Saturday, August 9, 2014

The impunity of torturers or spitting in the face of American decency

A Congressional report condemns the CIA for torture, both for its ravenous brutality and for its ineffectiveness. Torture during the Bush period was the American government. Over a hundred prisoners were murdered in American custody under torture, by Pentagon statistics...

This is a harsh but apt verdict.


The CIA spied on the Senate investigators including the loyalist Diane Feinstein. It violated the Constitutional separation of powers. The Senate is supposed to oversee the CIA, not the secret government ostensible public "supervision."

This is no longer abnormal in America (see Edward Snowden's revelations on the National Insecurity - for ordinary Americans - Agency). It is nonetheless a frightening example of growing, if gradual tyranny.


During the Bush Presidency, the New York Times' editorial board and reporters offered a euphemism for torture: "very harsh" or "brutal" "interrogations."

Murder, they might say, is "early separation from life processes."


If a defense lawyer summed this up in court, jurors might laugh. "You are charging my client with a crime, but it is really not the thing there is a law against. And that is my case."


But if the government and corporate media repeat this enough times, the Emperor is wearing...clothes.


Now President Obama names torture, the crime, as what America did.


But the executive branch and the CIA are editing the Congressional report. Obama has given the secret government authority and time to weaken the report.

Does the Senate work for the American people? Immediate publication and discussion would be characteristic of democracy.

Or should the CIA dissolve the Senate and the people and elect a new one? (h/t Bertolt Brecht).


John Brennan, a leading torturer under Bush and presider over Terror Tuesday's at the White House (selecting people with Obama to be murdered by drone), either did not know - very unlikely (Brennan is a wretched, devious person) or lied to Congress when he said the CIA does not regard Congress as its plaything, to be spied on and managed.


Obama wants to keep Brennan. That Obama has leaned on Brennan as NSA counselor and CIA chief is a sad commentary on how he, a constitutional lawyer, can use the term torture and not act to prevent it. For his CIA chief would probably be one of these indicted for crimes in Iraq...


The American government fought for the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture. It stood out, internationally, against this crime. Thus, President Reagan signed the Convention against Torture and Congress approved it and domestic laws which undergird it.


Torture - let alone, the murder of over 100 prisoners in Pentagon custody - is a crime in the United States and internationally. Until the Bush period, outlawing torture was the cornerstone of international law.


Obama wishes to be understanding of the situation faced by the CIA given the panic of the "War on Terror." But the Convention forbids torture for any reason, even insurrection. As a constitutional law professor, Obama names the crime and then says: never mind.


This is corrupt. In 2008, Obama could have organized independent hearings for Bush officials and CIA leaders such as Jose Rodriguez who criminally destroyed 93 hours of films of the torture because he knew that he and others would go to jail if the American people saw them...


He could have said that the Commission, like the Senate hearings, would report during his second term in office....


But Obama disregarded this legal, moral and democratic obligation, and as a result, as Andrew Sullivan says below, torturers have impunity.


If the greatest thing America did was to fight for and sustain laws barring torture, the American government, including under Obama, has betrayed those laws and compromised all of its associate or allied countries.


Consider the Canadian/Afghan Omar Khadr. He was captured at age 12 on the field of battle near his father who died. Americans claimed that he threw a grenade killing a soldier, treated him neither as a minor nor as a soldier/prisoner of war, gave him no normal judicial hearing, took him to Guantanamo, tortured him for years, and let him go to Canada on the condition that he admit "his guilt."

But it is not clear that he did any crime, he was captured on the field of battle, and he was a minor.


Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, however, fronts for Bush and Obama, and wants to keep Khadr's story secret. It is not of course wholly secret and what is known is an outrage.


If one believes in decency and the rule of law, to about what has happened to young Khadr is to have contempt for and want criminal proceedings against those who were responsible.


But not for Mr. Obama. He "hopes" that torture will not recur in future (in 2008, Romney urged making Guantanamo twice as big...).


Obama's words conflict with his acts, yet again in the protection of John Brennan.


And not for the reactionary Stephen Harper, the Canadian leader who is blocking even a newspaper interview even in the corrupt corporate media. Given that the facts are so plain, Khadr's words must be suppressed. That is "freedom of the press," American and Canadian-style. The Bush and now Obama poison spreads internationally (a similar kind of thing is happening with drones used against civilians; other countries, in this century, will emulate Mr. Obama).

It is worth taking in what the United States of America has become...


"New York Times
The C.I.A.’s Reckless Breach of Trust

In March, John Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was indignant when Senator Dianne Feinstein charged that the agency had broken into computers used by staff investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she leads. “As far as the allegations of C.I.A. hacking into Senate computers,” he said, “nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the scope of reason.”

But reason seems to have little to do with the C.I.A.’s operations, as Mr. Brennan apparently discovered far too late. On Thursday, the Central Intelligence Agency admitted that it did, indeed, use a fake online identity to break into the Senate’s computers, where documents connected to a secret report on the agency’s detention and torture program were being stored. Mr. Brennan apologized privately to Ms. Feinstein and to Senator Saxby Chambliss, the vice chairman of the intelligence committee, and promised to set up an accountability board to determine who did the hacking and whether and how they should be punished.

The accountability and the apologies, however, will have to go much further. It’s not just two senators that the C.I.A. has offended by this shocking action. It is all of Congress and, by extension, the American public, which is paying for an intelligence agency that does not seem to understand the most fundamental concept of separation of powers. That concept means that Congress is supposed to oversee the intelligence community and rein in its excesses. It cannot possibly do so effectively if it is being spied on by the spy agency, which is supposed to be directing its efforts against foreign terrorists and other threats to national security.

The committee has been working since 2009 on a comprehensive history of the agency’s antiterror program during the George W. Bush administration, which involved illegal rendition to other countries, detention, and torture of suspects, all producing little useful intelligence. It has been frustrated at many points by stonewalling from the agency, which provided misleading information, hid important facts inside a blizzard of excess documents, and forced endless delays in the declassification process. The 6,300-page report still has not been made public, though parts of it may be released later this month, and it is expected to undercut the Bush administration’s claims that its actions were both legal and effective.

Late last year, the agency suspected that Senate investigators had obtained an internal C.I.A. review of the torture program. Senate officials said the review was in a database they were allowed to see, but realized that the C.I.A. had broken into a private Senate computer server and found the review. A summary of an agency inspector general’s report, released Thursday, said C.I.A. hackers even read the emails of Senate staffers. Then they exhibited a “lack of candor” to agency investigators.

In an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor in March, Ms. Feinstein accused the agency of having “undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.” The institutional affront even drew Republican criticism. If the charge was true, said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, “heads should roll, and people should go to jail.”

One of those heads may need to be Mr. Brennan’s. If he knew about the break-in, then he blatantly lied. If he did not, then apparently he was unaware of the lawless culture that has festered within the C.I.A. since the moment it was encouraged by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to torture suspects and then lie about it. That recklessness extended to the point where agency officials thought nothing of burglarizing their own overseer. Senator Mark Udall of Colorado said the action was illegal and required the resignation of Mr. Brennan.

The C.I.A. needs far more than a few quiet personnel changes, however. Its very core, and basic culture, needs a thorough overhaul."


"Andrew Sullivan
We Tortured. It Was Wrong. Never Mind.
AUG 3 2014 @ 8:29PM
I’ve wondered for quite a while what Barack Obama thinks about torture. We now know a little more:

Even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

What to make of this?

I don’t think it’s that big a deal that he used the English language to describe what was done, in any fair-minded person’s judgment. He’s said that before now. And his general position hasn’t changed. Let me paraphrase: We tortured. It was wrong. Never mind. So he tells the most basic version of the truth – that the US government authorized and conducted war crimes – and hedges it with an important caveat: We must understand the terribly fearful circumstances in which this evil was authorized. But equally, he argues that the caveat does not excuse the crime: “the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.”

This latter point is integral to the laws against torture – but completely guts his first point. As I noted with the UN Convention, the prohibition is absolute:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Cheney, Bush, Tenet, and Rumsfeld all knew this from the get-go. That’s why they got their supine OLC to provide specious justifications for the legally prohibited. That’s why they won’t use the word “torture,” instead inventing an Orwellian euphemism. And, of course, the president’s excuse for them – that “in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” we did wrong things – is deeply misleading. This went on for years abughraibleash.jpgacross every theater of combat. What about what Abu Ghraib revealed about the scope of torture in the battlefield much later on? What about 2005 when they secretly re-booted the torture program? This was a carefully orchestrated criminal conspiracy at the heart of the government by people who knew full well they were breaking the law. It cannot be legally or morally excused by any contingency. It cannot be treated as if all we require is an apology they will never provide.

Yet that’s what the president’s acts – as opposed to his words – imply. And that’s what unsettles me. It is not as if the entire country has come to the conclusion that these war crimes must never happen again. The GOP ran a pro-torture candidate in 2012; they may well run a pro-torture candidate in 2016. This evil – which destroys the truth as surely as it destroys the human soul – is still with us. And all Obama recommends for trying to prevent it happening again is a wistful aspiration: “hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.” Hopefully?

Then there’s the not-so-small matter of the rule of law.

Call me crazy but I do not believe that the executive branch can simply allow heinous crimes to go unpunished just because they were committed … by the executive branch. It seems to me, to paraphrase the president on Friday, that the rule of law “has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.” How many times does the United States government preach about international law and Western values? On what conceivable grounds can we do so when our own government can commit torture on a grand and brutal scale for years on end – and get away with it completely?

Either the rule of law applies to the CIA or it doesn’t. And it’s now absolutely clear that it doesn’t. The agency can lie to the public; it can spy on the Senate; it can destroy the evidence of its war crimes; it can lie to its superiors about its torture techniques; it can lie about the results of those techniques. No one will ever be held to account. It is inconceivable that the United States would take this permissive position on torture with any other country or regime. Inconceivable. And so the giant and massive hypocrisy of this country on core human rights is now exposed for good and all. The Bush administration set the precedent for the authorization of torture. The Obama administration has set the precedent for its complete impunity.

America has killed the Geneva Conventions just as surely as America made them.

(Photo: a page on enhanced interrogation techniques via a FOIA request.)"


"Andrew Sullivan
Why Hasn’t John Brennan Resigned?
JUL 31 2014 @ 8:18PM
CIA Director John Brennan Speaks At The Council On Foreign Relations

I offer you a simple set of facts: under the Bush administration, the CIA set up a program that indisputably contained torture techniques; in due course, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the program in order to get some clarity as to its intent, its techniques, its authorization and its results; as the Committee was doing its work, the CIA hacked its computers in order to craft its own defense and suss out what the Committee had discovered. When Senator Feinstein publicly accused the CIA of this grotesque interference in its affairs, and assault on the constitutional separation of powers, the CIA chief, John Brennan said:

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s—that’s just beyond the—you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

At the time I wrote: “Either Brennan or Feinstein isn’t telling the truth. ” We now know it was Brennan who wasn’t telling the truth, as the CIA itself has now acknowledged in its own internal report that it did exactly that – something “beyond the scope of reason”. Indeed it is beyond the scope of reason. It was also beyond the scope of reason that the CIA would import the torture and brain-washing techniques of Communist China in order to glean intelligence from captured enemy combatants. And yet they did that as well. But the attempt to obstruct justice by hacking into the Senate’s computers adds something else to the original crime. Let’s recall what DiFi said back in March:

Here’s her conclusion:

I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. … The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as Executive Order 120003, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

This is not a minor matter – it is a hugely important matter in terms of the constitution and the rule of law. We’re talking here about crimes and deception. How are we supposed to believe another word that comes out of Brennan’s mouth? And how desperate must the CIA have been to cover up its crimes that it took this extraordinary step of spying on the Senate that oversees it?

I submit that either Brennan knew nothing of what was going on and had no grip on his own agency; or he knew full well and was brazenly lying in public. In either case, under his watch, the CIA tried to subvert a critical Congressional report on its own criminal history.

I’m with David Corn:

Brennan owes the nation an explanation for his own actions. Why did he put out a false cover story? Was he bamboozled by his own squad? Was he trying to stonewall?

The CIA conducts much of its business in secrecy; and most of Congress’ vetting of the CIA likewise occurs out of public view. Effective oversight requires trust and cooperation between the two—and there must be that trust and cooperation for the public to have confidence that the oversight system works. But there also has to be public trust in those who lead the CIA. Brennan’s initial public statements about this scandal severely undermine his credibility. He owes the public a full accounting. If he remains in the job, President Barack Obama will owe the public an explanation for why he retained an intelligence chief who misled the public about CIA misconduct.

(Photo: Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan takes questions from the audience after addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in in Washington, DC on March 11, 2014. Brennan denied accusations by U.S. senators who claim the CIA conducted unauthorized searches of computers used by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staff members in an effort to learn how the committee gained access to the agency’s own 2009 internal review of its detention and interrogation program, undermining Congress oversight of the spy agency. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)"


"New York Times
The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

Omar Khadr’s Untold Story
Canada Should Let Media Interview Ex-Guantánamo Detainee

The Canadian government has denied a request from a Toronto newspaper to conduct an on-camera interview with a former child soldier and detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Omar Khadr. Mr. Khadr, a 27-year-old Canadian, was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was just 15, and accused of throwing a grenade during a firefight that killed an American soldier.

Under a 2010 plea deal that ended his prosecution under Guantánamo’s grievously flawed military commission system, Mr. Khadr admitted to throwing the grenade and planting roadside bombs. In exchange, his sentence was capped at eight years on top of eight years already served in one of the world’s most infamous hellholes, and he was allowed, after bureaucratic delays, to transfer from Guantánamo in Cuba to Canada, where he is still incarcerated.

The Toronto Star thinks he should be allowed to tell his side of the story and respond to questions from one of its reporters, Michelle Shephard, who has been following his case for years. The Canadian government, in a rebuff to press freedoms and the public’s right to know, will not let him do so — a form of censorship that brings to mind the way in which both the Bush and Obama administrations have quashed all civil cases brought by victims of torture without allowing them to describe their experiences in court or hold those responsible accountable.

Mr. Khadr was badly abused in custody. He was hooded and handcuffed to his cell with his arms extended painfully above his head, according to testimony at a pretrial hearing, and was included in the so-called frequent-flier program that used sleep deprivation to get prisoners to talk. Incriminating statements obtained by coercion were the main evidence against him; moreover, before he pleaded guilty it was made clear that unless he did so he would likely face life in prison. His treatment was hardly unique in the annals of Guantánamo or Afghanistan’s Bagram Prison, where he was first taken, but his history as a child soldier has given his case special resonance, and his treatment has drawn harsh condemnation from United Nation officials, civil liberties and human rights groups and Canadian courts.

Whether Mr. Khadr actually threw the fatal grenade may never be known. He has recanted his admission of guilt, saying he tendered it only to win release from Guantánamo and return to Canada. He has agreed to be interviewed in prison, but officials have rebuffed Ms. Shephard’s repeated efforts to arrange the taping on grounds, so far unexplained, that the interview could cause “disruption” in the jail.

The Canadian media, including Ms. Shephard, suspect high-level government interference. The Toronto Star and two other media outlets involved in the issue filed a request for judicial review last month in federal court. The Canadian government should allow the interview and let Mr. Khadr, now an adult, share his perspective on his ordeal. The public has been kept waiting long enough."

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