Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why We Cannot Look to the Future without Confronting the Past

Civilized society; what is it?

According to

civ·i·lized (sv-lzd)

1. Having a highly developed society and culture.
2. Showing evidence of moral and intellectual advancement; humane, ethical, and reasonable.
3. Marked by refinement in taste and manners; cultured; polished.

Wikipedia quotes Albert Schweitzer, “one of the main philosophers on the concept of civilization, from his book, The Philosophy of Civilization, outlining the idea that there are dual opinions within society; one regarding civilization as purely material and another regarding civilization as both ethical and material. He stated that the current world crisis was, then in 1923, due to a humanity having lost the ethical conception of civilization. In this same work, he defined civilization, saying:

“It is the sum total of all progress made by man in every sphere of action and from every point of view in so far as the progress helps towards the spiritual perfecting of individuals as the progress of all progress. “

Also from Wikipedia, comes the etymology of the word, “civil” and the term “civilization":

…the etiology of civilization is Latin or Roman, defined above as the application of justice by "civil" means…
In 1388, the word civil appeared in English meaning "of or related to citizens". In 1704, civilization began to mean "a law which makes a criminal process into a civil case."

So, if a civilized society is one based on laws, regarding both material and ethical concerns, then what holds civilized society together is the mutual agreement of the members of that society to observe those rules. We know that there will always be some that will refuse to follow those rules, or occasionally make a bad choice and run afoul of the law, and so we construct a system of “justice” to attend to those instances. Our system of justice attempts to extract payment or punishment from the law breaker, which is designed to serve the dual purpose of righting the adjudged wrong and standing as a deterrent to others that may consider committing the same wrong.

So, what happens in a “civilized society” if the members of the society begin to randomly decide that they no longer have to follow the rules and the rest of society decides not to punish, prosecute or seek redress of grievance for the wrongs that they are committing? Isn’t this an apt description of the unraveling of that civilized society? Is this not the very definition of decline?

This is why this country cannot afford to look past the crimes of torture, perversion of the Constitution, abuse of power and expansion of Presidential power to the detriment of the legislative branch. Because if we do not respect and uphold our laws, we are lawless and our civilized society is destroyed.

You may argue that there are some rules that need to be revisited occasionally. Yes, you would be right and we have systems in place for that; legislatures. Unfortunately, members of the previous administration took it upon themselves to usurp the role of the legislator and just made their own rules as they went. This cannot stand.

And some laws need never be revisited because they are based on the foundational ethics and morals of society that will not and cannot change without destroying the very fabric of society. Look the other way on torture today, tomorrow it could be murder. [And if you are looking the other way on torture now, you are possibly looking the other way on murder already.]"

The Courts have more than one role to play in the legal system. There is a thing called “stare decisis,” which basically means that current law is applied, not just by looking at the code as it is written, but on the basis of previous decisions. That is why lawyers cite court cases as argument in a trial. When a case is decided, the ruling is written and will be used as a legal argument in a future case, so that the case decides current and future law. Legal precedent is set not only through trials, but through the lack thereof. When we fail to prosecute a blatant crime, we set a precedent for future law-breakers.

We cannot look away, lest we endanger our civilized society.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yes We Can Prosecute the Lawbreakers

Report Details Pentagon Role in Torture Tactics (TIME)

The article referenced above ends with the following paragraph, but I begin with it because it should have been a clue upon initial consideration of this plan by any logical, thinking person that the road upon which the CIA, US Military, DOD and DOJ were about to embark, was the WRONG WAY.

…the torture techniques around which the SERE training was devised were used by Chinese interrogators during the Korean War, not to gather actionable intelligence but to force false confessions from captured U.S. soldiers - confessions that could then be used in anti-American propaganda.

While much of the controversy over interrogation and detention practices at Guantanamo has centered on the CIA, the SASC [Senate Armed Services Committee] report puts the spotlight firmly on the Pentagon - specifically on former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his DOD lawyer Jim Haynes, his policy chief Douglas Feith, Guantanamo commanders Major General Michael Dunleavy and Major General Geoffrey Miller, and a raft of other DOD officials.

We have some of the names now; let’s get on with it.

Who in the world (well, besides the three stooges that we will discuss later) can possibly object to an investigation and prosecution into the ordering and carrying out of illegal, immoral torture policies? At the outset we must be dealing with CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT STUPIDITY on the part of whoever had this bright notion. Supposedly, the DOD consulted with the “experts” that were running these training programs, but-

…many SERE experts and military lawyers raised concerns about and objections to this reverse engineering of techniques used in courses to train Americans to survive captures by communist regimes.

Obviously, the DOD, and subsequently the DOJ, were either negligently or purposefully misinformed about the supposed advice and consent of the SERE experts. It’s repeated over and over in the DOJ memos that these folks didn’t see a problem with using these methods in our interrogations.

Is it surprising that the objections were never mentioned previously? The fact that there is now evidence of objection to these practices by the very people that DOD and DOJ were citing in support of these practices, indicates the need for further investigation into the matter.

It has been alleged multiple times that a member or members of the Bush Administration “cooked” the intelligence that was the “stated reason” for our war in Iraq. It seems very plausible that this is another instance of asking around until you get the answer you want and going with that, regardless of the objection of others.

…in December 2001,… the DOD's office of general counsel asked the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which oversees the SERE program, about detainee "exploitation."

According to the Senate Report, this is where the idea was hatched. But whose idea was this to begin with? It seems to have started with Rumsfeld. If the Senate Armed Services Committee has enough evidence to state that it started with the DOD’s office of general counsel, they surely must know who originally ordered this request regarding “exploitation.” Let’s have names, dates and start interviewing witnesses.

The following speaks for itself…

Within a few months, SERE trainers were training military interrogators bound for Gitmo. (The JPRA would also pass on its expertise to the CIA.)

Soon afterward, the first alarms began to sound. Jerald Ogrisseg, an Air Force SERE psychologist, warned JPRA chief of staff Daniel Baumgartner that waterboarding detainees was illegal.

In October 2002, Lieut. Colonel Morgan Banks, an Army SERE psychologist, warned officials at Gitmo of the risks of using SERE techniques for interrogation, pointing out that even with the Army's careful monitoring, injuries and accidents did happen. "The risk with real detainees is increased exponentially," he wrote.

by then, the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) had already issued two legal opinions, signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, declaring that the techniques did not amount to torture.

JPRA training for Gitmo interrogators was stepped up.

In December 2002, with Rumsfeld's authorization, officials of the Joint Task Force at Gitmo devised a standard operating procedure for the use of many SERE techniques to interrogate detainees.

Rumsfeld would rescind his authorization in a manner of weeks, after the Navy General Counsel, Alberto Mora, raised concerns about many techniques, arguing that they violated U.S. and international laws and constituted, at worst, torture. Mora met Haynes and warned him that the "interrogation policies could threaten [Rumsfeld's] tenure and could even damage the presidency."

Here’s the timeline so far: starting in December 2001, the Department of Defense expressed interest in using “special interrogation techniques” (my terminology) on prisoners captured in Afghanistan. “Within months” specialized training for use of these techniques was put in place in Guantanamo and CIA training began. Shortly thereafter, an Air Force SERE psychologist warned that use of these techniques would constitute torture. In October 2002, an Army SERE psychologist warned that these techniques were dangerous. DOJ had already issued two memos declaring torture legal, so, rather than scaling back, stopping to consider or ending these “enhanced interrogation techniques,” SERE training was stepped up. Within a year of the original request, these techniques were Standard Operating Procedure at Gitmo and were subsequently “went viral” at sites around the world, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Then Navy General Counsel raised concerns and Rummy changed his mind a few weeks later.

It would be very important to see when the first warning was sounded in relation to the first DOJ memo being released. Was the memo a response to this particular warning? And how many more objections were made that we have not heard about yet? By the time Mora raised his objections, it was too late to undo the damage that had been done. And even after Rumsfeld in January 2003 rescinded the authority for the use of SERE techniques at Gitmo, they remained in use in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq.

Since Rumsfeld never declared these techniques illegal, military lawyers down the line were able to cite his original authorization as Pentagon policy. JPRA instructors would eventually travel to Iraq to train military interrogators there.

We need a concrete timeline of when these things took place and under whose orders. If Rumsfeld and the DOD had “rescinded authority” for these techniques in January 2003, anyone employing them after that date has NO STANDING WHATSOEVER.

In the summer of 2004, the JPRA was even considering sending trainers to Afghanistan, prompting another SERE psychologist, Colonel Kenneth Rollins, to warn his colleagues by e-mail: "[W]e need to really stress the difference between what instructors do at SERE school (done to INCREASE RESISTANCE capability in students) versus what is taught at interrogator school (done to gather information). What is done by SERE instructors is by definition ineffective interrogator conduct. Simply stated, SERE school does not train you on how to interrogate, and things you 'learn' there by osmosis about interrogation are probably wrong if copied by interrogators."

In spite of all this new information, the knee-jerk reaction of many conservatives is to bury their head in the sand. They don’t want to examine how this happened, analyze the processes and determine responsibility. The “law and order” crowd isn’t concerned about whether laws were broken. The “mandatory punishment” crowd wants to look the other way. The party of “lying about extra-marital sex is an impeachable offense” wants to forgive and forget; let by-gones be by-gones on this torture thing. After all, they are still buying and selling the lie that this activity kept us safe somehow. I bring you..


US senators urge no prosecutions for 'torture' memo writers (AFP)

Three US senators urged…in a letter Wednesday not to prosecute Bush-era government lawyers who declared harsh interrogation tactics…
"In the interest of national security, it is the future, rather than the past, on which we believe America’s gaze must be fixed," said Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, [and] Joseph Lieberman, an independent.

Their reasoning for this lenient posture is weak, at best and barely reasoned. They attempt to twist meticulous analysis, tortured reasoning, criminal negligence and possible fraud into something akin to “a mistake.”

"Pursuing such prosecutions would, we believe, have serious negative effects on the candor with which officials in any administration provide their best advice, and would take our country in a backward-looking direction at a time when our detainee-related challenges demand that we look forward," they said.

The lawmakers, who also opposed the creation of a commission to look into controversial "war on terrorism" tactics of the past eight years, said they opposed the harsh tactics and found some of the legal reasoning to be wrong.

"Providing poor legal advice is always undesirable," they said, "but that is a quite a different matter from making legal advice with which we may disagree into a crime."

First of all, poor legal advice is one thing, but negligence and/or fraud are quite another matter. Considering the law, which the LAWYERS in the Department of Justice were supposed to be doing, almost anyone would have come to the conclusion that these "techniques" could be considered torture.

It was not just the U.S. Constitution, not just the U.S. Code, not just the Military Code, not just the Geneva Conventions, but all of these things taken together that should have given anyone with common sense, nevermind anyone with a LAW degree pause about what was being requested. Case law, they said was lacking, but clearly it was not. These same "techniques" have been litigated within this country and within the international community. Clearly, one would have to be BLIND, STUPID, negligently inept or fraudulently mendacious to come to the conclusions that were stated over and over again in the DOJ memos.

Two of the three stooges belong to a party that performed a government witch hunt into consensual sex which took place in a private area inside the White House between two consenting adults. Lying about extra-marital sex is an impeachable offense but encouraging, supporting, ordering, providing training and permission for torture are not punishable offenses? This is pure hypocrisy and an insult to the intelligence of the American people. How did these three stooges vote on the blow job?

Lieberman voted Not Guilty on impeachment for Clinton, but McCain voted Guilty and Lindsey Graham was a PROSECUTOR on the case for all intents and purposes. We have at least Two major hypocrites here.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Where’s the fresh air? (Or Whatever Happened to that Transparency Obama Promised?)

Spring has finally arrived, so I walked out the other day and drew in a lungful of air and almost immediately gagged on a foul stench. What can it be, this foul stench that lingers in the air in this country, as spring attempts to bring fresh hope for renewal and wash everything clean with its infamous showers?

Well, what do you know? Here’s the culprit:

“The Obama administration is leaning toward keeping secret some graphic details of tactics allowed in Central Intelligence Agency interrogations, despite a push by some top officials to make the information public...”

The foul stench that lingers over this country is the combined odor of fear, contempt for the law, elitist arrogance, iron-fisted authoritarianism, and complete lack of respect for justice which has resulted in our government creating policies to kidnap, torture, illegally spy on, and violate the privacy of its own citizens and citizens of other countries both here in the U.S. and abroad. Obama denounced these policies during his campaign and has instituted policies that supposedly revoke these policies, but when it comes to justice for those that whose rights were violated, well, he would just like them to forgive and move on.

We are now hearing fresh information straight from those Top Secret Memos that Obama has been so reluctant to release (despite his pledge for transparency in government). Aside from waterboarding and the other disgusting methods of torture that were encouraged by the previous administration, there’s this:

"…head smashing…a technique in which a prisoner's head could be struck against a wall as long as the head was being held and the force of the blow was controlled by the interrogator, according to people familiar with the memos.”

If you are a citizen of this country, you owe it to yourself to seek out these memos and read through them carefully at least once. These are the things that were done in your name. [I will be writing a separate blog on what is contained in these memos in the near future as my stomach stops churning and I am able to think about what they contain without retching.] And think about the fact that these documents still contain redactions (who knows what those parts say) and that these are but four of the many memos that were written during this time. Also consider that these may possibly hold the most harmless information, since Obama did finally end up releasing them and has not released others as requested.

And what possible excuse could Obama have for stating that he would “not prosecute” those “good” men and women in the CIA who were just following orders? First of all, it is not his job to decide who will be prosecuted and who will not. And if he orders the Justice Department to look the other way when there is clear evidence of criminal behavior, not only is he politicizing the Justice Department as much as the Bush Administration did, but he is obstructing justice. Secondly, how “good” were these people who followed such heinous orders? Germans were punished after World War II for similar crimes and it was established that “just following orders” was not a valid defense.

What I would like to know is how many in the intelligence community disobeyed orders, took a stand for logic and decency, quit rather than compromise their morals? Let’s have those folks step up and tell their stories. Maybe we will find that more people than we ever imagined tried to do the right thing. Maybe those people should get a promotion or their jobs back and others eager to condemn and torture should be allowed to leave “the agency.”

“…Top CIA officials and "some in the White House...argue that disclosing such secrets will undermine the agency's credibility with foreign intelligence services."

Maybe they should have thought about that before they decided to act like a bunch of henchmen to a two-bit dictator. Their credibility was shot before any of this became public. The credibility of the government and the people and the whole country is shot to hell in the international community, as it should be. Let’s not keep trying to avoid the consequences of our stupid actions, let’s learn from them. (There’s a revolutionary idea!)

People familiar with the matter said some senior intelligence advisers to the president raised fears that releasing the two most sensitive memos could cause the Obama administration to be alienated from the CIA's rank and file, as happened during the Bush administration when Porter Goss, who was unpopular among CIA officers, headed the agency.

At what other job do the patients run the asylum? If they are ashamed of what they have done, own up to it. If they feel it is mischaracterized, defend it. But you work for WE THE PEOPLE, folks, no matter how important you think you are. You don’t get to decide whether you will cooperate with the boss or not. If you don’t feel that you can follow the leader, get out. Just try to pull that petulant crap at the next job you get, I dare you. Do your job or quit; we aren’t putting up with your primadonna crap.

Mr. Holder and Justice lawyers, along with Mr. Craig, have argued aggressively for releasing operational details…[they argue] the agency shouldn't be in a position of defending practices the new administration has disavowed…[and] releasing the documents would help fulfill the president's promise of greater transparency.

Ah, YEAH. That’s what WE’VE been saying. And these are lawyers making these arguments, but Obama isn’t going to listen to them? Who makes a better argument than a lawyer?

Intelligence officials also believe that making the techniques public would give al Qaeda a propaganda tool just as the administration is stepping up its fight against the terrorist group in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What a weak argument. Almost anything we do is a propaganda tool. Our government would know about propaganda tools. So F*#@ing what?

Some former administration officials have also argued that releasing all the memos could help terrorists train to endure the most extreme interrogation techniques.

That’s ridiculous for two reasons: (1) they had already been training to endure some of the milder “enhanced techniques” and (2) the more extreme forms of torture have supposedly been discontinued by the Obama Administration. So, that point is moot, and they damn well know it.

Making those details public, one official said, would make CIA officials disinclined to take any risks in the future.

Thank God. Maybe they should not have taken those risks in the first place. Maybe the people who decided that those risks were worth losing our national soul over should be LONG gone and never able to come back, if they aren’t already. They obviously showed a lack of good judgment on this issue.

The very definition of evil:

The role of medical professionals in torture at Guantanamo includes rape utilizing instrumentality.

If you can stomach it, check out the Human Rights project, specifically Brandon Neely’s account of activities at Guantanamo Bay:

Today’s news from the NY Times is that waterboarding was used on Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times and that Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. “A former CIA officer had told news media he had been subjected to only 35 seconds underwater before talking.” And that liar's name is??

Also from today’s NY Times; it appears as though the initial questioning of Zubaydah was successful WITHOUT the “enhanced techniques” and that CIA operatives DID NOT believe he had any further useful information, but “officials” at CIA Headquarters were hot for trying out their new “techniques,” insisting that Zubaydah was more important in Al Queda than he ever actually was and that he “must” have more information.

“You get a ton of information, but headquarters says, ‘There must be more,’ ” recalled one intelligence officer who was involved in the case. As described in the footnote to the memo, the use of repeated waterboarding against Abu Zubaydah was ordered “at the direction of C.I.A. headquarters,” and officials were dispatched from headquarters “to watch the last waterboard session.”
I want names, dammit. Who felt the need to go and watch?? Sick bastards.

Also in the same article, “He pleaded for his life,” the official said. “But he gave up no new information. He had no more information to give.” If he was pleading for his life, he obviously felt his life was in jeopardy, which would meet one of the guidelines set forth for torture.

Support John Conyers, who made this statement today (from the NY Times):

“If our leaders are found to have violated the strict laws against torture, either by ordering these techniques without proper legal authority or by knowingly crafting legal fictions to justify torture, they should be criminally prosecuted,” Mr. Conyers said in a written statement.

If you are like me and you want REAL fresh air, and not just air that has been scented to appear fresh, DEMAND JUSTICE!

Sign the Democracy for America petition, sign the ACLU petition, contact Senator Patrick Leahy and/or Senator John Conyers, seek out others who agree that accountability is necessary and band together. We can force our government to do the right thing here. All it takes is a large group of angry and loud people who refuse to take “no” for an answer.

Who’s with me????

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter (or Spring Celebration)

A silly stunt gives me some hope that people can come together around an idea. Just put your cares aside for a moment and enjoy...

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