Blood Meridian: Bush's High Crimes of Torture and War

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If you want to see the depravity and filth that festers in the core of the Bush Administration made plain, read the story below. The regimen of torture and suffering being inflicted on captives in Bush’s War of Terror is not some sort of aberrant overreaction to concerns about national security and public safety: these specifically designed, deliberately induced tortures are the expression of the President’s deepest desires and clearly stated wishes. Just as the war of aggression in Iraq is his war, these crimes against humanity are his crimes. They are happening because he wants them to.

The only possible response of a sane society to the depredations of this man is his impeachment and removal from power. There is no other course of action for any responsible, patriotic member of Congress to take. Unfortunately, the American Establishment has clearly gone insane — so deranged from decades of bloated power and privilege that it can no longer act even to save itself from the general ruin that Bush is bringing upon the country. Unfortunately, there are very, very few responsible, patriotic members of Congress.

Witness the empty bluster behind the latest Democratic "opposition": in the face of Bush’s imminent escalation of the war — with a "surge" that cannot possibly succeed in doing anything but increasing the bloodshed and hatred in the other nation he has ruined — they are offering a "series of symbolic votes" that "would do nothing in practical terms" to stop or even hinder this insane course, as the NY Times reports. The ever-hapless hairpiece hero, Joe Biden, believes this witless flapping of arms will "demonstrate to the president that he’s on his own" — a realization that will somehow "spark real change."

But Bush already believes he is on his own — and he likes that way. He has already asserted that he will continue his course in Iraq even if he is deserted by everyone but his wife and dog. And his little mouthpiece, Tony Snow, has just announced that the President is an autocrat who cannot be restrained by any action of Congress whatsoever: "The President has the ability to exercise his own authority if he thinks Congress has voted the wrong way." (Via Cenk Uygur by way of Steve Gilliard.)

"Symbolic votes" won’t stop Bush. Even substantive actions — such as cutting off funding — will not stop him. He will clearly provoke a constitutional crisis and continue the war (and the tortures in his gulag) by any means necessary. He is probably willing to attempt to overthrow the government altogether with a military coup if he feels he is being thwarted in his "sacred duty as Commander-in-Chief to protect the nation," which, in his mind, means waging aggressive war, torturing people, spying on us all and looting the treasury on behalf of his cronies. The only possible way to derail his destructive and criminal course is impeachment.

But how will that happen with the weak reeds and blathering hairpieces now in charge of Congress? What will it take to light a fire under them and force them to do what they are legally and morally bound to do — uphold the Constitution? Will they really let Bush go on and on, in slaughter and torture, escalating the war crime in Iraq and very likely launching a new war against Iran?

If the past five years is any indication, the answer is yes, they will. Consider that most leading Democrats are even more hawkish in their saber-rattling at Iran than the Bush Administration, which is even now methodically preparing for war with Tehran, either via a direct U.S. strike or else in reaction to the inevitable Iranian response to an attack by Israel. How can the bellicose Democrats object when Bush puts blood and iron to their rhetoric? A strike on Iran would be the perfect way to "restore bipartisan unity on the Hill."

Yet we live in hope and die in despair, as Brother Edsel always says. So keep pounding the drum: impeach, impeach, impeach. Make it so loud that one day it might even pierce the hairpiece of Joe Biden, and convince the cowardly lions of Congress to do their duty. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate — although that grim reality may well be thrust upon us. But for God’s sake, let’s not go down without a fight.

Guantánamo’s Lost Souls (Guardian). By American lawyer George Brent Mickum.

Excerpts: The day after tomorrow marks the confluence of two ignominious anniversaries. The first is the five-year anniversary of the opening of the notorious prison camps run by the US at the Guantánamo naval air station in Cuba. In the five years since the US started shipping prisoners from around the world to Guantánamo, approximately 99% have never been charged with any transgression, much less a crime. Approximately 400 prisoners, characterised by the Bush administration as "the worst of the worst," have been released without charge, many directly to their families. That any prisoners have been released is due almost entirely to the outrage of the civilised world.

Thursday is also the start of my clients’ fifth year of captivity around the world: Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna…Bisher and Jamil have withstood various forms of physical torture during their five years as prisoners. Both have suffered numerous beatings (Bisher suffered broken ribs and perhaps a broken foot because of beatings by guards, though both injuries went untreated — despite Bisher’s requests for medical assistance), stress positions, temperature extremes, extreme sleep deprivation, death threats, threats to family and, at various times, starvation and being denied water that was fit to drink.

It pains me to report that, at the start of his fifth year in prison, the once healthy and extremely articulate Bisher is failing. He is no longer able to withstand the most insidious form of torture being used by the US military: prolonged isolation combined with environmental manipulation that includes constant exposure to temperature extremes and sleep deprivation…

What the British government knows and the British public needs to know is that Bisher’s treatment is designed to achieve a single objective: causing an individual to lose his psychological balance and, ultimately, his mind. Every aspect of Bisher’s prison environment is controlled and manipulated to create constant mental instability. The damage to Bisher’s psyche is not unexpected. The ravages of extended isolation and sensory deprivation leave no marks, but they destroy the mind…

Bisher al-Rawi is, slowly but surely, slipping into madness. British officials have long been aware of Bisher’s treatment. To my knowledge, they have done nothing to intercede on his behalf. They have done nothing to end his torture and constant mistreatment. They have done nothing to address the constantly changing list of spurious, new allegations that the military is uses to justify continued imprisonment.

Among the latest new allegations: the military alleges that Bisher received terrorist training in Bosnia and Afghanistan. British officials know these charges are false beyond conjecture. Bisher has never been in Bosnia and has signed an affidavit to that effect. The only time Bisher has been in Afghanistan was when the CIA rendered Bisher and Jamil there aboard CIA Gulfstream V-N379P out of the Republic of the Gambia to Cairo, Egypt, where the aircraft refuelled, then went on to the notorious Dark Prison. The reports Bisher and Jamil have given us have matched exactly the flight logs of CIA flights we have obtained. In the Dark Prison, Bisher and Jamil spent weeks underground, encased in total darkness, chained to a wall and shackled in leg irons, starved, and assaulted 24 hours a day with cacophonously loud noise before being transferred to Bagram….

Until last March the British government adamantly refused to intercede on behalf of any of the British residents still interred at Guantánamo….That changed suddenly when the government asked for Bisher’s return on non-humanitarian grounds, belatedly conceding that Bisher had worked for MI5. Unfortunately for Bisher, this long-overdue admission, and the British government’s request for his immediate repatriation, coincided with Bisher being thrown into isolation. He remains there more than nine months later, with no end in sight.

Bisher’s world is a cell 6ft by 8ft in Camp V, where alleged "non-compliant" prisoners are incarcerated. After all these years and hundreds of interrogations, Bisher finally refused to be interrogated further. Despite the fact that Guantánamo officials have publicly proclaimed that prisoners are no longer required to participate in interrogations, Bisher is deemed to be non-compliant and hence is tortured daily….

Solitary confinement is but a single aspect of the torture that Bisher endures on a daily basis. While in isolation, Bisher has been constantly subjected to severe temperature extremes and other sensory torments, many of which are part of a sleep deprivation program that never abates. Frequently, Bisher’s cell is unbearably cold because the air conditioning is turned up to the maximum. Sometimes, his captors take his orange jumpsuit and sheet, leaving him only in his shorts. For a week at a time, Bisher constantly shivers and is unable to sleep because of the extreme cold. Once, when Bisher attempted to warm himself by covering himself with his prayer rug, one of the few "comfort items" permitted to him, his guards removed it for "misuse." On other occasions, the heat is allowed to become so unbearable that breathing is difficult and labored. For a week at a time, all Bisher can do is lie completely still, sweat pouring off his body during the day when the Cuban heat can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature inside Camp V is even higher.

Bisher is allowed no contact with fellow prisoners. Bright lights are kept on 24 hours a day. Bisher is given 15 sheets of toilet paper per day, but because he used his sheets to cover his eyes to help him to sleep, his toilet paper — considered another comfort item by his beneficent constabulary — has been removed for "misuse." Accordingly, he is no longer receives his daily ration of 15 sheets of toilet paper. Imagine being in the position of having to make a choice between using your tiny allotment of toilet paper for the purpose for which it was intended or using it to sleep, and then having it removed altogether…

Changes of clothing take place at midnight when prisoners are given a single, thin cotton sheet. Prisoners are unable to sleep until close to 1am. They are awakened at 5am, when each is required to return his sheet. All of Bisher’s legal documents and family photographs were seized from him last June and have never been returned.

If Bisher spends four more months in the conditions I have described, the man I met in September 2004, who was healthy, articulate, thoughtful and humorous, will in all likelihood no longer exist. He will probably slip into a madness that is permanent. If that comes to pass, Britain must recognise and accept the grave culpability it bears…

The Bush Administration, of course, continues to deny that the United States uses torture, prating endlessly about the Administration’s humane treatment of the prisoners and its robust compliance with the Geneva Conventions. It long ago defined away torture in the now infamous "Torture Memo" commissioned by now Attorney General Alberto Gonsales. But thousands of pages of memoranda generated by FBI field agents at the prison camps in Guantánamo and released pursuant to Freedom of Information Act litigation belie the Administration’s hollow assertions and paint a grim and accurate picture…

These memoranda expose in detail only some of the "torture techniques" employed by the military. They document abuses that include "strangulation, beatings, [and] placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings" (document 4911 entitled Urgent Report). Mamdouh Habib, a former prisoner at Guantánamo who was rendered first to Egypt for unmentionable torture before being transferred to Guantánamo, arrived there without fingernails and bleeding from the ears and nose where cigarettes had repeatedly burned him. Habib, one of the few prisoners actually charged by the military, was summarily released to his home in Australia once the extent of his abuse was exposed. But before placing Habib on the aircraft that would eventually take him home, military officials could not resist one last gratuitous torture: they told him he was being transferred back to Egypt! Among the horrors I have been exposed to in this case, this particular story haunts still.

These FBI memoranda also document efforts by the military to cover-up the abuses. Document number 3977 is a memorandum entitled "Impersonating FBI at GTMO." It informs FBI superiors in Washington, DC that military interrogators at Guantánamo are impersonating the FBI when torturing prisoners. It goes on to state: "These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralisation nature to date and [the Department of Defense, Criminal Investigation Task Force] believes that [the torture] techniques have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee. If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the ‘FBI’ interrogators. The FBI will be left holding the bag before the public."

If I alone were making these claims, I would expect at least some readers to doubt the reliability of my account. But FBI field agents wrote these documents. The FBI withheld them until a US court ordered their production. Notably, no one in the Bush Administration or the military has questioned the veracity of these FBI accounts. Thus, there is no debate regarding the authenticity or accuracy of the information contained in these documents.

But if corroboration is needed, the FBI accounts are confirmed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which reports that the methods used at Guantánamo have, over time, become "more refined and repressive" than those witnessed by the Red Cross on previous visits. Red Cross officials are on record stating that military interrogators seek to make detainees dependent upon them through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." They confirm that prisoners are exposed to loud and incessant noise and music and were subjected to "some beatings."

The Red Cross also reports that interrogators not only used psychological and physical coercion, but also enlisted the participation of medical personnel in what the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics." Doctors and other medical personnel work directly with military officials at Guantánamo, conveying data about prisoners’ "mental health and vulnerabilities." The Red Cross reports these medical professionals become part of the torture and interrogation machine. Their chief function is not the medical care of prisoners, but assisting interrogators in extracting information. As a result, prisoners no longer trust doctors and others to whom their treatment is entrusted.

It should come as a surprise to no one that the Red Cross concluded that "[t]he construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture."

…Almost a hundred prisoners that we know of have died in US custody; 33 of these deaths are formally classified as homicides by the military. Not since the second world war, when the US imprisoned American citizens of Japanese descent, has this country experienced such a constitutional nadir. If the world is to fight this war on terror, morality must not be allowed to become collateral damage. The time is long past for the British government to demand Bisher’s and Jamil’s immediate return. Paradigms of innocent suffering, they will remain wraiths that hover above the political and moral landscape, constantly reminding us that the destinies of those who would wage just war and those against whom that war is waged are mingled.

Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.

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