Nightmares made law

‘Obama is right not to target CIA interrogators. The torture memos show where blame truly lies,’ Philippe Sands.

The four secret US department of justice opinions released this week are jaw-dropping in their detail. They reveal how far the Bush administration was prepared to go in sanctioning interrogation techniques that plainly amount to torture.

The long-awaited publication of the August 2002 memo, signed by Jay Bybee but largely written by John Yoo, authorises 10 previously unlawful interrogation techniques. These include slapping, stress position and sleep deprivation, right up to waterboarding. It is doubtful a more shocking legal opinion has ever been written. It even purports to analyse if incarcerating a detainee in a small box with an insect for company would amount to mental torture (it depends what you tell him about its sting).

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Bush’s willing torturers

‘The newly-published Bush administration memos show a chilling, Orwellian abuse of language to justify torture,’ writes David Cole.

“Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing.” So Dennis Blair, President Obama’s director of national intelligence, stated as he sought to minimize the significance of four previously secret Justice Department memos that employed tortured legal reasoning to authorise CIA agents to use cruel and abusive tactics to interrogate suspects inside secret prisons.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” So begins George Orwell’s classic novel of the security state, 1984. It seems unlikely that Blair intended the allusion. Maybe every incoming US director of national intelligence is required to read 1984, and the opening line just stuck with him. But the reference could not have been more appropriate. The four Justice Department memos, spanning 124 pages of dense legal analysis and cold clinical descriptions of sustained, systematic abuse of human beings, do precisely what Orwell foretold: twist the English language in order to approve the unthinkable.

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Torture Memos Released

The Obama administration has released the four torture memos in response to an ACLU Freedom of Information request today. The redactions are not as extensive as initially thought. All the memos are available here. See the characteristically brilliant commentary by Glenn Greenwald below and Democracy Now’s interview with Greenwald and Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm.

Obama to release OLC torture memos; promises no prosecutions for CIA officials

(updated below – Update II)

In a just-released statement, Barack Obama announced that — in response to an ACLU FOIA lawsuit — he has ordered four key Bush-era torture memos released, and the Associated Press, citing anonymous Obama sources, is reporting that “there is very little redaction, or blacking out, of detail in the memos.”  Marc Ambinder is reporting that only the names of the CIA agents involved will be redacted; everything else will be disclosed.  Simultaneously, and certainly with the intend to placate angry intelligence officials, Attorney General Eric Holder has “informed CIA officials [though not necessarily Bush officials] who used waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects that they will not be prosecuted,” and Obama announced the same thing in his statement.

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The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means

An important piece by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books on the ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody.

Download the text of the ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody by The International Committee of the Red Cross, along with the cover letter that accompanied it when it was transmitted to the US government in February 2007. This version, reset by The New York Review, exactly reproduces the original including typographical errors and some omitted words.

When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry…. These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.

If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the…enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees…—then we would have been attacked again. Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US….

—Former Vice President Dick Cheney, February 4, 2009[1]

1.

When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen. In our politics, torture is not about whether or not our polity can “let the past be past”—whether or not we can “get beyond it and look forward.” Torture, for Dick Cheney and for President Bush and a significant portion of the American people, is more than a repugnant series of “procedures” applied to a few hundred prisoners in American custody during the last half-dozen or so years—procedures that are described with chilling and patient particularity in this authoritative report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.[2] Torture is more than the specific techniques—the forced nudity, sleep deprivation, long-term standing, and suffocation by water,” among others—that were applied to those fourteen “high-value detainees” and likely many more at the “black site” prisons secretly maintained by the CIA on three continents.

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US Drones have killed 687 Innocents

Amir Mir reports in The News that the 60 US drone attacks in Pakistan have killed 687 civilians for the 14 al-Qaeda suspects they were targeting. If you’ve ever wondered why so-called ‘human rights’ groups are treated with such scepticism (if not disdain) outside the US and EU, see this statement from a New York Times report on the drone attacks: “Marc Garlasco, a former military targeting official who now works for Human Rights Watch, the international advocacy group, said the drones had helped limit civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the Air Force uses them to attack people laying roadside bombs and to attack other insurgents.”

LAHORE: Of the 60 cross-border predator strikes carried out by the Afghanistan-based American drones in Pakistan between January 14, 2006 and April 8, 2009, only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. The success percentage of the US predator strikes thus comes to not more than six per cent.

Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan. Two strikes carried out in 2006 had killed 98 civilians while three attacks conducted in 2007 had slain 66 Pakistanis, yet none of the wanted al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders could be hit by the Americans right on target. However, of the 50 drone attacks carried out between January 29, 2008 and April 8, 2009, 10 hit their targets and killed 14 wanted al-Qaeda operatives. Most of these attacks were carried out on the basis of intelligence believed to have been provided by the Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen who had been spying for the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The remaining 50 drone attacks went wrong due to faulty intelligence information, killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children. The number of the Pakistani civilians killed in those 50 attacks stood at 537, in which 385 people lost their lives in 2008 and 152 people were slain in the first 99 days of 2009 (between January 1 and April 8).

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Intimidating Muslims

Brian Whitaker writes a good article on New Labour’s intimidatory tactics against British Muslims. And here is an unusually excellent editorial from the Guardian. The branding of the Istanbul Declaration as extremist is designed to ensure that nobody engages with it, and it deserves to be engaged with. Although I don’t identify with the religious language myself, or like the globalising flourish at the end, I don’t see anything terribly objectionable about the declaration, which is posted after the Whitaker article.

Following the recent muddle over Hezbollah, the British government continues to dig itself deeper into the mire with its “anti-extremism” policy.

Hazel Blears, secretary of state for communities and local government, is trying to engineer the resignation of Daud Abdullah, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. She may not like Abdullah or agree with his views but, frankly, it’s none of her business. The MCB is not a government body and can appoint whoever it wants as its deputy secretary general.

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US seeks to expand covert war in Pakistan

The United States has been heavily criticised for the high number of civilians being killed by drone missile strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

That controversy was high on the agenda during a visit by the head of the CIA to Pakistan.

The US, meanwhile, is considering expanding the fighting to Balochistan province, as Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reports.

UN report accuses Britain of condoning torture

A new report by UN Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin finds evidence of UK complicity in a wide range of grave human rights violations, including torture – the prohibition of which constitutes an “absolute and peremptory norm of international law.” The report is only the latest in a growing series of indictments against the criminal conduct of the British state.

Britain has been condemned in a highly critical United Nations report for breaching basic human rights and “trying to conceal illegal acts” in the fight against terrorism.

The report is sharply critical of British co-operation in the transfer of detainees to places where they are likely to be tortured as part of the US rendition programme.

The report accuses British intelligence officers of interviewing detainees held incommunicado in Pakistan in “so-called safe houses where they were being tortured”.

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Pakistan’s drift into the hands of extremists

‘The intention of the attack on Sri Lanka’s cricket team was to send a clear message to Washington: Pakistan is ungovernable,’ writes Tariq Ali.

The appalling terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Pakistan had one aim: to demonstrate to Washington that the country is ungovernable. This is the first time that cricketers have been targeted in a land where the sport is akin to religion. It marks the death of international cricket in Pakistan for the indefinite future, but not just that, which is bad enough. The country’s future is looking more and more precarious. We do not know which particular group carried out this attack, but its identity is hardly relevant. The fact is that it took place at a time when three interrelated events had angered a large bulk of the country and provided succour to extremist groups and their patrons.

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Cindy Sheehan interviews Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges Interview (53:40): MP3

Cindy Sheehan speaks to Chris Hedges, author of the classic War is a Force that Gives us Meaning. (The actual interview begins at 6:30)

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