Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

Cartoon for April 2, 2009

April 2, 2009

This is a riff on Obama’s decision to push out the chairman of GM. Obviously he’s fine with the way his torture operation is going, which is why it’s being expanded and moved from Gitmo to Bagram.

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THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: Change You Can Parse

March 17, 2009

Obama Abandons Bush’s Talk, Keeps His Walk

You can’t blame Dick Cheney for being annoyed at Barack Obama. Obama is closing Guantánamo. He’s ordering the CIA to interrogate prisoners according to the rules written in the Army Field Manual, which doesn’t allow torture. He’s even phasing out such classic Bushian phrases as “enemy combatant” and “war on terror.”

But the dark prince of neoconservatism should relax. Obama’s inaugural address may have promised to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” but—in all the ways that matter—he’s keeping all of Bush’s outrageous policies in place. Sure, he talks a good game about “moving forward.” But nothing has really changed. From reading your e-mails to asserting the right to assassinate American citizens to bailing out companies whose executives pay themselves big bonuses, Obama’s changes are nothing but toothless rhetoric.

Closing Gitmo, reported The New York Times, was merely “a move that seemed intended to symbolically separate the new administration from Bush detention policies. But in a much anticipated court filing, the Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.”

What will happen to the 241 POWs still at Gitmo? They won’t be called “enemy combatants” anymore but most won’t be going home. “The filing signaled that, as long as Guantánamo remains open, the new Administration will aggressively defend its ability to hold some detainees there,” wrote the Times. Where will they go after that?

Welcome to Gitmo II—courtesy of Barack Obama.

Countless victims have been tortured by U.S. military personnel at Bagram, the U.S. airbase in Afghanistan where Bush imprisoned 600 people without charges. Some were murdered in the camp’s notorious “salt pit.” “Even children have not been spared,” says Amnesty International.

Now Bagram is being expanded—nearly doubled in size—in order to accommodate 200-plus detainees from Gitmo, as well as future POWs from Obama’s expanded war against Afghanistan. As bad as Guantánamo was, conditions at Bagram are worse.

Unless you believe indefinite detention without due process to be torture, Obama says his detainees won’t be tortured. Mostly. Probably. Maybe. The Washington Post quotes an Administration insider as saying that the CIA will enjoy “more leeway” than the Army Field Manual allows, in order to “take into account the differences between battlefield interrogations and those aimed at eliciting intelligence about terrorist groups and their plans.”

Extraordinary renditions, the Times reports in a different article, will continue under Obama. “In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently,” says the paper, “Obama nominees endorsed continuing the CIA’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.”

During the 2008 campaign Obama’s critics accused him of saying nothing, albeit beautifully. Now that we’ve gotten to know him a bit, it’s time to refine that assessment: He’s just a weasel. An eloquent weasel. But a weasel who says the right things while doing the opposite.

On March 9th Obama ordered federal agencies to suspend Bush’s infamous “signing statements,” sneaky documents issued after the signing of a bill that ordered government agencies not to enforce the very same bill he’d just approved in front of the cameras. Signing statements, says the American Bar Association, use one-man dictatorial rule to negate the people’s will as expressed by Congress and are thus “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers.”

“Yet two days later—literally—Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill and appended to it a signing statement claiming that he had the Constitutional authority to ignore several of its oversight provisions,” writes Glenn Greenwald of Slate.

Greenwald regrets having to quote the vile Rich Lowry of the right-wing National Review magazine. So do I. But even the right is right sometimes:

“Barack Obama has perfected a three-step maneuver that could never even be attempted by a politician lacking his rhetorical skill or cool cynicism. First: Denounce your presidential predecessor for a given policy, energizing your party’s base and capitalizing on his abiding unpopularity. Second: Pretend to have reversed that policy upon taking office with a symbolic act or high-profile statement. Third: Adopt a version of that same policy, knowing that it’s the only way to govern responsibly or believing that doing otherwise is too difficult.”

This week’s example is Obama’s grandstanding over $165 million in bonuses paid to executives of American International Group (AIG), which received billions in federal bailout money. He feigned outrage: “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” But his Treasury Department knew about the bonuses—which amount to roughly 55 cents per American—ages ago. He also knows there isn’t much the government can do legally to claw the money back.

Unlike the word count limit of this column, Obama’s perfidy knows no limits. He’s already become more dangerous to democracy and basic human rights than George W. Bush. Unlike Bush, he has no political opposition. Cheney may nitpick, but most Republicans are happy to see Bush’s policies remain in place. Meanwhile, liberals remain loyal, silent, and tacitly pro-torture.

COPYRIGHT 2009 TED RALL

Cartoon for February 2, 2009

February 2, 2009

Incredibly, mass murderer and mass torturer George W. Bush remains at large. Justice, apparently, is not something Obama cares about.

Cartoon for November 10, 2008

November 10, 2008

Obama and the Democrats have achieved a sweeping victory. Now it’s time for them to dismantle Bush’s gulag archipelago of torture. Not after forming a committee to look into it. Not after we’ve found the best way to do it. Immediately.

August 6, 2008

THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: IT’S THE TORTURE, STUPID

Restoring Human Rights Must Be Next Prez’s Top Priority

Both major presidential candidates have promised to roll back the Bush Administration’s torture archipelago. Both say they’ll close Guantánamo, abolish legalized torture, and respect the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. Obama also pledges to eliminate “extraordinary rendition,” in which the CIA kidnaps people and flies them to other countries to be tortured, and says he will investigate Bush Administration officials for possible prosecution for war crimes.

If followed by other meaningful changes in behavior–withdrawing from Afghanistan and Iraq and foreswearing preemptive warfare–restoring the rule of law and respecting the rights of “enemy combatants” can start America’s long, slow climb back to moral parity in the community of nations. But there are worrisome signs that Barack Obama and John McCain’s commitment to moral renewal is less than rock-solid.

McCain, who claimed to have been tortured as a POW in North Vietnam, says a lot of the right things. “We do not torture people,” he said in a 2007 Republican debate. “It’s not about the terrorists; it’s about us. It’s about what kind of country we are.” He used his Vietnam experience against fellow Republicans, bullying Congress into passing a law banning torture against detainees held by the military.

Bush signed McCain’s bill in late 2005, saying it “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.”

Days later, however, Bush issued a secret “signing statement” declaring that he would ignore the Detainee Treatment Act. NYU law professor David Golove, an expert on executive power, said: “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it’s important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me.”

McCain, who says as president he would veto a bill rather than issue a signing statement negating its contents, was no doubt angry about Bush’s perfidy. But, fearful of alienating Bush and the GOP leadership as he geared up for his ’08 presidential campaign, he remained silent.

In February of this year, McCain backtracked still further from his anti-torture position, voting against legislation that would have blocked the CIA from subjecting inmates in its secret prisons to waterboarding, hooding, putting duct tape across their eyes, stripping them naked, rape, beatings, burning, subjecting them to hypothermia, mock executions, and other “harsh interrogation techniques.”

“The CIA should have the ability to use additional techniques,” he argued. He refused to explain why the CIA ought to be allowed to torture while the DOD should adhere to international standards of civilized behavior.

The U.S. continues to torture.

Unlike McCain, Obama remains a critic of officially sanctioned torture. “We’ll reject torture–without exception or equivocation,” Obama says. He would also end “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 the law.”

The trouble is, Obama isn’t laying the groundwork for stopping torture or closing Guantánamo or other U.S. gulags in his stump speeches. He talks a lot about energy policy, healthcare, jobs and the economy–and withdrawing troops from Iraq so they join the war against Afghanistan instead. If he becomes president, people will expect him to do those things. Without a sustained focus on human rights issues, however, any moves he makes will seem to come out of the blue–and face stronger pushback from Republicans anxious to bash him as weak on national security.

Why doesn’t Obama emphasize Bush’s war crimes? Maybe he’s trying to play the Great Uniter, or maybe he knows that many Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about the pain inflicted against people they’ll never meet in places they’ve never heard of. Who knows? All we know for sure is that, day after day, Obama fails to talk about what is arguably the worst crime of the corrupt Bush Administration.

Of course, renouncing torture isn’t enough. Those who authorized it must be held to account. However, it doesn’t seem likely that they will.

Asked in April whether he would prosecute Bush Administration officials for authorizing torture, Obama delivered his now-familiar duck-and-cover: say the right thing, then weasel out of it. “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” he said.

But not for at least four years: “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems to solve.”

Memo to Barack: This isn’t about prosecuting Republicans. It’s about prosecuting torturers.

“Prosecution of any officials, if it were to occur, would probably not occur during Obama’s first term,” Slate reports, citing Obama campaign insiders. “Instead, we may well see a Congressionally empowered commission that would seek testimony from witnesses in search of the truth about what occurred. Though some witnesses might be offered immunity in exchange for testimony, the question of whether anybody would be prosecuted would be deferred to a later date–meaning Obama’s second term, if such is forthcoming.”

First would come a South African-style “Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” where the truth would come out. But the torturers would get off scot-free.
“The commission would focus strictly on detention, torture and extraordinary rendition, or the practice of spiriting detainees to a third country for abusive interrogations. The panel would focus strictly on these abuses, leaving out any other allegedly illegal activities during the Bush Administration, such as domestic spying,” says Slate. Second–well, there might not be a second. Even if there is, shortsighted Americans’ appetite for justice and accountability will probably have been diluted by the time 2013 rolls around.

Mainline media liberals, in conjunction with Obama supporters, are even going so far as to suggest that Bush issue his torturers with a blanket pardon in exchange for their testimony at Obama’s toothless commission.

Regardless of who wins in November, we will get a president who’s better on torture and other human rights issues than George W. Bush. At least their words sound nice. But real change and moral redemption will only begin if we–Democrats, Republicans and everyone else–demand the next president stands by his pretty promises.

Until they start taking taking torture, Gitmo and human rights seriously, neither Obama nor McCain should be able to appear in public without facing questions and heckling about these issues.

COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL

January 11, 2008

Cartoon for January 12

The CIA tortures, but as was the case for Nixon ordering goons to break into Democratic HQ, torture isn’t the problem–it’s all about the cover-up. In this case, the Justice Department is after the CIA, not for torture, but for destroying tapes of torture. America is weird.

Click on the cartoon to make it bigger.