NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: May 19

The torture memos and historical amnesia

The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so.

For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law — a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for the Bush administration’s “black sites,” or secret prisons, and for extraordinary rendition, and they were fulfilled.

More importantly, torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the “infant empire” — as George Washington called the new republic — extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Every nation is subject to its own particular form of historical amnesia. Likewise, imperial powers have their own grandiose revisionist tendencies. Yet there is another form of historical denial particular to recently invented nations whose myth-making efforts are inextricably bound together with the process of the nation’s birth.

Whereas older nations are by and large populated by people whose ancestral roots penetrated that land well before it took on the clear definition of a nation state, the majority of the people in an invented nation — such as the United States or Israel — have ancestry that inevitably leads elsewhere. This exposes the ephemeral link between the peoples’ history and the nation’s history.

Add to that the fact that such nations came into being through grotesque acts of dispossession and it is clear that a psychological drive to hold aloft an atemporal exceptionalism becomes an existential necessity. National security requires that the past be erased.

If Americans or Israelis were to truly own their past, they would end up demolishing the foundation upon which their national identity rests.

Relentless player to push for Palestinian state

She once yelled at an Israeli ambassador over Israel’s arms sales to China. Then she took a senior member of the Palestinian Authority to the woodshed over corruption.

Mara Rudman, the Hyannis-bred executive secretary of President Obama’s National Security Council, is known for being tough on everyone.

“She is capable of staring you down and making you back down without even opening her mouth,” said M.J. Rosenberg, director of policy analysis at the Israel Policy Forum, a progressive Jewish group. “She’s a real New Englander: very serious, not frivolous. I have a lot of respect for her.”

Later this month, State Department officials said, Rudman, 46, will be appointed chief of staff to the “dream team” that is being assembled by Special Envoy George Mitchell to tackle one of Obama’s most ambitious foreign policy goals: the creation of a Palestinian state. [continued…]

Despite smiles, Obama, Netanyahu seem far apart

While reaffirming the “special relationship” between their two countries, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared unable to bridge major differences in their approaches to Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts following their White House meeting here Monday.

While Obama said he may be prepared to impose additional sanctions against Iran early next year if diplomatic efforts to persuade it to curb its nuclear programme fail to make progress, he refused to set what he called “an arbitrary deadline.” Israeli officials had pressed Washington for an early October deadline.

And while Obama repeatedly stressed the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu never uttered the phrase or alluded to the possibility of a Palestinian state during a 30-minute press appearance with the U.S. president after their meeting in the Oval Office. [continued…]

The Cheney fallacy

Former Vice President Cheney says that President Obama’s reversal of Bush-era terrorism policies endangers American security. The Obama administration, he charges, has “moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11.” Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence. But there is a different problem with Cheney’s criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric. This does not mean that the Obama changes are unimportant. Packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric, it turns out, are vitally important to the legitimacy of terrorism policies. [continued…]

UN torture watchdog demands access to secret Israeli jail

The United Nation’s watchdog on torture has criticised Israel for refusing to allow inspections at a secret prison, dubbed by critics as “Israel’s Guantanamo Bay”, and demanded to know if more such clandestine detention camps are operating.

In a report published on Friday, the Committee Against Torture requested that Israel identify the location of the camp, officially referred to as “Facility 1391”, and allow access to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Findings from Israeli human rights groups show that the prison has in the past been used to hold Arab and Muslim prisoners, including Palestinians, and that routine torture and physical abuse were carried out by interrogators. [continued…]

Little known military thug squad still brutalizing prisoners at Gitmo under Obama

As the Obama administration continues to fight the release of some 2,000 photos that graphically document U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ongoing Spanish investigation is adding harrowing details to the ever-emerging portrait of the torture inside and outside Guantánamo. Among them: “blows to [the] testicles;” “detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep;” being “inoculated … through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts;'” the smearing of feces on prisoners; and waterboarding. The torture, according to the Spanish investigation, all occurred “under the authority of American military personnel” and was sometimes conducted in the presence of medical professionals.

More significantly, however, the investigation could for the first time place an intense focus on a notorious, but seldom discussed, thug squad deployed by the U.S. military to retaliate with excessive violence to the slightest resistance by prisoners at Guantánamo.

The force is officially known as the the Immediate Reaction Force or Emergency Reaction Force, but inside the walls of Guantánamo, it is known to the prisoners as the Extreme Repression Force. Despite President Barack Obama’s publicized pledge to close the prison camp and end torture — and analysis from human rights lawyers who call these forces’ actions illegal — IRFs remain very much active at Guantánamo. [continued…]

The 13 people who made torture possible

On April 16, the Obama administration released four memos that were used to authorize torture in interrogations during the Bush administration. When President Obama released the memos, he said, “It is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”

Yet 13 key people in the Bush administration cannot claim they relied on the memos from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. Some of the 13 manipulated the federal bureaucracy and the legal process to “preauthorize” torture in the days after 9/11. Others helped implement torture, and still others helped write the memos that provided the Bush administration with a legal fig leaf after torture had already begun.

The Torture 13 exploited the federal bureaucracy to establish a torture regime in two ways. First, they based the enhanced interrogation techniques on techniques used in the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program. The program — which subjects volunteers from the armed services to simulated hostile capture situations — trains servicemen and -women to withstand coercion well enough to avoid making false confessions if captured. Two retired SERE psychologists contracted with the government to “reverse-engineer” these techniques to use in detainee interrogations. [continued…]

U.N. says 1.5 million flee in Pakistan

The U.N. refugee agency said Monday that nearly 1.5 million people have fled their homes in Pakistan this month, saying that fighting between government forces and Taliban militants is uprooting more people faster than probably any conflict since the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s.

“It has been a long time since there has been a displacement this big,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, trying to recollect the last time so many people were uprooted in such a short period.

“It could go back to Rwanda,” Redmond said, referring to the 1994 massacre of ethnic Tutsis by the majority Hutus in the African country. “It’s an enormous number of people.” [continued…]

Pakistani army controls Buner, but residents fear Taliban’s return

The carcasses of cars and trucks and bombed buildings on Monday greeted the visitor to Buner, the northwestern district that the military government largely has wrested back from Taliban insurgents. So far, however, only a handful of residents have dared to return.

The Taliban takeover of Buner, which is 60 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, provoked alarm in Washington early last month and a public warning from the Obama administration that Pakistan was “abdicating to the Taliban.”

The Pakistani government subsequently launched a military operation in Buner, followed by a much larger operation in neighboring Swat. Late last week, a little more than two weeks into the operation led by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, the government said it was safe for people to return to their homes in southern Buner. [continued…]

Iraq arrests 2 Sunni leaders, raising fears of violence

Iraqi government security forces arrested two prominent Sunni leaders in Diyala Province on Monday, according to local security officials, leading to renewed concerns that sectarian tensions in the area could once again erupt into greater violence.

One of those arrested, Sheik Riyadh al-Mujami, is a prominent figure in the local Awakening Council, a movement led by Sunni tribal leaders who decided to stop fighting the Americans and cooperate with them against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a largely homegrown group that is believed to have foreign leadership.

The Awakening movement played a crucial role in reducing the violence in Iraq over the past two years, but some Sunni leaders have complained that the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has broken its promise to integrate their members in the country’s security forces. They also have expressed concern that the government regards them as a threat, and that it is planning attacks on Awakening members as the American military reduces its activities in Iraq. [continued…]

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: May 19

  1. DE Tedooru

    For most Americans real torture issue is only: did it work? It didn’t work for Nazis and Commies because they lost, totally. So until we lose all our freedoms, our morals and our laws, collapsing like all of history’s corrupt empires, we will never lament our amoral inhumanity because, well, it may just have worked; afterall, we’re still here. Has America always been such Bush-it?

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