Posts Tagged ‘torture

09
May
13

Roundup – Star Wars Filibuster

Line O’ the Day:

I try my best to be impartial. Many of you think I am not. I look at it this way: If my relationship with Kevin Demoff and Fisher helped me spend the first round inside the Rams’ draft room — and of course it didn’t hurt — then read the story and weigh whether it was worth it. I believe it was.

That’s awful big of you, Pete. Also specious reasoning to assume that simply disclosing conflict of interest eliminates it. C’MON GUYS, HE’S TRYING REAL HARD NOT TO BE SWAYED BY CATERED LUNCHES AND OPEN MOUTH JEFF FISHER KISSES! Also, I like how Peter’s argument is “I know many of you think I’m biased and have reasons to think so, but read my shit anyway. Sure, it’s still fucked, but you’re the one who read it, so who’s the real sap?”

– Christmas Ape, “Peter King Got Puked On By A Kid On A Plane. Lofty Puke.” [KSK]

Best of the Best:

There’s More Than One Way to Sleep [Robert T. Gonzalez on io9]

These disagreements give rise to a sort of chicken and egg scenario that pits definitions of sleep against why we sleep in the first place, and it’s a rather confounding scenario, at that. Sleep – after literally centuries of research – remains one of the most poorly understood areas of biology. In the words of William Dement, a pioneer in the field of sleep research and founder of Stanford University’s Sleep Research Center: “As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”

US torture ‘indisputable’, CNN’s humiliation, and Iran sanctions [Glenn Greenwald on The Guardian]

The disgrace of the American torture regime falls on Bush officials and secondarily the media and political institutions that acquiesced to it, but the full-scale protection of those war crimes (and the denial of justice to their victims) falls squarely on the Obama administration.

Happiness is…thinking you get laid more often than your friends [Robert T. Gonzalez on io9]

Does this mean you should try to increase your happiness by trying to have more sex than your friends? Hardly. In fact, a better tactic might be to ignore their sex lives altogether. The conflation of relative sexual activity with happiness (and the overarching social awareness that Wadsworth mentions), calls to mind a review co-authored in 2011 by Yale psychologist June Gruber, wherein she concludes that, when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, one of the best things you can do is stop trying to be happy.

Sometimes, We Want Prices to Fool Us [Stephanie Clifford and Catherine Rampell on The New York Times]

The problem, economists and marketing experts say, is that consumers are conditioned to wait for deals and sales, partly because they do not have a good sense of how much an item should be worth to them and need cues to figure that out. Just having a generically fair or low price, as Penney did, said Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, assumes that consumers have some context for how much items should cost. But they don’t.

Tata’s Nano, the World’s Cheapest Car, Is Sputtering [Siddharth Philip on Bloomberg BusinessWeek]

Tata Managing Director Karl Slym insists the company won’t kill the tiny, egg-shaped car. It will soon add improvements to breathe new life into the model, a move that would ultimately bring its price closer to those of rivals. The Nano’s marketing “didn’t jell with anybody,” Slym says. Scooter drivers weren’t attracted because others “don’t think I’m buying a car, they think I’m buying something between a two-wheeler and a car. Anyone who had a car didn’t want to buy it, because it was supposed to be a two-wheeler replacement.”

Report: No Easy Options for Feds in Legal Marijuana States [Maggie Clark on Stateline]

The Justice Department could choose to challenge the marijuana laws in federal court, according to CRS. However, the researchers cast doubt on the argument that that the state laws preempt federal authority, or directly violate the intent of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, just as dangerous as heroin and LSD. But if a legal victory is a long shot, so is trying to enforce federal law without one, according to CRS.  Without the cooperation of the states, CRS notes, federal agents simply do not have the resources or manpower to arrest and prosecute every person who violates the federal Controlled Substances Act by growing, selling or using marijuana. At the same time, according to the report, declining to enforce the federal law may ‘pose a threat to federal supremacy by acknowledging that states are free to make policy decisions in direct conflict with those made at the federal level.’ In November 2012, voters in Washington and Colorado agreed to directly challenge the federal marijuana prohibition and legalize the growing, selling and consuming of marijuana for all people age 21 and older. State officials have spent the last few months working on regulatory schemes that would not run afoul of federal authorities, who have so far taken a hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement in both states. Attorney General Eric Holder still has not given any indication of the administration’s response to the laws and has remained silent since testifying at a Senate hearing in March that ‘we’ve had good communication (with Colorado and Washington) … I expect that we will have an ability to announce what our policy is going to be relatively soon.’

Game Theory: Jane Austen Had It First [Jennifer Schuessler on The New York Times]

Most game theory, he noted, treats players as equally “rational” parties sitting across a chessboard. But many situations, Mr. Chwe points out, involve parties with unequal levels of strategic thinking. Sometimes a party may simply lack ability. But sometimes a powerful party faced with a weaker one may not realize it even needs to think strategically. Take the scene in “Pride and Prejudice” where Lady Catherine de Bourgh demands that Elizabeth Bennet promise not to marry Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth refuses to promise, and Lady Catherine repeats this to Mr. Darcy as an example of her insolence — not realizing that she is helping Elizabeth indirectly signal to Mr. Darcy that she is still interested. It’s a classic case of cluelessness, which is distinct from garden-variety stupidity, Mr. Chwe argues. “Lady Catherine doesn’t even think that Elizabeth” — her social inferior — “could be manipulating her,” he said. (Ditto for Mr. Darcy: gender differences can also “cause cluelessness,” he noted, though Austen was generally more tolerant of the male variety.) The phenomenon is hardly limited to Austen’s fictional rural society. In a chapter called “Real-World Cluelessness,” Mr. Chwe argues that the moralistic American reaction to the 2004 killing and mutilation of four private security guards working with the American military in Falluja — L. Paul Bremer III, leader of the American occupation of Iraq, later compared the killers to “human jackals”— obscured a strategic truth: that striking back at the city as a whole would only be counterproductive. “Calling your enemy an animal might improve your bargaining position or deaden your moral qualms, but at the expense of not being able to think about your enemy strategically,” Mr. Chwe writes.

Is This How You Really Talk? [Sue Shellenbarger on The Wall Street Journal]

People who hear recordings of rough, weak, strained or breathy voices tend to label the speakers as negative, weak, passive or tense. People with normal voices are seen as successful, sexy, sociable and smart, according to a study of 74 adults published recently in the Journal of Voice…Other common vocal irritants include “uptalk”—pronouncing statements as if they were questions—and “vocal fry”—ending words in a raspy growl. Such quirks “make the listener think the person who is speaking is either uncomfortable or in pain,” says Brian Petty, a speech pathologist at the Emory Voice Center in Atlanta.

San Francisco Probes Nevada for ‘Dumping’ Mental Cases [Bloomberg]

San Francisco will investigate allegations that Nevada has bused hundreds of indigent people with mental illnesses out of state, including to the Northern California city. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said his office has opened a formal investigation and is requesting public records from the Nevada Health and Human Services Department, according to a letter today to Mike Willden, the agency’s director. The investigation follows reports in the Sacramento Bee newspaper that the Rawson Neal Psychiatric Hospital, a mental- health facility controlled by the state, put more than 1,500 mentally-ill patients on Greyhound Lines Inc. buses and sent them to cities throughout the U.S. over the past five years, with a third going to California, including at least 36 to San Francisco, Herrera said in a statement.

What rights should Dzhokhar Tsarnaev get and why does it matter? [Glenn Greenwald on The Guardian]

[C]onsider how radically Obama’s “war on terror” has altered political opinion. As noted, even the narrow “public safety” exception to Miranda was the work of mostly right-wing Supreme Court justices who long hated Miranda. For that reason, it was loathed by liberals, including Thurgood Marshall, who viewed it as a stealth attempt to destroy Miranda. Yet now, the Obama administration has radically expanded even that once-controversial exception by claiming the power to question suspects without Miranda warnings far beyond what even those conservative justices recognized (as the Obama DOJ put it: “There may be exceptional cases in which, although all relevant public safety questions have been asked, agents nonetheless conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary”)

Bipartisan Report: US Practiced Widespread Torture, Has “No Justification” Doesn’t Yield Significant Information, Nation’s Highest Officials Bear Responsibility [Washington’s Blog via The Big Picture]

Indeed, top American military and intelligence interrogation experts from both sides of the aisle have conclusively proven the following 10 facts about torture: (1.) Torture is not a partisan issue (2.) Waterboarding is torture (3.) Torture decreases our national security (4.) Torture can not break hardened terrorists (5.) Torture is not necessary even in a “ticking time bomb” situation (6.) The specific type of torture used by the U.S. was never aimed at producing actionable intelligence … but was instead aimed at producing false confessions (7.) Torture did not help to get Bin Laden (8.) Torture did not provide valuable details regarding 9/11 (9.) Many innocent people were tortured (10.) America still allows torture

NFL Plays Offense to Get Public Money for Stadiums [Daniel C. Vock on Stateline]

In fact, the vast majority of major professional sports teams in baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey have also received new homes. But the NFL, followed closely by Major League Baseball, depends most heavily on public subsidies, Matheson and Baade found…“The NFL is somewhat different than the other leagues, because it doesn’t really matter where the teams play; it only matters that they are playing in a new, heavily subsidized luxury suite venue,” said sports economist John Vrooman of Vanderbilt University… NFL franchises threaten to move, usually to Los Angeles, if they do not get stadium improvements. “The thing is, that is an extremely credible threat,” said Matheson of Holy Cross. Los Angeles has not had an NFL team since 1994, even though it is the second-largest media market in the country. Two potential ownership groups have put together credible plans to build stadiums for teams willing to move to southern California. Right now, the San Diego Chargers and the St. Louis Rams (which left Los Angeles in 1994) are threatening to leave for Los Angeles. At least seven other teams have made the same threat in recent years, according to Vanderbilt’s Vrooman. “In the NFL’s extortion game, the L.A. market may be more valuable to the NFL empty than occupied,” he said.

The Lease They Can Do: What the Fight Over ‘Used’ Music Reveals About Online Media [Paul Ford on Bloomberg Businessweek]

“The clear” in this case is the “first sale doctrine,” which holds that when you buy a copy of a copyrighted work, you have the right to “sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner.” Capitol Records didn’t think this applied in a world of perfect duplication. Neither did a U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan. There are many ways to look at this decision. One in particular stands out: ReDigi is capitalizing on the arbitrary rules put in place by music sellers regarding the use and re-use of digital files. Often, you’re not buying the song so much as the license that lets you hear the song. (A few months ago there was a good bit of speculation as to who owns your music after you die, and the answer was: “no one you know.”)

You didn’t make the Harlem Shake go viral—corporations did [Kevin Ashton on Quartz]

“Harlem Shake” originated with a drunken man named Albert Boyce dancing at Harlem’s Rucker Park basketball court in 1981. It was sobered up by children in the bleachers and became a popular dance in the hip-hop community. When Boyce died in 2006, the dance had found its way into some rap songs and videos. In 2012, Harry “Baauer” Rodrigues sampled one of these songs, Plastic Little’s “Miller Time,” and dropped it onto a piece of electronic dance music made in a style called “trap” that is only somewhat related to hip hop. The song was a commercial failure until student George Miller included it in his YouTube video.

A Point of View: Chess and 18th Century artificial intelligence [Adam Gopnik on BBC News]

And there lies what I think of now as the asymmetry of mastery – the mystery of mastery, a truth that is for some reason extremely hard for us to grasp. We over-rate masters and under-rate mastery. That simplest solution was the hardest, partly because they underestimated the space inside the cabinet, but also because they overestimated just how good the chess player had to be. We always over-estimate the space between the uniquely good and the very good. That inept footballer we whistle at in despair is a better football player than we have ever seen or ever will meet. The few people who do grasp that though there are only a few absolute masters, there are many, many masters right below them looking for work tend, like Maelzel, to profit greatly from it. The greatest managers in any sport are those who know you can stand down the talent, and find more to fill the bench. It is the manager who is willing to bench Beckham, rather than he who worships his bend, who tends to have the most sporting success.

I’m For Sale: Creative ambition is lovely, but what happens when you need real money? [Genevieve Smith on Elle]

Now in retirement, my dad paints almost every day, and I think often of that dream deferred, or at least set aside, for the practicality of making a living. Looking at his decision, I realize that the trade-off that women now face isn’t all that new. It’s one men have always shouldered, and so in some ways, our own struggle to redefine fulfillment is just another sign that we’re inching further toward equality, just not quite in the way we expected.

Bradley Manning is off limits at SF Gay Pride parade, but corporate sleaze is embraced [Glenn Greenwald on The Guardian]

News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed

Calm Down: You Are More Likely to Be Killed By Mundane Things than Terrorism [Washington’s Blog via The Big Picture]

You are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist

Syria: Al-Qaeda’s battle for control of Assad’s chemical weapons plant [Colin Freeman on The Telegraph]

Outside of Syria, it also has another desired effect – underlining the differences between Mr Assad’s opponents in the West. Last week, the hawkish US Republican senator, John McCain, who lost to Mr Obama in the 2008 presidential race, called on America to send in troops to secure factories such as al Safira. But Mr Obama shows no enthusiasm for doing so, and this weekend he even appeared to adjust his language slightly, saying that America would not permit the “systematic” use of chemical weapons. Critics pointed out that proscribing the use of chemical weapons on a “systematic” basis is not the same as proscribing their use altogether.

Doctors back denial of treatment for smokers and the obese [Denis Campbell on The Guardian]

A majority of doctors support measures to deny treatment to smokers and the obese, according to a survey that has sparked a row over the NHS‘s growing use of “lifestyle rationing”. Some 54% of doctors who took part said the NHS should have the right to withhold non-emergency treatment from patients who do not lose weight or stop smoking. Some medics believe unhealthy behaviour can make procedures less likely to work, and that the service is not obliged to devote scarce resources to them.

My Week at Private Equity Boot Camp [Brendan Greely on Bloomberg Businessweek]

Before I leave Scottsboro, John Stewart walks me around the main plant, as before stopping to chat with line workers. Some have his personal cell number, and use it. When he gets to a new plant, he looks at hands; if they are not moving, something is being wasted. He looks at forklift loads; if they are not full, something is being wasted. Stewart believes that if you can get costs down, there’s no reason not to make things in the U.S. Offshoring carries political risks and incurs supply-chain costs, he says. It can prove difficult to teach culture to a foreign workforce. “You make investments in people,” he says. “We believe that North American manufacturing deserves to exist.” This is the language of a union leader, not a private equity executive. Later that day, I talk to HTPG’s union steward and try without success to get her to say something bad about Monomoy. After several tornadoes touched down in Scottsboro last year, Monomoy’s partners sent everyone at the plant whose houses were hit a Home Depot gift card for $500. Yet Monomoy is not a charity. It sells its acquisitions when it is done with them.

Canadians Make a Racket Over Mysterious ‘Windsor Hum’: Unexplained Noise Spurs Diplomatic Fracas At Detroit Border; Americans Can’t Hear It [Alistair MacDonald and Paul Vieira on The Wall Street Journal]

Studying the hum, much less its origin, is challenging. It is difficult to capture the mainly nocturnal sound on tape, since it doesn’t hum all the time. During a recent visit to Windsor by a Wall Street Journal reporter, Windsor resident Gary Grosse played several recordings he said came from the noise, which modulated from metallic grating to a pulsing beat. On a visit to the area around Zug Island, a fainter version of similar sounds was audible. But Americans nearby said they still can’t hear it. Fishing under the shadow of some of the large mounds of coal that fringe Zug Island, Samson Jenkins says that in 20 trips here he has never heard a noise like that described in Windsor.

Beastie Boys: New Slang [Eric Ducker on Fader]

But on this go around Paul’s Boutique hit me at the right time. It was fun, strange, clever, complicated, braggadocious, kind of retarded, smoked-out, funky and everything else I imagined myself to be. It also sounded like nothing else my classmates—wrapped up in the misogynistic thrill of Dr Dre or the three-decade-long allure of the Grateful Dead—listened to. Even the kids who were just playing “Sabotage” in the school van before basketball games or still worshipping the hydraulic phallus of License To Ill wouldn’t—couldn’t—appreciate it. Paul’s Boutique was a secret handshake, and the music was a key to a combination of juvenile energy and hip knowledge that sounded right as I spent my weekends making mixtapes, hotboxing in Oakland Hills cul-de-sacs, generally dorking out and imagining the person that I might become but usually drawing a blank.

Life after Seinfeld [Ryan Gilbey on The Guardian]

In a medium that prided itself on comforting audiences, Seinfeld’s “no hugging, no learning” rule was positively hostile. Each of the regulars exhibited selfish traits, particularly George, based on David himself. He could be deceitful and evasive (“I don’t think there’s ever been an appointment in my life where I wanted the other guy to show up”), or downright toxic. Praying that his fiancee Susan will perish in a plane crash, he is reminded by Jerry that such accidents are rare. “It’s something,” George snaps back. “It’s hope.”

When the Troops Were Very Young [Michael M. Phillips on The Wall Street Journal]

On Sept. 11, 2001, Corey Shaffer was in fourth grade at Cutler Ridge Christian Academy in Miami. Because his mother was cafeteria manager, he was at school early and was enjoying a bowl of Lucky Charms when news of the terrorist hijackings flashed on the television screen. He remembers being confused. “I wasn’t sure what it meant,” he said. It wasn’t until he was in middle school that the significance became clear, when he read about the attacks in his history book. Now he’s 19 years old and a Marine infantryman, fighting in the longest war in his nation’s history.

In Canada, Alternate Currency Keeps Traction With Fans [David George-Cosh on The Wall Street Journal]

For more than half a century, thrifty Canadians have had an alternative to their legal tender. Canadian Tire Corp., an iconic retailer here that sells everything from car batteries to hockey sticks, hands out Canadian Tire money to loyal shoppers. Customers receive the brightly colored coupons, equivalent to a fraction of their shopping bill, at the checkout. They can redeem them next time through the door. Each bill features the face of fictional character Sandy McTire. Over the years, the coupons—printed on counterfeit-resistant paper in denominations ranging from five Canadian cents (about five U.S. cents) to two dollars—have gained currency outside the store’s doors. Collectors covet older bills and anticipate print runs of newer ones. One group auctions off rare Canadian Tire bills and publishes a newsletter devoted to the coupons.

Checkbox Syndrome: Why We Spend Money on Things We Don’t Need (and How to Avoid It) [Alan Henry on Lifehacker]

When I worked with the folks at PC Mag, we saw hundreds of gadgets, all of which sold themselves based on some specific way it would transform your life. PC Mag’s Lead Analyst for Mobile, Sascha Segan, took specific issue with some of this—especially when it came to phones. He explained that smartphone makers had succumbed to “checkbox syndrome,” or the habit of putting a feature in a product because everyone else had it and it was easy to market, not because it was actually useful to anyone.  The worst part of checkbox syndrome is that it extends to us, the buyers. We make buying decisions based on these fantasy uses. We buy Android phones with powerful front-side cameras even though we never use them for video chat, or we buy a new Macbook Pro with Thunderbolt even though we don’t have—and have no plans to buy—Thunderbolt peripherals. We buy new cameras because they’re marginal upgrades over the previous model, but hey—it’s new, so it must be better, right? Here’s how to think twice about that marketing hype, push through the fog of checkbox syndrome, and save some money when you consider your next upgrade.

Louisiana is the world’s prison capital [Cindy Chang on The Times-Picayune]

Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations. If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs. The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars…In Louisiana, a two-time car burglar can get 24 years without parole. A trio of drug convictions can be enough to land you at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for the rest of your life. Almost every state lets judges decide when to mete out the severest punishment and when a sympathetic defendant should have a chance at freedom down the road. In Louisiana, murderers automatically receive life without parole on the guilty votes of as few as 10 of 12 jurors. The lobbying muscle of the sheriffs, buttressed by a tough-on-crime electorate, keeps these harsh sentencing schemes firmly in place.

Most data isn’t “big,” and businesses are wasting money pretending it is [Christopher Mims on Quartz]

The “bigger” your data, the more false positives will turn up in it, when you’re looking for correlations. As data scientist Vincent Granville wrote in “The curse of big data,” it’s not hard, even with a data set that includes just 1,000 items, to get into a situation in which “we are dealing with many, many millions of correlations.” And that means, “out of all these correlations, a few will be extremely high just by chance: if you use such a correlation for predictive modeling, you will lose.” This problem crops up all the time in one of the original applications of big data—genetics. The endless “fishing expeditions” conducted by scientists who are content to sequence whole genomes and go diving into them looking for correlations can turn up all sorts of unhelpful results…The important thing is gathering the right data, not gathering some arbitrary quantity of it.

Military Sex Assaults Rising 35% Bring Calls for Change [David Lerman on Bloomberg]

The Pentagon’s anonymous survey of active-duty troops found that 26,000 reported experiencing unwanted sexual conduct last year, amounting to an average of 71 incidents per day. A survey two years earlier estimated 19,300 such incidents. In 2006, the only other time the survey was conducted, there were an estimated 34,200 incidents. About 6.1% of active-duty women and 1.2% of active-duty men surveyed said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact within the previous 12 months. Those estimates dwarf the number of cases reported each year. Victims have said they’re afraid of coming forward, partly because they feared a risk their career. There were 3,374 reported cases of assault in 2012, a 5.7% increase from the previous year, the Defense Department said yesterday.

Breaking news: Traffic from Syria Disappears from Internet [Dan Hubbard on Umbrella Security Labs]

Effectively, the shutdown disconnects Syria from Internet communication with the rest of the world. It’s unclear whether Internet communication within Syria is still available. Although we can’t yet comment on what caused this outage, past incidents were linked to both government-ordered shutdowns and damage to the infrastructure, which included fiber cuts and power outages.

Egypt Investment Collapsing as Citizens Turn Into Vigilantes [Tarek El-Tablawy, Mariam Fam & Salma El Wardany on Bloomberg]

More than two years after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, the proliferation of weapons and a spate of vigilante killings, violence and sexual attacks are eclipsing the hope born from the revolt. Fueled by political deadlock and economic stagnation, the security breakdown threatens to put solutions beyond the reach of President Mohamed Mursi. A growing number of Egyptians think that “you can actually achieve your goals using violence,” said Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo. Beneath that lies the “dashed expectation and hope of the youth,” he said.

Generation jobless [The Economist]

Official figures assembled by the International Labour Organisation say that 75m young people are unemployed, or 6% of all 15- to 24-year-olds. But going by youth inactivity, which includes all those who are neither in work nor education, things look even worse. The OECD, an intergovernmental think-tank, counts 26m young people in the rich world as “NEETS”: not in employment, education or training. A World Bank database compiled from households shows more than 260m young people in developing economies are similarly “inactive”. The Economist calculates that, all told, almost 290m are neither working nor studying: almost a quarter of the planet’s youth.

Gun crime plunges, though most Americans think it has risen [Ian Simpson on Reuters]

Some 11,101 gun-related homicides were reported in the United States in 2011, a figure that is down 39 percent from the 1993 peak, the Justice Department reported. Nonfatal firearm crimes declined by 69 percent to 467,300 in the same period…some 56 percent of Americans believe that gun crime is higher now than it was 20 years ago, the Pew Research Center said its poll showed. Only 12 percent of Americans realize that gun crimes have fallen, the center said in a statement. The Pew survey was based on a March 14-17 survey of 924 adults and had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points…In 2011, about 70 percent of homicides and 8 percent of nonfatal violent crimes, such as rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, were committed with a firearm, mainly a handgun. From 2007 to 2011, about 1 percent of victims in nonfatal violent crimes reported using a firearm to defend themselves. The Justice Department findings were based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System.

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28
Jul
09

Off Topic: Glenn Greenwald on the Obama Betrayal

Glenn Greenwald has been one of the most vocal and salient voices on the Obama Administration’s backtracking on, and even the expansion of, the civil liberties abuses by the Bush Administration.  According to his Salon blog: “I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. I am the author of two New York Times Bestselling books: “How Would a Patriot Act?” (May, 2006), a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, and “A Tragic Legacy” (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy. My most recent book, “Great American Hypocrites”, examines the manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the establishment press, and was released in April, 2008, by Random House/Crown.”

One would note this hardly makes him either a far left or far right ideologue.  He has, as detailed at the very bottom of this post, opposed many Conservative areas including gay rights (Greenwald is gay), drug laws, and the financial bailouts, particularly from bonus and profit perspectives.  He has also praised Obama in a number of otherwise controversial areas, such as the Sonia Sotomayor nomination.

The Obama Abuses (some articles are followed by money quotes from the post):

Civil Liberties:

  • Obama fails his first test on civil liberties and accountability — resoundingly and disgracefully (2/9/09)
  • Obama and habeas corpus — then and now (4/11/09)
  • Obama’s kinder, gentler military commissions: “It now appears definitive that the Obama administration will attempt to preserve a “modified” version of George Bush’s military commissions, rather than try suspected terrorists in our long-standing civilian court system or a court-martial proceeding under the Uniform Code of Military Justice…It is plainly not the case that these “modifications” address the core criticisms directed to what Bush did, nor is it the case that Obama’s campaign position on this issue can be reconciled with what he is now doing.” (5/15/09)
  • · The NYT sums up Obama’s civil liberties record in one paragraph: Quoting the New York Times: “President Obama’s decisions this week to retain important elements of the Bush-era system for trying terrorism suspects and to block the release of pictures showing abuse of American-held prisoners abroad are the most graphic examples yet of how he has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.” (5/16/09)
  • Obama’s embrace of Bush terrorism policies is celebrated as “Centrism”: “Obama makes a melodramatic showing of ordering Guantanamo closed but then re-creates its systematic denial of detainee rights in Bagram, and “[l]ast month Secretary of Defense Gates hinted that up to 100 suspected terrorists would be detained without trial.”  Obama announces that all interrogations must comply with the Army Field Manual but then has his CIA Director announce that he will seek greater interrogation authority whenever it is needed and convenes a task force to determine which enhanced interrogation methods beyond the Field Manual should be authorized.  He railed against Bush’s Guantanamo military commissions but then preserved them with changes that are plainly cosmetic.  Obama has been at least as aggressive as Bush was in asserting radical secrecy doctrines in order to prevent courts from ruling on illegal torture and spying programs and to block victims from having a day in court.  He has continued and even “ramped up” so-called “targeted killings” in Pakistan and Afghanistan which, as Goldsmith puts it, “have predictably caused more collateral damage to innocent civilians.”  He has maintained not only Bush’s rendition policy but also the standard used to determine to which countries a suspect can be rendered, and has kept Bush’s domestic surveillance policies in place and unchanged.  Most of all, he has emphatically endorsed the Bush/Cheney paradigm that we are engaged in a “war” against Terrorists — with all of the accompanying presidential “war powers” — rather than the law enforcement challenge that John Kerry, among others, advocated.” (5/19/09)
  • Obama’s civil liberties speech (5/21/09)
  • Obama, the Right and defendants’ rights: “This was yet another case where the Obama DOJ sided with the Bush administration and advocated the position that the conservative justices adopted.  The Obama DOJ aggressively argued before the Court that convicted criminals have no constitutional right to access evidence for DNA analysis.  Indeed, its decision to embrace this extreme Bush position caused much controversy and anger back in February.” (6/20/09)
  • · Establishment view of Obama’s civil liberties record: From a Washington Post Editorial: “President Obama has said that the state secrets doctrine should be reformed, and he has promised to be more measured. Yet when confronted with actual cases the Obama Justice Department has adopted the same legal arguments as the Bush administration.” (6/29/09)
  • The Obama justice system: “Spencer Ackerman yesterday attended a Senate hearing at which the DOD’s General Counsel, Jeh Johnson, testified.  As Ackerman highlighted, Johnson actually said that even for those detainees to whom the Obama administration deigns to give a real trial in a real court, the President has the power to continue to imprison them indefinitely even if they are acquitted at their trial. About this assertion of “presidential post-acquittal detention power” — an Orwellian term (and a Kafka-esque concept) that should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares at all about the most basic liberties — Ackerman wrote, with some understatement, that it “moved the Obama administration into new territory from a civil liberties perspective.”  Law professor Jonathan Turley was more blunt:  “The Obama Administration continues its retention and expansion of abusive Bush policies — now clearly Obama policies on indefinite detention.”” (7/8/09)

State Secrets

  • The 180-degree reversal of Obama’s State Secrets position: “What was abusive and dangerous about the Bush administration’s version of the States Secret privilege — just as the Obama/Biden campaign pointed out — was that it was used not (as originally intended) to argue that specific pieces of evidence or documents were secret and therefore shouldn’t be allowed in a court case, but instead, to compel dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance based on the claim that any judicial adjudication of even the most illegal secret government programs would harm national security.  That is the theory that caused the bulk of the controversy when used by the Bush DOJ — because it shields entire government programs from any judicial scrutiny — and it is that exact version of the privilege that the Obama DOJ yesterday expressly advocated (and, by implication, sought to preserve for all Presidents, including Obama).”   (2/10/09)
  • Marc Ambinder grants anonymity to “officials” to defend the Obama DOJ: This posts quotes from the New York Times editorial: “The Obama administration failed — miserably — the first test of its commitment to ditching the extravagant legal claims used by the Bush administration to try to impose blanket secrecy on anti-terrorism policies and avoid accountability for serial abuses of the law.” (2/11/09)
  • Charlie Savage on Obama’s embrace of Bush/Cheney “terrorism policies”: “These are not complaints that Obama has failed to act quickly enough to reverse Bush/Cheney policies.  Indeed, there are many areas where Obama has explicitly said he needs time before deciding what he wants to do — closing Guantanamo, proceeding with detainee trials; deciding if he wants to claim Bush’s power to indefinitely detain “enemy combatants” on U.S. soil;  responding to some FOIA requests, etc.  Very few civil libertarians — and certainly not me — have objected to his needing more time before he finalizes his exact policies.  That’s perfectly reasonable.   Some of these issues are truly complex, involve many moving parts, and require that many factions which he needs (e.g., inside the CIA) be placated.  Taking some time is reasonable.  The complaint is not that Obama has failed to move quickly enough to repudiate Bush/Cheney abuses.  Virtually nobody is arguing that.  Rather, the criticisms are grounded in the opposite premise:  these cases which have provoked objections are all cases where Obama has already taken affirmative actions to preserve and defend Bush/Cheney policies.” (2/18/09)
  • New and worse secrecy and immunity claims from the Obama DOJ: “the Obama DOJ filed the government’s first response to EFF’s lawsuit (.pdf), the first of its kind to seek damages against government officials under FISA, the Wiretap Act and other statutes, arising out of Bush’s NSA program.  But the Obama DOJ demanded dismissal of the entire lawsuit based on (1) its Bush-mimicking claim that the “state secrets” privilege bars any lawsuits against the Bush administration for illegal spying, and (2) a brand new “sovereign immunity” claim of breathtaking scope — never before advanced even by the Bush administration — that the Patriot Act bars any lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance unless there is “willful disclosure” of the illegally intercepted communications.” (4/6/09)
  • Keith Olbermann’s scathing criticism of Obama’s secrecy/immunity claims (4/8/09)
  • Major defeat for Bush/Obama position on secrecy (4/28/09)
  • Obama’s support for the new Graham-Lieberman secrecy law: “Obviously anticipating that the Government is likely to lose in court again (.pdf) — Obama wants Congress to change FOIA by retroactively narrowing its disclosure requirements, prevent a legal ruling by the courts, and vest himself with brand new secrecy powers under the law which, just as a factual matter, not even George Bush sought for himself.” (6/1/09)
  • The Obama officials blocking accountability for Bush crimes (6/15/09)
  • Obama and transparency: judge for yourself (6/17/09)

Illegal Spying:

Torture:

Preventive Detention:

Viewpoints Opposing Conservatives:

In Praise of Obama:

30
Jun
09

Off Topic: America’s Political Paralysis Over Torture

Occasionally there is an article I want to reproduce in its entirety rather than merely linking to it.  This is one such article (originally appeared on LewRockwell.com).

America’s Political Paralysis Over Torture

By Alfred W. McCoy

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror (Metropolitan Books), which is also available in Italian and German translations. Later this year, Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, a forthcoming book of his, will explore the influence of overseas counterinsurgency operations on the spread of internal security measures here at home. To catch a TomDispatch audio interview in which McCoy discusses the CIA’s “Manhattan Project of the mind,” click here.

If, like me, you’ve been following America’s torture policies not just for the last few years, but for decades, you can’t help but experience that eerie feeling of déjà vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years.

Like Chile after the regime of General Augusto Pinochet or the Philippines after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Washington after Bush is now trapped in the painful politics of impunity. Unlike anything our allies have experienced, however, for Washington, and so for the rest of us, this may prove a political crisis without end or exit.

Despite dozens of official inquiries in the five years since the Abu Ghraib photos first exposed our abuse of Iraqi detainees, the torture scandal continues to spread like a virus, infecting all who touch it, including now Obama himself. By embracing a specific methodology of torture, covertly developed by the CIA over decades using countless millions of taxpayer dollars and graphically revealed in those Iraqi prison photos, we have condemned ourselves to retreat from whatever promises might be made to end this sort of abuse and are instead already returning to a bipartisan consensus that made torture America’s secret weapon throughout the Cold War.

Despite the 24 version of events, the Bush administration did not simply authorize traditional, bare-knuckle torture. What it did do was develop to new heights the world’s most advanced form of psychological torture, while quickly recognizing the legal dangers in doing so. Even in the desperate days right after 9/11, the White House and Justice Department lawyers who presided over the Bush administration’s new torture program were remarkably punctilious about cloaking their decisions in legalisms designed to preempt later prosecution.

To most Americans, whether they supported the Bush administration torture policy or opposed it, all of this seemed shocking and very new. Not so, unfortunately. Concealed from Congress and the public, the CIA had spent the previous half-century developing and propagating a sophisticated form of psychological torture meant to defy investigation, prosecution, or prohibition – and so far it has proved remarkably successful on all these counts. Even now, since many of the leading psychologists who worked to advance the CIA’s torture skills have remained silent, we understand surprisingly little about the psychopathology of the program of mental torture that the Bush administration applied so globally.

Physical torture is a relatively straightforward matter of sadism that leaves behind broken bodies, useless information, and clear evidence for prosecution. Psychological torture, on the other hand, is a mind maze that can destroy its victims, even while entrapping its perpetrators in an illusory, almost erotic, sense of empowerment. When applied skillfully, it leaves few scars for investigators who might restrain this seductive impulse. However, despite all the myths of these last years, psychological torture, like its physical counterpart, has proven an ineffective, even counterproductive, method for extracting useful information from prisoners.

Where it has had a powerful effect is on those ordering and delivering it. With their egos inflated beyond imagining by a sense of being masters of life and death, pain and pleasure, its perpetrators, when in office, became forceful proponents of abuse, striding across the political landscape like Nietzschean supermen. After their fall from power, they have continued to maneuver with extraordinary determination to escape the legal consequences of their actions.

Before we head deeper into the hidden history of the CIA’s psychological torture program, however, we need to rid ourselves of the idea that this sort of torture is somehow “torture lite” or merely, as the Bush administration renamed it, “enhanced interrogation.” Although seemingly less brutal than physical methods, psychological torture actually inflicts a crippling trauma on its victims. “Ill treatment during captivity, such as psychological manipulations and forced stress positions,” Dr. Metin Basoglu has reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry after interviewing 279 Bosnian victims of such methods, “does not seem to be substantially different from physical torture in terms of the severity of mental suffering.”

A Secret History of Psychological Torture

The roots of our present paralysis over what to do about detainee abuse lie in the hidden history of the CIA’s program of psychological torture. Early in the Cold War, panicked that the Soviets had somehow cracked the code of human consciousness, the Agency mounted a “Special Interrogation Program” whose working hypothesis was: “Medical science, particularly psychiatry and psychotherapy, has developed various techniques by means of which some external control can be imposed on the mind/or will of an individual, such as drugs, hypnosis, electric shock and neurosurgery.”

All of these methods were tested by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s. None proved successful for breaking potential enemies or obtaining reliable information. Beyond these ultimately unsuccessful methods, however, the Agency also explored a behavioral approach to cracking that “code.” In 1951, in collaboration with British and Canadian defense scientists, the Agency encouraged academic research into “methods concerned in psychological coercion.” Within months, the Agency had defined the aims of its top-secret program, code-named Project Artichoke, as the “development of any method by which we can get information from a person against his will and without his knowledge.”

This secret research produced two discoveries central to the CIA’s more recent psychological paradigm. In classified experiments, famed Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb found that he could induce a state akin to drug-induced hallucinations and psychosis in just 48 hours – without drugs, hypnosis, or electric shock. Instead, for two days student volunteers at McGill University simply sat in a comfortable cubicle deprived of sensory stimulation by goggles, gloves, and earmuffs. “It scared the hell out of us,” Hebb said later, “to see how completely dependent the mind is on a close connection with the ordinary sensory environment, and how disorganizing to be cut off from that support.”

During the 1950s, two neurologists at Cornell Medical Center, under CIA contract, found that the most devastating torture technique of the Soviet secret police, the KGB, was simply to force a victim to stand for days while the legs swelled, the skin erupted in suppurating lesions, and hallucinations began – a procedure which we now politely refer to as “stress positions.”

Four years into this project, there was a sudden upsurge of interest in using mind control techniques defensively after American prisoners in North Korea suffered what was then called “brainwashing.” In August 1955, President Eisenhower ordered that any soldier at risk of capture should be given “specific training and instruction designed to… withstand all enemy efforts against him.”

Consequently, the Air Force developed a program it dubbed SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) to train pilots in resisting psychological torture. In other words, two intertwined strands of research into torture methods were being explored and developed: aggressive methods for breaking enemy agents and defensive methods for training Americans to resist enemy inquisitors.

In 1963, the CIA distilled its decade of research into the curiously named KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation manual, which stated definitively that sensory deprivation was effective because it made “the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure… strengthening… the subject’s tendencies toward compliance.” Refined through years of practice on actual human beings, the CIA’s psychological paradigm now relies on a mix of sensory overload and deprivation via seemingly banal procedures: the extreme application of heat and cold, light and dark, noise and silence, feast and famine – all meant to attack six essential sensory pathways into the human mind.

After codifying its new interrogation methods in the KUBARK manual, the Agency spent the next 30 years promoting these torture techniques within the U.S. intelligence community and among anti-communist allies. In its clandestine journey across continents and decades, the CIA’s psychological torture paradigm would prove elusive, adaptable, devastatingly destructive, and powerfully seductive. So darkly seductive is torture’s appeal that these seemingly scientific methods, even when intended for a few Soviet spies or al-Qaeda terrorists, soon spread uncontrollably in two directions – toward the torture of the many and into a paroxysm of brutality towards specific individuals. During the Vietnam War, when the CIA applied these techniques in their search for information on top Vietcong cadre, the interrogation effort soon degenerated into the crude physical brutality of the Phoenix Program, producing 46,000 extrajudicial executions and little actionable intelligence.

In 1994, with the Cold War over, Washington ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture, seemingly resolving the tension between its anti-torture principles and its torture practices. Yet when President Clinton sent this Convention to Congress, he included four little-noticed diplomatic “reservations” drafted six years before by the Reagan administration and focused on just one word in those 26 printed pages: “mental.”

These reservations narrowed (just for the United States) the definition of “mental” torture to include just four acts: the infliction of physical pain, the use of drugs, death threats, or threats to harm another. Excluded were methods such as sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain, the very techniques the CIA had propagated for the past 40 years. This definition was reproduced verbatim in Section 2340 of the U.S. Federal Code and later in the War Crimes Act of 1996. Through this legal legerdemain, Washington managed to agree, via the U.N. Convention, to ban physical abuse even while exempting the CIA from the U.N.’s prohibition on psychological torture.

This little noticed exemption was left buried in those documents like a landmine and would detonate with phenomenal force just 10 years later at Abu Ghraib prison.

War on Terror, War of Torture

Right after his public address to a shaken nation on September 11, 2001, President Bush gave his staff secret orders to pursue torture policies, adding emphatically, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” In a dramatic break with past policy, the White House would even allow the CIA to operate its own global network of prisons, as well as charter air fleet to transport seized suspects and “render” them for endless detention in a supranational gulag of secret “black sites” from Thailand to Poland.

The Bush administration also officially allowed the CIA ten “enhanced” interrogation methods designed by agency psychologists, including “waterboarding.” This use of cold water to block breathing triggers the “mammalian diving reflex,” hardwired into every human brain, thus inducing an uncontrollable terror of impending death.

As Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker, psychologists working for both the Pentagon and the CIA “reverse engineered” the military’s SERE training, which included a brief exposure to waterboarding, and flipped these defensive methods for use offensively on al-Qaeda captives. “They sought to render the detainees vulnerable – to break down all of their senses,” one official told Mayer. “It takes a psychologist trained in this to understand these rupturing experiences.” Inside Agency headquarters, there was, moreover, a “high level of anxiety” about the possibility of future prosecutions for methods officials knew to be internationally defined as torture. The presence of Ph.D. psychologists was considered one “way for CIA officials to skirt measures such as the Convention Against Torture.”

From recently released Justice Department memos, we now know that the CIA refined its psychological paradigm significantly under Bush. As described in the classified 2004 Background Paper on the CIA’s Combined Use of Interrogation Techniques, each detainee was transported to an Agency black site while “deprived of sight and sound through the use of blindfolds, earmuffs, and hoods.” Once inside the prison, he was reduced to “a baseline, dependent state” through conditioning by “nudity, sleep deprivation (with shackling…), and dietary manipulation.”

For “more physical and psychological stress,” CIA interrogators used coercive measures such as “an insult slap or abdominal slap” and then “walling,” slamming the detainee’s head against a cell wall. If these failed to produce the results sought, interrogators escalated to waterboarding, as was done to Abu Zubaydah “at least 83 times during August 2002” and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad 183 times in March 2003 – so many times, in fact, that the repetitiousness of the act can only be considered convincing testimony to the seductive sadism of CIA-style torture.

In a parallel effort launched by Bush-appointed civilians in the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave General Geoffrey Miller command of the new American military prison at Guantanamo in late 2002 with ample authority to transform it into an ad hoc psychology lab. Behavioral Science Consultation Teams of military psychologists probed detainees for individual phobias like fear of the dark. Interrogators stiffened the psychological assault by exploiting what they saw as Arab cultural sensitivities when it came to sex and dogs. Via a three-phase attack on the senses, on culture, and on the individual psyche, interrogators at Guantanamo perfected the CIA’s psychological paradigm.

After General Miller visited Iraq in September 2003, the U.S. commander there, General Ricardo Sanchez, ordered Guantanamo-style abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. My own review of the 1,600 still-classified photos taken by American guards at Abu Ghraib – which journalists covering this story seem to share like Napster downloads – reveals not random, idiosyncratic acts by “bad apples,” but the repeated, constant use of just three psychological techniques: hooding for sensory deprivation, shackling for self-inflicted pain, and (to exploit Arab cultural sensitivities) both nudity and dogs. It is no accident that Private Lynndie England was famously photographed leading an Iraqi detainee leashed like a dog.

These techniques, according to the New York Times, then escalated virally at five Special Operations field interrogation centers where detainees were subjected to extreme sensory deprivation, beating, burning, electric shock, and waterboarding. Among the thousand soldiers in these units, 34 were later convicted of abuse and many more escaped prosecution only because records were officially “lost.”

“Behind the Green Door” at the White House

Further up the chain of command, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as she recently told the Senate, “convened a series of meetings of NSC [National Security Council] principals in 2002 and 2003 to discuss various issues… relating to detainees.” This group, including Vice President Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and CIA director George Tenet, met dozens of times inside the White House Situation Room.

After watching CIA operatives mime what Rice called “certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques,” these leaders, their imaginations stimulated by graphic visions of human suffering, repeatedly authorized extreme psychological techniques stiffened by hitting, walling, and waterboarding. According to an April 2008 ABC News report, Attorney General Ashcroft once interrupted this collective fantasy by asking aloud, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

In mid-2004, even after the Abu Ghraib photos were released, these principals met to approve the use of CIA torture techniques on still more detainees. Despite mounting concerns about the damage torture was doing to America’s standing, shared by Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice commanded Agency officials with the cool demeanor of a dominatrix. “This is your baby,” she reportedly said. “Go do it.”

Cleansing Torture

Even as they exercise extraordinary power over others, perpetrators of torture around the world are assiduous in trying to cover their tracks. They construct recondite legal justifications, destroy records of actual torture, and paper the files with spurious claims of success. Hence, the CIA destroyed 92 interrogation videotapes, while Vice President Cheney now berates Obama incessantly (five times in his latest Fox News interview) to declassify “two reports” which he claims will show the informational gains that torture offered – possibly because his staff salted the files at the NSC or the CIA with documents prepared for this very purpose.

Not only were Justice Department lawyers aggressive in their advocacy of torture in the Bush years, they were meticulous from the start, in laying the legal groundwork for later impunity. In three torture memos from May 2005 that the Obama administration recently released, Bush’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stephen Bradbury repeatedly cited those original U.S. diplomatic “reservations” to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, replicated in Section 2340 of the Federal code, to argue that waterboarding was perfectly legal since the “technique is not physically painful.” Anyway, he added, careful lawyering at Justice and the CIA had punched loopholes in both the U.N. Convention and U.S. law so wide that these Agency techniques were “unlikely to be subject to judicial inquiry.”

Just to be safe, when Vice President Cheney presided over the drafting of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he included clauses, buried in 38 pages of dense print, defining “serious physical pain” as the “significant loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.” This was a striking paraphrase of the outrageous definition of physical torture as pain “equivalent in intensity to… organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” in John Yoo’s infamous August 2002 “torture memo,” already repudiated by the Justice Department.

Above all, the Military Commissions Act protected the CIA’s use of psychological torture by repeating verbatim the exculpatory language found in those Clinton-era, Reagan-created reservations to the U.N. Convention and still embedded in Section 2340 of the Federal code. To make doubly sure, the act also made these definitions retroactive to November 1997, giving CIA interrogators immunity from any misdeeds under the Expanded War Crimes Act of 1997 which punishes serious violations with life imprisonment or death.

No matter how twisted the process, impunity – whether in England, Indonesia, or America – usually passes through three stages:

  1. Blame the supposed “bad apples.”
  2. Invoke the security argument. (“It protected us.”)
  3. Appeal to national unity. (“We need to move forward together.”)

For a year after the Abu Ghraib exposé, Rumsfeld’s Pentagon blamed various low-ranking bad apples by claiming the abuse was “perpetrated by a small number of U.S. military.” In his statement on May 13th, while refusing to release more torture photos, President Obama echoed Rumsfeld, claiming the abuse in these latest images, too, “was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.”

In recent weeks, Republicans have taken us deep into the second stage with Cheney’s statements that the CIA’s methods “prevented the violent deaths of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people.”

Then, on April 16th, President Obama brought us to the final stage when he released the four Bush-era memos detailing CIA torture, insisting: “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” During a visit to CIA headquarters four days later, Obama promised that there would be no prosecutions of Agency employees. “We’ve made some mistakes,” he admitted, but urged Americans simply to “acknowledge them and then move forward.” The president’s statements were in such blatant defiance of international law that the U.N.’s chief official on torture, Manfred Nowak, reminded him that Washington was actually obliged to investigate possible violations of the Convention Against Torture.

This process of impunity is leading Washington back to a global torture policy that, during the Cold War, was bipartisan in nature: publicly advocating human rights while covertly outsourcing torture to allied governments and their intelligence agencies. In retrospect, it may become ever more apparent that the real aberration of the Bush years lay not in torture policies per se, but in the President’s order that the CIA should operate its own torture prisons. The advantage of the bipartisan torture consensus of the Cold War era was, of course, that it did a remarkably good job most of the time of insulating Washington from the taint of torture, which was sometimes remarkably widely practiced.

There are already some clear signs of a policy shift in this direction in the Obama era. Since mid-2008, U.S. intelligence has captured a half-dozen al-Qaeda suspects and, instead of shipping them to Guantanamo or to CIA secret prisons, has had them interrogated by allied Middle Eastern intelligence agencies. Showing that this policy is again bipartisan, Obama’s new CIA director Leon Panetta announced that the Agency would continue to engage in the rendition of terror suspects to allies like Libya, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia where we can, as he put it, “rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment.” Showing the quality of such treatment, Time magazine reported on May 24th that Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who famously confessed under torture that Saddam Hussein had provided al-Qaeda with chemical weapons and later admitted his lie to Senate investigators, had committed “suicide” in a Libyan cell.

The Price of Impunity

This time around, however, a long-distance torture policy may not provide the same insulation as in the past for Washington. Any retreat into torture by remote-control is, in fact, only likely to produce the next scandal that will do yet more damage to America’s international standing.

Over a 40-year period, Americans have found themselves mired in this same moral quagmire on six separate occasions: following exposés of CIA-sponsored torture in South Vietnam (1970), Brazil (1974), Iran (1978), Honduras (1988), and then throughout Latin America (1997). After each exposé, the public’s shock soon faded, allowing the Agency to resume its dirty work in the shadows.

Unless some formal inquiry is convened to look into a sordid history that reached its depths in the Bush era, and so begins to break this cycle of deceit, exposé, and paralysis followed by more of the same, we’re likely, a few years hence, to find ourselves right back where we are now. We’ll be confronted with the next American torture scandal from some future iconic dungeon, part of a dismal, ever lengthening procession that has led from the tiger cages of South Vietnam through the Shah of Iran’s prison cells in Tehran to Abu Ghraib and the prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The next time, however, the world will not have forgotten those photos from Abu Ghraib. The next time, the damage to this country will be nothing short of devastating.




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