The Damage Done

by matttbastard

Apparently The Dark Side was only the iceberg’s tip:

“President Obama’s plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials — barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees — discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in: “there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.”

Ok, moving on:

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch,” a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.

Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.

Rewind my selekta: “[T]he Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosectutions a far lower priorty

A far lower priorty.

Of course, DeYoung and Finn wouldn’t be “objective” if they didn’t (falsely) balance things out with the requisite mealy-mouthed partisan broadsides from–wait for it, kiddies–some unnamed former Bush administration assbaskets who nostalgically break out their by-now-rusty bullshit shovels:

But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.

After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.

“All but about 60 who have been approved for release,” assuming countries can be found to accept them, “are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.”

Well, isn’t that cute!  He never read the (um, non-existent files) that the Pentagon claimed are comprehensive (and are, um, non-existent),  yet somehow still remains completely confident that all Gitmo detainees (apart from the 60 designated for release–oopsie!) are lawfully detained and cannot ever be released, because, um, well, because — hey, look! A Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk!

It does not. make. sense.

Ok, say what you want about the Nazis, but at least they had the *ahem* decency to keep oh-so-impeccable records on their detainees; would that the former administration have shown similar consideration.

Hilzoy (h/t) lays it out on the table:

It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them. I’m just glad they’re finally gone.

Yes, gone, but their tainted legacy, unfortunately, festers, like black mold spreading contamination throughout the structure of US and international law.

Steve Benen puts these latest revelations in context:

The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who’ve been in U.S. custody for several years. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren’t hard enough to clean up.

And in order to completely mitigate the rot that, over the past 8 years, has almost completely eaten away at the rule of law in the US, Sylvia/M believes that the Obama administration must subcontract the restoration of  justice to the Hague:

If Obama really wants to restore our standing in the international community and to reinstate the rule of law here in the United States, now is the time to bind ourselves to the Rome Statute, submit to international justice, and start cleaning up the deeply entrenched messes our previous partisan warhawk regime has wrought.  The damage is growing too deep and too great for our national court systems to fix alone.

At the very least, this latest postscript from The Dark Side further underscores how vital it is for the Obama administration to hold accountable those who, whether deliberately or by virture of willful indifference, chose–chose–to napalm all progress Western Civilization has made since the Magna Carta was signed.

Torching our value system, in order to save it.

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Andrew Sullivan: “We cannot know hope until we end torture.”

by matttbastard

Even though I’m hardly his biggest fan (*cough*), I gotta give Andrew Sullivan props for his recent scorching takedown of a blithely banal WaPo op-ed by High Contrarian torture apologist (and former WaPo editorial page editor) Benjamin Wittes.

Sez Benji:

Detainees [currently held at Guantanamo] who pose a grave national security threat might be unprosecutable for a variety of reasons: because of deficiencies in the criminal law as it stood in 2001, because evidence against them would not stand up in court, because the government might not have enough evidence to convict or because it obtained key evidence under coercive conditions.

Sully unloads:

“Under coercive conditions”. Excuse me, but what does that mean in English? Try: Because they got intelligence from torturing people. Coercion means force. It means they forced “information” out of them. Not coax, trick, lure, force. That means the victims had no choice. And the only way in which human beings can seriously have no choice at all is by subjecting them to such severe mental and physical pain and suffering that they have no option as human beings but to tell their torturers something.

This is the defining line of torture: not some arbitrary comic book technique, but a psychological and physical fact: pushing another human being to the point where choice becomes unavailable to him or her.

The conclusion is especially on-point:

[P]eople wonder why I seem so angry and concerned about this issue, about its centrality to this election, and about the unique, once-in-a-century chance to put it behind us before it infects us beyond cure. It is, in my judgment, the biggest single crisis we now face, because it does not simply affect our wealth or our safety, but because it affects who we are.

We cannot know hope until we end torture.

Emphatically seconded.

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John Brennan Will Not Be CIA Director in Obama Administration

by matttbastard

Thank Maude:

John Brennan, President-elect Barack Obama’s top adviser on intelligence, took his name out of the running Tuesday for any intelligence position in the new administration.Brennan wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Obama that he did not want to be a distraction. His potential appointment as CIA director has raised a firestorm in liberal blogs that associate him with the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention and rendition policies.

[…]

In a 2005 interview on “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” Brennan defended rendition as “an absolutely vital tool.” In 2007 on CBS News, he said the CIA’s harsh interrogation program, which included waterboarding on at least three prisoners, produced “life saving” intelligence. Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning.

Brennan has spoken out publicly against waterboarding.

“The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored,” he wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current administration only to be rebuffed by the White House.”

Glennzilla explains why every decent human being should be breathing a sigh of relief at this development, and why Brennan’s contention that he should have gotten a plate of cookies because he was out of the loop with regards to the sausage-making process of torture “enhanced interrogation” is, in a word, bullshit:

Whether he “was involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies” is not and never was the issue.  Rather, as I documented at length when I first wrote about Brennan, he was an ardent supporter of those policies, including “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rendition, both of which he said he was intimately familiar with as a result of his CIA position.  As virtually everyone who opposed his nomination made clear — Andrew Sullivan, Digby, Cenk Uygur, Big Tent Democrat and others — that is why he was so unacceptable.

You can read Brennan’s withdrawal letter in full here.

h/t pogge @ BnR

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“Dry Language, Dry Bones”

by matttbastard

Tom Hayden:

Antiseptic language is sometimes necessary in journalism and law to make objective evaluations. But it also can suppress moral and emotional responses to suffering and serve as a sedative in managing public opinion. Riveting stories of torture dungeons don’t rate much in the media in comparison to domestic violence between white Americans. For instance, clear evidence that Sunni children were being murdered by the Shi’a captors, persuasive to a top US military investigator, made it into the Salt Lake Tribune, but not much further. The US Judge Advocate happened to be from Utah, making it a local story.

Counterinsurgency often is framed as winning hearts and minds, not as crushing the alleged insurgents to protect the civilian population. In South Vietnam, that led to “strategic hamlets” and the Phoenix program. In Central America, it was death squads who killed priests, nuns and thousands of civilians. In both cases, American and world opinion was shocked.

In the case of Iraq, there is silence in the West.

h/t Nell in comments @ ObWi

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Various Reads

by matttbastard

Today looks to be a busy one in the meatworld, so here’s are some recommended reads to keep you distracted until I can find some time to throw up something substantial:

James Carroll, What the pirates say, Boston Globe

Javier Marias, Déjà Vu All Over Again, The New Republic

Marie Cocco, Where Are the Female Arnold Schwarzeneggers?, WaPo Writers Group

Azadeh Dastyari, The detained refugees Obama will not free, The Age

Robert Weissman, The 10 Worst Corporations of 2008, Multinational Monitor

Charles P. Pierce, Torn Up, Boston Globe Magazine

James Surowiecki, The Perils of Efficiency, The New Yorker

Tamura Lomax, William R. Jones Revisited: Is God a Racist Misogynist?, Religion Dispatches

Michelle Goldberg, Proposition 8, The Mormon Coming Out Party, Religion Dispatches

John Harwood, Change Is Landing in Old Hands, New York Times

Gary Younge, Americans have never felt so excited, and yet so depressed, The Guardian

Elaine Scarry, Presidential Crimes, The Boston Review

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Amil Khan: “The Obama victory will require follow-up if he is to change perceptions [in the Muslim world].”

by matttbastard

guantanamo

Amil Khan on what Barack Obama’s victory could potentially mean for al-Qaida, the Middle East, and America’s image in the Muslim world:

It’s often overlooked that al-Qaida promises a fairer society. If its support is flagging, it’s because ordinary people have looked at its methods and wondered what sort of state it would run. But the calls for an end to corruption, nepotism and restoration of pride, dignity and self-determination still resound just as they have for more than 100 years through other ideologies.

Al-Qaida’s brand has done well in the past seven years because of America’s mistakes rather than the group’s achievements. By just proving its continued existence, it could assume an image on the streets of Cairo, Casablanca and Karachi as the plucky standard-bearer of Muslim pride. The torture in Abu Ghraib and the detainees in Guantanamo were heaven-sent opportunities to say; “Look! Rule of law? Human rights? All lies. None of that means anything to America.”

[…]

When America starts showing that it can deliver social justice at home, it makes public opinion in the Muslim world wonder whether it can do so abroad. However, the election only produces a window of opportunity for America, and Britain, to make a serious dent in al-Qaida’s rhetoric by proving their commitment to the ideas and principles for which they say they fight. The Obama victory will require follow-up if he is to change perceptions. Closing Guantánamo, as the president-elect has pledged, would be a great start.

Related: More on Obama’s ambiguous plans for the post-Guantanamo era from Cernig, Spattackerman, digby, and Mithras, who asks a salient question that threatens to be lost in the shadows of Camp Justice:

Although Gitmo is large and symbolically important, we reportedly have secret prisons all over the world. Is Obama going to include people being held there for long periods of time in this program?

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Judge Orders Release of Unlawfully Held Uighur Prisoners

by matttbastard

Well, it’s about goddamn time:

In a dramatic setback for the Bush administration, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government Tuesday to immediately transfer to the U.S. and release 17 Chinese-born Muslims detained for seven years at Guantanamo.

Reading his decision from the bench, Judge Ricardo Urbina declared the continued detention of the group from the ethnic Uighur minority to be “unlawful” and ordered the government to transfer the detainees to the U.S. by Friday.

The decision marked the first time a court has ordered the release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S.

[…]

Dozens of members of a Uighur-American organization attending the hearing reacted to his words with applause.

“The American system has given us justice,” said Rebia Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress.

While I am relieved that the Uighur prisoners have finally been released, I have little confidence that the Bush admin will, for once, heed Judge Urbina’s warning “not to attempt to circumvent [the Uighur’s] release once they arrive in the U.S. by detaining them on immigration holds.” Using the past 8 long years as a benchmark, it seems the one thing you can always count on from the Bush/Cheney White House is a demonstrative, at times spiteful, contempt for the rule of law. According to a Bloomberg News report on the ruling, the Bush admin claimed “it has wartime authority to hold the men indefinitely even if they aren’t enemy combatants [emph. mine].”

Indeed, as noted by Matt Corley of Think Progress, “NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reports that the Bush administration doesn’t want the detainees coming to the U.S. because “that sets a legal precedent.””

Williams:

[T]his is a big deal because for the first time in the six plus years that Guantanamo Bay has been a detainee center for enemy combatants picked up overseas a federal judge has ordered that some of them should be released and released into the U.S., a step that the Justice Department and the Bush administration have continually opposed.

[…]

And you know, that does raise a larger question about Guantanamo Bay because as the U.S. tries to get other countries around the world to accept some of the detainees that the U.S. itself believes should no longer be held there. Many of those countries are saying, “hey, you set up Guantanamo Bay, you, you know, you should take some of them too.” So this is a very key issue in the history of Guantanamo Bay.

According to Bloomberg News, there are “an estimated 225 detainees still at Guantanamo Bay,” none of whom, it’s safe to say, the Bush admin would want seeking sanctuary in the US (and, potentially, speaking to US media outlets about what happened to them during their Gitmo tenure.)  I find it hard to imagine we’ll see a humble concession to this court-ordered check on executive authority, based on, as skdadl puts it, “the continuing perversity of the Bush administration in its insistence before the courts that the president’s political decisions about justice trump the powers of the judiciary”.  Still, one can’t help but hope that, finally, some small inkling of justice has been achieved for these 17 victims of imperial hubris and willful indifference.

Related: Background on the illegally detained Uighur prisoners from Hilzoy, The Washington Post (h/t skdadl), Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, David Bario, and Justin Rood, who cites a Justice Department report (PDF) that claims “U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up [the] detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men — or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves”.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has more on foreign interrogators at Guantanamo.

Also see this recent HRW report on remaining Guantanamo prisoners, Locked up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo.

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