It’s the Torture, Stupid: Restoring Human Rights Must Be Next Prez’s Top Priority
by Ted Rall / August 9, 2008
Both major presidential candidates have promised to roll back the Bush Administration’s torture archipelago. Both say they’ll close Guantánamo, abolish legalized torture, and respect the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. Obama also pledges to eliminate “extraordinary rendition,” in which the CIA kidnaps people and flies them to other countries to be tortured, and says he will investigate Bush Administration officials for possible prosecution for war crimes.
If followed by other meaningful changes in behavior–withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq and foreswearing preemptive warfare–restoring the rule of law and respecting the rights of “enemy combatants” can start America’s long, slow climb back to moral parity in the community of nations. But there are worrisome signs that Barack Obama and John McCain’s commitment to moral renewal is less than rock-solid.
McCain, who claimed to have been tortured as a POW in North Vietnam, says a lot of the right things. “We do not torture people,” he said in a 2007 Republican debate. “It’s not about the terrorists; it’s about us. It’s about what kind of country we are.” He used his Vietnam experience against fellow Republicans, bullying Congress into passing a law banning torture against detainees held by the military.
Bush signed McCain’s bill in late 2005, saying it “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.”
Days later, however, Bush issued a secret “signing statement” declaring that he would ignore the Detainee Treatment Act. NYU law professor David Golove, an expert on executive power, said: “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it’s important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me.”
McCain, who says as president he would veto a bill rather than issue a signing statement negating its contents, was no doubt angry about Bush’s perfidy. But, fearful of alienating Bush and the GOP leadership as he geared up for his ‘08 presidential campaign, he remained silent.
In February of this year, McCain backtracked still further from his anti-torture position, voting against legislation that would have blocked the CIA from subjecting inmates in its secret prisons to waterboarding, hooding, putting duct tape across their eyes, stripping them naked, rape, beatings, burning, subjecting them to hypothermia, mock executions, and other “harsh interrogation techniques.”
“The CIA should have the ability to use additional techniques,” he argued. He refused to explain why the CIA ought to be allowed to torture while the DOD should adhere to international standards of civilized behavior.
The U.S. continues to torture.
Unlike McCain, Obama remains a critic of officially sanctioned torture. “We’ll reject torture–without exception or equivocation,” Obama says. He would also end “the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of the law.”
The trouble is, Obama isn’t laying the groundwork for stopping torture or closing Guantánamo or other U.S. gulags in his stump speeches. He talks a lot about energy policy, healthcare, jobs and the economy–and withdrawing troops from Iraq so they join the war against Afghanistan instead. If he becomes president, people will expect him to do those things. Without a sustained focus on human rights issues, however, any moves he makes will seem to come out of the blue–and face stronger pushback from Republicans anxious to bash him as weak on national security.
Why doesn’t Obama emphasize Bush’s war crimes? Maybe he’s trying to play the Great Uniter, or maybe he knows that many Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about the pain inflicted against people they’ll never meet in places they’ve never heard of. Who knows? All we know for sure is that, day after day, Obama fails to talk about what is arguably the worst crime of the corrupt Bush Administration.
Of course, renouncing torture isn’t enough. Those who authorized it must be held to account. However, it doesn’t seem likely that they will.
Asked in April whether he would prosecute Bush Administration officials for authorizing torture, Obama delivered his now-familiar duck-and-cover: say the right thing, then weasel out of it. “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” he said.
But not for at least four years: “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems to solve.”
Memo to Barack: This isn’t about prosecuting Republicans. It’s about prosecuting torturers.
“Prosecution of any officials, if it were to occur, would probably not occur during Obama’s first term,” Slate reports, citing Obama campaign insiders. “Instead, we may well see a Congressionally empowered commission that would seek testimony from witnesses in search of the truth about what occurred. Though some witnesses might be offered immunity in exchange for testimony, the question of whether anybody would be prosecuted would be deferred to a later date–meaning Obama’s second term, if such is forthcoming.”
First would come a South African-style “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” where the truth would come out. But the torturers would get off scot-free.
“The commission would focus strictly on detention, torture and extraordinary rendition, or the practice of spiriting detainees to a third country for abusive interrogations. The panel would focus strictly on these abuses, leaving out any other allegedly illegal activities during the Bush Administration, such as domestic spying,” says Slate. Second–well, there might not be a second. Even if there is, shortsighted Americans’ appetite for justice and accountability will probably have been diluted by the time 2013 rolls around.
Mainline media liberals, in conjunction with Obama supporters, are even going so far as to suggest that Bush issue his torturers with a blanket pardon in exchange for their testimony at Obama’s toothless commission.
Regardless of who wins in November, we will get a president who’s better on torture and other human rights issues than George W. Bush. At least their words sound nice. But real change and moral redemption will only begin if we–Democrats, Republicans and everyone else–demand the next president stands by his pretty promises.
Until they start taking taking torture, Gitmo and human rights seriously, neither Obama nor McCain should be able to appear in public without facing questions and heckling about these issues.
Ted Rall is the author of the new book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?,” an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.
© 2008 Ted Rall
Source / Common Dreams
Lest we forget the horror that we are talking about, here is a story related by Layla Anwar of Arab Woman Blues:
Crucified by "Freedom"The Rag Blog
By Layla Anwar / July 30, 2008
The story am about to tell you is a true one. I have kept the details unchanged, but I did change the names, location and dates to protect the anonymity of the victims.
Ahmad lives in an insalubrious, run down apartment in Syria with his wife and 5 kids. Prior to his forced exile, he lived in a decent neighborhood and in a large home, large enough for his family and his parents.
After the occupation and during the usual nightly American raids, that all Iraqis have experienced, Ahmad's life took a definite turn from which he will never recover.
His house was besieged by a horde of American barbarians, tanks and weapons...They stormed in the middle of the night, made everyone lie on the floor, face down, including his elderly parents, kicked and beat the whole family with their boots, resting them on their heads and necks...
Then they proceeded to storm each room using axes to break down the doors when the doors were not locked to start with. Then they opened the wardrobes, and said they were looking for weapons of mass destruction. They set all the wardrobes on fire.
They moved Ahmad's family to the vicinity of his home and made Ahmad and his family watch as your brave boys blew the house up.
They arrested Ahmad and a few others, blindfolded them and took them to an American camp in Baghdad. During the ride to the detention camp, around 20 soldiers were kicking and butting with their rifles edges, Ahmad and the other detainees.
Once arrived, they placed them in a corner of a dirty cell and started pissing on their wounded bodies while hysterically laughing. Not contenting themselves with that alone, they (the Americans) brought in a basin used to collect shit from their mobile toilets and emptied it on Ahmad and the other detainees heads.
Ahmad and his mates spent several months at this American detention camp. The first few days their interrogation consisted of identifying posters on a wall. The picture was that of Saddam Hussein. Of course Ahmad was able to identify Saddam Hussein's picture. When he and the others answered affirmatively, they were violently beaten up by the Americans because for these Americans luminaries, that was proof that they (the detainees) knew Saddam personally.
After several days the interrogation took another turn. Ahmad believes it was not even a process of getting any information which he did not have. But, according to him, the interrogations were just a form of humiliation to the prisoners and a way for the soldiers to "HAVE FUN." - American fun.
Ahmad recalls that one of the American officers used to sit on his chair with a bottle of whisky next to him and start questions like: " Where do you buy your vegetables from ?" " What is the name of your barber?" Other humiliating questions were - "How many times do you have intercourse with your wife ?" "What positions do you take ?... At times, a male and female soldier would undress and mimic such acts in front of the other soldiers all the while "teasing" the detainees...
Ahmad and other prisoners were then transferred to another camp in the South. Which meant that officially there were under British custody. But the personnel inside the camp included US, Australian as well as British soldiers.
When they arrived at this other camp, the British received Ahmad and the others with the same sort of treatment -- kicking and striking with their riffles butts, just like their fellow Americans did before. Ahmad's head was injured during his first arrest and the wound in his head reopened and started bleeding.
The soldiers tried to stitch it in the prison cell but failed, since they are not trained to do so. So they were forced to transfer him to a military hospital. X rays showed that his skull was fractured and had been fractured for several days by now, from the physical blows. They had to operate on him and he was moved back to the prison camp.
Ahmad recalls that all sorts of humiliation and torture were still being inflicted on the prisoners of this camp. He said that when they wanted to take any one to the interrogation session, they'd strip him from all his clothes and put a hood on his head and make him walk naked the whole distance, around 3 km, in front of the other prisoners while the accompanying soldiers would be using their vehicles.
The interrogation still consisted of questions like - "where do you buy your vegetables from and where do you get a haircut?" All the while, with insults and all kinds of beatings being showered on the detainee.
These interrogation sessions were done in the presence of the highest ranking prison officers. Ahmad is completely convinced that these interrogations and torture sessions were done for the sake of "FUN FOR THE SOLDIERS" and not for extracting and gathering security information as the Americans like to pretend.
A whole year elapsed and Ahmad was allowed to receive one visit from some members of his family. His family had spent days and weeks in front of the prisons, begging to see him...
Food in the prison was in itself an insult and a form of torture.
The soldiers would collect the prisoners in one large open space at 8 am for "breakfast". They would make them sit in the heat of the sun till 11 am.
They were forced to take on a "stress position", i.e to sit in a position straining their joints with their hands crossed over their heads so they can have their "breakfast"!
In case any prisoner moved his hand to rest his body a little, the guards would directly shoot him with a rubber bullet right on the face. Some prisoners lost one of their eyes in such incidents. Other developed severe pain and blue faces for months. Those who were unable to stay in the stress position were the elderly, some older than 70 years of age.
That same procedure was repeated between 1 pm and 5 pm - during the "lunch" period The food consisted of a bag of beans with sugar for "breakfast" and a very hot peppered rice for "lunch."
After a year or so, Ahmad and others were transferred to Abu Ghraib prison.
Ahmad recalls that what was unique to this prison were not the notorious sexual insults and torture - something he was quite familiar with and used to by now, but the presence of woman prisoners among them (the men) and the torture these brave women were subjected to in front of them.
One such technique was to tie the woman's legs with two different ropes and pull the naked body in opposite directions. Some died from the pain of this method and others were either split in half or had their hips totally disconnected from their joints.
Another "sport" for the American brave boys, so they can have fun, was to tie
a male prisoner with the noose of a rope to his neck and the other end of the rope was tied to the waist of one soldier. The soldier would run from one end of the cell to the other dragging the suffocating prisoner on the ground and other soldiers -- spectators would time the race.
Then, other soldiers were to do the same thing but in a shorter period. In other words, a race competition/a contest. The prisoner would usually end up with a dark blue face from strangulation and his whole body bruised from being dragged in a "fun" race.
Ahmad was finally released with no charges. He moved to Syria, having lost his home in Baghdad and nowhere to go. About a year after his arrival here, Ahmad started feeling numbness and weakness in one side of his body, something which made speech and swallowing excessively difficult. At first he thought he had a stroke, but when he consulted a specialist, he was told that he had some dead brain cells due to some traumatic accident.
Today, Ahmad drags his legs and is unable to use his arm and hand. Ahmad does not only carry the physical trauma which is there for all to see but the psychological trauma from which he will never heal.
While in Syria, Ahmad met another friend who was an inmate in some Basra camp. This other friend told him that the Americans used to drop hot pepper liquid in the eyes of the prisoners as a form of torture. His friend added that the brave boys did that to him more often than not and today Ahmad's friend is totally BLIND.
Ahmad also met the daughter of a judge, she can't walk anymore, her hips "went loose" after being tortured in Abu Ghraib.
There are more stories, real stories to tell...Stories of "Liberation." Stories weaved by a "civilized" West, the West of " Human Rights and Democracy."
Some bad faithed, dirty, corrupt, hypocrites will argue that this is the work of "a few bad apples."
American and British "ideals" - Yes more like it.
The Western ideals of "Freedom."
P.S: A special thank you to A. for sharing it with me.
Source / Arab Woman Blues
09 August 2008
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