Written by Chris Floyd
Thursday, 17 June 2010 11:45
James Bovard at Antiwar.com points out one of the more egregiously sick-making of the many atrocious "arguments" employed by Barack Obama in his successful effort to block the efforts of Maher Arar to seek justice for his unjust rendition and proxy torture in the Great War of Global Terror.
Obama bade his legal henchmen -- his own personal John Yoos, as it were -- to tell the Supreme Court that it should kill the Canadian citizen's case seeking compensation for his unlawful arrest by U.S. officials, who then rendered him not unto Caesar but to the untender mercies of Syria's torture cells. The Robed Ones agreed, dismissing, without comment, Arar's appeal of a lower court ruling that quashed his case -- a decision that Scott Horton rightly likened last year to the Dred Scott case, which upheld the legality of slavery, even in states which prohibited it.
The Arar ruling upholds the "legality" of a new, universal form of slavery, i.e., the United States government can deprive anyone in the world of their freedom, and dispose of their bodies as it sees fit: torture, "indefinite detention," or even "targeted assassination." The fact that it is a man of partly African descent who is now outstripping the Southern slavers in this extension of servitude to the entire world is one of those poisonously bitter ironies with which history abounds.
But grim and depraved as Obama's position is, it is not without its comic elements. As Bovard notes, one of the "arguments" offered by the Obama/Yoo administration was that the case should be dismissed because it might call into question “the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner could be removed to Syria.” We kid, as they say, you not.
So now cases of monstrous and criminal actions by agents of the United States government cannot be heard in court, because this might impugn the "sincerity" of the officials involved. And after all, as we all know, it is the inner feelings of government officials that are all important in determining the legality -- and morality -- of their actions. That is why the murder of more than a million Iraqis in an act of naked military aggression is not a war crime; it is, at the very worst, just a "tragic blunder," a misdirected excess of good intentions gone awry. Because we meant well, didn't we? We always mean well.
Even those Southern slavers were "sincere" in their belief that keeping people of African descent in servitude was the "right" thing to do. It's too bad that Barack Obama was not around in those days to stick up for them and ensure that their "motives and sincerity" could not be questioned. Heaven forefend that the delicate sensibilities of slavers, renditioners, torturers and assassins should ever be exposed to public scrutiny!
So Arar's American case is now dead. (The Canadians long ago 'fessed up -- and paid up -- for their role in his torment.) But its implications live on. As I noted in my first article on the Arar case, back in December 2003:
... Arar's case is not extraordinary. In the past two years, the Bushist organs have "rendered" thousands of detainees, without charges, hearings or the need to produce any evidence whatsoever, into the hands of regimes which the U.S. government itself denounces for the widespread use of torture. Apparatchiks of the organs make no secret of the practice -- or of their knowledge that the "rendered" will indeed be beaten, burned, drugged, raped, even killed. "I do it with my eyes open," one renderer told the Washington Post. Detainees -- including lifelong American residents -- have been snatched from the homes, businesses, schools, from streets and airports, and sent to torture pits like Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan -- even the stateless chaos of Somalia, where Ashcroft simply dumped more than 30 Somali-Americans last year, without charges, without evidence, without counsel, and with no visible means of support, as the London Times reports.
But this is not the scandal we were speaking of.
Of course, the American organs needn't rely exclusively on foreigners for torture anymore. Under the enlightened leadership of Ashcroft, Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and other upstanding Christian statesmen, America has now established its own centers for what the organs call "operational flexibility." These include bases in Bagram, Afghanistan and Diego Garcia, the Indian Ocean island that was forcibly depopulated in the 1960s to make way for a U.S. military installation. Here, the CIA runs secret interrogation units that are even more restricted than the American concentration camp on Guantanamo Bay. Detainees -- again, held without charges or evidentiary requirements -- are "softened up" by beatings at the hands of military police and Special Forces troops before being subjected to "stress and duress" techniques: sleep deprivation (officially condemned as a torture method by the U.S. government), physical and psychological disorientation, withholding of medical treatment, etc. When beatings and "duress" don't work, detainees are then "packaged" -- hooded, gagged, bound to stretchers with duct tape -- and "rendered" into less dainty hands elsewhere.
But this is not the scandal we were speaking of.
Not content with capture and torture, the organs have been given presidential authority to carry out raids and kill "suspected terrorists" (including Americans) on their own volition -- without oversight, without charges, without evidence -- anywhere in the world, including on American soil. In addition to this general license to kill, Bush has claimed the power to designate anyone he pleases "an enemy combatant" and have them "rendered" into the hands of the organs or simply killed at his express order -- without charges, without evidence, with no judicial or legislative oversight whatsoever. The life of every American citizen -- indeed, every person on earth -- is now at the disposal of his arbitrary whim. Never in history has an individual claimed such universal power -- and had the force to back it up.
But this is not the scandal we were speaking of.
All of the above facts -- each of them manifest violations of international law and/or the U.S. Constitution -- have been cheerfully attested to, for years now, by the organs' own apparatchiks, in the Post, the NY Times, Newsweek, the Guardian, the Economist and other high-profile, mainstream publications. The stories appear -- then they disappear. There is no reaction. No outcry in Congress or the courts -- the supposed guardians of the people's rights -- beyond a few wan calls for more formality in the concentration camp processing or judicial "warrants" for torture. And among the great mass of "the people" itself, there is -- nothing. Silence. Inattention. Acquiescence. State terrorism -- lawless seizure, filthy torture, official murder -- is simply accepted, a part of "normal life," as in Nazi Germany or Stalin's empire, where "decent people" with "nothing to hide" approved and applauded the work of the "organs" in "defending national security."
This is the scandal, this is the nation's festering shame. This acquiescence to state terror will breed -- and attract -- a thousand evils for every one it supposedly prevents.
And please note: none of this has changed. None of it. These crimeful, brutal abuses of power are becoming more thoroughly entrenched under the rule of the progressive Peace laureate now in the White House. What Bush did with winks and nods, Obama is openly championing, expanding and codifying into law. And these deeply sincere evils will keep reverberating, in ways that we can not even imagine, far into the lives of our children and grandchildren, and for generations beyond.
UPDATE: Scott Horton has much more on the latest ruling in the Arar case.
Written by Chris Floyd
Wednesday, 09 June 2010 10:29
Welcome to Wal-Mart!
Just a reminder: this is what our ease and comfort are based on -- someone doing work like this:
From the Guardian: A worker prepares a cotton gin in Mumbai. India is the second largest exporter of the ﬁbre after China, the recipient of around 60% of India’s cotton exports.
A Worker Writes
Roy Mayall spotlights the ever-growing inequalities in our best of all possible worlds -- disparities that will only grow vastly greater as the world's elites stoke bogus deficit panics to "justify" their shredding of the last remaining tiny mitigations against their brute power. From the London Review of Books:
Adam Crozier, the retiring chief executive [of Royal Mail], received more than £2.4m in the year 2009-10. With bonuses and pensions that figure rises to £3.5 million. ... I earn £8.98 an hour. I work a 20-hour week. I’d like to work more but there are no full-time jobs available. My basic pay is £177.28 a week, before deductions. That’s about £9200 a year. That means that I would have to work for nearly 380 years to earn as much as Adam Crozier earned last year.
Fair enough. Adam Crozier obviously has 380 times my needs. He must have a house that is 380 times the size of mine. He is 380 times taller. Maybe he has 380 stomachs to fill. Perhaps his dick is 380 times bigger than mine and he needs 380 partners to service it. He must have 380 times the intellectual capacity as his brain is clearly 380 times more developed than mine. His value to the world is 380 times greater.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that our elites really do think like this. They really believe their value to the world is immeasurably greater than any memeber of the common rabble -- or indeed, the common rabble as a whole. (And this case only deals with an executive in the UK; the disparities in the United States are much greater.) That's why they find it so very easy to kill vast numbers of people and grind others into the dirt. The rabble is just a herd, whose individual lives have no value, except as they can be exploited by those who really matter.
An Attack of Giantism
Not that anyone cares, but more evidence has been found to refute the Obama Administration's farcical claim that it was uninvolved in a cruise missile attack that killed 52 people in Yemen last year, more than half of them women and children. The Independent reports:
A US cruise missile armed with cluster ammunition was used in an attack in Yemen in December which resulted in the deaths of 52 people, more than half of them women and children, according to a human rights watchdog.
The Yemeni government insisted their forces alone carried out the strike on an al-Qa'ida training camp in the Abyan region. US authorities backed the claim that insurgents had been attacked but officially denied direct involvement in the attack.
However, Amnesty International has now released photographs of missile parts from the attack which appear to show that it was a BGM-109D Tomahawk cruise missile designed to be launched from a warship or submarine. Further images reveal BLU 97 A/B cluster munitions which spray steel fragments for 150 meters along with burning zirconium for igniting buildings. The Yemeni government does not possess cruise missiles, which are part of the arsenal of US Navy vessels patrolling off the Horn of Africa and in the Arabian Sea.
...A Yemeni parliamentary committee investigating the raid at al-Ma'jalah concluded that 41 of the dead were civilians, 21 of them children and 14 women. Survivors denied any links with insurgents.
Again, what does it matter? The real people, the 380-foot giants, kicked over an anthill, and a few ants died. Boo hoo. Big whoop. Is our giant Peace Laureate supposed to concern himself with trivia like that? Of course, such actions only stir up a few ants here and there to try to nip at the giants' heels -- but so what? The worst they might do is kill a few of our ants now and then; meanwhile, the giants can hype the threat to fill their pockets with more war loot and expand their power and privilege.
As you might imagine, Arthur Silber has one of the most cogent observations on the "Helen Thomas affair." I won't excerpt it here, because that would dilute the unfolding of his sharp, satirical take; however, I will offer just one, more general comment from his conclusion, for it sums up quite well the essence of the above items, and much else about our modern world:
For me, one of the more gut-wrenching aspects of today's monstrous culture, a culture that kills each and every manifestation of empathy, understanding and compassion with relentlessly systematic determination, is the combination of unending destruction, cruelty, violence and murder with the most abysmally wretched depths of stupidity.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 14 June 2010 11:24
The New York Times reports on the discovery by American geologists that Afghanistan contains "vast riches" in untapped mineral deposits: at least $1 trillion worth -- including huge troves of lithium, "a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys," as the paper breathlessly relates.
Unfortunately, given the realities of our world, one's first reaction to such news is not a cheery "How nice for the Afghan people!" but rather a heart-sinking, dread-clammy "Uh oh." For what this discovery almost certainly portends are many more decades of war, warlordism and foreign intervention, as the forces of greed and power fight like hyenas to tear off the juiciest chunks of this windfall.
It also guarantees many more years of American military occupation (in one guise or another); there is absolutely no chance that our Beltway banditti (and their corporate cronies) are simply going to walk away from a stash like this, not when they've already got "boots on the ground" -- and billions of dollars in war pork invested in the place. It's payback time, baby! (Or rather, double-dip time, as most these "investments" are just pass-throughs of public money to private profiteers). And hey, finder's keepers and all that, right?
The Times story is the usual splattered mess of regurgitated Pentagon PR and imperial spin, with a few small bits of pertinent information here and there.
The story first displays its "savvy" cred by noting the possible downsides of the find. ("Hey, we're not just cheerleaders, you know!") It could make the Taliban fight even harder. It could exacerbate the corruption of the American-installed Afghan government. It could set off conflicts between Afghan tribes and warlord factions to control the mining. It could wreak environmental ruin. And it seems it could tempt grasping greedy foreigners to prey upon the war-ravaged Afghans and steal their wealth:
At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.
Oh yes, the great danger is that China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan's mineral wealth! They've already got one copper mine and they want more, the greedy bastards!
This passage gives us a vivid display of the quintessential NYT stew of PR, spin and tiny fragments of reality. First comes the head fake toward the Yellow Peril, then we get a bit of truth: the Washington believes the United States should dominate the development of Afghanistan's mineral wealth, "given its heavy investment in the region." China can't have it, because we've got it. We've spent a lot of money and we've killed a lot of people to get it (including wads of our own cannon fodder) -- and by God, we're going to keep it!
Of course, the Times accepts this as the natural state of affairs. The possibility that the mineral find might exacerbate the rampant American corruption in the Afghan war is not mentioned, or even hinted at. The idea that it will make the Pentagon fight harder -- and nastier -- to secure control over the stash is not even considered.
Instead, we get another bashing of the Afghan government for its corruption -- as if this is occurring in some kind of vacuum, as if the billions of dollars being siphoned off, socked away or spread around to cronies by the American-appointed, American-backed, American-supplied Afghan officials were not being doled out to them by .... the Americans, who are happily kicking back billions more to their own cronies, contractors and profiteers.
We also get -- yet again -- the myth that the American empire acts solely out of altruism. American officials, we are told, are gearing up to help the Afghans exploit the find with technical expertise, business plans and industry contacts. But strangely enough, this kindness is not being provided by, say, the State Department or some aid agency; it is being carried out by ... the Pentagon. It is the Pentagon that is "helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall" and facilitating the development of the trillion-dollar cache.
In other words, the warlords of a foreign power will develop the mining operations in order to keep them out of the hands of, er, foreign powers and warlords.
Another nugget of truth buried deep in the story is the fact that the "discovery" of the huge trove of mineral deposits was actually made a few years ago. It is being trotted out now because the Obama Administration needs some good news about its ever-expanding quagmire in Central Asia -- and perhaps also to send a signal to its corporate backers and foreign allies (such as Britain, now making noises about possibly winding down its Afghan involvement) that the game is most definitely worth the candle.
And worth the lives of thousands and thousands of more Afghans -- and Pakistanis, Americans, Britons and others -- in a mad, murderous mineral scramble. The Pentagon businessmen say that Afghanistan could become "the Saudi Arabia of lithium" -- but it is far more likely to become "the Congo of Central Asia": a zone of decades-long, hydra-headed, multi-sided, society-gutting, atrocity-producing, money-grubbing war over "vast riches" of mineral deposits.
But hey: as long as the BlackBerries and laptops keep rolling in, who cares, right? Those things are just so darn cool.
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 07 June 2010 14:51
This is the language of power – unfiltered, unadorned, dispassionate, professional – discussing how best to inflict tortures on helpless captives without causing "long-term" damage that might be visible later:
But as we understand the experience involving the combination of various techniques, the OMS medical and psychological personnel have not observed any such increase in susceptibility. Other than the waterboard, the specific techniques under consideration in this memorandum— including sleep deprivation—have been applied to more than 25 detainees.… No apparent increase in susceptibility to severe pain has been observed either when techniques are used sequentially or when they are used simultaneously—for example, when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing. Nor does experience show that, even apart from changes in susceptibility to pain, combinations of these techniques cause the techniques to operate differently so as to cause severe pain. OMS doctors and psychologists, moreover, confirm that they expect that the techniques, when combined… would not operate in a different manner from the way they do individually, so as to cause severe pain.
This is taken from a memo written in 2005 by Justice Department lawyer Steven Bradbury to a legal officer at the CIA. It comes from a new report from Physicians for Human Rights, outlining the mass of evidence that the Bush Administration used its Terror War captives for medical experiments. Mother Jones has the story:
The watchdog group claims that in an attempt to establish that brutal interrogation tactics did not constitute torture, the administration ended up effectively experimenting on terrorism detainees. This research, PHR alleges, violated an array of regulations and treaties, including international guidelines on human testing put in place after the Holocaust.
According to the report, which draws on numerous declassified government documents, "medical professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA" frequently monitored detainee interrogations, gathering data on the effectiveness of various interrogation techniques and the pain threshholds of detainees. This information was then used to "enhance" future interrogations, PHR contends.
...Physicians for Human Rights makes the case that since human subject research is defined as the "systematic collection of data and/or identifiable personal information for the purpose of drawing generalizable inferences," what the Bush administration was doing amounted to human experimentation:
...Ironically, one goal of the "experimentation" seems to have been to immunize Bush administration officials and CIA interrogators from potential prosecution for torture. ... In a memo drafted on March 14, 2003, John Yoo, a primary author of the torture memos, defined that boundary [that could trigger prosecution] as treatment leading to "long-term" mental harm or pain and suffering equal to or greater than that caused by organ failure or death. So one purpose of the medical monitoring project was to insure that the techniques interrogators were using did not breach that bright line.
One document cited in the PHR report highlights this practice especially well. On May 10, 2005, then-OLC head Steven Bradbury wrote to then-CIA acting general counsel John Rizzo about the legality of using multiple interrogation techniques simultaneously, as opposed to one by one. Referring directly to data gathered by the CIA's Office of Medical Services, Bradbury decided that both methods were okay.
Sure, why not? So if you tie someone up in a "stress position," force them to their knees and slap them around while dousing them with cold water, it's not torture. Especially if you have some modern Mengeles there with you, monitoring and measuring the degree of despair so they can use the data to "enhance" future interrogations.
And as always, the perpetrators of this system were well aware they were breaking the United States' clear and ironclad laws prohibiting torture. That's why they went to Congress to get some additional cover – with an extraordinary legal provision that essentially authorizes medical experiments on captives:
There is some evidence to suggest that someone in the Bush administration may have realized they could be vulnerable to charges of illegal experimentation. The Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress in 2006, amended the 1996 War Crimes Act, a law that imposes criminal penalties for "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. Specifically, the language on illegal "biological experiments" was weakened. The new law no longer requires that an experiment be carried out in the interest of the subject in order to be legal. (Research on how to make torture more effective is clearly not in the interest of the person who is going to be tortured.) In addition, it allows experiments that do not "endanger" the subject—rather than simply prohibiting all experiments that "are not justified by the medical, dental, or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest," as the previous version did.
The infamous Military Commissions Act was one of the more heinous legislative actions in last 25 years or more. When it passed, with the help of a dozen Democrats, one senator rose to make an impassioned protest against the measure. He railed against the draconian nature of the bill, which he said eliminated the ancient right of habeas corpus. He denounced the bill for "allowing this President - or any President - to decide what does and does not constitute torture." He lamented "the innocent people we may have accidentally rounded up and mistaken for terrorists - people who may stay in prison for the rest of their lives." He pointed to "a report authored by sixteen of our own government's intelligence agencies, a previous draft of which described, and I quote, "...actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay..." He summed up with a damning appraisal: "This is NOT how a serious Administration would approach the problem of terrorism."
Yes, as you've already guessed, that passionate dissenter was Senator Barack Obama. Yet you will notice that the Military Commissions Act is still in force; it received a few cosmetic changes in 2009, but it remains essentially intact, including the authoritarian powers of the president decried by the senator. Multitudes of captives remain locked up in the ever-swelling American gulag, which, although it has shifted its focus to Afghanistan, continues to include the still-unclosed, jihadi-stoking prison at Guantanamo Bay. The indefinite detention of prisoners has been eagerly championed by the senator turned president, who is seeking to entrench the practice deeply into American law. And once the young denouncer of the Bush approach to terrorism took power for himself, he quickly embraced that same approach almost in its entirety, defending its most egregious depredations – indefinite detention, illegal wiretapping, etc. – against all legal challenges, and even making personal assurances that no one from the previous administration would ever be prosecuted for instituting a vast apparatus of torture.
Indeed, aside from waterboarding – which had already been abandoned by the Bush Administration – it is unclear if any of the Bush torture techniques have been discontinued. As Andy Worthington notes, for example:
For eight and a half years, the US prison at Bagram airbase has been the site of a disturbing number of experiments in detention and interrogation, where murders have taken place, the Geneva Conventions have been shredded and the encroachment of the US courts — unlike at Guantánamo — has been thoroughly resisted.
In the last few months, there have been a few improvements — hearings, releases, even the promise of imminent trials — but behind this veneer of respectability, the US government’s unilateral reworking of the Geneva Conventions continues unabated, and evidence has recently surfaced of a secret prison within Bagram, where a torture program that could have been lifted straight from the Bush administration’s rule book is still underway.
And as Jason Leopold notes – in an excellent story which gives extensive background and context for the PHR report – the use of captives as guinea pigs for "enhancing interrogation techniques" is still going on under Obama:
Meanwhile, Obama's presence in the White House has not resulted in an abandonment of the research side of the interrogation program. Last March, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who recently resigned, disclosed that the Obama administration's High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), planned on conducting "scientific research" to determine "if there are better way to get information from people that are consistent with our values."
"It is going to do scientific research on that long-neglected area," Blair said during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He did not provide additional details as to what the "scientific research" entailed.
This would be the same Dennis Blair who also announced Obama's embrace – and entrenchment – of the universal murder principle claimed by Bush, whereby the American president can kill any person on earth by the simple expedient of dubbing his victim a "terrorist" or even a "suspected terrorist." As Leopold notes, Blair has now been ash-canned – apparently for insufficient sycophancy, or perhaps he was simply ousted in one of the grim power struggles that forever rage among the factions at the imperial court.
His replacement is yet another dim apparatchik from the bowels of the military-security complex, ex-general, ex-spy-eye-in-the-sky guy James Clapper. This "intelligence expert's" chief claim to fame is his earnest insistence that Saddam Hussein had transferred his bristling arsenal of non-existent weapons of mass destruction to Syria right before the American war of aggression in 2003 – a fairy story long touted by the defenders of that mass slaughter, even after Bush's own investigators confirmed the truth of what the Anglo-American intelligence agencies had known for many years (because Saddam's own son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, head of the WMD programs, had told them back in 1995): that Iraq's WMD programs had been dismantled just after the Gulf War – 12 years before the 2003 attack. Still, Clapper persisted in his propagation of this myth, as the Washington Times reports.
Of course, the Times, being the Times – the creation of a maniacal Korean arms peddler who pretends to be divine -- also says that the Syria-WMD story still "remains a matter of dispute." Well, yes it does – to the same degree that the spheroidicity of the earth remains "a matter of dispute" for handful of cranks. In any case, a crank of this order will shortly be guiding the nation's intelligence apparatus, thanks to the abiding progressive wisdom of the president.
And so on and on it goes. The horrors of the past keep belching up from the sulfurous deeps, only to be subsumed in the noxious "continuity" that engulfs the present.