Posts Tagged ‘Guantanamo’

Obama’s Dangerous Hypocrisy on Prisoners at Guantánamo and Bagram

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]As a strong supporter of Barack Obama’s candidacy, and of his administration in general, I must concede that Glenn Greenwald yesterday proved why he is such a valuable commentator in taking the administration on. He kept his rhetorical tics to a minimum and avoided the “ideological wind tunnel” effect that so much of his writing produces – and this allowed his piece to have a broader impact.

Alright – he started off with the same weirdly exaggerated sense of perspective – proving my previous point that Glenn Greenwald uses hyperbole the way other writers use punctuation:

It’s now apparent that the biggest sham in American politics is Barack Obama’s pledge to close Guantanamo and, more generally, to dismantle the Bush/Cheney approach to detaining accused Terrorists. [my emphasis]

But Greenwald quickly got down to making the substantive case – which on this front is extremely strong. On my blog and elsewhere, I have brought up Bagram as an example of Obama’s most clear failure, though I haven’t yet made the sustained case as Greenwald does.

As I wrote earlier, the Supreme Court’s rulings on the rights of detainees to certain basic rights at Guantánamo was based on the idea that our government should not be able to deprive an individual of rights merely by moving them to a particular location. Yet this is exactly what the Obama administration is claiming. Our nation’s freedoms are grounded in our traditions, and at the base of these traditions is a single, fundamental restriction on the state. To quote Winston Churchill:

The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.

Greenwald does not attempt to reconcile Obama’s views about Guantánamo as a candidate with the positions taken by his administration now – he simply hurls the well-justified charge of hypocrisy while tossing in a few snide remarks about those who continue to support Obama (which is a Greenwald staple.) He does not try to grapple with the issues the Obama administration faces in trying to deal with the political, legal, and strategic consequences of the radical actions taken by the Bush administration.

Greenwald is not the “fox” of Isaiah Berlin’s parable, but the very Bushian hedgehog. And on this issue, the hedgehog has grasped the basic truth: In condemning Bush for Guantánamo and the secret CIA prisons while expanding Bagram and using this different location for the same or similar purposes cannot stand, the Obama administration is engaging in rank hypocrisy which we cannot let stand. (As Greenwald points out, its unclear what exactly Bagram is being used for as the Obama administration has been keeping too many documents secret.) I highly reccomend you read Greenwald’s important post from yesterday.

By acting this way regarding detainees at Bagram, Barack Obama threatens the very Rule of Law that he came into office promising to protect – and that he swore to protect when taking the oath of office. Liberals must oppose this; conservatives must oppose this; libertarians must oppose this; Americans must oppose this, and be guided by “Something wiser than our own quick personal impulses… [&] sweeter than the taste of a political victory.”

We must be guided, simply, by Our Lady of the Law.

[Image by DVIDSHUB licensed under Creative Commons.]

My Congressman Pete King Pisses On Michael Jackson; I Repay the Favor

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Reading the news stories about my Congressman Pete King’s “rant” pissing all over Michael Jackson’s dead body – saying “there’s nothing good about this guy” and calling him a “lowlife,” a “pervert”, a “pedophile,”  a “child molestor” – I expected to be incensed when I saw the video. It’s not that I believe Jackson wasn’t any of these things – it’s just that in the absence of any convictions and with the accusations in the second trial at least looking rather calculated – I’m still reserving judgment. I wouldn’t go around denouncing a dead man for being a child molestor based entirely on the media’s portrayal of him.

But rather than being incensed at a ranting Congressman, what I saw instead was a rather sober, if cliched, Rep. Pete King – just down the block from my house in Wantagh – trying to cut through the bullshit and express something he felt without a politically correct censor. He does well to remind us that our country has many unsung heroes – police officers, firemen, people who volunteer in cancer wards, teachers who work in the inner city. It’s always a good time to remind people of that point. King’s “rant” reminded me of the way I had admired him for his defense of Bill Clinton through the impeachment trial:

In that same spirit that led King to take on Michael Jackson (but without relying on smears and accusations and instead relying on the Congressman’s own documented words), let me say this to my congressman, mincing no words:

Whatever your other redeeming qualities, you are a bigot – and a disgrace to the House of Representatives.

You have repeatedly demonstrated that you equate Islam with terrorism in public remarks – notwithstanding your attempts to save face by saying you are not talking about all Muslims.

When asked about protecting civil liberties, you responded that “there are too many mosques in this country.”

When asked by Sean Hannity about previous statement you had made that 85 percent of mosques in America are “ruled by the extremists,” you said that many American Muslims are in reality “an enemy living amongst us.”

You denounced a mosque for running subway ads as “especially shameful because the ads will be running during the seventh anniversary of September 11, and because the subways are considered a primary target of terrorists” – equating, once again, the religion of Islam with terrorism.

You recently claimed that the FBI was investigating a number of Long Island mosques – which if true, was classified and endangered active operations; and if not true, is a lie for your propagandistic purposes.

I first realized you were a bigot when I read your novel Vale of Tears back in 2004 expecting a standard thriller – but what I got instead was page after page of anti-Muslim invective, approvingly noted by the narrator – an Irish American Congressman from Long Island who bore a striking resemblance to you.

And all of this bigotry is justified by your reaction to September 11 – which transformed you from a sensible moderate to a bigot and a fetishist for executive power. Since then, you have had little time for such niceties as the rights of citizens and American values – as you focus on this fight against “the enemy living amongst us,” thereby targeting the rights of us all. When asked about balancing American values with government power over citizens, you advocated the government using any means necessary – ignoring civil liberties and constitutional protections – as “if there is any doubt, [you] want this resolved by going out and getting the job done.” “If there is any doubt” you want to err on the side of constricting the liberty of citizens! This is not consistent with your oath to uphold the Constitution. Given this, it’s not that surprising that you think Guantanamo – a place where hundreds have been tortured according to America’s own records – goes too easy on them – that it’s like “Club Med.”

You are not the type of congressman we need. Your bigotry is embarrassing. Your disregard for American values is abhorrent in a public servant, sworn to uphold the Constitution. Whether you decide to challenge Kristen Gillibrand for New York’s Senate seat or remain in your House seat, I will do my best to make sure you no longer represent me.

That’s from me, Joe Campbell, addressing you in the no-bullshit style you so value. Go ahead – rant about that.

The Amnesia of the Right

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Hilzoy (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

Something about 9/11 seems to have produced a kind of amnesia among some people on the right. It’s as though they think that we have never before had to figure out such questions as: how can we hold dangerous people in detention safely? When someone has served his time and we think he might go on to do something bad, how might we monitor him to ensure that he doesn’t? Suppose we have captured someone who might be guilty of a violent crime, but we do not have enough evidence to charge him: what should we do? 

These are not problems that we confronted for the first time after 9/11. They have been with us from the founding of our country. We somehow managed to face down the world’s most powerful empire, survive a brutal civil war, defeat Hitler, and live for about forty years with an immense arsenal of thermonuclear weapons pointed at our cities, and do all that without giving up on the rule of law. But let nineteen guys with boxcutters fly planes into our buildings and, apparently, we face a Brand New Existential Threat that causes our entire legal history to fly out of our collective heads.

Amen.

Orwellian Tactics

Monday, April 6th, 2009

According to an article in the GuardianClive Stafford Smith and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to reconsider the American stance on releasing information related to their client’s detainment at Guantanamo. Smith, who has some level of American security clearance, attached a memo to this letter which included some information which he had gleaned due to his security clearance – and so he submitted the memo to a privilege review team at America’s Department of Defense for clearance. 

 

[T]he memo was redacted to just the title, leaving the president unable to read it. Stafford Smith included the redacted copy of the memo in his letter to illustrate the extent to which it had been censored. He described it as a “bizarre reality”. “You, as commander in chief, are being denied access to material that would help prove that crimes have been committed by US personnel. This decision is being made by the very people who you command.”

The privilege team argue that by releasing the redacted memo Reprieve has breached the rules that govern Guantánamo lawyers and have made a complaint to the court of “unprofessional conduct”.

 

The Guardian has posted the full letter here (pdf).

If the privilege review team is successful in pressing their complaint, Stafford Smith will be receive a six-month prison sentence. Unfortunately, the privilege review team has not yet identified what rule was supposedly breached.

Congressman Pete King Wants Club Med Investigated For Human Rights Violations Just Like Guantanamo

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]He must have had a bad experience with Club Med. 

Military.com reports that:

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who led a group of congressmen to Guantanamo, told the New York Post the facility was like a Club Med for terrorists.

Club Med? The most reasonable explanation is that Congressman Pete King (my congressman and likely 2010 Republican Senate candidate) was treated very badly at this resort chain, and I’ve contacted Club Med inquiring about this. If Pete King is saying that Club Med is like Guantanamo, he is apparently alleging that they have treated their guests similar to how the prisoners at Guantanamo were treated. So, what types of things happen at Club Med, according to Pete King? Here’s a few examples:

Captives at Guantánamo Bay were chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor for 18 hours or more, urinating and defecating on themselves, an FBI report has revealed.

The Guardian.

Spc. Sean D. Baker, 38, was assaulted in January 2003 [at Guantanamo Bay] after he volunteered to wear an orange jumpsuit and portray an uncooperative detainee. Baker said the MPs, who were told that he was an unruly detainee who had assaulted an American sergeant, inflicted a beating that resulted in a traumatic brain injury…

[Pentagon] officials conceded that he was treated for injuries suffered when a five-man MP “internal reaction force” choked him, slammed his head several times against a concrete floor and sprayed him with pepper gas…

As he was being choked and beaten, Baker said, he screamed a code word, “red,” and shouted: “I’m a U.S. soldier! I’m a U.S. soldier!” He said the beating continued until the jumpsuit was yanked down during the struggle, revealing his military uniform.

The Los Angeles Times.

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions…

Bob Woodward in the Washington Post.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion “tantamount to torture” on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The New York Times.

Then there’s the fact that Khadr claims to have confessed under torture. Videos of him weeping during an interrogation surfaced last year and served only to remind the world that he was a teenager confined at Guantanamo among “the worst of the worst.” Khadr was allegedly shackled in stress positions until he urinated on himself, then covered with pine solvent and used as a “human mop” to clean his own urine. He was beaten, nearly suffocated, beset by attack dogs, and threatened with rape. In May 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Canada v. Khadr that the detention of Khadr at Guantanamo Bay “constituted a clear violation of fundamental human rights protected by international law…” We need to start to make amends for the fact that children in our custody were tortured.

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.

Mohammed al-Qahtani, detainee No. 063, was forced to wear a bra. He had a thong placed on his head. He was massaged by a female interrogator who straddled him like a lap dancer. He was told that his mother and sisters were whores. He was told that other detainees knew he was gay. He was forced to dance with a male interrogator. He was strip-searched in front of women. He was led on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks. He was doused with water. He was prevented from praying. He was forced to watch as an interrogator squatted over his Koran.

That much is known. These details were among the findings of the U.S. Army’s investigation of al-Qahtani’s aggressive interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba…

[Later h]e was interrogated for 18 to 20 hours per day [using coercive rather than sexually humiliating methods, including waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extreme temperatures], for 48 of the next 54 days, according to an Army investigative report. On Dec. 7, 2002, he had to be revived at the detainee hospital when his heart rate fell to 35 beats per minute, according to a log of the interrogation published by Time magazine. Then the interrogation continued.

FBI agents at Guantanamo joined the opposition. A Nov. 27 FBI “legal analysis,” since reported by Newsweek, labeled several parts of the plan as “coercive interrogation techniques which are not permitted by the U.S. Constitution.” It also warned that several of the proposed tactics could constitute torture, depending on how a judge viewed the intent of the interrogator.

MSNBC.

Clearly, if Club Med is anything like Guantanamo is, it should be investigated for torture, prisoner abuse, child abuse, and various violations of international treaties. I’m awaiting a response from Morgan E. Painvin, Club Med’s listed press contact, as to whether Pete King has any substantiation for his apparent allegations of torture and human rights abuses at Club Med.

An alternate and plausible explanation would be that Pete King has been involved in sadomasochism for too long and that it has warped his sense of pleasure and pain. Of course, it’s brave of a suburban politician to admit such a fetish. So I must commend him for his honesty if this is his way of coming out.

I’m not sure I can think of any other reasonable explanations for this statement by Congressman King without calling him delusional, a liar, incredibly ignorant, or a propagandist.

[Photo licensed under Creative Commons courtesy of Ed your don.]

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