Post-9/11 detainee interrogration policies of the US Defense Department and CIA forced medical professionals to abandon the ethical obligation to "do no harm" to the humans in their care, and engage in prohibited practices such as force-feeding of hunger strikers, according to a report out this week. "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror" [PDF Link] was produced by 19-member task force of Columbia University's Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations. The LA Times has a summary here.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has apologized for twenty years' worth of police torture under the stewardship of former Chicago PD Commander Jon Burge, and set aside $85M to compensate victims -- mostly black people from Chicago's South Side. At least two of Burge's victims spent 21 years in jail before being released and paid off. In a City Council meeting, Emmanuel called the torture "a stain on the city’s reputation." His predecessor, former Mayor Daley, refused to apologize for -- or admit -- torture, and used out-of-court settlements to avoid testifying in court about his administration's complicity in the torture.
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The Associated Press published a bizarre exclusive today about a newly-revealed detail on the imprisonment of senior Al Qaeda boss Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom the CIA waterboarded 183 times, and once forced to stay awake for 180 hours:
Confined to the basement of a CIA secret prison in Romania about a decade ago, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, asked his jailers whether he could embark on an unusual project: Would the spy agency allow Mohammed, who had earned his bachelor's in mechanical engineering, to design a vacuum cleaner?
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Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of the New York University Center on Law and Security and author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo's First One Hundred Days, explains seven simple steps to making US torture and detention policies once again acceptable to the American public, as illustrated in "Zero Dark Thirty."
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"Zero Dark Thirty," director Kathryn Bigelow's truthy-but-not-a-documentary-but-maybe-it-kinda-is thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opened in New York and Los Angeles this week. I watched a screener last night. I thought it kind of sucked. There's a lot of buzz about what a great work of art ZDT is. I don't get it. In reviews of ZDT, fawning critics reflexively note that she directed Oscar-winning "Hurt Locker." Guys, she directed "Point Break," too.
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• Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian on the new Kathryn Bigelow film about the capture and assassination of Osama Bin Laden: "With its release imminent, [Zero Dark Thirty] is now garnering a pile of top awards and virtually uniform rave reviews. What makes this so remarkable is that, by most accounts, the film glorifies torture by claiming - falsely - that waterboarding and other forms of coercive interrogation tactics were crucial, even indispensable in finding bin Laden."
• Spencer Ackerman in Wired News: "Bigelow is being presented as a torture apologist, and it’s a bum rap. David Edelstein of New York says her movie borders on the “morally reprehensible” for presenting “a case for the efficacy of torture.” The New York Times’ Frank Bruni suspects that Dick Cheney will give the film two thumbs up. Bruni is probably right, since defenders of torture have been known to latch onto any evidence they suspect will vindicate them as American heroes. But that’s not Zero Dark Thirty."
Stanley Milgram's "Obedience to Authority" experiments are infamous classics of psychology and social behavior. Back in the 1960s, Milgram set up a series of tests that showed seemingly normal people would be totally willing to torture another human being if prodded into it by an authority figure.
The basic set-up is probably familiar to you. Milgram told his test subjects that they were part of a study on learning. They were tasked with asking questions to another person, who was rigged up to an electric shock generator. When the other person got the questions wrong, the subject was supposed to zap them and then turn up the voltage. The catch was that the person getting "zapped" was actually an actor. So was the authority figure, whose job it was to tell the test subject that they must continue the experiment, no matter how much the other person pleaded for them to stop. In Milgram's original study, 65% of the subjects continued to the end of the session, eventually "administering" 450-volt shocks.
But they weren't doing it calmly. If you read Milgram's paper, you find that these people were trembling, and digging nails into their own flesh. Some of them even had seizure-like fits. Which is interesting to know when you sit down to read about Michael Shermer's recent attempt to replicate the Milgram experiments for a Dateline segment. Told they were trying out for a new reality show, the six subjects were set up to "shock" an actor, just like in Milgram's experiments. One walked out before the test even started. The others participated, but had some interesting rationales for why they did it — and a simple ingrained sense of obedience wasn't always what was going on.
Our third subject, Lateefah, became visibly upset at 120 volts and squirmed uncomfortably to 180 volts. When Tyler screamed, “Ah! Ah! Get me out of here! I refuse to go on! Let me out!” Lateefah made this moral plea to Jeremy: “I know I'm not the one feeling the pain, but I hear him screaming and asking to get out, and it's almost like my instinct and gut is like, ‘Stop,’ because you're hurting somebody and you don't even know why you're hurting them outside of the fact that it's for a TV show.” Jeremy icily commanded her to “please continue.” As she moved into the 300-volt range, Lateefah was noticeably shaken, so Hansen stepped in to stop the experiment, asking, “What was it about Jeremy that convinced you that you should keep going here?” Lateefah gave us this glance into the psychology of obedience: “I didn't know what was going to happen to me if I stopped. He just—he had no emotion. I was afraid of him.”
Justice at last, in one case from the US-backed 36-year civil war in Guatemala where some of the "harsh techniques" our military now uses in Iraq and Afghanistan and Gitmo were first perfected.
Three decades after Pedro Garcia Arredondo ordered the torture and "disappearance" of an agronomy student, the former chief detective of Guatemala's now-defunct National Police has been convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison. From Amnesty International today:
Witnesses testified how [Édgar Enrique Sáenz Calito] was taken to “the little room” (“el cuartito”) where the Sixth Command typically interrogated guerrilla suspects.
The victim’s wife Violeta Ramírez Estrada told the court how she visited her husband in a prison hospital following his arrest and he bore signs of having been tortured – he had been subjected to beatings, water-boarding and cigarette burns, and electric shocks had been applied to his genitals.
Debbie Cook was in for only 7 weeks in 2007, but her experience was brutal. She testified that Miscavige had two hulking guards climb into her office through a window as she was talking to him on the phone. "Goodbye" he told her as she was hauled off to the gulag. Like Rinder, she described a place where dozens of men and women were confined to what had been a set of offices. Cook testified that the place was ant-infested, and during one two-week stretch in the summer with temperatures over 100 degrees, Miscavige had the air conditioning turned off as punishment. Food was brought up in a vat riding on a golf cart. Cook described it as a barely edible "slop" that was fed to them morning, noon, and night. Longtime residents of the Hole began to look gaunt.
They had to find places on the floor or on desks to sleep at night. Rinder said there were so many of them they slept only inches from each other, and having to get up in the middle of the night was a nightmare of stepping over sleeping figures in the dark.
In the morning, they were marched out of the offices and through a tunnel under Gilman Springs Road to a large building with communal showers. They were then marched back to the Hole, and during the day would be compelled to take part in mass confessions.
During these, Rinder says people he had considered friends would put on a show for the officials overseeing them, trying to outdo each other with vile accusations against each other. Cook testified that Miscavige wanted Marc Yager and Guillaume Lesevre, two of his longest-serving and highest-ranking officials, to confess to having a homosexual affair. The men were beaten until they made some forced admissions. When Cook objected to what was happening, she herself was made to stand in a trash can for twelve hours while insults were hurled at her, she was called a lesbian, and water was dumped on her head.
Courtesy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a list of "things that government officials could do to an American citizen and still claim later that they didn't know they were "torturing" that citizen."
Lowering the Bar explains:
Prolonged isolation; Deprivation of light; Exposure to prolonged periods of light and/or darkness; Extreme variations in temperature; Sleep adjustment; Threats of severe physical abuse; Death threats; Administration of psychotropic drugs; Shackling and manacling for hours at a time; Use of "stress" positions; Noxious fumes that caused pain to eyes and nose; Withholding of any mattress, pillow, sheet or blanket; Forced grooming; Suspension of showers; Removal of religious items; Constant surveillance; Incommunicado detention, including denial of all contact with family and legal counsel for a 21-month period; Interference with religious observance; and Denial of medical care for serious and potentially life-threatening ailments, including chest pain and difficulty breathing, as well as for treatment of the chronic, extreme pain caused by being forced to endure stress positions, resulting in severe and continuing mental and physical harm, pain, and profound disruption of the senses and personality.
The legal issue was whether John Yoo should be entitled to "qualified immunity" in a case brought by Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen detained as an "enemy combatant." "Qualified immunity" is a doctrine that bars claims against government officials if, at the time they acted, it was not "sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he or she was doing violated the plaintiff's rights." The idea is to try to preserve some freedom of action for officials who have to act in areas where the law may not always be clear. If it applies, no lawsuit.
So, next question: do you think a "reasonable official" in 2001-03, when John Yoo was in the government, should have understood that doing those things to an American citizen -- one who, by the way, had not been convicted of or even charged with a crime -- violated that citizen's rights?
As the final volume of Brian Wood's brilliant anti-war graphic novel DMZ nears publication, Dominic Umile looks back on the series' 72 issue run of political allegory and all the ways that it used the device of fiction to make trenchant comic on the real world. DMZ is a story about the "State of Exception" that the American establishment declared after 9/11, a period when human rights, civil liberty, economic sanity, and the constitution all play second-fiddle to the all-consuming war on terror. Like the best allegories, it works first and best as a story in its own right, but it is also an important comment on the world we live in.
In DMZ #8, Matty Roth reviews a series of New York Times newspapers to reconstruct a timeline of the book’s war. Burchielli’s panels are nearly blacked-out. It’s as if Roth is squatting on a darkened stage: Nothing behind him is discernible outside of more yellowed newspapers, each slugged with copy that’s painfully close to our own real-life headlines. Brian Wood’s chief character is despondent and sounds like many of us do today in the era of Occupy Wall Street, hostilities in Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s drone campaign, and rampant corruption plaguing state and federal government, all amid an ever-theatric run-up to another presidential election.
Even as DMZ had another 64 issues and more than five years to go, Roth’s thoughts are rendered with an undeniable degree of both prescience and finality: “I never paid attention to politics. Never seemed to be a point. Politics happened the way it happened regardless of what anyone thought or did. So why bother?”