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Thu

16

Aug

2007

Monsters Among Us: Living in a Torture State
Thursday, 16 August 2007 00:05
by Chris Floyd

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"
The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry"
And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky
Saying, "The sun's not yellow it's chicken"
— Bob Dylan

"Beat, beat, beat, and beat again."
— Joseph Stalin

Scott Horton has just put up an important, hard-hitting post: Bush and the Art of Breaking Human Beings. Horton amplifies the harrowing details of the Bush Administration's Stalinist persecution of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, reported yesterday by the Christian Science Monitor's Warren Richey. You should read the whole piece right away, but this passage that Horton quotes from Jack Balkin puts the case in its larger — and most chilling — perspective. Says Balkin:

It’s important to remember that the Bush Administration did everything it could to deny Padilla even the basic right of habeas corpus. It argued that courts had no power to second guess the President’s determination that Padilla was an enemy of the United States and could be held in solitary confinement indefinitely. It argued that no one had the right to contact Padilla and that no one had the right to know what the government was doing to him. It argued that courts should defer to the President’s views about who was dangerous and who was not—that once the President declared a person an enemy, that person had all the process that was due them and courts should respect that determination.

It argued, in short, that the President always knows best. If the President had his way, the government, on the basis of information that never had to be tested before any neutral magistrate, could pluck any citizen off the streets, throw them in a military prison, and proceed to drive them insane.

Those are the powers that the Bush Administration sought. I will not mince words: They are the powers of a dictator in an authoritarian regime. They are the powers of the old Soviet Union, of the military junta in Argentina during the time of the disappeared.

We are all Jose Padilla now.

**
I've been writing about Bush's seizure of arbitrary powers since November 2001, when I first took note of the universal license to kill that he had granted himself:

The Washington Post reports this week that George W. Bush has signed an executive order giving himself the right to issue death warrants for any individual he deems a terrorist or terrorist supporter. These people will be killed in secret by the CIA, without any pretense of due process, without defense or appeal...

Bush's license to kill leaves the meaning of "terrorist" and "terrorist supporter" deliberately vague. The definition is entirely up to the president: there is no legislative oversight, no judicial review, no public scrutiny. If he wants you dead, he can have you killed. It's as simple as that.

This official acceptance of the principle of extra-judicial murder degrades the American government to the level of moral savagery. It is the same "principle" underlying all terrorist activity: a threat to a group's interests is arbitrarily defined by its leaders, who then act arbitrarily, lawlessly, to eliminate the threat...It is the principle of evildoers, men of blood, murderers and beasts. And it is now a guiding light of the "civilized" world.

All of this was enshrined in "law" by Congress last fall, when it passed the "Military Commissions Act" — an "enabling act" for tyranny that the new, Democratic-led Congress has not bothered to repeal. As I noted at the time:

It was a dark hour indeed last Thursday when the United States Senate voted to end the constitutional republic and transform the country into a "Leader-State," giving the president and his agents the power to capture, torture and imprison forever anyone - American citizens included - whom they arbitrarily decide is an "enemy combatant." This also includes those who merely give "terrorism" some kind of "support," defined so vaguely that many experts say it could encompass legal advice, innocent gifts to charities or even political opposition to US government policy within its draconian strictures.

All of this is bad enough - a sickening and cowardly surrender of liberty not seen in a major Western democracy since the Enabling Act passed by the German Reichstag in March 1933. But it is by no means the full extent of our degradation. In reality, the darkness is deeper, and more foul, than most people imagine. For in addition to the dictatorial powers of seizure and torment given by Congress on Thursday to George W. Bush - powers he had already seized and exercised for five years anyway, even without this fig leaf of sham legality - there is a far more sinister imperial right that Bush has claimed - and used - openly, without any demur or debate from Congress at all: ordering the "extrajudicial killing" of anyone on earth that he and his deputies decide - arbitrarily, without charges, court hearing, formal evidence, or appeal - is an "enemy combatant."

That's right; from the earliest days of the Terror War - September 17, 2001, to be exact - Bush has claimed the peremptory power of life and death over the entire world. If he says you're an enemy of America, you are. If he wants to imprison you and torture you, he can. And if he decides you should die, he'll kill you. This is not hyperbole, liberal paranoia, or "conspiracy theory": it's simply a fact, reported by the mainstream media, attested by senior administration figures, recorded in official government documents - and boasted about by the president himself, in front of Congress and a national television audience.

And although the Republic-snuffing act just passed by Congress does not directly address Bush's royal prerogative of murder, it nonetheless strengthens it and enshrines it in law. For the measure sets forth clearly that the designation of an "enemy combatant" is left solely to the executive branch; neither Congress nor the courts have any say in the matter. When this new law is coupled with the existing "Executive Orders" authorizing "lethal force" against arbitrarily designated "enemy combatants," it becomes, quite literally, a license to kill - with the seal of Congressional approval....

The first officially confirmed use of this power was the killing of an American citizen, along with several foreign nationals, by a CIA drone missile in Yemen on November 3, 2002. A similar strike occurred on December 4, 2005, when a CIA missile destroyed a house and purportedly killed Abu Hamza Rabia, a suspected al-Qaeda figure. But the only bodies found at the site were those of two children, the houseowner's son and nephew, Reuters reports. The grieving father denied any connection to terrorism. An earlier CIA strike on another house missed Rabia but killed his wife and children, Pakistani officials reported.

However, there is simply no way of knowing at this point how many people have been killed by American agents operating outside all judicial process. Most of the assassinations are carried out in secret: quietly, professionally. As a Pentagon document uncovered by the New Yorker in December 2002 revealed, the death squads must be "small and agile," and "able to operate clandestinely, using a full range of official and non-official cover arrangements to ... enter countries surreptitiously."

What's more, there are strong indications that the Bush administration has outsourced some of the contracts to outside operators. In the original Post story about the assassinations - in those first heady weeks after 9/11, when administration officials were much more open about "going to the dark side," as Cheney boasted on national television - Bush insiders told the paper that "it is also possible that the instrument of targeted killings will be foreign agents, the CIA's term for nonemployees who act on its behalf."

In that article, I quoted from an earlier piece about Bush's brazen championing of this arbitrary power to kill, in "one of the most revolting scenes in recent American history: Bush's state of the Union address in January 2003, delivered live to the nation during the final warmongering frenzy before the rape of Iraq":

Trumpeting his successes in the Terror War, Bush claimed that "more than 3,000 suspected terrorists" had been arrested worldwide - "and many others have met a different fate." His face then took on the characteristic leer, the strange, sickly half-smile it acquires whenever he speaks of killing people: "Let's put it this way. They are no longer a problem."

In other words, the suspects - and even Bush acknowledged they were only suspects - had been murdered. Lynched. Killed by agents operating unsupervised in that shadow world where intelligence, terrorism, politics, finance and organized crime meld together in one amorphous, impenetrable mass. Killed on the word of a dubious informer, perhaps: a tortured captive willing to say anything to end his torment, a business rival, a personal foe, a bureaucrat looking to impress his superiors, a paid snitch in need of cash, a zealous crank pursuing ethnic, tribal or religious hatreds - or any other purveyor of the garbage data that is coin of the realm in the shadow world.

Bush proudly held up this hideous system as an example of what he called "the meaning of American justice." And the assembled legislators ... applauded. Oh, how they applauded! They roared with glee at the leering little man's bloodthirsty, B-movie machismo. They shared his sneering contempt for law - our only shield, however imperfect, against the blind, brute, ignorant, ape-like force of raw power. Not a single voice among them was raised in protest against this tyrannical machtpolitik: not that night, not the next day, not ever.

This is the United States today, this is what we've come to. Is there a hole big enough for us all to get sick in?

UPDATE: Scott Horton pursues the torture theme further, with this fascinating look back at the unlikely figure who played a pivotal role in eliminating legalized torture in the English-speaking world for almost 300 years: John Donne. Here's an excerpt:

Over a series of centuries, the genius of the English law had been steadily to restrict and limit the use of torture, until at this point, under King James, it was controlled by the king’s judges and limited in practice through a series of special writs. Which is to say, legally it was far more constrained than it is today under an Executive Order issued by King James’s understudy in allegedly Divine Right governance, George W. Bush.

[In his Easter Sunday sermon of 1625], Donne delivered a direct blow against this system, the use to which it was put, and the suffering it caused. He makes no equivocations. And in the end he delivers his blows against even the king’s judges who administer the system. No one viewed Donne as a “political figure.” Indeed, owing to his Catholic background and sympathies, he eschewed court politics. Nor in the end was there anything “political” about the question of torture—it was an issue of ethics and of faith...

Donne points to the ultimate irony of the use of torture, not to punish the guilty, but as a tool to extract information—when it is well established that doesn’t serve that end. He notes the immorality of this practice. John Donne was the most important clerical voice in England in his day. His opinion carried weight. Only three years after this sermon, following the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham, the lawyers and judges of England assembled in the Inns of Court in London to consider a special question put to them by the king. Was the practice of torture to be permitted by the common law?

And the judges met, deliberated and declared “upon their sacred honour, and the honour of England” that the answer was “no.” That marked the end of legalized torture in the English-speaking world… until the arrival of George W. Bush.
 
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a guest said:

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"A Radicalizing Cauldron"
For all of its blustering ignorance of human nature the NYPD report "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat" contained an inadvertent and dangerous truth buried deep down inside of it.

Prison is "A Radicalizing Cauldron".

"Prisons can play a critical role in both triggering and reinforcing the radicalization process. The prison’s isolated environment, ability to create a “captive audience” atmosphere, its absence of day-to-day distractions, and its large population of disaffected young men, makes it an excellent breeding ground for radicalization."

So I have to ask, what does this mean for America with its ever growing world record prison population? An ever growing population that the New York Times characterized just last January as breeding a permanent "felon caste" in America.

"Worse still, the country has created a growing felon caste, now more than 16 million strong, of felons and ex-felons, who are often driven back to prison by policies that make it impossible for them to find jobs, housing or education." NYT

So one wonders why America pursues a drug war policy that gives our nation this world record prison population.

SEE: U.S. drug war prisons: "A Radicalizing Cauldron"
http://independentsofamerica.blogspot.com/2007/08/us-drug-war-prisons-radicalizing.html
 
August 17, 2007 | url
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