Posts Tagged ‘Torture’

This is my deal-breaker. What’s yours?

March 1, 2016

torturediagram-300x222I think that torture is the ultimate evil.  To kill someone is to make something happen that was going to happen anyway sometime.  To torture someone is to try to destroy the mind and soul while leaving the body alive.

That is why I will not vote for any political candidate who advocates torture, no matter how bad the alternative candidate might be.

That is my deal-breaker.  What’s yours?


Torture victim released after 13 years

November 2, 2015
Shaker Aamer: Free at last (BBC)

Shaker Aamer:
Free at last (BBC)

In December, 2001, members of the Northern Alliance, the U.S.-backed anti-Taliban force in Afghanistan, picked up a man named Shaker Aamer and turned him over to the U.S. military, presumably receiving the bounty being offered for Taliban supporters.

It soon became apparent that Aamer did not have any useful information and that there was no reason to hold him.  Yet he sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he was kept for more than 13 years. He was never charged with anything, and cleared for release by military authorities eight years ago.  He was freed on Saturday.

Here are some things that were done to him, as outlined in a psychiatric report.

  • “Welcoming Parties” and “Goodbye Parties” as Aamer was transferred among U.S. facilities. Soldiers at these “parties” were encouraged and allowed to beat and kick detainees as their proclivities and desires dictated.   Here’s a video of what a beating under the eyes of American soldiers looks like.
  • Aamer was made to stand for days, not allowed to sleep for days, not allowed to use the toilet and made to shit and piss on himself for days, not fed or fed minimally for days, doused with freezing water for days, over and over again.  For 13 years.
  • Aamer was denied medical care as his interrogators controlled his access to doctors and made care for the wounds they inflicted dependent on Aamer’s ongoing compliance and repeated “confessions.”
  • Aamer was often kept naked, and his faith exploited to humiliate him in culturally-specific ways. He witnessed a 17-year-old captive of America sodomized with a rifle, and was threatened with the same.
  • At times the brutality took place for its own sake, disconnected from interrogations.  At times it was the centerpiece of interrogation.
  • The torture of Aamer continued at Gitmo, for as an occasional hunger striker he was brutally force-fed.

Via Peter Van Buren

Reading about Aamer’s ordeal is like reading Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave.  It is an example of the unbridled cruelty of certain types of people when they are freed from restraint and accountability.

I don’t know what Aamer, a British citizen of Saudi Arabian heritage, was going in Afghanistan at that time.  I don’t care.   No human being deserves to be treated like this.  Killing ends a human life, which someday was going to end anyway.  Torture destroys the human personality and spirit.  It is the ultimate evil.

Enemy combatants are either enemy soldiers, in which case they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, or they are criminal terrorists, in which case they should be put on trial in an American or international court.

If they have useful information, professional interrogators have ways of inducing them to talk that do not involve Gestapo or KGB methods.  What was done to Aamer was done to induce a confession and to gratify the perverted desires of sadists.


My fight for justice at Guantanamo by Shaker Aamer for The Guardian (2010)

Shaker Aamer on Wikipedia.

Shaker Aamer reunited with his children as he is released from Guantanamo Bay by Nick Craven and David Rose for the Daily Mail

For 13 Years: Torture of the Human Being Shaker Aamer by the United States by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Shaker Aamer will need years of therapy after release from Guantanamo by Jamie Doward for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

Psychiatric evaluation of Shaker Aamer by Emily A. Karem, M.D. (2014)

The U.S. Senate votes against torture

June 20, 2015

Torture is the ultimate crime against humanity.  It aims at the destruction not just of human life or the human body, but of the human spirit.

So it’s a good thing that the U.S. Senate last Tuesday voted, 78-21, to ban torture by the U.S. government, codifying into law an executive order by President Obama.  As The Guardian explained:

Should the McCain-Feinstein amendment be made law … it will be harder for future administrations to repeat the actions of the Bush administration, which used controversial legal opinions to justify torturing detainees.

Sadly, that’s the most that can be hoped.  A law against torture will not guarantee that the government will not use torture, but it will make it harder to do so.  If law were enough, the Constitution of the United States and international treaties would have been enough to prevent the George W. Bush administration from engaging in torture in the first place.

tortureimageAll 21 Senators who voted in favor of retaining the power to torture were Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Whip John Comyn of Texas and Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, one of the Republican presidential candidates.

However, the bill was co-sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, along with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.  To their credit, two other Republican presidential candidates, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and (to my surprise) Senator Ted Cruz of Texas voted in favor.

On the campaign trail, ex-Gov. Jeb Bush said “enhanced interrogation techniques” were necessary during his brother’s administration, but are no longer needed now—leaving open the possibility that torture may be needed in the future.

The very worst statement about the bill was made by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, who said he’d have voted against the bill if he hadn’t been campaigning.

The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re not safe.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument ordinary Americans are in serious danger from the likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State—which we’re not.  Let’s also assume for the sake of argument that that the Bush torture program made us safer—which it didn’t.

That still wouldn’t make it right to torture prisoners and suspects.   George Washington and Abraham Lincoln led the United States when it was in real danger, and they didn’t stoop to authorizing torture.

The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re too fearful to care about fundamental human rights and human decency.


Senate passes torture ban despite Republican opposition by Paul Lewis for The Guardian.

Marco Rubio’s Fear-Mongering Slogan by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

The Justification For Torture That No One Wants to Confront

December 17, 2014

Torture did work. It provided support for the lies about Al Qaeda links to Iraq, and a war that claimed more than 100,000 lies.

Mike the Mad Biologist


For those who have followed our reign of torture closely, in 2005, videotapes of torture sessions were destroyed. Most people assume this was done because the tapes were so horrifying, no one wanted them released. In light of last weekend’s Torturers on Parade that blanketed the Pious Sabbath Gasbag TV shows–and how unrepentant those monsters were–we might want to rethink the motivation for destroying the tapes (boldface mine):

The truth is that torture did work, but not the way its defenders claim. It worked to produce justifications for policies the establishment wanted, like the Iraq war. This is actually tacitly acknowledged in the report — or one should say, it’s buried in it. Footnote 857 of the report is about Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion and was interrogated by the FBI. He told them all he knew, but then the CIA…

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We probably don’t know the worst about torture

December 11, 2014


Via The Real News Network

Every time something has come out about torture by Americans, starting with the original Abu Ghraib reports, it has been worse than I thought it was, and I have felt I did not know the whole story.

guardian.senatetorturereportThat’s how I feel about the Senate torture report.  It gives official confirmation to a lot of things that have been reported, but some of the details are worse than I would have imagined.

I don’t have anything important to say about torture that I haven’t said before and I can’t imagine that making another post on my web log is going to make much difference in the total scheme of things.

I post partly out of a sense of honor.  I don’t want people in the future to be able to say that no American in this era spoke out against crimes against humanity.  I realize this is a pretentious thing to say.

I don’t believe I am a dangerous enough truth-teller to draw the wrath of the U.S. government, and reading and writing about torture will not, in themselves, change anything.  But it is better than not doing or saying anything.

We Americans must not let ourselves accept torture as the new normal.  If we do, the torturers will have won.


The Ethics of Torture 101 by Ian Welsh.  The moral issue defined.

10 Craziest Things in the Senate Report on Torture by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Torture report highlights consequences of permanent war by Andrew Bacevich for the Boston Globe.

The American people have a right – indeed a responsibility – to know what was done in their name by Senator John McCain on the Senate floor.   I disagree with Senator McCain about a lot of things, but he knows from personal experience what torture is.

Torture and the Myth of ‘Never Again’: the Persecution of John Kiriakou by Peter Van Buren.  President Obama is doing more to deter truth-tellers than torturers.

Thoughts about the Senate torture report

December 10, 2014

Cowardice is the mother of cruelty.
        ==Essays of Montaigne

When I was younger, I liked to watch action movies about World War Two.  The heroes would fall into the hands of a Nazi officer who would say in a thick accent, “Ve have vays of making you talk.”

Years from now action movies will be made in which the villainous torturer will be an American.

CIACROP-480x270I have always understood that the United States has a history of vigilantism, lynching and lawless violence, but I never thought, until 10 or 12 years ago, that Americans were capable of the cold cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition or the Soviet and fascist dictators.

Torture is the ultimate crime against human dignity.  It is worse than the taking of human life, because it is aimed at killing the human mind and spirit while keeping the body alive.

The Founders of the United States understood this well.  That is why the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that no one can be “compelled” to testify against themselves and the Eighth Amendment forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.”

I remember conversations 10 years back with friends of mine who call themselves liberals.  What if there were an atomic bomb under Manhattan Island attached to a timing device to blow it up, and what if I had the person who knew about the bomb in custody?  Wouldn’t I torture the person?

I would rather live under some small risk, or even a great risk, than live in a country that institutionalized torture, like some European dictatorship in the 1930s.   I would be ashamed to be part of the generation of Americans that gave up the Constitution out of fear.


“We tortured some folks”

August 15, 2014

tmw2014-08-13colorlargeFor more, click on War Crimes: Is Obama Looking for a Bailout? by Jeff Bachman for TruthDig.   Hat tips for the link and the cartoon to Bill Harvey.


The passing scene: Links & comments 6/18/14

June 18, 2014

A Tale of Torture and Forgiveness by Ariel Dorfman for TomDispatch.

The Chilean-American write Ariel Dorfman described how a British officer was tortured by the Japanese during World War Two, how the officer tracked down his torturer and what happened next.  Anyone who thinks that torture is morally acceptable ought to read this article.

Timothy Geithner Reveals Himself in His New Book by Noam Scheiber for the New Republic.

Does he pass the test? by Paul Krugman for the New York Review of Books.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote in his new memoir that bailing out the banks saved the USA from another Great Depression.  Maybe so and maybe not, but his policy of protecting the banks from prosecution, restructuring or strict regulation has created the conditions for a new and worse financial crash.

What the Theory of “Disputive Innovation”  Gets Wrong by Jill Lepore for The New Yorker.

I think this article is based on a misunderstanding.   Clayton Christensen was not trying to tell business executives how to become disruptive innovators, but warning of the danger of neglecting basic skills and products and of being blindsided by competitors who gain a foothold in the low end of the market.

Millions fear torture by their own governments

May 20, 2014

Torture is the ultimate crime against human dignity.

Torture is worse than murder.  To take a human life is a serious thing, but every human being is fated to die of something, sooner or later.  A torturer’s goal is to destroy the human spirit, while allowing the mutilated mind and body to survive.

tortureimageI was horrified, but not really surprised, to read that more than four in 10 people around the world fear being tortured by their own governments, a survey by Amnesty International indicates.

The survey covered 21,221 people in 21 countries, and indicated that (1) 44 percent fear being tortured by their own governments and (2) 82 percent want international rules against torture, but (3) 32 percent think torture can be justified in some circumstances — which indicates there are some who want rules but believe there can be exceptions to the rules.

The fear of torture was greatest in Brazil (80%), Mexico (64%), Turkey (58%), Kenya (58%), Greece (57%), Indonesia (54%), South Korea (54%) and Peru (54%).  But I found these figures less shocking than the finding that 32 percent of Americans fear torture by their government.  Even in the United Kingdom, 15 percent fear governmental torture.

The desire for rules against torture was strongest in South Korea and Greece (87%) and weakest in Peru (a still strong 71%).  The desire was slightly below average in the USA (77%).

The belief that torture is sometimes justified was strongest in China and India (74%) and weakest in Greece (12%).  Some 45 percent of Americans though torture is sometimes justified.

Is the fear of torture in the United States a new thing?  Or did it always exist among black people, poor people and other marginal people, without me, as a college-educated white person, being aware?


Torture, warfare and obedience

February 20, 2013

The blogger known as B Psycho made a good observation the other day about torture, warfare and obedience.  He wrote that although we’re told torture and assassination are needed because we’re in imminent peril from terrorists, the direction of causation is the reverse.   It is because of the torture and assassination that we need to believe in the peril.   The more complicit we are, the more faith we need to have in authority.

B Psycho’s post was prompted by a blogger known as CK MacLeod, who argued that there is no bright-line distinction between a torturer and a warrior.  He said that both obey orders to inflict harm on people in order to defend their communities and loved ones.  B Psycho responded:

ABU GHRAIB PRISONCK suggests that deep down the real object of torture is breaking the torturer.  … … The prisoner is a prop in the submission of self to The Cause, adding yet another layer of sickness to what was already a disgusting demonstration of what government authority does to people.  Reminds me of how 1984 ended — the book, not the year.

…  We’re already part of a greater whole, one that doesn’t ask us to destroy each other.  That isn’t the only place where the formulation in the mind of this hypothetical soldier rings false though, far from it:

No war is ever, ever has been, or ever will be fought purely for family, community and country.  No warrior is ever, ever has been, or ever will be given orders by family, community, or country.

via Psychopolitik.

I just finished reading A.J.P. Taylor’s history of the First World War, a war which nobody wanted, nobody won (except in the sense of avoiding defeat), and nobody would have begun if they had known the mass killing that was in store.  But once the mass killing had  begun, the purpose of the war had to be defined in a way that justified the mass killing.  It became a war of good versus evil, a war in which no compromise was possible, precisely because it was so pointless to begin with.

During the 1950s, French officers decided that the only way to pacify Algeria was to torture suspected insurgents and get them to name other insurgents.  While many or even most of the victims might be innocent, the real insurgents would be caught up in the sweep.  Use of torture began as a repugnant necessity, became accepted as a routine and, for some, even became pleasurable.  When the French government began to negotiate with the rebels, a portion of the French officer corps rebelled, not out of patriotism but because an independent Algeria robbed them of justification for their crimes.

A warrior (or anybody else) who is governed by an internal code of honor has something that nobody can take from him.   General Robert E. Lee [1] was defeated despite using every honorable means to win, but his self-respect was intact.   If your self-respect is instead based on pleasing authorities, or acceptance by peers, or even accomplishing a mission, you are not in a position to question authorities, the collective or the mission’s objective, and your self-respect is something that other people have the power to take away from you.


Torture is becoming normalized

December 17, 2012

Al Jazeera English discusses how Americans have come to regard torture not as a crime, but as an option about which reasonable people can differ.  Not so the European Court of Justice, which is trying to bring torturers to justice.

Lately I’ve been reading histories of World War Two, when we Americans regarded ourselves as fighters for liberty.  Now many people in democratic nations are coming to regard us as the enemies of liberty.  What will we do when they are no longer intimidated by our power?

An interview with Tunisia’s new leader

May 2, 2012

Moncef Marzouki, a Tunisian human rights activist who was imprisoned and exiled, is now the head of the Tunisian government.  This video shows him being interviewed by Julian Assange about torture, double standards and the responsibilities of power.

Julian Assange’s new The World Tomorrow program appears on the RT (Russia Today) network each Tuesday, and is generally available on YouTube the following Wednesday.  This is the third show in the series.

The pro-torture generation

April 15, 2011

A new study by the American Red Cross obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast found that a surprising majority—almost 60 percent—of American teenagers thought things like water-boarding or sleep deprivation are sometimes acceptable. More than half also approved of killing captured enemies in cases where the enemy had killed Americans. When asked about the reverse, 41 percent thought it was permissible for American troops to be tortured overseas. In all cases, young people showed themselves to be significantly more in favor of torture than older adults.

via The Daily Beast.

When I was a teenager, I saw a lot of war movies with Nazi and Japanese villains – the Gestapo chief boasting that “ve haf vays to make you talk,” the prison camp commandant sneering at the Geneva convention.  Their willingness to torture and abuse captives defined them as evil.  Later I was horrified by reports of Soviet and Chinese Communist brainwashing – the systematic attempt to break a human being mentally and morally, and turn the person into a puppet.  This, I thought, was the bright line between freedom and totalitarianism.  Whatever the faults of British and American democracy, I thought, there were things that our side would never so, and this was one.

It is true that in that time of my life, I was blind, perhaps willfully blind, to what went on in American prisons, and to the complicity of secret U.S. military and intelligence agencies with foreign dictatorships that practiced torture.  But there are worse things than hypocrisy.  A hypocrite at least acknowledges there are norms of human behavior, even if you don’t practice it yourself.

Fast forward to today’s generation.  A Red Cross survey says that nearly 60 percent of American teenagers think of torture as normal.  This is not necessarily racism, nor chauvinism, nor a double standard.  More than two-thirds of those who accept torture as normal think it is permissible when applied to Americans.  If we have a right to do it to them, they have a right to do it to us.  Fair is fair.

Why should this be surprising?  President George W. Bush boasts of having authorized torture.  President Barack Obama says torture was not illegal, and refuses to allow the Red Cross access to certain detention facilities abroad.  TV shows such as “24” and thriller writers such as Vince Flynn depict torture as a heroic act, and moral scruples as a form of cowardice.

But if you don’t think torture is absolutely wrong – is there anything you would think of as wrong?


Bradley Manning’s “no touch” torture

December 26, 2010

The movie “X2: X-Men United” begins with the super-villain Magneto in solitary imprisonment in a clear plastic cell suspended in mid-air.  His captors hope, in vain, that his conditions of captivity will prevent him from using super-powers to escape.

Bradley Manning out of uniform

Pfc. Bradley Manning, awaiting trial on charges of disclosing thousands of confidential diplomatic files to Wikileaks, has no super-powers.  Yet he is confined under these conditions.

At Quantico, Manning was placed in solitary confinement under “maximum custody” and a restrictive “Prevention of Injury” order while he awaits trial.

Those restrictions include:

* Detained in his cell for 23 hours a day

* Guards must check on Manning every 5 minutes, and he must reply

* Not allowed to have a pillow or a blanket.

* Not allowed to sleep between 5am and 8pm, with heavy restrictions when he is allowed to sleep.

* Not allowed any substantive exercise.

* No communication allowed beyond a limited list approved by the brig commander. All other letters must be destroyed.

* Not allowed to watch national news.


What’s so terrible about that?  It is not as if his tongue is being cut out, as happened to some Iraqis who spoke disrespectfully of Saddam Hussein or his sons.  No, his body will not be mutilated, but he is being tortured nevertheless.

The U.S. State Department in its human rights reports on other countries describes solitary confinement as a form of torture.  An article in The New Yorker magazine last year told how prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons destroys prisoners mentally; they either become passive, child-like and obedient, or uncontrollably violent.  John McCain once said that when he was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, solitary confinement was worse than physical abuse – which, given the physical abuse he suffered, is an extremely powerful statement.

Experiments with mice, rats and monkeys show that animals deprived of physical contact with other living things become incapable of functioning.  Memoirs of American servicemen imprisoned by the North Vietnamese and of Soviet prisoners in the Gulag tell of tapping on the walls of their cells to make contact with other human beings, and of how this human contact enable them to survive mentally.

These ex-prisoners of the Communists tell of how they maintained their sanity through physical and mental exercise – working mathematical problems, recalling and mentally reciting poetry and Bible verses, playing old movies in their minds, prayer and meditation, mental baseball, anything that would give the mind a focus.

Manning is systematically prevented from doing this.  He is forbidden to do push-ups or knee-bends; his only permitted exercise is walking (but not jogging) aimlessly in an empty room for one hour a day.  Every five minutes, his captors interrupt any chain of thought he may have by asking him if he is okay and demanding he reply.  The lights are on in his cell 24 hours a day, so that day or night are the same – except that he is allowed to sleep only between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., in boxer shorts on a bed with no sheets, and subject to being waked up whenever his guards can’t see his face.

This is being done to someone who has not been convicted of anything, and who, by all accounts, has been a model prisoner.  Why?  I can think of three possible explanations, not mutually exclusive.

(1) Pure spite and sadistic cruelty.

(2) To instill fear in others who might be tempted to follow his example.  What Manning is going through is more terrifying than any punishment prescribed by law.

(3) To induce Manning to testify, truly or falsely, against Julian Assange of Wikileaks.  The U.S. government is in the embarrassing position of having declared Assange its Public Enemy No. One without first figuring out what, if any law, he has broken.  Attorney-General Eric Holder is said to be thinking of charging Assange with “conspiracy,” which is the crime of helping somebody else plan or commit a crime.  I don’t see how he could do that without showing that Assange and Manning had some kind of personal contact.  Assange denies this, but maybe Manning can be induced to say otherwise.

The U.S. government need not come up with evidence sufficient to convict Assange in court, only evidence sufficient to take him into custody.  The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has claimed the authority to hold people indefinitely and put them on trial only when and if a guilty verdict is certain. Bradley Manning’s treatment is a only a taste of what Julian Assange would suffer if he fell into the hands of U.S. security agencies.


The crime of torture is bipartisan

November 12, 2010

When George W. Bush was in office, he denied that the United States government engaged in torture.  Under his administration, eleven National Guard soldiers were court-martialed, convicted, sent to military prison and dishonorably discharged for engaging in torture.

Now, in his memoir, President Bush says his administration did torture – or at least do things that are defined as torture when foreign governments do it – and he is proud of it.  He said it was legal because one of his legal advisers told him it was legal.

My guess is that Lynndie England and Charles Graner, who are still serving time for acts of torture, thought that what they were doing was legal.  If that is an excuse, shouldn’t they go free?

President Barack Obama denies that the United States government engages in torture any more.  But he refuses to permit an investigation of the Bush administration’s crimes, or to permit independent human rights organizations to inspect secret prisons such as the one outside Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

I wonder what he will say about torture in his memoirs.


Did the Soviet Union win the Cold War?

June 30, 2010

One of the things I once worried about, along with overpopulation, the persistence of racism and the threat of nuclear war, was whether the United States could successfully win the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union.

I never doubted the superiority of the United States as a free and democratic nation over the Soviet Union in its ability to provide a good life for its people.  But I doubted was whether a free and democratic nation had the staying power to withstand a totalitarian dictatorship’s unrelenting military and diplomatic pressure. We might be too concerned about our material comfort to wage what President Kennedy called the long twilight struggle.

My fears about this, as with the other things I mentioned, did not come true.  U.S. administrations through Reagan, despite missteps and mistakes, remained steadfast to the policy laid down by the Truman administration, to resist Soviet and Communist expansion by means short of general war. They were vindicated when the Soviet Union collapsed due to the unworkability of its political and economic system.

Now I see our situation as the exact opposite of what I thought it was back then. Rather than devote ourselves to peace and prosperity, we as a nation seek world power at the expense of peace and prosperity.  It is as if we are so used to having a global enemy to struggle against that we can’t get along without one.

The United States has continued to maintain as huge a military, diplomatic and covert intelligence establishment as if we faced an enemy capable of threatening our existence.  Rather than sacrificing our military power to our quality of life, we sacrifice our quality of life to military power.

We have come to accept as normal the practices which one defined the differences between ourselves and our totalitarian enemies – torture, government assassinations, arrests without charges or trials. Being opposed to torture is actually a controversial position.

We use Orwellian lingo – “coercive interrogation,” “preventive detention,” “preventive war,” “Homeland Security” – and these practices continue to grow under Presidents as outwardly different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  We fool ourselves into thinking that what can be done to people with dark skins, foreign accents and funny names can’t be done to anybody.

So maybe the United States didn’t really win the Cold War.  We defeated the Soviet Union politically and economically, but maybe they defeated us morally and spiritually.