As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Sickness Is Still With Us

After printing excerpts of the Red Cross torture report previously, Mark Danner has now published the entire report, every damning detail, along with a companion article about the contents therein. Scott Shane's article in the New York Times highlights the participation of medical personnel:

Medical personnel were deeply involved in the abusive interrogation of terrorist suspects held overseas by the Central Intelligence Agency, including torture, and their participation was a “gross breach of medical ethics,” a long-secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded.

Based on statements by 14 prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda and were moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006, Red Cross investigators concluded that medical professionals working for the C.I.A. monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls, the report said.

Facilitating such practices, which the Red Cross described as torture, was a violation of medical ethics even if the medical workers’ intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury, the report said. But it found that the medical professionals’ role was primarily to support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners, and that the professionals had “condoned and participated in ill treatment.”

At times, according to the detainees’ accounts, medical workers “gave instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop particular methods.”

The description of medical workers studiously monitoring the pulse or oxygen level of a suspect being tortured, or measuring the swelling in another's leg as he is shackled to the ceiling and forced to stand, seems the very banality of evil.

In a separate report released yesterday, military officials were implicated in and aware of torture techniques at Guantanamo, contrary to their own Congressional testimony.

Today Seton Hall Law delivered a report establishing that military officials at the highest levels were aware of the abusive interrogation techniques employed at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO), and misled Congress during testimony. In addition, FBI personnel reported that the information obtained from inhumane interrogations was unreliable.

Professor Mark Denbeaux, Director of the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research, commented on the findings: "Who knew about the torture at GTMO? Turns out they all did. It's not news that the interrogators were torturing and abusing detainees. We've got FBI reports attesting to this. But now we've discovered that the highest levels knew about the torture and abuse, and covered it up.

"Abu Ghraib was the flashpoint and provoked the FBI to formally hand its reports to the DOD, which in turn forced the DOD to respond with what became known as the Schmidt Report. Schmidt's investigation was essentially a whitewash, but, ironically, the abuse was so pervasive that his team turned up still more incidents. To conceal the problems documented by both the FBI and the military, the DOD published an incomplete, sanitized report, culminating in Schmidt testifying before Congress that there was no torture or abuse at GTMO [...]

FBI personnel stationed at GTMO submitted a series of unsolicited reports describing at least 118 improper interrogation techniques: physical harm to the genitals--to a degree punishable by life imprisonment as sexual assault under military law; forced viewings of homosexual pornography; denial of food and water; disorientation techniques such as sleep deprivation; and religious abuse such as forced "satanic baptisms."

And, in order to keep those tortured at Gitmo, the Justice Department hid the mental illness of one of their top witnesses:

The government censored parts of the records, but enough has been made public that it's clear that the witness, a fellow detainee, was being treated weekly for a serious psychological problem and was questioned about whether he had any suicidal thoughts. The witness provided information in the government's case for detaining Aymen Saeed Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor who the government announced last week it would no longer seek to detain.

In a little-noticed ruling last week, Judge Emmet Sullivan found that the witness's testimony in other cases could be challenged as unreliable.

During a hearing last week, Sullivan castigated the government for not turning over the medical records and ordered department lawyers to explain why he shouldn't cite them for contempt of court.

"To hide relevant and exculpatory evidence from counsel and from the court under any circumstances, particularly here where there is no other means to discover this information and where the stakes are so very high . . . is fundamentally unjust, outrageous and will not be tolerated," Sullivan said, according to a transcript of the hearing.

This sickness, with the kangaroo courts and the cover-ups and the implication of more and more officials, will remain as a black cloud over the head of this government if it's not dealt with properly. It is not enough to "look forward." We tortured multiple prisoners with multiple banned techniques, all in the name of "fighting the war on terror," in actuality making us less safe after their eventual disclosure and providing no intelligence value. As Danner notes, this has been going on for years, and in the absence of a ruling - and punishment - for those who ordered this, we will continue to have corrosive and distorting fights over the efficacy of this violation of American and international law.

It is because of the claim that torture protected the US that the many Americans who still nod their heads when they hear Dick Cheney's claims about the necessity for "tough, mean, dirty, nasty" tactics in the war on terror respond to its revelation not by instantly condemning it but instead by asking further questions. For example: Was it necessary? And: Did it work? To these questions the last president and vice-president, who "kept the country safe" for "seven-plus years," respond "yes," and "yes." And though as time passes the numbers of those insisting on asking those questions, and willing to accept those answers, no doubt falls, it remains significant, and would likely grow substantially after another successful attack.

This political fact partly explains why, when it comes to torture, we seem to be a society trapped in a familiar and never-ending drama. For though some of the details provided—and officially confirmed for the first time—in the ICRC report are new, and though the first-person accounts make chilling reading and have undoubted dramatic power, one can't help observing that the broader discussion of torture is by now in its essential outlines nearly five years old, and has become, in its predictably reenacted outrage and defiant denials from various parties, something like a shadow play.

I agree with President Obama that torture hasn't made us safer, but the continued failure to deal with what the Bush Administration has done CONTINUES to cripple our political influence around the world and our moral capability to lead. John Conyers released a report to little fanfare last week called "Reining in the Imperial Presidency" detailing all the lawlessness enacted, the politicization of justice, the assertion of extreme executive power, the assaults on individual liberty, the retribution against critics, the passing of secret law, all of it. And the committee offers 50 recommendations for how to reverse this challenge to Constitutional government. Right at the top are these two:

Congress should establish a Blue Ribbon Commission or similar panel to investigate the broad range of policies of the Bush Administration that were undertaken under claims of unreviewable war powers, including detention, enhanced interrogation, ghosting and black sites, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance.

The Attorney General should appoint a Special Counsel, or expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction, to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush Administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance.

It's not just about ending these practices. By refusing to investigate them, and even actively invoking claims like the "state secrets privilege" to shield any possibility of a reckoning, the Administration implicates itself. Because they must use the same extreme claims of executive power, in some cases more so, to facilitate the cover-up. As Danner says:

There is a sense in which our society is finally posing that "what should we do" question. That it is doing so only now, after the fact, is a tragedy for the country—and becomes even more damaging as the debate is carried on largely by means of politically driven assertions and leaks. For even as the practice of torture by Americans has withered and died, its potency as a political issue has grown. The issue could not be more important, for it cuts to the basic question of who we are as Americans, and whether our laws and ideals truly guide us in our actions or serve, instead, as a kind of national decoration to be discarded in times of danger. The only way to confront the political power of the issue, and prevent the reappearance of the practice itself, is to take a hard look at the true "empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years," and speak out, clearly and credibly, about what that story really tells.

In failing to wrestle with this, or letting Spain do it for us, we lose ourselves.

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