Friday, December 18, 2009

Obama's Torture Logic

Democrats like to claim that Obama 'ended torture'. The reality is of course just a bit different. All Obama did was to end some of the Bush era executive orders. Effectively, Obama returned to the Clinton policy. But, this is very, very different from 'ending torture'.

Before Bush, America tortured, just under some rather tortured logic. It meant that an American CIA officer would not attach the electrodes, would not ask the questions, and would not throw the switch that turned on the electricity that made the victim scream in agony. They would however work the people from other countries who did this, sometimes turning victims over to them via 'extraordinary rendition.'

Now we are starting to see news reports on what Obama's Torture Logic really looks like.

From the UK's Guardian, we get

CIA working with Palestinian security agents: US agency co-operating with Palestinian counterparts who allegedly torture Hamas supporters in West Bank

Palestinian security agents who have been detaining and allegedly torturing supporters of the Islamist organisation Hamas in the West Bank have been working closely with the CIA, the Guardian has learned.

Less than a year after Barack Obama signed an executive order that prohibited torture and provided for the lawful interrogation of detainees in US custody, evidence is emerging the CIA is co-operating with security agents whose continuing use of torture has been widely documented by human rights groups.
The most common complaint is that detainees are severely beaten and subjected to a torture known as shabeh, during which they are shackled and forced to assume painful positions for long periods. There have also been reports of sleep deprivation, and of large numbers of detainees being crammed into small cells to prevent rest. Instead of being brought before civilian courts, almost all the detainees enter a system of military justice under which they need not be brought before a court for six months.
Some of the mistreatment has been so severe that at least three detainees have died in custody this year. The most recent was Haitham Amr, a 33-year-old nurse and Hamas supporter from Hebron who died four days after he was detained by GI officials last June. Extensive bruising around his kidneys suggested he had been beaten to death. Among those who died in GI custody last year was Majid al-Barghuti, 42, an imam at a village near Ramallah.
Sa'id Abu-Ali, the PA's interior minister, accepted detainees had been tortured and some had died, but said such abuses had not been official policy and steps were being taken to prevent them. He said such abuses "happen in every country in the world". Abu-Ali sought initially to deny the CIA was "deeply involved" with the two Palestinian intelligence agencies responsible for the torture of Hamas sympathisers, but then conceded that links did exist. "There is a connection, but there is no supervision by the Americans," he said. "It is solely a Palestinian affair. But the Americans help us."

That last piece shows the semantics of Obama's Torture Logic. "Supervision" is a very precise word. And its unlikely that any country, state or even puppet government would willingly put its own intelligence officers and police under the direct supervision of agents of a foreign power. So, I believe the PA official when he says there "is no supervision". The CIA officer probably merely 'suggested' that the prisoner should be left hogtied for another day. And maybe the CIA officer only 'suggested' that maybe one more slightly more powerful blow to the kidneys might be what was needed to make the victim break. There was no "supervision". But there were "links", and "the Americans help us".

Amongst all these word games, we "helped" to beat a nurse to death this year. Ain't life just wonderful with Obama's Torture Logic?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret Raids by the C.I.A.

Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret Raids by the C.I.A. by James Risen and Mark Mazzetti (NYT) via VotersForPeace.

Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.

Lets stop and think about 'force' and who's had it and controlled it in the history of the United States.

Our Founding Fathers were very suspicious of force that could get out of control. They'd just lived under the King of England arbitrarily using mercenaries and conscripts against them. So, one of the cornerstones of our early democracies that they created was that the power of 'force' remained in the hands of the people.

Our early democracy did not have this plethora of local, state and federal police forces and their thousands upon thousands of officers. Instead, there was a local sheriff, usually an elected office, and maybe a very small handful of deputies. If the sheriff needed to use more 'force' than that, he called for citizen volunteers. Anyone who's seen an old western movie where a posse is formed knows how this worked.

For defense against foreign enemies, our founding fathers were very distrustful of 'standing armies'
In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

* Speech, Constitutional Convention (1787-06-29), from Max Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. I [1] (1911), p. 465

Instead, they kept a very small number of regular army, really just enough to man some forts along the coasts and frontiers. When war came, when the government needed more 'force' than this, they called for volunteers.

When Lincoln called this a nation with a 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people', this is at least in part of what he referred to. In those days, when the government needed to use 'force', it relied upon volunteers from the people.

The effect of this was that government officials did not have 'force' available to them without the participation of the citizenry. Under the original system of democracy created here in America, there was tight control over whether the government could fight an unpopular war. The citizenry had the final say, as it would be very hard to fight a war that no one volunteered to fight.

This is a very different system than today where any mayor has thousands of armed police officers at their beck and call, and the President can order millions of paid soldiers who are sworn to obey his orders as commander in chief.

World War II was largely the dividing line. Lincoln had a draft and of course a huge army to fight the Civil War, but that was disbanded at the end of the war, and the nation largely returned to the original system afterwards. It was the end of World War II that marked the change to a permanent army numbering in the millions.

Maybe that was needed to fight the Soviets, although that threat was always massively exaggerated in the intelligence estimates. But, whether it was really needed or not, by the end of the Cold War in 1991, the concept of a huge permanent army had become a permanent feature on the American landscape.

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty

But, at least that force was still at least nominally under popular control. Now we are moving to the next phase. Private armies. That's what's been built in this era of 'privatisation'. The US government has paid companies like Blackwater huge fees in the millions upon millions of dollars to build vast private armies. The bean counters in the government apparently think this is a good idea since we only hire the armies when we need them.

But the problem is this. Those private armies don't just disappear when the government isn't using them for missions. They'd be available of other missions. Maybe an oil company has a problem with protesters near an overseas oil field. Or, if things get really nasty, the private armies can start to act on their own. Maybe someday a mercenary company gets tired of those protesters near its facilities and turns loose its own CIA-used snatch and grab teams on them.

Not saying that this has happened yet. But the point is that we are taking another very dangerous step AWAY from the system and the protections that our Founding Fathers tried to erect to create a free nation. We've already gone from force being under the direct control of citizens to a system where force is under the relatively uncontrolled power of the state. Now we are seeing this force move from within the government, where there was at least some chance that the people might control it, off into private companies that are completely out of public control. And these private armies are being created with public tax money being paid out in contracts.

Paying public tax money to create private armies that are not under popular control is not right. In fact, it is a very dangerous thing to do. Having private armies around is never good for peace and stability.

If Madison considered a standing army under control of the government a threat to liberty, I wonder what he would think of a private standing army that's only under the control of its owner?

So, there are these guys that were trained and had the skills to go with the CIA on these raids. Wonder what they are doing today?