Monday, August 24, 2009

Tortured Reportings


         In Newsweek, August 21, Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff  begin their report on the CIA’s Inspector general’s 2004 investigation, to be at last released this afternoon due to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, with a description of what CIA men did to the Saudi man, Al-Nashiri, suspected of participation of  the bombing of the USS Cole, in an American torture prison:

            “According to two sources—one who has read a draft of the paper and one who was briefed on it—the report describes how one detainee, suspected USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was threatened with a gun and a power drill during the course of CIA interrogation. According to the sources, who like others quoted in this article asked not to be named while discussing sensitive information, Nashiri's interrogators brandished the gun in an effort to convince him that he was going to be shot. Interrogators also turned on a power drill and held it near him. `The purpose was to scare him into giving [information] up," said one of the sources. A federal law banning the use of torture expressly forbids threatening a detainee with ‘imminent death.’” 

     The second paragraph adds:

     "The report also says, according to the sources, that a mock execution was staged in a room next to a detainee, during which a gunshot was fired in an effort to make the suspect believe that another prisoner had been killed. The inspector general's report alludes to more than one mock execution."

       These reporters are perhaps in awe of the power drill threatening al-Nahiri's body.  Of the occasional gunshots perhaps once an evening in the next cell  (these threats, one might imagine, were  to let al-Nashiri  know that he was in the custody of civilized people, who would be a contrast to his own murderousness, and certainly not Torquemada or the Gestapo).  The CIA also waterboarded him, which in the context of Hosenball and Isikoff’s  report, seems comparatively harmless.  How swiftly the scale shifts downward as reporters discover how far the United States of America has walked these dark steps, into foetid dungeons…

       Officials of the US government commanded and CIA operatives carried out torture, “expressly forbidden by the law.”  See international and domestic laws barring torture here. But reporters are not allowed (or perhaps do not allow themselves) to stop with these facts.  They do not add that the the torture of Al-Mashiri was apparently filmed by the CIA.  The films have been destroyed.  Here was another clear instance of law-breaking, because CIA officials recognized that if these films ever become public, there would be legal consequences.  Even the story itself – without the number of days, the number of times, without seeing the man, without hearing his screams…

        In the course of this short article, Hosenball and Isikoff conclude:

       “Top Bush CIA officials, including Tenet's successors as CIA director, Porter Goss and Gen. Michael Hayden, strongly lobbied for the IG report to be kept secret from the public. They argued that its release would damage America's reputation around the world, could damage CIA morale, and would tip off terrorists regarding American interrogation tactics.  ‘Justice has had the complete document since 2004, and their career prosecutors have reviewed it carefully for legal accountability,’ said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. `That's already been done.'"

       This is the “Justice Department” of Alberto Gonzalez.  One wonders that a reputable journal would cite a CIA flak invoking it.  Perhaps the reporters intend the grim humor.   They note that the report will likely spur an uproar.  But suddenly the English of the first paragraph disappears in what George Orwell named newspeak: these are just  “tough interrogation methods” (good that Kiefer Sutherland is on the case.  Torture is now in Harvey Mansfield's locution: "Manliness"):

     “The inspector general's report is expected to fuel political debates over whether the tough interrogation methods used during the Bush administration actually worked. According to another source who has seen the document, the report says that the agency's interrogation program did produce usable intelligence."

       "At the same time the administration releases the inspector general's report, it is also expected to release other CIA documents that assert the agency collected valuable intelligence through the interrogation program. For months, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for these documents to be released. However, a person familiar with the contents of the documents says that they contain material that both opponents and supporters of Bush administration tactics can use to bolster their case. The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting what is supposed to be a thorough investigation of the CIA's detention-and-interrogation program. The probe is intended not only to document everything that happened but also to assess whether on balance the program produced major breakthroughs or a deluge of false leads.”

          Torture may have produced, a source says, “valuable information.”  Will it restore the value of America being different from - torturers?   “Former vice president Dick Cheney” is conjured up – not as along with President Bush, a war criminal, facing legal proceedings. as one might expect from the beginning of the story  – but as a proclaimer of possible “major breakthroughs.”  Or perhaps not (a "deluge of false leads").  As a matter of fact, torture produces no “useful information” except for lies the torturer already knew (see here).  Cheney got the lies he wanted out of others about a supposed connection of Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida, and he got the mainstream media to print them as front page news.  The end of the article subverts the truths of its opening statements.

       The Obama administration has followed a strange and perverse path.  It has released torture memos and now this document.  Attorney General Holder is about to call for prosecutions of a few CIA torturers who "went beyond" the Justice Department memos (in today’s New York Times, David Johnston reports that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has just given Holder a new report calling for investigations of at least the CIA officers who tortured or murdered detainees).  But the Justice Department  memos were apologies for a torture that was already occurring.  In the attempt to create and enforce a new pseudo-legal idiom, Holder wants to investigate only those who excessively torture.  But shielding the “Principals” from prosecution, see here and here, will be hard.  It will take looking away from common sense and the rule of law.  Unfortunately, the words of the American mainstream media, even in the face of these horrific reports, work overtime in making this possible.  See here and here  Where is the reporter on Fox News who walking in the waters of Hurricane Katrina by the floating body of a two year old – perhaps looking into her eyes – screamed at Britt Hume: “Where’s the government?”

         The Obama administration is frightened.  The criminality is so extensive and so high in the leadership of the Bush administration, that any investigations, by an independent council, or any serious hearings will go straight to the top.  It is why the belligerent Cheney has broken his silence.  He especially is frightened.  Obama is on the cusp of violating the Convention against Torture which requires signatories to investigate serious allegations of torture (by Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, treaties signed by the United States are the highest law of the land).  What is the CIA Inspector-General’s 2004 report?* 

        Can we restore the rule of law and hope again to be a decent nation among others?  When Hillary and Barack implore others about decency, who will listen?


*In the Sunday New York Times, page A4 (yesterday), though he keeps one essential line and adds some important material, Mark Mazzetti waters down the Newsweek report: “Report Provides New Details on C.I.A. Prisoner Abuse.”  One can already see the deterioration from the Newsweek title: “”Report Reveals CIA Conducted Mock Execution: A long-awaited report on post-9/11 interrogation tactics will reveal harrowing new details about treatment of suspected terrorists.”

       Mazzetti repeats Hosenball and Isikoff’s story.  He begins with the same description, though slightly more graphic: “CIA jailers at different times held the handgun and the drill close to the detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Mashiri, threatening to harm him if he did not cooperate with the interrogators, a government official familiar with the contents of the report, said.”   The words "mutiliate" or "murder" are more obvious English locutions than "harm" here.  Perhaps, if Mazzetti has not learned to censor himself, the Times' editor intervened.    The editors  or their reporters also substitute the circumlocution "abuse" for the fact of torture. (In today’s story, the editors allow David Johnston the phrase “brutal treatment”).   But Mazzetti goes on to push the limits of Times’ censorship.  He adds to the Newsweek report the illegal destruction of the tape.  He mentions the ACLU law suit which has finally – after 5 years – forced the Inspector-General’s report into the light of day.  As in Newsweek, he too manages to get the factual sentence past the censor: “It is a violation of the federal torture statute to threaten a detainee with imminent death.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Something interesting written during the thick of things in 2007 by J.M. Coetzee in "Diary of a Bad Year".

There must be people all over today's world who, refusing to accept that there is no justice in the universe, invoke the help of their gods against America, an America that has proclaimed itself beyond the reach of the law of nations.

Even if the gods do not respond today or tomorrow, the petitioners tell themselves, they may yet be stirred to action a generation or two down the line. Their plea thus becomes in effect a curse.

The drama being played out before our eyes is of a ruler, George W. Bush (whether Bush turns out to have been a pawn in the hands of others is not relevant here), whose hubris lies in denying the force of the curse on him and of curses in general; who indeed goes further and asserts that he cannot commit a crime, since he is the one who makes the laws defining crimes.

In the outrages he and his servants perform, notably the outrage of torture, and in his hubristic cliam to be above the law, the younger Bush challenges the gods, and by the very shamelessness of that challenge ensures that the gods will visit punishment upon the children and grandchildren of his house.

(p. 48-50)

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