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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.

More on How Physicians Became Torture Doctors for CIA

9:01 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 

 

 

A good amount of documentation on the involvement of psychologists in the torture and abuse of detainees or “terror suspects.” And, a new study provides even more revelations on the involvement of physicians making it increasingly clear that medical professionals put limits on ethical standards they were expected to follow in order to help the CIA interrogate detainees.

 

The study, titled “Roles of CIA Physicians in Enhanced Interrogation and Torture of Detainees,” authored by Leonard S. Rubinstein, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, and Brigadier General (ret.) Stephen N. Xenakis, a former Army psychiatrists (who is now with the Center for Public Health and Human Rights), utilizes a previously secret document from 2004 and lays out the “guidelines for detainee interrogation” that physicians, psychologists, and other health care professionals developed and followed so they could serve the CIA.

 

Guidelines indicate the doctors, who were working for the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, conducted medical evaluations [experimentations] on detainees “before and during interrogations” and waterboarding “required the presence of a physician.”

 

Physicians documented the effects of “enhanced interrogation techniques” [torture] like waterboarding and decided waterboarding “created risks of drowning, hypothermia, aspiration pneumonia, or laryngospasm.” They ignored “clinical experience/research” and assured lawyers “there was no ‘medical reason’ to believe that waterboarding [would] lead to physical pain.”

 

It was established that “cramped confinement could result in deep vein thrombosis” and death could result from “lengthy exposure to cold water.” And, the physicians, psychologists, and other health care professionals working for the CIA developed “limitations” so that techniques like waterboarding, cramped confinement, sensory deprivation, stress positions, etc could be used on detainees.

 

Limitations included: “exposure to specified temperature either up to time of hypothermia would develop or on evidence of hypothermia,” dietary restrictions up to “body weight loss of 10% or evidence of significant malnutrition,” “exposure to noise just under decibel levels associated with hearing loss,” up to 48 hours of exposure to stress positions “provided hands were no higher than the head” of a detainee, and no more than eight consecutive hours or eighteen hours per day of “confinement in a box.”

 

Much of this took place after 2003, after a CIA Inspector General investigation of “enhanced interrogation techniques” [torture], OMS physicians were asked to provide “opinions to the agency and lawyers on whether techniques used would be expected to cause severe pain or suffering and thus constitute torture.” Slowly, OMS physicians’ work for the CIA transformed into work, which violated “ethical standards,” prohibiting physicians from using “medical skills to facilitate torture or be present when torture is taking place.”

 

The physicians consulted directly with Department of Justice lawyers and were asked to provide legal cover by supporting “legal decisions” that “interrogators who applied enhanced interrogation techniques neither inflicted sever mental or physical pain or anguish and thus did not commit torture.” For techniques like sleep deprivation, they claimed the use thereof “could not lead to profound disruption in the detainees’ senses or personality (the legal definition of psychological torture).”

 

As suggested in the opening paragraph, it has been evident that physicians and psychologists have been involved in torture for some time, especially since Wikileaks leaked the Guantanamo Standard Operating Procedures Manual in November 2007.

 

The manual indicated that, “incoming prisoners were to be held in near-isolation for the first [four] weeks to foster dependence on interrogators and `enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process.’” It outlines how isolation was to be used on detainees, a technique Physicians for Human Rights said can lead to symptoms of “`bewilderment, anxiety, frustration, dejection, boredom, obsessive thoughts or ruminations, depression, and, in some cases, hallucination’” and, if prolonged, could result in “increased stress, abnormal neuroendocrine function, changes in blood pressure and inflammatory stress responses.”

 

Then, it was known those involved understood how they could be prosecuted for violating international law. As an April 16, 2003, memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained 

"Caution: the use of isolation as an interrogation technique requires detailed implementation instructions, including specific guidelines regarding the length of isolation, medical and psychological review, and approvals for extension of the length of by the appropriate level in the chain of command. This technique is not know to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days. Those nations that believe that detainees are subject to POW protections may view use of this technique as inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva III, Article 13 which provides that POWs must be protected against acts of intimidation; Article 14 which provides that POWs are entitled to respect for their person; Article 34 which prohibits coercion and Article 126 which ensures access and basic standards of treatment. Although the provisions of Geneva are not applicable to the interrogation of unlawful combatants, consideration should be given to these views prior to application of this technique."

  

The report is yet another indication of the need for more investigation, accountability, and reform from the Obama Administration. Yet, as demonstrated by a comprehensive report ("Establishing the New Normal") from the ACLU, the Obama Administration has avoided its obligation to accountability for torture and chosen to follow the dangerous mantra of “looking forward, not back,” a false choice because, as the ACLU states in the report:

 

“a strong democracy rests not on the goodwill of its leaders but on the impartial enforcement of laws. Sanctioning impunity for government officials who authorized torture sends a problematic message to the world, invites abuses by future administrations, and further undermines the rule of law that is the basis of any democracy.”