Sunday, July 13, 2014

Obama and torture

The American people voted for Barack Obama in 2008 in the hopes that he would stop torture, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, renegotiate NAFTA and punish the Wall Streeters who brought the world into crisis. What happened? None of the gods of Wall Street saw a jail from the inside, Clinton and Kerry zoomed around the world to drum up more free trade agreements, the Iraq madness continued for years (and now the wound threatens to re-open), the pointless American venture in Afghanistan lingers...

...and then there's torture.

Most people think that Obama put an end to the practice. He may have let us down on every other front, but by God, he did that.

Sorry. Torture continues. Obama just found a way to be sneaky about it. From today's Salon:
The president’s executive order directed the CIA to close its detention centers “as expeditiously as possible” and not to open any new ones. No such orders were given, however, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a clandestine force composed of elite fighters from several branches of the U.S. armed forces. JSOC had run its own secret detention centers in Iraq. At Camp Nama, interrogations took place in the ominously named “Black Room.” According to the New York Times, the camp’s chilling motto was “no blood, no foul.” JSOC is presently deployed on several continents, including Africa, where gathering “intelligence” forms an important part of its duties.
To be fair, the New York Times piece cited above was published in 2006, so it tells us nothing about what JSOC is up to nowadays. (For an updated version of that story, with more grisly details, see here.) The principle, however, is sound: Obama restrained the Agency, but he did not restrain the special forces. But the distinction is absurd, especially when we consider how many Agency guys have worn military uniforms over the past five or six decades. (The CIA largely oversaw what Task Force 6-26 did at Camp Nama.)

Obama's executive order against torture contains a clause which was not widely understood -- a clause which says that no prisoner shall be subjected to techniques not "authorized" by Army Field Manual 2 22.3. True, the Manual does not allow waterboarding, but it does permit other methods which many would categorize as torture. For more, see here.

In Afghanistan, the dirtiest of the dirty work is often done by a unit called Task Force 373, which has been called a "death squad." (I suspect that members of the team might cheerily agree with that assessment, but only when speaking in private.) Here's their resume. In 2010, Wikileaks released a trove of documents, supposedly supplied by Bradley/Chelsea Manning, regarding their activities, including the wretched treatment of prisoners at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (now called the Parwan Detention Facility).

So what happened? The Obama administration imprisoned Manning and subjected him (now her) to treatment that many consider torturous.

Meanwhile, the Bush-era abuses at BTIF/Parwan continue under Obama. The Red Cross confirms the existence of a separate facility some call "the Black Jail" (or to use the local term, "the Tor Jail.")
In recent weeks the BBC has logged the testimonies of nine prisoners who say they had been held in the so-called "Tor Jail".

They told consistent stories of being held in isolation in cold cells where a light is on all day and night.

The men said they had been deprived of sleep by US military personnel there.

In response to these allegations, Vice Adm Robert Harward, in charge of US detentions in Afghanistan, denied the existence of such a facility or abuses.
Harward's denial is grimly amusing. There is, in fact, no doubt of the Black Jail's existence.
Although U.S. President Barack Obama signed an order to eliminate black sites run by the Central Intelligence Agency in January 2009,[5] that order did not apply to the black jail.[2] However, in August, the Obama administration restricted the time that detainees could be held at the secret jail, and another like it at Balad Air Base in Iraq, to two weeks.[2] Human rights organisations are concerned that the jail remains inaccessible both to the Red Cross and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
I'd like to ask Vice Admiral Harward one simple question: If there are no abuses, then why not allow the Red Cross in?

Gitmo prisoner Imad Abdullah Hassan began a hunger strike during the Bush years. He was subjected to torture, which did not cease under Obama. Hassan was force-fed through his nostrils, a process he has described as unbearably painful:
At Gitmo, they began to use tubes that were too big for Hassan's nostrils.
* Rather than leaving them in place, they would insert and remove them twice a day.
* Prisoners were force-fed in what Hassan called "the Torture Chair." Hands, legs, waist, shoulders and head were strapped down tightly. The men were also force-fed constipation drugs, causing them to defecate on themselves as they sat in the chair being fed. "People with hemorrhoids would leave blood on the chair and the linens would not always be changed before the next feeding." They'd be strapped down amid the shit and blood for up to two hours at a time.
* But quicker wasn't always better. That's because Gitmo staff started force-feeding much more liquid into the prisoners. Sometimes they sped up the process, leaving the amount of liquid constant. "If Mr. Hassan vomited on himself at any time during the procedure, what he terms 'the atrocity' would start all over again." Severe gastric pain was common.
* "Early on in this new and more abusive phase ... authorities took Mr. Hassan and two others to another block so that others would see what was being done to them. This was obviously done as a deterrent to scare others into not hunger striking."
Finally, there is the continuing scandal of rendition flights. During Obama's first year in office, the New York Times reported rendition would go on -- albeit with "better oversight":
The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.
The lie here is transparent. If the prisoners are not to be tortured, then why fly them to other countries in the first place?

(This question seems very obvious, yet few bothered to ask it back in 2009. This fact tells us much about our capacity for self-deception at the time.)

By the way: Just who is going to double-check the administration's efforts at "monitoring" treatment of prisoners at these rendition facilities? By this point, are you inclined to take this administration's word -- on anything?

Unfortunately, we don't have an opposition party in this country willing to investigate this president's real wrongdoings. Instead, the Republican party remains fixated on hallucinations, such as their bizarre Benghazi narrative. They can't score Obama on torture because everyone knows that, if the GOP wins in 2016, America's policies will revert to "Bush normal."
A related issue is that the 9/11 Commission's reliance for its information about al Qaeda upon CIA transcripts of interrogation sessions that amounts to mere hearsay. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is alleged to have been waterboarded 183 times in the extraction of his testimony---but, a truther friend points out, since news reports in the years after 9/11 claim that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was killed we have no way of knowing whether the underlying testimony exists at all, let alone that the transcripts were honest.
Ethics are about prioritizing values. Given that torture is wrong, is it acceptable to be used if the alternative was the murder of innocents. The problem is that torture simply doesn't work, it is not about acquiring information rather it is about vengeance. Everything I have read convinces me that there better ways to get intelligence. Torture not only doesn't get good information, it gets bad information since those tortured will say what they think the torturers want to hear, thus sending them on a wild goose chase. Which brings me to the last post, I understand the dangers of domestic spying. On the other hand, there are people who want to blow us up. I think it is important to find them and stop them from doing that. In addition, there are true thugs who are committing terrible things of the usual criminal variety. The issue is who will have access to the information gathered and how that information will be used. I think that rather than simply bemoan the availability of law enforcement tools, we should focus on proper rules for their use.
"Ethics are about prioritizing values." The Nazis also sought to prioritize values. Some races and religions were valuable; others not so much. Some needed to be preserved and enhanced, and those who were further down the totem pole were only suitable for fertilizer. If you don't believe that all human life has equal value, then how are you different from them?
"..there are people who want to blow us up." Yes, and sometimes they are members of our own government, or of governments allied with ours. "There are true thugs who are committing terrible things of the usual criminal variety." Yes there are. The current ethnic cleansing under way in Gaza is a good example. So is the genocide of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, the US government supports both of those criminal operations.
By condoning and continuing torture, a truly evil practice, how does Obama differ from those who held final responsibility over the torturers of the Gestapo? The people who were held up to me as a child as being the worst criminals on the face of the earth are now the type of people who control the government of my country. I know now what Sgt. Bergdahl meant when he said that what his country had become was sickening to him (paraphrasing).
I think we know this on a more visceral level. We know if Snowden had been on the Bolivian president's plane he would have been seized and served up for rendition - read torture. No one believes torture has stopped. Look at what they are doing to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Shot him up while unarmed, almost killed him (killed his brother) disfigured him, have held him in solitary since April of 2013 so the world knows torture is continuing. We don't need a blast of endless information. Information is not knowing (Foucault).
I'm not at all disappointed by Biden and that other guy. It was obvious they would be another Military Industrial Complex administration. I am disappointed by the liberals who voted for these guys and now express shock (but are preparing to do the whole thing again by voting for Hillary Clinton).

Obama's first job after Columbia college was for Business International, a company outed by the New York Times in 1977 as a CIA front. Obama also had nuclear war strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski as his mentor at Columbia. He was strongly pro-nuclear power, backed by nuke utility Exelon in Chicago. Biden's 2007 Presidential campaign was solely focused on the desire to break up Iraq into three new countries, using ethnic fault lines to control the oil.

It seems obvious the real power is not the Presidency. The last President who tried to carve out independence from the military and "intelligence" agencies was Kennedy and we all know how that ended.

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