Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

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.

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.