Sunday, September 24, 2006

America, land of the torturers

A detail from The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel,
c. 1562, oil on panel, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Behold the evil of our morally-vacant Congress, the detainee compromise bill (with emphasis):
The compromise reached on Thursday between Congressional Republicans and the White House on the interrogations and trials of terrorism suspects is, legal experts said yesterday, a series of interlocking paradoxes.
It would impose new legal standards that it forbids the courts to enforce.
It would guarantee terrorist masterminds charged with war crimes an array of procedural protections. But it would bar hundreds of minor figures and people who say they are innocent bystanders from access to the courts to challenge their potentially lifelong detentions.
And while there is substantial disagreement about just which harsh interrogation techniques the compromise would prohibit, there is no dispute that it would allow military prosecutors to use statements that had been obtained under harsh techniques that are now banned.
Tristero calls the detainee compromise bill the USA Mengele Act and for good reason:
...because it empowers modern-day American psychopaths to do their worst and pass it off as just trying to do their best for their homeland. Republican Ted Bundy would have loved this law, including the sheer cynicism of it. Torment and maim whomever you want just as long as you get something that can be used against a Bush-fingered terrorist. And yes, it's true, you can get into biiiiiiiig trouble if you do the nasty a little too much, but let's get real here. Someone tortures a prisoner to fink on Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and that "information" is used to convict KSM - that person's a friggin' hero, for crissakes. Okay, he got a little too enthusiastic, but his only crime was being too eager to protect his country!
The USA Mengele Act permits legal evidence to be gathered for an American legal procedure by committing atrocities against prisoners. Exactly the way Josef Mengele went about gathering his "scientific" evidence during the Nazi era.
And let's not kid ourselves that this will stop with terrorist suspects. After all, Tom DeLay used the Department of Homeland Security to try to round-up Democrats to pass his gerrymandering efforts. Of course, I'm not saying that Bush intends to torture to death his American political opponents. But it opens up the possibility down the line of using torture to produce legal evidence for American courts in, say, drug cases, and sex crimes. And when that happens, then yes, it will be pretty easy to re-evaluate the defintion of "terrorist." Let's say a modern-day Elllsberg - we should be so lucky - leaks a new set of Pentagon Papers. With this law, there's no reason to have Plumbers to burglarize his psychiatrist's office - you just grab the doctor and let him find out what a real headshrinking feels like.
I don't think in his wildest dreams Osama bin Laden could have anticipated such a tremendous and rapid victory over America and its values as [Bush] delivered. Yes, the destruction of Iraq and any day now, the fall of Iran and the consequent radicalization of millions of Muslims, the ruination of American prestige and influence, not to mention the vampirical drain on our economy: all that bin Laden joyfully anticipated. But for America to abandon all pretense of adherence to western law and morality, that was a pure gift from God to his obedient servant, Osama.
Jane Hamsher is disgusted: "We are now officially the country of torture." And furthers adds something I completely agree with:
I don’t know what happened to the country I grew up to [believe] in, but I don’t recognize it in this matter any more. 
Digby provides extensive details (including innocents held at Gitmo) beyond these snips:
They're all off the hook. All the perpetrators, all the personnel who ordered them to do it, the doctors who betrayed their oaths and all the politicians and their sycophants in the military, the CIA and the Justice Department who sat around in Washington dreaming up this sick, sadistic, perverted program.
And there's no guarantee that George W. Bush (the man who had his aides scan the reports for him before he personally signed off on 150+ executions in Texas and famously said he knows that none of them were innocent) will not use these measures in the future. The brave Knights of the Big Kabuki, McCain, Huckleberry and Mr Elizabeth Taylor all agreed to allow him to "interpret" decency out of existence. After all, it's something he knows a lot about.
This means that while the Republicans are pretending to keep the Geneva Conventions intact and prohibiting torture and taking great credit for it, they have removed any means by which one could hold the US government accountable for failing to live up to those rules. Rights without remedies. In other wrods, the whole thing basically just legalized torture for any practical purpose --- and that means all of it, from forced enemas to waterboarding to the rack. What's a furriner gonna do about it? He's is specifically not allowed any judicial review of anything to do with his treament unless his US government torturers turn themselves in and ask their superiors to punish them.
This is it folks. There will be no judicial oversight of torture which means there is no way to enforce the law. The world will just have to trust George W. Bush to follow those laws based upon his superior morals and decency.
Glenn Greenwald spells out the dire and shameful consequences:
This legislation unquestionably allows the administration to continue to do exactly what it is was doing before. It legalizes those methods. It actually strengthens what the administration was doing because now it provides those activities with statutory authority. Why are the media and others pretending that these questions are murky? They're not.
It's true that the "compromise" takes the indirect, cowardly path towards legalizing torture by relying upon vague standards to define torture and then vesting in the President the sole power (unreviewable by courts) to determine what techniques are and are not allowed by those standards. It is the President who decides whether the "aggressive interrogation" program (i.e., the torture program) can continue, and he has already decided, obviously, that it will.
That is why the President and his senior advisors are celebrating the fact that the "program" can now continue. Because it can. Because the "compromise" allows that. Because the White House won. Because the principled, dissident Republican Senators capitulated entirely on the central question of whether the U.S. will continue to torture people.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, who is more of an extremist on torture issues than even Dick Cheney (he was threatening in advance to block any "compromise," even if the White House signed on to it, if it even potentially impeded the C.I.A.'s interrogation program in any way), excitedly announced that he "like(s) the compromise legislation even better than the [President's] bill his committee had passed." It's bad enough that we are legalizing torture but can we at least stop pretending that we're not sure if we're really doing that?
But worse than any of that, would it at least be possible for Democratic leaders to stop drooling on themselves with praise for John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham, and refrain from holding them up as the heroes who safeguarded all that is good and just in the world. Because not only is it false to say that those Heroic GOP Senators did anything praiseworthy regarding torture, praising them this way is politically so inept and self-destructive that it is hard to believe (although it shouldn't be) that they're actually doing this.
I'm back to Jane Hamsher's reaction. The America I grew up in and loved has been irreparably tarnished by the neocon gang under the criminal mind of Bush-Cheney. And I'm no fool. I know the demise of America didn't happen just because the Republicans blew into town to shoot up and trash the place. I live among the angry rabble, the dark underbelly of the USA, so-called Christians who are the worst hypocrites, the racists, the sexists, and the homophobes who praise and worship Republicans for getting tough, e.g., detaining and torturing Muslims swept up in a wide net:
1. Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.
2. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.
3. The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that, in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed "fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% - are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners, a nexus to any terrorist group is not identified by the Government.
4. Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.
Just as bad are the clueless herded sheep who show more enthusiasm for football than liberty and justice for all. A pox on the house of Americans who have permitted and hastened the decline of this once great democracy. I can only pray for America's resurrection.

UPDATE: Suskind wrote about the torture of Abu Zubaydah, a mentally-ill man who said anything to stop his torture, and thus, sent American intel assets on wild goose chases for naught.

Previously in June, I posted a lengthy argument to abolish torture without exceptions and the reasons why torture does not work.

I also overlooked this excellent essay by Digby on torture, Unleashing The Beast. Excerpt:
People and societies don't just wake up one morning to find they no longer recognize themselves. It's a process. And we are in the process in this country of "defining deviancy down" in ways I never thought possible. We are legitimizing torture and indefinite detention --- saying that we will only do this to the people who really deserve it. One cannot help but wonder what "really deserves it" will mean in the years to come as we fight our endless war against terror.
Sure, right now it's just a bunch of foreigners and I guess we don't feel foreigners are entitled to basic human rights. They must not be human --- or at least not as human as "we" are. When you think about it, who knows who "we" are either? Right wingers make millions of dollars writing books about how liberals are godless, death-loving, traitors within. Many people who read those books probably believe these liberals are only one step away from being sub-human too ---- they are, after all, godless traitors.
But as the soviet experience shows, anyone can be defined as such sub-humans and at some point it usually comes around to catch even the people who wrote the original tales of godless, death-loving traitors within. I don't know why --- maybe it's a kill the messenger thing.
I would almost guarantee that if we continue down this path there will someday be a fine, loyal conservative who, for reasons of petty insider warfare or political expediency finds himself in a position like this at the hands of his former comrades:
In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.
The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: "Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool." The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.
Perhaps nobody cares that that this very thing is being done every day to hunger strikers in Guantanamo. But do people honestly think it can't happen to them? Once we unleash this beast it won't only be terrorists or muslims who will be in danger. In one way or another, we all will be.