Obama’s Rules Keep It Intact, and Could Even Accord With an Increase in US-Sponsored Torture Worldwide
By Allan Nairn
January 25, 2009
If you’re lying on the slab still breathing, with your torturer hanging over you, you don’t much care if he is an American or a mere United States – sponsored trainee.
When President Obama declared flatly this week that “the United States will not torture” many people wrongly believed that he’d shut the practice down, when in fact he’d merely repositioned it.
Obama’s Executive Order bans some — not all — US officials from torturing but it does not ban any of them, himself included, from sponsoring torture overseas.
Indeed, his policy change affects only a slight percentage of US-culpable tortures and could be completely consistent with an increase in US-backed torture worldwide.
The catch lies in the fact that since Vietnam, when US forces often tortured directly, the US has mainly seen its torture done for it by proxy — paying, arming, training and guiding foreigners doing it, but usually being careful to keep Americans at least one discreet step removed.
That is, the US tended to do it that way until Bush and Cheney changed protocol, and had many Americans laying on hands, and sometimes taking digital photos.
The result was a public relations fiasco that enraged the US establishment since by exposing US techniques to the world it diminished US power.
But despite the outrage, the fact of the matter was that the Bush/Cheney tortures being done by Americans were a negligible percentage of all of the tortures being done by US clients.
For every torment inflicted directly by Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and the secret prisons, there were many times more being meted out by US-sponsored foreign forces.
Those forces were and are operating with US military, intelligence, financial or other backing in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Colombia, Nigeria, and the Philippines, to name some places, not to mention the tortures sans-American-hands by the US-backed Iraqis and Afghans.
What the Obama dictum ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system’s torture, which is done by foreigners under US patronage.
Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so.
His Executive Order instead merely pertains to treatment of “…an individual in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government, or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States, in any armed conflict…” which means that it doesn’t even prohibit direct torture by Americans outside environments of “armed conflict,” which is where much torture happens anyway since many repressive regimes aren’t in armed conflict.
And even if, as Obama says, “the United States will not torture,” it can still pay, train, equip and guide foreign torturers, and see to it that they, and their US patrons, don’t face local or international justice.
This is a return to the status quo ante, the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more US-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years.
Under the old — now new again — proxy regime Americans would, say, teach interrogation/torture, then stand in the next room as the victims screamed, feeding questions to their foreign pupils. That’s the way the US did it in El Salvador under JFK through Bush Sr. (For details see my “Behind the Death Squads: An exclusive report on the U.S. role in El Salvador’s official terror,” The Progressive, May, 1984 ; the US Senate Intelligence Committee report that piece sparked is still classified, but the feeding of questions was confirmed to me by Intelligence Committee Senators. See also my “Confessions of a Death Squad Officer,” The Progressive, March, 1986, and my “Comment,” The New Yorker, Oct. 15, 1990,[regarding law, the US, and El Salvador]).
In Guatemala under Bush Sr. and Clinton (Obama’s foreign policy mentors) the US backed the army’s G-2 death squad which kept comprehensive files on dissidents and then electroshocked them or cut off their hands. (The file/ surveillance system was launched for them in the ’60s and ’70s by CIA/ State/ AID/ special forces; for the history see “Behind the Death Squads,” cited above, and the books of Prof. Michael McClintock).
The Americans on the ground in the Guatemalan operation, some of whom I encountered and named, effectively helped to run the G-2 but, themselves, tiptoed around its torture chambers. (See my “C.I.A. Death Squad,” The Nation [US], April 17, 1995, “The Country Team,” The Nation [US], June 5, 1995, letter exchange with US Ambassador Stroock, The Nation [US], May 29, 1995, and Allan Nairn and Jean-Marie Simon, “Bureaucracy of Death,” The New Republic, June 30, 1986).
It was a similar story in Bush Sr. and Clinton’s Haiti — an operation run by today’s Obama people — where the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) helped launch the terrorist group FRAPH, the CIA paid its leader, and FRAPH itsef laid the machetes on Haitian civilians, torturing and killing as US proxies. (See my “Behind Haiti’s paramilitaries: our man in FRAPH,” The Nation [US], Oct 24, 1994, and “He’s our S.O.B.,” The Nation [US], Oct. 31, 1994; the story was later confirmed on ABC TV’s “This Week” by US Secretary of State Warren Christopher).
In today’s Thailand — a country that hardly comes to mind when most people think of torture — special police and militaries get US gear and training for things like “target selection” and then go out and torture Thai Malay Muslms in the rebel deep south, and also sometimes (mainly Buddhist) Burmese refugees and exploited northern and west coast workers.
Not long ago I visited a key Thai interrogator who spoke frankly about army/ police/ intel torture and then closed our discussion by saying “Look at this,” and invited me into his back room.
It was an up to date museum of plaques, photos and awards from US and Western intelligence, including commendations from the CIA counter-terrorism center (then run by people now staffing Obama), one-on-one photos with high US figures, including George W. Bush, a medal from Bush, various US intel/ FBI/ military training certificates, a photo of him with an Israeli colleague beside a tank in the Occupied Territories, and Mossad, Shin Bet, Singaporean, and other interrogation implements and mementos.
On my way out, the Thai intel man remarked that he was due to re-visit Langley soon.
His role is typical. There are thousands like him worldwide. US proxy torture dwarfs that at Guantanamo.
Many Americans, to their credit, hate torture. The Bush/Cheney escapade exposed that.
But to stop it they must get the facts and see that Obama’s ban does not stop it, and indeed could even accord with an increase in US-sponsored torture crime.
In lieu of action, the system will grind on tonight. More shocks, suffocations, deep burns. And the convergence of thousands of complex minds on one simple thought: ‘Please, let me die.’
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House chairman Brad Sherman calls on UC Irvine to throw out Muslim Student Union for raising money for Gaza
By Philip Weiss – December 11, 2009
Your Israel lobby at work. Brad Sherman is a liberal Democratic congressman from California and populist on Wall Street issues. He is also chairman of a House subcommittee on terrorism. With the applause (and likely the urging) of the Zionist Organization of America, he has sent out three letters to federal officials, urging investigations directed at Viva Palestina, the George Galloway group that is devoted to bringing aid to besieged people of Gaza– for allegedly supporting a terrorist organization, Hamas. The letters are to the IRS, to the Justice Department, and to Hillary Clinton.
In a fourth letter, written last week to the chancellor of the University of California at Irvine, Sherman accuses the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine of soliciting funds for a terrorist organization because it hosted Galloway last May. Once you have determined these facts in your internal investigation, Sherman says, you should bar the Muslim Student Union from the campus.
The ZOA, a right-wing pro-settlers group, says that it brought the Galloway event to Sherman’s attention earlier this fall and pressed for an investigation. Here, the Muslim Student Union at Irvine describes how it has been harassed by the ZOA:
The truth of the matter is that ZOA has been attempting to defame, censor and essentially eradicate the MSU for years now. This is only the most recent attempt to silence the MSU and restrict its constitutional right to freedom of speech, religion and association. Although this is not the first time the organization has made such claims against the MSU, the complaints continue to receive attention. This is surprising, considering all previous claims the organization made against MSU have been proven to be groundless. In 2004, ZOA claimed that the green stoles MSU members wear during graduation were a symbol of support for Hamas.
By JEREMY OLSHAN and JAMIE SCHRAM
New York Post
December 8, 2009
Groups of bicycle-riding vigilantes have been repainting 14 blocks of Williamsburg roadways ever since the city sandblasted their bike lanes away last week at the request of the Hasidic community.
The Hasids, who have long had a huge enclave in the now-artist-haven neighborhood, had complained that the Bedford Avenue bike paths posed both a safety and religious hazard.
Scantily clad hipster cyclists attracted to the Brooklyn neighborhood made it difficult, the Hasids said, to obey religious laws forbidding them from staring at members of the opposite sex in various states of undress. These riders also were disobeying the traffic laws, they complained.
Brian Branch Price
Two cycling advocates were apprehended by the Shomrim Patrol, a Hasidic neighborhood watch group, as they repainted a section of bike lane at 3:30 a.m. yesterday, but when cops arrived, no one was arrested and no summonses were issued, police said.
“These people should apply for a job at the DOT,” neighborhood activist Isaac Abraham said of the repainting. “You put it on, they take it off — and they will probably do this again.”
A Department of Transportation spokesman said: “We will continue to work with any community on ways we can make changes to our streets without compromising safety.”
A source close to Mayor Bloomberg said removing the lanes was an effort to appease the Hasidic community just before last month’s election.
Abraham contends the bike lanes put children at risk of getting hit by cars or bicycles as they exited school buses.
But Baruch Herzfeld, who has tried to bridge the gap between hipsters and Hasids with a bike-rental program, said safety is not the issue so much as xenophobia.
“They don’t want the hipsters in their neighborhood,” he said. “It’s like in Howard Beach back in the day when they didn’t want black people in the neighborhood.”
The cycling advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has not taken sides in the dispute.
But bike lane or not, “cyclists have a right to be on Bedford Avenue,” said Wiley Norvell, a group spokesman.
Additional reporting by Maggie
December 9, 2009
From Kabul, Steve Chao reports
Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo – days after he ordered an escalation of US involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
In making Obama the third sitting US President to win the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama’s co-operative approach to global issues.
But for many Afghans, Obama’s strategy of even more troops does not fit into their vision of what will bring peace.
Press TV– December 11, 2009 06:20:21 GMT
A US civil rights group says that President Barack Obama by creating impunity is following his predecessor into allowing torture policies to continue in the country.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said on Thursday that the US president has failed to provide accountability on torture.
Director of ACLU’s National Security Project Jameel Jaffer said “the Bush administration constructed a legal framework for torture and now the Obama administration is constructing a legal framework for impunity.”
“We’re frustrated by the growing gap between (the) Obama administration’s rhetoric on accountability and the reality,” Jaffer added.
In April, Obama said that CIA interrogators who had used waterboarding on suspected militants would not face prosecution. He also released Bush-era memos specifying that the practice did not constitute torture.
Republicans, however, criticized Obama for leaving the door open for the prosecution of former Bush officials who authorized harsh CIA interrogations due to releasing the memos.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were among those accused of masterminding the Bush-era torture policy.
Jaffer noted that “on every front, the administration is actively obstructing accountability by shielding Bush officials from civil liability, criminal investigation and even public scrutiny for their role in authorizing torture.”
“It’s the last month of 2009, and not a single torture victim has had his day in court,” ACLU Attorney Ben Wizner said. “Not a single court in a torture case has ruled on the legality of the Bush administration’s torture policies.”
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces seized Abdullah Abu Rahmah, a member of the Popular Committee against the Wall ofthe village of Bil’in early on Thursday, according to Palestinian Authority police.
PA police said Abu Rahmah was seized from a house in the At-Tira neighborhood in Ramallah.
Iyad Burnat, the head of Bil’in’s Popular Committee confirmed that the arrest took place at around 2:30am. He said Abu Rahmah was likely taken to the military prison in the settlement of Ofer, on the outskirts of Ramallah.
Abu Rahmah is a high school teacher in the Latin Patriarchate school in Birzeit near Ramallah.
Last Thursday Palestinians in the village said the Israeli military seized Rani Najar, 23, from his house at 2am.
The villagers say the nighttime raids are an attempt to quash Bil’in’s weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the wall Israel is building across the town. Thirty-one people have been arrested from the village since June; 16 remain in prison.
“My client’s arrest is another blatant illustration of the Israeli authorities’ application of legal procedures for the political persecution of Bil’in residents,” said attorney Gaby Lasky, who represents many of the Bil’in detainees in a statement.
“The Bil’in demonstrators are being systemically targeted while it is the State [of Israel] that is in contempt of a High Court of Justice ruling; a ruling which affirmed that the protesters have justice on their side and instructed 2 years ago that the route of the Wall in the area be changed, which has not been implemented to date,” she added.
Three teenage boys were also detained by Israeli soldiers at the Huwwara checkpoint south of the city of Nablus on Wednesday night, the police said. The detainees were identified as Ayman Nehad Shaker Masheh, 16, Mussa Yousif Abu Abieh, 16, and Amir Abed Fawzi Sawalma, 16. The three are from Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus.
The Israeli military said it detained five “wanted” Palestinians in the West Bank overnight.
The military said a pistol and a homemade explosive device were found in the home of one of the people its forces detained, south of the city of Ramallah.
According to a report from the Palestinian Monitoring Group of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Israeli forces arrested 205 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in November alone.
The military carried out 677 raids the same month, the report said.
Israeli extremists have attacked a mosque in the occupied West Bank, vandalizing the property and desecrating the holy book of Islam, the Qur’an.
Suspected hardline Israeli settlers stormed the holy site in the northern West Bank village of Yasuf at night, set fire to the mosque’s library and sprayed hate messages on the building.
Israeli security authorities said they had failed to arrest the attackers, adding that a probe had been launched into the incident.
Following the overnight attack, Palestinians in the locality rallied in protest at the attack and clashed with Israeli forces, who fired tear gas to disperse the angry protesters.
The incident is the latest in a series of anti-Muslim violence, which has also seen the eviction of Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
In October, Israeli vandals attacked the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the Muslim world’s third-holiest site — in Jerusalem Al-Quds, which caused public outrage in the Muslim world and prompted condemnations from the international community.
The recent temporary freeze in construction of illegal settlements by Tel Aviv is believed to have stepped up the acts of violence by Israeli settlers.
The Israeli army had earlier voiced concerns that settlers may attempt to display their opposition to the 10-month settlement freeze by targeting the Palestinian population in the West Bank.
Palestinian officials in the region have expressed dismay over repeated settler attacks, saying Israeli security forces have done little to protect Palestinian civilians from the assailants.