Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
Digby blogs at Hullabaloo:
Chelsea Manning, the US army soldier serving a 35-year military prison sentence for leaking official secrets, has been threatened with indefinite solitary confinement for having an expired tube of toothpaste in her cell and being found in possession of the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair issue, according to her lawyers and supporters.
Manning, a Guardian columnist who writes about global affairs, intelligence issues and transgender rights from prison in the brig of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has allegedly been charged with four violations of custody rules that her lawyers have denounced as absurd and a form of harassment. The army private is reportedly accused of having showed “disrespect”; of having displayed “disorderly conduct” by sweeping food onto the floor during dinner chow; of having kept “prohibited property” – that is books and magazines – in her cell; and of having committing “medicine misuse”, referring to the tube of toothpaste, according to Manning’s supporters.
The maximum punishment for such offences is an indeterminate amount of time in a solitary confinement cell.
The fourth charge, “medicine misuse”, follows an inspection of Manning’s cell on 9 July during which a tube of anti-cavity toothpaste was found. The prison authorities noted that Manning was entitled to have the toothpaste in her cell, but is penalizing her because it was “past its expiration date of 9 April 2015”.
The “prohibited property” charge relates to a number of books and magazines that were found in her cell and confiscated. They included the memoir I Am Malala by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, a novel featuring trans women called A Safe Girl to Love, the LGBT publication Out Magazine, the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair and a copy of Cosmopolitan that included an interview with Manning.
Also confiscated was the US Senate report on torture. It is not clear why any of these publications were considered violations of prison rules – a request by the Guardian to the army public affairs team for an explanation of the charges received no immediate response.
I’m going to guess it that report on torture that really set them off. After all, these prisons practice torture every day so they probably believe that a prisoner reading such material is automatically insubordinate.
Solitary confinement is torture.The Center for Constitutional Rights says:
The devastating psychological and physical effects of prolonged solitary confinement are well documented by social scientists: prolonged solitary confinement causes prisoners significant mental harm and places them at grave risk of even more devastating future psychological harm and at times, these harms were found to be permanent or persist even after one was released from solitary.
Researchers have demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement causes a persistent and heightened state of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, insomnia, lethargy or chronic tiredness, nightmares, heart palpitations, fear of impending nervous breakdowns and higher rates of hypertension and early morbidity. Other documented effects include obsessive ruminations, confused thought processes, an oversensitivity to stimuli, irrational anger, social withdrawal, hallucinations, violent fantasies, emotional flatness, mood swings, chronic depression, feelings of overall deterioration, as well as suicidal ideation.
Exposure to such life-shattering conditions clearly constitutes cruel and unusual punishment – in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Further, the brutal use of solitary has been condemned as torture by the international community.
Manning is a political prisoner being held as an example to others. And they are apparently contemplating torturing him. For reading about the United States torture program. . .
Former top CIA officials planning a major public-relations campaign to rebut the Senate torture report’s damning revelations have found themselves undermined by one of their own.
Eight former top officials wrangled by Bill Harlow — the former CIA flak who brought us the CIASavedLives.com website after the Senate report was issued last December — are publishing a book in the coming weeks entitled “Rebuttal: The CIA Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention and Interrogation Program.”
Meanwhile, however, Alvin Bernard “Buzzy” Krongard, who was the CIA’s executive director from 2001 to 2004 — the number-three position at the agency — was asked on a BBC news program if he thought waterboarding and putting a detainee in painful stress positions amounted to torture.
“Well, let’s put it this way, it is meant to make him as uncomfortable as possible,” he said. “So I assume for, without getting into semantics, that’s torture. I’m comfortable with saying that.”
He added: “We were told by legal authorities that we could torture people.”
The book’s contributors include former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael V. Hayden, former deputy directors John McLaughlin and Michael Morrell, former counterterrorist center deputy director J. Philip Mudd, former chief legal counsel John Rizzo, and former head of the clandestine service Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr.
All of them were complicit in the Bush administration torture regime and/or its cover up.
The book is intended to present the “rest of the story,” according to is promotional material. If past protestations from its authors are any guide, the book will also include many spurious examples intended to prove that the program “saved lives.” . . .
Video at the link.
Israeli adopts forced-feeding torture in order keep Palestinians imprisoned indefinitely without charge
A very ugly scene: Israeli locks up people indefinitely with no charges filed, and if they go on hunger strike in protest, Israel will adopt forced-feeding despite medical personnel stating that this is torture. Israel justifies the torture by pointing out that the US has adopted torture, including forced-feeding, which the US continues to do at Guantánamo. The US: an exemplar of the acceptability of torture—not to mention imprisoning people without charge: cf. the 16-year-old boy locked up in solitary at Riker’s Island for three years, and finally simply released without going to trial. (The boy later committed suicide.)
Joel Greenberg reports for McClatchy:
Israel’s parliament passed a controversial law Thursday authorizing the force-feeding of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, drawing swift condemnation from the country’s medical association, which called the practice torture.
The government-backed bill was introduced in response to cases in which Palestinian prisoners have gone on prolonged hunger strikes to protest jail conditions and their detention without trial, sometimes winning early release.
The legislation, passed 46-40 in the 120-member Knesset, authorizes a district court judge to approve force-feeding of a prisoner who in the opinion of a doctor is in imminent danger of death or severe and irreversible disability.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year cited force-feeding at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp to bolster the government’s case for the practice, in which liquid nourishment is pumped in tubes run through prisoners’ noses into their stomachs.
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who sponsored the bill, said after it passed that “hunger strikes by imprisoned terrorists have become a tool for attempts to pressure the state of Israel.”
“We must not reach a situation in which a prisoner who poses a public threat will be freed because the state did not have the ability to save him from death and is compelled to release him,” Erdan said.
Khader Adnan, a Palestinian prisoner who had been on a hunger strike for 55 days to protest his detention without charges, was released this month by the Israeli authorities because of fears that his possible death could trigger widespread unrest.
Israel holds more than 5,600 Palestinians in its jails, 391 of them without charges or trial, according to the Israel Prison Service.
Dr. Leonid Eideleman, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, called passage of the force-feeding bill “a black day in the annals of Israeli legislation.” He said his group would instruct doctors not to cooperate with the procedure.
“Force-feeding is torture, doctors must not participate in torture, and Israeli doctors will not participate in torture,” Eidelman said, adding that his group would challenge the law in the Israeli Supreme Court. . .
I often disagree strongly with Feinstein’s positions, but then she will surprise me by (for example) pushing through the publication of a slightly censored executive summary of an important report on the US program of systematic torture of prisoners and suspects. Connie Bruck profiles her in the New Yorker:
Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator from California, is making a late career of not quite pleasing anyone. After five decades in politics, Feinstein, at eighty-one, is the oldest sitting member of the Senate, where a late term is often less a valedictory than a chance for activism: think of Edward Kennedy or Mitch McConnell. With its elaborate rankings and deferential codes, the Senate rewards longevity; senior members have better committee seats, more loyal patrons, first choice of desk space in the chamber. As they near retirement age—whatever that means, in an institution where nearly a quarter of the members are over seventy—senators can hope to change a thing or two.
When Barack Obama took office, on January 20, 2009, the Democrats held the Senate, and Feinstein had just become chairman of the powerful Intelligence Committee. At Obama’s inaugural ceremony, she delivered the welcoming remarks, standing before an eager crowd and declaring, “Future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation.” Skeptics on the National Mall might have noted that this was not a novel sentiment in such speeches, but for Feinstein it was an earnest indicator of political engagement. As the Bush Administration came to an end, the country was reconsidering the decisions of the previous eight years, particularly the ethics of the War on Terror.
Feinstein is sometimes described as a centrist, but it is because her views are varied, not because they are mild; she thinks of herself, more accurately, as a pragmatist. Especially in recent years, on issues she cares deeply about, she will take positions that other senators do not. Feinstein has pursued a deal to prevent Iran from building nuclear arms more intently than any of her colleagues. In March, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress, in the hope of averting a possible deal, Feinstein appeared on “Meet the Press” and said, “What Prime Minister Netanyahu did here was something no ally of the United States would have done.” When I saw her the next day, she told me, “For Netanyahu to come here with a clear view of preventing an agreement was really inappropriate. Particularly because this President’s Administration has provided more than twenty-five billion dollars to Israel, far more than to any other country.”
Although Feinstein mostly votes with the Democrats, she is less predictable than many of her colleagues. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, she voted to confirm several of President George W. Bush’s nominees. In 2007, she endorsed Michael Mukasey for attorney general—even as he dodged the question of whether waterboarding is torture, saying only, “If it amounts to torture, then it is not constitutional.” A Democrat from hyper-liberal San Francisco, she has persistently defended government surveillance programs and targeted killings by drones, and she has been one of the C.I.A.’s most faithful supporters. Last year, after President Obama called to move authority for drone strikes from the C.I.A. to the Defense Department, Feinstein placed a classified amendment in a spending bill that helped keep the program where it was. When the activist Edward Snowden revealed that the N.S.A. had amassed the phone records of vast numbers of American citizens, he was hailed on the left as a whistle-blower. Feinstein said, “I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower. I think it’s an act of treason.” Advocates for human rights and civil liberties responded with angry editorials. The journalist Glenn Greenwald has said that her “disgusting rhetoric recalls the worst of Dick Cheney.”
The former Secretary of State George Shultz, who has raised money for Feinstein’s campaigns from Republican friends in California, told me, “Dianne is not really bipartisan so much as nonpartisan.” Slightly formal in style, she adheres faithfully to procedure and protocol; she believes in settling disputes privately, and by argument rather than by force. Even in less than momentous situations, she is a dogged negotiator. William Luers, a former ambassador and the head of the Iran Project, recalled, “I don’t think anyone has a meeting with her where she says, ‘I’m with you all the way.’ Rather, she says, ‘I’m with you, but you have to understand under what terms.’ ”
In her office recently, she described how she broke with the C.I.A. over the detention and interrogation program that began in the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. From the first time Feinstein was briefed about the program, she opposed it. On September 6, 2006, Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee and described a network of “black sites”: secret facilities where C.I.A. interrogators subjected detainees to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” seeking information about possible terrorist attacks. Hayden, self-assured and pugnacious, insisted that the interrogations were carefully run and unassailably effective. Afterward, Feinstein wrote to him that his testimony was “extraordinarily problematic,” and that she was “unable to understand why the C.I.A. needs to maintain this program.” In November, when Hayden appeared before the committee again, Feinstein peppered him with questions. She wanted to know how the agency guarded against abuse, whether detainees were stripped of their clothes, whether they were fed during periods of sleep deprivation. Although she and several colleagues raised objections, Hayden, not long afterward, told a meeting of foreign diplomats, “This is not C.I.A.’s program. This is not the President’s program. This is America’s program.”
In December, 2007, the Times revealed that C.I.A. officers had secretly destroyed videotapes of interrogations, against the advice of White House officials. A few days later, Hayden, insisting to the Intelligence Committee that there had been no “destruction of evidence,” turned over cables related to those taped interrogations. For months, two committee staff members reviewed the cables, which described the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, whom the C.I.A. suspected was a high-ranking Al Qaeda member, and of a detainee named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
In February, 2009, the staff members appeared before the committee and described what they had found. Nearly twenty-four hours a day for twenty days, Abu Zubaydah was stripped naked and subjected to multiple “enhanced” techniques: slammed into a wall, slapped, deprived of sleep, confined in a coffin-size box, forced into painful postures. He was also waterboarded at least eighty-three times. Two psychologists, contracted by the C.I.A. to develop and run the interrogation program, reported that Abu Zubaydah was “ready to talk” during the first exposure, but “we chose to expose him over and over until we had a high degree of confidence he wouldn’t hold back.” After the first waterboarding sessions, a C.I.A. official wrote, “Several on the team profoundly affected . . . some to the point of tears.” By the seventh day, the C.I.A. team had informed headquarters that it was unlikely Abu Zubaydah had the threat information the agency was seeking, but the team was instructed to continue. During one waterboarding session, investigators found later, Abu Zubaydah “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
Nashiri was subjected to similar measures. Investigators determined that he was put in a “standing stress position,” with “his hands affixed over his head,” for at least two days. It was implied that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused. He was waterboarded. After each session, his interrogators reported that he was coöperative, but officials told them to persist, because he had not provided information on imminent attacks. When the interrogators objected, they were replaced.
Feinstein described the interrogations as “ugly, visceral.” As the new chairman of the committee, she had the authority to try to effect change. “You set the table, so to speak,” she said recently. “You make the determinations, what will come up, what the committee will do.” She called for a full investigation of the C.I.A. program, and the committee voted in favor of it, 14–1. That was the genesis of what became known as the torture report, a sixty-seven-hundred-page tome, laden with footnotes. When the report was completed, in December, 2012, it included an appendix devoted to Hayden, detailing more than thirty misstatements in one session of his testimony. (Hayden argues that the Democrats misinterpreted the intent of his testimony, saying, “I described the norms—how things were supposed to work—and they found the exceptions.”)
Michael Schiffer, who was a member of Feinstein’s staff for a decade, told me that Feinstein retains a stubborn, perhaps naïve faith that the system is run by people who are trying to do the right thing for the country. “When that faith is shaken, she is really determined to do something about it,” he said. “It was that faith that caused her to be so enraged about torture.” A former intelligence officer, who knew Feinstein from her years on the Intelligence Committee, saw her determination a little differently: “The worst thing, from Dianne Feinstein’s perspective, is trying to keep her from doing her job of oversight. And if you lie to her that’s bad.”
When Obama took office, Feinstein assumed that he would be a strong ally. During the campaign, he had excoriated the Bush Administration for the C.I.A.’s interrogation program, forthrightly calling the interrogation tactics “torture.” On his second day in the White House, he issued an executive order that banned C.I.A. detention and effectively prohibited the use of waterboarding and other coercive techniques. In the end, though, what Feinstein’s group released was not the full report but a five-hundred-page executive summary, with a fraction of the meticulous, excruciating details. The summary’s release, last December, came after an eleven-month battle, in which Feinstein and several other Democrats on the committee fought strenuously against the C.I.A.—and, unexpectedly, the Obama White House. . .
Later in the profile:
In December, 2012, the committee approved the final report (eight Democrats and one Republican voted yes) and sent it to President Obama. The report concluded that the enhanced techniques were far more brutal than the agency had disclosed, and were an ineffective means of obtaining accurate information. The C.I.A. had justified them by enumerating terrorist plots that had been “thwarted.” The report examined twenty of these examples and found them “wrong in fundamental respects.”
The CIA is not very forthcoming about this. Dexter Filkins reports in the New Yorker:
’s been six months since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its report on the torture of Al Qaeda suspects, and I can’t stop thinking about Abu Zubaydah’s eye.
His left eye, to be precise, which he lost while being held in one of the C.I.A.’s secret prisons.
Abu Zubaydah, an alleged Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in 2002, was suspected of being a senior member of the group and a plotter in the 9/11 attacks. A Saudi Arabian citizen, Abu Zubaydah was the first suspect who was officially subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by President Bush.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could make you feel sorry for Abu Zubaydah, but his C.I.A. interrogators demonstrated a combination of brutality and incompetence that actually manages to achieve this. Even though Abu Zubaydah surrendered plenty of information to F.B.I. interrogators without coercion, and even though it wasn’t clear how much more he knew—it turns out that he wasn’t even a member of Al Qaeda—the C.I.A., convinced that he was harboring knowledge of future attacks, subjected him to twenty days of torture. (The F.B.I. refused to take part.) They stripped him, deprived him of sleep, slammed him into the prison wall, and played music at deafening volumes. They waterboarded him eighty-three times, driving him into fits of hysteria and involuntary spasms; at one point, they feared they might have killed him.
After several waterboarding sessions, Abu Zubaydah was so broken that, when a C.I.A. agent snapped his fingers twice, he would lie down on the waterboard, naked and dirty, to await his torture. As the Senate report makes clear, the C.I.A. interrogators knew that what they were doing was possibly illegal. In fact, they were so worried about being found out that they told their superiors that if Abu Zubaydah were to die during his interrogation, he would have to be cremated. In the event that he lived, they asked, in a cable, for “reasonable assurances that [Abu Zubaydah] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” They did, indeed, receive such assurance. (For a succinct, if gruelling, description of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation, read pages 32 through 57 in the Senate report. It’s drawn from the C.I.A.’s own records. ) While the torture of Abu Zubaydah produced a number of intelligence reports, there’s no evidence that these brutal means were necessary to obtain them. After all that, Abu Zubaydah provided no actionable intelligence on future plots.
Still, I want to talk less about Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation than about his missing eye. When a team of American and Pakistani agents moved in to capture Abu Zubaydah, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in 2002, he fled across a rooftop, where he was shot and wounded in the groin. A photo of Abu Zubaydah, apparently taken moments after his capture, and which his lawyers say is accurate, does not show any obvious problem in either of his eyes. His lawyers say that he had no eye condition. Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, told me that when Abu Zubaydah was apprehended he appeared to have some sort of eye condition, perhaps an infection. “His eye was pretty bad,’’ Soufan said. John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who participated in the capture, has also said that there appeared to be something wrong with one of his eyes.
In any case, the C.I.A. was so concerned that Abu Zubaydah was going to die from his gunshot wound that they flew in a doctor from Johns Hopkins University to treat him. He appears to have received excellent medical care, if only so that he could live in order to surrender information. “He got the best medical treatment anyone could have,’’ Soufan said.
In 2006, four years after he was captured, Abu Zubaydah was transferred out of C.I.A. custody to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A photo from that time, made available by WikiLeaks, shows Abu Zubaydah with a pirate-style patch over his left eye. His lawyers say that, by then, his eye was gone. That is, sometime between when he entered exclusive C.I.A. custody, in 2002, and when he left it, in 2006, he lost his left eye. In that four-year period, Abu Zubaydah was held in several C.I.A. secret prisons, also known as “black sites,” including those in Thailand, Lithuania, and Poland. . .
Barbara Myers writes at TomDispatch.com:
The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.
The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.
Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.
That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.
The CIA Interrogation Center, Saigon
Before him sat the enemy. VC. Vietcong. He was slender, a decade older than the 28-year-old American, and cautious in his initial responses. The American offered him a cigarette. “Smoke?”
Anthony Russo liked to befriend his subjects, finding that sharing a cigarette or a beer and congenial conversation could improve an interview’s results.
This man’s all right, Russo thought — unlike the one he had interviewed when he first arrived in Saigon. That prisoner had sat before him, quivering in fear, pleading for his life. “Are you going to kill me?” the distraught man had said repeatedly, his thumbs red and bulbous from being strung up.
Torture was not something Russo had anticipated when he took the job. A civilian with a rank equivalent to major working for the RAND Corporation, he had arrived in the South Vietnamese capital on February 22, 1965, and was briefed on his mission. Russo was to meet the enemy face-to-face and figure out what made them tick. On that first day, he could hear General Richard Stilwell, chief of staff of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), barking orders from the next room: “You get every goddamn plane in the air that you can!”
Russo thought the war would be over in a few weeks, months at worst.
Instead of the limited conflict he expected, years slipped by. Bombs fell, villages were decimated, the fabric of Vietnamese life assaulted. Russo persisted with his interviews of Vietcong prisoners, witnessing the after-effects of torture in nearly every instance.
It’s hard to pinpoint just when the shift occurred in the young man who came to Southeast Asia to “promote democracy.” But as one tour of duty extended to two, contact with the enemy changed not their hearts and minds, but his. On the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive, he returned to the United States intent on challenging the war, a chance he would get, helping his friend and RAND co-worker Daniel Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers.
That secret history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, a massive compilation of internal government memoranda and analyses, had been quietly commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 to assess what had gone wrong in Vietnam. Ellsberg leaked the Papers to the press in mid-1971, setting off a political firestorm and First Amendment crisis. He would be indicted on charges of espionage, conspiracy, and theft of government property, and would face a maximum penalty of 115 years in prison. Charges were also brought against Russo, who was suspected of complicity, after he refused to testify before a grand jury. He was jailed for 47 days for contempt and faced a possible sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted.
Ellsberg’s leak led to a Supreme Court decision on prior restraint, a landmark First Amendment case. Though all the charges were ultimately dropped, the leak and its aftermath had major political fallout, contributing to the demise of the presidency of Richard Nixon and forming a dramatic chapter on the path to U.S. defeat in Vietnam.
Ellsberg became a twentieth-century hero, applauded in print and film, his name nearly synonymous with the Pentagon Papers, but Russo, the young accomplice who goaded Ellsberg to go public, has been nearly forgotten. Yet he was, according to Ellsberg, the first person to document the systematic torture of enemy combatants in Vietnam. If no one knows this, it’s because his report on the subject remains buried in the vaults of the RAND Corporation, the think tank that did research for the Pentagon in Vietnam. Similarly, while the use of unprecedented airpower against the civilian populations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia inspired international calls for war crimes trials in the 1970s, Russo’s exposure of the fabrication of data that propped up that air war remains but a footnote in Vietnam War historiography, unknown to all but a handful of academics. . . .
The most important reason for the tension that exists between the United States and most of the rest of the democratic world is that American claims about the threat of terrorism seem grossly exaggerated. The extravagance of its reaction seems disproportionate and unrealistic, even suggestive of the sweeping and utopian political fantasies that convulsed the mid-twentieth century, meant in their day to bring “an end to history.” America’s current utopian vision, global, free-market democracy under American leadership, is a very unlikely prospect.
American policy on Iraq is condemned abroad by most of the democracies, in part for the practical reason that this policy has manufactured terrorism and nationalist resistance to the United States and its allies inside Iraq and so far has succeeded only in escalating the crisis between the Western powers and Islamic society. [Intimations of ISIS. – LG[
The American insistence that September 11, 2001, was the defining event of the age, after which “nothing could be the same,” is regarded as simply untrue. The only thing that really changed was the United States. That it may never again be the same is profoundly depressing.
Foreign observers are disturbed that American elites seem unable to understand this. To them, and certainly to an American, the most dismaying aspect of the Bush Administration’s
conduct has been its installation of torture as integral to American military and clandestine operations, a part of the administration’s repudiation of those portions of international law and American treaty obligations that it considers irreconcilable with absolute U.S. national
sovereignty, or as obstacles to national policy. This was displayed from the beginning.
The administration’s hostility to the U.N. and to other international institutions, as well as to the constraints of international law, reflects a long tradition on the right wing of the Republican Party, going back to the Republican isolationism of the years between the two world wars. It may be deplorable, but it is no great surprise.
There are, however, few if any antecedents in American public policy and debate for the American government’s present commitment to torture. In recent years there was a hint of a break with accepted norms, in the Pentagon’s adamant hostility to proposals for an International Criminal Court, and to the 1998 Rome Statute that established such
a court, which, ratified by ninety-nine countries, has now come into being.
It was difficult at the time to understand the government’s position other than as an implicit declaration that existing military doctrine included options that could invite condemnation as war crimes. [This is similar to the outrage expressed that the 6 Baltimore police have been charged with crimes—in the view expressed, police should never be charged with crimes and never brought to trial. – LG] The Clinton Administration signed the International Criminal Court treaty despite Defense Department opposition, but President George W. Bush formally withdrew the American signature on May 6, 2002.
For many years the U.S. Army has been accused of running a “torture school” as part of its training of Latin American officers at its School of the Americas (lately renamed the “Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation”), located first in Panama and later, after Panama’s full independence, at Fort Benning in Georgia. This accusation was denied, and most Americans, including this one, were inclined to doubt that it was really so. But the routine use during the war on terror of techniques that according to international law (and common-sense judgment, here and abroad) are clearly torture suggests that it may have
been true after all.
Following the terrorist attacks in September 2001, explicit proposals to authorize torture circulated in the administration and in the Pentagon and CIA, even though there was no one yet to torture. Memoranda soon were drafted by the Justice Department on how to protect
American military and intelligence officers from eventual prosecution under existing U.S. law for how they treated prisoners.
When the war in Afghanistan began, the Bush Administration shipped prisoners outside Afghanistan, mainly to the newly established prison facility at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, Cuba, a location technically (or at least arguably so) outside the jurisdiction of U.S. laws and courts. It did so without serious examination of the prisoners’ individual cases, again in disregard of Geneva Conventions concerning prisoners taken in war.
On January 9, 2002, a memorandum co-written by John Yoo of the University of California Law School, who was serving temporarily in the Justice Department, provided arguments to support a claim that with respect to prisoners taken in Afghanistan, the United States was not bound by the Geneva Conventions. The prisoners were to be declared “enemy combatants,” not prisoners of war, a legal distinction previously unrecognized but considered necessary to prevent American officials from being exposed to the U.S. federal War Crimes Act of 1996, which carries the death penalty.
There was early consideration of the legal consequences of what the President, members of his cabinet, and other high officials were doing. In effect, the question put to government
lawyers was how the President and the others could commit war crimes and not be held accountable.
The January 25, 2002, opinion Bush received from the White House legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, now United States attorney general, held that the President was not bound by U.S. laws or by international engagements prohibiting torture, nor were Americans committing torture under his authority open to prosecution by the Justice Department.
This opinion rested on the argument that the nature of the war on terror made
existing laws and international agreements irrelevant. Gonzales called the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and “obsolete.”. . .
It should always be noted that some of those tortured were innocent of any crime, and that the Obama Administration has not allowed them to have their day in court, nor provided any apology or restitution, and that the Obama Administration has resolutely protected the torturers. That is the picture the US now presents to the world.