Torture, more and more is being revealed, to our shame

Most of the people who would look at this blog have already looked at the New York Times so it may seem strange to put up an op-ed piece by Mark Danner that appeared there today. But somehow I feel a need to emphasize what that I and others have said before, that a great outrage has been done to the American people apparently without the notice of many of them. If the American people actually internalized what has been done in their name — torturing of other people in the name of “freedom”, American “freedom,” “American values” — they would, I’m sure, be as appalled and outraged as I am. I know many of you are, but I grieve that many of my Christian friends, my Christian brethren, have stood by silently, indifferently, and seem still to be unable the grasp the shame that our leaders have brought upon this country. It is frustrating to read the judicial opinions that were writing for the Bush administration that effectively legalized torture of other human beings. It continues to grieve many of us to read of the actual practices that our young people were commanded to do (See Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian, Fear Up Harsh). And it is sickening to read specifically what “torture” — legal torture — consists of. I here reproduce Danner’s piece to emphasize how much we as a country have to internalize, how much we have yet to live down, how much we cannot atone for. RLC

The New York Times March 15, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
Tales From Torture’s Dark World

ON a bright sunny day two years ago, President George W. Bush strode into the East Room of the White House and informed the world that the United States had created a dark and secret universe to hold and interrogate captured terrorists.

“In addition to the terrorists held at Guantánamo,” the president said, “a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

At these places, Mr. Bush said, “the C.I.A. used an alternative set of procedures.” He added: “These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful.” This speech will stand, I believe, as George W. Bush’s most important: perhaps the only historic speech he ever gave. In his fervent defense of his government’s “alternative set of procedures” and his equally fervent insistence that they were “lawful,” he set out before the country America’s dark moral epic of torture, in the coils of whose contradictions we find ourselves entangled still.

At the same time, perhaps unwittingly, Mr. Bush made it possible that day for those on whom the alternative set of procedures were performed eventually to speak. For he announced that he would send 14 “high-value detainees” from dark into twilight: they would be transferred from the overseas “black sites” to Guantánamo. There, while awaiting trial, the International Committee of the Red Cross would be “advised of their detention, and will have the opportunity to meet with them.”

A few weeks later, from Oct. 6 to 11 and then from Dec. 4 to 14, 2006, Red Cross officials — whose duty it is to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise treatment of prisoners of war — traveled to Guantánamo and began interviewing the prisoners.

Their stated goal was to produce a report that would “provide a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the C.I.A. detention program,” periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.”

As the Red Cross interviewers informed the detainees, their report was not intended to be released to the public but, “to the extent that each detainee agreed for it to be transmitted to the authorities,” to be given in strictest secrecy to officials of the government agency that had been in charge of holding them — in this case the Central Intelligence Agency, to whose acting general counsel, John Rizzo, the report was sent on Feb. 14, 2007.

The result is a document — labeled “confidential” and clearly intended only for the eyes of those senior American officials — that tells a story of what happened to each of the 14 detainees inside the black sites.

A short time ago, this document came into my hands and I have set out the stories it tells in a longer article in The New York Review of Books. Because these stories were taken down confidentially in patient interviews by professionals from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and not intended for public consumption, they have an unusual claim to authenticity.

Indeed, since the detainees were kept strictly apart and isolated, both at the black sites and at Guantánamo, the striking similarity in their stories would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely. As its authors state in their introduction, “The I.C.R.C. wishes to underscore that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.”

Beginning with the chapter headings on its contents page — “suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box” — the document makes compelling and chilling reading. The stories recounted in its fewer than 50 pages lead inexorably to this unequivocal conclusion, which, given its source, has the power of a legal determination: “The allegations of ill treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill treatment to which they were subjected while held in the C.I.A. program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Perhaps one should start with the story of the first man to whom, according to news reports, the president’s “alternative set of procedures” were applied:

“I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4 meters by 4 meters. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed. After some time, I think it was several days, but can’t remember exactly, I was transferred to a chair where I was kept, shackled by hands and feet for what I think was the next two to three weeks. During this time I developed blisters on the underside of my legs due to the constant sitting. I was only allowed to get up from the chair to go [to] the toilet, which consisted of a bucket.

“I was given no solid food during the first two or three weeks, while sitting on the chair. I was only given Ensure and water to drink. At first the Ensure made me vomit, but this became less with time.

“The cell and room were air-conditioned and were very cold. Very loud, shouting-type music was constantly playing. It kept repeating about every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. Sometimes the music stopped and was replaced by a loud hissing or crackling noise.

“The guards were American, but wore masks to conceal their faces. My interrogators did not wear masks.”

So begins the story of Abu Zubaydah, a senior member of Al Qaeda, captured in a raid in Pakistan in March 2002. The arrest of an active terrorist with actionable information was a coup for the United States.

After being treated for his wounds — he had been shot in the stomach, leg and groin during his capture — Abu Zubaydah was brought to one of the black sites, probably in Thailand, and placed in that white room.

It is important to note that Abu Zubaydah was not alone with his interrogators, that everyone in that white room — guards, interrogators, doctor — was in fact linked directly, and almost constantly, to senior intelligence officials on the other side of the world. “It wasn’t up to individual interrogators to decide, ‘Well, I’m going to slap him. Or I’m going to shake him,’” said John Kiriakou, a C.I.A. officer who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, in an interview with ABC News.

Every one of the steps taken with regard to Abu Zubaydah “had to have the approval of the deputy director for operations. So before you laid a hand on him, you had to send in the cable saying, ‘He’s uncooperative. Request permission to do X.’”

He went on: “The cable traffic back and forth was extremely specific…. No one wanted to get in trouble by going overboard.”

Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, C.I.A. officers briefed the National Security Council’s principals committee, including Vice President Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, in detail on the interrogation plans for the prisoner. As the interrogations proceeded, so did the briefings, with George Tenet, the C.I.A. director, bringing to senior officials almost daily reports of the techniques applied.

At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, Justice Department officials, led by John Yoo, were working on a memorandum, now known informally as “the torture memo,” which claimed that for an “alternative procedure” to be considered torture, and thus illegal, it would have to cause pain of the sort “that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.” The memo was approved in August 2002, thus serving as a legal “green light” for interrogators to apply the most aggressive techniques to Abu Zubaydah:

“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside…. They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”

After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.

“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.

“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”

After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.

“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.

This went on for approximately one week.”

Walid bin Attash, a Saudi involved with planning the attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998 and on the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000, was captured in Pakistan on April 29, 2003:

“On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks…. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural.”

This forced standing, with arms shackled above the head, seems to have become standard procedure. It proved especially painful for Mr. bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan:

“After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists.”

Cold water was used on Mr. bin Attash in combination with beatings and the use of a plastic collar, which seems to have been a refinement of the towel that had been looped around Abu Zubaydah’s neck:

“On a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements.

“Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets…. I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the key planner of the 9/11 attacks, was captured in Pakistan on March 1, 2003.

After three days in what he believes was a prison in Afghanistan, Mr. Mohammed was put in a tracksuit, blindfold, hood and headphones, and shackled and placed aboard a plane. He quickly fell asleep — “the first proper sleep in over five days” — and remains unsure of how long the journey took. On arrival, however, he realized he had come a long way:

“I could see at one point there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet X people. I think the country was Poland. I think this because on one occasion a water bottle was brought to me without the label removed. It had [an] e-mail address ending in ‘.pl.’”

He was stripped and put in a small cell. “I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor,” he told the Red Cross.

“Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrist, resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”

For interrogation, Mr. Mohammed was taken to a different room. The sessions lasted for as long as eight hours and as short as four.

“If I was perceived not to be cooperating I would be put against a wall and punched and slapped in the body, head and face. A thick flexible plastic collar would also be placed around my neck so that it could then be held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall. The beatings were combined with the use of cold water, which was poured over me using a hose-pipe.”

As with Abu Zubaydah, the harshest sessions involved the “alternative set of procedures” used in sequence and in combination, one technique intensifying the effects of the others:

“The beatings became worse and I had cold water directed at me from a hose-pipe by guards while I was still in my cell. The worst day was when I was beaten for about half an hour by one of the interrogators. My head was banged against the wall so hard that it started to bleed. Cold water was poured over my head. This was then repeated with other interrogators. Finally I was taken for a session of water boarding. The torture on that day was finally stopped by the intervention of the doctor.”

Reading the Red Cross report, one becomes somewhat inured to the “alternative set of procedures” as they are described: the cold and repeated violence grow numbing. Against this background, the descriptions of daily life of the detainees in the black sites, in which interrogation seems merely a periodic heightening of consistently imposed brutality, become more striking.

Here again is Mr. Mohammed:

“After each session of torture I was put into a cell where I was allowed to lie on the floor and could sleep for a few minutes. However, due to shackles on my ankles and wrists I was never able to sleep very well…. The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell, which I could use on request” — he was shackled standing, his hands affixed to the ceiling — “but I was not allowed to clean myself after toilet during the first month…. I wasn’t given any clothes for the first month. Artificial light was on 24 hours a day, but I never saw sunlight.”

Abu Zubaydah, Walid bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — these men almost certainly have blood on their hands. There is strong reason to believe that they had critical parts in planning and organizing terrorist operations that caused the deaths of thousands of people. So in all likelihood did the other “high-value detainees” whose treatment while secretly confined by the United States is described in the Red Cross report.

From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be. The fact that judges, military or civilian, throw out cases of prisoners who have been tortured — and have already done so at Guantánamo — means it is highly unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.

For the men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most important and consequential sense in which “torture doesn’t work.” The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.

As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.

Mark Danner, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and Bard College, is the author of “Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror.” This essay is drawn from a longer article in the new issue of The New York Review of Books, available at

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

The way Saudi Arabia treats a 75 year old woman: Khamisa Sawadi

I felt this was so important that it would be worth reproducing here. I hope Sabria will not mind. This comes from her “Out of the box” blog. RLC

How Saudi women celebrated International Women’s Day From “Out of the Box” by sabria jawhar, 3/11/09

I don’t think that Khamisa Sawadi celebrated International
Women’s Day last Sunday. No, more than likely the 75-year-old widow was
wondering abut the 40 lashes and four months in prison she is facing
for mingling with two young men, which included her late husband’s
nephew, who had brought her bread.
International Women’s Day celebrates the economic, political and social
achievements of women in the past and the present.
While the event is a national holiday in some countries, such as China
and Russia, it goes largely unnoticed by women n Saudi Arabia. The case
of Khamisa Sawadi is evidence that the social achievements of Saudi
women remain a distant dream.
Sawadi is Syrian but is the widow of a Saudi. The nephew and his friend
and business partner had delivered bread to Sawadi to her home in
Al-Chamil. They were immediately arrested.
In court Sawadi testified that she had breast-fed the nephew as an
infant and considered him her son. But her argument was rejected by the
court, which based its conviction on testimony from the father of the
nephew’s friend who alleged that Sawadi corrupted his son.
After Sawadi serves her sentenced she is expected to be deported to
Saudi Arabia has made significant strides in the advancement of women
in key government positions. The appointments of Noral Al-Faiz as
deputy minister for Girls’ Education and Dr. Fatimah Abdullah Al-Saleem
as cultural attaché at the Saudi Embassy in Canada by the Ministry of
Higher Education, inspires Saudi women. Saudi women view Al-Faiz and
Al-Saleem as role models, recognizing that they, too, can achieve
success on their own terms.
Yet the social realities are that Al-Faiz and Al-Saleem are the
exceptions, not the rule, of what Saudi women face in the future. For
every Al-Faiz and Al-Saleem there are 100 Khamisa Sawadis. For every
female Saudi graduate student studying abroad, there are 100 other
Saudi women denied their right to divorce abusive husbands or to gain
custody of their children.
A Saudi delegation can stand before the United Nation’s Committee on
the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and provide a laundry
list of all the good things the Saudi government has done for their
women. But closer scrutiny of Khamisa Sawadi, the Qatif Girl, forced
divorces and the countless 13-year-old brides married off to men four
times their age tarnishes the appointments of Saudi women to high
While we have seen remarkable changes recently in the general
presidency of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevent of
Vice and a new chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Council, it’s the
judges in court that seemed to have lost sight of their religious and
social obligations and revert to tribal customs.
A friend of mine has had her divorce case in the courts for 10 years.
No matter how many appeals she makes to the court, she is refused a
divorce. Another friend is scorned and humiliated by government
officials as she attempts to gain permission to marry a non-Saudi. And
for what purpose? A woman is entitled to a divorce as long as she
complies with Islam and is prepared to return the dowry. A woman is
entitled to alimony, but rarely receives it. A husband can only take a
second wife if his first wife approves, yet these religious obligations
are often subverted by the husband and later upheld by the courts. A
woman is entitled to marry whom she pleases, but the obstacles are so
great to receiving permission it’s virtually impossible to get married
to who she wants.
There is no religious prohibition preventing women from driving yet we
are forced to mingle with unrelated men who are employed as our
drivers. If Sawadi is guilty of mingling with men who are not her close
relatives, then 95 percent of the Saudi women are guilty of the same
thing. Imagine if the laws, as interpreted by the Saudi courts, were
administered in an equitable manner. The jails would be bursting at the
seams with thousands upon thousands of Saudi women bearing the scars of
hundreds of lashes.
Saudi Arabia is witnessing an unprecedented brain drain of female
post-graduate degree holders who find jobs and freedom in other GCC
countries – notably the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain. They
know they can live productive lives, work alongside whomever they want,
and drive a car without looking over their shoulder for the Hai’a. They
can live their lives without being exposed to the risk of facing a
judge who parses every word of a Hadith to reach a verdict he had
already decided on or who will succumb to tribal pressures.
I have great hope for the future of Saudi Arabia. Certainly change,
especially in our society, comes slowly. But tell that to Khamisa
Sawadi and my friend who hasn’t been granted a divorce after 10 years.
What about their future?

A Murder to Silence Exposure of Chechnyan Government Brutality

Today’s report in the New York Times on the murder of Umar S. Israilov, who had revealed how brutally prisoners are treated by President Kadyrov of Chechnya, himself a creation of the Russians, reveals much that both the Russians and the Chechnyans would not want known. For this kind of journalism, in which those who tell the truth are at risk, we can all be thankful.

Kadyrov needs to present an image of legitimacy, as if his government were duly elected but in practice they were simply using the same old time tested means, torture and murder.

This is why the legitimation of physical brutality by an American government is a shame and an embarrassment; we cannot feign horror at such behavior and practice ourselves. Thankfully, this administration is taking the right measures to extricate our country from a reputation for such practice.

[Click on the title for the link to this important article.]

Leon Panetta, the new conscience of the CIA

Thanks to for their publication of the article by Ray McGovern on Leon Panetta as “Conscience for the CIA”. Panetta has long been opposed to torture. And here is a detail of his past most of us didn’t know:

“As for integrity, this is nothing new for Leon Panetta. As head of President Richard Nixon’s Office of Civil Rights, he insisted on enforcing laws to protect minorities even under pressure from Nixon to get in line with the Republican “southern strategy” of neglecting civil rights. Rather than buckle to these demands, Panetta resigned and later became a Democrat.”
[Click on the title for a link to the source article.]

Obama’s appointments for justice department: Good news

McClatchy Washington Bureau published a commentary on Obama’s nominees for justice that signal a major shift, for which we can be most thankful. The new appointees seem committed to reversing the Bush policy of allowing [or ordering] torture tactics on our prisoners. Some telling statements:

On the appointment of Dawn Johnson: “One of the refreshing things about Dawn Johnsen’s appointment is that she’s almost a 180-degree shift from John Yoo and David Addington and (Vice President) Dick Cheney”.
The Justice Department has yet to fully regain its image of independence since allegations of political influence mired the agency in scandal in 2007, leading to the resignations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and about a dozen other department and White House officials.
“It’s clear that the Department of Justice has been savaged by the Bush administration and has been profoundly disgraced,” . . . . “It’s going to be a major task to rehabilitate it.”
Obama’s picks contrast with Bush’s selection of Gonzales, who lacked Justice Department experience. Since stepping down as attorney general in September 2007, Gonzales has yet to find a job.
[Click on the title for a link to McClatchy]

The Vice President admits that he approved of torture

Yesterday the Vice President admitted that he had supported the abuse of prisoners held by the Americans.

According to a news report by David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster Vice President Richard Cheney admited authorizing torture in an interview on ABC with Jonathan Karl. Karl asked him if he approved of interrogation tactics used against a so-called “high value prisoner” at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Mr. Cheney said, “I supported it,” in reference to the practice known as “water-boarding,” a form of simulated drowning. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes in US courts for water-boarding. “I was aware of the program, certainly,” Cheney said. He helped “get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do,” Cheney said. “And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.”

Again, our troopers have gone to jail for abusing prisoners but Cheney approved it.

Cheney added that he thought the practice was “remarkably successful”.

Not so, said the Senate report on the abuse of prisoners [see my note yesterday].

The Really Bad Apples were at the top

We are all reeling from the news that many in high places have swindled the public. But I am still grieving over the last great swindle, perhaps the greatest in American history, that betrayed America’s stated values and took the lives of thousands of faithful American warriors, all for a lie that was repeated over and over again.

Most of us, I suppose, who were alarmed about the invasion of Iraq without reasonable cause felt so helpless at the time. I at least felt betrayed by my duly elected government. Now the reality of the abuse of power and the misrepresentations of the truth that were promoted in order to justify it are coming out. But I fear that the public may not be able to hear it. Other news occupies the front pages.

The report issued yesterday by the Senate Armed Services committee at least stated for all to see that the lie, having been put into place, had many ramifications. Now Donald Rumsfeld is named for authorizing torture in the report produced by Carl Levin and John McCain on behalf of the Senate; the report is described as “the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody.”

Note that the report “explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.”
“The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.”

It says that the abuse of prisoners “grew out of interrogation policies approved by Mr. Rumsfeld and other top officials.”

In a sense, this is not news, as several publications by troopers on the ground made it clear that they were expected to torture prisoners (See, for example, Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian. 2007. Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator’s Dark Journey Through Iraq. New York: New American Library). Those practices in the American military reveal what the military was encouraged to do. The American military is a well trained highly disciplined machine. That such things were taking place indicates that they were known and approved by higher ups. That those same officials denied that they had approved of torture was a betrayal of those under their authority. For them to claim that it was done by merely a few “bad apples” when these soldiers had been given orders to torture was a cowardly escape. It was a way that those in power could absolve themselves while getting things done their way. Pinochet and his generals who absolved themselves of all crimes in Chile was hardly worse.

Such a betrayal can break morale and discipline in an army that has has been trained faithfully to fulfill orders. Those young people who went to jail or were discharged dishonorably for obeying orders were betrayed by their own government. It is the yokels at the top who should have gone to jail. Rumsfeld was named here, but could he have given such orders without higher authority?

How much higher could the culpability go?

Embarrassing revelations of conditions in Afghanistan

Some bad news on Afghanistan is coming out, to the shame of Afghan leadership and also, in some cases, to the Americans.

1. Tom Schweich’s description of the failure of many to deal adequately with the expansion of the drug industry in Afghanistan should embarrass not only the Afghan leadership — Hamed Karzai in particular — but also the Americans, especially the Pentagon, who can’t seem to agree on what they are actually there for. See New York Times Magazine, 7/27/08 “Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?”

2. Farooq, whoever he is, has passed on to us the website announcing the existence of a woman prisoner at Baghram, Afghanistan, whose screams have been heard by other prisoners. We hope the truth about the existence and condition of this woman will soon be made known: See the following site: 5542&Itemid=28

3. RAWA has reported the gang rape of a 12 year old girl in Sar-e Pul, Afghanistan, by individuals connected to “warlords” — at least persons with lots of leverage. Another outrage that ought to be exposed and dealt with by the Afghanistan government. The judicial system is desperately in need of revision. See warlords-gang-rape-12-year-old-girl-her-family-threatens-to-commit-mass-suicide- if-justice-is-not-done.html

With friends like Pakistan and other governments such as our own …

We continue to get news about the double dealing of the Pakistanis, but it seems to be matched, on the other hand, by the double dealing of western powers with Pakistan. Take Pakistan’s double dealing, for instance. Musharraf has claimed for years to be on the front line of the “war against terror” but his government has allowed many ant-American, anti-Western Islamist groups to be comfortably ensconced in its borders. Today’s New York Times (Elaine Sciolino, “In ’06 Bomb Plot Trial, a Question of Imminence”) describes how the eight defendants in Britain accused of plotting to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners had gained the information for their project through contacts with extreme elements in Pakistan. “British investigators are convinced that the size, scope, cost, secrecy and ingenuity of the plot bear the Qaeda signature; they say they believe that the cell learned to make the liquid explosive device from Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. … Mr. Sarwar admitted that during a trip to Pakistan between mid-June and early July 2006, a friend told him how to make the explosive HMTD.” This is but one more of many signs that Pakistan is the vortex of radical Islamist activities. What that means to American troops is described in another article in today’s NYTimes: “Taliban Breached NATO Base in Deadly Clash.” In it Carlotta Gall and Eric Schmitt point out that the insurgents who attacked a remote outpost in north-eastern Afghanistan two days ago, killing nine Americans, “had benefited from new bases in neighboring Pakistan.” And indeed Pakistani militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, “have been present in the area for months.” Moreover, “insurgents had freedom of movement from the border with Pakistan through 60 miles of Nuristan to the base at Wanat. ‘They can bring men, weapons and cars’” said one source. Pakistan is our friend while it is at the same time a caldron of radical Islamism feeding troops into Afghanistan to kill American and NATO soldiers. But then there is the way our own country double-deals in their relations with Pakistan. We have already heard about the convenient way the Americans have worked with Pakistan’s intelligence agency to allow abuse of prisoners. Now it turns out that the British have made similar use of Pakistan. Today’s [July 15] Guardian says that they have been handing over their own citizens to be tortured by Pakistani agencies. A medical student, for instance, “said he was abducted at gunpoint in August 2005 and held for two months at the offices of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau opposite the British Deputy High Commission in Karachi. [He] … described how he was whipped, beaten, deprived of sleep, threatened with execution and witnessed other inmates being tortured.” Nice way to treat your own people. [Thanks to my friend S. for bringing this to me.] So we see again how governments carry on their business: While they parade their moral agendas they conceal what they do on “the dark side”. The ancient wisdom is still salient: “Men loved darkness because their deeds were evil; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed.” The problem we have – Americans, British, Pakistanis – is that these are our governments acting in our name.Addendum, thanks to my friend S:

*In the dark hole of a Pakistani prison by Tim Johnson,
McClatchy Newspapers, Feb 5, 2008

*'Briton' being held in Pakistan, by Syed Shoaib Hasan,
BBC News, 27 June 2007.

McClatchy’s reporting on abuse of American prisoners

We need to appreciate McClatchy papers for their faithfulness in reporting; they have developed a fine reputation for seeking to know and report what is going on in contested places; they were, I gather, one of the best in reporting on the Iraq debacle. Here are some recent articles that should be broadly read [not pushed in the other papers].

McClatchy papers have recently published a series on the detention system of the American military. This is what they say about the series:
“An eight-month McClatchy investigation of the detention system created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has found that the U.S. imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba into a school for jihad.


“Browse an archive of documents obtained by McClatchy in the course of this investigation.”