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Will America and Australia sweep torture under the rug?

In May Australia's Attorney General told us ""The United States is currently in the process of reviewing issues relating to Guantanamo Bay and the Australian Government awaits the outcomes of this process". U.S. reporter Jason Leopold suggests below that McClelland's US counterpart might create a cover-up. Is this what the Australian Government is counting on? This piece was first published on The Public Record, and is reprinted on Webdiary with Jason's permission.

Last year, in the heat of the presidential campaign, Eric Holder was a featured speaker at the American Constitution Society’s annual convention where he told a packed crowd that the “American people are owe[d] a reckoning” as a result of the “abusive” and “unlawful” policies of the Bush administration.

“Our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance of American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the Writ of Habeus Corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants, and authorized the use of procedures that both violate international law and the United States Constitution,” Holder said in June 2008. “We owe the American people a reckoning.”

If recent news reports are accurate, some form of that day of reckoning may soon be upon us as now-Attorney General Holder weighs the possibility of appointing a federal prosecutor to probe the Bush administration’s use of torture during the interrogation of detainees captured in the “war on terror.”

But those same news reports, quoting unnamed sources, say that if Holder decides in the coming weeks to authorize a criminal investigation it would be limited to the “few bad apples” at the CIA who exceeded interrogation limits set by Justice Department attorneys in memos that authorized brutal acts of torture against suspected terrorists.

If that is the case, the Obama administration’s approach would be virtually the same as the Bush administration’s in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, in which low-level MPs were court-martialed and imprisoned for acts that supposedly had not been sanctioned by their superiors.

By targeting just CIA interrogators who exceeded the torture guidelines, the Obama administration also would be shutting the door on new internal investigations that might reach higher levels — the Justice Department lawyers who established the parameters and the White House officials who encouraged the brutal tactics, including the near-drowning of waterboarding.

In April, Holder declared that it “would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” What that meant was that a possible criminal investigation would be limited to examining actions that went beyond what was sanctioned, such as repetitious use of waterboarding.

Critical Report

Still, Holder might face public pressure to expand the probe if and when a CIA inspector general’s report is released that reportedly calls into question the legality of the agency’s torture of “high-value” detainees.

The secret findings of CIA Inspector General John Helgerson led to eight criminal referrals to the Justice Department for homicide and other misconduct, but those cases languished as Vice President Dick Cheney is said to have intervened to constrain Helgerson’s inquiries.

Holder may reopen those cases, but if an investigation is narrowly focused on the CIA interrogators and outside contractors and does not include the Bush administration officials who implemented the policies then the probe would likely amount to a whitewash, much like the Abu Ghraib case.

Of the 12 government investigations launched in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, not one scrutinized the roles of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or any other senior Bush administration official. The inquiries concentrated instead on the military police identified in the photographs, like Private Lynndie England and Corporal Charles Graner Jr.

Back in 2004, even the neoconservative editorial page of the Washington Post found the Abu Ghraib “whitewashing” of the higher-ups’ roles hard to take.

“[D]ecisions by Mr. Rumsfeld and the Justice Department to permit coercive interrogation techniques previously considered unacceptable for U.S. personnel influenced practices at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and later spread to Afghanistan and Iraq,” a Post editorial said. “Methods such as hooding, enforced nudity, sensory deprivation and the use of dogs to terrorize — all originally approved by the defense secretary — were widely employed, even though they violate the Geneva Conventions.”

Now, five years later In a July 27 editorial, the Post deviated from the logic of its earlier position by urging Holder to move forward with an investigation focused only on rogue individual interrogators who exceeded the legal limits outlined in the torture memos.

Evidence of Approval

But such an approach would ignore evidence that senior Bush administration officials and high-level officials at CIA headquarters in Langley micromanaged the torture of at least one high-level detainee.

Documents released earlier this year in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit between the American Civil Liberties Union and the CIA showed that CIA interrogators provided top agency officials at Langley with daily “torture” updates of Abu Zubaydah, the alleged “high-level” terrorist detainee, who was held at a secret “black site” prison and waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

Additionally, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in the span of a single month. CIA Inspector General Helgerson also “had serious questions about the agency’s mistreatment of dozens more, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” according to Jane Mayer, a reporter for The New Yorker and author of the book The Dark Side.

Senior Bush administration officials were known to be closely following these developments and pressed the CIA for more and more results.

In an interview with Harper’s magazine last year, Mayer said Helgerson “investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees” and forwarded several of those cases “to the Justice Department for further consideration and potential prosecution.”

“Why have there been no charges filed? It’s a question to which one would expect that Congress and the public would like some answers,” Mayer said. “Sources suggested to me that… it is highly uncomfortable for top Bush Justice officials to prosecute these cases because, inevitably, it means shining a light on what those same officials sanctioned.”

One possible reason that the Justice Department investigations went nowhere was that Vice President Cheney intervened and demanded that Helgerson meet with him privately about his investigation. Mayer characterized Cheney’s interaction with Helgerson as highly unusual.

Cheney’s “reaction to this first, carefully documented in-house study concluding that the CIA’s secret program was most likely criminal was to summon the Inspector General to his office for a private chat,” Mayer wrote.

“The Inspector General is supposed to function as an independent overseer, free from political pressure, but Cheney summoned the CIA Inspector General more than once to his office.”

“Cheney loomed over everything,” one former CIA officer told Mayer. “The whole IG’s office was completely politicized. They were working hand in glove with the White House.”

Cheney’s Admission

Last year, in several interviews prior to exiting the White House, Cheney admittedthat he personally authorized the waterboarding of three so-called “high-value” prisoners.

“I signed off on it; others did, as well, too,” Cheney said.

Waterboarding, in which a person is strapped down to a board with a cloth covering his face and then water is poured over it, is a torture technique dating back at least to the Spanish Inquisition. The victim feels as if he is drowning.

“I thought that it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Cheney said of what he called the “enhanced interrogation” of the detainees. “I thought the [administration’s] legal opinions that were rendered [endorsing the harsh treatment] were sound. I think the techniques were reasonable in terms of what they [the CIA interrogators] were asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result.

“Was it torture? I don’t believe it was torture,” Cheney said. “The CIA handled itself, I think, very appropriately. They came to us in the administration, talked to me, talked to others in the administration, about what they felt they needed to do in order to obtain the intelligence that we believe these people were in possession of.”

Regarding the earlier Abu Ghraib case, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was commander of U.S. forces in Iraq at the time, confirmed in the paperback version of his book, Wiser in Battle, that the prisoner-abuse investigations were constrained for political reasons.

“A meaningful and unlimited investigation, which the Bush administration adamantly opposed, would result in an unmitigated disaster,” Sanchez wrote. “It would open up Pandora’s box and let out a world of evil.”

Sanchez added, “It’s now clear the Bush administration did not tell the truth about the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay, or in Afghanistan and Iraq. … In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, administration officials worked diligently to deflect responsibility away from them and down to military leadership on the ground. …

“It is also apparent that the White House and the Department of Defense consistently attempted to minimize any further exposure of their actions and, specifically, to prevent a serious investigation into their executive-decision making process.”

Sanchez wrote that “to prevent this [disgrace] from ever happening again” and “to restore America’s moral authority,” the Obama administration and Congress “must conduct more comprehensive investigations across all involved agencies, learn from the findings, and implement permanent changes.”

Whether Attorney General Holder is up to that task remains to be seen.

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Much "psychological impact"

Much "psychological impact", but on who?

To continue on a theme,  you would have loved a report in Adelaide's Advertiser today, about police arresting  women on minor charges, forcibly stripping them and leaving them in padded cells under the forbidding gaze of closed-circuit recording cameras.

Zinn on America

The essential reading without which nothing in the US makes sense to me is Howard Zinn's (1980) A People's History of the United States.  It might have been a different story if the left had not been bashed, judicially murdered, gaoled, exiled, deported, extra-judicially murdered, intimidated and did I say murdered? It has all happened before.

Poverty is torture

It would seem that the poor (in the US) are in for a tough time. More laws to control, torture (emotionally if not physically) and rob them of what little cash they have left.

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?  NYT

It turned out that Mr. Szekely, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs or curse in front of ladies, did indeed have a warrant — for not appearing in court to face a charge of “criminal trespassing” (for sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb). So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail. “Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Mr. Szekely. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless.”

There’s no minimum age for being sucked into what the Children’s Defense Fund calls “the cradle-to-prison pipeline.” In New York City, a teenager caught in public housing without an ID — say, while visiting a friend or relative — can be charged with criminal trespassing and wind up in juvenile detention, Mishi Faruqee, the director of youth justice programs for the Children’s Defense Fund of New York, told me. In just the past few months, a growing number of cities have taken to ticketing and sometimes handcuffing teenagers found on the streets during school hours.

So you can go to gaol for sleeping on the pavement but you can start illegal wars, torture, murder, steal billions of dollars from the taxpayer all with the blessing of the boys club.

My fellow Australians, let's not create a legal system where we treat the disadvantaged like scum. Let's not allow laws that torture the poor. The disadvantaged already have enough to cope with let alone stupid laws which make our predominately Christian democratic societies look very unchristian indeed.

Remember, it may be you who falls on hard times one day and it would be a shame if you were to ever end up in gaol for sleeping under a bridge.

Cassandra's lament

Following up on the McClelland secret police laws, I hope at least some folk get to run across an article by Richard Ackland of the SMH, 14/8/09, entitled "Law of war hides from rule of law".

I really remain baffled at what Labor has been thinking, retaining or introducing  this sort of trash as a law fit for a justice system in a democracy.

Dirty bomb legislation?

The repeated reciting of the new recognition of psychological terrorism appears to me to refer to acts that create little physical effect but enormous psychological impact. As New York conducts drills to avert the possibility of something nasty being stuffed up the Hudson, has the Rudd Government suddenly realised that their counterterrorism legislation doesn't currently give them their full range of powers when dealing with Dirty Bombers?

It's a lovely little trick.

And look who they appoint as the head of ASIS - Nick Warner! He's come a long way since the Doug Wood days.

PC Moffat, we can only hope that Federal Labor do what its President has just done in South Australia, being the reduction in the Cabinet secrecy period from 20 years to ten. Certainly Rann's doing it here to nail the lid on the Libs' coffin by declassifying the Halliburton water-takeover deal (October 20 for that one he says, would I kill to make those FOIs?) but if Rudd emulates then in ten years time, when Rann goes from being Labor President to Labor President (don't doubt he has this aspiration) the shame of Iraq could be used to knock the Liberals for a fourth term. Of course, Labor's own involvement would come out a few years later ... but it won't look anywhere as near by comparison

Then again, a Federal reduction to ten years right now would bring out details of Cheney's dealings at Federal Level. If Rann thinks the United Water shonk is going to hoist the local Libs on their own petard, then the opening of the larger Pandora's Box would have Turnbull considering a walk of the plank.

The sooner the truth on how the dirty bomb meme has been used comes into public knowledge, the better.

Horst Wessel lied (a Godwin-free zone, at last?)

Am drawn back to this thread and in particular its lead-in, in light of today's depressing announcement by Attorney-General McClelland of further Dr. Haneef style legislation that sees Labor, far from rolling back the unthinking reactionary Howard Ruddock legislation of the mid-decade, consolidating its draconian powers.

The perversely nebulous nonsense of "psychological harm" will be the first element to draw a derisive snicker from thinking people, because it so closely recollects the nonsenses passed in NSW against dissident voices during the silly "World Youth Day" of some time back.

But the fact that cops will be able to kick down the doors of the unsuspecting and haul them off to clink without any of the rights of access granted anyone else, without even a magistrate's warrant, ought to send shudders down the spines of even the most authoritarian of people.

As for me, Its a cause for sadness, the latest example of the betrayal by Labor of its campaign promises of 2007. As if we needed confirmation after the pathetic stories emanating concerning the hardening rather than removal of Aboriginal "Interventionist" policies over the last month, to cite just one example of several.

And Kerry nailed the fool

When he asked what we needed to be protected from when we don't ban cars or knives from the kitchen sink.

One wonders how many compensation claims we will all end up paying when refugees who have been incarcerated for years start being well enough to sue us for psychological damage.

Then we read that two Afghan cops are shot down like dogs for daring to drive in their own country and there is not a skerrick of recognition from the army hack that they are the intruders in Afghanistan and have no right to gun down Afghans.

I think Binoy says it very well here. We are like the whiney children in the corner trying to be noticed by the bad guys so we terrorise hundreds  of innocent people in the process.

Refugees suing

I saw Balibo tonight, if you want complicity in torture by the Australian government in December 1976 go and see what happened to the hero Roger East.

This is a story scarcely told.

And dozens of those tortured refugees that we locked up are now suing for psychological damage caused by us so who will that clown McClelland charge for it?

Art Gallery of NSW

To my delight yesterday I saw an installation on the subject of rendition and torture by an anonymous collective of NZ artists.  Worth a look if you are in the area.  It seems that some artists at least have a conscience.  Well done to those unnamed persons.

Nope, nuffin will be done until...

Will America and Australia sweep torture under the rug?

You bet, they are trying their hardest, for as Ricardo Sanchez says: “It would open up Pandora’s box and let out a world of evil.” A world of evil indeed. Sanchez says it all.

The torture thing is too disgusting and embarrassing to deal with. Anybody with two eyes and ears would have to agree that those at the top were pulling the strings, even if Cheney had said nothing. In the case of our military you would have to be a mug to think they didn't know what was going on.

A proper investigation will always be out of the question; there would be nothing to gain and everything to lose, politically speaking.

However, if there was a proper investigation and those who had authorised and carried out torture were dealt with according to the rule of law, I wonder what the reaction would be?

Sadly, the US are creating a rather nasty environment for Joe Ordinary (as well as Ali Ordinary), and if I were Joe Ordinary I would be asking a few questions of the authorities before the authorities start asking questions of me.

Read this and have a think about what makes public servants behave in such a disgusting manner; there are plenty expamples of this type of thing popping up in local US newspapers:

Two Wisconsin National Guardsmen filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Wisconsin Dells, its police chief and three officers because they were forced to lap up what was believed to be human urine from the ground last summer.

You see this is how (some) fine young men (and women) of the US police force get their kicks, just like their military counterparts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and dark places we don't even know about.

Fortunately, in this case, the accused were two vets and the Judge took their word as true. Joe Ordinary would not have had a chance; just a brief column in the daily local stating Joe was charged and sentenced to 5 to 7; just another unfortunate innocent gobbled up as raw material for the growing private detention industry.

Imagine how poor Joe's family would feel as well as Joe himself? No, there will be no real investigation into torture, just like there was no real investigation into 9/11; for fear of exposing the total incompetence of the CIA, FBI and elected public servants who had anything to do with the security of the US citizen.

Just like there will never be an investigation into the bullshit behind the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for fear of exposing its criminal nature and the true intentions of US foreign policy.

Just like there won't be an investigation into the banking fiasco, because it would reveal the criminal and fraudulent behaviour of the boys club.

The oligarchy looks after itself, and why would they investigate themselves when such investigations would render most of them in the clink?

Nope, nuffin can we expect in the way of accountability. The law (in the hands of the oligarchy or boys club) is purely a weapon they use to control the weak (we can expect more laws as times get harder); all the weak have is the appeal to morality - or revolution.

Let's have a look at the morality thing. I know, morality is old hat these days, we don't talk about morality anymore, but one day if you find yourself licking shit off the pavement while getting tasered up the arse by some 20 year old fresh faced policeman then you may wonder what in hell motivated your "protector" and why he would do such a thing to an innocent.

One can only speculate why one human being can find enjoyment in humiliating, hurting and sexually degrading another. But one has to only have a peek at the type of degrading imagery many of these children have "enjoyed" on the Internet during their formative years.

One has to only have a peek at the trophy pics these innocent young adults of the US military share amongst themselves for fun; that was how the Abu Ghraib scandal was exposed. Fine clean cut young men and women of the US military having a good time and recording it to share; humiliating, sexually degrading, torturing, and in some cases murdering innocent and not so innocent people. Either way all of it was a crime of the most disgusting nature; authorised from the top.

No wonder we don't want to investigate such properly. And by not facing up to the criminal and down right disgusting behaviour from those at the top then why should we expect those at the bottom to behave differently?

As long as these crimes are swept under the carpet then those in authority who commit crimes against a human, or humanity will continue to do so in full knowledge they will not be held to account for their depravity.

In a way, Joe Ordinary has become desensitised to the lies and disgusting behaviour of the oligarchy; such behaviour has become the norm. Anyway poor old Joe Ordinary is feeling the pinch these days as a result of the aggregation of the lies and deceit dished up over the years.

Poor Joe Ordinary is broke and it was not his fault (voting would not have made a difference) - it was the torturers, the war criminals and banksters, the boys club, who cost him his job and now he does not know what to do.

But the oligarchy does for they are the makers of the law (and lore via the MSM). And if one has been keeping an eye on the law then it appears Joe Ordinary can pretty well get picked up anywhere by the law and have the law do what ever it wants for as long as it wants.

It will be business as usual as far as the boys club goes, no appeal to morality will ever change the path they have chosen. A people's revolution would be violently crushed whether it be peaceful or not.

Only when the boys club have successfully stuffed the whole game can we expect anything at all to change.

Hopefully then, we might reconsider the morality thing, otherwise there may be even more wars across the many battle fields of hatred, dispossession, perverted patriotism and depravity.

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