Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Dick Cheney

More on Torture

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 3 2015.

Colman's Column3

President George W. Bush : Look, I’m going to say it one more time…. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We’re a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws, and that might provide comfort for you.  —Sea Island, Georgia, June 10, 2004

There have been a number of reports on the use of torture by the USA. There was a heavily redacted 2004 report from the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice. In 2007, the ICRC (Red Cross) published its Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody. The ICRC said in the introduction, “that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen adds particular weight to the information provided.” There was a Senate Armed Services Committee report from 2008 about how the military used torture. There was a recent Senate report, or rather an executive summary, on CIA torture. There have been a dozen reports on torture practised at Abu Ghraib.

There is still no comprehensive public report on how the executive branch made decisions about torture.  Former US Vice-President Dick Cheney described the recent Senate report as “full of crap”. Cheney will have none of the argument that GW Bush was ignorant of the methods used by the CIA. “He was in fact an integral part of the program. He had to approve it before we went forward with it. I think he knew everything he needed to know and wanted to know about the program.” At one meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, demanded of his colleagues, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

These days we hear mealy-mouthed euphemisms, such as “alternative set of procedures”. The CIA, even after the damning Senate report, maintains that its “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not constitute torture. In the early days after 9/11, words went unminced. The CIA was already talking about torture before they even had a suspect on whom to practise.

The CIA did very little if any research about what kind of torture would work. There is no discussion springing from the need to torture particular people such as prisoners in hand who are unwilling to talk. Talk of torture itself started very soon after 9/11, when “high-value” detainees were not available.

When they did have someone to practise on, they went at it with a will. Abu Zubaydah, a thirty-one-year-old Palestinian from Gaza, was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan. Initially, he did provide some useful information  – that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, and that José Padilla was plotting to become a  dirty bomber. However, that was down to the FBI not the CIA (although they claimed credit) and the information did not come from torture. Two experienced FBI interrogators who had fluent Arabic and deep knowledge about al-Qaeda used traditional “rapport-building” techniques.

The CIA had Abu Zubaydah in their clutches first but were too dumb to realise how important he was. Afterwards, they attributed too much importance to him, convincing themselves he was the third or fourth man in al-Qaeda. In reality, he was not even a member of al-Qaeda, merely  a travel agent for al-Qaeda.

FBI expert Ali Soufan objected strenuously to rank amateurs like former military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen taking over the interrogation.  FBI people who knew what they were doing without torture pulled out of the questioning leaving it to amateurs using a “black site” in Thailand. The CIA were diverted by their misguided conviction that Abu Zubaydah was withholding information about attacks that would have killed thousands of people. They believed they had to torture him so that he would reveal information to justify their use of torture. Their use of torture was because he had not revealed any such information.

They deprived Abu Zubaydah  of sleep for 180 hours and waterboarded him eighty-three times, the last two sessions against the strenuous objections of the on-site interrogators, who judged correctly that he was completely compliant: he just had nothing more to reveal. He was mostly naked and cold, “sometimes with the air conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, he seemed to turn blue.” Zubaydah told the story himself. When loud music no longer played, “there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played twenty-four hours a day”. “I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face….”. They put him in a black box. “As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds.” Eventually, a doctor stopped the torture. “I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.”

Testimony from others who were tortured supports this. A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings.

CIA Director George Tenet regularly told the highest government officials specific procedures to be used on specific detainees. Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers “briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council’s Principals Committee,” including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who “then signed off on the [interrogation] plan.”

The CIA justified the torture of Abu Zubaydah as a success because their brutal techniques allowed them to alleviate their anxiety about how much he really knew. They did not get any more information through torture but eventually convinced themselves that he had no more information.

Articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times revealed a secret world of black sites, prisons on military bases around the world, into which kidnapped people disappeared. “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them”. Extraordinary rendition meant the detainee shackled at hands and feet was transported to the airport by road and loaded onto a plane. Earphones would be placed over his ears, through which music would sometimes be played. He would be blindfolded with a cloth tied around the head and black goggles. The journey times ranged from one hour to over thirty hours. The detainee  and had to urinate and defecate into a diaper.

The US corrupted the world with this programme. A report by the Open Society Justice Initiative  shows that 54 countries, including Ireland, helped to facilitate the CIA’s secret detention, rendition and interrogation programme. They participated in by hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees or permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees.

The CIA’s former acting general counsel, John Rizzo, was involved in the programme from the start until 2009. He had a career at the CIA since the 1970s and was a main author of the 2001 Memorandum of Notification to the president that gave the CIA broad power to torture. Bush (pace Cheney’s recent comments), according to the intelligence committee report, was not briefed in detail on the actual techniques until 2006. The original authorization for the torture programme seems to have come from the Memorandum of Notification, a presidential document drafted by the CIA itself and signed by Bush on September 17, 2001.

An internal CIA draft letter to the attorney general sought a formal declaration that there would be no prosecutions of torturers.  When the Justice Department’s Criminal Division refused to provide immunity, the CIA lied to the Justice Department and found lawyers who would do their bidding. John Yoo, the author of the original torture memo, told the Office of Professional Responsibility that he would not have judged waterboarding legal if he had known the truth about how brutal it was.

In 1994, the US signed the Convention against Torture. This not only prohibits torture but also requires that it be investigated and punished. On his second day in office, Obama announced plans to close the Guantánamo detention facility within a year and to end immediately George W. Bush’s authorization of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  Although Obama once famously commented that “we tortured some folks” and that “I believe waterboarding was torture”, he has taken no action against the torturers. There are obvious avenues for investigation and possible prosecution, though the Obama administration shows no interest taking them.

This avoidance means that, practically speaking, torture remains an option for policymakers rather than a criminal offense. CIA director John Brennan has explicitly refused to rule out the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques under a future administration. The message to future presidents facing a serious security threat is that the prohibition of torture can be ignored without consequence. Abusive security forces from around the world are likely to take heart from that precedent as well.

Michael White was lambasted when he wrote in the Guardian: “it is also a day of redemption for the American system of imperfectly accountable government and that country’s many enemies should remember that as they hurl bricks and demand the prosecution of offenders”.

In his recent book Pay Any Price, investigative journalist James Risen described two of the most consequential aspects of American national security policy after September 11: the organized torture of al-Qaeda suspects in secret CIA prisons and the mass surveillance of communications by Americans carried out by the National Security Agency. There is a third consequence- attempts to muzzle the media. The Department of Justice prosecuted and imprisoned about half a dozen press sources for disclosing classified information  about mass surveillance and torture.

At his first inauguration, Barack Obama rejected “as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Fine words. Risen writes:  “The rush to transform the United States from an open society to a walled fortress, prompted by the 9/11 attacks and propelled by billions of dollars spent on homeland security”, has left little room for serious public debate about “how best to balance security, civil liberties and freedom of movement. It is no longer much of a debate—security always wins.”

Complicity Part Three

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday February 24 2015

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It Can’t Happen Here

book

Here, There or Anywhere?

In 1930, Sinclair Lewis was the first writer from the United States to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. Lewis published It Can’t Happen in 1935. This dystopian satire imagines a Fascist dictatorship in the US. The book serves as a warning that political movements like Nazism can come to power when people blindly support a charismatic leader. Although the book is out-of-print (I am working from a Kindle edition downloaded for $3.99) and hard to find, its themes will be quite familiar to Americans (and other nationalities)

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Contemporary readers would have seen the connection with Louisiana politician Huey Long who was preparing to run for president in 1936 elections when he was assassinated in 1935 just prior to the appearance of Lewis’s novel. Long’s career was used by Robert Penn Warren in his 1946 novel All the King’s Men. Later readers have noted resonances with the regime of GW Bush and Dick Cheney.

 

In Lewis’s novel, US presidential candidate Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip is going to rescue the USA from economic depression. He first wins the Democratic Party nomination, ousting Franklin D Roosevelt. He then becomes president by promising to tax the rich, and stop big business from abusing the common worker.

 

Windrip is a charismatic politician: a great showman, but not comfortable with intellectuals. He is  swept into office on a tide of revival tent enthusiasm and anti-intellectual populism. Despite the reformist facade, Windrip is really the candidate of big business.  He speaks of “liberating” women and minorities, as he gradually strips them of all their rights. Blacks and Jews do not fare well under his rule.

 

Soon after his election, Windrip puts the media under the supervision of the military. William Randolph Hearst, the Rupert Murdoch of his day and model for Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, directs his newspapers to praise the government. The president forces Congress to provide unlimited funding to the military and to pass stringent, unconstitutional laws. He establishes military tribunals for civilians, and denounces critics as traitors. The most loyal followers become a private army, the Minute Men, answerable to no one. The book documents a rapid decline into barbarity and charts an  implosion of American culture: thanks to the weight of mass media,  the desire for security and comfort, and  endemic nationalism, civil society caves in at the touch of a charismatic politician.

 

Windrip is less a Nazi than a con-man-plus-Rotarian, a manipulator who knows how to appeal to people’s desperation, but neither he nor his followers are in the grip of the kind of world-transforming ideology like Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin. The message is that such an ideology is not necessary and besides, the USA has its own ideology that already dominates the world.

 

It Happened in Germany

 

Sinclair Lewis shows that it takes great courage to resist a totalitarian dictatorship. It even takes courage to withhold enthusiastic support. The novel, and the history of Germany in the 1930s, demonstrate that ordinary people can be persuaded to do extraordinary things out of fear or because they benefited from the system. In Nazi Germany, doctors planned, supervised and participated in sterilisation, unethical experiments on humans, torture, euthanasia and genocide. Ordinary policemen and nurses killed in cold blood even when they would not have been punished if they demurred.


Britain’s Imperial Image

 

I was a child in Britain in the 1950s. Much of the literature I was encouraged to read in my pre-teens was about the benevolence of the British Empire. The Boys’ Own Paper gave us tales of adventure in Africa. The Children’s Newspaper was a successful publication which ran for 46 years. During half  of that run of over 2,000 issues it was edited by Arthur Mee, a patriot and devout Christian whose Children’s Encyclopaedia also indoctrinated us with British Imperial values. Lord Baden-Powell was regular contributor. How different were the boy scouts from the Hitler Youth which counted Pope Benedict and UN General Secretary  Kurt Waldheim among its members.

I once asked a friend (we must have been about eight years old) what he would like as a career. I was thinking about being a footballer or a comedian (Max Bygraves was my idol at the time). My friend said he wanted to be a District Commissioner. I had a vague idea from BOP that this was a commendable vocation, which involved civilising savages.

 

The British Imperial brand had been burnished over many decades. The PR set the British brand apart from the brutal behavior of other European empires in Africa: King Leopold’s bloody rule in the Congo, the German genocide of the Herero in South-West Africa, and France’s disgrace in Algeria. The British were, quite simply, different.

 

Despite that, we have seen how British soldiers and police behaved in an inhumane fashion during the British Mandate in Palestine, participating joyfully in torture, summary executions and generalised thuggery. British “exceptionalism”’,   “the British way”,  is clearly a delusion. Chelsea fans continue to behave like British soldiers in Palestine. British soldiers in Iraq continued to behave like thugs.

Neil Ascherson, in the New York Review of Books, described an encounter he had in Cyprus in the late 1950s with a man called Pordy Laneford from Kenya. Who had been a member of the Kenya Police Reserve, the paramilitary force recruited mostly from white settlers. “He explained to me how important it was to kill captured suspects at once, without waiting for the ‘red tape’ of trials and witness statements. ‘Killing prisoners? Well, it’s not really the same thing, is it? I mean, I’d feel an awful shit if I thought I’d been killing prisoners.’”

Ascherson wrote, “I had met other Pordys before, in different parts of the Empire. It was that schoolboy innocence which made them so terribly dangerous, because it was an incurable condition. They were worse, in many ways, than those compulsive sadists who emerge whenever licensed savagery is in prospect. For Pordys, torture was just a lark, a naughty sport like shooting pheasants out of season.”

“The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

Many civilians took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects and settler volunteers ran the concentration camps. Katharine Warren-Gash ran the women’s camps at Kamiti. There, suspects were interrogated, whipped, starved, and subjected to hard labour, which included filling mass graves with truckloads of corpses from other camps. Many Kenyan women gave birth at Kamiti and buried their babies in bundles of six at a time.

The “Hola Massacre” has become part of British, as well as Kenyan history. On March 3, 1959, 100 detainees in the remote Hola camp defied orders to go to work. When the prisoners refused to pick up their spades, a prearranged onslaught began. An hour later, ten prisoners had been clubbed to death and dozens lay dying or injured.

Can It Happen?

We are shocked to read that doctors in Nazi Germany could participate in experiments on living human beings and wholeheartedly carry out torture, sterilisation, euthanasia, and mass extermination.

The recently published US Senate report on CIA torture makes it clear that American doctors were enthusiastic participants happy to make a profit from inflicting pain. Two psychologists, Dr James Mitchell and Dr Bruce Jessen, were paid $81 million to design the torture programme, and medical officers and physicians’ assistants are cited throughout the report as consultants who advised on things like forcing detainees to stand on broken limbs and “rehydrating” via a rectal tube rather than a standard IV infusion.

Dr  Steven Miles is a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, a board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, and author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors. He has been studying doctors’ involvement in torture programmes since photos of the human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were published in 2003. He maintains the website Doctorswhotorture.com, which tracks physician standards of conduct and punishments for doctors who aid torture around the world.

“The docs who get involved in this, number one, are careerists. They get involved for rank and career, and the regimes … extremely rarely coerce them. Instead, what happens is the regimes treat them as some kind of elite. The docs are generally not sadists. … docs seem to be entirely unaware, not only of the ethics codes, but also of the ineffectiveness of these interrogation strategies, that they never mount a protest.”

Public Complicity

During GW Bush’s presidency, Americans increasingly said they favored torture tactics, especially when they believed it would lead to vital information or save lives. Surveys showed that 47%   said the use of harsh interrogation tactics like waterboarding was “sometimes” or “always” justified, while only 22% said such torture tactics were “never” justified. Non-religious Americans were more easily convinced that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were, in fact, torture. Most Christians were in favour of torture. Non-religious Americans were one of the few subsets that opposed the torture techniques – and that includes breakdowns across racial, gender, age, economic, educational, and regional lines.

The researchers said. “We believe that torture may have become a partisan symbol, distinguishing Republicans from Democrats, that demonstrates hawkishness on national security in the same way that being supportive of the death penalty indicates that a person is tough on crime”.

Goebbels successfully used media, that might seem primitive to us in 2015, to ensure complicity of ordinary Germans in the Nazi project. TV shows like 24 and Homeland serve a similar function. Stephen King, an admitted fan of 24, wrote, “There’s also a queasily gleeful subtext to 24 that suggests, ‘If things are this bad, why, I guess we can torture anybody we want! In fact, we have an obligation to torture in order to protect the country! Hooray!’ “

Well that’s OK then.

Brigadier General Finnegan believed the show had an adverse effect on the training of American soldiers because it advocated unethical and illegal behavior. In his words: “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about 24?’ The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

 

Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were enthusiastic fans of 24.

 

 

More on torture next week

 

Torture Part One

This article appeared on Page 10 of  Ceylon Today on Wednesday January 21 2015.

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Something invented by the Marquis de Sade or Hieronymus Bosch. The Guardian.

 

Prisoners were subjected to “rectal feeding”; this is a medieval technique in which the intestines are inflated with a viscous material to cause severe intestinal pain. The “lunch tray” for one detainee, which contained hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, was pureed and pushed into his rectum. Rectal examinations were conducted with “excessive force”. One prisoner was later diagnosed with anal fissures, chronic haemorrhoids and “symptomatic rectal prolapse”. This sounds like sadistic rape and sodomy.

 
Detainees were forced to stand on broken limbs for hours, kept in complete darkness, deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, sometimes standing, sometimes with their arms shackled above their heads. There were mock executions and Russian roulette. Interrogators revved power drills near prisoners’ heads. They threatened to slit the throat of one detainee’s mother, sexually abuse another and threatened prisoners’ children. One prisoner died of hypothermia brought on by being forced to sit naked on a bare concrete floor. At least 39 detainees experienced techniques like “cold water dousing” – different from the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding.

 
These horror stories come from a recently published report from the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The investigation took four years and cost $40 million. The Senate report claims the CIA repeatedly lied about a programme involving brutal techniques employed after 9/11. The Senate committee published nearly 500 pages of its investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme during the Bush “war on terror”. The full report is over ten times longer, so a great deal is still hidden from the public. What we have is bad enough.

 
Exactly 119 detainees were held at CIA sites in various countries from 17 September 2001 to 22 January 2009. Of all those who were held and interrogated, 22 per cent were found to be innocent. There was no process for freeing them. At least 17 detainees were tortured without approval from CIA headquarters. Some CIA officers were said to have been reduced “to the point of tears” by witnessing the treatment meted out to one detainee.

 
Privatisation of Pain

True to the neo-liberal ethos of the Washington Consensus, the hands-on coalface work of torture was contracted out to private enterprise. The main men are named in the report as “Grayson Swigert” and “Hamilton Dunbar”. In reality, these were two psychologists called James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. The private company they set up had a contract with the CIA which earned them $81m. The company office, two floors bug-proofed and equipped with high security doors, was at 108 Washington Street, Spokane, in Washington State. At the Fairchild Air Force base on the outskirts of Spokane, the doctors had worked on programmes to train Special Forces in resistance to torture, how to cope with the type of interrogation they might face if captured. Their sales pitch to the CIA was that if they could teach US forces not to talk, they had the techniques to get information out of prisoners. In truth, they had no experience in military interrogation, neither had any specialised knowledge about al-Qaeda – neither had “relevant cultural or linguistic expertise”. A CIA officer said no “professional in the field would credit” the doctors’ judgments “as psychologists assessing the subjects”. They were both accused of “arrogance and narcissism”. They were more than back-room boffins. According to the report, “The psychologists personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA’s most significant detainees using these techniques.”

 
Hypocrites and Hippocrates

The Hippocratic Oath enjoins doctors to “do no harm”. The American Medical Association endorsed a set of professional codes stating that doctors should not participate in torture directly or indirectly. They also have a duty to document it and report it, going outside the chain of command if necessary.

 

The Senate report clearly shows that doctors were responsible for actually designing the torture programmes and that several “medical officers” enabled and supervised torture as it was being inflicted. CIA medical officers used their intimate knowledge of the human body to harm people the US government deemed enemies.
Dr Steven Miles is a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, a board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, and author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors. His website tracks doctors who participate in torture around the world. He says that, firstly, doctors design methods of torture that do not leave scars. They are also involved in trying to prevent prisoners dying and, thirdly, they falsify medical records and death certificates to conceal the injuries of torture.

 
Dr Miles says: “Essentially the doctors and psychologists were built in to the entire torture system. They weren’t simply bystanders who were called in to respond when the system went off the rails.“

 
Public Support?

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Americans, by a 59-31% margin, believe that CIA “treatment of suspected terrorists” in detention was justified. A plurality deemed that “treatment” to be “torture,” by a 49-38% margin.

 
In May 2009, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life found that the more religious an American is, the more likely he or she is to support torture. When poll respondents were asked, “Do you personally think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists amounted to torture, or not?” most Americans said the abuses did not constitute torture. However, non-religious Americans who were more easily convinced that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were, in fact, torture.

 
Most Christians, were in favour of torture. Non-religious Americans were one of the few subsets that opposed the torture techniques – and that includes breakdowns across racial, gender, age, economic, educational, and regional lines.

 
Ineffective As Well As Wrong

No compelling evidence has ever been put forward to show that torture can produce reliable intelligence. Human memory is fallible and the techniques used – typically causing stress, pain, sleep deprivation, or confusion – might have been specifically designed to produce unreliable information. The intelligence and military communities have long accepted this. The Intelligence Science Board provided scientific guidance to the US intelligence community. The US Army’s Training Manual, states: “The use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

 
Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent with considerable experience interrogating al-Qaeda operatives, told Time magazine: “When they are in pain, people will say anything to get the pain to stop. Most of the time, they will lie, make up anything to make you stop hurting them. That means the information you’re getting is useless.”
The Senate report definitively squashes the claim that torture generated intelligence that prevented further terrorist attacks and saved lives. Tortured detainees either disclosed nothing, or supplied fabricated information, or revealed information that had been already been discovered through traditional, non-violent interrogation techniques.

 

It seems that the main purpose of torture is to satisfy the desire to hurt the person you assume has done something bad.

 

Obama and Torture

David Bromwich, author of, essays on ethics and politics, wrote about the Senate report in the London Review of Books. He looked at President Obama’s stance: “He denounced torture and implied, early on, that the practices fomented by Bush and Cheney fitted the international definition of torture; yet Obama also told workers at the CIA, in early 2009, that under no circumstances would they be prosecuted. He paired the words of responsible acknowledgment with a policy of non-accountability. This show of forbearance was high-sounding in its way – hate the crime, pardon the criminal – but if it makes a generous line to take with vices such as a gambling habit or heavy drinking, the hands-off resolution seems radically unsuited to crimes such as rape, torture and murder”.

 
Impunity

Bromwich again: “The promise of impunity that has greeted the lawless conduct of government officials obeys the ancient maxim fac et excusa. The deeds in fact are free to recur because the excuses are potentially limitless. We are all patriots – Obama’s word for CIA interrogators – and under enemy attack, we respond as patriots do.” Bromwich says we cannot fathom the motives of these “patriots”. Sadistic self-indulgence may have played a part. “A principle such as an unconditional ban on torture is tested precisely by its observance in a fear-engendering crisis. If your belief in the principle gradually disintegrates, it was never a solid belief.”

 
Conclusion

Michael White, writing in The Guardian, drew hundreds of outraged comments when he wrote: “ it is also a day of redemption for the American system of imperfectly accountable government”. There was much resistance to accountability. The CIA declined, in the words of Senator Dianne Feinstein, to “compel its workforce to appear before the committee”. Almost all the Republicans in Congress, with the distinct exception of John McCain, opposed the publication of the findings.

 
In 2002 ,the New York Times planned to publish a story about a secret prison in Thailand, but Cheney persuaded them to suppress it. Cheney symbolises the malignancy that took over the American psyche. According to Bromwich Cheney’s evil was grounded in psychotic fear, with which he contaminated a huge nation: “His words and actions testify to a personal fear so marked that it could project and engender collective fear.”

 
There is a law in the U.S. against torture but there is no sign of prosecutions because the techniques were declared legal at the time. As Dr Miles says: “it was a matter of a structured system of complicity. This has greatly harmed the US medical community’s ability to speak on behalf of doctors who are protesting torture around the world.”

 
“Torture is wrong, torture is always wrong. Those of us who want to see a safer and more secure world, who want to see extremism defeated, we won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority, if we lose the things that make our systems work and countries successful”. David Cameron said that.

 
More next week about torture in other countries, including Britain.

Journalistic Heroines

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday 24 October 2010

There was an article titled “Mumbo Jumbo” in the Sunday Leader dated 17 October, 2010,by one Sumaya Samarasinghe. The main purpose of the article was to defend Frederica Jansz against the lies told about her by other Sri Lankan newspapers.

Ms Samarasinghe seemed to be saying that readers were too stupid to know about Judith Miller. I know enough about Miller to question the statement: “She is an ex- New York Times journalist who refused to reveal her source and ended up spending three months in jail. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer many years later. This had a huge impact amongst journalists and questioned if the state could force journalists to reveal their sources… Does anyone remember this talented and honest reporter?”

Miller did not win the Pulitzer “many years after” spending three months in jail. She was jailed for 85 days in 2005. Miller won the Pulitzer in 2002 as part of a New York Times team covering 9/11. There was a campaign to get Miller’s award revoked.

Miller is an “ex- New York Times journalist” because she ruined the paper’s reputation for probity and honest, accurate reporting. The New York Times’s own ombudsman issued a scathing critique of Judith Miller’s lies and recommended that the paper not allow her back in its newsroom.

The “source” she went to jail to protect was Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Dick Cheney, who was convicted for obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements.

What noble journalistic cause did Miller go to jail for? Columnist Margaret Kimberly wrote that Miller “isn’t protecting a whistle blower. She is protecting someone who retaliated against a whistle blower”.

Part of the Bush case against Saddam was that he was importing yellow-cake uranium from Niger as part of his WMD project. Former US ambassador to Niger, Joseph Wilson, cast doubt upon this in the Times and criticised the Bush administration for “twisting” intelligence to justify war in Iraq. Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. This fact was spitefully divulged publicly by the Vice President’s office thus endangering her life. For her second grand jury appearance, Miller produced a notebook from a previously-undisclosed meeting with Libby on June 23, 2003, several weeks before Wilson’s New York Times article was published. According to Miller’s notes from that earlier meeting, Libby disclosed that Joseph Wilson’s wife was a CIA employee involved in her husband’s trip to Niger. Six days after another meeting with Libby Miller recorded in her notebook, Plame was outed as a CIA agent.

Miller’s main claim to fame has nothing to do with being honest or talented; it is to do with being a conduit of misinformation for the Bush government. The USA used Miller’s reporting, based on the lies they had fed her, as a contributory motive for going to war. The NYT later apologised for its behaviour but rejected “blame on individual reporters”. A Times editorial acknowledged that some of that newspaper’s coverage in the run-up to the war had relied too heavily on Ahmed Chalabi (con-man and convicted embezzler) and other Iraqi exiles bent on regime change. It also regretted that “information that was controversial [was] allowed to stand unchallenged”. Others noted that ten of the twelve flawed stories discussed had been written or co-written by Miller. It was alleged later in Editor and Publisher that, while Miller’s reporting “frequently does not meet Times standards”, she was given a freer rein than other reporters because she consistently delivered frequent front page scoops for the paper by cultivating top-ranking sources.

The civilian death toll following the Iraq invasion of 2003 today stands at, according to the Body Count website, which is more conservative in its estimates than the Lancet, 107,349. The US military death toll is 2,000 and taxpayer money wasted is in excess of $300 billion. As Russell Baker put it in The Nation (not the Sri Lankan one), “I am convinced there would not have been a war (against Iraq) without Judy Miller.”

In 2007, Miller went to work for a right-wing think tank. In 2008, she was hired by that bastion of ethical journalism, Fox News.

On Tuesday, January 30, 2007, Miller took the stand as a witness for the prosecution against Libby. There was general mirth when Miller said she could not remember conversations she had had with Libby. James Carville speculated that it was “going to be very interesting to see whether [Miller’s] problem is a first amendment [one] — i.e., “I want to protect a source”, or a fifth amendment [one] — “I was out spreading this stuff, too””.

Now let us move to another courtroom drama.

In the article she posted on 13 October, 2010, Frederica Jansz highlights errors made by other papers and promised a fuller response on 17 October. The 17th October ‘editorial’ is little more than a tirade at the stupidity of newspaper readers and an assertion that all newspapers except the Leader are only fit for wrapping fish. She ignores the huge elephant in the room.

Some time ago, Ms Jansz wrote that she had asked Sarath Fonseka three times about Lasantha’s death but he had refused to give a direct answer. Her answers in her testimony to the High Court in the “White Flag” case were somewhat different.

According to the Sunday Times of  10 October, Ms Jansz testified in the High Court that at one point during the interview with Fonseka, Lal Wickrematunge had asked the note-taker and the photographer to leave the room as he wanted to raise a personal issue with Fonseka. Lal asked Fonseka who was responsible for killing Lasantha.

Jansz said in response to questioning in the High Court that “she did not pay attention to what was said by Fonseka in response to that question”.

Ms Jansz is an experienced and fearless investigative journalist who over the years has been the scourge of many a corrupt businessman and many criminals. Her paper has been running a long campaign to bring to justice the killers of Lasantha. Lasantha’s brother directly asked a man likely to be in the know who killed his brother and Frederica drifts off like a dopey teenager!

She said that she normally did tape recordings of interviews but the paper’s recorder had been given to someone going to interview the Western Provincial Council minister. Does the paper’s budget not run to buying a second recorder? Could the UNP not have a whip-round to buy another recorder for her? Was the interview with the provincial minister considered more important than an interview with a presidential candidate who is accusing his own soldiers and government of a war crime?

Ms Samarasinghe exempts the Sunday Times from her accusations about papers telling lies about Ms Jansz. Is the Sunday Times accurately reporting her testimony or not? Why does Ms Jansz not address the issue?

The elephant in the room is beginning to smell worse than those old fishy newspapers

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