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Truth and Violence PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Friday, 26 September 2008 13:22

Yesterday there were three pieces of news from Stateside that in turn depressed, inspired and disgusted (and no, they do not relate to Wall St):

  • A prosecuter for the military at Guantanamo Bay resigned saying there was no way a fair trial was going to be able to take place for the prisoner he was prosecuting as the defence were not being allowed access to the information they needed. Note it was the military prosecuter who was resigning, the guy paid by George W Bush, not the defence lawyer of the prisoner.
  • A group called Veterans for Peace unravelled a huge banner in Washington DC calling for Bush and Cheney to be arrested for war crimes, and one of them gave an inspiring and truthful account of why the US Constitution is in such danger.
  • US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice after having for years denied being present during any discussions about the use of torture by the CIA and military admitted to a Senate investigation that she and all the key players in the White House had been having these discussions all along. If you have followed any of this story you knew this already, the disgust is for the constant lies.

(There's more...)

Here's the video interview with Veterans for Peace member Tarak Kauff explaining their actions.

The Dark SideI've just finished reading The Dark Side by Jane Mayer. It is an exploration of how the War on Terror has become instead a war on the ideals that found Western democracies. No example better illustrates this than the use of torture. If you have even the remotest interest in discovering what is really going on behind the scenes then please read this book. It is well written and very clearly lays out what has been going on over the last seven years since the tragedy of 9/11.

It is clear that the Bush administration, particularly Vice-President Cheney, have been single-mindedly overturning all the understood laws and conventions that prohibit torture to allow the CIA and, to a lesser extent, military personnel to carry out truly abhorent acts upon individuals. And furthermore to protect themselves from any future charges for criminal acts.

To take the Geneva Conventions as an example. These were jointly written by the US and other countries, and the US stood by them for over 50 years until Cheney decided that to come to terms with the threat of fanatical terrorism they had to explore "the dark side" to find the tools to defeat terrorism.

What then transpired was a catastrophic failure in leadership leading to a free-for-all at the lower levels. Each time CIA agents who were interrogating prisoners asked for permission to carry out more barbaric acts like waterboarding, or combined forms of torture, the permission was granted. They were basically being told to do "whatever it takes". This direction was coming directly from the White House.

There were many courageous lawyers along the way who tried to reign things back in, but at each turn they were stymied by Cheney and his cohorts.

I cannot possibly describe on this blog what happened to these prisoners over the past years, it is too heart-rending and barbaric.

In defense of Cheney, you could argue that his heart was in the right place. He was trying to stop another terrorist attack on US soil, and was willing to do anything to satisfy that goal. Certainly his defenders point to the fact there has not been another atrocity within US borders over the last seven years. But, at what cost?

The lawyers who tried to reign back the free-for-all recognised the possibility that the use of torture might illicit some crucial piece of information that could prevent an attack from happening, but they also recognised that the political cost both nationally and particularly internationally was huge. A whole generation of young muslims is now lost to any sympathy with Western ideals as a result of what has happened in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons across the world.

When the war on terror is in large part a struggle between competing ideas about what society is supposed to be, about the framework of rules that govern a society and its relationship with others, the use of torture has ruined any hope for the West of taking the high road. It is why the British Secret Intelligence counselled the USA not to do what they were doing. The use of increased violence and torture just didn't work, as our experience of "getting tough" in Northern Ireland had proved a generation earlier.

Yet Cheney and his cronies kept on and on telling us that they were getting good information. It is nonsense. They were watching too many episodes of 24 as Jack Bauer tortured someone to get that vital piece of information. That's TV, the reality is different.

The truth is that torture doesn't work. A prisoner being tortured will tell you anything. It was used by Chinese communists in order to get prisoners to give false confessions - to recant publically what they believed. The prisoners would say anything if they thought it would make the torture stop. There is no way of knowing what is false and what may be true. 

There are ways of getting people to give you information that are tried and tested. However these are the complete opposite of torture. It involves befriending the prisoner, getting to know them, building up trust. The FBI did this with a number of key prisoners in the very early days of the war in Afghanistan and started to get useful information. But it can be a slow process. It was deemed too slow for Cheney and the CIA who took over the interrogation and started to introduce torture as the mechanism. The flow of reliable information stopped.

So, torture doesn't work for its primary purpose of illiciting information. Additionally as soon as someone is tortured there is no way they are going to be successfully prosecuted in a proper legal court. Any evidence would be inadmissible if it had been gained by torturing the suspect. The prisoners are thus in legal limbo with the US realising that they cannot prosecute them but not wanting to let them go.

And then there is the small detail that some of those who have been tortured are entirely innocent. Perhaps they had a name that sounded familiar to someone else's as in the case of Khaled El-Masri who was renditioned to a secret prison in Afghanistan while taking a holiday and spent six months imprisoned. He was a German citizen. He is now beset by emotional problems as a result of his treatment, and has no means of filing a civil suit against the US because it would violate national security to even discuss the subject of rendition (when prisoners are secreted from one country to another for interrogation and torture).

And finally there are a number of prisoners who have died directly as a result of their torture, for instance Manadel al-Jamadi. His death became infamous when pictures surfaced of US soldiers grinning and giving the thumbs up next to his corpse.

Has anyone in the Bush administration heard of that 800 year old legal standard: habeas corpus, the right of a defendant to make appeal that his incarceration is correct?

I could write a lot more about this. But here is the kicker... many of those who have made the decisions to do all this, i.e. those in the Bush administration, profess themselves as followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. When our own Lord Jesus was tortured to death by the oppressive rulers of his day, the Romans, wouldn't you think it would give pause to following suit? I simply cannot understand what is going on in their minds, even as I try to.

What I do know is that the truth must get out. Violence is not the answer to the problems we face today. 

Jane Mayer ends her book with the following. Zelikow was the director of the 9/11 Commission that researched how the events of that awful day had happened and been allowed to happen.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, Philip Zelikow, who returned to teaching history at the University of Virginia, tried to take stock. In time, he predicted, the Bush Administration's descent into torture would be seen as akin to Roosevelt's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It happened, he believed, in much the same way, for many of the same reasons. As he put it, "Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools."

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