Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

A Little Torture

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics, prison, torture, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on April 17, 2009

justice“There is no such thing as a little torture.” — Alfred M. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture

The Bush administration is really an impressive force of nature. Whenever I was absolutely certain that their dastardly deeds couldn’t possibly get any more nefarious, Dick Cheney shot a family friend in the face, or George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade another country. When they finally left office, I assumed they couldn’t harm America’s reputation ever again.

I was wrong. The Justice Department finally made the infamous memos that sanctioned torture public this week. The details are horrific. Not only are barbaric measures like “walling” (slamming a person into a wall,) and stress positions deemed acceptable by legal experts, but also more inventive interrogation methods like placing live bugs in a confinement box (and telling the prisoner they’ll sting him). 

Politicians repeatedly regurgitate the fairy tale that America is a Nation of Laws. Except, the laws get broken all the time, and the archetypes of anarchy usually aren’t held accountable. Barack Obama has sought to reassure CIA operates, who participated in torture, that they can use the same defense Nazis could not use during Nuremberg. Namely, that they were just “following orders.”

This doesn’t bode well for justice enthusiasts, who hoped that maybe (just maybe) the Big Guys would be help accountable this time. That maybe John Yoo, Douglas Feith, Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, David Addington, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Haynes would have to stand before the American people and explain why they thought sanctioning torture was acceptable.

That maybe they would finally have to explain why a little torture was okay.

We are a nation of laws only if the people in charge get to benefit from the rulings. We are a nation of laws only up until Lynndie England, but justice stops short of Donald Rumsfeld. We are a nation of laws for thieves and crooks, but justice can’t touch Goldman Sachs CEOs. The hypocrisy is rampant. It infests every facet of the justice system, and has left us with a broken two-tier system of justice.

The debate over torture is frequently aimed at Guantanamo. However, the problem is also domestic, although the victims are still the unprivileged. While the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, it contains 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than one in 100 adults are in prison. Most of those prisoners aren’t homicidal sociopaths. They’re nonviolent drug offenders. America is the only western industrialized country to still use the death penalty, but apparently injecting someone will a chemical that paralyzes their organs doesn’t constitute torture, even though the Nazis used the same method. Those that live inside our prison-industrial complex experience a form of torture every day. Prisoners face the threat of rape and are more likely to contract H.I.V., hepatitis and tuberculosis. 

This kind of domestic torture is frequently overlooked because it’s the “right people” suffering. Bad guys. Bottom-tier justice types: poor people, immigrants, people of color. And after all, it’s only a little torture. Terrorists and criminals deserve whatever happens to them. Waterboarding doesn’t even count as torture! It’s just a light spritz in the face! (Of course, even Bush’s own legal team knew it was torture and expressed their concern in footnote form.)

This cartoonish, simplified scope of reality would be laughable had it not been the ideologies held by the Bush administration for eight years. Innocent people are accused of crimes all the time. That’s why our smart ancestors put in place that whole “justice system” in the first place. Ya’ know, that thing about being able to face one’s accusers and present evidence to defend one’s self.

If justice is to come to Guantanamo (and it should,) it must also come to the United State’s domestic prisons where draconian drug laws continue case overcrowding and strain stark resources, which then breeds inhumane conditions. If justice is to come to torture victims, it must mean than the archetypes of the torture memos will stand beside the CIA agents that carried out the orders.

The American two-tier justice system must end, and a good start would be for the Obama administration to recognize that a little torture is never okay, no matter who is doing it.

Scores of Legal Experts Demand Bush Prosecution

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 26, 2009

Brad Blog

Sign on to demand non-partisan special counsel, immediate prosecution of Bush, Cheney and other former senior administration officials…

Guest Blogged by David Swanson of After Downing Street

Only in America can elected officials go on TV and confess to felonies (including torture and warrantless spying, not to mention aggressive war) and the resulting debate focus around the question of whether investigating the “possibility” of wrong-doing would be too radical. This week a coalition of dozens of human rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Society of American Law Teachers released a statement, as drafted by The Robert Jackson Steering Committee, cutting to the chase.

It reads in its entirety:

We urge Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a non-partisan independent Special Counsel to immediately commence a prosecutorial investigation into the most serious alleged crimes of former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, the attorneys formerly employed by the Department of Justice whose memos sought to justify torture, and other former top officials of the Bush Administration.  Our laws, and treaties that under Article VI of our Constitution are the supreme law of the land, require the prosecution of crimes that strong evidence suggests these individuals have committed. Both the former president and the former vice president have confessed to authorizing a torture procedure that is illegal under our law and treaty obligations. The former president has confessed to violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

We see no need for these prosecutions to be extraordinarily lengthy or costly, and no need to wait for the recommendations of a panel or “truth” commission when substantial evidence of the crimes is already in the public domain. We believe the most effective investigation can be conducted by a prosecutor, and we believe such an investigation should begin immediately.

I wrote this statement with some helpful tweaks from colleagues and have been screaming the same basic message for about three years, but I sense more than ever right now that more ears are open to it.

While actually enforcing laws and “getting tough on crime” is now considered the radical leftist position and a “truth” commission the reasonable compromise, it is clear that a bipartisan commission would create the bipartisan bickering our elected officials are so eager to avoid. It would also, in Senator Patrick Leahy’s view, investigate the complicity of Democrats as well as Republicans in the crimes of the past 8 years, thus guaranteeing that neither Democrats nor Republicans will support it.

If Congress can’t take the heat and won’t even enforce its own subpoenas, it should leave well enough alone. Statutes of limitations are running out fast, and we don’t have time for another commission. If President Obama wants to distance himself from enforcing the law, he can do what he is supposed to do and leave the matter in the hands of Eric Holder. And if Attorney General Holder wants distance he can do what is required and appoint a truly independent prosecutor. Doing so would please the following organizations. More are signing on every hour, and both organizations and individuals can sign on at ProsecuteBushCheney.org.

Signatorees, as of 2/25/09, include…

Rumsfeld’s Plan to “Fight the Internet”

Posted in internet, military, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 25, 2009

BBC

throwsuphandsA newly declassified document gives a fascinating glimpse into the US military’s plans for “information operations” – from psychological operations, to attacks on hostile computer networks.

Bloggers beware.

As the world turns networked, the Pentagon is calculating the military opportunities that computer networks, wireless technologies and the modern media offer.

From influencing public opinion through new media to designing “computer network attack” weapons, the US military is learning to fight an electronic war.

The declassified document is called “Information Operations Roadmap”. It was obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University using the Freedom of Information Act.

Officials in the Pentagon wrote it in 2003. The Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, signed it.

The “roadmap” calls for a far-reaching overhaul of the military’s ability to conduct information operations and electronic warfare. And, in some detail, it makes recommendations for how the US armed forces should think about this new, virtual warfare.

The document says that information is “critical to military success”. Computer and telecommunications networks are of vital operational importance.

Propaganda

The operations described in the document include a surprising range of military activities: public affairs officers who brief journalists, psychological operations troops who try to manipulate the thoughts and beliefs of an enemy, computer network attack specialists who seek to destroy enemy networks.

All these are engaged in information operations.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of the roadmap is its acknowledgement that information put out as part of the military’s psychological operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

The document’s authors acknowledge that American news media should not unwittingly broadcast military propaganda. “Specific boundaries should be established,” they write. But they don’t seem to explain how.

“In this day and age it is impossible to prevent stories that are fed abroad as part of psychological operations propaganda from blowing back into the United States – even though they were directed abroad,” says Kristin Adair of the National Security Archive.

Credibility problem

Public awareness of the US military’s information operations is low, but it’s growing – thanks to some operational clumsiness.

Late last year, it emerged that the Pentagon had paid a private company, the Lincoln Group, to plant hundreds of stories in Iraqi newspapers. The stories – all supportive of US policy – were written by military personnel and then placed in Iraqi publications.

And websites that appeared to be information sites on the politics of Africa and the Balkans were found to be run by the Pentagon.

But the true extent of the Pentagon’s information operations, how they work, who they’re aimed at, and at what point they turn from informing the public to influencing populations, is far from clear.

The roadmap, however, gives a flavour of what the US military is up to – and the grand scale on which it’s thinking.

It reveals that Psyops personnel “support” the American government’s international broadcasting. It singles out TV Marti – a station which broadcasts to Cuba – as receiving such support.

It recommends that a global website be established that supports America’s strategic objectives. But no American diplomats here, thank you. The website would use content from “third parties with greater credibility to foreign audiences than US officials”.

It also recommends that Psyops personnel should consider a range of technologies to disseminate propaganda in enemy territory: unmanned aerial vehicles, “miniaturized, scatterable public address systems”, wireless devices, cellular phones and the internet.

‘Fight the net’

When it describes plans for electronic warfare, or EW, the document takes on an extraordinary tone.

It seems to see the internet as being equivalent to an enemy weapons system.

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system,” it reads.

The slogan “fight the net” appears several times throughout the roadmap.

The authors warn that US networks are very vulnerable to attack by hackers, enemies seeking to disable them, or spies looking for intelligence.

“Networks are growing faster than we can defend them… Attack sophistication is increasing… Number of events is increasing.”
US digital ambition

And, in a grand finale, the document recommends that the United States should seek the ability to “provide maximum control of the entire electromagnetic spectrum”.

US forces should be able to “disrupt or destroy the full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum”.

Consider that for a moment.

The US military seeks the capability to knock out every telephone, every networked computer, every radar system on the planet.

Are these plans the pipe dreams of self-aggrandising bureaucrats? Or are they real?

The fact that the “Information Operations Roadmap” is approved by the Secretary of Defense suggests that these plans are taken very seriously indeed in the Pentagon.

And that the scale and grandeur of the digital revolution is matched only by the US military’s ambitions for it.

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.