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

“Radicalization” and the Future of an Empire

Published On: Dissident Voice, January 4th, 2011
[http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/01/%E2%80%9Cradicalization%E2%80%9D-and-the-future-of-an-empire/]

When the GOP overtakes Congress next year, Representative Peter King (R-NY) will become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. For his first major initiative, King has chosen to address what he sees as the “radicalization” of American Muslims. The issue is to be taken up in a Congressional inquiry in 2011.

King told the New York Times that the inquiry is his response “to what he has described as frequent concerns raised by law enforcement officials that Muslim leaders have been uncooperative in terror investigations.” A vocal opponent of the “Ground Zero Mosque” back when it was a hot-button issue (“it is very offensive and wrong”), King harbours clear and controversial sentiments regarding Muslims in the U.S.—to put it very mildly. Citing cases where Muslim imams are slow to co-operate with law enforcement, King apparently is worried that Muslims in America are not taking the good old “War on Terror” seriously enough.

Indicative of where this new Congress is headed, the hearing/inquiry set to take place makes a number of troubling fundamental assumptions. First, following classic post-9/11 fear mongering, King has decided to isolate “radicalization” in the American Muslim community as the major problem in terms of national security. He ignores the fact that most terrorism in the U.S. is conducted by white supremacists, and that a third of suspicious activity in American Muslim communities are tipped off by Muslims. Second, King’s concern that Muslim leaders are slow to cooperate with law enforcement conveniently overlooks the fact that the past decade has been characterized by a meta-narrative of fear/demonization vis a vis Muslims. Under this climate, how enthusiastic does King expect those who adhere to Islam to be when the FBI comes knocking on their doors?

Regarding whether terrorism of the al-Qaeda kind is a major problem in the United States, it is useful to listen to what Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Centre [PDF], has to say:

“It has been only a tiny, tiny percentage of Americans—increasingly more this year, but still a tiny percentage of Muslim Americans—who have for a variety of reasons found appeal in this al-Qaeda ideology.”

In other words, there has been a slight increase in sentiment aligned with al-Qaeda-like ideology, but nothing that would prompt an actual Congressional hearing. Unfortunately, King seems to have already made up his mind, which is not surprising given that King is not exactly heading into the new year free of pre-concieved notions regarding American Muslim communities. Appearing on FOX’s Sean Hannity’s show in 2004, King has suggested that “80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists,” and that “This is an enemy living amongst us.” With such a framework of mind, one wonders why King is even bothering with an “inquiry” in the first place.

In fact, if by now those in the U.S. political establishment are still wondering why a tiny fringe of Muslims (domestic or not) are still antagonizing America, they need not look very far. Here is what Faisal Shahzad, the “Times Square Bomber” had to say in court:

They don’t understand my side of the story, where the Muslim life of is no value…So decree whatever you desire to decree, for you can only decree regarding the life of this world. The crusading U.S. and NATO forces who have occupied the Muslim lands under the pretext of democracy and freedom for the last nine years and are saying with their mouths that they are fighting terrorism. I say to them: we don’t accept your democracy nor your freedom, because we already have Sharia law and freedom. Furthermore, brace yourselves, because the war with Muslims has just begun. Consider me only a first droplet of the flood that will follow me.”

It should by now be obvious that the colossal military footprint the United States has created in the Middle East is having unintended consequences. The U.S. is on its way in obliterating the dam that holds back the flood that Shahzad speaks of. However, we should not give into such hyperbole just yet. There are, estimated by Leon Panetta (Head of the CIA), around 100 Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Given this reality, President Obama and General Patraeus’s decisions to escalate the war in Afghanistan can be for nothing but extraneous political reasons.

On the one hand, it is not impossible for individuals like Shahzad to exist. Anger can become a toxic elixir, especially in the face of immense injustice. Nevertheless, according to actual, empirical data, the likes of Shahzad do not exist in large numbers in the United States, despite a somewhat significant rise in the disapproval of Obama’s foreign policy. In the face of all of this, Peter King still wants to hold hearings on “radicalization”, as if nothing under his purview required more immediate attention.

The rise in hatred of Muslims after 9/11 is not the result of a random collection of individual spasms. According to investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, a veteran of covering the cultic elements of right-wing America, “it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era.”

Behind the scenes are millionaire and billionaire barons like Aubrey Chernick and the Koch Brothers, who fund right-wing thinks tanks as well as pro-Israeli outfits. More “intellectual” operatives like Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer feed off of the funding provided by Chernick’s ilk, and use their poisonous pens to spread the fears of an “Islamist takeover”. Then there are the media clowns like Pamela Geller, who, after inheriting millions from her dead husband, spends her time blogging about how Barack Obama is Malcolm X’s love child. All of these elements have, over the years, come together in a discursive process to produce a system of mass hatred. They, and those who ally with them, bring together the causes of crazed Christian Reconstructionists, fanatical right-wing Zionists, and even neo-Nazi parties in Europe.

Capitalizing on a disenfranchised America with a crippled economy and an embittered citizenship, those who seek to incite hatred have sought to use Muslims has a scapegoat for America’s problems. Retreating into absolute infantilism, a shocked and largely deceived citizenry searches for moral renewal. Whether this renewal will be achieved through a blind following of those who seek to deceive, or through a realistic recognition of where America is actually headed, has yet to be decided.

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