Tuesday, December 06, 2005

NYT: "U.S. Interrogations Are Saving European Lives, Rice Says" (Joel Brinkley)

At the same time, she denied that the United States has moved suspects to these prisons to allow interrogators to use torture. "The United States," she said, "does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances." At another point, she said, "The United States does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture."
Intelligence gathered from these interrogations, she said, "has stopped terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives in Europe as well as the United States." But she declined to offer examples or provide any specific information to support her assertions. She said any information related to the prisons was classified. Ms. Rice did not explicitly confirm the existence of the detention centers, first described in news reports early last month. But acknowledgment of them was implicit in her remarks. Without the debate over the covert jails, there would have been no reason for her statement.

The above is from Joel Brinkley's "U.S. Interrogations Are Saving European Lives, Rice Says" in this morning's New York Times. There's a lot to criticize in this article but from the New York Timid, it could be a lot worse.

So let's focus on the positives. Brinkley's not just doing simple stenography. Condi Rice's ludicrous remarks are recorded. But Brinkley provides some context to them (and some reality). In the excerpt above, he notes that "Without the debate over the convert jails, there would have been no reason for her statement."

Further in the article, Brinkley notes that Rice's assertion that the administration is "respecting U.S. law and U.S. treaty obligations. And we are respecting other nations' sovereignty." But he follows that up by noting that this is "a change in position" since they have previously asserted (over and over) "that American law does not apply to prisoners held abroad." Brinkley provides the context that the earlier position was the excuse for holding people in "foreign locations" because the argument, by the administration, was "that American law does not apply to prisoners held abroad."

I'm not trying to sing hoseannas for either the paper or Brinkley, but this is a better article then might be expected. (Compare it to the "Condi So's Classy! And Fashionable!" coverage of her first trip to Europe as Secretary of State. Brinkley provided some of that coverage.) But the article does try to go beyond simple stenography and for the Timid that's something.

Is it enough? Not for me. It's as though the paper's emerging from an accidnet and attempting to relearn how to walk. But considering some of the nonsense that regularly passes as news coverage in the paper, I'll note that this was much more than you might expect from the headline.

Where I fault the article most of all (and remember the Brinkley or "Brinkley" rule -- meaning others may have worked on it as well) is in the scope of the context. We're looking at an international situation but all the context comes via domestic references. (Such as ABC's World News Tonight which gets a mention.)

For instance, Abu Ghraib is mentioned ("the mistreatment of prisoners") but there's no similar assertion re: Guantanamo. Do we need photos broadcast by the mainstream domestic media to acknowledge (however weakly and "mistreatment" is pretty weak) reality?

From Democracy Now!'s "EXCLUSIVE: British Human Rights Lawyer Gareth Peirce Says Torture 'Is the Recipe for the Destruction' of International Human Rights" (February 1, 2005):

GARETH PEIRCE: Oh, he is not charged with anything. He was tortured, and brutalized in wholly unlawful conditions for three years. He was living with his family, not clandestinely, in Pakistan. He was unlawfully captured by Americans with British complicity, and with Pakistani complicity, and taken to Bagram in Afghanistan, where he was held for a year, as he said in the one letter that came out from there without having seen the sun or the moon or the stars for an entire year, and brutalized and degraded and humiliated, and then taken to Guantanamo, where he was the only person we know of- there may be others that we don't know of— but the only person we know of who was in complete isolation for two years. That may be because he witnessed the murder of two detainees in Bagram Air Base. And, perhaps, to keep that deep, dark secret for as long as possible, he was not kept with the others. He was kept in Guantanamo, without any natural light, in a tiny cell area where even exercise was without access to any other detainees. It's astounding to me that he has retained his intellect and his ability to articulate as extraordinarily as he has. He, one has to say, is a person with enormous reserves of strength and spiritual resources.
[. . .]
AMY GOODMAN: How was Moazzam Begg captured? How was he taken or arrested?
GARETH PEIRCE: Because he was living with his wife and children and was seized from the house they were living in, we’ve known about his capture from the first moment. He was taken by men who he describes as thugs–Pakistani and American–taken in a car. We had always thought that he had managed to ring his father from a mobile phone somewhere in the back of the car; but he – he explained to me two days ago, in fact, he was seized. He was placed in a cell, and he found in his pocket then his mobile phone, and his father received a telephone call from him within hours of his capture saying, ‘I don't know who’s taken me. There are American voices. I don't know what's going to happen.’ And no more was heard until the Red Cross telephoned his father from Bagram in Afghanistan saying, ‘We have a Moazzam Begg here.’ But we brought on his behalf legal action in Pakistan, habeas corpus to say, ‘Where is he? Deliver him to the court,’ and every relevant ministry put in an affidavit to say, ‘We have not taken him. We do not have him.’ And yet, there he is in American hands within ten days. It's kidnapping. Utterly unlawful.
AMY GOODMAN: While the government hasn't charged him, they said that he was training at Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan? Is that what they have said?
GARETH PEIRCE: It's what the Pentagon is pumping out as information, no doubt, to attempt to discredit Moazzam Begg. That is not true. He says unequivocally, it's not true. I believe totally what he says. He is the most scrupulously honest, careful person. And at some stage, if anyone has the wit to want to understand what he will say, then there will be a chilling history of American brutality and mendacity, and there will be a complete exoneration of Moazzam Begg.

The article provides context but not enough. The Times has yet to seriously address these issues (outside of a few articles by Raymond Bonner). Brinkley does provide some context today. I'll give credit for that. But maybe Brinkley's just trying to be "a little bit ahead of the curve, but not go out on a limb." (As Norman Solomon noted on KPFA's Against the Grain yesterday.)

As for Rice's remarks themselves, she's putting forward the usual argument (from this administration) of "We can't tell you anything but you will trust us!" The argument this time is that she knows lives have been saved by interrogations (which included torture whether Condi wants to own up to it or not). She can't give us examples which makes her the Tom Ridge of this administration.

But more importantly, it doesn't really matter. If we condone torture and utilize it, we're not "winning" anything. We're degrading ourselves and the higher principles we're supposed to stand for as a country and as a culture. Condi resorts to "If you knew what I know . . ." because she can't deal with the larger issue which is torture is unnacceptable. One wonders how the 'vangical voters see this? I'm sure some of the fundy right can tell themselves that Bully Boy is once again doing God's work. But do they really believe it? On every level?

It degrades us and weakens us when we engage in torture. Condi Rice can try to high step it over to a 'higher ground' all she wants, but there's none to be taken when we torture. We'll probably hear the phrase "war on terror" more as they attempt to couch their behavior on the grounds of a "war." People are conditioned to expect certain acts in war that they wouldn't accept outside of one. But if they play that card (I personally hope they will) it will expose the lie that there is no "war" on terror.

They want to use normal investigative powers and apply torture to them. It's not "war." We are not at war with terror (nor were we at war with poverty or are we at war on drugs). This is your usual criminal investigations. What's changed is that they want to change the rules and they want to excuse gross abuses and violations by cloaking it in "war."

They can use all the inflated rhetoric they want but there is no "war." There are abuses. Hopefully, at some point the New York Times will demonstrate serious and substained interest in that topic.

We'll note Michal Ratner from yesterday's Democracy Now! again:

What it reminds me of, and I think people should really be aware of this, we all see now that Pinochet in Chile is being condemned and may actually have to stand trial for the Operation Condor, the running of essentially a gulag through South America, where he picked up people, had them tortured and killed and taken to various facilities. And you have to ask yourself: What's the difference between what the United States is doing now in cooperation with Europe, essentially in running a worldwide gulag of detention and torture facilities?

Ken e-mails to note Lila Rajiva's "The Torture-Go-Round" (CounterPunch) on this topic:

Dana Priest's recent Washington Post article, "Anatomy of a CIA 'rendition' gone wrong"(1) only confirms what those who have watched the torture scandal closely already know. Abu Ghraib was no anomaly but the most visible tip of a widespread but clandestine policy. Priest reveals details about a case in which the CIA used German, Macedonian, Albanian and Afghan authorities and European air space and terminals to "render" a German citizen snatched up abroad for interrogation and torture, without any material cause.
Here's the case that's now causing a furor in Europe:
Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen resident in Ulm, Germany, went on a trip to Macedonia, was arrested by local authorities on New Year's Eve, 2003 and held for over 3 weeks in a motel. Then, he was handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped by masked men, drugged, diapered and flown to Afghanistan, on the basis of a "hunch" by a counter-terrorist chief in the CIA. The hunch was no more than the fact that Masri's name resembled that of an associate of one of the 9-11 hijackers
Masri was imprisoned for five months by Afghans and possibly Americans and claims he was tortured. A bus driver confirms that Masri was snatched up by border guards on the date he alleges; forensic analysis of his hair shows malnutrition during the time he claims he was imprisoned; flight logs confirm that a CIA front company flew a plane out of Macedonia on the day he says he was abducted.
Back in the US, Masri's passport and story held up and in May 2004, around the time when the Abu Ghraib scandal first burst into public view in America, the White House sent U.S. ambassador in Germany, Daniel R. Coats, on a special mission to German Interior Minister Schily, an ardent Bush supporter, to inform him of the error and tell him to keep the details secret should Masri go public.
Later in May, Masri claims he was visited in prison by a man he says was German, who told him that he was going to be released without documents that might confirm his story because the Americans would never admit to a mistake. He was released, flown out to Albania - Macedonia wouldn't admit him - and dumped onto a narrow country road at dusk. From there he was escorted to the international airport at Tirana by armed men and rejoined his family in Lebanon where they'd gone.
Masri's attorneys say they intend to file a lawsuit in U.S. courts this week. Neither the CIA nor the German ministry which was told about the case, is talking.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.