Archive for category Torture
Last Friday, President Obama informed a White House press conference that the U.S. government has engaged in torture as a matter of policy. Not that he plans to do anything about that. In fact, he hasn’t even banned every torture technique in use by the CIA and the military.
“We tortured some folks,” he said. “We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law-enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.”
The fallacy here, whether or not it’s intentional, lies in the fact that torture (in addition to being a crime under federal law) is not an intelligence interrogation technique. The experts will all tell you that torture is good for one thing only: extracting false confessions. The Bush administration employed torture to get some detainees to say what they wanted to hear, namely that Saddam Hussein’s regime was tied in with al-Qaeda. For example the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national captured in Afghanistan in November 2001, provided false information regarding chemical weapons training between Iraq and al-Qaeda that was used by the Bush Administration in their efforts to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq. Al-Libi recanted in January 2004. This sort of thing is what they now call “faulty intelligence” instead of lies.
President Obama is getting credit simply for using the dreaded “T” word that the media usually avoid by talking about American “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Of course reporters are not afraid say “torture” to describe what China does to prisoners, for example, even if it’s the exact same thing the CIA did.
On FDL, Jeff Kaye picks up on something important. Here’s what else the president said, referring to the still-secret Senate Select Committee torture report (emphasis added):
And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.
But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.
Only “some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques”? Not all? Was this merely a slip of the tongue by the President? No one in the press corp seemed to notice, and no one took him up on the issue… though it is very much worth noting that Jeremy Scahill reported in July 2011 on the CIA’s continuing use of black sites and torture in an important article in The Nation. Others had surmised as much even earlier.
Apparently President Obama, whether he meant to or not, has confirmed for the record that torture is still practiced by the U.S. government.
Obama Admits He Banned Only “Some” of the CIA’s Torture Techniques
Fox Gives Liz Cheney A Platform To Attack Obama For Mentioning Torture
White House To Make Torture Report ‘Impossible To Understand’
Well, this is amazing. Following months of public pressure, the Senate intelligence committee voted 11-3 on Thursday to declassify portions of the lengthy investigation into the CIA’s use of torture at secret black sites around the world. The executive summary, findings, and conclusions of the Senate panel’s 6,300-page report will be released.
Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) supported the release of the Senate Torture Report, using a word that nobody thought Washington politicians have in their vocabulary (emphasis added):
We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values. While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA’s management of this program.
Our vote to declassify this report does not signal our full endorsement of all of its conclusions or its methodology. The report has some intrinsic limitations because it did not involve direct interviews of CIA officials, contract personnel, or other Executive branch personnel. It also, unfortunately, did not include the participation of the staff of Republican Committee members. We do, however, believe in transparency and believe that the Executive Summary, and Additional and Dissenting Views, and the CIA’s rebuttal should be made public with appropriate redactions so the American public can reach their own conclusions about the conduct of this program.
Torture is wrong, and we must make sure that the misconduct and the grave errors made in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program never happen again.
It certainly took long enough. The new 577-page torture report from The Constitution Project’s bipartisan commission concluded (emphasis added):
The question as to whether U.S. forces and agents engaged in torture has been complicated by the existence of two vocal camps in the public debate. This has been particularly vexing for traditional journalists who are trained and accustomed to recording the arguments of both sides in a dispute without declaring one right and the other wrong. The public may simply perceive that there is no right side, as there are two equally fervent views held views on a subject, with substantially credentialed people on both sides. In this case, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that among those who insist that the United States did not engage in torture are figures who served at the highest levels of government, including Vice President Dick Cheney.
But this Task Force is not bound by this convention.
The members, coming from a wide political spectrum, believe that arguments that the nation did not engage in torture and that much of what occurred should be defined as something less than torture are not credible.
Now that a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel has reached the conclusion that President George W. Bush and his top advisers bear “ultimate responsibility” for authorizing torture in violation of domestic and international law, the question becomes what should the American people and their government do.
The logical answer would seem to be: prosecute Bush and his cronies (or turn them over to an international tribunal if the U.S. legal system can’t do the job). After all, everyone, including President Barack Obama and possibly even Bush himself, would agree with the principle that “no man is above the law.”
Interestingly enough, Section 3286 of the USA PATRIOT Act effectively abolished the statute of limitations for torture.
The U.N. Convention Against Torture, signed by President Reagan in 1988, compels all signatories who discover credible allegations that government officials have participated or been complicit in torture to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution” (Art. 7(1)).
The disgrace of the American torture regime falls on Bush officials and secondarily the media and political institutions that acquiesced to it, but the full-scale protection of those war crimes (and the denial of justice to their victims) falls squarely on the Obama administration.
Last August, the Department of Justice ended a four-year criminal investigation by federal prosecutor John Durham into interrogation techniques used during the presidency of George W. Bush, including torture. At least two cases resulted in the deaths of detainees in CIA custody. This investigation began in 2008, after we learned about the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations of terror suspects. Attorney General Eric Holder decided not to initiate any prosecutions.
Late last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled German citizen Khaled el-Masri was tortured by CIA agents. He was seized in Macedonia in December 2003, tortured, and secretly flown to Afghanistan. Then he was released in April 2004. after the CIA admitted he was wrongly detained. El Masri’s lawsuit in U.S. court for illegal detention was dismissed in 2006 when the court accepted the government’s position that it could invoke the so-called “state secrets privilege” in order to avoid having to admit what the CIA did.
The US Senate’s select committee on intelligence conducted a three-year review of CIA treatment of detainees, producing a 6,000-page classified report that is believed to conclude that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” adopted by the CIA during the Bush years did not produce any major breakthroughs in intelligence, contrary to previous claims. This report is likely to remain secret. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the intelligence committee chair, says the report contains “startling details” about waterboarding, stress positions, forced nudity, beatings and sleep and sensory deprivation.
Torture and conspiracy to commit torture is a federal crime punishable by up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary, or by the death penalty if it results in the victim’s death. So who is going to prison now that the CIA torture program has been thoroughly investigated?
1. Someone who conducted “enhanced interrogation” torture sessions.
2. Someone who destroyed evidence of torture.
3. Someone who wrote a legal memo justifying the use of torture.
4. Someone high up in the Bush administration who authorized torture.
5. Someone who opposed torture within the CIA and later blew the whistle on the terrible crimes committed in our name.
If you guessed #5, you’re correct.
Last Friday, ex-CIA officer John C. Kiriakou became the first person to be sentenced to prison for issues related to CIA torture. Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act for revealing the name of a former operative involved the Bush era’s brutal interrogation of detainees at Guantanamo to a reporter.
Kiriakou worked as a CIA operative for more than two decades and led a March 2002 raid that captured high-ranking Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah. He was also a vocal torture opponent who revealed his knowledge of U.S. enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, in an ABC interview in 2007.
UPDATE: From Roots Action: Free John Kiriakou
On June 18, 2009, President Obama declared that no one in the CIA would be prosecuted for torture. But now a CIA officer is finally going to prison in connection with torture. However, this CIA officer didn’t torture anyone — he blew the whistle on torture.
In 2007, John Kiriakou was the first person to publicly acknowledge that the CIA was waterboarding people. The retribution for that act of whistleblowing began immediately.
The CIA began filing crime reports with the Department of Justice against Kiriakou. The IRS audited him in 2007 and has done so every year since. His wife was forced out of her job at the CIA. In 2010 an FBI agent pretending to be a foreign spy tried to entrap Kiriakou, who reported the incidents to the FBI. The same FBI follows him everywhere, including into his children’s school.
The DOJ tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Kiriakou under the Espionage Act as a supposed enemy of the state. He became unemployable and racked up a million dollars in lawyers’ bills.
Now Kiriakou is finally going to prison for 30 months for the act of telling an author the name of someone to interview, even though the name was already known and Kiriakou’s prosecution has made it better known.
It’s the height of irony that after the CIA illegally destroyed nearly 100 video recordings of torture sessions to avoid being held accountable, the number one movie in American theaters this weekend devotes most of its first hour to a Hollywood re-creation. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-nominated film “Zero Dark Thirty” [Full disclosure: I haven't seen the film and don't intend to] turns torture into entertainment:
Those scenes …show terrified, disoriented and bloodied detainees kept awake for days on end by having their arms painfully suspended from the ceilings of secret jails; stuffed into tiny wooden boxes when they don’t cooperate with their inquisitors; and waterboarded on soiled mattresses while interrogators bark questions.
Bigelow ignores both the illegality and immorality of using torture. As if that’s not bad enough, “Zero Dark Thirty” delivers the message that it was CIA torture that led to finding Osama bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan. This is factually wrong. The statement “based on first-hand accounts of actual events” is deceptive because it causes the viewer to think the story is accurate, when what it really means is “based on CIA propaganda.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program concluded that the CIA did not first learn about the existence of the bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and that the CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have requested information and documents related to the CIA’s cooperation in the making of this film, which lies to the American people about one of the most critical issues of the Bush administration: the criminal use of torture by the CIA, for which no one has ever been prosecuted. We know that on many occasions, detainees were tortured to death in secret CIA prisons.
Sony Chairman Amy Pascal tried to refute criticism of “Zero Dark Thirty” by a member of the Oscar voting academy on Friday, saying her studio’s movie “does not advocate torture.” No one has claimed that it does – only that it lies about torture.
UPDATE: Kevin Gosztola on FDL:
[I]t is impossible not to conclude that this film is the kind of production that greatly pleases the national security state especially because it does not question what they do.
…This is the hunt for Bin Laden told with information from officials in government, who have no objection to America’s increased reliance on secret war or covert operations. Bigelow and Boal wanted the information necessary to tell the version of the story that they believed to be true in a way that would garner them high praise. The CIA gave them that while at the same time manipulating them into presenting torture tactics used to create learned helplessness in prisoners as part of the timeline of events that eventually led to Bin Laden. They showed the NSA intercepting communications and the dolly shot past hardware with wires and cords popping out is made completely innocuous and acceptable. A scene shows a video screen with imagery from a drone striking a target and Maya looks on coldly, completely numbed by the lethal use of force.
The filmmakers played their part. They were given access and what Americans are flocking to this weekend is nothing that would alienate the officials they collaborated with and nothing less than a conventional story of revenge on an American enemy.
And I’ve had some BIG ones, but this is precious.
Meatloaf tortures Romney, LIVE, on stage.
Lee Greenwood called in sick.
Rosanne Barr’s plane got delayed.
I haven’t even looked to see if Romney was wearing his flag lapel pin, and I don’t care. We all know he was wrapped in the flag.
Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks website on Thursday started publishing more than 100 US Department of Defense documents including the first prisoner treatment manual for Guantanamo Bay.
…Among the documents is the 2002 manual for staff at Camp Delta at Guantanamo, shortly after it was set up by US President George W. Bush to house alleged Al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees from the “war on terror”.
“This document is of significant historical importance. Guantanamo Bay has become the symbol for systematised human rights abuse in the West with good reason,” said Assange, the founder of the website.
He added: “‘The ‘Detainee Policies’ show the anatomy of the beast that is post-9/11 detention, the carving out of a dark space where law and rights do not apply, where persons can be detained without a trace at the convenience of the US Department of Defense.
“It shows the excesses of the early days of war against an unknown ‘enemy’ and how these policies matured and evolved, ultimately deriving into the permanent state of exception that the United States now finds itself in, a decade later.”
Glenn Greenwald has a detailed account of how the Obama administration has moved incrementally to make sure that no one is prosecuted for violations of laws against torture and even torture-related homicide.
Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing without charges of the only two cases under investigation relating to the US torture program: one that resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison near Kabul, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen while in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. This decision, says the New York Times Friday, “eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA”.
Note: more than 100 detainees were reported to have died in custody, many after being tortured. Only two cases were investigated by the Obama DOJ.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s highly original “look forward not backward” approach to law enforcement does not apply to whistle-blowers. As Friday’s Times article on Holder’s announcement pointedly notes:
“While no one has been prosecuted for the harsh interrogations, a former CIA officer who helped hunt members of al-Qaida in Pakistan and later spoke publicly about waterboarding, John C Kiriakou, is awaiting trial on criminal charges that he disclosed to journalists the identity of other CIA officers who participated in the interrogations.”
While everyone is rightly focused on the lackluster economy recovery, the DOJ’s announcement that torturers now have immunity from prosecution (at least in the U.S.) represents another major failure of the Obama administration.