Saturday, November 14, 2009

Better Chisels


       On September 11th, Valerie Luczinikowska and others lost loved ones. At that time, the New York Times declared “war on terror”  (the Times’s pages with this heading preceded the official White House announcement).  President Bush demanded of Richard Clarke false information about ties of Al-Qaida to Saddam and rapidly launched two aggressions, torture and indefinite detention. Law was “disappeared.”  9/11 was to be – and only to be – a cause for belligerence and war crimes.

      But Valerie and many other 9/11 families recognized that vengeance, especially striking out at other innocents, does not bring back those who are gone.  The United States sought pretexts to remodel the Middle East, not justice (a profound reason why Obama finds no good solutions for the two wars he inherited).  In contrast, these 9/11  families  formed Peaceful Tomorrows, seeking to break a cycle of violence led by the United States (“we” are good are and “they” are evil, as President Bush said; therefore, one might imagine,  “they” must have a system of torture prisons around the world and render detainees secretly to the worst torturer regimes…), to move the world toward peace and the rule of law.

       In 2003, at the city hall in Fort Collins, Colorado Valerie and I both spoke against the upcoming war in Iraq (h/t Cheryl Distaso for organizing it).  We were part of a vast protest movement, here and globally – the biggest anti-war movement before a war in the history of the world.  Some of Valerie’s words were recorded in an article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. 

       The women of Peaceful Tomorrows worked to throw open an examination of 9/11.  They defended the rights of those imprisoned and tortured by the United States.  In the last few days, they have been in Washington, working with Senator Harry Reid’s staff and others, to block a sad effort by Senator Lindsay Graham to deny funding for  trials in federal courts for Guantanamo prisoners – those whom the US government indefinitely detained beyond the reach of law – who are charged with “9/11-associated crimes.” 

      The reason for Graham’s proposal is that no federal judge a) could fail to throw out the cases, given the use of torture to acquire “evidence,” and b) such cases would continually raise the issue of why criminals in high places – those who ordered the crimes in the Bush administration – are not prosecuted.  Since international as well as domestic law has been violated (see the recent conviction of CIA kidnappers in Italy here), a desire to suppress such legal proceedings possesses reactionary Washington politicians (and extends even into the Obama administration here).

        The case against these officials has been reinforced by the release of a FBI memo from November 2002 here.  The Times couldn’t be bothered to cover it.  In it, experts of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit warn, as clearly as possible, against the criminality of government actions at Guantanamo. Knowing that the Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were committing crimes, the Unit announces its credentials; it is “comprised of Supervisory Special Agents with an average of 18 years of experience in criminal and counterintelligence investigations.”

       Its report indicts the  techniques used by the Pentagon and the CIA at Guantanamo:

       “Central to the gathering of reliable, admissible evidence is the manner in which it is obtained…Interrogation techniques used by the DHS [Defense Human Intelligence Services, part of DoD] are designed specifically for short term use in combat environments where the immediate retrieval of tactical intelligence is critical. Many of DHS’s methods are considered coercive by Federal Law Enforcement and [Uniform Code of Military Justice] standards. Not only this, but reports from those knowledgeable about the use of these coercive techniques are highly skeptical as to their effectiveness and reliability.”

        The Report  contrasts the experience of the FBI in gaining (see my post on the FBI interrogator Ali Soufan who elicited vital information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, what the torturer knew here). 

        “FBI/CITF agents are well trained, highly experienced and very successful in overcoming suspect resistance in order to obtain valuable information in complex criminal cases, including the investigations of terrorist bombings in East Africa and the USS Cole, etc. FBI/CRT interview strategies are most effective when tailored specifically to suit a suspect’s  or detainee’s needs or vulnerabilities. Contrary to popular belief, these vulnerabilities are more likely to reveal themselves through the employment of individually designed and sustained interview strategies rather than through the haphazard use of prescriptive, time-driven approaches. The FBI/CITF strongly believes that the continued use of diametrically opposed interrogation strategies in GTMO will  only weaken our efforts to obtain valuable information."

        Note the last sentence: torture undermines the security of Americans.  It fails to get good information.  It does sometimes get whatever the torturer wants to hear, though it often just gets other lies to get the torture to stop (thus, Cheney sought in having Khalid Shaikh Mohammed water-boarded 183 times in a month - the CIA interrogators begged not to continue doing it and were told to “man up” from Washington) to extract Cheney’s thematic lie – that Al Qaida had connections with Saddam…).  This FBI report preceded Yoo's torture memos.  Their incompetence is already striking evidence of bad faith.  But the bad faith of those memos is shown unmistakably by this FBI memo; it is irrefutable evidence for a prosecutor, here or internationally, of war crimes.  That the Times and the rest of the mainstream media did not have leading articles on this memo underlines their (in the case of the Times' editorial page vacillating but nonetheless continuing) collaboration in war crimes.

           I should note here how rare it is for me – who knows from experience as well as evidence about FBI repression of radical, union, anti-racist and anti-War movements; it is after all a centralized secret police agency – to be able to praise the FBI for anything.  It is a sign of corruption or decadence in America (I use these terms in the sense of opposition to a common good; to capture increasingly tyrannical, bizarre and ineffectual policies) of the American regime, one which still occurs in Bagram and even Guantanamo, that the FBI – a secret police agency, one involved, for instance, in the murder of civil rights demonstrators – achieves decency and even some nobility (Soufan seems quite admirable; there are things he will not do…; likewise Colleen Rowley, the former FBI agent who tried to warn against 9/11, and  who organized a demonstration against Condi Rice as a torturer in Minneapolis last week).

         According to Daphne Eviator’s report on the FBI document here,

         “The memo goes on to list the interrogation techniques being used, and then to list which ones are ‘not permitted by the U.S. Constitution.’ Those include: the use of stress positions for more than four hours; hooding; 20-hour interrogation segments; stripping a detainee of all clothing; and exploiting individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, to induce stress. They also include the use of scenarios designed to convince a detainee that death or severe pain is imminent for him or his family; waterboarding (here called “use of wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of drowning”); and exposure to cold weather or water.”

       “All of those techniques, we now know, continued to be used by the Defense Department.”

        “The FBI also warned that the use of such techniques would make any evidence derived inadmissible in federal court and if admissible in a military commission, likely to be given little or no weight.’’

          “The FBI drafters of the memo further explained that most of those techniques, particularly the last four, would also violate the U.S. anti-torture statute. It recommended that they not be used.”

           Senator Graham’s wording about “9/11 related crimes” is also corrupt.  Many Guantanamo prisoners were innocents, picked up on the accusation of the war lords America supported in invading Afghanistan, or among some 150 Uighurs (Obama can’t figure out what to do with them, but no one thinks they are guilty of any crime, let alone something to do with 9/11) or picked up in Bosnia or because they planned to fight the unjust Indian occupation of Kashmir (Moazzem Begg, for example). Just throw them away, because we can, says Senator Lindsay Graham. 

           Yet the man is - or was once - a lawyer and a soldier.  With Senators McCain and Warner, he sponsored (the Democrats were too cowardly) the anti-torture resolution which passed the Senate 91-9 and which President Bush then ignored with a signing statement.  Of course McCain and his ally Graham then silently acquiesced.  Better to be President, as McCain coveted, than to have the rule of law. In Graham’s case, one can see the steady deterioration of a human being, a man who knows about prisoners of war and the law and once, spoke out, a man who is a study in political corruption. 

           In addition, in many ways, the Obama administration is making a bipartisan regime, in Jack Balkin’s phrase, of the criminality of the Bush era.  Still, Obama set out to close Guantanamo.  Under reminder and pressure, the Democrats occasionally recall the importance of the rule of law.   Peaceful Tomorrows is a continuing reminder, working to shut down not only Guantanamo but  Bagram. Their lobbying helped defeat Senator Graham’s reactionary proposal and comparable proposals in the House (I reproduce their letter to the House Judiciary Committee below).

             Yesterday, Eric Holder and Obama  courageously mandated  trials of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo prisoners in Manhattan in a federal courthouse near the site of 9/11.  They deserve to be commended for this, and the cowardice of the Republicans and many Democrats, compared to leaders of any other country affected by terror attacks, stands out in their whimpering about how the American justice system could not try criminals on American soil.  See Glenn Greenwald here.  For them, there is no such thing  as courage and principle.  They are afraid to invoke the law.  One is amazed at these “tough guys” who never fought and, in the last 8 years,  came very near to destroying law, the army, the economy.  They are too frightened (and rely on people whom they have made too frightened) to try prisoners in an American court... 

          But such people, particularly the political followers of Leo Strauss and other “neo-cons” are in the midst of the foreign policy/media apparatus.  William Kristol, for example, was a Times’ columnist for the last year (they finally had the sense to drop him).  Andrew Sullivan has a striking comment this morning, The Barbarian[s] inside the Gate, about Kristol’s commentaries on Janet Napoletano’s belief in the law and the murders at Fort Hood:

       "’I was very struck also by Janet Napolitano’s comment, I hadn’t read it before to see her say that, that the number one priority is to bring [Hasan] to justice is such a knee-jerk comment and such a stupid comment. He’s going to be brought to justice. He is not going to be innocent of murder. There are a lot of eyewitnesses to that. They should just go ahead and convict him and put him to death,’" - William Kristol, appearing on Fox News.'”

           "Let us be clear: this is a fascist statement."

           "You begin to understand now why these goons instituted torture. They have total contempt for the Western system of justice, utter contempt for the rule of law. Kristol here is all but calling for a lynching. This is what ‘conservatism’ has come to: the worship of violence and revenge. It makes the Cheney years more comprehensible, doesn't it?”

             It is fascism that trying KSM in New York means to answer.  But Holder and Obama also have set up a system of special courts to engineer convictions even for those the Bush administration tortured (the water-boarding of KSM 6 times a day for a month can be kept out of the New York proceedings probably because he boasted about 9/11 separately).  This is the continuing Cheney/William Kristolization of American “law”: the government will do illegally and immorally whatever they want to the accused and then put what is left of the person on  “trial” in a setting that will produce a “conviction.” 

           Will such practices restore respect for the United States in other countries?  Will Holder be able to look in the mirror?

            In this context, the words of Peaceful Tomorrows should be read with care:

           The Peaceful Tomorrows logo (which would not reproduce) contains the epigraph from Martin King “Wars are poor chisels to carve out peaceful tomorrows.” 

5 November 2009

House Judiciary Committee

2138 Rayburn Building

Washington DC

c/o Ms. Heather Sawyer

Dear Committee Members:

As a member of an organization of those who lost loved ones in the events of September 11, I urge you to help restore our national sense of justice and fairness by supporting the closing of Guantanamo prison and assuring Constitutional trials for the detainees who remain there.

We urge the rehabilitation and release of those detainees cleared for release and not charged, and the legal trials of those charged either in established US federal courts, in US military courts, or in international courts of law. We reject the use of indefinite detention in any form.

Some people have irrational fears that bringing the detainees into the United States, and trying and incarcerating them here, is somehow an unprecedented and exceptional danger.  This is a notion that must be put to rest. No one has ever escaped from a maximum security prison in our country. Many convicted terrorists are already in our prisons, successfully contained and kept from doing harm.

We applaud the attempt to completely overhaul the MCA [the Military Commissions Act] of 2006, but we would prefer it to be revoked outright.  We believe that existing courts and laws are capable of dealing with even “the worst of the worst”.

Further, we encourage you to work toward bringing an end to extraordinary rendition and black sites.  We particularly urge the closing of Bagram prison, which has become a de facto Guantanamo in the eyes of the world.  Terrorists are created by these injustices.

Each of us have experienced the trauma and grief of a sudden loss of a loved one.  For this reason, we are committed to turning our grief into a force for peace and justice.  We must stop the cycles of retribution and violence that plague our world.


For Peaceful Tomorrows

Valerie Lucznikowska                          Talat Hamdani                        Rosemary Dillard

1 comment:

Redwoodhippie said...

Thank you Mr. Gilbert for expressing some of the debate about how the United States has been taken adrift from the rule of law and how we are attmepting to return to the rule of law. I believe we will not regain the rule of law unless anyone who encouraged, enabled, or participated in torture of another human being is held to account. It is especially important that those at the top the enablers and the policy makers be held to account.

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