international affairs, middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

United States, Tortura Rex

The CIA Torture report released by the US Senate Intelligence Committee is horrifying in its detail (read it here). Interested observers can read for themselves the kinds of techniques used to extract information from those whom the CIA captured. The methods are grisly enough to shock despite everybody already knowing that the Bush-43 administration tortured its detainees. Reading the 500+ page executive summary (redacted) and experiencing the imagery that the words elicit is a harrowing experience in and of itself. One can only imagine what it was like for the detainees, regardless of what they’ve done.

Though President Barack Obama essentially put an end to the bulk of CIA torturing (closing down the international network of secret “black site” prisons) when he came into office, he hasn’t been open to the prospect of prosecuting those who presided over the CIA torture regime which, if one is serious, committed serious war crimes. The “war on terror” has been a bloody one, and if one takes international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention seriously, then the CIA torture techniques amount to war crimes. But much of the corporate media refused to use the term “torture” in describing this officially sanctioned, world-wide regime, and many continue their complicity to this day. In fact, even the report itself doesn’t use the term “torture,” which is truly an absurdity.

The slogan “Look forward, not back” has been used by the Obama administration when it comes to torture in the George W. Bush era following 9/11. In other words, Obama says that this issue, though difficult and probably illegal, are better left in the dustbin of history. No need to look at them anymore. Time to move on. The logic may seem somewhat harmless on a superficial level, but its implications are grave.

By saying “look forward, not back,” the Obama administration is essentially leaving torture on the table as a viable policy option for future regimes. It’s setting a precedent by which torture (the most systemic and invasive kind) can be authorized and implemented with impunity as far as the US government is concerned. That’s one hell of a precedent to set, and Obama is setting it.

The 6000-page report, which has caused a tremendous amount of friction between the Senate and the CIA (the White House isn’t “taking sides“), cost about $40 million and several years to put together. It was an open question at one point whether the mammoth document would even be made public (the Obama White House held up the publication of the report for months). After much haranguing, the Senate Intel Committee decided to publicize a redacted version of the executive summary. It concludes that torture doesn’t work, but doesn’t make a judgement as to whether the “enhanced interrogation techniques” are legal. It also states that the CIA lied about much of what it was doing, and that torture had no real role in the tracking down and killing of Osama Bin Laden. Among other revelations, the CIA routinely covered up its crimes, excused cruel interrogators, presided over at least a couple of torture-induced fatalities, detained an “intellectually challenged” man for leverage against his family, engaged in “rectal rehydration” (use your imagination), routinely detained/tortured innocent people, tortured its own informants by accident, and so on and so forth. (See here.)

Moreover, the CIA tried to cultivate the press by feeding it false information in an effort to control public opinion on the issue of torture, and competed with the FBI when it came to how much credit would be given in public for certain “accomplishments.” The scandalousness is almost endless, and reveals the incestuous nature of bureaucratic politics when one considers the fact that the Department of Justice routinely okayed many of the techniques used, even though the CIA went on to implement several unauthorized techniques. And let’s not forget the importance of the psychologists involved, namely the Spokane, Washington-based firm Mitchell Jessen and Associates, which got paid around $81 million to devise the techniques used by the CIA. The “war on terror,” if nothing else, is the gift that keeps on giving.

It has given rise to what the New York Times journalist James Risen calls the “national security-industrial-complex,” where government and private organization alike profit off of the opportunity work counter-terrorism, regardless of the efficacy of their methods. This is the era we live in; a society that pays any price for the illusion of absolute security. The US has invaded countries abroad and militarized its police at home to disastrous results. It has birthed an international surveillance system that essentially aims to know everything about everybody at all times, thereby displacing privacy as a modern human condition.

The problem is that, in addition to destroying important aspects of hard-won civil liberties, none of this has made the world any safer–not even those living inside the US and its allies. Though the spectre of terrorism is usually just a spectre, the heavy-handed surveillance and policing policies implemented by the US and its allies will antagonize much of the world and segments of its own citizenry. This is not a recipe for peace, but its very opposite.

Photo Credit: Members of Witness Against Torture blockade a major entrance to the CIA in Langley, Virginia./CC

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middle east, obama, politics, war on terror

American Hypocrisy vs. Wikileaks

Published on:  The Canadian Charger, September 7th, 2010 (http://tiny.cc/lf4rd)

A lot has been written about Wikileaks since the whistle-blowing organization leaked its 92,000-document cache on the carnage in Afghanistan caused by the American war and occupation.

Since then, the U.S. military establishment, and all those who profit from it, have tried their utmost to smear the organization, especially co-founder Julian Assange.

Assange has felt the weight of being the public face of Wikileaks.

From charges of molestation and rape in Sweden (unfounded and dropped) to constant admonishment from the White House/Pentagon, the effects of exposing governmental secrets has exacted a price.

For Wikileaks and Assange, it’s a matter of staying afloat in the storm. (The organization is Internet-based, and has no more than a handful of staff.)

For those of us who constitute the public, however, it is important to note how the American military establishment is trying to defend itself.

In times of such desperation, the White House and the Pentagon have resorted to a high level of hypocrisy.

Take, for example, the now infamous July 29 remark by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen: “Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” (emphasis added)

Now, feast your eyes on this statement from the Pentagon, and reported by the mainstream Washington Post on Aug. 11: “‘We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents,’ [Pentagon spokesman Geoff] Morrell said.”

Any rational human being can see Mullen’s statement as a pathetic attempt at deflection.

Sure, it’s plausible that the massive leak may have negative consequences, but to say that Assange and Wikileaks already have blood on their hands is pure fabrication.

Instead of implementing some sort of investigation to review the war effort, Mullen has tried to deflect attention onto Wikileaks itself.

For exposing the truth, Wikileaks has been portrayed as a treasonous and irresponsible organization hell-bent on destroying America’s credibility, and the corporate media has largely followed this narrative.

For anyone who has actually taken a look at the released “war logs,” however, they represent a damning exposé of America’s military effort in Afghanistan.

It’s no secret that innocent civilians have been dying in under NATO’s occupation, but the war logs give the public the full picture of how the killing has been done.

The size of the logs alone indicates the enormity and scope of the military ground operations—from sniper ops, to air raids, to nighttime raids.

The devil, however, is in the details.

Case by case, the huge trove of exposed secret documents is littered with “CIV KIAs” (civilians killed in action) and “CIV WIAs” (civilians wounded in action).

The Guardian, one of three mainstream outlets that was given the war logs—the other two were The New York Times and Der Spiegelspecified the activities of Task Force 373, an “undisclosed ‘black’ unit” of U.S. special operations forces focused on killing top Taliban and al-Qa‘ida officials.

The logs also reveal that Task Force 373 killed civilian men and women. This is only one sinister example out of a gargantuan pile of revealing data.

So, when someone like Mullen or Defence Secretary Robert Gates talks about “blood,” it’s not unreasonable to think they ought to be talking about themselves.

For example, a November 2009 nighttime raid in Paktia province ended up killing two pregnant Afghan women, a teenage Afghan girl, as well as an Afghan police officer and his brother.

U.S. soldiers covered up the incident by digging out the bullets from the corpses and washing the wounds with alcohol.

Perhaps the previous Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal said it best: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

This is the reality of war, a reality that people like Julian Assange want to put right in front of our face.

We all should start saying the following about Adm. Mike Mullen: “Mr. Mullen can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he is doing, but the truth is that he definitely has on his hands the blood of many young soldiers, and that of countless Afghan families.”

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