NEWS & VIEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: April 7

Report outlines medical workers’ role in torture

Medical personnel were deeply involved in the abusive interrogation of terrorist suspects held overseas by the Central Intelligence Agency, including torture, and their participation was a “gross breach of medical ethics,” a long-secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded.

Based on statements by 14 prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda and were moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006, Red Cross investigators concluded that medical professionals working for the C.I.A. monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls, the report said.

Facilitating such practices, which the Red Cross described as torture, was a violation of medical ethics even if the medical workers’ intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury, the report said. But it found that the medical professionals’ role was primarily to support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners, and that the professionals had “condoned and participated in ill treatment.” [continued…]

The Red Cross torture report: what it means

When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen. In our politics, torture is not about whether or not our polity can “let the past be past”—whether or not we can “get beyond it and look forward.” Torture, for Dick Cheney and for President Bush and a significant portion of the American people, is more than a repugnant series of “procedures” applied to a few hundred prisoners in American custody during the last half-dozen or so years—procedures that are described with chilling and patient particularity in this authoritative report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.[2] Torture is more than the specific techniques—the forced nudity, sleep deprivation, long-term standing, and suffocation by water,” among others—that were applied to those fourteen “high-value detainees” and likely many more at the “black site” prisons secretly maintained by the CIA on three continents.

Torture, as the former vice-president’s words suggest, is a critical issue in the present of our politics—and not only because of ongoing investigations by Senate committees, or because of calls for an independent inquiry by congressional leaders, or for a “truth commission” by a leading Senate Democrat, or because of demands for a criminal investigation by the ACLU and other human rights organizations, and now undertaken in Spain, the United Kingdom, and Poland.[3] For many in the United States, torture still stands as a marker of political commitment—of a willingness to “do anything to protect the American people,” a manly readiness to know when to abstain from “coddling terrorists” and do what needs to be done. Torture’s powerful symbolic role, like many ugly, shameful facts, is left unacknowledged and undiscussed. But that doesn’t make it any less real. On the contrary.

Torture is at the heart of the deadly politics of national security. The former vice-president, as able and ruthless a politician as the country has yet produced, appears convinced of this. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Is Cheney convinced? I’m really not so sure. As a healthy young man, Dick Cheney made it a priority to avoid being sent to Vietnam. As an enfeebled former vice-president, Cheney’s priority these days is avoiding being sent to prison. His fear might not be great because at least so far he has been able to hide behind fairly strong institutional protection. But the emotive bedrock of his defense — and that of his co-conspirators — is that their actions were the expression of their concern for national security. I don’t buy it.

Cheney could always have made an argument in defense of the use of torture. He never has for the simple reason that he knows that the thin legal ice he’s already been walking on would at that point shatter. He has shied away from the T-word strictly for legal — not ethical — reasons. Cheney’s passion to defend America only goes so far — it does not mount to the level of personal risk.

The ticking-bomb scenario that so captured the limited imaginations of Cheney and his cohorts always had an obvious flaw. It’s easy enough to argue that an extreme situation might call for an extreme response but that extreme response could always include an individual’s willingness to ignore the law.

Here’s the way it goes:

    FBI: Mr Vice President. We have the suspect. He knows where the dirty bomb is hidden and he’s already told us it’s going to explode in an hour but he won’t say any more. What can we do to force him to talk?
    Cheney (national hero): Do whatever it takes and if we all end up in court I’m willing to pay that price to defend my country.
    Cheney (the real one): Speak to my lawyer.

What Cheney actually did was to construct a quasi-legal culture within which individuals would not feel personally responsible and legally and ethically accountable for their own actions. By so doing, he populated a counter-terrorism institutional structure with Cheney-clones whose primary concern was to be able to hide themselves behind some mangled construction of the law.

The issue here is not national security; it’s how to save your ass.

Obama rejects the clash of civilizations

In 1993 with the era of the Cold War having ended and amid vociferous debate about how the future world order might take shape, the American political scientist Samuel P Huntington asserted: “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

For the neoconservatives who steered US foreign policy after 9/11, Mr Huntington’s views were regarded as prophetic. While the Bush administration insisted that its war on terrorism should not be seen as a war against Islam, for proponents of a the clash-of-civilizations view of history that distinction was often seen as nothing more than a matter of political correctness. As recently as last month, the former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conceded, “we were never able to make clear that it was not a war against Islam”.

Without mentioning Mr Huntington or the expression “clash of civilizations”, Barack Obama went to Turkey, “a place where civilizations meet, and different peoples come together” and declared on Monday: “This is not where East and West divide – this is where they come together.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Obama’s speech was well-crafted as an exercise in redefining US relations with the Islamic world and in underlining the strategic importance of US-Turkish relations and in emphasizing the valuable role Turkey can play in Europe.

That said, there is still a serious gap between presidential rhetoric and administration actions. Emblematic of that gap in this instance (as I point out in the piece above) is that while a certified hate-monger like Geert Wilders is free to tour the United States promoting Islamophobia, Obama administration lawyers are in court defending a Bush administration ruling that the highly respected European Islamic scholar, Tariq Ramadan, be denied entry into this country.

Mitchell: Arab peace initiative will be part of Obama policy

The Arab peace initiative will be part of the Obama administration’s policy toward the Middle East, the United States special envoy to the region said.

The 2002 initiative offers to normalize relations between the entire Arab region and Israel, in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories including East Jerusalem, the establishment of a Palestinian State and a “just settlement” for Palestinian refugees.

The envoy, George Mitchell, said the U.S. intends to “incorporate” the initiative into its Middle East policy. He made the statement at a meeting with Israeli, Arab American and European senior diplomats and officials in Washington a few weeks ago. [continued…]

Peres: ‘Devious’ Iran imitates Israel by hiding nuke ambitions

President Shimon Peres on Monday said a “sophisticated and devious” Iranian regime has managed to hide the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions from the world.

Speaking to a group of visiting U.S. members of Congress, Peres also said the United States must enlist Europe in its efforts to thwart those ambitions.

“The U.S. has a real partner in the European leadership and it must enlist it in the struggle against the Iranian nuclear [program],” the president said. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — “Nuclear ambiguity” — what a devious concept! Maybe it’s time for Israel to reframe its nuclear policy and start saying that for the sake of “nuclear modesty” it can’t divulge the size of its arsenal.

Israel not taking orders from Obama

Israel does not take orders from [Barack] Obama,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said on Monday, responding to an earlier statement by the US president in which he reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to all previous understandings between Israel and the Palestinians, including the process launched at Annapolis, Maryland, in 2007.

Erdan, who is also the liaison between the cabinet and the Knesset, praised Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu), who only last week said Israel was not bound by the Annapolis talks because it had never been approved by the cabinet or the Knesset. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — You tell ’em Gilad! It’s an Israeli prime minister’s right to dictate how the US votes in the UN Security Council but what kind of American president would be so arrogant as to insist that Israel abide by its own agreements? Really!

Most in poll back outreach to Muslims

Most Americans think President Obama’s pledge to “seek a new way forward” with the Muslim world is an important goal, even as nearly half hold negative views about Islam and a sizable number say that even mainstream adherents to the religion encourage violence against non-Muslims, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

There is still a broad lack of familiarity with the world’s second-largest religion — 55 percent of those polled said they are without a basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam, and most said they do not know anyone who is Muslim. While awareness has increased in recent years, underlying views have not improved.

About half, 48 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Islam, the highest in polls since late 2001. Nearly three in 10, or 29 percent, said they see mainstream Islam as advocating violence against non-Muslims; although more, 58 percent, said it is a peaceful religion. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — I’d never be able to work as an opinion pollster. I just wouldn’t be able to resist responding to some of the answers I got by saying, “Are you serious?” “Do you really mean that?” “You’re just kidding. Now give me an honest answer.”

For instance, one of the numbers in this poll intrigues me. The question: Do you feel you do or do not have a good basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam, the Muslim religion?

45% of those polled answered that they do have a good basic understanding of Islam. This may correspond with the 47% who say they personally know a Muslim. The latter figure seems surprisingly high to me, considering that only one per cent of Americans are Muslims, but who knows? As for the nearly half of Americans who understand Islam, is it the case that they understand Islam, or that they believe they understand Islam, or that they believe that it’s the socially appropriate thing to be able to claim that one understands Islam in order to avoid looking ignorant?

Perhaps a follow up question would have been in order. Can you name the Five Pillars of Islam? No? Do you want to change the answer you gave to the previous question?

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: April 7

  1. Dieter Heymann, Houston, USA

    It would be interesting to know the results of a poll in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan on the following question:
    “Do you believe that mainstream Christianity condones violence against Muslims?”

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