Empire and Torture

Torture is bad, empire might even be worse, especially when all the people in the world could be its subjects.

Somehow with so much news about torture by the US I have refrained from commenting on any of it for a while. What can I say, I have become disillusioned. But here are some scattered thoughts.

The Washington Post has an article about “black sites”:

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

When there are prisons, detention and torture centers spread around the world, can we finally say “Empire”?

On the other hand, His Imperial Majesty says:

“There’s an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again,” Bush said. “So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law.”

He declared, “We do not torture.”

[…] “Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people,” Bush said. “Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture.”

While some libertarians have been worried about the rights of Americans being lost due to the war on terror, I am not extremely worried about that. The rights and liberties might vary over time but they will most likely remain within US historical norms (though historical norms isn’t good enough). However, with the reach of the US government beyond any historical power and its willingness to use that power, foreigners (especially those outside the US) might have something to fear. As an example, did you know that the US senate removed passed an amendment which if it goes through the rest of the legislative process would remove the right of habeas corpus from Gitmo detainees last week?

The Senate today passed Lindsay Graham’s amendment, 49 to 42 barring detainees at Guantanamo and others declared by the Executive Branch to be enemy combatants from seeking judicial review of the legality of their detentions.

To read more about the stupidity behind Senator Graham’s amendment, please do read the following Obsidian Wings posts.

The latest news on Guantanamo and habeas corpus is that a further amendment has been passed by the Senate.

Senators also voted to endorse the Bush administration’s military tribunals for prosecuting foreign terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but to allow the detainees to appeal their detention status and punishments to a federal court.

[…] Senators added the language Tuesday that would allow Guantanamo detainees to appeal their status as “enemy combatants” and the rulings of U.S. military tribunals to a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. That avenue would take the place of the one tool the Supreme Court gave detainees in 2004 to fight the legality of their detentions — the right to file habeas corpus petitions in any federal court.

Senators approved the measure on tribunals by an 84-14 vote. It was a bipartisan compromise reached after last week’s Senate approval of a provision that stripped detainees entirely of their ability to file the petitions. Critics said that provision did not provide a meaningful way for detainees to appeal their status or the decisions of military tribunals.

Earlier Tuesday, senators defeated a Democratic proposal that would have reinstated the right to file habeas corpus lawsuits, but limited the challenges to one court.

The idea of not giving any rights to foreigners detained outside the US by Americans seems to remind me to some extent of former empires. After all, an Englishman was not the same as an Indian in the British empire. This action creates two classes of people, “us” and “them”: We have rights and they don’t. The point is argued well in this Slate article.

As if using Soviet-era prison compounds in Eastern Europe wasn’t enough, the United States is also copying communist torture tactics.

The Pentagon effectively signed off on a strategy that mimics Red Army methods. But those tactics were not only inhumane, they were ineffective. For Communist interrogators, truth was beside the point: their aim was to force compliance to the point of false confession.

Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody.

The Pentagon appears to have flipped SERE’s teachings on their head, mining the program not for resistance techniques but for interrogation methods. At a June 2004 briefing, the chief of the United States Southern Command, Gen. James T. Hill, said a team from Guantánamo went “up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques” for “high-profile, high-value” detainees. General Hill had sent this list – which included prolonged isolation and sleep deprivation, stress positions, physical assault and the exploitation of detainees’ phobias – to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who approved most of the tactics in December 2002.

While you are at it, read this account of a guy tortured and murdered by the CIA in Iraq.

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

7 thoughts on “Empire and Torture”

  1. “As an example, did you know that the US senate removed the right of habeas corpus from Gitmo detainees last week?”

    Small nitpick: this is incorrect. They passed an amendment doing so to a bill that has not yet been voted on (although it will almost surely pass — but it hasn’t yet), let alone gone to conference committee, let alone become a final joint bill to be signed by the President, let alone signed by the President, all of which will have to happen (although it likely will) to become law. The U.S. Senate, I assure you, has no unilateral powers, let alone by dint of one of hundreds of amendments passed every day (most of which are then stripped out or subsequently made null by a later amendment).

  2. Auto-trackback from memigo.com

    CNN article found in memigo. It was referred to by 2 source(s). (1 other link(s) from this post also found.)
    Follow trackback to find related articles…

  3. Fanatics high on jihad can cause only limited damage to the United States, but the United States can hang itself. The noose, I’m afraid, is getting tighter…

    Zack, I doubt that the US will retain its reach for more than a decade. A weak initial education system, misguided budget policies, large debt, large and growing trade deficits and a frightening dependence on oil indicate decline. I suspect China will fill the vacuum as the US recedes. The world may witness the replacement of a democracy behaving badly with a totalitarian oligarchy, with communist trappings, behaving normally – normally for a totalitarian oligarchy that is.

    I should start writing those letters…

  4. I had read before about torture cells in eight countries but here it is much more. I have to take time to read all before I can understand what is going on.

    One thing is getting more credence that USA, after having reached top of the hill, has speedily started sliding downhill and no one knows how deep down will be the valley.

  5. Taxi To the Dark Side

    It’s a documentary about Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver, who was tortured and murdered as well as the torture policies of the Bush administration. I provide a lot of links to information about torture.

Comments are closed.