Protection Racket: Obama Gets Tough to Shield Bush Torturers
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Thursday, 05 February 2009 12:16

(UPDATED BELOW.)

How many times do you have to see it? How many times must it be shoved in your face, crammed down your throat, brought down on your head like a ton of bricks, before you get the picture? When it comes to the lineaments and methods of empire -- war, murder, torture, extortion, and deceit -- there is no difference, none whatsoever, between the hip, cool "progressives" in Team Obama and the gaggle of militarist goons who preceded them.

The comely mask of the new regime was torn away -- once again -- in a scandal that exploded in Britain on Wednesday. With unprecedented harsh language, two of Britain's high court judges revealed that both Bush and Obama officials have strong-armed the British government to quash evidence of the torture of a UK resident held captive in the American concentration camp on Guantanamo Bay. The judges said that the Bush-Obama officials threatened to stop sharing intelligence about terrorist threats against Britain unless the Brits played ball and stopped court hearings in the case of Binyam Mohamed.

Given this grave threat to British lives, the clearly angry judges said they had no choice but to stop the proceedings after the extraordinary intervention of UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who delivered the U.S. ultimatum. Once the story broke, the unctuous Miliband denied that his American masters had issued a direct threat. But the judges -- stalwart even stodgy Establishment figures both -- were clear about what had happened. As the Guardian and the BBC report:

The government was accused last night of hiding behind claims of a threat to national security to suppress evidence of torture by the CIA on a prisoner still held in Guantánamo Bay. An unprecedented high court ruling yesterday blamed the US, with British connivance, for keeping the "powerful evidence" secret...

Two senior judges said they were powerless to reveal the information about the torture of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, because David Miliband, the foreign secretary, had warned the court the US was threatening to stop sharing intelligence about terrorism with the UK.

In a scathing judgment, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said the evidence, and what MI5 knew about it, must remain secret because according to Miliband, the American threats meant "the public of the United Kingdom would be put at risk"....

The judges said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability.

...In a telling passage, the judges said: "Given [the documents'] source and detail, they would ... amount to powerful evidence". None of the contents at issue could possibly be described as sensitive US intelligence, they said.

In further stinging comments they said: "Moreover, in the light of the long history of the common law and democracy which we share with the United States, it was, in our view, very difficult to conceive that a democratically elected and accountable government could possibly have any rational objection to placing into the public domain such a summary of what its own officials reported as to how a detainee was treated by them and which made no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters.

"Indeed we did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials ... relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be." The judges said yesterday: "It is plainly right that the details of the admissions in relation to the treatment of [Mohamed] as reported by officials of the United States government should be brought into the public domain."

Ah yes, but our poor stalwarts are laboring under a tragic delusion: that they are dealing with democracies "governed by the rule of law." What they are really confronted with is an arrogant imperial power looking to protect its elites from prosecution for capital crimes, with the craven, sniveling collusion of bootlicking errand boys across the sea. If I were a British citizen -- as two of my children are -- I would be deeply ashamed of this display of subservience.

But of course, the Brit bigwigs are trying to protect their own skins as well, for it is clear that British intelligence has been deeply enmeshed in the truly nightmarish treatment of Mohamed -- a man who has gone a tormenting progress through the very guts of the American gulag: renditioned to Morocco for months of torture, dropped into the horrific "Dark Prison" in Bagram (an integral part of the "good war" in Afghanistan) and finally dragged to Guantanamo Bay, where he has been abused and driven to the limits of desperation.

What was his crime? Nothing. American authorities have dropped even the hoked-up charges they once hung around Mohamed to justify their years of brutal treatment. The human rights group Reprieve tells the story:

Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia and came to Britain in 1994, where he lived for seven years, sought political asylum and was given leave to remain while his case was resolved.

While travelling in Pakistan, Binyam was arrested on a visa violation and turned over to the US authorities. When they refused to let him go, he asked what crime he had committed, and insisted on having a lawyer if he was going to be interrogated. The FBI told him, ‘The rules have changed. You don’t get a lawyer.’

Binyam refused to speak to them. British agents then confirmed his identity to the US authorities and he was warned that he would be taken to a Middle Eastern country for harsh treatment.

On 21 July 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco on a CIA plane. He was held there for 18 months in appalling conditions. To ensure his confession, his Moroccan captors tortured him, stripping him naked and cutting him with a scalpel on his chest and penis. Despite this, Binyam said that his lowest point came when his interrogators asked him questions about his life in London, which he realized could only have been provided by the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been betrayed by the country in which he had sought asylum.

Binyam’s ordeal in Morocco continued for about 18 months until January 2004, when he was transferred to the ‘Dark Prison’ near Kabul, Afghanistan, a secret prison run by the CIA, which resembled a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud 24-hour music and noise.

Speaking of his time in the ‘Dark Prison’, Binyam said:

“It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time. They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. There was loud music, Slim Shady [by Eminem] and Dr. Dre for 20 days. Then they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. At one point, I was chained to the rails for a fortnight. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”

From there he was taken to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, and finally, in September 2004, to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains.

This tortured and tormented man is now close to death as he continues to languish in the American concentration camp. Ironically, his broken condition may hasten his release, as Washington tries to wash their hands of their dirty work and get him out of Gitmo before he dies in U.S. custody -- which would be bad PR for the cool progressives now in charge of the camp, the gulag, and the entire Terror War apparatus. The Telegraph reports:

Binyam Mohamed has been on hunger strike for a month and has been described by lawyers as "close to death". Lieutenant colonel Yvonne Bradley, a US military lawyer who saw him last week, said: "He is just skin and bones. The real worry is that he comes out in a coffin."

His legal team in the UK has been told that Mohamed's release from Guantanamo Bay is "imminent" and preparations are already under way to fly him back to the UK as the US authorities seek to avoid a fatality.

Obviously, the Obama Administration could care less if Mohamed lives or dies -- but they are vitally, frantically concerned that the tortures inflicted on him by the Bush Administration and its proxies remain forever buried. Thus, we have the hip, cool progressive praise that the Obama team offered yesterday for Miliband's toadying acquiescence to the American threat. The BBC reports:

In a statement, the White House said it "thanked the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information". It added that this would "preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens".

As Glenn Greenwald notes:

The British Government is denying the judges' assertion that the U.S. Government threatened to cut off intelligence sharing with Britain if it disclosed these facts, but the Obama administration's statement -- that Britain's willingness to conceal these facts would "preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens" -- strongly suggests that this is exactly what the U.S. was threatening to do.


As noted above, the high court judges have made clear that there was indeed a direct threat. Any weasel-word statements to the contrary by Miliband -- or the State Department of Hillary Clinton -- are, to put it bluntly, lies. If they are not, then let us see Miliband and Clinton and Obama sue the judges for libel.

The Obama intervention in the UK case is just one of several moves his administration is making to protect Bush and his torturers -- and to preserve the presidential "prerogatives" that Bush asserted to justify torture, eavesdropping and aggression in the first place. Since taking office little more than two weeks ago, Team Obama has already gone to court to protect and preserve Bush's blatantly illegal program of warrantless surveillance on U.S. citizens -- and, incredibly, to uphold the nefarious torture memos of John Yoo and quash court cases stemming from the illegal and unconstitutional incarceration without charges and subsequent torture of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla. [For more, see Arthur Silber's devastating analysis of these court moves, and their deeper implications, in "The System. Baby."]

Let's be very clear about all this. The Obama Administration is going to court to uphold -- to uphold -- the president's "prerogative" to arbitrarily declare any U.S. citizen an "enemy combatant" -- even if the citizen is arrested on U.S. soil -- and have that citizen held for years on end, without charges, in federal brigs where he can be isolated, broken and subjected to "harsh interrogation techniques." The Obama Administration is going to court to uphold -- to uphold -- the "prerogative" of government lawyers to proffer blatantly illegal memos concocted solely to justify an already existing system of crimes that are punishable by death under American law. The Obama Administration is continuing the Bush Administration's blatant blackmail against the nation's closest ally in order to keep evidence of torture -- evidence which involves no "sensitive" national security information whatsoever -- from being made public.

Is this clear enough for you? Is this what you voted for? And more importantly for all you savvy progressives out there who never want to commit the heinous sin of "making the perfect the enemy of the good" -- is this what you are willing to countenance and defend, with increasingly strained and painful moral contortions (like the ones that have greeted Obama's rendition policy), for the next four to eight years? Did you oppose the depredations of the Bush Regime out of principle -- or out of partisanship?

Do you really believe that an administration that goes to such lengths to protect torturers will ever actually prosecute any of the perpetrators of this abhorrent system? Do you really believe that an administration that sees torture and torture memos as "prerogatives" to be preserved will not itself commit tortures -- even if it confines itself to the various torture techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual (a Pentagon product that has suddenly become as sacrosanct as the Constitution in some progressive quarters)?

And here's one more question for you, from a long, long time ago: "How many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn't see?"

UPDATE: Mention moral contortions on the part of progressives to defend evil actions, and pat here they come. In the Guardian today, progressive paladin Ken Gude – the Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress, no less – gives us a bravura display of the contortive arts in rationalizing the new Leader's decision to keep quashing evidence of American torture.

Gude, who has written extensively and irately about the outrages at Guantanamo, duly notes the overwhelming evidence that Binyam Mohamed was tortured, and acknowledges that "official secrecy should not be employed to cover up criminal acts or deny necessary information to a defendant." But – and you just knew there was a big "but" coming, didn't you? – he then offers up one of the defenses of imperial secrecy so beloved by "progressives" at "serious" organizations who long to be taken "seriously" by the great and good.

And what is this weasel-wording that has covered up such a multitude of sins over the years? It's simple: "Our betters might be privy to top-secret knowledge that we cannot know, and are acting solely from a noble desire to protect American lives." In order to reach this conclusion – which we have heard ad nauseam for eight years by every rightwing editorial writer and neocon nincompoop shilling for George W. Bush – Gude resorts to the only resource one can use to support a fact-free argument: imagination. (Or as he call it, "an alternative theory.")

What if, Gude tells us, it was not American torture that Obama is trying to hide, but torture by some "other nation's intelligence service"? (Presumably a nation that is not essentially good and noble, at least when it is being guided by hip, cool progressives.) And, like, what if that "other nation" that we are guessing about is Pakistan? You see, America's not too popular in Pakistan right now, and if it got out that Pakistan's intelligence services were "essentially doing the bidding of the U.S. government", why then, the possible political embarassment for the Pakistanis could possibly maybe "lead to the same kind of cessation of intelligence sharing between Pakistani and American intelligence agencies as the US has threatened with Britain."

This is not just an "alternative theory;" it is a full-blown alternative reality. For years we have heard one paean after another about US-Pakistani cooperation in the "War on Terror" -- political cooperation, military cooperation, intelligence cooperation. Countless numbers of people have been arrested by the Pakistani intelligence service and handed over to the Americans. There is no one in Pakistan who does not already know that the Pakistani intelligence service "does the bidding of the U.S. government" in any number of cases (while pursuing its own agenda in others.) It needs no ghost come from Gitmo to tell the Pakistanis any of this.

Yet in order to exonerate the U.S. government – now that it is led by a fellow "progressive" – Gude would have us believe that the confirmation of the undisputed fact that the Pakistanis arrested Mohamed and turned him over to the Americans in 2002 would somehow cause such an upheaval that the Pakistanis would cease all cooperation with American intelligence, thereby "increasing the risk to British and American soldiers on the front lines" in Afghanistan. (Which is, as we know, the "good" war for all "serious" progressives). Gude completely ignores the fact that, as the Guardian reports, the judges declared that "none of the contents at issue could possibly be described as sensitive US intelligence."

Gude is not about to let such facts get in the way of his rationalizations, however. Swelling now with self-righteous dignity, he concludes ominously: "The cause of public disclosure, however important, is not sufficient to risk such an outcome." The outcome, that is, of the baseless fantasy that he himself has just conjured out of thin air.

So there you have it: a perfect example of what we are going to hear from our progressive bastions throughout the tenure of Team Obama: "Four legs good, two legs better." "Bush rendition bad, Obama rendition good." "Bush cover-up of torture bad, Obama cover-up of torture a good and necessary measure to save precious American lives."

And hey, you aren't going to argue against anything the government does to save precious American lives, are you? Whatever they do, they're only doing it for your own good. Haven't you been reading Powerline and National Review and the Wall Street Journal all these years? Those guys had it right all along.

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