Saturday, December 06, 2008

What we were told then; what we have learned since

Here is an article from my political clipping collection. I gathered it on December 6, 2004. I found it on Yahoo News but the link no longer works, unfortunately. Since it is no longer accessible I will claim fair use to republish the entire article for the purpose of disseminating information not otherwise available in order to educate the public.

General: New Photos Could Be Used As Tool
By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt - A former military spokesman in Iraq said Saturday new pictures showing apparent abuse of Iraqi prisoners were the acts of an isolated few but will be used by some to try to tarnish the entire U.S. military.

Gen. Mark Kimmitt, now based in Qatar, spoke on the pan-Arab television network a day after the U.S. military launched a criminal investigation into photographs that appear to show Navy SEALs in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees.

Other photos show what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head.

The photos, found by an Associated Press reporter, were among hundreds in an album posted on a commercial photo-sharing Web site by a woman who said her husband brought them from Iraq after his tour of duty.

Some of the photos have date stamps suggesting they were taken in May 2003, which could make them the earliest evidence of possible abuse of prisoners in Iraq. The far more brutal practices photographed in Abu Ghraib prison occurred months later.

The photos were turned over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which instructed the SEAL command to determine whether they show any serious crimes, said Navy Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif. That investigation will determine the identities of the troops and what they were doing in the photos.
Kimmitt, the spokesman in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib scandal , said he believes the photos show the acts of an isolated few.

After months of investigation, Kimmitt said the number of U.S. military troops involved in acts of abuse has been found to be very limited.

Asked by al-Jazeera if such pictures are a problem, Kimmitt said they are certainly a "tool" and some will try to use them to show the U.S. military in a negative light.

After outraged reaction from the Arab world to the first Abu Ghraib pictures, President Bush appeared on Arab television in May and said the torture was the act of a few.

The new photos drew strong reactions in Arab media as did the earlier ones.

"The two scandals confirm the image about the Americans known in the Middle East: that the Americans are not a charity or a humanitarian organization that is leading an experiment of democracy," said Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of the Lebanese leftist newspaper As-Safir. "Rather, (the U.S. government) is leading a retaliatory operation following the Sept. 11 attacks."

Noureddine said the photos "will definitely be front page news" in his paper's Monday edition.

Yonadem Kana, a member of an Iraqi government advisory and oversight group, said the photos were "rare cases exaggerated by the media."

One photo on the front page of the daily Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram showed three hooded prisoners pressed against one another on a floor with what appear to be white sheets wrapped around their torsos. The photo caption read: "Signs of a new scandal."

On a Web site known for its militant content, contributors also posted some of the photos, showing the faces of the Navy SEALs — one with a serviceman sitting on top of a group of prisoners — but with the faces of the prisoners blackened. The photos were similar to those carried by the satellite stations but had comments on them such as "God destroy America," and "God help the Mujahedeen," or holy fighters.

It is unclear who took the pictures.

Veterans for Common Sense has posted an article titled "Bush Signed Secret Executive Order Approving Torture." It is by Chris Floyd, is dated December 24, 2004, and evidently appeared in the Moscow Times. Russia, not Idaho, so I imagine Amurkins ignored it.

According to agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, President George W. Bush has signed a secret executive order approving the use of torture against prisoners captured in his "war on terror" -- including thousands of innocent people rounded up in Iraq and crammed into Saddam Hussein's infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

FBI documents, obtained in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and reported this week in the Los Angeles Times, detailed the agents' "disgust" at the "aggressive and improper" methods used by military interrogators and civilian contractors against prisoners, and the widespread, ongoing pattern of "serious physical abuses" they found at the American concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq.

Most of the offences occurred long after the initial public scandal over "a few bad apples" at Abu Ghraib. For example, in June 2004, an FBI agent informed top officials in Washington that he had witnessed such torture techniques as "strangulation, beatings, [and] placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees' ear openings." The agent added that military officials "were engaged in a coverup of these abuses."
"Who? Us? Certainly not!" seems to sum up the White House response to this. Here is an excerpt from an article this year by Jason Leopold at the Online Journal (April 17, 2008):
President George W. Bush’s comment to ABC News -- that he approved discussions that his top aides held about harsh interrogation techniques -- adds credence to claims from senior FBI agents in Iraq in 2004 that Bush had signed an executive order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.

When the American Civil Liberties Union released the FBI e-mail in December 2004 -- after obtaining it through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit -- the White House emphatically denied that any such presidential executive order existed, calling the unnamed FBI official who wrote the e-mail “mistaken.”


But the emerging public evidence suggests that Bush’s denials about “torture” amount to a semantic argument, with the administration applying a narrow definition that contradicts widely accepted standards contained in international law, including Geneva and other human rights conventions.
Leopold references reports from ABC News. Here is a bit by Jan Crawford Greenburg, Howard L. Rosenberg, and Ariane de Vogue (April 11, 2008):
As first reported by ABC News Wednesday, the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding, sources told ABC news.
Leopold's article goes on to cite Alberto "Abou" Gonzales pulling denials out of his posterior: "There has been no presidential determination necessity or self-defense that would allow conduct that constitutes torture."

Stephen Lendman lays out a timeline of policies and declarations leading into lawlessness related to torture in an article at The Populist dated July 22, 2008. After a chronicle of steps that disregard former policy, the Geneva Conventions, and international and U.S. law in general, Lendman notes this:
In December 2002, Donald Rumsfeld concurred by approving a menu of banned interrogation practices allowing anything short of what would cause organ failure.
The reader is left gasping as Lendman continues:
On February 7, 2002, the White House issued an Order "outlining treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban detainees." It stated that "none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida (or Taliban detainees) in Afghanistan 'or elsewhere throughout the world...' " It meant they'd be afforded no protection under international law and could be treated any way authorities wished, including use of torture as was later learned.

A virtual blizzard of similar memos followed covering much the same ground to allow all measures banned under international and US law (including the 1996 War Crimes Act, 1994 Torture Statute and the Torture Act of 2000). The War Crimes Act is especially harsh. It provides up to life in prison or the death penalty for persons convicted of committing war crimes within or outside the US. Torture is a high war crime, the highest after genocide.

Two other memos particularly deserve mention - written by John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee and David Addington (Cheney's legal counsel). One was for the CIA on August 2, 2002. It argued for letting interrogators use harsh measures amounting to torture. It said federal laws prohibiting these practices don't apply when dealing with Al Queda because of presidential authorization during wartime. It also denied US or international law applies in overseas interrogations. It essentially "legalized" anything in the "war on terror" and authorized lawlessness and supreme presidential power.

On March 14, 2003, the same quartet issued another memo - this one for the military titled: "Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States." It became known as "the Torture Memo" because it swept away all legal restraints and authorized military interrogators to use extreme measures amounting to torture. It also gave the President as Commander-in-Chief "the fullest range of protect the nation." It stated he "enjoys complete discretion in the exercise of his authority in conducting operations against hostile forces."
As we moved toward trials of tortured persons in military tribunals with microtome-thin legitimacy, military prosecutors have resigned rather than be involved in a "system of justice" that involved torture.

Here is a discussion on Countdown from early April this year:

Benjamin Davis, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Toledo School of Law, wrote the following in an article dated November 20, 2008, at Counterpunch:
Recently released reports confirm that the United States still has very important unfinished business with regard to torture. Civilians at the highest levels of government as well as military generals have committed crimes. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger, and documents from 2003 and 2004 provide further evidence that the White House endorsed the use of torture. The Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of State, Intelligence, and other leadership have all been complicit. Congressional leadership has been far too passive and encouraged these acts. These are bipartisan crimes. They are crimes against the United States and the world community.


We need to criminally prosecute the perpetrators. We must prosecute them because low-level soldiers ordered to do their bidding have been prosecuted. ...

These leaders not only consider themselves above the law, but above the United States. We need to prosecute them to reaffirm who we are as Americans. We are not vicious torturers. These people have no place in our city on the hill.
In a Raw Story article by Nick Juliano dated October 22, 2007, we read about the findings of Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh, two ACLU attorneys who pored over 100,000+ pages of government documents before publishing their book Administration of Torture.
President Bush gave "marching orders" to Gen. Michael Dunlavey, who asked the Pentagon to approve harsher interrogation methods at Guantanamo, the general claims in documents reported in the book.

The ACLU also found that an Army investigator reported Rumsfeld was "personally involved" in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al Qahtani. The prisoner was forced to parade naked in front of female interrogators wearing women's underwear on his head and was led around on a leash while being forced to perform dog tricks.

“It is imperative that senior officials who authorized, endorsed, or tolerated the abuse and torture of prisoners be held accountable," Jaffer and Singh write, "not only as a matter of elemental justice, but to ensure that the same crimes are not perpetrated again.”

"Could it really be that orchestrated?" you may be asking yourself, appalled and wishing it all were not so.

Mark Benjamin reports at Salon on the behavior of the Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff:
June 30, 2008 | WASHINGTON -- The former Air Force general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, helped quash dissent from across the U.S. military as the Bush administration first set up a brutal interrogation regime for terrorism suspects, according to newly public documents and testimony from an ongoing Senate probe.

In late 2002, documents show, officials from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all complained that harsh interrogation tactics under consideration for use at the prison in Guantánamo Bay might be against the law. Those military officials called for further legal scrutiny of the tactics. The chief of the Army's international law division, for example, said in a memo that some of the tactics, such as stress positions and sensory deprivation, "cross the line of 'humane treatment'" and "may violate the torture statute."

Myers, however, agreed to scuttle a plan for further legal review of the tactics, in response to pressure from a top Pentagon attorney helping to set up the interrogation program for then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Back in June 2004, Bernard Weiner noted at The Crisis Papers that Bush was sounding a lot like former President Clinton parsing the meaning of "is."
After the release of the secret papers to the press last week, Bush unequivocally said: "I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being."
As Weiner continues to discuss the weasel words used by the Asshole in Chief, I am tempted to rename the criminal "Loophole Louie."
For example, Bush continues to assert the right to place himself above the law -- out of reach of Congress and the courts -- whenever he feels the need to do so. Bush said in the Feb. 2002 letter: "I accept the legal conclusion of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice that I have the authority to suspend Geneva (conventions) as between the United States and Afghanistan. I reserve the right to exercise this authority in this or future conflicts."
The presidential denials have been consistent.

June 23, 2004 (in Xinhua News Agency):
"Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country. We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture," Bush told reporters before the release.
To Katie Couric in 2006:
"I've said to the people that we don't torture, and we don't."
I suppose that George W. Bush has such twisted logic, enabled by the most soulless legal arguments, that he has convinced himself that he has not ordered torture and the U.S. has not committed torture. Harsh interrogation methods, sure, but not torture.

It is amazing what one can do by redefining basic concepts.

This is rooted in Bush's own narcisssim that cannot admit realities outside himself (including lack of empathy for anyone and anything outside his immediate realm of concern) and the Cheney putsch* to rise even higher than Nixon's dreams of an imperial presidency with boundless power and no exterior constraints, legal or moral.

They have behaved as though word, laws, and political structures mean only what they take them to mean (or force them to mean), regardless of precedent, logic, common sense, or common decency. Questioning their interpretation suggests ignorance, betrayal, or at the very least a lack of patriotism. Because they say so.

Secrecy and total control make it impossible to even explore the extent of their lawless activity.

In other words, we have been living under a tyranny for the past eight years.

While I am not advocating violent overthrow of the government, I do believe we have come close to the brink of it being justifiable, based on the level of criminal activity emanating from the White House. I blame Congress for not acting in accordance with its constitutional duties to act as a check on the executive branch. The sole signs of hope have been courts at various levels telling the White House "No!." Even that has had little effect.

The House and Senate are morally culpable of allowing Bush to commit his crimes.

Nancy Pelosi will go to her grave bearing the guilt of saying that impeachment was off the table. I will never support or endorse her again. My joy at having the first woman speaker has turned to ashes and wormwood. Bush should have been impeached a long time ago. I acknowledge the tainted situation created by the petty, vicious, Republican sumbitches who orchestrated the Clinton impeachment circus, forever corrupting and tarnishing the constitutional remedy for executive behavior that damages the state. Their actions border on treason for the damage they have done to this nation.

Frankly, I will not relax until the next 44 days have passed because I have no confidence that Bush and Cheney will behave with restraint. The evils they can yet perpetrate are vast. They have been busy setting traps and time bombs in government agencies and executive orders that will not be easily undone, even by dedicated and clever types such as those Obama is employing to get things back on track.

This is why it was so important to vote for change. It is not about simply one policy or another, or even any single horrendous act, but the entire complex of actions that have created an atmosphere of lawlessness that threatens the very structures of American society. We have been living on the brink of either complete tyranny or chaos for some time.

I am not without hope but my horror, anguish, and anger have been riding high since Bush came into office. He cannot get out of it a moment too soon. And though I would love to see him healed and redeemed I cannot say I wish him well. I wish him held accountable.

* I am using this definition, with emphasis on "illegally" (though it has been cloaked with pseudo-legality):
putsch - a sudden and decisive change of government illegally or by force
Because of its detailed chronicling, I especially recommend the Lendman article, found here.

United States Code, Title 18, Part 1, Section 2340. Definitions
(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and
(3) “United States” means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States.

On torture and the Geneva Conventions:
Torture is forbidden by the Geneva Conventions, both in cases of internal conflicts (Convention I, Art. 3, Sec. 1A), wounded combatants (Convention I, Art. 12), civilians in occupied territories (Convention IV, Art. 32), civilians in international conflicts (Protocol I, Art. 75, Sec. 2Ai) and civilians in internal conflicts (Protocol II, Art. 4, Sec. 2A).

On Geneva Convention protections in general:
GCIII covers the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) in an international armed conflict. In particular, Article 17 says that "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind." POW status under GCIII has far fewer exemptions than "Protected Person" status under GCIV. Captured enemy combatants in an international armed conflict automatically have the protection of GCIII and are POWs under GCIII unless they are determined by a competent tribunal to not be a POW (GCIII Article 5).
For an international understanding of what constitutes torture or is impermissible, Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention includes this:
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
  • violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
  • taking of hostages;
  • outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
  • the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
  • The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
An important exemption, which nonetheless contains the injunction about being "treated with humanity":
Where in the territory of a Party to the conflict, the latter is satisfied that an individual protected person is definitely suspected of or engaged in activities hostile to the security of the State, such individual person shall not be entitled to claim such rights and privileges under the present Convention [ie GCIV] as would ... be prejudicial to the security of such State ... In each case, such persons shall nevertheless be treated with humanity (GCIV Article 5)
On the issue of whether waterboarding constitutes torture:
Leonard Doyle wrote an article appearing at The Independent, November 1, 2007:
When the US military trains soldiers to resist interrogation, it uses a torture technique from the Middle Ages, known as "waterboarding". Its use on terror suspects in secret US prisons around the world has come to symbolise the Bush administration's no-nonsense enthusiasm for the harshest questioning techniques.


In a further embarrassment for Mr Bush yesterday, Malcolm Nance, an advisor on terrorism to the US departments of Homeland Security, Special Operations and Intelligence, publicly denounced the practice. He revealed that waterboarding is used in training at the US Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in San Diego, and claimed to have witnessed and supervised "hundreds" of waterboarding exercises. Although these last only a few minutes and take place under medical supervision, he concluded that "waterboarding is a torture technique – period".

The practice involves strapping the person being interrogated on to a board as pints of water are forced into his lungs through a cloth covering his face while the victim's mouth is forced open. Its effect, according to Mr Nance, is a process of slow-motion suffocation.

Typically, a victim goes into hysterics on the board as water fills his lungs. "How much the victim is to drown," Mr Nance wrote in an article for the Small Wars Journal, "depends on the desired result and the obstinacy of the subject.

"A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience to horrific, suffocating punishment, to the final death spiral. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch."

Let's not forget "rendition." From The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT):
Article 3
1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.
And that, my friends, feels like a good Saturday morning's work. I need to take a shower.

--the BB

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