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


Senate killing Bill C311 shameful

Published On: The Canadian Charger, November 24th, 2010

On November 16th, 2010, by an unprecedented snap vote, the Canadian Senate struck down the Climate Change Accountability Act, otherwise known as Bill C311.

By a vote of 43-32, the bill was defeated in a Senate where many Liberal Senators were missing. The bill was not subjected to debate before the Conservatives called it into a surprise vote, which makes the occasion truly unprecedented.

What strikes most Canadians regarding this development is the fact that the Senate, an unelected body of legislators, was capable of striking down a bill that the elected House of Commons passed. This in itself speaks volumes about the specifics of the Canadian legislative system.

After sitting on Bill-311 for 193 days, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives used a tactic that Harper himself disapproved of in the past.

Now, just ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico (COP16), Canada has no regulations regarding greenhouse gas pollution. Worse still, many Canadian environmentalists and activists worked extremely hard to push Bill C-311 through the House of Common, only to have it undemocratically struck down.

This bill would have called for greenhouse gases to be cut 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and to set a long-term target to bring emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

“This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada,” NDP Leader Jack Layton said at a press conference Wednesday morning. Layton and his New Democratic Party were instrumental in the construction and defense of Bill C-311.

Bruce Hyer, a New Democrat representing Thunder Bay-Superior North was the one who introduced the bill in the first place.

“To take power that doesn’t rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country,” Layton continued. He attributed Harper’s decision as one that had in mind Harper’s friends in oil companies, not the Canadian people.

In fact, this is the second time that the NDP has seen a climate change bill killed in the Senate. In June 2008, the NDP pushed a similar bill through the House, only to have it killed due to the elections at the time. Furthermore, no Senate has killed a bill in such a fashion (without debate, by surprise, and against the will of the House) since before the Second World War.

Such unprecedented irresponsibility points to just how low environmental issues sit on the Tories’ priority list. Canada, a developed country, now heads to COP16 completely empty-handed.

Despite promises in the past to regulate emissions, the Conservative government, since coming to power, has not tabled one law regarding climate change. Instead, it has killed the only proposed mechanism by which the people of Canada could have gained some remnant of accountability from its government regarding environmental issues.

This uproar has also caused some to question Prime Minster Harper’s views on democracy. Having campaigned vigorously against unelected Senate killing of legislation pushed through an elected House, Harper did exactly that vis a vis Bill C-311. Many view this as an act of serious hypocrisy, and “morally wrong,” according to Layton.

Gerard Kennedy, the Liberal Party’s critic on the environment, also believes that the killing of Bill C-311 is not an accident, but planned by the Conservatives in order to free themselves heading into COP16.

As of now, after the resignation of Jim Prentice, the Conservative administration has only a part-time environment minister, no legislation on climate change, and no plan on how to regulate carbon emission heading to Cancun, Mexico.

Canada will perhaps be the only country with no idea regarding its plans on climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Shame.