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, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

The Fall of Barack Obama?

Published on: “The Canadian Charger”, October 13th, 2010 (http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=628)

As the midterm elections near in the United States, President Obama and Vice-President Biden have announced in unison that democrats have to “stop whining”. In other words, their message rests on a confused statement of confused disappointment “we’ve done so much for you, how can you complain? Look at these Republicans, do you want them ruling over you?” The Obama administration, after two years, must now resort to the “at-least-we’re-not-them” strategy. Why? Because they don’t have much else to show for.

Both domestically and internationally, Obama has failed to deliver on crucial promises. Two fundamentally crucial mis-steps are especially troubling and destructive. When accompanied by the lack of jobs for middle and working America, at least the idea of Obama—whatever is left from those hopeful campaign speeches—has collapsed.

(1) The failure to restore civil liberties for U.S. citizens. Early on, Obama refused to prosecute Bush-era Department of Justice officials because he wanted to “Look forward, not back.” Those who worked with Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo, etc. essentially got a free pass for formulating some of the most ridiculous torture laws during the heat of the “War on Terror”. But while looking forward, the Obama administration refused to discontinue the illegal wire-tapping carried out by the state’s intelligence community. In fact, perhaps looking a little too forward, the Obama administration has also tried to expand presidential power in order to assassinate U.S. citizens without due process (ie. vis a vis Anwar al-Awlaki), regardless of where they are on the planet. Finally, just to top it all off, Obama has requested that the internet also be wire-tapped (via “backdoor encryption”) in order to survey e-mail communication of U.S. citizens.

This all seems terribly surreal when considering the fact that Obama ran on somewhat of a “liberty-first” campaign, at least rhetorically shifting away from Bush’s morbid civil rights record. However, a sober examination of Obama’s record on civil liberties reveals that his policies are just as morbid. In fact, compared to Bush Jr, Obama is worse. George Bush never tried to assassinate American citizens with or without due process. Obama’s mini-crusade against the apparently terrorist Imam Anwar al-Awlaki is bizarre to say the least. Claiming at al-Awlaki is in collusion with Yemeni al-Qaeda, Obama has called for the New Mexico-born al-Awlaki to be killed—without a trial or any real evidence regarding the claims made. If Obama gets his way, his administration will usher in a new era of presidential power, one that allows for the murder of American citizens, away from a battlefield (al-Awlaki could be eating dinner for all we know), and without any semblance of due process. In fact, one is prompted to ask for so many of these jump-the-gun “War on Terror” scenarios, a rather obvious question: “If you’re so sure that they’re guilty, why not have them convicted properly in a court of law?”

(2) The failure to decrease the United States’ violent involvement in the Middle East. Since Obama’s presidency began, the U.S. has continually been involved violently in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the ones we know). Drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen have killed upwards of a few hundred people. To be fair, Obama never campaigned on an explicitly anti-war platform—but he did run on an implicit one. Instead, the United States’ footprint in the Middle East is larger than ever.

While sticking to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq and pulling out around 15,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq in August 2010, Obama reneged on his pledge to pull out all combatants by September 1st, 2010. In fact, around 50,000 troops are to remain in Iraq even after the withdrawal, despite these remaining troops being labeled “advisory and assistance brigades.” Obama has effectively rebranded the Iraq occupation. The U.S. embassy is a mammoth establishment the size of Vatican City (consisting of twenty-one buildings on 104 acres of land on the Tigris River). The American diplomats and officials in Iraq are protected by private contractors/mercenaries from corporations like DynCorp and Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe). This upsurge of mercenaries is to off-set the withdrawals mandated by SOFA, which asks for all foreign troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. As The Nation Magazine’s correspondent Timothy Scahill reported just prior to the August withdrawal:

“The State Department is asking Congress to approve funds to more than double the number of private security contractors in Iraq with a State Department official testifying in June at a hearing of the Wartime Contracting Commission that the Department wants ‘between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors.’ The Department also has asked the Pentagon for twenty-four Blackhawk helicopters, fifty Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles and other military equipment.”

This policy effectively shows that the Obama administration is not committed to letting Iraqis shape their own future.

Not far away, President Obama—very much sticking to his campaign message—increased troops in Afghanistan by at least 30,000 U.S. troops. Like the previous administration, the Obama establishment cannot break out of what Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald calls the “War on Terror logic.” Greenwald writes that

“The very idea that we’re going to spend an entire decade dropping a constant stream of bombs and other munitions on and in multiple Muslim countries and otherwise interfere in their governments — and then expect that nobody will try to attack us back — evinces such a child-like sense of imperial entitlement that it’s hard to put into words.”

The campaign in Afghanistan has yielded a number of gruesome incidents involving innocent Afghan noncombatants. These were detailed in the massive leak released to the whistle-blowing organization Wikileaks, which subsequently released the 90,000 page trove to the New York Times (U.S.), The Guardian (U.K.), and Der Spiegel (Germany). One under-publicized incident involved the murder of five individuals in the Afghan province of Paktia that consisted of two pregnant women and a teenage girl. Having shot to death these innocent civilians, the soldiers tried to hide the crime by prying out the bullets and washing the wounds with alcohol. War, as it turns out, whether headed up by President Bush or President Obama, is always mind-blowingly bloody and dishonorable.

There have been no real signs of success in Obama’s military campaigns to eradicate al-Qaeda. The more blood American troops have on their hands, the more danger will face U.S. citizens in the form of terrorism. It’s a not justification for murder, but an understanding of the causation of such cycles of violence.

The continued perpetuation of occupation and violence abroad is not entirely the fault of Barack Obama, and neither is the proliferation of the so-called “security state” on the U.S. domestic scene. The American way of war is benefited by a large number of establishment-preserving institutions, not least of which are the private contractors, weapons-developers, and divisive politicians. And as Dana Priest and William Arkin showed in their report for the Washington Post, “Top Secret America,” the mammoth apparatus that is the “security state” is so large and uncontrollable, no single individual was responsible for its extensive proliferation, and certainly no individual can single-handedly destroy it.

However, it does go to show that those who put their absolute faith and hope in Barack Obama have only themselves to blame. When running for President, Obama lied—but not as much as one would think. Most of the time, he presented himself as exactly what he was—a slightly liberal centrist. He made almost no promises in terms of concrete policy, and what little he did say were mere slogans. Those who endowed him with institution-toppling powers are disappointed only in-so-far that they trusted in their own political judgment—which, frankly—isn’t very impressive.

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

Omar Khadr, a Canadian Tragedy

Published on:
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=542

Among all the instances of human suffering in the world, it impossible to say that one is more important than all the rest; however, it is possible for an issue to have a particularly visceral effect on a person in ways that other issues do not. This effect is usually facilitated by a catalyst that intensifies feelings of disgust and anger toward the issue.

In my case the issue that has gnawed at me particularly hard is Canada’s refusal to repatriate Omar Khadr; the catalyst is Khadr’s Canadian legal counsel Dennis Edney.

I have met Edney a total of three times.

Each time, he gave an impassioned speech about Khadr’s plight, never failing to highlight Canada’s deathly silence, and how Khadr’s tragedy had changed his life.

“Think of the fact that he [Khadr] was 15 at the time [when he allegedly tried to kill a U.S. soldier] and think of the fact that that information was known to our government,” he said at a speech at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. “I ask, ‘where was the compassion, where was the humanity?’” With a noticeable Scottish accent, and an extraordinary sense of conviction and honesty, Edney never failed to convey to the audience his utmost frustrations.

The last time I saw him was at a fundraiser at a friend’s house right before he left for Guantánamo Bay.

He detailed how his efforts had failed, and how the Harper government ignored no fewer than four rulings from Canada’s top courts favouring Khadr’s repatriation. “I feel like I’m at the end of my journey,” he said.

Khadr, who has fired his American lawyers numerous times, has threatened to boycott his military trial at Guantánamo Bay.

Edney wanted to convince him to give his testimony to create some space for an appeal. But all signs point to the fact that there will be no light at the end of the tunnel. It now seems inevitable that Khadr, who will not receive a fair trial, will soon join the hardened murderers and rapists of the United States prison system.

Despite pleas from foreign policy critics within the Canadian parliament as well as pleas from the Obama administration for help, Stephen Harper continues his cold-shoulder stance.

Edney never failed to communicate the devastating effects of such ignorance and irresponsibility.

By now, Khadr has become cynical enough to want to forfeit his appearance in court and simply be convicted. “It might work if the world sees the U.S. sentencing a child to life in prison; it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is,” he explained in a publicized letter to Edney.

Edney’s profound frustration is ultimately aimed at Canadian civil society as a whole.

Typical is an Angus Reid poll showing that 54% of Canadians did not sympathize with Khadr’s plight.

Edney is especially upset at Canada’s Muslim community for its passivity. Mosques and Islamic centres have stayed silent, fearing that their charitable status might be revoked.

“You are the most educated group in this country,” Edney would say to them. “You are involved in the highest levels of society…but where are you?”

Then there is the deathly silence from those who spoke solemnly of Khadr’s tragedy, but failed to act upon their convictions. These people, according to Edney, represent our greatest failure.

“In the matter of Omar Khadr, the question is hardly complicated,” wrote Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin. “You either support high standards of justice or you don’t. In the Khadr case, most Canadians, along with their government, do not. It’s a national disgrace.”

No question about that.

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If Only Palestinians Wore Saffron Gowns

Tibetan autonomy is like a jagged edge that pokes me when I get too complacent about my love for my native country. That not so fine line separating family tradition and culture from state authourity and government exists as a thin residual smear after a thorough thrashing of an education by the Communist state system. Thank Goodness I left after grade two. Nontheless, thanks to a couple of gray and old Jewish guys and free speech, I’ve come around.

How ever, unlike most, I’m not ready to join in with the demonstrations at this particular time. To be more precise, starting a few weeks ago.

Why? Well, it’s not because my past has come to haunt me, nor is it because of my politics. It’s because I feel like I’m getting jipped, like someone is brainwashing me and hoping I’d resort to some sort of hypocrisy. Let me explain.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that the Tibetan riots were clearly CIA coordinated, nor does it have to do with the little batch of pogroms the monks issued to some innocent Chinese store owners. Let’s give the poor monks the benefit of the doubt for a change. 50+ years of oppression warrants a little anger, even though it means sacrificing a little Buddhist teaching.

But it has to do with the sheer hypocrisy of our western media and the pick and choose nature of all foreign policy. They thunder and cry about Tibet. In thousands of editorials and talk-shows they heap curses and invective on the evil China. It seems as if the Tibetans are the only people on earth whose right to independence is being denied by brutal force, that if only Beijing would take its dirty hands off the saffron-robed monks, everything would be alright in this, the best of all possible worlds.

There’s no longer a doubt in my mind that Tibetans are entitled to autonomy. But are the Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey not entitled to the same thing? What about the Basques in Spain? The Corsicans in France? Its a bloody long list if you ask me. I’ve tried to answer this contradiction. I cannot.

To be honest, there is nobody like the Tibetans. They enjoy ideal conditions.

Fringed by the Himalayas, they are located in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth. For centuries, just to get there was an adventure. Their unique religion arouses curiosity and sympathy. Its non-violence is very attractive and elastic enough to cover even the ugliest atrocities, like the recent pogrom. The exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, is a romantic figure, a media rock-star. The Chinese regime is hated by many – by capitalists because it is a Communist dictatorship, by Communists because it has become capitalist. It promotes a crass and ugly materialism, the very opposite of the spiritual Buddhist monks, who spend their time in prayer and meditation. (www.normanfinkelstein.com

)

Compared to this, the Chechnyans dont have much to offer. They are Muslim terrorist for all we care, baking their pittas with the blood of faithful Christians.
Putin can hit them as hard and as much as he wants.

This, cosmically and inevitably, leads us straight to a miserable and bloody little place called Palestine.

In the quest for world sympathy and media sympathy, the Palestinians are unlucky enough to have an oppressor who has already taken the crown for being the victim of the most heinous crime in western history. Plus, most Palestinians are suicide bombers who cant wait to screw virgins in heaven. Nobody gives a damn abut the Palestinian Christians. And anyone who denies any of this is either a Holocaust denier or an Anti-Semite.

The Dalai Lama arrived in Michigan recently and met with politicians discussing the outcry in Tibet. Even Canadian politicians went, with one conservative comparing the Chinese Leviathan to Hitler and such.

Let’s hope Richard Gere knows what he’s doing.

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