Senate passes torture ban despite Republican opposition

The Guardian reports: More than 20 Republican senators rejected a ban on the use of cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners on Tuesday, voting against an ultimately successful measure to permanently prevent a repeat of the CIA’s once secret and now widely-discredited torture program.

The bipartisan amendment reaffirms President Barack Obama’s prohibition of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, which were developed by the CIA under the administration of his predecessor, George W Bush.

The measure passed in the Senate, 78-21.

However Republican hawks, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, opposed the amendment, despite an impassioned plea from their colleague, John McCain, who called on them to avoid the “dark path of sacrificing our values for our short-term security needs”. [Continue reading…]

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CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on human experimentation

The Guardian reports: The Central Intelligence Agency had explicit guidelines for “human experimentation” before, during and after its post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees, the Guardian has learned, which raise new questions about the limits on internal oversight over the agency’s in-house and contracted medical research.

Sections of a previously classified CIA document, made public by the Guardian on Monday, empower the agency’s director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research”. The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the US government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.

CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about US torture as a violation of medical ethics.

But the revelation of the guidelines has prompted critics of CIA torture to question how the agency could have ever implemented what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” – despite apparently having rules against “research on human subjects” without their informed consent. [Continue reading…]

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Video: John Oliver on torture

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Torture, false information and the Iraq war

David Abramowitz writes: In 2002, I was the chief counsel for the Democratic members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. At the time, the committee was considering legislation authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The central justification raised by the George W. Bush administration revolved around Iraq’s suspected and continued possession of weapons of mass destruction.

In the fall of 2002, the committee received a briefing on Iraq from the intelligence community. I remember thinking that almost all of the details presented to us by the Bush administration were old and familiar. It was concerning but not alarming. In fact, I felt a growing sense that there was no new information to suggest that Iraq was a real threat, and certainly not one that could justify U.S. military action.

Then the CIA briefer dropped a bombshell. With the great confidence that was this briefer’s hallmark, he stated that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda members.

I remember the jarring impact of this revelation. I thought to myself that if we knew that, perhaps there was even more information we didn’t know, including a possible transfer of such weapons to Al Qaeda. I looked over to one of the senior staffers who shared my reaction: This was serious.

I had attended hundreds of briefings in my 10 years of working on Capitol Hill, but very few resulted in such an immediate change in my thinking or had such an emotional impact. Until that day, I had been dubious that the regime of Saddam Hussein would cooperate in any meaningful way with jihadists. Afterward, when lawmakers or staffers asked me about my own view, I would point to this intelligence as an important consideration. And I believe that lawmakers very much took the CIA briefer’s dramatic revelation into account when deciding whether to vote to use military force against Iraq.

We now know that this information was obtained from a single source. According to the New York Times, the individual, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was captured in Pakistan, transferred to a military base in Afghanistan and then rendered to authorities in Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. Indeed, even at the time, his statements on Iraq were disputed within the intelligence community, and the Senate report on prewar intelligence indicates that no corroborating evidence was ever found. Once back in U.S. custody, Libi recanted his statements, and the CIA withdrew intelligence based on these remarks.

I am not writing to re-litigate the reasons we went to war with Iraq. And I recognize that this information was coerced by a foreign intelligence service, not by the CIA.

But we need to remember that nearly 4,500 U.S. service members lost their lives in a conflict that was justified, in part, using unreliable information obtained via torture. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also lost their lives. And we are still dealing with the ramifications of our intervention there. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. government starts to unmuzzle the CIA’s torture victims

Huffington Post reports: For years, Guantanamo Bay prisoners’ memories of their time in CIA custody have been considered classified state secrets. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers can’t talk publicly about how he lost his left eye. Lawyers for Mustafa al Hawsawi, who can now only sit on a pillow, can’t tell the press or the public about anal feedings that left him with a rectal prolapse. And until recently, Majid Khan’s lawyers couldn’t bring up the time he was hung from a pole for two days, naked and hooded, while interrogators threw ice water on him.

The government argued that by talking about what had happened to them, the CIA’s former prisoners, who are now detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, would risk revealing classified information about the agency’s torture program.

But as James Connell, a lawyer who represents detainee Ammar al Baluchi, wrote more than three years ago in a motion to declassify the prisoners’ accounts, “A person’s own experiences — whether the smell of a rose or the click of a gun near one’s head — are what make them a person, and the government can never own or control them.”

The notion that a torture survivor’s memories can be classified, Connell wrote, “contravenes the most basic principles of human rights.” He added that detainees “were exposed to classified interrogation techniques only in the sense that Hiroshima was exposed to the classified Manhattan Project.”

Now, the government is starting to change course. A Senate Intelligence Committee report, which began to pull back the curtain on the CIA’s use of torture in secret prisons known as “black sites,” compelled the government to change its rules about keeping former CIA prisoners’ memories secret. Khan became the first to successfully test the new rules by going public with his account of his imprisonment, which included details not previously disclosed in the Senate report. Citing the success of Khan’s team, defense attorneys for other Guantanamo detainees are now cautiously optimistic that they can bring their clients’ memories of their time in CIA black sites to light. [Continue reading…]

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Documenting evil: Inside Assad’s hospitals of horror

Adam Ciralsky reports: On a stifling day in August 2013, a police photographer with chiseled features and a military bearing moved hurriedly about his office in Damascus. For two years, as Syria’s civil war became ever more deadly, he lived a double life: regime bureaucrat by day, opposition spy by night. Now he had to flee. Having downloaded thousands of high-resolution photographs onto flash drives, he snuck into the empty office of his boss and took cell-phone pictures of the papers on the man’s desk. Among them were execution orders and directives to falsify death certificates and dispose of bodies. Armed with as much evidence as he could safely carry, the photographer—code-named Caesar—fled the country.

Since then, the images that Caesar secreted out of Syria have received wide circulation, having been touted by Western officials and others as clear evidence of war crimes. The pictures, most of them taken in Syrian military hospitals, show corpses photographed at close range — one at a time as well as in small groupings. Virtually all of the bodies — thousands of them—betray signs of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation. Caesar took a number of these pictures, working with roughly a dozen other photographers assigned to the same military-police unit.

But Caesar himself, like the intelligence operation of which he became a part, has remained in the shadows. He appeared only once in public, last summer, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he wore a hood and spoke through a translator. He spoke briefly, and in a restricted setting, though I have been able to obtain a copy of his complete testimony. He sought and was granted asylum in a Western European country whose name Vanity Fair has agreed not to disclose, for his personal safety. [Continue reading…]

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A detainee describes more CIA torture

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Anyone who had the time to read the summary of the 6,700-page report by Senate investigators on the federal government’s program of torturing detainees captured after the Sept. 11 attacks knew, or at least suspected, that there was more to the sickening story.

This week, a Reuters report added to those suspicions with newly declassified statements from Majid Khan, a high-value prisoner who had been affiliated with Al Qaeda, was captured in 2003 and has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2006.

Over more than seven years of conversations at Guantánamo with his lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Mr. Khan described even more torture and abuse than is contained in the Senate report. Although the details of his account, as documented in notes by his lawyers, could not be independently confirmed, they corroborate many of the findings of the report.

Soon after his capture, Mr. Khan said, interrogators waterboarded him twice, a contention that contradicts the Central Intelligence Agency’s claim that it had already named all detainees who were subjected to that practice. (The C.I.A. has denied that Mr. Khan was waterboarded.) As he was moved among a series of C.I.A.-operated “black sites” over the following months, Mr. Khan told his lawyers, the torture continued. He was beaten repeatedly. He was hung naked from a wooden beam for three days, shackled and starved. He was taken down once during that time to be submerged in an ice bath. Interrogators pushed his head under the water until he thought he would drown. He received what he called “violent enemas,” and was anally assaulted in a process the interrogators called “rectal feeding.”

“I wished they had killed me,” Mr. Khan said. [Continue reading…]

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Detainee alleges CIA sexual abuse, torture beyond Senate findings

Reuters reports: The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency used a wider array of sexual abuse and other forms of torture than was disclosed in a Senate report last year, according to a Guantanamo Bay detainee turned government cooperating witness.

Majid Khan said interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his “private parts” – none of which was described in the Senate report. Interrogators, some of whom smelled of alcohol, also threatened to beat him with a hammer, baseball bats, sticks and leather belts, Khan said.

Khan’s is the first publicly released account from a high-value al Qaeda detainee who experienced the “enhanced interrogation techniques” of President George W. Bush’s administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.

Khan’s account is contained in 27 pages of interview notes his lawyers compiled over the past seven years. The U.S. government cleared the notes for release last month through a formal review process. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: The former deputy CIA director made a series of factual misstatements while defending the agency’s harsh treatment of detainees in his recent book, Senate intelligence committee staffers assert in a 54-page document filed with citations from CIA records.

The detailed critique of the memoir by Michael Morell shows the extent to which critics and backers continue to try to shape public perceptions of the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, even months after the release of a Senate report that sought to render a final judgment on it.

How the public interprets the CIA’s use of torture is not merely a matter of history: At least one Republican presidential candidate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, recently promised to bring back harsh interrogation techniques if elected. [Continue reading…]

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Barbara Myers: The unknown whistleblower

Rambo! In my Reagan-era youth, the name was synonymous with the Vietnam War — at least the Vietnam War reimagined, the celluloid fantasy version of it in which a tanned, glistening, muscle-bound commando busted the handcuffs of defeat and redeemed America’s honor in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Untold millions including the Gipper himself, an inveterate Vietnam revisionist, were enraptured.

Many years later, studying war crimes in Vietnam, I would come across a real Rambo — or maybe you’d call him an anti-Rambo. To the best of my knowledge, this Rambo didn’t fire a machine gun one-handed or use explosive-tipped arrows. But his work was a powder keg with a short fuse and his conscience a bright flame. While conducting research for a Pentagon-funded project on refugees, A. Terry Rambo turned up evidence that South Korean troops, functionally serving as America’s mercenaries in Vietnam, had massacred a large number of civilians. That Rambo “presented the findings” to, he said, “a whole slew of colonels — 10 or 12” of them. He thought the American brass would take action. Instead, a U.S. officer instructed him to leave that information out of his report. “I told [the officer] as a civilian I didn’t feel myself bound by [U.S. military] orders and that I was going to submit a report on it.” Rambo eventually went public with the story.

He was far from alone.

The criminality, the madness of the Vietnam War seemed to compel many to act in similar ways even when it put them at great peril, threatened to upend their lives, sink their careers, and leave them at odds with their families. Many took to the streets; many who knew secrets spilled them; and the phenomenon spread. It became a golden age of whistleblowing: veterans exposing U.S. atrocities, civilians exposing FBI dirty tricks and domestic surveillance, governmentofficials exposing White House crimes and NSA spying. Truth-telling seemed to be in the air. And, of course, a former Pentagon analyst and employee of the military-funded RAND Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg, rocked the world with his exposure of the U.S. military’s secret history of the Vietnam War — known as the Pentagon Papers — laying bare decades of lies foisted upon Congress and the American people. Today, in another great age of whistleblowers, only Ellsberg’s name remains.

The real Rambo, Ron Ridenhour, Jamie Henry, Perry Fellwock, Peter Buxtun, and so many others are known only to a tiny minority. In 1970, A. Terry Rambo told the New York Times that he had heard about a RAND study that also found evidence of South Korean atrocities. A RAND spokesman said they had turned up “rumors about Korean troop behavior… but since they did not involve RAND research, we can only regard them as hearsay.” Decades later — no thanks to RAND — it’s well-documented that South Korean forces slaughtered large numbers of Vietnamese civilians. It might never have been so if the real Rambo hadn’t had the courage to come forward.

Without whistleblowers, citizens are at the mercy of massaged truths and fine-crafted fictions spun by officials who prefer shadows to sunlight. If you can imagine a world in which the Pentagon Papers were never leaked, in which the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office by President Nixon’s “Plumbers” was never uncovered, in which decades of blood-soaked lies were kept secret from the American people, then you can imagine a world in which the late Anthony Russo, another former RAND analyst and whistleblower in danger of evaporating into history’s mists, never had a crisis of conscience.

Today, Russo has been reduced to a footnote and his shining accomplishment assumed to be, as he put it, as a “Xerox aide” to Ellsberg, a man who did little more than help physically copy documents. As Barbara Myers writes in her inaugural (and epic) TomDispatch piece, Russo was far more instrumental in the leaking of the Pentagon Papers than most know — and that may have been only his second most important act of whistleblowing. With news of a final Rambofilm starring Stallone on the horizon, the time seems ripe to remember the real Rambos and Russos who took great risks to tell hard truths, exposing misery, malfeasance, and murder that the powerful would rather have kept hidden. Nick Turse

The other conspirator
The secret origins of the CIA’s torture program and the forgotten man who tried to expose it
By Barbara Myers

The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.

The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.

Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.

That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.

[Read more…]

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The Kingdom of Silence: Literature from Tadmor prison

Linah Alsaafin reports: “When death is a daily occurrence, lurking in torture, random beatings, eye-gouging, broken limbs and crushed fingers… [When] death stares you in the face and is only avoided by sheer chance…wouldn’t you welcome the merciful release of a bullet?”

This was taken from a report smuggled out in 1999 to Amnesty International by a group of former Syrian prisoners who had spent years in the infamous Tadmor (Arabic for Palmyra) prison, where unimaginable acts of torture took place against both dissidents and criminals alike.

Tadmor prison fell to the Islamic State group as it captured the city of Palmyra from government forces earlier this week, but the significance of its seizure has been overshadowed by widespread fears that IS could raze the UNESCO World Heritage site just south of the modern town. In fact the capture of the prison could be a much more important development, according to analysts and former inmates of the jail.

The prison, which used to be a French military barracks, is located in the desert in eastern province of Homs and is around 200 kilometres away from the capital Damascus. As previously reported by Middle East Eye, the massacre of hundreds of prisoners in 1980 after a foiled assassination attempt on then president Hafez al-Assad exacerbated the prison’s symbolic status of repression.

Human rights reports were not the only medium to document what took place in what has been described as one of the worst prisons in the world.

The vicious reality of Tadmor, where the blood of those massacred in 1980 was not cleaned up resulting in the mass spread of gangrene amongst the rest of the inmates, created literary works written by survivors and former inmates that narrated their daily lives in stark detail. Whips were given human names, friendships were struck between prisoners and rats and cockroaches, and torture sessions were opportunities to experiment with excruciating devices.
[Continue reading…]

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CIA: Secrets, politics and torture

Watch the full documentary detailing the CIA’s torture program here.

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Report says American Psychological Association collaborated on torture justification

The New York Times reports: The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.

The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude. [Continue reading…]

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How candidate of hope and change became president of kill lists, drone strikes, and immunity for torturers

Gregory D. Johnsen writes: Shortly before 9 a.m. on March 11, 2014, Dianne Feinstein, the 80-year-old chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, walked into the Senate chamber with a thick stack of papers and a glass of water. The Senate had just finished a rare all-night session a few minutes earlier, and only a handful of staffers were left in the room. Feinstein had given thousands of speeches over her career, but none quite like this.

“Let me say up front that I come to the Senate floor reluctantly,” she said, as she poked at the corners of her notes. The last two months had been an exhausting mix of meetings and legal wrangling, all in an attempt to avoid this exact moment. But none of it had worked. And now Feinstein was ready to go public and tell the country what she knew: The CIA had broken the law and violated the Constitution. It had spied on the Senate.

“This is a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence community,” Feinstein said nearly 40 minutes later, as she drew to a close. This will show whether the Senate “can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”

Two hours later and a few miles away at a Council on Foreign Relations event near downtown Washington, the CIA responded. “As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into Senate computers,” CIA Director John Brennan told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, shaking his head and rolling his eyes to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the charges, “nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that.”

Brennan was 58, but that morning he looked much older. He’d hobbled into the room on a cane following yet another hip fracture, and after some brief remarks he eased himself into a chair with obvious discomfort. Two years earlier in a commencement address at Fordham University, his alma mater, Brennan had rattled off a litany of injuries and ailments: In addition to his hip problems, he’d also had major knee, back, and shoulder surgeries as well as “a bout of cancer.” Years of desk work had resulted in extra weight and the sort of bureaucrat’s body that caused his suits to slope down and out toward his belt. “I referred the matter myself to the CIA inspector general to make sure that he was able to look honestly and objectively at what the CIA did there,” Brennan said. “And, you know, when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”

Mitchell, who had already asked him two questions about the allegations, pressed again. “If it is proved that the CIA did do this, would you feel that you had to step down?”

Brennan chuckled and stuttered as he tried to form an answer. Two weeks earlier, he had told a dinner at the University of Oklahoma that “intelligence work had gotten in my blood.” The CIA wasn’t just what he did; it was his “identity.” He had worked too hard to become director to give up without a fight. “If I did something wrong,” Brennan eventually told Mitchell, “I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”

But Obama was never going to ask for his resignation. Not then, and not months later when the CIA inspector general’s report came back, showing that the agency had done what Feinstein claimed. Brennan was Obama’s man. His conscience on national security, and the CIA director he’d wanted from the very beginning. Not even a chorus of pleas from Democratic senators, members of Obama’s own party, made any difference. John Brennan would stay, the untouchable head of America’s most powerful intelligence agency. [Continue reading…]

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Could America torture again?

Joshua Keating writes: “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.” That was President Obama, last December, after the release of a Senate panel report on the CIA’s use of torture against terrorism detainees. Obama’s statement encapsulated both his confidence that the brutal interrogation techniques of the Bush era had been brought to an end by the executive order he issued banning them upon taking office, and his reluctance to probe more deeply into abuses that occurred or prosecute any of the offenders.

But a new report issued this morning by Amnesty International charges that the Obama administration has effectively granted impunity to the practitioners of torture, and that its reluctance to address the issue “not only leaves the USA in serious violation of its international legal obligations, it increases the risk that history will repeat itself when a different president again deems the circumstances warrant resort to torture, enforced disappearance, abductions or other human rights violations.” [Continue reading…]

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The story of the first and only CIA contractor convicted of torture

The New York Times reports: Agonizing over torture as an antiterrorism tactic — how to define it and how to punish abusers, if at all — has been central to national security debates since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The issue has received renewed attention in recent months with the release of a Senate committee report describing techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency against terrorism suspects, practices found by senators to have been high in brutality and low in effectiveness.

A few pivotal questions about war’s excesses come together in the decade-old case of one man, who now has the attention of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories of the past and their impact today. This man, David A. Passaro, is a former Army Ranger who in 2003 went to work for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan as an independent contractor. His brief tour in that country turned out wretchedly. He ended up being sentenced to more than six years in federal prison for beating an Afghan prisoner who then died at an American military base near the border with Pakistan.

Despite evidence that abuses like those chronicled in the Senate report were far from isolated, Mr. Passaro’s situation was singular. A few dozen members of the military were court-martialed for misconduct like the well-documented humiliations inflicted at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But Mr. Passaro is believed to be the only C.I.A.-connected civilian ever prosecuted for going too far. So rare was his case that, to bring him to trial in this country for actions committed overseas, the Justice Department took the highly unusual step of invoking the Patriot Act, the post-9/11 statute intended principally to thwart would-be terrorists. [Continue reading…]

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Rebecca Gordon: Six Americans who prove Bush and Cheney didn’t have to do it

The post-9/11 moment offered them their main chance to transform their dreams into reality and they seized it by the throat. They wanted to “take the gloves off.” They were convinced that the presidency had been shackled by Congress in the Watergate era and that it was their destiny to remove the chains. They believed in a “unitary” presidency: an unchained executive with unfettered power to do whatever he wanted, preemptively and in any fashion he cared to. And in their own fashion, they were visionaries in their urge to establish a Pax Americana first in the Greater Middle East and then planet-wide.

Anything, they thought, was possible, given a nation shocked and terrified by the apocalyptic vision of those towers coming down, even if the damage had been done by just 19 hijackers armed with box cutters who belonged to a terror organization capable, at best, of mounting major operations every year or two. “[B]arely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon… [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq,” CBS News reported, even though he was already certain that al-Qaeda had launched the attack, not Saddam Hussein. (“‘Go massive,’ the notes quote him as saying. ‘Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'”)

And, of course, from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond, they did “sweep it all up.” As a group, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and many other top figures in the administration were in love with the U.S. military. They were convinced that a force with no peer on the planet could bring various “rogue powers” instantly to heel and leave the U.S. dominant in a way that no power in all of history had ever been. Throw in control over the flow of oil on a global scale and their dreams couldn’t have been more expansive. But when you write the history of this particular disaster, don’t forget the fear, either.

As was said over and over again at that moment, 9/11 “changed everything.” That meant they felt themselves freed to do all the mad things we now know they did, from preemptive wars and occupations to massive programs of torture and kidnapping, as well as the setting up of a global penal system that was to be beyond the reach of any law or the oversight of anyone but those under their command. They green-lighted it all, but don’t for a second think that they weren’t afraid themselves. To touch that fear (bordering on paranoia), you only have to read Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side where she describes Vice President Dick Cheney in that post-9/11 period being “chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers.” In the backseat of his car (just in case), she added, “rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.” And lest danger rear its head, “rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.”

Yes, they were on top of the world and undoubtedly chilled to the bone with fear as well. And fear and impunity turned out to be an ugly combination indeed. Both the fear and the sense of license, of the freedom to act as they wished, drove them fiercely. Take Michael Hayden, then head of the NSA, later of the CIA. Of that moment, he recently said, “I actually started to do different things. And I didn’t need to ask ‘mother, may I’ from the Congress or the president or anyone else. It was within my charter, but in terms of the mature judgment about what’s reasonable and what’s not reasonable, the death of 3,000 countrymen kind of took me in a direction over here, perfectly within my authority, but a different place than the one in which I was located before the attacks took place.” In other words, on September 10, 2011, he was simply the director of the NSA. On September 11th, without ever leaving the NSA, he was the president, Congress, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court all rolled into one.

Given what, as Hayden (and others) suggest, they couldn’t help but do, it’s good to know that there were some people who could. It’s a point that TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States, makes in a particularly moving way today. Tom Engelhardt

Saying no to torture
A gallery of American heroes
By Rebecca Gordon

Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else. We honor and revere them.

[Read more…]

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Interview with freed CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou

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CIA interrogations took place on British territory of Diego Garcia, senior Bush administration official says

Vice News reports: Interrogations of US prisoners took place at a CIA black site on the British overseas territory of Diego Garcia, a senior Bush administration official has told VICE News.

The island was used as a “transit location” for the US government’s “nefarious activities” post-9/11 when other places were too full, dangerous, insecure, or unavailable, according to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff.

There was no permanent detention facility such as the CIA facility in Poland, he told VICE News in a wide-ranging interview. His intelligence sources indicated to him that the island was however home to “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time.” [Continue reading…]

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