Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
I wonder how much of this is driven by well-known US atrocities such as Abu-Ghraib, the sergeant who went on a massacre of Afghan civilians, the total destruction of the two anti-Taliban town councils, the number of civilians (including wedding parties) killed in drone attacks, the well-known examples of torture by the US (183 waterboardings for one prisoner, for example), the entire Iraq War and aftermath, and on and on. Certainly those do not in any way justify what ISIS is doing, but it perhaps can explain the source (and origin) of some of their anger. It’s not as though actions do not have consequences. The US cannot go around the world, conducting itself in such a fashion, and not expect pushback. That would be, IMO, unrealistic.
The CIA, doing everything it can to stop the Senate report—after already destroying all the video evidence of their torture of prisoners (and presumably of some of the innocents that mistakenly tortured). But they are lying about their stall, of course.
From Dan Froomkin’s column today:
Trapani [CIA spokesman] said, “CIA worked extensively to assist SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Inteligence] in completing this Study. CIA expects this report to be released, consistent with the SSCI vote. Anyone suggesting that we are trying to stall to January does not understand the basic facts of this matter.”
Either side in a negotiation can technically blame the other for holding up an agreement. But the CIA does have a bad track record here.
J. William Leonard, a former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, wrote recently:
As the official responsible for oversight of the system for classifying national security information during the Bush administration, I frequently did battle with the CIA over declassification. I found its negotiating posture to be consistent: start out with the most ridiculous position and eventually settle for one that is simply outrageous. My 40 years of experience in the world of government secrecy taught me that the CIA rarely if ever acts in good faith when it comes to transparency.
Leonard wrote that in this case, “The CIA even redacted information already made public by a 2009 Armed Services Committee Report on detainee abuse within the military.”
Obama promised that he would expedite the release of the report, but then Obama also promised “a world without nuclear weapons” and now he’s going to spend $1 trillion to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. Obama apparently likes to make promises and apparently feels that, once a promise is made, no further action is required and he can do as he likes.
And so far as his actions and words go, Obama has never even heard of the Convention Against Torture, a treaty signed (by Ronald Reagan) and ratified. He has completely ignored it for 6 years.
Interesting how something that violates human rights—something, in fact, that the US has signed a treaty that it will not do—is perfectly okay if you do it in another country.
Read this excellent editorial in the NY Times:
One of the proudest moments of President Obama’s presidency took place on his second day in office, when he signed an executive order that banned torture and cruel treatment in the interrogation of terror suspects.
But apparently some of his subordinates didn’t get the message. As Charlie Savage of The Times reported on Sunday, some military and intelligence lawyers in the administration are pressuring the White House to adopt a Bush-era position that there is no bar against the use of torture by the United States outside American borders. And, unfortunately, the White House is considering the proposal.
The issue has come up because the United States is required to appear in Geneva next month before the United Nations committee that monitors compliance with the global Convention Against Torture, adopted in 1984 and ratified by the United States 10 years later. State Department lawyers want the administration to abandon the position of the George W. Bush administration and state plainly that it will not engage in torture or cruel treatment of prisoners anywhere in the world, including at detention camps on foreign soil.
But military and intelligence officials don’t want the administration to make that public statement. They’re worried that such a declaration could result in the prosecution of the Bush-era officials who did practice torture.
That fear seems misplaced. There should be legal accountability from those who tarnished the country’s reputation by ordering and practicing torture, but it’s hard to see how agreeing to a global ban on torture now would increase the chances for such a prosecution. For one thing, Congress already passed a law in 2005 saying that no one in American custody shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment “regardless of nationality or physical location.” Mr. Bush reserved the right to bypass the law, but the plain language of the statute is quite clear.
Last year, . . .
President Obama seems quite happy to ignore the legal requirements of the Conventions Against Torture with regard to investigating and prosecuting those Americans who tortured prisoners, suspects, and detainees.
Also, the US embraces cruelty as a way to treat prisoners. It feels to me that the US has lost its way. Charlie Savage writes in the NY Times:
When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.
Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute “acknowledges and confirms existing obligations” under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.
The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before theCommittee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty. That presentation will be the first during Mr. Obama’s presidency. . .
You’ll notice Obama’s pattern: take one position in order achieve his goals, reverse his position once he’s gotten what he wants. For example, Obama’s solemn pledge to vote against telecom immunity from lawsuits regarding their illegal wiretaps stimulated a lot of support for him. Then he did vote in favor of telecom immunity. As the torture posturing shows, Obama cannot be trusted even to follow the law (the Convention Against Torture, which he ignores by not investigating and prosecuting those who authorized and delivered torture to prisoners held by the US).
Obviously, nowadays many believe that the US cannot survive as a free and democratic nation if we do not allow our law enforcement and military officials to torture prisoners and treat the untortured with cruelty. Such people have unreasonable confidence that those tactics will not be used on them.
Cora Currier writes in The Intercept:
In the fall of 2006, Nathaniel Raymond, a researcher with the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, got a call from a man professing to be a CIA contractor. Scott Gerwehr was a behavioral science researcher who specialized in “deception detection,” or figuring out when someone was lying. Gerwehr told Raymond “practically in the first five minutes” that he had been at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo in the summer of 2006, but had left after his suggestion to install video-recording equipment in detainee interrogation rooms was rejected. “He said, ‘I wouldn’t operate at a facility that didn’t tape. It protects the interrogators and it protects the detainees,’” Raymond recalls.
Gerwehr also told Raymond that that he had read the CIA Inspector General’s report on detainee abuse, which at the time had not been made public. But “he didn’t behave like a traditional white knight,” Raymond toldThe Intercept. Though he had reached out to Raymond and perhaps others, he didn’t seem like a prototypical whistleblower. He didn’t say what he was trying to do or ask for help; he just dropped the information. Raymond put him in touch with a handful of reporters, and their contact ended in 2007.
In 2008, at the age of forty, Gerwehr died in a motorcycle accident on Sunset Boulevard. Years after Gerwehr died, New York Times reporter James Risen obtained a cache of Gerwehr’s files, including emails that identify him as part of a group of psychologists and researchers with close ties to the national security establishment. Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price, uses Gerwehr’s emails to show close collaboration between staffers at the American Psychological Association (APA) and government officials, collaboration that offered a fig leaf of health-professional legitimacy to the CIA and military’s brutal interrogations of terror suspects.
Risen describes Gerwehr as “living a highly compartmentalized life.” A Santa Monica liberal who “expressed distaste for George Bush,” he was nonetheless tightly connected to people involved in the administration’s interrogation program. He had Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance, according to Risen, and a psychologist told Risen “he seemed optimistic about the possibilities of testing out psychological theories on interrogation issues.” Indeed, in a 2005 New York Times op-ed that reads almost naïvely, post-Abu Ghraib, he and a co-author wrote that the idea “that harsh treatment of prisoners can be less effective than showing compassion…now deserves a test in Iraq.” Treating prisoners well “would help reverse the terrible propaganda defeat suffered with the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib,” he wrote, and “prisoners released by our forces would return to their communities with stories of American generosity and tolerance.”Risen says that Gerwehr’s files don’t contain “explosive bombshells,” or indicate “the extent of his knowledge of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs.” But they narrate a period in 2004 and 2005 when the APA was being forced to respond to revelations about detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and the role of psychologists in designing and condoning brutal questioning tactics. (Subsequentgovernment investigations and reporting would show the foundational roleof psychology, and in particular, two psychologists and CIA contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.)
The APA in 2002 famously revised its ethics code to allow for a psychologist to follow the law or a “governing legal authority,” even if it clashed with the APA’s own code of ethics. It was, essentially, the Nuremberg Defense of “just following orders.” (In 2010 the APA definitively disavowed it.) As Risen writes, the 2002 change allowed psychologists to be involved in CIA and military interrogations, and “helped the lawyers in the Justice Department to argue that the enhanced interrogation program was legal because health professionals were monitoring the interrogations to make sure they stayed within the limits established by the Bush administration.”
In 2005, after the revelations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, the APA put together a task force on ethics and national security, which, while affirming the organization’s opposition to torture, determined that psychologists could be involved with interrogations “to assist in ensuring that such processes are safe and ethical for all participants.”
Gerwehr was copied on emails discussing a confidential APA lunch meeting in July 2004, attended by psychologists from the CIA, Department of Defense, and other agencies. . .
Obama has said (repeatedly) that he will release the Senate’s report on the torture done by the CIA, but apparently the CIA is not going to allow him to do that. (I think the power relations are becoming clear over time, and Obama is subservient to the intelligence apparatus—the CIA, NSA, and that lot: they call the tune.)
And yet the American public, by an overwhelming majority, wants the report released—and, one assumes, with minimal redaction. But the Administration doesn’t work for the American public, as is becoming increasingly evident, and Obama continues to block the report even as he continues his savage campaign against whistleblowers and increases government secrecy at every turn—while stating (through Eric Holder) that we should all turn over our data to any government agency that happens to want it.
America is going in a terrible direction. Dan Froomkin writes at The Intercept:
According to a new poll, a sizeable majority of American voters believe CIA officials violated the constitutional system of checks and balances when they hacked into computers being used by Senate staffers investigating torture.
And by a two-to-one margin (54 percent to 25 percent, with 22 percent not sure) they believe that CIA Director John Brennan should resign on account of the misleading statements he made about the incident.
The Public Policy robo-poll of 898 registered voters was commissioned by the Constitution Project, a highly-respected non-partisan group that has been active in calling attention to the lack of accountability for the torture of detainees during the last administration.
The poll found overwhelming public support for release of a long-completed report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The report is said to disclose abuse that was more brutal, systematic and widespread than generally recognized, and to expose a pattern of deceit in the Bush administration’s descriptions of the program to Congress and the public.
But despite having been completed in December 2012, the report remains inaccessible to the public. Most recently, the White House and the CIA have proposed redactions that Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein said effectively undermine its key findings.
Fully 69 percent of those polled said they support releasing a declassified version of the report “to establish the historical record and to find out more about what happened”; compared to 22 percent who chose the option of not making the report public “because the findings might be damaging or embarrassing”.
Perhaps most strikingly, those numbers were nearly identical across party lines — Democratic, Republican and independent.
Scott Roehm, senior counsel for the Constitution Project, told me that’s important “because of attempts to paint what has been an oversight exercise as a partisan one.”
“In our constitutional democracy, transparency and an informed public are core principles,” he said. “I think those are at issue here.” . . .
I expect the decades ahead will have some interesting reading on the successes and failures of the Obama Administration, including his absolute refusal to obey the law as stated in the Convention Against Torture. This is outright lawbreaking, and he seems to be getting away with it, to his (and our) discredit.
From later in the article, an example of how Obama ignores the wishes of the public as well as the law:
Calls for Brennan’s ouster emerged quickly after Feinstein’s floor speech in March, describing a blatant violation of the principle that Congress conducts oversight over the executive branch, not vice versa. Brennan quickly issued an angry denial whose qualifications were widely overlooked. A CIA Inspector General’s report, whose conclusions were made public in July, confirmed Feinstein’s allegations.
Obama, for his part, said in August that he has “full confidence” in Brennan.
Dan Froomkin makes some excellent points in his blog today—and points out how Obama seeks sympathy for the torturers, poor things.
A new report from Amnesty International, prompted by President Obama’s recent acknowledgement that “we tortured some folks”, reminds us that you can’t say something like that — and then not do something about it.
The report states:
One measure of a country’s failure to meet its international human rights obligations might be when its president acknowledges that country’s responsibility for crimes under international law that have been public knowledge for many years but still fails to take the required next step.
Damning. But it gets worse. As Amnesty puts it:
A further indicator might be if the president takes to issuing something akin to a plea for sympathy for the perpetrators, even as the government blocks remedy for the victims.
Yes, consider exactly what Obama said, at his August 1 press conference:
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 the 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. 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.
Here’s the video: . . .
I don’t consider upholding the law to be “sanctimonious.” Obama does.