Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bubble Boy is the Greatest Threat

Free Democracy: MAUREEN DOWD: Bubble Boy: "'Whether or not it needed to happen,' the president told the anchor, 'I'm still convinced it needed to happen.'

. . .

Mr. Murtha told Rolling Stone that the administration's deafness had doomed Iraq: "Everything we did was mishandled. Plans that the military and the State Department had in place - they ignored 'em. The military tells me that when they were planning the invasion, the administration wouldn't let one of the primary three-star generals in the room."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

How Bush Bubble Works

Bush Talks About the Bubble: "'[i]n subtle ways, Bush does not encourage truth-telling or at least a full exploration of all that could go wrong. A former senior member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad occasionally observed Bush on videoconferences with his top advisers. 'The president would ask the generals, 'Do you have what you need to complete the mission?' as opposed to saying, 'Tell me, General, what do you need to win?' which would have opened up a whole new set of conversations,' says this official, who did not want to be identified discussing high-level meetings. The official says that the way Bush phrased his questions, as well as his obvious lack of interest in long, detailed discussions, had a chilling effect. . . .

'Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon. It's not that he is a socially awkward loner or a paranoid. He can charm and joke like the frat president he was. Still, beneath a hail-fellow manner, Bush has a defensive edge, a don't-tread-on-me prickliness. It shows in Bush's humor. When Reagan told a joke, it almost never was about someone in the room. Reagan's jokes may have been scatological or politically incorrect, but they were inclusive, intended to make everyone join in the laughter. Often, Bush's joking is personal -- it is aimed at you. The teasing can be flattering (the president gave me a nickname!), but it is intended, however so subtly, to put the listener on the defensive. It is a towel-snap that invites a retort. How many people dare to snap back at a president?"

Sunday, December 11, 2005

No right to torture - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM

No right to torture - JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM: "Underlying the diplomatic parsing that Rice and other US officials are engaged is a persistent view coming out of the George W Bush administration in Washington that winning the 'war on terror' was so critical that any means may be justifiable.

But such a view is the very opposite of the human rights and democratic values that America prays in aid of the very war it is waging.

Indeed, this was the clear message from the United Kingdom when Britain's highest court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled Thursday that evidence obtained through torture in other countries cannot be used in British courts.
The ruling is in favour of eight terror suspects who said they were detained on evidence elicited by torture in US camps. The Law lords ruled unanimously that torture was an abhorrent practice that had no place in the British justice system.

The decision reversed a ruling last year by the Court of Appeal, which said evidence suspected of being elicited through torture could be used in British courts if it was obtained by agents of another state, and no British agents were involved.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, ruling for the Law Lords, said English law had abhorred torture "and its fruits" for more than 500 years. He said last year's ruling endangered that record, the Associated Press reported.

"I am startled, even a little dismayed, at the suggestion that this deeply rooted tradition and an international obligation solemnly and explicitly undertaken can be overridden by a statute and a procedural rule which make no mention of torture at all," Lord Bingham said.

Human rights advocates have long argued that evidence obtained by torture is notoriously unreliable, since torture victims might say anything to stop their suffering.

Interestingly, the New York Times reported Friday that US officials said an inmate in Egyptian custody made up details about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda in order to escape abuse.

It is clear, therefore, that 'evidence' obtained under torture cannot be relied on either for determination of judicial proceedings or for making public policy, especially on grave issues like war and peace.
Right wing ideologues tend to dismiss opposition to torture as liberal squeamishness or a failure to appreciate the dangers of the contemporary world.

Of course the dangers are real. As Kofi Anan also said in his Human Rights day message: "Humanity faces grave challenges today. The threat of terror is real and immediate.

"Yet fear of terrorists can never justify adopting their methods. Nor can we be complacent about the broader prevalence of cruel and inhuman punishment, which in so many of our societies disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people: the imprisoned, the politically powerless and the economically deprived".

I believe this latter observation deserves particular attention. As the sole super-power in a unipolar world, the United States has a grave responsibility to set example of respect for human rights and democratic freedoms.

The rights of the poor and marginalised everywhere in the world are severely undermined if every pumped up autocrat and would-be dictator can cite Washington as its exemplar for secret prisons and extra-judicial punishment.

Again, Kofi Anan: "Let us be clear: torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror". No ifs, ands, or buts.

As we commemorate the 1948 Human Rights Declaration we need also to remind ourselves that we all, as citizens and journalists, have a duty to remind governments of their commitments to uphold and defend a range of human rights including the right "to life and liberty and security of person". [END]

Claude Robinson is senior research fellow in the Research and Policy Group, Mona School of Business, UWI"

Torture and the Constitution

Torture and the Constitution: "Torture and the Constitution

Sunday, December 11, 2005; Page B06

DOES THE Constitution permit the use of "waterboarding," or simulated drowning, to extract information from people detained by the government? To most Americans, the very question may sound ludicrous. Waterboarding, after all, has been recognized as a torture technique since the time of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition. U.S. soldiers who were caught using it on enemy insurgents in the Philippines, in 1901, or the Vietnam War, in 1968, were prosecuted. When suffocation by water was used by foreign governments, such as the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, the State Department didn't hesitate to call it torture.

Yet the Bush administration sees it otherwise. Not only have senior officials denied that CIA interrogation techniques, which are known to include waterboarding, constitute torture, but administration lawyers argue that the practice doesn't necessarily violate the lesser international legal standard of "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." In ratifying the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman and Degrading Treatment in 1994, the Senate defined "cruel, inhuman and degrading" as any practice that would violate the Fifth, Eighth or 14th amendments. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged during her tour of Europe last week that administration policy was to prohibit all U.S. personnel from breaking that standard, presumably including those who staff secret CIA prisons. Since the administration continues to maintain that it is not legally bound by the constitutional test outside the United States, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is pressing legislation that would make that purported policy a law.

What Ms. Rice's statements concealed is that administration lawyers have concluded that waterboarding and other CIA pressure methods don't necessarily violate the Constitution. Case law, they say, doesn't offer a clear guide to what actions represent a clear breach. The standard, they say, is flexible. In the case of a terrorist who may have information that could save thousands of lives, goes the administration reasoning, extreme measures might be acceptable. That's why, when he was asked about waterboarding and a series of other abusive acts during his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales testified that "some might . . . be permissible in certain circumstances."

Europeans and Americans who interpreted Ms. Rice's statements last week as an assurance that the CIA will no longer use waterboarding, prolonged shackling or induced hypothermia in its secret prisons were misled. Administration officials tell us there has been no decision to abandon those practices. Similarly, those who have hoped that the McCain amendment would end CIA abuses, as we have, must lower their expectations. The creation of a legal standard, while essential, probably will have to be followed by an effort to compel the administration to respect it, through further legislation or court action.

Interpreting the Constitution as permitting waterboarding in secret prisons is, to most experts outside the administration, legally outrageous and politically untenable. It means that the Bush administration accepts, in principle, that the FBI may use waterboarding, painful stress positions, forced nudity and other methods on Americans, in American prisons, "in certain circumstances." That's why the Justice Department has classified its memos on the subject and kept its conclusions secret. That's why President Bush and Vice President Cheney have worked so hard to stop the McCain amendment, which would pave the way for legal challenges to their interpretation. They want to give themselves the authority to commit human rights abuses without having to explain or justify themselves to the public, the world -- or an impartial court."

Rendition Unto Caesar by Paul Craig Roberts

Rendition Unto Caesar by Paul Craig Roberts: "People will say anything under torture, which is why the practice and the "evidence" it provides were ruled inadmissible centuries ago. The great English jurist, William Blackstone, declared that torture determined guilt by the hardness of a man’s constitution and the sensibility of his nerves. Blackstone proudly declared that there was no place for the rack among the laws of England.

Everyone knows that confessions obtained under torture are worthless. By having them tortured, Stalin was able to get the heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution to declare that they were guilty of striving to overthrow the communist revolution!

Why then do we have the disgusting spectacle of the president and vice president of the US and their neoconservative apologists, such as Charles Krauthammer, defending torture?

In his defense of torture as a "moral duty," Krauthammer assumes that the person being tortured is guilty and will reveal the truth under torture. There is no basis whatsoever for Krauthammer’s assumptions.

The reason that the Bush administration and the neocons defend torture is that, having launched an illegal invasion and created an American police state, they are desperate for "evidence" of the terrorist threat in order to justify their illegal and unconstitutional policies.

The only way to obtain this "evidence" is to torture people until they confess to the plots that are invented for them. A steady stream of confessed "terrorists" serves to justify the police state that has been created. Bush revealed the ploy when he asserted on December 10 that terrorist violence will be the result if Congress does not renew the Orwellian-named "Patriot Act" by December 31: "In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without that vital law for a single moment."

What Bush declares to be a "vital law" is, in fact, the greatest assault on civil liberties in the history of our country."

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Artful Lying

Torture and white phosphorus| By John Chuckman : "'The United States will use every lawful weapon to defeat terrorists,' - Condoleezza Rice

That statement is a platitude, useful only to stir blood at a Fourth of July speech in Muncie, Indiana. It tells us nothing. It is inherently evasive because the lawfulness of tactics being used is the very issue in question.

We all recall with a frown or a grimace Bill Clinton's playing with truth when he testified, 'It depends on what you mean by the word is'? Although his statement concerned a relatively trivial matter, it is actually representative of something far greater and more sinister that has grown to become an integral part of American political culture. American politicians and their creatures like Condoleezza simply have become expert in the art of giving an interview or a speech and avoiding saying almost anything meaningful. Artful lying, subtle avoidance, and giving an answer different than the question asked have become a basic set of political job skills.
,br> Members of the American government, more and more, resemble those sleazy well-prepared witnesses on the stand who just can't recall point after point or a cheap lawyers who rephrases a statement to a similar-sounding one and assure you, yes you have his word on that.

The string of lies and misrepresentations leading up to the invasion of Iraq alone are enough, in the words of Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution,'to make the Testament leap from her [the witness's] hand.'

Only recently, after a year of denials about using napalm at Fallujah, despite the words of witnesses and the charred bodies of victims, we learn that white phosphorus was used. Indeed, Marines are trained to use white phosphorus to drive people out to places where they can shoot them, only the people are supposed to be soldiers, not civilians. Now, I am not sure"

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | The US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | The US has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it: "But what was the right backdrop for the infamous 'We do not torture' declaration? With characteristic audacity, the Bush team settled on downtown Panama City.

It was certainly bold. An hour and a half's drive from where Bush stood, the US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been 'We do torture'. It is here in Panama, and later at the school's new location in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found.

According to declassified training manuals, SOA students - military and police officers from across the hemisphere - were instructed in many of the same 'coercive interrogation' techniques that have since gone to Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximise shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food 'manipulation', humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions - and worse. In 1996 President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board admitted that US-produced training materials condoned 'execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment'.

Some Panama school graduates went on to commit the continent's greatest war crimes of the past half-century: the murders of Archbishop Oscar Romero and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador; the systematic theft of babies from Argentina's 'disappeared' prisoners; the massacre of 900 civilians in El Mozote in El Salvador; and military coups too numerous to list here.

Yet when covering the Bush announcement, not a single mainstream news outlet mentioned the location's sordid history. How could they? That would require something totally absent from the debate: an admission that the embrace of torture by US officials has been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam war.

It's a history exhaustively documented in an avalanche of books, declassified documents, CIA training manuals, court records and truth commissions. In his forthcoming book, A Question of Torture, Alfred McCoy synthesises this evidence, producing a riveting account of how monstrous CIA-funded experiments on psychiatric patients and prisoners in the 1950s turned into a template for what he calls "no-touch torture", based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain. McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix programme and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training.

It is not only apologists for torture who ignore this history when they blame abuses on "a few bad apples". A startling number of torture's most prominent opponents keep telling us that the idea of torturing prisoners first occurred to US officials on September 11 2001, at which point the methods used in Guantánamo apparently emerged, fully formed, from the sadistic recesses of Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's brains. Up until that moment, we are told, America fought its enemies while keeping its humanity intact.

The principal propagator of this narrative (what Garry Wills termed "original sinlessness") is Senator John McCain. Writing in Newsweek on the need to ban torture, McCain says that when he was a prisoner of war in Hanoi, he held fast to the knowledge "that we were different from our enemies ... that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or approving such mistreatment of them". It is a stunning historical distortion. By the time McCain was taken captive, the CIA had launched the Phoenix programme and, as McCoy writes, "its agents were operating 40 interrogation centres in South Vietnam that killed more than 20,000 suspects and tortured thousands more."

Does it somehow lessen today's horrors to admit that this is not the first time the US government has used torture, that it has operated secret prisons before, that it has actively supported regimes that tried to erase the left by dropping students out of airplanes? That, closer to home, photographs of lynchings were traded and sold as trophies and warnings? Many seem to think so. On November 8, Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott made the astonishing claim to the House of Representatives that "America has never had a question about its moral integrity, until now".

Other cultures deal with a legacy of torture by declaring "Never again!" Why do so many Americans insist on dealing with the current torture crisis by crying "Never before"? I suspect it stems from a sincere desire to convey the seriousness of this administration's crimes. And its open embrace of torture is indeed unprecedented.

But let's be clear about what is unprecedented: not the torture, but the openness. Past administrations kept their "black ops" secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were committed in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush administration has broken this deal: post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimised by new definitions and new laws.

Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the real innovation has been in-sourcing, with prisoners being abused by US citizens in US-run prisons and transported to third countries in US planes. It is this departure from clandestine etiquette that has so much of the military and intelligence community up in arms: Bush has robbed everyone of plausible deniability. This shift is of huge significance. When torture is covertly practised but officially and legally repudiated, there is still hope that if atrocities are exposed, justice could prevail. When torture is pseudo-legal and those responsible deny that it is torture, what dies is what Hannah Arendt called "the juridical person in man". Soon victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility, and danger, of that quest. This is a larger mirror of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.

The terrible irony of the anti-historicism of the torture debate is that in the name of eradicating future abuses, past crimes are being erased from the record. Since the US has never had truth commissions, the memory of its complicity in far-away crimes has always been fragile. Now these memories are fading further, and the disappeared are disappearing again.

This casual amnesia does a disservice not only to the victims, but also to the cause of trying to remove torture from the US policy arsenal once and for all. Already there are signs that the administration will deal with the uproar by returning to plausible deniability. The McCain amendment protects every "individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States government"; it says nothing about torture training or buying information from the exploding industry of for-profit interrogators.

And in Iraq the dirty work is already being handed over to Iraqi death squads, trained by the US and supervised by commanders like Jim Steele, who prepared for the job by setting up similar units in El Salvador. The US role in training and supervising Iraq's interior ministry was forgotten, moreover, when 173 prisoners were recently discovered in a ministry dungeon, some tortured so badly that their skin was falling off. "Look, it's a sovereign country. The Iraqi government exists," Rumsfeld said. He sounded just like the CIA's William Colby who, asked in a 1971 Congressional probe about the thousands killed under Phoenix, a programme he helped launch, replied that it was now "entirely a South Vietnamese programme".

As McCoy says, "if you don't understand the history and the depths of the institutional and public complicity, then you can't begin to undertake meaningful reforms." Lawmakers will respond to pressure by eliminating one small piece of the torture apparatus: closing a prison, shutting down a programme, even demanding the resignation of a really bad apple like Rumsfeld. But he warns, "they will preserve the prerogative to torture."

· A version of this article appears in the Nation"

Inhuman: Yes or No? By Jackson Diehl | Washington Post

Inhuman: Yes or No? By Jackson Diehl: "A couple of things about this exchange struck me as remarkable. First, how could the attorney general of the United States not be able to state U.S. policy on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners -- especially since his department has repeatedly reviewed the matter in the past several years? Gonzales, mind you, didn't appear to be evading the question. He simply didn't know the answer.

The other issue flows from the first: Why is it that the Bush administration, at enormous cost to U.S. prestige around the world, insists on being ambiguous about this straightforward question? If Gonzales has a defense, it may be that the lawyers in his department who have addressed the issue have done so in a way that could easily confuse someone like their boss -- not to mention the captains and sergeants and civilian contractors actually charged with interrogating prisoners in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo.

Here's the answer that was submitted on Gonzales's behalf, though apparently without his comprehension, last January: Despite the treaty, the administration contends that "there is no legal prohibition" on the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by U.S. personnel as long as it is inflicted on "aliens overseas." That means the CIA, for example, could legally abuse the al Qaeda suspects it is holding in secret foreign detention facilities, provided it stops short of outright torture. But, Gonzales's ghostwriters added, the administration "wants to be" in compliance with the treaty standard. That suggests that "CID," as the lawyers call it, is prohibited in practice.

Or does it? The Senate has legally defined "cruel, inhuman and degrading" as any treatment that would violate the Fifth, Eighth or 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Gonzales said all approved interrogation techniques had been checked against that standard. But the attorney general was also asked about various specific practices American interrogators are known to have used, including simulated drowning, mock execution, sleep deprivation, forced nudity and the use of dogs to inspire fear. He answered: "Some might . . . be permissible in certain circumstances." That must mean one of two things: Either the Bush administration considers mock execution and simulated drowning allowable under the Constitution -- and thus available for use by the FBI on Americans -- or it does not, in fact, have a policy of prohibiting CID for all prisoners.

Gonzales isn't the only one who doesn't get it. The administration's artfully muddled position has triggered an extraordinary standoff between the White House and a group of Senate Republicans, led by torture victim John McCain. McCain now has eight GOP co-sponsors for an amendment to this year's defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for all "persons in the detention of the U.S. government." His staff is confident he has the votes to pass the measure when the bill comes up on the floor, probably later this month.

The administration protests that McCain's proposed rule is already being followed. A CIA briefer recently assured congressional staffers that CID was out of bounds for al Qaeda detainees. So why did Vice President Cheney vehemently object to the proposed amendment in a meeting with McCain and Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner this summer? And why did the administration pull the defense authorization bill from the Senate floor in late July rather than allow the amendment to come to a vote?

Maybe there's a good reason. But don't ask Alberto Gonzales."

Voices of Concern Over the Abrogation of Human Rights by Americans

Project Kuwaiti Freedom Throughout the United States, and around the world, wide spread indignation continues to be voiced about the illegal detention of the Guantanamo prisoners.

It is now clear that to deny anyone a fair trial is to deny the American system itself.

Each new day brings fresh expressions of profound concern from world leaders and the world’s most respected humanitarians.

The voices of concern over the abrogation of American rights have been heard from all parts of America…and from all political persuasions.

The US Has Been Torturing Prisoners

If you were like me, you were so surprised and revolted by the spectacle of human suffering and abuse in Abu-grahib, that you were ready to be conforted with the 'few bad apples' excuse.

Now it has become increasingly clear that the problem goes much more deeper than that. Torture was sanctioned by the Bush administration at the highest level. War Crimes have been committed the question now is how the criminals will be held accountable. The following article has been documenting these facts since 2004, but you would not know it unless you actively search for this information as the popular media outlets appear to leave this information from coming to the fore-front because of fear of political and economic sanctions. Here it is:
Mark Danner: The Logic of Torture: "What is difficult is separating what we now know from what we have long known but have mostly refused to admit. Though the events and disclosures of the last weeks have taken on the familiar clothing of a Washington scandal — complete with full-dress congressional hearings, daily leaks to reporters from victim and accused alike, and of course the garish, spectacular photographs and videos from Abu Ghraib — beyond that bright glare of revelation lies a dark area of unacknowledged clarity. Behind the exotic brutality so painstakingly recorded in Abu Ghraib, and the multiple tangled plotlines that will be teased out in the coming weeks and months about responsibility, knowledge, and culpability, lies a simple truth, well known but not yet publicly admitted in Washington: that since the attacks of September 11, 2001, officials of the United States, at various locations around the world, from Bagram in Afghanistan to Guantanamo in Cuba to Abu Ghraib in Iraq, have been torturing prisoners. They did this, in the felicitous phrasing of General Taguba's report, in order to 'exploit [them] for actionable intelligence' and they did it, insofar as this is possible, with the institutional approval of the United States government, complete with memoranda from the President's counsel and officially promulgated decisions, in the case of Afghanistan and Guantanamo, about the nonapplicability of the Geneva Conventions and, in the case of Iraq, about at least three different sets of interrogation policies, two of them modeled on earlier practice in Afghanistan and Cuba."