Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
When the U.S. uses a drone-fired missile to kill an entire wedding party, how do you think the surviving family members feel? I suppose in part the answer depends on how you feel about your own family members and how you would feel if a foreign power fired a missile into a group of them. But I think many would take it hard.
And how would feel about being imprisoned and tortured by soldiers from a foreign nation, and being humiliated in your own country? Or what would you feel if that happened to a relative or friend? Again, you might accept that such things happen, but I can easily imagine that some might carry a serious grudge.
Joshua Eaton reports in The Intercept:
In February 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The prison was about to become international news, but the prisoner would remain largely unknown for the next decade.
At the time the man was brought in, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was finalizing his report on allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib’s Hard Site — a prison building used to house detainees singled out for their alleged violence or their perceived intelligence value. Just weeks later, the first pictures of detainee abuse were published on CBS News and in the New Yorker.
Today, detainee US9IZ-157911CI is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. His presence at Abu Ghraib, a fact not previously made public, provides yet another possible key to the enigmatic leader’s biography and may shed new light on the role U.S. detention facilities played in the rise of the Islamic State.
Experts have long known that Baghdadi spent time in U.S. custody during the occupation of Iraq. Previous reports suggested he was at Camp Bucca, a sprawling detention facility in southern Iraq. But the U.S. Army confirmed toThe Intercept that Baghdadi spent most of his time in U.S. custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib.
Baghdadi’s detainee records don’t mention Abu Ghraib by name. But the internment serial number that U.S. forces issued when they processed him came from the infamous prison, according to Army spokesperson Troy A. Rolan Sr.
“Former detainee al-Baghdadi’s internment serial number sequence number begins with ‘157,’” Rolan said, describing the first three digits of the second half of Baghdadi’s serial number. “This number range was assigned at the Abu Ghraib theater internment facility.”
The details of Baghdadi’s biography have always been murky, and his time in U.S. custody is no exception. In June 2014, the Daily Beast reported that the United States held Baghdadi at Camp Bucca from 2005 to 2009, citing Army Col. Kenneth King, the camp’s former commanding officer. However, King backtracked after U.S. officials told ABC News that Baghdadi was out of U.S. custody by 2006.
Days later, the Pentagon confirmed that Baghdadi was only in U.S. custody for 10 months, from February to December 2004. The Department of Defense told the fact-checking website PunditFact in a statement that Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca. “A Combined Review and Release Board recommended ‘unconditional release’ of this detainee and he was released from U.S. custody shortly thereafter. We have no record of him being held at any other time.”
In February 2015, the Army released Baghdadi’s detainee records to Business Insider, in response to a records request. They showed that . . .
Continue reading. There’s more worth reading.
Later in the article:
. . . In the occupation’s first few years, U.S. facilities like Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca developed a reputation as “jihadi universities” where hard-line extremists indoctrinated and recruited less radical inmates. Analysts have long suspected that Baghdadi took full advantage of his time at Bucca to link up with the jihadis and former Iraqi military officials who would later fill out the Islamic State’s leadership.
In November 2014, the Soufan Group, a private intelligence firm, published a list of nine Islamic State leaders it said had been detained at Camp Bucca. The list included Baghdadi and Hajji Bakr, a former Iraqi military official who became head of the Islamic State’s military council and is widely reported to have spent time in Bucca. . .
Nations, like any organization, can make horrible errors and do great wrong, and (like any organization) the most common response is to cover up the misdeeds and attack those who expose them. We see that playing out now, as described by Marc Parry in the Guardian:
Help us sue the British government for torture. That was the request Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, received in 2008. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Risky because investigating those misdeeds had already earned Elkins heaps of abuse.
Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups.
It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Her prose seethed with outrage. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. But the book polarised scholars. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies.
By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. Her case for tenure, once on the fast track, had been delayed in response to criticism of her work. To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mauwork.
That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. She looked at the file boxes around her. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”
She said yes. She wanted to rectify injustice. And she stood behind her work. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I knew I was right.”
What she didn’t know was that the lawsuit would expose a secret: a vast colonial archive that had been hidden for half a century. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy.
Nothing about Caroline Elkins suggests her as an obvious candidate for the role of Mau Mau avenger. Now 47, she grew up a lower-middle-class kid in New Jersey. Her mother was a schoolteacher; her father, a computer-supplies salesman. In high school, she worked at a pizza shop that was run by what she calls “low-level mob”. You still hear this background when she speaks. Foul-mouthed, fast-talking and hyperbolic, Elkins can sound more Central Jersey than Harvard Yard. She classifies fellow scholars as friends or enemies.
After high school, Princeton University recruited her to play soccer, and she considered a career in the sport. But an African history class put her on a different path. For her senior thesis, Elkins visited archives in London and Nairobi to study the shifting roles of women from Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu. She stumbled on to files about an all-female Mau Mau detention camp called Kamiti, kindling her curiosity.
The Mau Mau uprising had long fascinated scholars. It was an . . .
The NY Times has published a lengthy piece on the catastrophe of the conflicts that are tearing apart the Arab world. A convenient starting point is the disastrous decision by the U.S. to invade Iraq (because of the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush Administration assured us were there, despite much evidence to the contrary—the attitude seemed to be, “Let’s invade anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?”, and then we found out. This is quite directly the responsibility of George W. Bush and his key administration figures: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and others. They suffer no accountability for what they did, but the destruction they unleashed was vast and is still on-going.
The Times notes:
This is a story unlike any we have previously published. It is much longer than the typical New York Times Magazine feature story; in print, it occupies an entire issue. The product of some 18 months of reporting, it tells the story of the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis. The geography of this catastrophe is broad and its causes are many, but its consequences — war and uncertainty throughout the world — are familiar to us all. Scott Anderson’s story gives the reader a visceral sense of how it all unfolded, through the eyes of six characters in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Accompanying Anderson’s text are 10 portfolios by the photographer Paolo Pellegrin, drawn from his extensive travels across the region over the last 14 years, as well as a landmark virtual-reality experience that embeds the viewer with the Iraqi fighting forces during the battle to retake Falluja.
It is unprecedented for us to focus so much energy and attention on a single story, and to ask our readers to do the same. We would not do so were we not convinced that what follows is one of the most clear-eyed, powerful and human explanations of what has gone wrong in this region that you will ever read.
– Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief
It’s worth reading. Although the Arab world has long held internal tensions, it was the US invasion that released them and has resulted in so many deaths and so much destruction. And those who perpetrated the outrage: no accountability.
Guantánamo Diary author cleared for release after 14 years of imprisonment with no charges ever filed
Just a guy who had bad luck. The US government will not, of course, offer any compensation or apologies for torturing him and imprisoning him for 14 years. The US believes that it can do that sort of thing with impunity, though of course the US would mightily object if some country did that to US citizens—or maybe not. The US seems to care less and less about its citizens: look at how the US runs VA, at how many unarmed people are shot to death by police, at how citizens are no longer protected by the 4th Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures (e.g., civil asset forfeiture).
Cora Currier reports in The Intercept:
An interagency review board has determined that Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi poses no threat to the United States and has recommended that he be released, setting the bestselling author on the path to be reunited with his family.
Slahi was arrested in his native Mauritania in 2001, and was held and tortured in secret prisons in Afghanistan and Jordan before being secreted to Guantánamo, an odyssey he recounted in a memoir, Guantánamo Diary, which became a bestseller last year. He has been imprisoned for over 14 years without being charged with a crime.
In early June, Slahi made his case to the Periodic Review Board as part of a sort of parole process instituted by the Obama administration to evaluate the cases of the remaining men at Guantánamo to determine if they might be safely transferred to another country.
At that hearing, Slahi’s advocates, including his lawyer and two representatives from the military, described his plans to continue writing and to start a small business, and noted the strong network of family and other supporters who could help him. They spoke to his unusual language skills and warm relationship with his lawyers and even the guards assigned to him. The military representatives described him as “an advocate for peace” and stated they were “certain that Mohamedou’s intentions after Guantánamo are genuine, and that he possesses sound judgment, and that he is good for his word.” One former guard submitted a letter attesting that he “would be pleased to welcome [Slahi] into my home.” (In keeping with the general secrecy of proceedings at Guantánamo, Slahi was not allowed speak during the open portion of the review, and he declined to have his own statement from the closed session made public.)
In a document dated July 14 but released today, the board members noted Slahi’s “highly compliant behavior in detention,” “candid responses to the Board’s questions,” and “clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mindset.” They had also taken into consideration his “robust and realistic plan for the future.”
Slahi has admitted to traveling to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to fight with the mujahideen against the Soviet-backed government, and the government claims he helped recruit and facilitate the travel of al Qaeda fighters. In 2010, a federal judge found that he was not a member of al Qaeda when the U.S. picked him up; the judge ordered his release, but that casestalled on appeal.
The board’s recommendation on a detainee is just a first step. The secretary of defense must arrange for a country to receive him and notify Congress of the transfer. In Slahi’s case, the government of Mauritania has already indicated that it would be willing to take him back.
One of Slahi’s lawyers, Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union, said they were pressing the Pentagon to arrange for his actual release as soon as possible, but the exact timing is uncertain.
“We will now work toward his quick release and return to the waiting arms of his loving family,” said Nancy Hollander, another of his lawyers, in a statement. “This is long overdue.”
There are currently 76 men still held in Guantánamo. Including Slahi, 31 of them have been approved for release. . .
Presumably he’s being released because he paid his debt to society? But that’s not it: he never did anything wrong.
I’m sure the CIA would indeed comply: there’s no punishment at all for torturing people when the president orders it. That’s been well established under George W. Bush (the president who ordered that people be tortured) and Barack Obama (the succeeding president who made the decision that the torturers and those who ordered the torture would not be punished or even charged—indeed, quite a few received promotions, as did the CIA official who destroyed all the video evidence). I don’t see that there’s any “might” about it.
Here’s the article by Alex Emmons in The Intercept:
It is, of course, against the law for members of the government to torture people, and it’s quite explicit (as in the Convention Against Torture treaty that the US signed and ratified). That makes no difference. The precedent is that the US government can torture people and can block any legal action from the victims. That’s the takeaway, and that’s the direction the US has elected to go. And the GOP candidate for president has promised explicitly that he will inaugurate much more brutal torture programs, and his supporters seem to like it.
I think government torture is definitely a part of the US identity now.
I recall once some decades ago, I was in a somewhat emotional discussion, and my brain was in overdrive, trying to logically reason it out. It really felt odd, like getting no traction or finding no solution, when my co-discussant said, “No. Wrong direction.” That stopped me cold, which was exactly right, and I tried looking in other directions, like emotion. It wasn’t a logical problem, it was an emotional problem and the answer would be in that area.
I am watching a hyper-militaristic movie, Clear and Present Danger, one of the Harrison Ford movies based on Tom Clancy’s novels of the same stripe. (I just watched a long sequence on launching a fighter jet from an aircraft, shown with great detail, no dialogue (but background music), and I realized that this sequence, which had zero to do with plot, was simply a quid pro quo for the cooperation of the Navy: they get to insert recruiting sequences. (At least that’s how it looks.)
And as I watched all the variety of armed response—the RPG-wielding drug dealers, the US Navy, the CIA: they all try to find the answer through the sort of violence known as “armed conflict”—in essence, a microwar. That’s the wrong direction, it seems, based on evidence to date.
There is, of course, another direction, which seems to be admired. Maybe we should try that direction.
Interesting: that thought was from reading the article at the link, and seeing the movie, along with that memory, triggered it.
TL/DR: Culturally, we’re going in the wrong direction, a direction we know does not end well. Why?
UPDATE: I realize that this is not a novel insight. What is novel for me is how glaringly obvious it is if you just look. The Iraq War did not, in fact, bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East, but that’s sure what was promised. Maybe the military “solution” is not the right solution. Have you noticed the pickup in terrorism? That’s certainly the wrong direction. We can see it very easily in the other culture but seem oblivious to it in our own—that is, we cannot recognize that the military response has been counter-productive, which suggests that it is the wrong direction to take.
UPDATE 2: Hah! I just read this David Brooks column after writing the above. The thought seems to be in the air.
UPDATE 3: I got to thinking about the cycle that we kicked off when, in the course of the Cold War, we armed the Afghani mujardeem and taught them guerilla warfare (a CIA operation, told well in the bok Charlie Wilson’s War and much less well in the movie of the same name). We gave them weaponry and taught them how to figut the Soviets, who had superior technology. And, as we know, they learned well.
Let’s see: Osama bin Laden was mainly angry about US military bases in Saudi Arabia. He obviously embraced violence as a good direction (overall, in the long term) and supported various terrorist acts incuding 9/11, which of course triggered a strong reaction that was dealt with by going to war (of course! only possible response!), First with the war in Afghanistan (we’re still there and it’s spilling over into Pakistan more and more) and then in Iraq, which resulted in melting down the middle east.
Back and forth, each side responding with a way that has proven, over and over, not to be a good strategy, long term. And yeah, I know about Ghengis Khan. But 9 times out of 10? Makes it worse, not better. Hell, the British are still suffering various after effects of their policies in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and so on across the world. And the US is still suffering from the aftereffects of building a slave-based economy. (I feel certain that there are other choices and options, though probably not many that would be so profitable for the plantation owners.)
History has a lot of echoes: cultural waves breaking against each other and combining in various ways. (I do like William H. McNeill and recommend his History of Western Civilization. Or another favorite, read with the same point of view of cultural waves clashing and creating echoes, is David Anthony’s
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Basically, it’s meme evolution. (Another (frequent) recommendation: Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.)
As Richard Dawkins demonstrates in Chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene, memes by necessity must evolve, since they are replicators that allow occasional variation, and thus variations that help survival and reproduction get passed along. Genes are the basis of lifeform evolution, memes the basis of cultural evolution.
So memes gotta struggle. Surving demands it. But that struggle need not and should not harm the meme’s host (the animal homo sapiens, evolved to support memes). Better if we could find how to resolve meme struggles without harming the hosts.