camp V about the torture but they wrote it down and did not change anything. He told the interrogators it was cold and he wanted to go back to his cellblock. But, “there was no use in telling them.”

Keeping Razaq in detention becomes further dubious when reading this part of the “Intelligence Assessment” from his report:

Detainee has provided no information regarding UBL, UBL’s security practices and bodyguards, or any of the other information expected as a result of placement as a UBL bodyguard or security detail member. Detainee has not yet been confirmed to have been a UBL bodyguard, and it is not clear whether he is specifically withholding valuable information about UBL and the bodyguards or whether he had only limited exposure to them. Detainee has been partially exploited but remains of significant intelligence value.

Razaq was transferred back to Saudi Arabia, where he was born, in September of 2007.

It’s worth noting with regards to Razaq’s age the assessment has what appears to be a discrepancy error that calls into question whether the military really knew his age. In his “Prior History,” it reads, “In early 2000, when detainee was 18 years old, his 22-year old brother, Abd Abdallah Ibrahim Latif al-Sharakh, aka (Abbad), was killed while participating in jihad in Chechnya.” However, his date of birth is listed as “18 January 1984.” He could not have been 18 years old when his brother died if he was actually born in 1984.

The most well known juvenile detainee to be imprisoned at Guantanamo is Omar Ahmed Khadr. His assessment report from January 2004 explains the reason for his continued detention was because “his father is a senior Al-Qaida financier and reportedly the fourth in command underneath Usama Bin Laden in the Al-Qaida organization.” His brother and him were encouraged to go to Afghanistan and fight the US with the support of Al-Qaida and the Taliban. And, according to JTF-GTMO, though just sixteen years old at the time of his travel, he is “intelligent and educated and understands the gravity of his actions and affiliations.” And, he admitted to participating in mining operations and “harassing attacks” against US forces.

This assessment stands in stark contrast to then-UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy’s contention that Khadr is a child soldier whom the US should help rehabilitate.

“Like other children abused by armed groups around the world who are repatriated to their home communities and undergo re-education for their reintegration, Omar should be given the same protections afforded these children…Trying young people for war crimes with regard to acts committed when they are minors could create a dangerous international precedent.”

Fortunately, the world did not see the US—the first nation since World War II to prosecute an alleged child soldier for war crimes—proceed with the trying of a child soldier in a military tribunal. Khadr accepted a plea deal. His defense attorney, Dennis Edney, thought a plea deal was the only way Khadr would get out of Guantanamo Bay.

Khadr was not only faced with the prospect of a military tribunal that rested on dubious charges like “Murder in Violation of the Law of War” but he also faced a situation where the judge had allowed the prosecution to admit evidence obtained when he was tortured into the trial.

The torture of Khadr is worth explicitly noting. Just what he experienced is harrowing to revisit. From an affidavit submitted by Khadr in February 2008, here’s just some of the torture Khadr describes:

…Around the time of Ramadan in 2003, an Afghan man, claiming to be from the Afghan government, interrogated me at Guantanamo. A military interrogator was in the room at the time. The Afghan man said his name was “Izmarai” (Lion), and that he was from Wardeq. He spoke mostly in Farsi, and a little in Pashto and English. He had an American flag on his trousers. The Afghan man appeared displeased with the answers that I was giving him, and after some time both the Afghan and the military interrogator left the room. A military official then removed my chair and short-shackled me by my hands and feet to a bolt in the floor. Military officials then moved my hands behind my knees. They left me in the room in this condition for approximately five to six hours, causing me extreme pain. Occasionally, a military officer and the interrogators would come in and laugh at me.

During the course of his interrogation of me, the Afghan man told me that a new detention center was being built in Afghanistan for non-cooperative detainees at Guantanamo. The Afghan man told me that I would be sent to Afghanistan and raped. The Afghan man also told me that they like small boys in Afghanistan, a comment that I understood as a threat of sexual violence. Before leaving the room, the Afghan man took a piece of paper on which my picture appeared, and wrote on it in the Pashto language, “This detainee must be transferred to Bagram.”

Khadr’s detailing of torture would not provoke any judicial empathy. What the juvenile shared would be completely and callously overlooked by a judge who, on August 17, 2010, turned down his motion to prevent statements that were “the product of torture, involuntary [and] unreliable” from being used against him.

Judge Parrish contended, “There is no credible evidence that the accused was ever tortured,” and added,“While the accused was 15 years old at the time he was captured, he was not immature for his age.”

As Andy Worthington, who has partnered with WikiLeaks to cover the Gitmo Files, wrote, “All this really demonstrates is how spectacularly [the judge] missed the point. Held for two years without access to a lawyer, for three years without ever being charged, and at no point treated as a juvenile deserving of rehabilitation, Khadr’s entire experience of US detention has been lawless and abusive, and, in any case, it should be irrelevant whether a 15-year old apparently made self-incriminating statements, when the focus should be on his father, Ahmed Khadr, an alleged fundraiser for Osama bin Laden, who was responsible for indoctrinating his child in the first place.”

US unwillingness to release Khadr is even more atrocious when considered alongside JTF-GTMO’s assessment of Naqib Ullah, who was recommended for release on August 15, 2003. JTF-GTMO conclude, eight months after he had been brought to Guantanamo, Ullah is a “kidnap victim and a forced conscript of a local warring tribe, affiliated with the Taliban.” They further conclude:

Though the detainee may still have some remaining intelligence, it’s been assessed that that information does not outweigh the necessity to remove the juvenile from his current environment and afford him an opportunity to “grow out” of the radical extremism he has been subject to. Based on the detainee folder, the knowledgeability brief, and interrogations by JTF Guantanamo, the detainee has no further intelligence value to the United States. Detainee has not expressed thoughts of violence or made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. He is considered low threat to the US, its interest and its allies.

Anyone who reads that and considers the assessment in conjunction with the case of Khadr must conclude that Khadr’s crime is really being born to a father with ties to al Qaeda. One must also conclude that perhaps it was less taboo for the Bush Administration in 2003 to release detainees without trying them or keeping them in indefinite detention than it is for the Obama Administration now. And, perhaps, that’s why JTF-GTMO labeled as a “HIGH” value intelligence asset in their assessment: to justify not giving him an opportunity to “rehabilitate” and “grow out” of his “extremism.”

At 7:00 AM New York Time, files on Omar Khadr, Naqib Ullah, Abdulrazzaq al-Sharekh, Yasser al-Zahrani, Abdul Qudus, Mohammed Ismail,  have all been released.

Here’s a list of juveniles whose reports have yet to be released:

Mohamed Jawad (ISN 900) Born 1985, seized December 2002
Mohammed El-Gharani (ISN 269) Born 1986, seized October 2001
Faris Muslim al-Ansari (ISN 253) Born 1984, seized December 2001
Hassan bin Attash (ISN 1456) Born 1985, seized 11 September 2002
Shams Ullah (ISN 783) Born 1986, arrived in Guantánamo October 2002
Qari Esmhatulla (ISN 591) Born 1984, seized March 2002
Peta Mohammed (ISN 908) Born 1985, seized December 2002
Yousef al-Shehri (ISN 114) Born 8 September 1985, seized November 2001
Abdulsalam al-Shehri (ISN 132) Born 14 December 1984, seized November 2001
Rasul Kudayev (ISN 82) Born 23 January 1984, seized November 2001
Haji Mohammed Ayub (ISN 279) Born 15 April 1984, seized December 2001
Mohammed Omar (ISN 540) Born 1986, seized December 2001
Saji Ur Rahman (ISN 545) Born 1984, seized December 2001 (Rahman said he was 15 when captured)
Khalil Rahman Hafez (ISN 301) Born 20 January 1984, seized December 2001
Sultan Ahmad (ISN 842) Born 1 November 1984, seized before November 2002

President Obama Condemns Bradley Manning’s Contempt for the Rule of Law

7:07 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Obama on Manning: “He Broke the Law”

At a fundraiser for President Barack Obama at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, a group of progressive supporters of Bradley Manning paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend and disrupt the event. Oakland activist Naomi Pitcairn personally paid for tickets so people from her group could attend . The group sang a song with lyrics they wrote expressing their disgust with the way the Obama Administration has responded to Manning’s inhumane treatment.

Someone with the group also managed to confront President Obama on Manning. Obama’s handlers may have been preoccupied because in this clip that runs about a minute Obama opens up about what he thinks about what Manning did.

“People can have philosophical ideas about certain things,” President Obama explains. “But, look, I can’t conduct diplomacy on open source.” He then goes on to add that he has to abide by certain classified information rules or law and if he had released material like Manning did he’d be breaking the law.

Now, here is the remark that deserves the most attention: “We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our decisions about how the laws operate.” He adds, “He broke the law.” Finally, before removing himself from the conversation, he says Manning “dumped” information and “it wasn’t the same thing” as what Daniel Ellsberg did because what Ellsberg leaked “wasn’t classified in the same way.”

First, President Obama says Bradley Manning did it. It is not entirely clear that he did it unless you solely rely on the chat logs published by <em>Wired</em> magazine. Manning is the alleged whistleblower in the case. And, displaying this attitude that he is guilty before he actually is put on trial and convicted may prejudice Manning’s case. In the same way that criminal and civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz suggested former President George W. Bush was prejudicing the legal process against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange when he declared he’s “willfully and repeatedly done great harm” and refused to participate in an event with Assange, Obama was making it hard for Manning to get a fair military trial.

Because consider this: if the Commander-in-Chief openly says a soldier is guilty of a crime, then what are the chance the military hands down a sentence that runs contrary to the Commander-in-Chief?

Second, President Obama’s suggestion that supporters of Manning’s alleged action want the government to have “open source” diplomacy plays to the dominant narrative. Nobody thus far has suggested that all diplomacy be conducted out in the open. Why a number of people support the disclosure of the “Collateral Murder” video, the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs and the US State Embassy Cables is because of the extent of corruption, human rights abuses, backroom deals, lobbying for US corporations, spying, manipulation of justice, etc.

Finally, the suggestion that the US is a nation of laws and people don’t get to make decisions about how the laws operate demands clarification. He may be right in the sense that the majority of US citizens do not get to make decisions about how laws operate. But, President Obama can make such decisions and has made such decisions. He can wield the power of the unitary executive and outright skirt the law. He can promote a culture of overriding the laws of this country as well.

President Obama can defy a judge’s order, as the San Francisco Chronicle did February 28, 2009, when it filed papers refusing to allow lawyers for an Islamic organization to review classified surveillance documents related to their case. Obama can have his administration file a brief essentially saying, “This decision is committed to the discretion of the Executive Branch and is not subject to judicial review. Moreover, the Court does not have independent power” to grant counsel access to classified information “when the Executive Branch has denied them such access.”

President Obama can continue to allow warrantless wiretapping in the country that explicitly violates laws. He can choose to not oppose the notion that a President can ignore Congressional restrictions on domestic eavesdropping and violate FISA by eavesdropping on US citizens without a warrant.

President Obama can take the US to war in Libya and embrace lawlessness. He can embrace the idea that the President is the “sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs,” continue the “ideology of lawlessness” promoted by former Bush Administration officials like John Yoo and commit to the pursuit of a mission even if Congress chooses to pass a resolution restricting or outright opposing the mission.

President Obama can refuse to follow a court order and not release photos showing torture.

President Obama can choose to not take apart the legal architecture the Bush Administration set up to give them the authority to militarily detain without charge or trial detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

His administration can cite “state secrets” privileges and prevent torture victims from obtaining justice or compensation in US courts. It can push a “targeted killing” program that could potentially be used to kill US citizens suspected of terrorism, without giving attention to the legal questions raised by such a program. It can prevent investigations of officials who likely violated the law by pushing policies of torture and abuse in prisons.

Most importantly, he can have his administration aggressively pursue whistleblowers and fine tune the law so that individuals like Thomas Drake, who allegedly leaked information about waste and incomepetence at the National Security Agency (NSA) and Bradley Manning, become examples of what happens to citizens that choose to act out against government power and expose the system.

Contrary to what he suggests, if he thinks he can manipulate the law like the Bush Administration, than he can probably release classified information selectively to the media like Julian Assange and WikiLeaks has done as well. Former vice president Dick Cheney asserted in 2006 that he could declassify whatever information he wanted because of an executive order that granted the president and him “classification authority.” Chances are the Obama Administration would be willing to suggest this order still gave them the power to release material (if necessary).

Ideally, the US is a nation of laws but in reality it is not. The Executive Branch led by the President of the United States can choose what legal restrictions to abide by and what not to and it can choose what violations of the law to prosecute and what not to prosecute.

Thus, Manning can become a captive of the American system while soldiers who committed the act shown in the “Collateral Murder” video walk free, while the superiors who promote a culture of inhumanity that leads to incidents like what is seen in the “Collateral Murder” video aren’t held accountable and while former Bush Administration officials that engaged in lawless activity go unprosecuted.

The Irony of Lieberman’s Devotion to Prosecuting WikiLeaks

11:08 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

*DemandProgress has a petition to stop leaders like Sen. Lieberman from outlawing WikiLeaks. Sign it.

I previously wrote about Senator Joseph Lieberman’s (I-CT) appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, December 7th, where he suggested that New York Times should be subjected to an inquiry by the Justice Department on whether they committed a crime or not by publishing or reporting on the contents of the diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks. I intentionally ignored one aspect of Sen. Lieberman’s remarks on Fox News because I felt that aspect deserved its own article.

Just after addressing whether the press reporting on WikiLeaks should face a Justice Department investigation or not, Sen. Lieberman added:

“And, again, why do you prosecute crimes? Because if you don’t–Well, first you do because that’s what our system of justice requires. Second, if you don’t prosecute people who commit crimes, others are going to do it soon and again.

As someone familiar with what Bush Administration officials did when they were in power and how there are officials who should be dragged into court to face a trial for war crimes, I instantly noted the inconsistency. This remark was laughable. But, I am conscious of the fact that it also revealed those in charge of deciding who is guilty of crimes and not guilty of crimes do not think certain violations of the law are crimes.

They think waterboarding, which has traditionally been defined as torture, an act considered to be a war crime, is permissible in some situations. They think warrantless wiretapping is acceptable if there is information to be gained that could be of use (and don’t believe they should be required to prove in the aftermath that what they gained was useful). They find little problem with a CIA, which kidnaps terror suspects and uses extraordinary rendition to send them off to countries that are known to torture suspects, like Egypt. And, they are willing to have terror suspects imprisoned indefinitely in secret prisons or, in the case of detainees at Guantanamo, they are willing to prevent terror suspects from being granted due process.

On April 23, 2009, Sen. Lieberman appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Fox News. Here is a full transcript of the interview he did with host Brian Kilmeade, who expressed his gratitude for Lieberman’s lack of interest in prosecuting former Bush Administration officials:

MR. KILMEADE: Senator Joe Lieberman urging the president not to prosecute. He’s live at the Russell Rotunda. You’re a Democrat telling a Democratic president not to prosecute a Republican — that’s not a popular move. Why shouldn’t he go forward?

SEN. LIEBERMAN : I suppose that’s what it means, Brian, to be an independent Democrat. Look, in the best of all worlds, interpreting what the president said in the clip you just ran, he was deferring to Attorney General Holder to make this decision. But the three of us — Senator McCain, Senator Graham and I — think it’s a real mistake to start breaching the possibility that you criminalize a legal opinion. I mean, you could disagree with the opinions these lawyers wrote during the Bush administration about these enhanced interrogation tactics.

I disagree with some of them. I think they are reasoned opinions. It looks to me like they and the CIA people were really trying to find out exactly what would not be torture under the law of the United States. But you know, if you’re going to start — look, we had an election last year. We got a new administration. This president has prohibited these tactics from being used against suspects in the war against terrorism. So let’s move on. If we start to go back, it raises the possibility we’re going to — we’re basically going to find lawyers who wrote an opinion, that I presume they believed in, guilty of a crime –

MR. KILMEADE: Exactly.

SEN. LIEBERMAN : We’re opening a door that’s going to make it hard for any administration in the future to get the kind of legal advice that it wants, let alone deal with people who are suspects that may have information in the war on terrorism.

MR. KILMEADE: As we hear, you know, there’s going to be a time when this party is not in power and this president is not in the White House. Do you want to go back and investigate that administration? Is it ever going to end and is it going to help anyone except for people get political points? Sena what about those ranking Democrats that knew about these enhanced interrogation tactics on the Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee? Should they be hauled in front of Congress and investigated?

SEN. LIEBERMAN : Well, I mean, there’s no end to this if you go on. That’s the point. Look, the American public, I think, wants us to do two things: One is to focus on the economy today and get going again — protect and create jobs; and two, defend America from the Islamist terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and are still looking for every opportunity to do it today. If we get into basically a political war here in Washington over what happened during the last eight years, it’s going to take our eyes and our attention and our effort off of what we really ought to be doing for the American people. There is simply nothing to be gained from it and it is going to have a bad effect on every administration of any party that follows in the generations ahead.

MR. KILMEADE: As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I’m sure he’s got to take your calls, Senator Lieberman .   Make that call to the Oval Office and spare us a long, drawn out investigation. Thanks so much for expanding on the letter your put out there with Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as John McCain. Always great to see you, Senator. [emphasis added]

Sen. Lieberman’s arguments against prosecuting Bush Administration officials for crimes could be used to argue against prosecuting WikiLeaks. Lieberman and others upset by WikiLeaks could choose to disagree but protect the actions of WikiLeaks just like leaders like Sen. Lieberman suggest we all should respect the actions and opinions of lawyers that created legal justification for torture. This could open a door that in the future makes it harder for the press to report on government and fulfill their role as a watchdog of government (it actually could mean more WikiLeaks-type organizations spring up because press do not find it safe to report on classified information anymore).

There could potentially be no end to this if Sen. Lieberman’s and others’ crusade against WikiLeaks gains further traction. What starts with WikiLeaks would have to move on to publications like the New York Times. And then, on to members of other press organizations that reported on the leaks. Perhaps, it would be used to specifically criminalize independent media like Democracy Now!. And then, would there be interest in extraditing individuals who work for The Guardian, Der Spiegel, El Pais, or Le Monde to the United States since they have been cooperating and working with WikiLeaks?

What is to be gained from this? There is no evidence to suggest that any real damage has occurred. No deaths have been reported as a result of WikiLeaks’ release of leaked documents. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that reactions over the harm that WikiLeaks’ release of documents would do to America were “significantly overwrought.” The gains from going after WikiLeaks will be further repression of press freedom, increased support for censorship and security that destroys the openness and democratic nature of the Internet, and criminalization of those who dissent against America.

Of course, this comparison requires one note be made: WikiLeaks has not committed any crimes. It has not been convicted of anything. On the other hand, former Bush Administration officials committed crimes (crimes the leaked diplomatic cables show U.S. government has been trying to cover up or blackmail people into not investigating).

The persecution of WikiLeaks is entirely political. Julian Assange may be guilty of a sex crime and, if that is the case, he will be prosecuted and face a fine or time in prison. But, Assange and WikiLeaks are not being hunted and strangled because their leader may have committed a sex crime. They are “Public Enemy No. 1″ because they have challenged America.

WikiLeaks has brought out into the open the contradiction that is the United States. Its leaders do little to challenge those who might use the scientific journalism of Wikileaks to repress press freedom and, at the same time, celebrate the fact that U.S. will be the host of World Press Freedom Day in 2011. Its leaders jabber about justice and making sure people are prosecuted so others do not commit the same crimes in the future and simultaneously ignore their history of complicity toward lawlessness and misconduct by U.S. government. And, they purport to be leaders of a free nation as they engage in acts of censorship, coercion and intimidation against American citizens who might take interest and express a desire to support WikiLeaks.

I suppose citizens of the world should expect nothing less from these American leaders. People that argue WikiLeaks is endangering lives and then change their argument to the leaks reveal nothing new clearly are doomed to an existence of contradiction.

Wars, Torture & Other Aspects of the New Normal Won Big in the Midterm Election

6:55 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(Photo by Truthout.org)

During the election, the Tea Party received an inordinate amount of coverage. Campaign spending gained a significant amount of attention with some liberals putting a focus on organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and its commitment to spend tens of millions defeating Democratic candidates. Jobs and the economy, Americans were told, was the top issue.

Within the pomp and circumstance of the election, there was little to no talk about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was little conversation about the torture. And, there was little discussion of how policies, which encourage violations of American civil liberties, have been systematized.

What the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called “The New Normal” received little attention. In fact, one key senator, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, who earned a reputation for being a stalwart defender of civil liberties and who was the only senator to read the PATRIOT Act and vote against it, lost to Republican Ron Johnson, a man who thinks the PATRIOT Act is a good tool for law enforcement.

President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan sending at least 30,000 troops to fuel a “surge” or measured cleansing of regions in Afghanistan to “secure” the country. That deepened a commitment to a war, which the WikiLeaks’ “Afghan War Logs,” revealed in July has been rife with war crimes: a Task Force 373 US-assassination squad known as “the Secret Hunters” going around and hunting down “targets for death or detention without trial,” CIA paramilitaries in Afghanistan contributing many unreported civilian deaths, and coverups of the Taliban’s use of portable heat-seeking missiles along with Pakistan’s funneling of military aid to the Taliban.

Night raids continue in Afghanistan. US and Afghan forces terrorize Afghanis as they break into their homes and make them more afraid of pro-government forces than the Taliban. Raids go wrong and wind up killing pregnant women. The forces detain Afghanis only to wind up returning them to the homes they took them from (sometimes). The damage is done; that family is one step closer to being an insurgent or resistance fighter who oppose the US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

But, despite all of that, Afghanistan received little attention. Few candidates bothered to mention the ongoing war that can now inarguably be called Obama’s Vietnam. Little attempts were made to even connect the spending on Afghanistan to record deficits in the US. The war in Afghanistan won big.

In Iraq, troops were withdrawn. The charade of moving the combat brigades likely pushed candidates up for election (and voters) to think the Iraq war was over. But, fifty thousand troops remain and so do tens of thousands of mercenary contractors and hundreds of people in Iraq continue to be killed as the country plunges deeper into a sectarian war that the US presence only helps to exacerbate.

WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs, the biggest military leak in US history. Put out on a Friday, the timing of the WikiLeaks team’s leak was poorly timed, but not even over the weekend in the immediate aftermath of the leak was there a flurry of discussion in the news. And, in what miniscule coverage the leak had, most news hosts and journalists opted to talk about how the US could combat WikiLeaks and whether there was anything new in the leaked documents or not instead of seriously addressing the contents of the leaks.

The leak revealed the US had been using an “El Salvador Option,” which involved giving Iraqi police or security forces the right to detain, interrogate, and torture detainees in whatever way they deemed fit. The lack of oversight was not necessary because the terrorism of communities would frighten civilians and dissuade insurgency and rebellion. The US would even turn detainees over to battalions like the Wolf Brigade, which were known for torture, and threaten detainees during interrogation with turning them over to the Wolf Brigade if they didn’t provide actionable intelligence that could be used to capture “terrorists.”

An order discovered called “Frago 242″ indicated the US had a procedure for ignoring torture if committed by Iraqi police or security forces. Such revelations spurred the UN and European leaders like Nick Clegg to take the possibility of complicity in torture seriously. Not in America. US leaders brushed the leaked documents aside as if they were of no consequence and they attacked WikiLeaks.

That was nothing to be surprised about because the Obama Administration set a standard of going after whistleblowers. The New York Times reported in June, “In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions. His administration has taken actions that might have provoked sharp political criticism for his predecessor, George W. Bush , who was often in public fights with the press.” The administration has gone after people like James Risen, author of State of War , for leaking “classified information on a bungled attempt to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.”

Not even the idea of funding human needs instead of wars that are wasting blood and treasure entered debates on the campaign trail. Timid or outright spineless Democrats could not be bothered to respond to people who saw the wars as an issue in the election. They didn’t want to say something that would embolden their Republican opponent (or they continue to support the wars and found it to be best to be quiet on the issue). So, the Iraq War won big too.

Guantanamo Bay supporters, people who value the role the prison has played in torture and abuse of detainees which has tarnished America’s image and resulted in routine violations of human rights, won big. The prison, which President Obama pledged to close in January 2009, did not come up for discussion. A show trial involving a detainee, who came to be known as the “Gitmo Child” because he was fifteen when detained, never entered debates during the election either.

Here was a detainee, Omar Khadr, who allegedly threw a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was captured and detained. When interrogated, he was tortured and abused. One interrogator threatened him with a “fictitious” tale of gang rape, saying this had happened to another Afghan youth who had been sent to another American prison. And, a witness for the prosecution claimed to have seen Khadr “with his arms outstretched above eye level, wrists chained to the walls of a five-foot-square cell, hooded and weeping.”

In a battle, Khadr’s act went before a military jury and was charged with a war crime. The court ruled Khadr’s confessions during interrogations that involved abuse and torture could be admitted into the trial as evidence. The trial progressed and Khadr wound up caving, pleading guilty, and being sentenced to 40 years (he’s expected to only serve 8 years).

And, those who wish to see the Bagram prison remain open, a prison that some have called worse than Guantanamo. The once-secret prison was reported by BBC to have detainees being subjected to sleep deprivation, beatings (one detainee detailed losing a row of teeth), humiliated (one detainee made to dance every time he wanted to use the toilet), subjected to sensory deprivation, and refused the right to a lawyer.

Of course, this practice of detaining, interrogating and torturing does not enter the immediate lives of ninety-nine percent of Americans. They are able to tune it out so easily and, especially in this election when the media never asked about matters of national security and terrorism and what candidates would do about so-called “enemy combatants,” Americans are able to have no conscience or empathy toward what the US has done to captured humans from the Middle East. They were able to be wholly concerned about jobs and their position in the U.S. economy and not have their mind clouded with information about US atrocities committed in the “war on terrorism.”

Plus, if Americans haven’t worried about it by now, they may not have to worry about whether it is worth caring about detentions, interrogations and torture or not. A federal court has determined the government can keep what happens at Bagram secret.

The increased use of drones in Pakistan (where no official declaration of war has been made) was not up for debate, even though one in three killed are believed to be civilians. The abuse of power that comes with asserting that a government has the right to engage in targeted killing of a U.S. citizen without granting that individual due process. (*For more on the legal ramifications, read this previous post from Salon.com writer Glenn Greenwald.)

Matters related to warrantless wiretapping were not up for discussion, even though a New York Times report indicated the Obama Administration will be seeking approval from Congress during the 112th Congress to “expand” wiretapping by “overhauling the law requiring telecommunications companies to ensure their networks can be wiretapped.” The Administration would like the telecommunications companies to strengthen their “compliance” with laws so that government can more easily collect information. Claiming “modernization,” the Administration intends to get away with another “far-reaching alteration” of America’s surveillance laws.

Instances of government spying were of no concern to candidates in the election. For example, Pennsylvania Homeland Security monitored residents’ tweets. The constitutionality of such spying was not up for discussion.

Probably, it’s no wonder these issues weren’t raised. The PATRIOT Act was extended in February of this year. There was no reason to revisit issues of privacy.

Finally, despite evidence of crimes, accountability and justice did not enter the debate. The prospect of a Department of Justice that actually prosecutes criminal activity and reigns in lawlessness was not considered. Rather, the Department of Justice continued to hold to a standard of defending and protecting unlawful behavior.

The UN, which urged the Obama Administration to address the way in which torture was allowed in Iraq after the Iraq War Logs showed the US was complicit, was ignored. The Obama Administration and political leaders haven’t got time to look back and save America from falling deeper into a pit of moral bankruptcy. They believe in moving forward, which means excusing America’s actions no matter what those actions have done to humanity.

And, they don’t want anyone in the press or public to stall efforts to move forward by disseminating information Americans have the right to either. Despite conventional wisdom, federal agencies under the Obama Administration have actually used exemptions to block more Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests than federal agencies under the Bush Administration did in its final year.

Just as the midterm elections ended and Republicans rode a tidal wave of fear that propelled them to victories throughout the US, former president George W. Bush released his memoir. In it, he boasts about having no regrets about waterboarding. His admission of committing what amounts to a war crime when you examine international law should motivate someone to subpoena Bush for an investigation.

Not in this society: violating the law is now a cause of pride, especially if you were President of the United States and did it to save a nation from “terrorism.” Build a library and maybe revitalize or create a think tank that can dedicate itself to the Orwellian venture of rewriting history and creating justifications for activities that used to be prohibited by law. The Washington Consensus needs help from people willing to work for the Ministry of Truth. I mean, former President Bush’s library.

Brace yourself, America. Not discussing wars means the “war on terror” expands in Yemen and has repercussions that could radicalize and create more terrorism for the world. It means craven warmongers like Sen. Lindsay Graham have the opportunity to earn greater legitimacy as they call for war with Iran and some sort of “confrontation with China.” (All Americans should shudder at the thought of what might be going through Graham’s twisted brain when he calls for what one can only assume would be a Gulf of Tonkin-esque provocation.)

Not discussing torture and loss of civil liberties means that more and more aspects of live in American society face control and intrusion from government. Giving this up to halt terrorism may seem acceptable to some, but in a free society, those who give up liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Americans in favor of torture and PATRIOT Act measures only empower authoritarian forces that could swell and come under the control of, dare I say it, people like Sarah Palin or some other Tea Party Republican leader some day and wreak fascist havoc on this country doing damage far worse than what the Bush Administration did.

Americans have a republic, if they can keep it. And right now, the voice of Americans opposed to the concentration of executive power in government — what could be called the emboldening of the imperial presidency — is horrifically silent. These issues should matter yet, right now, those in power have succeeded in convincing Americans war, torture, violations of civil liberties, etc are of no significance.