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Report To U.N. Calls Bullshit On Obama’s ‘Look Forward, Not Backwards’ Approach To Torture

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I was stunned when President Obama flatly stated that he would ignore the legal requirements to investigate credible allegations of torture—allegations that by the time of his statement we knew to be factual, but without knowledge of how vast the torture program was nor the details of those guilty of participating in the torture system, torture quite clearly being a crime under US (nd international) law. But President Obama did not seem bothered by it because, you see, the crimes had been committed in the past, so that we should not even look into them: “Look forward, not back,” something that must have puzzled law-enforcement agencies, whose total workload and responsibilities are dealing with crimes that took place in the past. However, I am sure it was heartening to criminals everywhere—and in particular those who had tortured people (some of them perfectly innocent of any wrong doing) and transported people to be tortured: The President has said that bad deeds done in the past are perfectly okay.

But now the dereliction of duty is starting to fester. Murtaza Hussein reports at The Intercept:

Months after President Obama frankly admitted that the United States had “tortured some folks” as part of the War on Terror, a new report submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture has been released that excoriates his administration for shielding the officials responsible from prosecution.

The report describes the post-9/11 torture program as “breathtaking in scope”, and indicts both the Bush and Obama administrations for complicity in it – the former through design and implementation, and the latter through its ongoing attempts to obstruct justice. Nothing that the program caused grievous harm to countless individuals and in many cases went as far as murder, the report calls for the United States to “promptly and impartially prosecute senior military and civilian officials responsible for authorizing, acquiescing, or consenting in any way to acts of torture.”

In specifically naming former President George W. Bush, Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo and former CIA contractor James Mitchell, among many others, as individuals sanctioned torture at the highest levels, the report highlights a gaping hole in President Obama’s promise to reassert America’s moral standing during his administration. Not only have the cited individuals not been charged with any crime for their role in the torture program, Obama has repeatedly reiterated his mantra of “looking forward, not backwards” to protect them from accountability.

Needless to say, you shouldn’t try that defense in court if you’re an ordinary American on trial for, say, a drug crime.

It’s also worth remembering that, horrific as it was, the torture regime described in the report was only a tiny part of the wide-ranging human rights abuses the United States committed after 9/11. It doesn’t even account for the network of prisons where hundreds of thousands of people were detained in Iraq and Afghanistan – many of whom suffered beatings, rape and murder at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

The environment that allowed such treatment as again authorized at the highest levels, but just as with the CIA program the only people to receive any legal sanction for these actions have been low-level soldiers who’ve essentially been used as scapegoats for the crimes of their superiors.

By refusing to prosecute Bush-era officials for their culpability in major human rights abuses such as the CIA program and Abu Ghraib, President Obama is not just failing to enforce justice but is essentiallyguaranteeing that such abuses will happen again in the future. His administration has demonstrated that even if government officials perpetrate the most heinous crimes imaginable, they will still be able to rely on their peers to conceal their wrongdoing and protect them from prosecution. This not only erodes the rule of law, it also helps create a culture of impunity that will inevitably give rise to such actions once again. . . .

Continue reading.

And it’s worth noting that Obama appointed John Brennan, deeply implicated in the torture program, to head the CIA, and has had people involved in the torture program trying to whitewash the Senate report on the torture program—while Obama refuses to declassify it.

Obama is quite clearly a willing accessory to the torture program, going to great lengths to protect those who did the torture and to prevent the US public from knowing exactly what happened. This is a dark blot on his record and reveals an aspect of his character worth considering.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2014 at 12:20 pm

Interesting development: Peace Prize Laureates Urge Disclosure on U.S. Torture

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Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

A dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates are urging President Obama to make “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture” by the United States, including the release of a long-delayed Senate report about the C.I.A.’s torture of terrorism suspects after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The laureates told Mr. Obama, who was awarded the Peace Prize himself in 2009, that the report’s prospective release has brought the United States to a “crossroads,” and that he must do more to bring closure to an era when the United States set an example that “will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world.”

“It remains to be seen whether the United States will turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded, and to once again adhere to the international conventions it helped to bring into being,” they wrote.

The joint letter was organized by two of the laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and former President José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, and is part of a broader online petition campaign at TheCommunity.com, whose chairman is Mr. Ramos-Horta. An advance copy was provided to The New York Times.

The appeal comes as the White House continues to wrestle with how much of a 480-page executive summary of the report should be declassified, an issue that pits the C.I.A. against the mostly Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. . .

Continue reading.

In related news Obama is reversing his earlier anti-torture stand—Obama does a lot of reversing of his various stances—as reported earlier in the NY Times by Charlie Savage. I don’t think Obama has any firm principles regarding torture (or much of anything else, so far as I can see). That story begins:

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 indeed President Obama has resolutely ignored the provisions of the treaty that legally require the investigation of credible allegations of torture and prosecution of those responsible---Obama, for example, allowed the CIA to destroy all the video records of their torture sessions and has constantly said that we must not "look back" at the crimes committed before he became president, because.... {unclear} - LG]. . .  [N]ow, 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. [No torture in the US, but the US can torture anywhere else in the world---they just have to transport the victim to another country or into international waters, and then (in Obama's view) torture is perfectly legal and acceptable. - LG]

The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty. That presentation will be the first during Mr. Obama’s presidency.

State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation. Doing so would require no policy changes, since Mr. Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture.

But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects. [To be clear courts have thrown out those lawsuits because Obama and Bush should "National security!!" as loud as they can, and the DOJ pleads with the courts to throw out the cases lest the US fall. That's how the US can kidnap innocent people, torture them for months, and there are no repercussions, no investigations, and no lawsuits allowed. The CIA is a Mafia, and the President is the don. - LG]

The internal debate is said to have been catalyzed by a memo that the State Department circulated within an interagency lawyers’ group several weeks ago. On Wednesday, lawyers from the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the National Security Council met at the White House to discuss the matter, but reached no consensus.

Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said Mr. Obama’s opposition to torture and cruel interrogations anywhere in the world was clear, separate from the legal question of whether the United Nations treaty applies to American behavior overseas.

“We are considering that question, and other questions posed by the committee, carefully as we prepare for the presentation in November,” Ms. Meehan said. “But there is no question that torture and cruel treatment in armed conflict are clearly and categorically prohibited in all places.”

In Mr. Obama’s first term, his top State Department lawyer, Harold H. Koh, began a push to reverse official government interpretations that two global rights treaties — the torture convention and a Bill of Rights-style accord — imposed no obligations on American officials abroad.

Both treaties contain phrases that make it ambiguous whether they apply to American-run prisons on foreign territory. For example, the provision barring cruelty that falls short of torture applies to a state’s conduct “in any territory under its jurisdiction.” . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: The first story above, which discusses at some length the prohibitions specified in the Convention Against Torture but is completely silent on the requirements of that law, prompted me to send this letter to the editors:

Charlie Savage’s report, “Peace Prize Laureates Urge Disclosure on U.S. Torture,” discusses the prohibitions of the Convention Against Torture (cruelty, torture), but is oddly silent on what the Convention requires: that credible allegations of torture MUST be investigated, and if evidence is found, those responsible for torture must be prosecuted.

President Obama has ignored this law with his childish “Look forward, not back.” And yet we routinely investigate and prosecute crimes that have already occurred (i.e., all crimes). Why not these? Because powerful people in the US can do whatever they want?

In fact, the Obama Administration does not even allow innocent people the US has kidnapped and tortured to have a day in court. When lawsuits are brought, the Obama Administration cries, “State secrets!” to get the cases thrown out.

This behavior is so contemptible, and so violates the Convention Against Torture, that I found it astonishing that Savage’s article doesn’t even mention it—until the penny dropped.

Of course: this silence is another instance in which the NY Times is obeying a request/demand from the White House, just as the NY Times (as an accessory after the fact) helped the White House conceal the completely illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

So it’s business as usual for you: helping the government hide its criminality, just as before.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2014 at 6:25 pm

When Abu-Ghraib is on the other foot

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 3:45 pm

CIA lying about stalling the report

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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.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 1:55 pm

Obama considering that torture is probably okay if done outside the US

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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, . . .

Continue reading.

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.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 6:27 pm

Obama Administration working hard to ensure that the US can continue to torture

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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. . .

Continue reading.

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.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2014 at 5:36 am

Information continues to seep out about the US torture system

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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. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2014 at 12:15 pm

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