Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Torture Watch 4/8/09

What precisely was done, by whom, to whom? Who ordered it? Who knew? And what will be done about it?

We previously covered Mark Danner and his important article in the New York Review of Books on the Red Cross Report on Torture. He has a new piece, "The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means," and the site allows readers to read or download a PDF on the original report.

Dan Froomkin has a good roundup of reactions in "How Many Others Were Tortured?" (An earlier post, "Bush's Torture Rationale Debunked," is good wrap-up of issues Froomkin has written on before, and we've covered here.) The Washington Post commented on the report in "Report Calls CIA Detainee Treatment 'Inhuman'" and The New York Times did in "Report Outlines Medical Workers’ Role in Torture."

In The Daily Beast, Scott Horton asks, "Are Republicans Blackmailing Obama?" Given that they made similar comments before Eric Holder's confirmation, my bet is yes. The dynamic reminds me of the U.S. Attorney scandal, in that public officials were improperly pressing the Attorneys' offices for information about then-current cases. In this instance, apparently Republicans are going several steps further morally, even if they're probably in the clear legally – demanding that the Justice Department under Obama make a specific decision on cases they've yet to investigate fully. Horton's piece is a good start, but this affair would benefit from more whistleblowing on Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and other Republicans. There's little doubt that Cornyn knows the Bush administration committed war crimes, and he's doing everything in his power to ensure the truth doesn't get out and they never face justice.

The problem isn't just the Republicans, however. John Sifton writes for The Daily Beast today, "Is Leon Panetta Covering Up Torture?" Glenn Greenwald has written several posts on Obama administration efforts to stall or cover up the truth, including their assertions of unaccountable power, similar or in some cases even exceeding claims made by the Bush administration. See "There are no excuses for ongoing concealment of torture memos," "New and worse secrecy and immunity claims from the Obama DOJ" and "Obama, the ICRC Report and ongoing suppression" (QuestionGirl covered some of this earlier). Today, Greenwald posted two segments from Countdown on these issues, featuring the reliable Jonathan Turley:

Scott Horton continues to cover human rights issues diligently at his blog, No Comment. "In Brennan, Cheney has a Friend" builds on the issue of Cheney "stay-behinds" and those with similar interests covered earlier by Seymour Hersh. There's also “Investigate and Punish the Perpetrators,” "Torture Doctors," "Lock ‘Em Up,""Obama’s National Security State," "Presidential Accountability" and "Left Behind."

Nell makes an important point at A Lovely Promise and A Tiny Revolution about how torture is not about "intelligence gathering":

But torture does something else altogether, and is designed to do so: it extracts false confessions. These confessions, along with the agony of the torture itself, serve the goals of limitless, lawless "war": to humiliate and break opponents, to divide them from supporters, to terrify those not actively in opposition into staying inactive, and, most importantly, to justify the operations of the dirty war within which torture takes place: commando raids, assassinations, spying, kidnaping, secret and/or indefinite (and unreviewable) detention, and further torture.

The mistaken assumption that those in the previous administration who set the torture policy were motivated solely by an urgent need for information has several other bad effects…

Check it out. There's at least one comment in the ATR thread that's well worth reading.

You may have caught Colin Powell on the Rachel Maddow show. Dan Froomkin and Scott Horton comment, but I'd especially check out DDay's post on Colin Powell and the My Lai massacre (it was new to me). (Digby has a followup.)

In a despicable move, the "Privilege Review Team" at the Justice Department has threatened British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and a colleague with possible six month jail sentences for writing a letter to President Obama detailing the abuses inflicted on their client, Binyam Mohamed. This one gets uglier the more one learns. Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald both spoke with Smith, but the audio is poor in both cases (Greenwald will be providing a transcript).

Then there's "Seton Hall Law Students Reveal That Generals Knew Guantanamo Detainees Were Tortured," which comes via Digby, who comments. Let's add in "The Bush Six" by Jane Mayer, "Release the Torture Memos" by Hilzoy, and from Hullabaloo, "That Mighty Liberal Blog Power Made Manifest" by DDay and "Blackmail" by Digby.

Jason Linkins noticed back in late March that the "Washington Post Finally Describes Waterboarding As Torture (When Someone Else Does It)."

When dealing with movement conservatives, the ignorance-to-evil ratio often becomes a question, even if it's a bit moot. In "From The Pro-Torture Cocoon," anti-torture conservative Andrew Sullivan looks at the torture apologia of happy wingnut John Hindraker. (For added irony, read the whole Hindraker post to see him call Obama ignorant.)

Meanwhile, I'm really looking forward to getting a hold of a copy of Christopher Durang's dark comedy, Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them. I've directed a couple of Durang's plays, and NYT reviewer Ben Brantley gushes over the premiere production: "But Mr. Durang, bless his heart, believes that no other art form can offer the communal catharsis — and consolation — that theater does, a point he makes quite directly (between bouts of violence) in "Torture."" While we push for truth and justice, the arts come to the rescue once again.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, Suzanne Ito of the ACLU has a post at Crooks and Liars about the Office of Legal Counsel torture memos and links an ACLU petition for Attorney General Eric Holder to assign an independent prosecutor.

It's shameful that most of what we know comes from ACLU efforts and a handful of reporters, activists and lawyers. Most Beltway pundits are trying to prevent the truth coming out, and certainly want to prevent prosecution. While Obama is much brighter and more competent than Bush, he's currently skewing far too closely to the Bush method of doing things, from coddling arrogant, corrupt and incompetent oligarchs on Wall Street, to borrowing too much of Bush's foreign policy, to invoking state secrets and claiming the government is not reviewable or accountable, to hiding and protecting horrible abuses of the past. The political realities are tough for effecting lasting, positive change in many areas, given the entrenched, powerful interests opposing that on Wall Street, on health care, on defense spending, and in the intelligence community. But there's no excuse for hiding the misdeeds of the Bush administration or repeating them. Civil rights don't defend themselves, and justice won't magically happen. There are members of the Obama administration who want to do the right thing, but public pressure is essential. The Obama administration needs to be pressed to investigate, disclose and prosecute where appropriate the human rights abuses that form one of the most shameful chapters in our recent history.

(Cross-posted at Blue Herald)

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