Wednesday, August 31, 2011 4:05 PM
Regardless of the author, political “tell alls” rarely tell readers anything they didn’t already know or firmly believe, except that the self-proclaimed hero or heroine of the tale is even more brilliant, arrogant, genuine, superficial, or petty than we dared dream. And given what I can only imagine lurks in the bionic heart of former Vice President’s Dick Cheney, I’m not making plans to curl up with his new book, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, over the Labor Day weekend.
I have found one reason to be excited by the VP’s 576-page curtain call, though. The international human rights organization Amnesty International is shrewdly taking advantage of the momentary media buzz around the book’s release to remind people of the lies that Cheney, his boss, and their loyalists told and continue to tell to justify “institutionalized torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances”—all immoral and indefensible violations of the Geneva Conventions and the United States Constitution.
“Amnesty International is reiterating its call to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately open a criminal investigation into the role former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and other officials played in the use of torture on detainees held in U.S. custody,” Tom Parker, policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights for Amnesty International U.S.A., said in a press release on August 25.
On August 30, supporters of the organization showed up to protest Cheney’s appearance on NBC’s Today Show, and their signs calling for accountability were caught on camera. That afternoon, Amnesty members delivered a copy of Cheney's memoir to a spokesperson at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., along with a personal letter to Holder demanding that his office look into crimes committed during the Bush administration’s so-called “war on terror.”
Amnesty also launched Cheney’s Conscience, a parody account on Twitter that it hopes users will read and repost in an effort to remind people of the vice president’s actions in and out of office.
I’m still unsure why President Obama decided against pursuing his predecessors in the courts. A good case could be made that he simply wanted to keep his options open and continues to allow, if not encourage, torture and rendition off the grid. A more generous interpretation is that he didn’t want to get mired in a highly polarizing political fight. Either way, it’s a good guess he assumed Bush and Co. would show some gratitude and stay silent on the issue. Cheney, in particular, has chosen to do just the opposite. If there’s any justice, his braggadocio and the inventive work of organizations like Amnesty International will cause the Obama administration to reconsider its passivity.
Image courtesy of
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 1:39 PM
John Yoo is probably best known for his stint at the Department of Justice under George W. Bush, where he authored the infamous “torture memos” that provided legal justification for torture. Nowadays he’s teaching at Boalt Hall, the law school at the University of California at Berkeley—where on April 20, according to Gawker, the bathrooms were stocked with toilet paper bearing his name (“this toilet paper made possible by John Yoo, professor of law”) along with text from the UN’s Convention Against Torture.
The T.P. transplant was orchestrated by Los Angeles–based artist/prankster Matt Cornell. You can crack open a PDF of the toilet paper and watch a video of the installation at www.yootoiletpaper.com.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009 12:48 PM
When Dick Cheney and his minions defend torture saying, “it worked,” they are channeling Joseph Stalin, according to Andrew Brown in the American Conservative. “One of the first disconcerting things to discover when you inquire into the interrogation habits of the KGB” Brown writes, “is that their practices weren’t defined as torture at all.” Leaving aside the infamous waterboarding, practices like sleep deprivation and stress positions were cornerstones of both the KGB’s terror and that of Bush and Cheney.
Of course torture “works” in getting information, Brown concedes, but that information is inherently unreliable. The confessions extracted from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other targets of U.S. torture have the same evidentiary value as confessions that Trotskyists were responsible for sabotaging the Soviet economy in the 1930s. Brown writes, “Torture is a means of forcing people to lie to us, under circumstances that compel us to believe them, because otherwise we would have to face the truth about ourselves.”
The arguments made for torture, including the ones made to the continuation of torture policies under President Obama, are couched in the language of pragmatism. “Pragmatism is not a substitute for philosophical rigor, however,” David Schimke wrote for the latest issue of Utne Reader, “and it cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the past.” In this case, an absolute abolition of torture is both pragmatic and moral, since torture cannot reliably deliver the truth and undoubtedly serves to hurt the U.S. moral standing in the world.
Sources: American Conservative (subscription required), Utne Reader
Thursday, May 07, 2009 11:07 AM
As anyone who’s lived in an urban apartment knows, it’s nearly impossible to turn off your sense of hearing. Plug your ears, and you can still feel vibrations echoing in your head. Knowing this, US soldiers in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have used popular music to “break” detainees into giving up information. Pundits tend to focus on the absurdity of using the theme song from the kids shows Barney and Sesame street as an interrogation technique, but Martin Cloonan writes for the New Humanist, “musical torture is far from being a laughing matter.”
Music as a weapon is often characterized by an “assault on identity and the lack of control,” Cloonan writes. He points out that British soldiers used white noise to attack Republican detainees in Northern Ireland, and classical music is still being played in various public places to keep young people from congregating. While researching music in neighborhood conflicts, Cloonan found, “Often what began as a request to turn sound down escalated into another form of sonic warfare, resulting in court injunctions and physical violence – including murder.”
Bands like Rage Against the Machine and Massive Attack are pushing back against the torturers, showing support for the Zero dB campaign, aimed at banning music for the purposes of torture. Jonathan Mann, on the other hand, has used his music to call attention to the torture memos that were recently released. You can watch that below.
Sources: New Humanist, Zero dB, Jonathan Mann
Thursday, October 23, 2008 9:29 AM
Back in July, I blogged about Phil Toledano’s elegant visual profiles of phone-sex workers. Now, he’s moved on to foreign policy, asking the simple but odd question: “If American foreign policy had a gift shop, what would it sell?”
Using what he calls the “vernacular of retail,” Toledano takes us on a surreal commercial tour of the last eight years—a trip well worth taking on the eve of the election.
“We buy souvenirs at the end of a trip, to remind ourselves of the experience,” Toledano writes. “What do we have to remind us of the events of the last eight years?”
The fantasy store’s stock includes the requisite T-shirts (“I Was Rendered to a Secret Prison and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” and “I (Heart) Unilateral Preemptive Strikes”) and some chocolates, along with an inflatable Guantanamo Bay bouncy prison cell and an Abu Ghraib bobble head, which Toledano tells me he had to have fabricated in China since no one stateside would make it.
Toledano’s installation is being shown today at Meet in New York (101 Crosby Street). If you can’t make it, take a virtual tour here.
Images courtesy of
Monday, September 15, 2008 4:48 PM
Although Jesus was tortured and murdered, a majority of white Southern evangelical Christians believe that torture is often or sometimes justified when pursuing terrorists, according to a new poll by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University. Among the general population, a smaller percentage (48 percent) of respondents believe that torture can be justified. White evangelical support of torture was much lower when the questioner appealed to the “Golden Rule,” asking respondents if “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers.” A slight majority (52 percent) agreed that the government should not.
The torture and killing of Jesus should motivate all Christians to oppose torture, Jimmy McCarty writes for the God’s Politics blog. Waterboarding and other interrogation techniques currently being employed by the US government are unchristian, according to McCarty, and followers of Jesus have a responsibility to speak out.
For more coverage of torture from Utne Reader, visit www.utne.com/torture.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 10:43 AM
Catholics are no strangers to schisms, but breaking secular ties is proving tricky, reports the Catholic newsweekly America (subscription required). When Amnesty International announced its policy supporting the worldwide decriminalization of abortion in August 2007, affiliated Catholic chapters had to decide whether the nonprofit’s work against torture and the death penalty outweighed its stance on abortion.
Unsurprisingly, America found that many Catholic chapters disaffiliated from Amnesty International. “It’s disappointing,” says Monsignor Robert McClory, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Detroit. “On particular cases, we can work together. But the kind of in-depth collaborative work of the past would be stifled by the decision they’ve taken.”
In spite of the controversial policy, some social justice–minded Catholics are finding it difficult to abandon Amnesty International's work completely. Notre Dame’s campus chapter changed its name to “Human Rights Notre Dame” but continues to rely on information from Amnesty’s “Urgent Action” alerts. Across the Atlantic, the predominantly Catholic Amnesty Northern Ireland has struggled with breaking ties, reports Ireland’s public service broadcaster RTÉ, and is considering letting Catholic schools re-join Amnesty International if they can be sure funds raised won’t help support abortion.
Catholic human rights groups may continue to seek new affiliations. America speculates that some may look to abortion-neutral human rights organizations such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
Image by Takoma Bibelot, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 4:26 PM
"Bush administration officials who pushed torture will need to be careful about their travel plans,” counsels New York attorney and Columbia Law School Professor Scott Horton in “Travel Advisory,” recently posted on the New Republic’s website.
For while it’s unlikely that the U.S. government can muster the political will to prosecute the likes of Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld for specifically discussing and, at the very least, tacitly approving the use of torture to interrogate suspected terrorists. It’s “reasonably likely” that another western democracy would assemble war crime charges against Bush’s puppetmasters, especially after the president leaves office in January.
According to an investigative magistrate in a NATO nation already assembling evidence against a “small group of Bush administration officials,” it’s unlikely anyone would be extradited on war-related charges.” But, the unnamed source tells Horton, “if one of the targets lands on our territory or on the territory of one of our cooperating jurisdictions, then we’ll be prepared to act."
Click here for Utne’s Special Online Project: Tracking Torture Coverage.
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