Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, March 14, 2013 11:13 pm

Lynndie England did not die for our sins, but we know who should

I miss a lot of good stuff while school’s in session, but this was worth not leaving behind:

A United Nations investigator has demanded that the US publish classified documents regarding the CIA’s human rights violations under former President George W. Bush, with hopes that the documents will lead to the prosecution of public officials.

Documents about the CIA’s program of rendition and secret detention of suspected terrorists have remained classified, even though President Obama’s administration has publicly condemned the use of these “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The US has not prosecuted any of its agents for human rights violations.

UN investigator Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, said that the classified documents protect the names of individuals who are responsible for serious human rights violations.

“Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,”Emmerson said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, according to Reuters.

Kept in secret prisons around the world, the CIA’s detainees were subjected to torture including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and various other interrogation techniques that violate human rights. The detainees were often subjected to clandestine transfers to secret prisons known as CIA ‘black sites’.

“There is now credible evidence to show that CIA ‘black sites’ were located on the territory of Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand, and that the officials of at least 49 other states allowed their airspace or airports to be used for rendition flights,” Emmerson said, describing how suspected terrorists were often detained without being charged for any crimes, receiving extradition procedures or having access to lawyers.

Emmerson has urged the US to prosecute any public official who was involved in setting up the CIA “black sites” at which human rights or legal violations occurred. Even though the Obama administration has condemned those who promoted the use of such facilities for inhumane procedures, the administration has taken no steps to punish any of its public officials. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Justice Department would not take legal actions against those who “acted in good faith” and followed the guidelines provided by the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush era.

But without names and details about the involvement of US officials at CIA black sites, the government is maintaining a level of secrecy and “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes,” Emmerson said.  A Senate committee led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) previously investigated the CIA’s interrogation program and may have had complete access to classified information about it.

Emmerson has called for this information to be published “without delay, and to the fullest extent possible.”

He ain’t the only one. I spent long years here during the reign of Bush the Lesser, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, and my freshman hall counselor, Jim Haynes, calling for the people responsible for ordering torture and other crimes against humanity (including the unilateral military invasion of Iraq, a country with which we were not legally at war, in violation of both ratified treaties and U.S. statutes) to be investigated, indicted, tried where appropriate and punished as needed. In the case of torture or other crimes against humanity that result in the death of another human being, the punishment is execution. And I’ve been a tough-on-crime conservative my whole life.

And I’ve been consistent. I called for Obama’s impeachment barely more than a year after his inauguration when it became clear that he intended to target U.S. citizens for extrajudicial assassination,  an intent on which he has acted successfully since.

A war criminal is a war criminal. A murderer under international laws of human rights is a murderer under international laws of human rights. The Constitution makes our legal priorities plain: It itself and our ratified treaties, which define these crimes, constitute the Supreme Law of the Land. So hang ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out.

But that’s only where it should start. If we deserve to be called free and self-governing people, we also need to look in the mirror and figure out how and why we let these crimes happen — because many, if not most, could have been prevented if we as a body politic had taken our responsibilities as citizens seriously. Instead, we knew of torture at least six months before the 2004 election and did nothing. The New York Times knew about warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens in criminal violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act a year before the 2004 election and held its story. When Democrats retook Congress in 2006, Speaker-apparent Nancy Pelosi took impeachment “off the table,” and the voters let them do it. And President Obama and Attorney General Holder have repeated their desire to “look forward, not back,” and the voters have let them do THAT, too.

Imagine the people of Germany, circa 1946, claiming that intent and ask yourself how we would have responded. And we had conquered them by force and yet wanted to rehabilitate West Germany as a bulwark against communism. How much easier should it have been, how much less should we have needed to worry about the tender sensibilities of the Washington establishment and its courtiers in the press, than it was to punish individual Germans while keeping Germany on our side?

The UN is by no means a perfect organization. But the U.S. is by no means a perfect country. Let us follow the facts and the law — which, remember, we willingly signed and ratified — wherever they lead us, and let us act as the law obliges us to act. If you want an omelette, you need to break a few eggs. In this case, incontrovertibly, if we want to restore our own honor as a free and self-governing people, we need to break a few necks.

Friday, May 21, 2010 9:22 pm

Now I’m dead serious

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 9:22 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Impeach the SOB. Bush crapping all over habeas corpus was one big reason why people voted for Obama. It was wrong when Bush did it, and it’s wrong now.

I am unsure why Obama believes things have to be this way. Hell, Britain, which under Tony Blair may have gone at least as far along the road toward totalitarianism as the U.S. did under Bush, is abruptly reversing course now that Nick Clegg’s the new sheriff:

It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide.

It has to stop.

So there will be no ID card scheme.

No national identity register, no second-generation biometric passports.

We won’t hold your internet and email records when there is no just reason to do so.

CCTV will be properly regulated, as will the DNA database, with restrictions on the storage of innocent people’s DNA.

And we will end practices that risk making Britain a place where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question.

There will be no ContactPoint children’s database.

Schools will not take children’s fingerprints without even asking their parent’s consent.

This will be a government that is proud when British citizens stand up against illegitimate advances of the state.

That values debate, that is unafraid of dissent.

That’s why we’ll remove limits on the rights to peaceful protest.

It’s why we’ll review libel laws so that we can better protect freedom of speech.

And as we tear through the statute book, we’ll do something no government ever has:

We will ask you which laws you think should go.

Because thousands of criminal offences were created under the previous government . . .

Taking people’s freedom away didn’t make our streets safe.

Obsessive lawmaking simply makes criminals out of ordinary people.

So, we’ll get rid of the unnecessary laws, and once they’re gone, they won’t come back.

Pretty impressive, huh? But wait! There’s more!

The judicial inquiry announced by the foreign secretary into Britain’s role in torture and rendition since September 2001 is poised to shed extraordinary light on one of the darkest episodes in the country’s recent history.

It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11, but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.

William Hague‘s decision follows a series of reports in the Guardian and other media over the last five years about the manner in which British intelligence officers were told they could interrogate terrorism suspects they knew were being tortured, and the way in which that secret policy was used in effect to subcontract torture to overseas intelligence agencies.

There has also been a steady drip of disclosures about the way in which British territory, airspace and facilities have been used during America’s programme of extraordinary rendition and about orders that led to British special forces in Iraq handing over detainees to US forces, despite fears they were to be tortured.

Finally, the British army has been forced to admit that at least eight people died in its custody in Iraq, including a number who were being interrogated using illegal techniques including hooding.

Obviously I’ll believe it when Parliament enacts the law and when the appropriate British officials are brought up on criminal charges, and not one second before. Still, I think it’s worth pondering a couple of questions here.

First, does Britain think it is any less vulnerable to terrorism than the U.S. is? I kind of doubt it, even with Northern Ireland at peace.

But even if it did think so, why might that be? I suppose the fact that it’s not British planes and drones killing innocent civilians might have something to do with it.

And how is it that Britain, which Americans consider less democratic/less free than they consider themselves, can attempt to hold its powerful accountable for their misdeeds when we say there is nothing to be gained from doing so?

Apparently Britain’s leaders feel more of a sense of responsibility, more of a sense of obligation to comport themselves in accordance with the law, than American leaders do — except for Dennis Kucinich, whom no one takes seriously precisely because he expects our leaders to comport themselves in accordance with the law, even if it means introducing a bill to ban something that’s already banned just to underline the point.

I think we as Americans have two choices: We can start raising hell with Howard Coble and Mel Watt and Brad Miller and Kay Hagan and Richard Burr to hold past and current officials accountable for their crimes. Or we can tear up the Declaration of Independence and go apologize to the corpse of George III.

Thursday, August 13, 2009 6:21 am

Extraordinary renditions, Obama-style?

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 6:21 am
Tags: ,

Um, yeah:

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama sharply criticized the Bush Administration’s extraordinary renditions program. “To build a better, freer world, we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs. “This means ending the practice of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries, of detaining thousands without charge or trial, of maintaining a network of secret prisons to jail people beyond the reach of law.” But Obama was consistently careful never to commit to ending the practice of rendition entirely. When the issue flared shortly after his inauguration, senior administration officials were quick to say that abuses including torture would end, but that “ordinary” renditions – the spiriting away of suspects from other countries without going through the formal process of extradition — would be continued in a cleaned-up form. Now in a federal court in suburban Washington, a case is unfolding that gives us a practical sense of what an Obama-era rendition looks like.

Raymond Azar, a 45-year-old Lebanese construction manager with a grade school education, is employed by Sima International, a Lebanon-based contractor that does work for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also has the unlikely distinction of being the first target of a rendition carried out on the Obama watch.

According to court papers, on April 7, 2009, Azar and a Lebanese-American colleague, Dinorah Cobos, were seized by “at least eight” heavily armed FBI agents in Kabul, Afghanistan, where they had traveled for a meeting to discuss the status of one of his company’s U.S. government contracts. The trip ended with Azar alighting in manacles from a Gulfstream V executive jet in Manassas, Virginia, where he was formally arrested and charged in a federal antitrust probe.

This rendition involved no black sites and was clearly driven by a desire to get the target quickly before a court. Also unlike renditions of the Bush-era, the target wasn’t even a terror suspect; rather, he was suspected of fraud. But in a troubling intimation of the last administration, accusations of torture hover menacingly over the case. According to papers filed by his lawyers, Azar was threatened, subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and induced to sign a confession. Azar claims he was hooded, stripped naked (while being photographed) and subjected to a “body cavity search.”

On a ride to the infamous Bagram air base in Afghanistan — site of the torture-homicides involving U.S. interrogators exposed in the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side — Azar contends that a federal agent pulled a photograph of Azar’s wife and four children from his wallet. Confess that you were bribing the contract officer, the agent allegedly said, or you may “never see them again.” Azar told his lawyers he interpreted that as a threat to do physical harm to his family.

Azar alleges that on arriving at Bagram he was shackled to a chair in an office for seven hours and not allowed to move. Then in the midst of a cold rainstorm he was taken to an unheated metal shipping container converted to use as a cell. The cell was brightly lit and although the outside temperature approached freezing, he was given only a thin blanket. He also claims that he was not permitted to sleep during his confinement at Bagram, which lasted over a day. Then he was told he was going to take a plane trip. His handlers would not tell him where he was going. He feared he was being dragged to Guantanamo, there to be “disappeared” and tortured. How else, he thought, could he explain the absence of Afghan authorities, the hooding and other techniques?

Before boarding the Gulfstream, Azar was shackled, blindfolded and had earphones placed on his head. Occasionally, the earphones and blindfold were removed so that his interrogation by FBI agents could continue. The 16-hour flight was broken by a refueling stop in Tbilisi, Georgia — which has long served as a pit stop for rendition flights into and out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. During the flight, according to papers filed by the Justice Department, Azar confessed to the charges against him–essentially that he was aware of corrupt payments made to a U.S. government contract agent to help Sima International secure or extend its contracts with U.S. government agencies.

I certainly am not arguing that we shouldn’t bring criminals to justice, even if they’re in other countries. I am not arguing for a complete end to rendition; in fact, I’ve said before there are times when it’s justified. But we could have taken this guy into custody and handled him like any other suspect. There was no need, no purpose, no point in throwing in all the extras. Not to mention that at least some of the treatment appears to have been illegal and therefore could jeopardize the guy’s prosecution.

This administration is continuing some of its predecessor’s least attractive habits. It needs to stop, and the people responsible need to be held savagely accountable.

Friday, February 20, 2009 7:25 am

Et tu, Obama?

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 7:25 am
Tags: , ,

With very few exceptions — Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin comes to mind — leaders of both major political parties have been reluctant to discuss the U.S. torture of detainees, many if not most of them innocent.

Barack Obama came closest to taking a firm stand. This past April he said, “if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law.”

There’s no “if.” We already have plenty of evidence that there was torture and that it was approved and ordered at the highest levels of government — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush himself, who told ABC News last year that he had signed off on torture.

Americans want these crimes investigated, and Obama supporters are particularly stressing that issue. On the site on which Obama has been soliciting questions and suggestions for his administration’s agenda, the top question under “additional issues,” the catchall for topics not found in other categories, was this: “Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor – ideally Patrick Fitzgerald – to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?”

Problem is, Obama apparently plans to continue the practice of “rendering” suspects to other countries for questioning, that question quite likely including torture. Doing this would constitute violations of both U.S. law and humanitarian treaties, thus making Obama as much of a war criminal as are Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Is that really where Obama wants to go? For the country’s good, I hope he rethinks this and returns the U.S. to the rule of law. Our military and our criminal-justice system, the greatest on the planet, are quite capable of addressing terrorism issues without turning suspects — and remember, in most cases that’s all they are — over to third parties for torture.

We’ve had enough war crimes. Let’s put a stop to them. Otherwise, Obama could become just as deserving of prison time — or, depending on circumstances, the gallows — as his predecessors.

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