Thursday, October 11, 2007

Torture, Blackwater, etc.

The U.S. tortures prisoners in violation of international law, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday, adding that President Bush makes up his own definition of torture.
"Our country for the first time in my life time has abandoned the basic principle of human rights," Carter said on CNN. "We've said that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo, and we've said we can torture prisoners and deprive them of an accusation of a crime."

The above is from AP's "Jimmy Carter: U.S. Tortures Prisoners" and something to pair with "Torture Endorsed, Torture Denied" (Truthout) by Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild:

The April 2004 publication of grotesque photographs of naked Iraqis piled on top of each other, forced to masturbate, and led around on leashes like dogs, sent shock waves around the world. George W. Bush declared, "I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated." Yet less than a year later, his Justice Department issued a secret opinion endorsing the harshest techniques the CIA has ever used, according to a report in the New York Times. These include head slapping, frigid temperatures, and water boarding, in which the subject is made to feel he is drowning. Water boarding is widely considered a torture technique. Once again, Bush is compelled to issue a denial. "This government does not torture people," he insisted.
This was not the first time the Bush administration had officially endorsed torture, however. John Yoo, writing for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, penned an August 2002 memorandum that rewrote the legal definition of torture to require the equivalent of organ failure. This memo violated the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the United States ratified, and therefore part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
In December 2002, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved interrogation methods that included the use of dogs, hooding, stress positions, isolation for up to 30 days, 20-hour interrogations, deprivation of light and sound, and water boarding. U.S. Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora told William Haynes, the Pentagon's general counsel, that Rumsfeld's "authorized interrogation techniques could rise to the level of torture." As a result, Rumsfeld rescinded some methods but reserved the right to approve others, including water boarding, on a case-by-case basis.
When Bush maintained last week that his government doesn't torture prisoners, he stressed the necessity of interrogation to "protect the American people." Notwithstanding the myth perpetuated by shows like "24," however, torture doesn't work. Experts agree that people who are tortured will say anything to make the torture stop.

Torture has been permitted, has been instructed. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away. AP also offers "U.S. holds 10,000 more detainees in Iraq than last year, commander says:"

Sixty prisoners -- 10 of them youths -- raised their hands Wednesday and swore to live a peaceful life. In return, U.S. authorities set them free. More than 25,000 Iraqis still in American custody haven't been so lucky.
The security crackdown in Baghdad has raised the rolls in U.S.-run detention centers to 10,000 more detainees compared to this time last year, worsening already serious backlogs in the court system.
Several men being released Wednesday interrupted the judge's speech to complain that they had been held for months, even years, without cause.

As they damn well should. But the judge offers the weak statement: "We cannot investigate every single one of you to get to the truth." A judge who says that has no business being a judge and a judicial system that operates that way has no business passing itself off as justice. The US has set up this 'justice' system and it's not justice. If you're missing it, refer to Alissa J. Rubin and Paul von Zielbauer's "The Judgment Gap" (New York Times -- and that's the print headline -- it runs on A1 -- online, the article has a different headline):

However, legal specialists say that the government would probably be reluctant to throw the cases into the Iraqi courts, because there is little confidence that trials would be fair and defendants in those courts have few of the legal protections that are mandatory in the United States.

And yet Iraqis meet that 'justice' repeatedly. These little 'gifts' from the US authorities of releasing prisoners who should have never been imprisoned in the first place and doing the release as a 'gift' harkens back to the Dark Ages. And the contractors? From the article:

Roughly 100,000 American contractors are working in Iraq, but there has yet to be a prosecution for a single incident of violence, according to Scott Horton, a specialist in the law of armed conflict who teaches at Columbia University.

Today Democracy Now! breaks the news today that the Center for Constitutional Rights is filing a lawsuit in the US court system over the September 16th Blackwater USA slaughter of at least 17 Iraqis.

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Added: Kevin notes David Medaris' "Wisconsin Book Festival 2007: Matthew Rothschild speaks" (Isthmus Daily Page):

Matthew Rothschild is the author of You Have No Rights, a collection of stories documenting the post-9/11 abuse of U.S. citizens' civil liberties. He has worked for The Progressive for a quarter century, serving for the last 12 years as the magazine's editor.
The co-founder and director of the Progressive Media Project, Rothschild also hosts the syndicated weekly 30-minute Progressive Radio program, and has appeared on National Public Radio, C-SPAN, Nightline, Hannity & Colmes and The O'Reilly Factor. Rothschild is scheduled to appear at the Wisconsin Book Festival at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at the UW-Madison's Red Gym, in a program that pairs him with the historian and First Amendment advocate Chris Finan, author of From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America.
The Daily Page: Where were you and what were you doing when you conceived the idea for You Have No Rights?
Rothschild: After I'd written about a hundred stories on our website under "McCarthyism Watch," I began to think I ought to put them between hard covers. And two people encouraged me to do so: the great civil libertarian Nat Hentoff, and my wife, Jean.
As you compiled these stories, what emotions or reactions did they provoke in you?
You know, I'm not one of those people who goes from zero to rage in six seconds, so it takes a lot for me to really get indignant. But many of these stories did infuriate me, and some tugged at me hard, especially when I could hear the pain in the voices of the people who had their rights trampled on.
You Have No Rights catalogues a litany of alleged trespasses against the Bill of Rights -- abridgements to individuals' rights to free speech and peaceable assembly, "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" against unreasonable searches and seizures, to due process and so on. By what stretch of the imagination can these cases be reconciled with the oaths of office taken by the U.S. President, members of Congress and the judiciary, FBI agents and many other public officials and law-enforcement officers to preserve, protect, support and/or defend the U.S. Constitution?
The stories I document almost all entail illegal, unconstitutional breaches of people's First and Fourth Amendment rights. What bothers me most is not the ignorant local cop who doesn't know what "disturbing the peace" means but the authoritarian policies that flow from the White House and Congress on down, and the authoritarian mentality that equates protest with criminality, or even worse, protest with terrorism. I also am outraged that the Secret Service now views its role not only to protect the President and Vice President from assassination, but also from dissent!

You Have No Rights: Stories of America In An Age of Repression is the book and Rothschild also praises Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Scahill is a guest on today's Democracy Now!).