The Department of Torture & The Truth of Torture

November 6th, 2005 - by admin

The Pen & Newsweek – 2005-11-06 08:34:51

The Department of Torture
The Pen

(October 31, 2005) — The Senate amendment to the new Defense Appropriations Act would explicitly prohibit the US government from subjecting those in its custody to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. It’s pretty straightforward stuff. Yet despite a rousing 90-9 vote for its passage, there are still dark forces at work trying to subvert the intent of this measure, the language of which must survive the conference committee with the House of Representatives.

If the morality perverters have their way, there will be a carve-out to exempt the CIA from this prohibition. They are seeking this with the express knowledge that sadists (acting under the color of CIA authority) have been responsible for the horrific abuses which made necessary further action and clarification of existing law.

This exemption would in fact turn the measure on its head to by omission AUTHORIZE torture by a particular agency, diametrically contrary to the amendment’s intent. They might as well appoint a “Torture Czar” and make it a cabinet level position.

Actually, for all practical purposes we already have a torture czar . . . it’s the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney. Yes, it is Cheney himself who is PERSONALLY pressuring the conference committee to rescind the McCain amendment in this way (just as he was pressuring CIA analysts in the cooking of the justification for war with Iraq).

It has been Cheney himself who has taken a lead role from the beginning, talking in 2002 about the need to revive the “dark arts.” Since they could no longer keep the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and elsewhere classified, they have prosecuted a couple of selected patsies for these crimes, while their agency handlers right up through the chain of command have continued in their unconscionable ways.

This is not to let the president himself off the hook. In the first place there is Bush’s own overreaching lust for absolute dictatorial power. Indeed, his longtime attorney and ally, Alberto Gonzales, put his name on the infamous Jan 25, 2002 memo, referring to the Geneva convention as “quaint.”

But what many people do not realize is that the heart of that reprehensible legal pretzel job was drafted by David Addington, the staff attorney closely associated with Dick Cheney. And would anybody like to guess Mr. Addington’s current title in the White House? That’s right. He’s been tapped to replace the indicted “Scooter” Libby as Cheney’s Chief of Staff.

There isn’t a “talking head” out there not drinking their own “talking points Kool-Aid” who believes the Fitzgerald investigation is remotely close to being finished. If anything, the allegations in the Libby indictment, which identify Cheney as the one who specifically advised Libby that Valerie (Plame) Wilson worked under the covert wing of the CIA, suggest that the Vice President is at least one of the big game that the Special Counsel is still pursuing.

The tight-lipped Fifth Amendment-type reactions given by Cheney in the aftermath of the indictment to explain his own role in the leak scandal do nothing to dispel the intrigue. Instead the administration is circling the torture-advocate wagons even tighter with the promotion of Addington, while the shadow of Traitorgate continues to darken over their heads.

Especially now, with the chickens of treason coming home to roost in the nest of the chicken hawks themselves, this is the last time in history for the authors of torture as official American policy to be allowed to push for largesse for even wider atrocities. We must all immediately contact our senators and members of the House of Representatives who might have influence on the conference committee to demand that the overwhelmingly approved language of the McCain amendment remain intact in the final Defense Appropriations Bill.

ACTION FORM: (McCain Amendment)

We must also recognize that this is profoundly related to the selection of a replacement for Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee. Remember -— one of the talking points of the neocons (before they turned on her for not being sufficiently and demonstrably loyal to their causes) was that she would support the president’s policies in the deceptively dubbed “war on terror.”

But the universal common denominator of all Bush appointees is their submissive endorsement of the unlimited expansion of the president’s power to do whatever he likes in defiance of Congress and even the people themselves.

In his own confirmation hearing Roberts refused to say (among other things) whether the Congress would have the power to stop a war if the president ignored their authority. That case might come before him, he argued, as if he knew something we didn’t.

And it most certainly will if Bush is not stopped from making any more such appointments. Roberts and his ilk will not legislate from the bench (as if that were the boogie man to be feared).

No, instead they will UN-legislate from the bench, perhaps even to remove the McCain language from American law by court order on the grounds that it would interfere with the power of the president to play God. Remember also that in his first day on the bench of the high court Roberts left the sheep’s clothing in his chambers to ask aggressively why they should not overturn the TWICE-expressed will of the people in the Oregon “Right to Die” case.

For all of these reasons we must demand that the next nominee to the Supreme Court be a true moderate and a true nonpartisan. One of the truly beautiful things about Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is that the American people can look at his work and agree that it will be based entirely on the facts and the law.

Even opposing attorneys of those he has indicted must concede that he is unwavering in his fairness and his integrity, favoring neither side by any inherent bias. We can demand no less from the next justice to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

ACTION FORM: (Supreme Court)

If we all speak out, we can remove the Vice President from his position as the torture czar. It’s not as if he doesn’t have enough other black hats to wear; he’s already serving in the capacity of treason czar as it is. Sheriff Fitzgerald is working on that last one. The rest is up to we the people.

Authors Website:

The Truth about Torture
Michael Hirsh / Newsweek

( November 7, 2005 Issue) — A courageous soldier and a determined senator demand clear standards.

Army Capt. Ian Fishback is plainly a very brave man. Crazy brave, even. Not only has the 26-year-old West Pointer done a tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, he has had the guts to suggest publicly that his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, lied to Congress.

After making headlines a month ago for alleging that systematic interrogation abuses occurred in Iraq-and that the Pentagon was not forthright about it-the plain-spoken Fishback went back to Fort Bragg, N.C. He is now practicing small-unit tactics in the woods for a month as part of Special Forces training. After that, he hopes to fight for his country once again overseas.

Fishback’s courage in taking a lonely stand may be paying off. Inspired by his example, “a growing critical mass of soldiers is coming forward with allegations of abuse,” says Marc Garlasco of Human Rights Watch, the New York-based activist group that first revealed Fishback’s story.

One of them is Anthony Lagouranis, a Chicago-based Army specialist who recently left the military. He supports Fishback’s contention that abuses in Iraq were systematic-and were authorized by officers in an effort to pressure detainees into talking.

“I think our policies required abuse,” says Lagouranis. “There were freaking horrible things people were doing. I saw [detainees] who had feet smashed with hammers. One detainee told me he had been forced by Marines to sit on an exhaust pipe, and he had a softball-sized blister to prove it. The stuff I did was mainly torture lite: sleep deprivation, isolation, stress positions, hypothermia. We used dogs.”

Fishback has also won a devoted and powerful ally in Sen. John McCain, who says that the captain’s tale “is what I view as the tip of the iceberg in the military today.” Fishback’s account has proved to be a prime exhibit in McCain’s long-running feud with Rumsfeld over conduct of the Iraq war.

In a long letter to Congress obtained by Newsweek, Fishback told McCain and others in Congress that when the Defense secretary testified before Congress in the aftermath of the 2004 Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, Rumsfeld did not accurately represent what was occurring in Iraq.

Fishback said that many of the brutal practices shown in the Abu Ghraib photos-which the Pentagon called the work of a few rogue soldiers “on the night shift”-were actually “in accordance with what I perceived as US policy.”

After he heard Rumsfeld testify in May 2004 that the US forces were following the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, Fishback wrote: “I was immediately concerned that the Army was taking part in a lie to the Congress, which would have been a clear violation of the Constitution.”

Based on what he saw, Geneva rules for prisoner treatment were not being followed, he says. And for 17 months, a frustrated Fishback tried to get a clear answer about what standards were being used- consulting his superior officers, Army lawyers, even a professor of philosophy at West Point, Col. Daniel Zupan.

He says he never got an answer. A devout Christian, Fishback held soul-searching discussions with fellow officers in Bible class about what he should do. In the end he went to Human Rights Watch for guidance.

Like Fishback, McCain has grown keenly frustrated by the lack of clarity in the Bush administration’s interrogation policies. The Arizona senator, a former POW who was tortured in Vietnam, is now battling the administration over an amendment he has attached to the new defense appropriations bill.

It would set down, once and for all, what is allowed in interrogation rooms. In simple, clear language, the two-and-a-half-page amendment forbids cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment “regardless of nationality or physical location” — and defines such treatment as the same as that which is prohibited under the US Constitution. In a rebuke to President George W. Bush last month, the GOP-controlled Senate voted 90-9 to approve the McCain amendment.

The Bush administration has consistently maintained that it is not US policy to abuse prisoners. But Bush has threatened to veto the entire appropriations bill if it contains McCain’s language — all in an effort to preserve the right to treat prisoners in whatever way the president decides is necessary.

Last week , Vice President Dick Cheney, with CIA Director Porter Goss in tow, met with McCain to try to persuade him to exclude the CIA from any restrictions. The administration also sought to cut out the term “regardless of physical location,” McCain said in an interview.

The Washington Post, in a harsh editorial, later branded Cheney “the vice president for torture.” Cheney’s spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said she had no comment on the McCain meeting. CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Dyck also declined to talk about it.

But John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who drafted an August 2002 memo that justified rough methods, said last week that the administration should continue to treat terrorists differently overseas because they “do not operate according to the Geneva Conventions.”

Critics, many of them inside the military, say Yoo and other administration hawks have never understood that US observance of Geneva rules is not dependent on what the enemy does. As McCain puts it: “This isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.” He says the administration could make things worse than they already are by putting a law on the books that will, in effect, authorize abusive practices at overseas facilities.

“We aren’t going to allow any weakening of language,” McCain told Newsweek. If the present bill is vetoed or watered down, he adds, “we will certainly put it on another piece of legislation. I think we could get 90 votes tomorrow.”

Even at senior levels of the Pentagon, some officials are uneasy about the administration’s opposition to the McCain amendment. “The uniformed military is appalled by Cheney’s stand,” says a Pentagon official who would talk only if he were not identified.

For a year and a half now, the administration has sought to make the Abu Ghraib scandal go away. When questioned about abuses, the Pentagon regularly cites the sheer numbers of punishments it has administered to US personnel-230 cases in all, including jail sentences, demotions and other nonjudicial discipline.

But Defense officials rarely point out that no senior officers or civilian officials have been charged since Abu Ghraib. Other officers say they too are seething over the lack of accountability at senior levels. Colonel Zupan, the West Point philosophy teacher, says he himself should have acted when he was deployed in Afghanistan and heard of similar abuses. “I didn’t raise my eyebrows about it,” he said. “I think it was wrong of me. And if I didn’t, as a field officer, then how are we going to be too harsh on an enlisted soldier?”

The Army has sought to paint Fishback as a lone malcontent. Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, says the Army Criminal Investigation Division was investigating the captain’s allegations. He calls Fishback’s long letter “verbiage” and says he had no comment on the questions raised about Rumsfeld’s veracity.

But Newsweek has obtained corroboration for Fishback’s central point in the Army’s own files. According to papers released by the Defense Department in September in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, supporting documents for an inspector-general probe in July 2004 show that abuses were much more widespread than the Army acknowledged. In one IG document, an Army sergeant testifies that putting detainees in stressful positions and pouring water on them “seemed to be something all interrogators” in the Fourth Infantry Division were doing.

Before heading into the Fort Bragg woods this week, Fishback told Newsweek that he doesn’t want to talk to the media now. “I will just say: I support clear standards in accordance with American values,” he said. Judging from the firestorm he started, he may someday get them.

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