Tag Archives: torture

Torture Only Hurts America

14 Dec

Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge waterboards a prisoner, gets no information

Well, America, at long last the news reveals that torture – Washington preferred the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” – don’t work. Didn’t work. Were counterproductive

The report is the most detailed independent examination to date of the agency’s efforts to “break” dozens of detainees through physical and psychological duress, a period of CIA history that has become a source of renewed controversy because of torture scenes in a forthcoming Hollywood film, “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Officials familiar with the report said it makes a detailed case that subjecting prisoners to ­“enhanced” interrogation techniques did not help the CIA find Osama bin Laden and often were counterproductive in the broader campaign against al-Qaeda.

The committee chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein ­(D-Calif.), declined to discuss specific findings but released a written statement describing decisions to allow the CIA to build a network of secret prisons and employ harsh interrogation measures as “terrible mistakes.”

“I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques,” Feinstein said.

While Republicans are unhappy with the report, one who actually suffered torture when captured in Hanoi had this to say, 

the committee’s work shows that “cruel” treatment of prisoners “is not only wrong in principle and a stain on our country’s conscience, but also an ineffective and unreliable means of gathering intelligence.”

We didn’t find bin Laden because we waterboarded someone. We found him because of excellent detective / intelligence work. Torture would be the anti-intellectual replacement for that. If it worked. 

Stuff You Should Care About

11 Nov


This is a bit of a dumping ground for stories I think are important and deserve your attention.  I’ll keep a running list of these stories in the sidebar of this site under the Headline “Your Daily Homework”.  I’m not giving you the full backstory on each of these, just links that I hope you’ll follow.  Also, if you have something to add to any of these stories, please post the links and I’ll add them or write a longer piece on what you’ve provided.

Blackwater and The Mercenary Military

Jeremy Scahill is an independent journalist and author who has spent several years documenting the privatization of the American military and what that means for the future of our combat forces and ability to fight.  His latest story highlights a bribery scandal of epic proportions involving Blackwater officials and the Iraqi Government.

The mercenary firm Blackwater has become a symbol of the utter lawlessness and criminality that permeates the privatised wing of the US war machine. The company’s operatives have shot dead scores of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, while former employees allege in sworn statements that Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”, and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life”. Five Blackwater employees will stand trial in federal court in the US on charges that they slaughtered 14 innocent Iraqis, while a sixth Blackwater operative has already pleaded guilty. The company faces allegations of illicit weapons-smuggling and tax evasion, and is being sued for war crimes. The private army is under fire. And yet, despite all the action, none of the legal bullets has – to date – landed a serious blow.

Institutionalized Torture and Who We Are Becoming As A Nation

Glenn Greenwald tells the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian and Syrian who was tortured through America’s policy of rendition.

In 2002, he was returning home to Canada from vacation when, on a stopover at JFK Airport, he was (a) detained by U.S. officials, (b) accused of being a Terrorist, (c) held for two weeks incommunicado and without access to counsel while he was abusively interrogated, and then (d) was “rendered” — despite his pleas that he would be tortured — to Syria, to be interrogated and tortured.  He remained in Syria for the next 10 months under the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable, where he was repeatedly tortured.  Everyone acknowledges that Arar was never involved with Terrorism and was guilty of nothing.

The story that we sanction and commit torture has been told and sadly fails to inspire indignation amongst the chattering class nor the general populace.  However, the shocking aspect of this story isn’t necessarily what happened (even though it’s horrific), it’s that our courts are refusing to scrutinize the actions of the government.

In January, 2007, the Canadian Prime Minister publicly apologized to Arar for the role Canada played in these events, and the Canadian government paid him $9 million in compensation.  That was preceded by a full investigation by Canadian authorities and the public disclosure of a detailed report which concluded “categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada.”  By stark and very revealing contrast, the U.S. Government has never admitted any wrongdoing or even spoken publicly about what it did; to the contrary, it repeatedly insisted that courts were barred from examining the conduct of government officials because what we did to Arar involves “state secrets” and because courts should not interfere in the actions of the Executive where national security is involved.

Yesterday, the Second Circuit — by a vote of 7-4 —  agreed with the government and dismissed Arar’s case in its entirety.  It held that even if the government violated Arar’s Constitutional rights as well as statutes banning participation in torture, he still has no right to sue for what was done to him.  Why?  Because “providing a damages remedy against senior officials who implement an extraordinary rendition policy would enmesh the courts ineluctably in an assessment of the validity of the rationale of that policy and its implementation in this particular case, matters that directly affect significant diplomatic and national security concerns” (p. 39).  In other words, government officials are free to do anything they want in the national security context — even violate the law and purposely cause someone to be tortured — and courts should honor and defer to their actions by refusing to scrutinize them.

If you’re interested in the details as to how the United States sent this innocent man to Syria to be tortured, you can read it here.  You can also read the details of his treatment while rendered by clicking here.  He was kept in a six foot whole, unfed, naked, urinated upon and beaten with electrical cables.  What did they get from him?  Nothing, he was innocent.  Detained due to false confessions given by other prisoners in exchange for an end to their torture.  All done in your name, for the security of America.

Senator Bernie Sanders Introduces the “Too Big To Fail?  Too Big To Exist!” Bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a very sensible bill into the Senate the other day, essentially saying that if a bank is to big to fail, (“any entity that has grown so large that its failure would have a catastrophic effect on the stability of either the financial system or the United States economy without substantial Government assistance.”) it needs to be identified by the Treasury Secretary and broken up into smaller corporations.  We all hate bailouts, right?  Both lefties and righties agree that bailouts are bullshit.  So, let’s do something about it.


And while we’re at it, how about we go ahead and listen to Paul Volcker and re-institute the Glass-Steagall Act which kept commercial and investment banks separate.  Repealing Glass-Steagall in 1999 was a primary precursor to the huge economic collapse we just experienced.

“The banks are there to serve the public,” Mr. Volcker said, “and that is what they should concentrate on. These other activities create conflicts of interest. They create risks, and if you try to control the risks with supervision, that just creates friction and difficulties” and ultimately fails.

The only viable solution, in the Volcker view, is to break up the giants. JPMorgan Chase would have to give up the trading operations acquired from Bear Stearns. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch would go back to being separate companies. Goldman Sachs could no longer be a bank holding company.

In the Volcker resurrection of Glass-Steagall, commercial banks would take deposits, manage the nation’s payments system, make standard loans and even trade securities for their customers — just not for themselves. The government, in return, would rescue banks that fail.

On the other side of the wall, investment houses would be free to buy and sell securities for their own accounts, borrowing to leverage these trades and thus multiplying the profits, and the risks.

The bill was enacted shortly after the Great Depression began and helped maintain sanity in the banking sector until 1999.  The largest economic downturn since that Great Depression began shortly after it’s repeal.  Coincidence?  Not really.

The Right Wing In American Politics

As I discussed last week, the right wing is regionalizing and religifying in the runup to the 2010 and 2012 elections.  No politician represents the growth of the stupid in American politics like Sarah Palin.  At a speaking engagement in Wisconsin, Palin banned all recording devices, but one guy sneaked in an audio recorder.  Palin spent a lot of time talking about the “change” that Obama has brought and how that “change” doesn’t represent “real” American values.  As an anecdote, she points out that our new American coins no longer say “In God We Trust” on the front or back.  She was troubled by the fact that our national motto was moved to the edge of the coin and was no longer as visible as it once was.  She wondered who would make a decision like that.  Well, Crazypants McGee clearly didn’t do her research as it was the 2005 GOP Congress and President Bush who made that decision, not Obama.

Two things on this; (1) “In God We Trust” was adopted as our national motto during the McCarthy Red Scare.  The motto was originally “E Pluribus Unum”. or “Out Of Many, One”…too collectivist and socialist-y for today, I would imagine.  (2) Palin defines herself not by the issues she advocates or the positions she holds, but rather by her enemies.  She connects with people left behind by corporatism and capitalism by making it seem as if she is just as persecuted and left behind as they.  To them, she seems a regular person who reflects their values and is fighting against the machine that seemingly ridicules their uneducated and faith-based existence.  As America grows less educated and more angry by the year, Palin becomes a very dangerous politician and a very troubling threat to those of us who value intellectual analysis and thoughtful policy in our governmental leaders.

Cheney the Fear Fetishist: STFU and You’re Wrong. The End.

31 May

Richard Clarke in the WaPo:

Yet listening to Cheney and Rice, it seems that they want to be excused for the measures they authorized after the attacks on the grounds that 9/11 was traumatic. “If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans drop out of eighty-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people,” Rice said in her recent comments, “then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again.”

I have little sympathy for this argument. Yes, we went for days with little sleep, and we all assumed that more attacks were coming. But the decisions that Bush officials made in the following months and years — on Iraq, on detentions, on interrogations, on wiretapping — were not appropriate. Careful analysis could have replaced the impulse to break all the rules, even more so because the Sept. 11 attacks, though horrifying, should not have surprised senior officials. Cheney’s admission that 9/11 caused him to reassess the threats to the nation only underscores how, for months, top officials had ignored warnings from the CIA and the NSC staff that urgent action was needed to preempt a major al-Qaeda attack.

Frank Rich in the New York Times (I especially enjoy the link to here, outlining Cheney’s lies):

The speech itself, with 20 mentions of 9/11, struck the same cynical note as the ads, as if the G.O.P. was almost rooting for a terrorist attack on Obama’s watch. “No one wishes the current administration more success in defending the country than we do,” Cheney said as a disingenuous disclaimer before going on to charge that Obama’s “half measures” were leaving Americans “half exposed.” The new president, he said, is unraveling “the very policies that kept our people safe since 9/11.” In other words, when the next attack comes, it will be all Obama’s fault. A new ad shouting “We told you so!” awaits only the updated video.

The Republicans at least have an excuse for pushing this poison. They are desperate. The trio of Pillsbury doughboys now leading the party — Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Cheney — have variously cemented the G.O.P.’s brand as a whites-only men’s club by revoking Colin Powell’s membership and smearing the first Latina Supreme Court nominee as a “reverse racist.” Republicans in Congress have no plausible economic, health care or energy policies to counter Obama’s. The only card left to play is 9/11.

Eugene Robinson in the WaPo, via the Buffalo News, compares & contrasts Obama World and Cheney World. Leonard Pitts, also in the Buffalo News, argues that Cheney is little more than a fear fetishist.

While I am mindful of the fact that a Democratic ex-POTUS or VPOTUS making outrageous charges such as Cheney has done would be the Republican Hissy Fit of the Century™, I enjoy Cheney’s mouth-shits, because they remind people how happy they are to be rid of him.

Dick 9/11 Cheney – 9/11 Spotlight 9/11 Whore 9/11

22 May

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech about national security and torture. I was working at work like normal people do and missed it. I did, however, read Dick Cheney’s reply speech, given at that hive of scum & villainy, the American Enterprise Institute.

Cheney’s speech was a lot of 9/11, a lot of denial that waterboarding is torture, a very clever and specific compartmentalization of torture the US actually committed, ignoring the torture we paid for or sanctioned, and suggested basically that, because terrorists are bad people they deserve to be tortured, and the ends always justify the means.

I am always perplexed by the idea that 9/11 was the beginning of the world being dangerous for Americans, or that it was the genesis of all terrorism, ever. Listening to neoconservative warmongers like Cheney, you would think that this was so. The world was plenty dangerous before 9/11 and it’s plenty dangerous now. It will, incidentally, continue to be plenty dangerous as long as bad or insane people decide they want to do bad things to other people.

But fundamentally, the battle is joined – a battle that didn’t really take place in 2008 between Obama and McCain because the Republican nominee also opposed torture, having suffered it himself.

There remains a small minority of Americans who think that Dick Cheney is the bee’s knees, and absolutely adore when he opens his mouth to defend every outright and borderline illegality in which the Bush Administration engaged during its tenure.

But the vast majority of Americans believe, as the President does, that the United States can combat terrorism – even pre-emptively – without fundamentally losing and jettisoning our values, and the rule of law.

TPM put together this juxtaposition of the themes each speaker hit upon:

At least one Tweet from a conservative that I saw yesterday swooned over Cheney’s speech because of his will to do anything and everything to keep America safe.

The problem with that, of course, is that he ought to do anything and everything within the bounds of the law and constitution to keep America safe.

Also, Cheney insinuated that the administration that immediately preceded the one in which he served treated all terrorism as a law enforcement issue, and did not engage in preemption. That is false, and ignores the Millennium Plot.

Shorter Dick Cheney

21 May

I’ll steal one of Pundit’s favorite gimmicks for this one…


Dick Cheney made a speech today about torture and national defense.  After watching it, all I could think of was how Dick Cheney is morphing into a decrepit old version of Colonel Jessup from “A Few Good Men”.


The not-so-funny part of this is that there are people who applaud this shit, kinda like the people have had their view of torture and terrorism informed by Jack Bauer and the writers of “24”.  I weep for the soul of the right wing.


15 May

It’s torture to read people defending the use of torture.

I don’t care if Democrats did it. I don’t care about any moral or expediency justification anyone can come up with as an excuse to violate domestic and international law regarding the use of violent coercion to elicit statements from detainees.

At least one commenter continually harps on the notion that waterboarding isn’t torture, and no one has declared it to be so.

The United States of America has consistently considered waterboarding to be torture, and has put people to death for committing it. That is about as definitive and declarative as an issue can get. There is no debate there. Waterboarding is, and always has been torture. If you do it, you’re hanged. The End.

Even children know this. It’s called “Chinese water torture”. Not “Chinese happy fun moist time”.

During the logical toilet-swirling that often passes for reader comments, the point was made that it can’t be torture if the US subjects servicemen to torture techniques as part of SERE training. If it’s torture for one, it’s torture – and illegal – in all instances.

This, too, is false. A simple example that anyone can understand will illustrate this.

When you punch someone in the face outside of a bar, that’s a battery – an unlawful touching. When you punch someone in the face during a cagematch, you’re a UFC champion.

Finally, we have incidents of torture right here at home. There’s the case of a criminal defendant in Niagara County whom the police tased in order to get a second DNA swab. No one had informed the accused that the police had compromised the first swab he gave and that another was needed, so he resisted. It’s also curious that the police video showing the interrogation and tasing of Ryan Smith is partly gone – the part where Smith gets tased.

Police are permitted by law to use reasonable force to subdue a suspect and do their jobs. Electrocution to obtain a DNA swab when perhaps a simple oral declaration, “we screwed up and compromised the first swab” might have been as effective, is not “reasonable”.

Not to mention incidents where baseball players decide that the best way to haze a younger player is to apparently insert objects into him.

The debate is a non-existent one. Torture is wrong and illegal. It is not what a civilized nation should aspire to. It’s not a partisan issue – it’s a legal issue. If some want to defend its use, they should be subjected to nothing more than shame and ridicule. People like Dick Cheney and his apologists. And if Democrats did it, they are just as shameful and ridiculous.


14 May

President Obama backtracked yesterday on a pledge to release more Abu Ghraib-style photographs of Americans mistreating and torturing detainees. Military leaders urged him to reconsider, arguing that releasing the photographs would make life difficult for American servicepeople who are in harm’s way.

This prompted Josh Marshall to wonder,

If we need to keep evidence of torture, like photographs, secret, to protect our troops, doesn’t that suggest that torture isn’t a great way to keep them or us safe?

“It Worked”

13 May

The last great argument made by torture proponents (a term I can’t believe I have to type about Americans, and an idea that is repugnant at its core) is that torture “works”. Well, sure it can “work”, but it’s a lot less reliable and a lot more dangerous than traditional, good old-fashioned interrogation techniques:

Former Vice-President Dick Cheney has led the Republican assault on Mr Obama, insisting that the tactics elicited information that has kept America from terrorist attacks since 2001. It is an unprecedented attack by such a senior former White House figure on the new incumbent.

Mr Obama has also come under fire from anti-war activists and liberal Democrats demanding that former officials be prosecuted. The row on the right and left and has spun out of the White House’s control.

At the heart of the debate is whether the CIA techniques produced useful information from detainees such as Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda operative who was waterboarded 83 times in Aug 2002.

Breaking a seven-year silence, Ali Soufan, the former chief FBI interrogator who questioned Abu Zubaydah for three months before he was handed to the CIA, has flatly contradicted Mr Cheney, saying that no additional “actionable intelligence” was gained from the extreme tactics.

Tellingly, the JPRA document asserted that “upwards of 90 per cent” of interrogations achieved their goals by establishing a rapport with the captive, rather than by imposing duress.

The memo was compiled at the height of discussions about how to interrogate suspects involving President George W Bush’s then national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, the CIA chief George Tenet and legal advisers from the Department of Justice.

The JPRA memo, part of a bundle of documents detailing the effect of severe interrogation tactics on American prisoners in past conflicts such as Korea, raised repeated red flags that were evidently ignored. It expressed concern that captured US personnel would face greater danger of torture if the US practiced the tactics on its prisoners. But most seriously, the memo dwelt on the efficacy of of coercive questioning.

The government was warned that inflicting torture on our enemy would make American captives more susceptible to torture from our enemies, and yet they persisted. And that argument is made without regard to the fact that torture is illegal under American and international law.

“If an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability of this information is in doubt,” it stated. “A subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer or many answers to get the pain to stop.

“The application of extreme physical and/or pyschological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably the potential to result in unreliable information.”

The concerns dovetail with criticisms made by Mr Soufan, who now runs a security consultancy. “I saw that using these alternative methods on terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions – all of which are still classified,” he said.

If torture “works” to produce occasional actionable intelligence, then it should be equally defensible to rob a bank. It might be illegal, but it “works” as a method for withdrawing cash.

(The image above is taken from a Cambodian museum depicting the torture methods employed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge)

HT Buffalo Geek

What Shepard Smith Said

23 Apr

What other laws shall we ignore because it allegedly “works”?

Robbing a bank “works” as a means to enrich yourself, and murdering a witness “works” as a means to beat a criminal charge.

The right has, for years, accused the left of being anti-American socialist idiots, but I’ve heard more anti-American bile get spewed by the right in the last 3 months than I’ve heard from any other mainstream political grouping. Secession? Armed rebellion? Torture is fine? At least one Alabama congressman trying to pull a McCarthy lite?

No wonder the right can’t get elected and can’t get its shit together.

Interrogation and Torture

21 Apr

The CIA records that were recently released, which show that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month underscore the ineffectiveness of torture as an interrogation method.

If it takes 183 tries, it ain’t working. And it’s laziness bordering on sadism.

Buffalo Geek is a veteran and comes at this issue from that perspective. Money quote:

In times [of] war, we as Americans hold the moral high ground, such as it is in war. Lowering ourselves to the level of our enemy breeds contempt, inflames opposition, and reduces our ability to rally the world around a flag of righteousness. Torturing those whom we have detained lowers us to the level of the enemy. Once we cede the moral high ground in battle, we begin down a slippery slope of moral ambiguity that clouds our purpose and allows our enemy to define our standards for us.

We no longer hold that moral high ground and our unwillingness to confront the actions of the previous administration is an affront to those who have honorably served this great nation. It is a betrayal of this country’s citizens who entrusted us to fight in their name and serve with integrity.

Think of how we would react if it was discovered that an American soldier was waterboarded 183 times in one month. Would we snicker and make snarky comments about that treatment?

The first commenter who says something like, “oh, al Qaeda would have served people crumpets and tea” wins the “I’m am ignorant moron” prize.

We are a civilized nation, and a strong, stable democracy. If you wish for our military or intelligence services to behave similarly to the terrorists, then you have no respect for law or civilized behavior.