Torture and victim chasm
By John Pilger
Mar 19, 2007, 10:13
In Andrew Cockburn’s new book Rumsfeld, the gap between rampant power and its faraway victims is closed.
Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary of defence until last year and a designer of the Iraq bloodbath, is revealed as personally directing from his office in the Pentagon the torture of fellow human beings, exploiting “individual phobias, such as fear of dogs, to induce stress” and use of “a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.”
Cockburn’s documented evidence shows that other Bush mafiosi, such as Paul Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, “had already agreed that Rumsfeld should approve all but the most severe options, such as the wet towel, without restriction.”
In Washington, I asked Ray McGovern, formerly a senior CIA officer, what he made of Norman Mailer’s remark that the US had entered a pre-fascist state.
“I hope he’s right,” he replied, “because there are others saying we are already in a fascist mode. When you see who is controlling the means of production here, when you see who is controlling the newspapers and periodicals and the TV stations from which most Americans take their news and when you see how the so-called war on terror is being conducted, you begin to understand where we are headed. It’s quite something that the nuclear threat today should be seen first and foremost as coming from the United States of America and Great Britain.”
McGovern was the author of the president’s daily CIA intelligence brief. I interviewed him more than three years ago and his prescient words are as striking today as Cockburn’s revelation of Rumsfeld’s secret life is illuminating.
His description of fascism within a nominally free society recalls George Orwell’s warning that totalitarianism does not require a totalitarian state.
‘The lies that have caused this extremely dangerous time are understood and rejected by a majority.’
The lies that have caused this extremely dangerous time are understood and rejected by the majority of humanity. This was illustrated vividly on February 15-16 2003, when some 30 million people took to the streets of cities around the world, including the greatest demonstration in British history.
It was illustrated again the other day in Latin America, which George W Bush on tour sought to reclaim for the lost US “backyard.”
“The distinguished visitor,” noted one commentator in Caracas, “was received with fear and loathing.”
There are many connections in Latin America to the suffering in the Middle East. The crushing of popular, reformist governments by the US and the setting up of torture regimes from Guatemala to Chile have echoes from Iran to Afghanistan.
The current attacks on the Chavez government in Venezuela by the media, which McGovern describes as being “domesticated by their wish to serve,” are essential in disclaiming the right of the poor to find another way.
Elected last December with a record landslide of votes cast by three-quarters of the eligible population – his 11th major election victory – Chavez expresses the kind of genuine exuberant democracy long ago abandoned in Britain.
In this country, the political class offers instead the arthritic pirouetting of Tony Blair, a criminal, and Gordon Brown, the paymaster of imperial adventures fought by 18-year-old soldiers who, on their return home, are so ill treated that there is no-one to change their colostomy bag.
Chavez, having all but got rid of the deadly International Monetary Fund from Latin America, dares to use the wealth from Venezuela’s oil to unite the Latin peoples and to expel a foreign economic system that calls itself liberal and is the source of historic suffering. He is supported by governments and by millions across south America from whom he derives his mandate.
You would not know this on either side of the Atlantic unless you studied carefully. The propaganda that converts a lively, open democracy to an “authoritarian” dictatorship is written on the rusted crosses of Salvador Allende’s comrades, of whom the same was said.
It is disseminated by the embittered effete whose liberal hero was Blair, until he made an embarrassing mess, and who now claim the respectability of “the left” in order to disguise their mentoring by the likes of Wolfowitz, their promotion of Dick Cheney’s ludicrous “world Islamic empire” and, above all, their passion for wars whose spilt blood is never theirs.
And here’s the way some people believe this matter all started rolling in the BushCo cabal:
‘Professor Torture’ stands by his famous memo
ALASDAIR PALMER, The Spectator
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2007
Guantanamo Bay has just marked its fifth anniversary. John Yoo was instrumental in setting up the prison camp that has been widely condemned. (The normally solidly pro-American Daily Mail newspaper in England, for example, has called it “the sort of show that once only dictators like Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao knew how to put on.”)
Yet Yoo’s infamy in America derives less from clearing the legal way for Guantanamo than from being the author of the “torture memo,” a legal opinion filed on Aug. 2, 2002, by the Office of Legal Counsel, a section of the U.S. Department of Justice. The memo examined what methods of inflicting pain and suffering constitute torture, and whether the U.S. president can order torture if he thinks it necessary.
Yoo’s memo was leaked to the press in the summer of 2004, in the aftermath of the publication of pictures of U.S. soldiers torturing Iraqi detainees inside Abu Ghraib prison. Overnight, he became a celebrity – but for all the wrong reasons. He was held personally responsible for Abu Ghraib’s horrors: The disgusting behaviour of U.S. service personnel was seen as the bottom of the slippery slope down which Yoo had started America’s military sliding when he wrote the torture memo.
“That was totally absurd,” he told me when we meet for lunch in a restaurant opposite his office at the Boalt School of Law in Berkeley, Calif. “Two bipartisan congressional reports and several military investigations showed that the Pentagon hadn’t even read the memo. Disgraceful behaviour of the kind which took place at Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with interrogation policy. Similar things have happened in practically every war. What was different was that this time they had cameras on their cellphones to photograph it. … But the idea that what went on in Abu Ghraib would never have happened without that memo is just silly.”
That, however, hasn’t stopped many people from believing it. Various distinguished lawyers and professors have called Yoo’s advice in the torture memo “disgusting,” “unethical” and “a disgrace to our profession” – and that’s without explicitly connecting it to Abu Ghraib. Others want Yoo indicted as a war criminal.
Even the Bush administration has disowned him: The OLC issued a subsequent opinion that, it stated, overturned his original advice. Yoo had opined that the president had the power to order torture. The new memo emphatically insists he does not.
Given his reputation, I was a little nervous about meeting John Yoo. I half-expected to encounter the kind of man who bites the head off a chicken each morning, and who has electrodes at the ready in his office. In reality, the man is nothing like the bloodthirsty sadist he is depicted as being. Yoo is gentle and reticent, and listens without interrupting. He’s polite, courteous and not yet 40. He gives the impression of being a conscientious academic eager to find out what the law is and to ensure it is never flouted.
Flouting the law is, however, precisely what he stands accused of doing by writing the torture memo. “I reject that criticism totally,” he said. “Everything I did was carefully crafted to make sure that it was consistent with the existing legislation. My obligation was to make sure that what the president did was lawful, and I took the obligation very seriously.”
Still, it is difficult to read that memo without being shocked by its conclusions. It states, for instance, that “acts must be of an extreme nature to rise to the level of torture” (within the meaning of the Convention Against Torture as ratified by Congress). “The infliction of pain or suffering … is insufficient to amount to torture.” “Pain or suffering must be severe.” “To amount to torture, an act must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure or even death.”
The memo gives examples of some of the activities that count as torture: forcing someone to play Russian roulette, beating him until he goes into cardiac arrest, applying electric shocks to the genitalia, rape or sexual assault. The memo also gives examples of forms of treatment Yoo thinks do not constitute torture – among them are kicking someone, forcing him to stand against a wall, subjecting him to noise and depriving him of sleep. And he provides the legal precedents to back up his case: not just U.S. statutes but also judgments from the European Court.
It is all very specific, and very unpleasant. Even if he’s right about what U.S. law permits, wouldn’t it just have been better left unsaid? “That was simply not an option,” Yoo said. “The CIA wanted – needed – a definitive answer to the question: how far can we go? They had specifically requested a legal opinion. They had captured senior Al-Qa’ida operatives who were not responding to being asked questions politely. CIA officers needed to know what, legally, they were entitled to do to them to get them to talk. They knew these guys had information on what Al-Qa’ida was planning. If the CIA could get that information, they could save lives. But they also wanted to be sure they would not end up going to prison for doing so.” That’s why they asked the OLC for answers – and in 2002 the OLC turned out to be represented by John Yoo.
Yoo’s answer to “How far can we go?” turned out to be indistinguishable from “as far as the president wants to.” The most controversial part of Yoo’s advice was that, as commander-in-chief in war, the U.S. constitution allows the president to be the judge of what is and what is not “necessary” to prosecute war successfully. That’s the claim the OLC later explicitly disavowed.
Yoo’s theory of the president’s practically untrammelled powers in war is, to put it mildly, not the orthodox position on what the constitution permits. “Well, it may not be orthodox,” Yoo replied with a smile, “but it is in fact the way presidents have behaved during wartime, and it is supported by legal precedent. Generally, the courts have not tried to interfere with the president’s power to conduct war … I think the OLC’s reversal was pure politics. The administration just lost the courage of its convictions.”
Read the rest here.