Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics, torture by allisonkilkenny on February 22, 2009

Frank Rich

self-denialAND so on the 29th day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill. But the earth did not move. The Dow Jones fell almost 300 points. G.M. and Chrysler together asked taxpayers for another $21.6 billion and announcedanother 50,000 layoffs. The latest alleged mini-Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, was accused of an $8 billion fraud with 50,000 victims.

“I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems,” the president said on Tuesday at the signing ceremony in Denver. He added, hopefully: “But today does mark the beginning of the end.”

Does it?

No one knows, of course, but a bigger question may be whether we really want to know. One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly “changed everything,” slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable. Obama’s toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized G.O.P. but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door.

This phenomenon could be seen in two TV exposés of the mortgage crisis broadcast on the eve of the stimulus signing. On Sunday, “60 Minutes” focused on the tawdry lending practices of Golden West Financial, built by Herb and Marion Sandler. On Monday, the CNBC documentary “House of Cards” served up another tranche of the subprime culture, typified by the now defunct company Quick Loan Funding and its huckster-in-chief, Daniel Sadek. Both reports were superbly done, but both could have been reruns.

The Sandlers and Sadek have been recurrently whipped at length in print and on television, as far back as 2007 in Sadek’s case (by Bloomberg); the Sandlers were even vilified in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch last October. But still the larger message may not be entirely sinking in. “House of Cards” was littered with come-on commercials, including one hawking “risk-free” foreign-currency trading — yet another variation on Quick Loan Funding, promising credulous Americans something for nothing.

This cultural pattern of denial is hardly limited to the economic crisis. Anyone with eyes could have seen that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire resembled Macy’s parade balloons in their 1998 home-run derby, but it took years for many fans (not to mention Major League Baseball) to accept the sorry truth. It wasn’t until the Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame saga caught fire in summer 2003, months after “Mission Accomplished,” that we began to confront the reality that we had gone to war in Iraq over imaginary W.M.D. Weapons inspectors and even some journalists (especially at Knight-Ridder newspapers) had been telling us exactly that for almost a year.

The writer Mark Danner, who early on chronicled the Bush administration’s practice of torture for The New York Review of Books, reminded me last week that that story first began to emerge in December 2002. That’s when The Washington Post reported on the “stress and duress” tactics used to interrogate terrorism suspects. But while similar reports followed, the notion that torture was official American policy didn’t start to sink in until after the Abu Ghraib photos emerged in April 2004. Torture wasn’t routinely called “torture” in Beltway debate until late 2005, when John McCain began to press for legislation banning it.

Steroids, torture, lies from the White House, civil war in Iraq, even recession: that’s just a partial glossary of the bad-news vocabulary that some of the country, sometimes in tandem with a passive news media, resisted for months on end before bowing to the obvious or the inevitable. “The needle,” as Danner put it, gets “stuck in the groove.”

For all the gloomy headlines we’ve absorbed since the fall, we still can’t quite accept the full depth of our economic abyss either. Nicole Gelinas, a financial analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, sees denial at play over a wide swath of America, reaching from the loftiest economic strata of Wall Street to the foreclosure-decimated boom developments in the Sun Belt.

When we spoke last week, she talked of would-be bankers who, upon graduating, plan “to travel in Asia and teach English for a year” and then pick up where they left off. Such graduates are dreaming, Gelinas says, because the over-the-top Wall Street money culture of the credit bubble isn’t coming back for a very long time, if ever. As she observes, it took decades after the Great Depression — until the 1980s — for Wall Street to fully reclaim its old swagger. Not until then was there “a new group of people without massive psychological scarring” from the 1929 crash.

In states like Nevada, Florida and Arizona, Gelinas sees “huge neighborhoods that will become ghettos” as half their populations lose or abandon their homes, with an attendant collapse of public services and social order. “It will be like after Katrina,” she says, “but it’s no longer just the Lower Ninth Ward’s problem.” Writing in the current issue of The Atlantic, the urban theorist Richard Florida suggests we could be seeing “the end of a whole way of life.” The link between the American dream and home ownership, fostered by years of bipartisan public policy, may be irreparably broken.

Pity our new president. As he rolls out one recovery package after another, he can’t know for sure what will work. If he tells the whole story of what might be around the corner, he risks instilling fear itself among Americans who are already panicked. (Half the country, according to a new Associated Press poll, now fears unemployment.) But if the president airbrushes the picture too much, the country could be as angry about ensuing calamities as it was when the Bush administration’s repeated assertion of “success” in Iraq proved a sham. Managing America’s future shock is a task that will call for every last ounce of Obama’s brains, temperament and oratorical gifts.

The difficulty of walking this fine line can be seen in the drama surrounding the latest forbidden word to creep around the shadows for months before finally leaping into the open: nationalization. Until he started hedging a little last weekend, the president has pointedly said that nationalizing banks, while fine for Sweden, wouldn’t do in America, with its “different” (i.e., non-socialistic) culture and traditions. But the word nationalization, once mostly whispered by liberal economists, is now even being tossed around by Lindsey Graham and Alan Greenspan. It’s a clear indication that no one has a better idea.

The Obama White House may come up with euphemisms for nationalization (temporary receivership, anyone?). But whatever it’s called, what will it mean? The reason why the White House has been punting on the new installment of the bank rescue is not that the much-maligned Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, is incapable of getting his act together. What’s slowing the works are the huge political questions at stake, many of them with consequences potentially as toxic as the banks’ assets.

Will Obama concede aloud that some of our “too big to fail” banks have, in essence, already failed? If so, what will he do about it? What will it cost? And, most important, who will pay? No one knows the sum of the American banks’ losses, but the economist Nouriel Roubini, who has gotten much right about this crash, puts it at $1.8 trillion. That doesn’t count any defaults still to come on what had been considered “good” mortgages and myriad other debt, whether from auto loans or credit cards.

Americans are right to wonder why there has been scant punishment for the management and boards of bailed-out banks that recklessly sliced and diced all this debt into worthless gambling chips. They are also right to wonder why there is still little transparency in how TARP funds have been spent by these teetering institutions. If a CNBC commentator can stir up a populist dust storm by ranting that Obama’s new mortgage program (priced at $75 billion to $275 billion) is “promoting bad behavior,” imagine the tornado that would greet an even bigger bank bailout on top of the $700 billion already down the TARP drain.

Nationalization would likely mean wiping out the big banks’ managements and shareholders. It’s because that reckoning has mostly been avoided so far that those bankers may be the Americans in the greatest denial of all. Wall Street’s last barons still seem to believe that they can hang on to their old culture by scuttling corporate jets, rejecting bonuses or sounding contrite in public. Ask the former Citigroup wise man Robert Rubin how that strategy worked out.

We are now waiting to learn if Obama’s economic team, much of it drawn from the Wonderful World of Citi and Goldman Sachs, will have the will to make its own former cohort face the truth. But at a certain point, as in every other turn of our culture of denial, outside events will force the recognition of harsh realities. Nationalization, unmentionable only yesterday, has entered common usage not least because an even scarier word — depression — is next on America’s list to avoid.

Iraq to Reopen Abu Ghraib

Posted in torture by allisonkilkenny on January 24, 2009

Al Jazeera

1_203097_1_5The Iraqi government will reopen the notorious Abu Ghraib prison next month under the name of Baghdad Central Prison, a senior justice official has said.

The announcement came as the US military began handing over detainees in its custody to the Iraqis under a new security agreement.

Busho Ibrahim, Iraq’s deputy justice minister, said on Saturday the Abu Ghraib prison had been renovated to meet international standards.

“We have named it Baghdad Central Prison because of its bad reputation as Abu Ghraib prison, not just because of what the Americans did there but also because of what the regime of Saddam has done,” he said.

Abu Ghraib shot into notoriety after photographs of US prison guards torturing inmates at the facility just outside Baghdad surfaced.

While Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s deposed leader, was in power, his administration held thousands of inmates at the prison.

‘Solving problems’

Iraq has been under pressure to increase the capacity and quality of its prisons and improve the transparency and efficiency of its criminal justice system.

Under a pact which took effect on January 1, US forces in Iraq lost the power to hold without charge the approximately 15,000 detainees they have and are supposed to turn them over to Iraqi justice or set them free.

Ibrahim said the prison would house 3,500 inmates when it reopens in mid-February and would have a capacity for at least 15,000 by the end of this year.

“This prison will solve many problems for us – huge problems,” he said.

Abu Ghraib is in an area where heavy fighting took place during the early years of the US invasion in Iraq. The US military closed the facility in 2006 after constructing a giant, purpose-built prison camp in the desert on the Kuwaiti border.

A President Forgotten but Not Gone

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on January 4, 2009

Frank Rich

george-bush-sourWe like our failed presidents to be Shakespearean, or at least large enough to inspire Oscar-worthy performances from magnificent tragedians like Frank Langella. So here, too, George W. Bush has let us down. Even the banality of evil is too grandiose a concept for 43. He is not a memorable villain so much as a sometimes affable second banana whom Josh Brolin and Will Ferrell can nail without breaking a sweat. He’s the reckless Yalie Tom Buchanan, not Gatsby. He is smaller than life.

The last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on Bush’s presidency found that 79 percent of Americans will not miss him after he leaves the White House. He is being forgotten already, even if he’s not yet gone. You start to pity him until you remember how vast the wreckage is. It stretches from the Middle East to Wall Street to Main Street and even into the heavens, which have been a safe haven for toxins under his passive stewardship. The discrepancy between the grandeur of the failure and the stature of the man is a puzzlement. We are still trying to compute it.

The one indisputable talent of his White House was its ability to create and sell propaganda both to the public and the press. Now that bag of tricks is empty as well. Bush’s first and last photo-ops in Iraq could serve as bookends to his entire tenure. On Thanksgiving weekend 2003, even as the Iraqi insurgency was spiraling, his secret trip to the war zone was a P.R. slam-dunk. The photo of the beaming commander in chief bearing a supersized decorative turkey for the troops was designed to make every front page and newscast in the country, and it did. Five years later, in what was intended as a farewell victory lap to show off Iraq’s improved post-surge security, Bush was reduced to ducking shoes.

He tried to spin the ruckus as another victory for his administration’s program of democracy promotion. “That’s what people do in a free society,” he said. He had made the same claim three years ago after the Palestinian elections, championed by his “freedom agenda” (and almost $500 million of American aid), led to a landslide victory for Hamas. “There is something healthy about a system that does that,” Bush observed at the time, as he congratulated Palestinian voters for rejecting “the old guard.”

The ruins of his administration’s top policy priority can be found not only in Gaza but in the new “democratic” Iraq, where the local journalist who tossed the shoes was jailed without formal charges and may have been tortured. Almost simultaneously, opponents of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused him of making politically motivated arrests of rival-party government officials in anticipation of this month’s much-postponed provincial elections.

Condi Rice blamed the press for the image that sullied Bush’s Iraq swan song: “That someone chose to throw a shoe at the president is what gets reported over and over.” We are back where we came in. This was the same line Donald Rumsfeld used to deny the significance of the looting in Baghdad during his famous “Stuff happens!” press conference of April 2003. “Images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over,” he said then, referring to the much-recycled video of a man stealing a vase from the Baghdad museum. “Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?” he asked, playing for laughs.

The joke was on us. Iraq burned, New Orleans flooded, and Bush remained oblivious to each and every pratfall on his watch. Americans essentially stopped listening to him after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but he still doesn’t grasp the finality of their defection. Lately he’s promised not to steal the spotlight from Barack Obama once he’s in retirement — as if he could do so by any act short of running naked through downtown Dallas. The latest CNN poll finds that only one-third of his fellow citizens want him to play a post-presidency role in public life.

Bush is equally blind to the collapse of his propaganda machinery. Almost poignantly, he keeps trying to hawk his goods in these final days, like a salesman who hasn’t been told by the home office that his product has been discontinued. Though no one is listening, he has given more exit interviews than either Clinton or Reagan did. Along with old cronies like Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, he has also embarked on a Bush “legacy project,” as Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard described it on CNN.

To this end, Rove has repeated a stunt he first fed to the press two years ago: he is once again claiming that he and Bush have an annual book-reading contest, with Bush chalking up as many as 95 books a year, by authors as hifalutin as Camus. This hagiographic portrait of Bush the Egghead might be easier to buy were the former national security official Richard Clarke not quoted in the new Vanity Fair saying that both Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, had instructed him early on to keep his memos short because the president is “not a big reader.”

Another, far more elaborate example of legacy spin can be downloaded from the White House Web site: a booklet recounting “highlights” of the administration’s “accomplishments and results.” With big type, much white space, children’s-book-like trivia boxes titled “Did You Know?” and lots of color photos of the Bushes posing with blacks and troops, its 52 pages require a reading level closer to “My Pet Goat” than “The Stranger.”

This document is the literary correlative to “Mission Accomplished.” Bush kept America safe (provided his presidency began Sept. 12, 2001). He gave America record economic growth (provided his presidency ended December 2007). He vanquished all the leading Qaeda terrorists (if you don’t count the leaders bin Laden and al-Zawahri). He gave Afghanistan a thriving “market economy” (if you count its skyrocketing opium trade) and a “democratically elected president” (presiding over one of the world’s most corrupt governments). He supported elections in Pakistan (after propping up Pervez Musharraf past the point of no return). He “led the world in providing food aid and natural disaster relief” (if you leave out Brownie and Katrina).

If this is the best case that even Bush and his handlers can make for his achievements, you wonder why they bothered. Desperate for padding, they devote four risible pages to portraying our dear leader as a zealous environmentalist.

But the brazenness of Bush’s alternative-reality history is itself revelatory. The audacity of its hype helps clear up the mystery of how someone so slight could inflict so much damage. So do his many print and television exit interviews.

The man who emerges is a narcissist with no self-awareness whatsoever. It’s that arrogance that allowed him to tune out even the most calamitous of realities, freeing him to compound them without missing a step. The president who famously couldn’t name a single mistake of his presidency at a press conference in 2004 still can’t.

He can, however, blame everyone else. Asked (by Charles Gibson) if he feels any responsibility for the economic meltdown, Bush says, “People will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived.” Asked if the 2008 election was a repudiation of his administration, he says “it was a repudiation of Republicans.”

“The attacks of September the 11th came out of nowhere,” he said in another interview, as if he hadn’t ignored frantic intelligence warnings that summer of a Qaeda attack. But it was an “intelligence failure,” not his relentless invocation of patently fictitious “mushroom clouds,” that sped us into Iraq. Did he take too long to change course in Iraq? “What seems like an eternity today,” he says, “may seem like a moment tomorrow.” Try telling that to the families of the thousands killed and maimed during that multiyear “moment” as Bush stubbornly stayed his disastrous course.

The crowning personality tic revealed by Bush’s final propaganda push is his bottomless capacity for self-pity. “I was a wartime president, and war is very exhausting,” he told C-Span. “The president ends up carrying a lot of people’s grief in his soul,” he told Gibson. And so when he visits military hospitals, “it’s always been a healing experience,” he told The Wall Street Journal. But, incredibly enough, it’s his own healing he is concerned about, not that of the grievously wounded men and women he sent to war on false pretenses. It’s “the comforter in chief” who “gets comforted,” he explained, by “the character of the American people.” The American people are surely relieved to hear it.

With this level of self-regard, it’s no wonder that Bush could remain undeterred as he drove the country off a cliff. The smugness is reinforced not just by his history as the entitled scion of one of America’s aristocratic dynasties but also by his conviction that his every action is blessed from on high. Asked last month by an interviewer what he has learned from his time in office, he replied: “I’ve learned that God is good. All the time.”

Once again he is shifting the blame. This presidency was not about Him. Bush failed because in the end it was all about him.

Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman are off today. (Thank God.)
The public editor’s column will return next week. (Booooo.)

Torture Prosecutions Finally Begin in U.S.

Posted in torture by allisonkilkenny on December 31, 2008

Glenn Greenwald

guantanamoWhile fiercely loyal establishment spokespeople such as The Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus continue to insist that prosecutions are only appropriate for common criminals (“someone breaking into your house”) but not our glorious political leaders when they break the law (by, say, systematically torturing people), the Bush administration has righteously decided that torture is such a grotesque and intolerable crime that political leaders who order it simply must be punished in American courts to the fullest extent of the law . . . . if they’re from Liberia:

MIAMI (AP) — U.S. prosecutors want a Miami judge to sentence the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 147 years in prison for torturing people when he was chief of a brutal paramilitary unit during his father’s reign.

Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles “Chuckie” Taylor Jr. is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga. His conviction was the first use of a 1994 law allowing prosecution in the U.S. for acts of torture committed overseas.

Even in the U.S., it’s hard to believe that federal prosecutors who work for the Bush DOJ were able to convey the following words with a straight face:

A recent Justice Department court filing describes torture – which the U.S. has been accused of in the war on terror – as a “flagrant and pernicious abuse of power and authority” that warrants severe punishment of Taylor.

It undermines respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller in last week’s filing. “The gravity of the offense of torture is beyond dispute.”

The AP article which reported on these proceedings, by Curt Anderson, is almost as illustrative an exhibit of how our country operates as the trial itself is.  Marvel at this passage:

Emmanuel had argued in previous court papers that he was being unfairly prosecuted for acts similar to those committed by U.S. personnel in Iraq and elsewhere.

The administration of President George W. Bush has been criticized by some around the world and in Congress forusing aggressive interrogation techniques. Justice Department memos were seen as providing legal underpinnings for some of the techniques.

However, administration officials have blamed abuses at places such as Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison on a small number of soldiers or agents and insisted there has been no systematic mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan or the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Acts which, when ordered by Liberians, are “criminal torture” meriting life imprisonment magically become, when ordered by Americans, mere “aggressive interrogation techniques.”   And while not all of the “techniques” used by the Liberians were authorized by Bush officials (“hot clothes irons” and “biting ants shoveled onto people’s bodies”), many of the authorized American techniques are classic torture tactics and resulted in thedeaths of many detainees and the total insanity of many more.

Worse, AP — with canine-like subservience — mindlessly recites the Bush administration’s excuses (Abu Ghraib was due to low-level rogue bad apples and “there has been no systematic mistreatment of detainees”) without even mentioning the ample evidence proving how false those government claims are.  That’s standard American “journalism” for you:  “Our Government says X, and even if it’s false and even if it’s intensely disputed, we’ll just leave it at that.”  Doing anything more — as NBC News’ David Gregory pointed out — is “not their role.”

There’s something beautifully illustrative about this torture prosecution.  Apparently, it’s not just appropriate, but necessary and urgent, for American courts to be used to prosecute the leaders of small African nations who order torture exclusively in their own land.  Doing that is necessary to uphold what the Bush DOJ calls “respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law.”  

But — say Bush loyalists and our pliant political class in unison — the one thing that we cannot tolerate is for American courts to be used to impose accountability on American leaders who authorized illegal torture.  And, of course, the only thing worse than doing that would be to subject them to prosecution by another country or, creepier still, an international tribunal.  That would be an intolerable infringement of our sovereignty, we say as we prosecute the son of Liberia’s President for acts he undertook exclusively inside Liberia.

In Liberia, the Taylor regime, for many years, was genuinely threatened by numerous rebels and revolutionary factions — ones supported by other countries — seeking to overthrow the Liberian government.  The torture which Taylor, Jr. was accused of ordering occurred during a brutal civil war

Liberia undoubtedly has its own Jack Goldsmiths and Stuart Taylors who insist that the torture which the Taylors ordered — though perhaps “crossing a line or two” — was done for the Good and Safety of the Liberian People and to defend the Government against these foreign and domestic threats.  The Taylors undoubtedly have their loyalists who echo our own Cass Sunsteins and Ruth Marcuses, urging that it would be so much better for the country if everyone just let bygones be bygones and looked to the pretty future and the challenges Liberians face and not get distracted by litigating the unpleasant and partisan fights of the past.

But, like most of the alleged principles to which our political elite professes allegiance, America and its leaders are entitled to a different set of standards and better treatment.  Thus, Charles Taylor belongs at the Hague, being prosecuted as a war criminal.  His son belongs in an American criminal court being prosecuted by the Bush DOJ for torture.  And George Bush and Dick Cheney belong on their “ranches,” enjoying full-scale immunity for the crimes they committed and a rich and comfortable retirement, treated as the esteemed and well-intentioned (even if sometimes misguided) dignitaries that they are.  Virtually the only people in the world who fail to recognize this self-evident, ludicrous and disgusting hypocrisy are America’s political and media elites and those who are misled by them.

 

UPDATE:  Michael Mukasey, who refuses even to say whether waterboarding is torture and has repeatedly acted to protect Bush officials from prosecution, appeared two weeks ago at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and actually spoke these words (h/t sysprog):

It serves as a daily reminder to the leaders of the free world, and to the many visitors to our nation’s capital, that law without conscience is no guarantee of freedom; that even the seemingly most advanced of nations can be led down the path of evil; and that we must confront horror with action and vigilance, not lethargy and cowardice. . . .

Just as the Museum has focused on present-day mass killings such as those in Rwanda or Darfur, we at the Department are doing what we can to ensure that those responsible for such atrocities are brought to justice. We have provided support to the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and to the Iraqi High Tribunal. And where we can, we are bringing our own cases. Both the Office of Special Investigations and the Domestic Security Section – parts of the Department’s Criminal Division – are pursuing cases against perpetrators of those international atrocities who find their way into our country.

The most prominent example of those efforts is the recent conviction of Chuckie Taylor Jr., the son of the former President of Liberia, who was convicted of torturing his countrymen. His conviction – the first in history under our criminal anti-torture statute – provides a measure of justice to those who were victimized by his reprehensible acts, and itsends a powerful message to human rights violators around the world that, when we can, we will hold them accountable for their crimes.

Mukasey actually had the audacity to approvingly quote from Robert Jackson’s addresses to the Nuremberg Trials, at which this central proposition of Western justice — now explicitly renounced by America’s political and media establishment — was ostensibly established:

The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power . . . .

Unsurprisingly, Mukasey neglected to mention that Jackson, in his opening remarks to the tribunal, called “aggressive war” the “greatest menace of our times,” and in his summation, Jackson observed that “the plot for aggressive wars” is “the central crime in this pattern of crimes, the kingpin which holds them all together.”

The glaring contradictions in Mukasey’s words are too self-evident to warrant explanation.  Ponder, instead, the opinion which Mukasey — by uttering such brazen statements in public and knowing he can do with impunity — is implicitly expressing about how broken is our establishment media and how distorted is our political discourse.

UPDATE II:  Alberto Gonzales gave a painfully self-pitying interview toThe Wall St. Journal this week and announced that the real victims aren’t the detainees who were tortured in our secret and not-so-secret prison camps, nor the millions of dead or displaced Iraqis, nor the Americans whose communications were illegally spied upon without warrants.  No, the Real Victims of the last eight years are Bush officials like him who face criticism for what they did:

I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.

Here we find the predominant — virtually unanimous — Beltway mentality:  when high American officials break our laws, it’s nothing more than “formulating policies that people disagree with.”  Gonzales cried out:  “What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?”  The answers are obvious to anyone paying even minimal attention.  Steve Benen points out just some of them here.

Autopsy Reports Reveal Homicides of Detainees in U.S. Custody

Posted in war crimes by allisonkilkenny on December 15, 2008

bush-wanted

(released by the ACLU 10/24/05 | More Torture Documents Released Under FOIA)

Note: Numbers indicate the beginning page of the document. Many documents span multiple pages.
(These documents can be viewed using Acrobat Reader)
312831343140314631563164317131783183319231983204320832123228323532423250325232543260326232653267326932713273328232903293329633313534354935513554356535733582358836003611361236143618361936583659,3670367236743728373713279132891329713303133091331513321360223602636192369253695337445

Click here for the full table
(more…)

Senate Report Links Bush to Detainee Homicides; Media Yawns

Posted in Afghanistan by allisonkilkenny on December 15, 2008

 

Glenn Greenwald

12447095The bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report issued on Thursday —which documents that “former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba” and “that Rumsfeld’s actions were ‘a direct cause of detainee abuse‘ at Guantanamo and ‘influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques … in Afghanistan and Iraq'” — raises an obvious and glaring question:  how can it possibly be justified that the low-level Army personnel carrying out these policies at Abu Ghraib have been charged, convicted and imprisoned, while the high-level political officials and lawyers who directed and authorized these same policies remain free of any risk of prosecution?   The culpability which the Report assigns for these war crimes is vast in scope and unambiguous:

The executive summary also traces the erosion of detainee treatment standards to a Feb,. 7, 2002, memorandum signed by President George W. Bush stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections.

“The president’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment,” the summary said.

Members of Bush’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed, according to the report.

The policies which the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously concludes were authorized by Bush, Rumsfeld and several other top Bush officials did not merely lead to “abuse” and humiliating treatment, but are directly — and unquestionably — responsible for numerous detainee murders.  Many of those deaths caused by abusive treatment have been formally characterized as “homicides” by autopsies performed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see these chilling compilations of autopsy findings on detainees in U.S. custody, obtained by the ACLU, which reads like a classic and compelling exhibit in a war crimes trial).

While the bulk of the attention over detainee abuse has been directed to Guantanamo, the U.S., to this day, continues to imprison — with no charges — thousands of Iraqi citizens.  In Iraq an Afghanistan, detainee deaths were rampant and, to this day, detainees continue to die under extremely suspicious circumstances.  Just yesterday, there was yet another death of a very young Iraqi detainee whose death was attributed to quite unlikely natural causes. 

The U.S. military says a detainee has died of an apparent heart attack while in custody at a U.S. detention facility in Baghdad.

Monday’s statement says the 25-year-old man was pronounced dead by doctors at a combat hospital after losing consciousness at Camp Cropper. . . .

The U.S. military is holding thousands of prisoners at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport and Camp Bucca in the southern desert.

For years, it has been common to attribute detainee deaths to “heart attacks” where the evidence makes clear that abusive interrogation techniques and other inhumane treatment — the very policies authorized at the highest levels of the U.S. government — were the actual proximate cause of the deaths.  This deceptive practice was documented in this fact-intensive report — entitled:  “Medical Investigations of Homicides of Prisoners of War in Iraq and Afghanistan” — by Steven H. Miles, Professor of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Minnesota:

It is probably inevitable that some prisoners who reportedly die of “natural causes” in truth died of homicide. However, the nature of Armed Forces’ medical investigations made this kind of error more likely. The AFME reported homicide as the cause of death in 10 of the 23 death certificates released in May 2004. The death of Mohamed Taiq Zaid was initially attributed to “heat”; it is currently and belatedly being investigated as a possible homicide due to abusive exposure to the hot Iraqi climate and deprivation of water.

Eight prisoners suffered “natural” deaths from heart attacks or atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Threats, beatings, fear, police interrogation, and arrests are known to cause “homicide by heart attack” or life-threatening heart failure. People with preexisting heart disease, dehydration, hyperthermia, or exhaustion are especially susceptible.[11–15] No forensic investigation of lethal “heart attacks” explores the possibility that these men died of stress-induced heart attacks. There are a number of reports of “heart attack” following harsh procedures in rounding up noncombatants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A typically sketchy US Army report says, “Detainee Death during weekend combat …. Army led raid this past weekend of a house in Iraq … an Iraqi who was detained and zip-locked (flexi-cuffed with plastic bands tying his wrists together) died while in custody. Preliminary information is that the detainee died from an apparent heart attack.[16]” Sher Mohammad Khan was picked up in Afghanistan in September 2004. Shortly thereafter, his bruised body was given to his family. Military officials told journalists that he had died of a heart attack within hours of being taken into custody. No investigation, autopsy, or death certificate is available.[17]  

Or consider this:

Adbul Kareen Abdura Lafta (also known as Abu Malik Kenami) was admitted to Mosul prison on December 5, 2003 and died 4 days later.[20,21] The short, stocky, 44-year-old man weighed 175 pounds. He was never given a medical examination, and there is no medical record. After interrogation, a sandbag was put over his head. When he tried to remove it, guards made him jump up and down for 20 minutes with his wrists tied in front of him and then 20 minutes more with his wrists bound behind his back with a plastic binder. The bound and head-bagged man was put to bed. He was restless and “jibbering in Arabic.” The guards told him to be quiet.

The next morning, he was found dead. The body had “bloodshot” eyes, lacerations on his wrists from the plastic ties, unexplained bruises on his abdomen, and a fresh, bruised laceration on the back of his head. US Army investigators noted that the body did not have defensive bruises on his arms, an odd notation given that a man cannot raise bound arms in defense. No autopsy was performed. The death certificate lists the cause of death as unknown. It seems likely that Mr. Kenami died of positional asphyxia because of how he was restrained, hooded, and positioned. Positional asphyxia looks just like death by a natural heart attack except for those telltale conjunctival hemorrhages in his eyes.

There are countless other episodes like this of human beings in American custody dying because of the mistreatment — authorized by Bush, Rumsfeld and others — to which we subjected them.  These are murders and war crimes in every sense of the word.  That the highest level Bush officials and the President himself are responsible for the policies that spawned these crimes against humanity have been long known to anyone paying minimal attention, but now we have a bipartisan Senate Report — signed by the presidential nominee of Bush’s own political party — that directly assigns culpability for these war crimes to the President and his policies.  It’s nothing less than a formal declaration from the Senate that the President and his top aides are war criminals. 

* * * * *

This Report was issued on Thursday.  Not a single mention was made of it on any of the Sunday news talk shows, with the sole exception being when John McCain told George Stephanopoulos that it was “not his job” to opine on whether criminal prosecutions were warranted for the Bush officials whose policies led to these crimes.  What really matters, explained McCain, was not that we get caught up in the past, but instead, that we ensure this never happens again — yet, like everyone else who makes this argument, he offered no explanation as to how we could possibly ensure that “it never happens again” if we simultaneously announce that our political leaders will be immunized, not prosecuted, when they commit war crimes.  Doesn’t that mindset, rather obviously, substantially increase the likelihood — if not render inevitable — that such behavior will occur again?  Other than that brief exchange, this Senate Report was a non-entity on the Sunday shows.

Instead, TV pundits were consumed with righteous anger over the petty, titillating, sleazy Rod Blagojevich scandal, competing with one another over who could spew the most derision and scorn for this pitiful, lowly, broken individual and his brazen though relatively inconsequential crimes.  Every exciting detail was vouyeristically and meticulously dissected by political pundits — many, if not most, of whom have never bothered to acquaint themselves with any of the basic facts surrounding the monumental Bush lawbreaking and war crimes scandals.  TV “journalists” who have never even heard of the Taguba report — the incredible indictment issued by a former U.S. General, who subsequently observed:  “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes.  The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account” — spent the weekend opining on the intricacies of Blogojevich’s hair and terribly upsetting propensity to use curse words.

The auction conducted by Blagojevich was just a slightly more flamboyant, vulgar and reckless expression of how our national political class conducts itself generally (are there really any fundamental differences between Blagojevich’s conduct and Chuck Schumer’s systematic, transparent influence-peddling and vote-selling to Wall Street donors, as documented by this excellent and highly incriminating New York Times piece from Sunday — “A Champion of Wall St. Reaps the Benefits”)?  But Blagojevich is an impotent figure, stripped of all power, a national joke.  And attacking and condemning him is thus cheap and easy.  It threatens nobody in power.  To the contrary, his downfall is deceptively and usefully held up as an extreme aberration — proof that government officials are held accountable when they break the law.

The media fixation on the ultimately irrelevant Blagojevich scandal, juxtaposed with their steadfast ignoring of the Senate report documenting systematic U.S. war crimes, is perfectly reflective of how our political establishment thinks.  Blagojevich’s laughable scheme is transformed into a national fixation and made into the target of collective hate sessions, while the systematic, ongoing sale of the legislative process to corporations and their lobbyists are overlooked as the normal course of business.  Lynndie England is uniformly scorned and imprisoned while George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are headed off to lives of luxury, great wealth, respect, and immunity from the consequences for their far more serious crimes.  And the courageous and principled career Justice Department lawyer who blew the whistle on Bush’s illegal spying programs — Thomas Tamm — continues to have his life destroyed, while the countless high-level government officials, lawyers and judges who also knew about it and did nothing about it are rewarded and honored, and those who committed the actual crimes are protected and immunized.

Just ponder the uproar if, in any other country, the political parties joined together and issued a report documenting that the country’s President and highest aides were directly responsible for war crimes and widespread detainee abuse and death.  Compare the inevitable reaction to such an event if it happened in another country to what happens in the U.S. when such an event occurs — a virtual media blackout, ongoing fixations by political journalists with petty scandals, and an undisturbed consensus that, no matter what else is true, high-level American political figures (as opposed to powerless low-level functionaries) must never be held accountable for their crimes.