Wednesday, June 09, 2004

How the Gloves Came Off 

Today's Article That Everyone Else Has Linked To Already: From the L.A. Times, the story of how Rumsfeld's office expressly authorized the torture of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh:
The instructions from Rumsfeld's legal counsel in late 2001, contained in previously undisclosed government documents, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush administration was willing to test the limits of how far it could go legally to extract information from suspected terrorists . . . .

What happened to Lindh, who was stripped and humiliated by his captors, foreshadowed the type of abuse documented in photographs of American soldiers tormenting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

At the time, just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. was desperate to find terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. After Lindh asked for a lawyer rather than talk to interrogators, he was not granted one nor was he advised of his Miranda rights against self-incrimination. Instead, the Pentagon ordered intelligence officers to get tough with him.

The documents, read to The Times by two sources critical of how the government handled the Lindh case, show that after an Army intelligence officer began to question Lindh, a Navy admiral told the intelligence officer that "the secretary of Defense's counsel has authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted."

Lindh was being questioned while he was propped up naked and tied to a stretcher in interrogation sessions that went on for days, according to court papers . . . .

In a series of memos from late 2001 to early 2002, top legal officials in the administration identified the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a safe haven offshore that would shield the secret interrogation process from intervention by the U.S. judicial system.

The memos show that top government lawyers believed the administration was not bound by the Geneva Convention governing treatment of prisoners because "Al Qaeda is merely a violent political movement or organization and not a nation-state" that had signed the international treaty.

However, the memos also show that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned the White House that a tougher approach toward interrogation "will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practices in supporting Geneva Conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general" . . . .

In court hearings and legal papers, his attorneys complained that he was deprived of sleep and food, that his leg wound was not treated, and that for 54 days he was neither allowed legal assistance nor told that his father had retained lawyers on his behalf in San Francisco.

Lindh's lawyers declined to comment on the matter this week, noting that a provision of his 2002 plea agreement stated he would not bring up the conditions under which he was held overseas.
Lindh, you will recall, was an American citizen.

Elsewhere, Billmon -- remarking on the CIA's long and distinguished history "as an instructor, funder, contractor and beneficiary" of torture, "if not an actual participant in the dirty deed itself" -- links to a Washington Post article that contains the following quote:
A former senior administration official said the CIA "was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.
All of which leads Billmon to the less-than-sanguine conclusion that
the net result of all the publicity generated by the scandal - the photos, videotapes, leaked memos, official mea culpas, half-assed denials, etc. - is not going to be the exposure and punishment of the guilty (except, of course, for those Abu Ghraib MPs dangling from the bottom of the food chain) or even a new-found commitment to respect the terms of the International Convention Against Torture.

Rather, I'm thinking all this is simply going to gradually desensitize the public and the media to the fact that their government is in the torture business in a global way, has been in it for years, and has absolutely no intention of getting out of it until the entire planet has been made safe for the American imperium.

Which, if present trends continue, will be roughly never - as even our metric-obsessed defense secretary is beginning to understand.

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