Special Online Project: Tracking Torture Coverage

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Special Online Project: Tracking Torture Coverage

In Utne Reader‘s July-August 2008 Editor’s Note, “Tortured Coverage,” David Schimke wrote about how much of the mainstream media’s play-by-play coverage of human rights and U.S.-sanctioned torture is a bloodless intellectual exercise. That readers and viewers will not be forced to confront first-person accounts of torture or detailed clinical analysis documenting the irreversible effects of sensory deprivation, sexual humiliation, and mock execution. That few of us will be asked to imagine our brothers, husbands, wives, and sisters stripped naked in the dark, in secret, without being charged.

One year later, with a new administration in the White House, Schimke revisited the torture issue , praising the work buried deep in our daily newspapers, down the dial on public TV and radio, and on the pages of independent blogs and alternative magazines. There we’re constantly finding laudable work that gives context to our country’s unprecedented fall and humanizes those who suffer systematic abuse or neglect.

In Utne Reader‘s November-December 2009 issue, our torture coverage continues with a Mother Jones piece about American physicians who were complicit in the Bush administration’s torture policy .

This special online project is designed to bring you the very best of that coverage from around the globe. We encourage readers to share their thoughts and point us to other worthy sources.


Torture Reports, Testimonials, and Analysis
In the News
The White House
The Courts
Advocacy Organizations

Torture Reports, Testimonials, and Analysis

In a jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching interview with Democracy Now!, New Yorker  investigative journalist Jane Mayer talks about her new book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. Among other things, the author discusses a secret report delivered by the International Red Cross to the United States government that documents the Bush Administration’s tacit approval of brutal torture techniques that could be prosecuted as war crimes. She also reveals that as early as 2002 the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that at least one-third of the prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, some of whom were brutalized, were there “by mistake.”

The book’s title is inspired by the late Tim Russert’s interview with Dick Cheney days after 9/11, during which the vice president talked about the need for secretive, unsavory tactics to fight “the dark side.” In “Six Questions for Jane Mayer,” published on the Harper’s magazine website, Mayer describes these horrific tactics in detail, and then discusses the mad psychologists who designed the CIA’s illegal interrogation program, which is based on a theory called “learned helplessness.”

New York Times columnist Frank Rich says huzzah to The Dark Sidein a recent Op-Ed, which he says exposes a paranoia and corruption inside the White House that makes the Nixon Administration seem quaint. He concludes by bemoaning the citizenry’s seeming lack of concern. “We are once again distracted and unprepared while the Taliban and bin Laden’s minions multiply in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This, no less than the defiling of the Constitution, is the legacy of an administration that not merely rationalized the immorality of torture but shackled our national security to the absurdity that torture could easily fix the terrorist threat.”

Between 2000 and 2003, more than 20 prisoners under the age of 18 were held at Guantánamo. In early 2004, pressured by human rights organizations, Pentagon officials released most of them–first to a separate facility at the base, then to a rehabilitation program in Afghanistan. But the three that remain have spent a quarter of their lives behind bars and have been subjected to the same harsh interrogation tactics as their adult cellmates, a policy that, according to a recent piece posted on Salon, “defies logic as well as international law.”

Broken Laws, Broken Lives, a new report issued by Physicians for Human Rights, uses medical evidence to document the effects of torture conducted by U.S. personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. In a statement accompanying the report, retired Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the Army’s initial investigation at Abu Ghraib, says the evidence suggests a “systematic regime of torture.” Dr. Allen Keller cowrote the report and evaluated five of the eleven detainees studied–none of whom were ever charged with a crime. He was interviewed by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on June 19.

The Insanity Inside Guantánamo: Jennifer Daskal and Stacey Sullivan, two staff members of the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch, contributed this piece to Salon, which distills and humanizes the organization’s latest report: Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo.

U.S. Catholic wonders if torture is losing its shock value and interviews theologian William Cavanaugh, who believes the Bush Administration’s policies put being both American and Catholic in serious conflict.

In a talk that moves like a sermon, bioethicist Steven Miles, author of Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror, argues that torture anywhere destroys community everywhere. “Torture is government by intimidation, horror, fear, and division,” he says. “It is antithetical to those who would create societies to flourish by loving, kindness, justice, and inclusion.”

TruthDig editor Robert Scheer wonders: “Where is the Outrage?” Then asks: “Are we Americans truly savages or merely tone-deaf in matters of morality, and therefore more guilty of terminal indifferences than venality?”

In the News

It’s a decision that promises to hamper government prosecutors’ efforts to prosecute 9/11 conspiracy charges. It also establishes that incriminating testimony collected inhumanly is both unethical and inadmissible. On Monday, at the trial of Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Navy Capt. Keith J. Allred ruled that statements gathered using “highly coercive” methods in Afghanistan would be thrown out. “Hamden’s treatment across the board was as favorable as anyone we intended to prosecute,” former Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who last year resigned in protest as chief prosecutor for military commissions, tells the Washington Post. “There were clearly others who experienced much more traumatic treatment. If the judge has a problem with Hamdan, there are probably equal or great problems with other cases.”  

Narco News reports that a US defense contractor led a videotaped training session in Mexico in 2006, in which Mexican police, in a battle with local drug gangs, were schooled in torture tactics–even though the coercive methods are illegal.

Senate Hearings: On June 17, according to the Washington Independent, the Senate Committee on Armed Forces convened to hear further testimony on the “origins of aggressive interrogation techniques” used at facilities such as the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. During the eight-hour session, says Independent fellowSpencer Ackerman, who has a live blog dedicated to the hearings, the “committee revealed in painstaking detail how senior Pentagon officials transformed a program for Special Forces to resist torture–known as Survival Evasion Resistance Escape, or SERE–into a blueprint for torturing terrorism detainees.”

Over at Talking Points Memo, Kate Klonick writes in further detail about SERE, focusing on the minutes to a meeting held between CIA counter-terrorism lawyer Jonathan Fredman and a group of military and intelligence officials who convened at Gauntánamo to discuss the use of harsher interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. (When asked by officers at the base how to gauge the success or failure of a particular technique, Fredman reportedly said, “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”)

Guantánamo: Beyond the Law: In this thorough, gut-wrenching series sure to be considered for a Pulitzer Prize, reporters for the McClatchy Company, which owns 15 daily papers in 30 states, conclude that after 9/11 the U.S. created an unjust, unmanageable detention system. As a result, the United States “imprisoned innocent men, subjected them to abuse, stripped them of their legal rights, and allowed Islamic militants to turn the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, into a school for Jihad.”

Reported over an eight-month period, the project is thoroughly documented and anchored by profiles of 66 past and present prisoners, many of whom were tortured and remain jailed for specious, not to mention unconstitutional, cause.

For more background on the series, check out the Christian Science Monitor, which by simply reporting on a competitor’s work pays tribute to its quality and importance.

The White House

“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.”

Blogging for Huffington Post, Illinois congresswoman Jen Schakowsky explains why she and 55 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking him to appoint “a special counsel to investigate whether the Bush administration’s policies regarding the interrogation of detainees have violated federal criminal law.”

In an interview with Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman, British attorney and author Philippe Sands talks about the gist of his new book, Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values and discusses testimony he provided to the House Judiciary Sub-Committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

The Courts

In a press release issued on June 12, Physicians for Human Rights praises the Supreme Court’s June 12 decision to uphold the habeas corpus rights of Guantánamo detainees to challenge their detention in court, saying it is “a victory not only for the rule of law but is a significant step in the campaign against torture.”

Scaliaaaaa (Cue music to West Side Story’s “Maria”), I just met a thug named Scalia… Blogdigger has a little fun with the Supreme Court justice’s dissenting opinion regarding the rights of detainees at Guantánamo, who the court ruled can ask civilian courts for release. But then gets serious about analyzing that dissent and what it might mean for future decisions regarding national security.

Speaking of Scalia, it seems the Supreme Court justice is a (surprise!) big fan of Fox’s 24, whose hero, agent Jack Bauer, uses torture to stop terrorists from blowing up big buildings with a single ticking bomb. So much so, in fact, that he came to the defense of Bauer’s tactics during an Ottawa conference of international jurists and national security officials. This prompts an equal parts terrifying and hilarious blog from Andrew Sullivan. “Earth to Justice Scalia,” he begins. “Jack Bauer does not exist.”

Advocacy Organizations

Physicians for Human Rights
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom House
Human Rights First
World Organization for Human Rights USA
International Action Center
Citizens Commission on Human Rights
Resource Center of the Americas

Image byOpenDemocracy, licensed underCreative Commons.

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