Prosecute the torture.

December 20, 2014

Prosecute The Torture (A German Update)

From the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights:
The ECCHR has today lodged criminal complaints against former CIA head George Tenet, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the administration of former US President George W. Bush. The ECCHR is accusing Tenet, Rumsfeld and a series of other persons of the war crime of torture under paragraph 8 section 1(3) of the German Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch).
If you're curious about paragraph 8 section 1(3) of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch, here it is in translation:
Whoever in connection with an international armed conflict or with an armed conflict not of an international character...treats a person who is to be protected under international humanitarian law cruelly or inhumanly by causing him or her substantial physical or mental harm or suffering, especially by torturing or mutilating that person...shall be punished..., with imprisonment for not less than two years.
And why Germany?  This is why:
The US Senate report devotes one section explicitly to the case of German citizen Khaled El Masri, who was abducted by CIA agents in 2004 due to a case of mistaken identity and was tortured in a secret detention center in Afghanistan.

The criminal complaint details the US Senate report’s finding that once the unlawful error was discovered, the former CIA director refused to take further steps against those responsible.
The Guardian had more:
Khaled El-Masri, a German national, was seized by Macedonian security officers on 31 December 2003, at a border crossing, because he had been mistaken for an al-Qaida suspect. He was held incommunicado and abused in Macedonian custody for 23 days, after which he was handcuffed, blindfolded, and driven to Skopje airport, where he was handed over to the CIA and severely beaten.

The CIA stripped, hooded, shackled, and sodomized el-Masri with a suppository – in CIA parlance, subjected him to "capture shock" – as Macedonian officials stood by. The CIA drugged him and flew him to Kabul to be locked up in a secret prison known as the "Salt Pit", where he was slammed into walls, kicked, beaten, and subjected to other forms of abuse. Held at the Salt Pit for four months, el-Masri was never charged, brought before a judge, or given access to his family or German government representatives.

The CIA ultimately realised that it had mistaken el-Masri for an al-Qaida suspect with a similar name. But it held on to him for weeks after that. It was not until 24 May 2004, that he was flown, blindfolded, earmuffed, and chained to his seat, to Albania, where he was dumped on the side of the road without explanation.
All that was done to an innocent man.  Yea, I'd say he was treated cruelly and inhumanely.  Remember he wasn't a terrorist.  They got the wrong guy and no one's been held accountable for it.

Back to the ECCHR:
ECCHR calls on Federal Prosecutor Harald Range to open investigations into the actions of Tenet, Rumsfeld and other perpetrators and to set up a monitoring process as soon as possible. This would allow the German authorities to act immediately in the event that one of the suspects enters European soil and not have to wait until such point before beginning the complex investigations and legal deliberations. [Emphasis added.]
The investigation should proceed and Bush/Cheney/Tenet et al should be arrested immediately upon arriving in any European country.  If the Obama Administration doesn't have the courage to follow the law, perhaps someone else does.

We should all be ashamed.  Ashamed that it happened to this man, ashamed that those in charge got away with it, and ashamed that it was all done in our name - to protect America and the American way of life.

Prosecute the torture.

December 18, 2014

More On Schwab's Ruling (As Viewed By The Trib)

My friends on the Tribune-Review editorial board published this this morning:
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab, sitting in Pittsburgh, has taken considerable heat in some legal circles for ruling that parts of President Barack Obama's deportation amnesty are unconstitutional. The rap against Tuesday's ruling is that it has little or no practical effect because it came in a technically unrelated criminal deportation case. Nonetheless, Judge Schwab's finding stings: “President Obama's unilateral legislative action violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause, and therefore is unconstitutional.” Credit the judge for having the guts to say so. And look for his legal rationale to be part of the eventual Supreme Court ruling that Mr. Obama truly is a constitutional reprobate. [Bolding in original]
While the braintrust acknowledges "the rap" about the ruling ("that it has little or no practical effect"), you should note that they don't come out and agree with that point.  They do, however, agree with the finding.

Which is odd, considering how one of their own sources on Constitutional Law, Ilya Somin, a libertarian (he's an Adjunct Scholar at the Scaife-funded Cato Institute) lawyer writing at Volokh Conspiracy seems to disagree:
Today’s federal district court decision striking down President Obama’s executive order on immigration has serious flaws. Strikingly, Judge Arthur Schwab attempts to dispose of a complex and important constitutional issue in just three or four pages. In the process, he ignores important weaknesses in his position.
And more damaging to the braintrust's argument:
If the Supreme Court were to adopt Judge Schwab’s reasoning, federal law enforcement agencies would be barred from issuing general systematic guidelines about how their officials should exercise prosecutorial discretion. The exercise of discretion would then become arbitrary and capricious. Alternatively, perhaps they could still follow systematic policies, so long as those policies were not formally declared and announced to the public, as the president’s order was. Neither possibility is particularly attractive, and neither is required by the Constitution.
In fact at Reason.com, Somin out right states:
In reality, Obama’s actions were well within the scope of executive authority under the Constitution. In a world where authorities can prosecute only a small fraction of lawbreakers, all presidents inevitably make policy choices about which violations of federal law to prosecute and which to ignore. Such choices are inevitably affected by policy preferences. Obama’s decision to defer deportation is in line with those of past presidents.
Can't these guys get their stories straight?

December 17, 2014

Non-Political Announcement

My brass quintet will be playing at Phipps Conservatory this Friday at 6:30.

It's a Christmas show and so we'll be playing mostly Christmas music (a couple of the arrangements are mine, in fact).

It's a half hour show, so don't be late!


December 16, 2014

"Brentwood Candlelight Vigil for All Victims of Police Brutality" Tonight


There will be a candlelight vigil tonight in Brentwood on behalf of victims of police brutality.

Via Facebook:
We are bringing it to Brentwood, where 19 years ago, black motorist Jonny Gammage was left dead after an altercation with FIVE suburban police officers, after which one of the officers involved was promoted to sergeant. Though not part of the City, Brentwood is a first-ring suburb and a powerful indicator of what is happening just outside of the City proper. To have a presence here would be meaningful. The site of the vigil is just a half block from the Brentwood Police Station and directly across the Brentwood Presbyterian Church. 
The fact is that a disproportionate number of African-American males are victims of police brutality. We don't want to erase victims who are female, or are Hispanic, White, Asian or any other nationality, but we will be focusing on the most imperiled group, which are young, African-American males. 
All are included and will be prayed for and remembered during this vigil and call to action that it MUST STOP. We will honor the names of as many victims as we can: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jonny Gammage. The list is just too, too, long. 
If you attend and are active on social media, please use the hashtag: #blacklivesmatter. 
This event will take place on the sidewalks outside the Brentwood Medical Group building on Brownsville Road, which sits on top of a stop on the Underground Railroad: http://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/what-can-you-tell-me-about-pittsburghs-role-in-the-underground-railroad/Content?oid=1334842   
There is parking along Brownsville Road and along side streets.
WHAT: "Brentwood Candlelight Vigil for All Victims of Police Brutality"
WHEN: Today, Tuesday, December 16th from 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
WHERE: Brentwood Medical Group, 3720 Brownsville Rd, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15227

For more information, please see the Facebook event page here.

Torture Follow-Up Questions For Senator Toomey

Now that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released its report showing Bush-era torture, it might be a good time to follow up on what some local Pennsylvania politicians have said regarding the torture.

Let's start, since he's approaching a re-election campaign, Senator Pat Toomey.

We visited this issue in 2010 where this happened:
However, on the hot-button issue of torture now under debate in Washington, Toomey twice refused to reveal his position on the interrogation method used on suspected terrorists which simulates drowning.

"My understanding is that [waterboarding] revealed some very, very important information that saved a lot of American lives," Toomey said Monday during a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, where he was the guest speaker.
Senator, please tell us, in light of the Senate report that found that:
At numerous times through out the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, CIA personnel assessed that the most effective method for acquiring intelligence from detainees, including from detainees the CIA considered to be the most "high-value," was to confront the detainees with information already acquired by the Intelligence Community. CIA officers regularly called into question whether the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were effective, assessing that the use of the techniques failed to elicit detainee cooperation or produce accurate intelligence. [Emphasis added]
 Do you still think that the torture revealed important information?  And if so, what?

And if you still believe that the torture was valuable, how do you square that assessment with the fact that it's against the law?  Is it not against the law simply because some say that it "saved lives" (even though the Senate report said it didn't)?

I think Pennsylvania voters are entitled to an answer to these questions.

December 13, 2014

Prosecute The Torture. Prosecute Bush, Cheney for The Torture

Ok, let's stick to the legal texts.

This is from the preamble to the UN Convention Against Torture:
Considering the obligation of States under the Charter, in particular Article 55, to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Having regard to article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which provide that no one may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,

Having regard also to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted by the General Assembly on 9 December 1975 (resolution 3452 (XXX)),
Here's the article 5 text from the Universal Declaration:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It was adopted by a vote of 48 to nothing with 8 abstentions.   The United States was one of the 48.

Here's the article 7 text from the International Covenant:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.
This was signed by President Carter in October, 1977 and ratified by the US Senate in June 1992.

And here's the Declaration - adopted by the United Nations in 1975 - and its definition of torture:
For the purpose of this Declaration, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession, punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating him or other persons.
And it includes this Article:
No State may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
And that's just to add some background information to the UN Convention Against Torture.

And here is some of what Ronald Reagan signed in 1988:
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
And:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
And now let's look at what happened (From the Senate report via vox.com):
On August 5, 2002,...CIA Headquarters authorized the proposed interrogation plan for [Redha] al-Najjar, to include the use of loud music (at less than the level that would cause physical harm such as perman hearing loss), worse food (as long as it was nutritionally adequate for sustenance, sleep deprivation, and hooding.

More than a month later, on September 21, 2002, CIA interrogators described al-Najjar as "clearly a broken man" and "on the verge of a complete breakdown" as result of the isolation. The cable added that al-Najjar was willing to do whatever the CIA officer asked.
And:
Of the 119 known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held and did not meet the detention standard in the September 2001 Memorandum of Notification (MON). These included an "intellectually challenged" man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information...
And:
Sleep deprivation invlved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experience disturbing hallucinations during prolinged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.
And so on...

Regardless of any claim that the torture "produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives" these acts are clearly against BOTH international and US law.  Clearly, these acts are cruel, inhumane and antithetical to any moral value that can be truly considered American.

Simply following orders is not a defense when it comes to torture.  Saying there was a national emergency is no excuse for ordering such reprehensible acts.  No one who committed them should be considered patriotic for having done so.

These are serious crimes and history demands prosecution; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of them who instituted and or participated in the torture need to be brought to justice.  If this country lacks the political will to do so, then shame on any pragmatist who feels that looking forward is more important than looking backward. That national shame brought on by the torture will forever be on their hands if they don't prosecute.

We used to be the good guys.  Not any more.  Not while the torturers walk freely among us.

Prosecute the torture.

One last thing to contemplate: the Senate report more or less guarantees the torturers a permanent internal exile.  Consider article 7, paragraph 1 of the UN treaty:
The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.
So if say, George Bush wants to go on vacation most anyplace else on the planet, there's a provision in the law for him to be arrested and tried for war crimes.

As it should be.  As it should be done here.

December 11, 2014

Yea, Torture Works...

From The Intercept:
Buried in footnote 857 of the report is this remarkable account of how the CIA rendered a detainee to an unknown country, had him tortured, and then used the false information he provided about Saddam’s WMDs and “alliance” with al Qaeda to justify the U.S. attack, including information used by Colin Powell at his notorious 2003 U.N. speech
The tortured, a Libyan national named Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim, saying that he only told the torturers what he thought they wanted to hear.

Yea, it worked wonders.  How many American servicemen and women dead?  How much money wasted or otherwise misspent?  How much pain and suffering followed from the illegal, immoral and unconscionable torture?

As Andrew Sullivan wrote:
There should, in my mind, be no debate about prosecutions for war crimes. Seriously, can you imagine the US opposing such prosecutions if they were in a foreign country? Besides, the US’ clear international and domestic legal obligations admit of no exception for the prosecution of those credibly accused of torture – let alone of those, like Cheney, who have openly bragged about it. It specifically bars any exception in the case of national emergency. Not to prosecute because of such an emergency is therefore to end the Geneva Conventions – which is what Obama has effectively done. He must not be let off the hook for that fateful step – and what it does to the core meaning of the United States.

From now on, the US is a human rights violator of the first order under international law, a rogue state that has explicitly tortured innocent people and never held anyone legally responsible. I know that sounds terribly harsh. But how is it untrue?
Indeed.

Prosecute the torture.

December 10, 2014

Can We Prosecute NOW?!?!?!

From the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson:
The summary of the Feinstein report which was released this afternoon confirms what the international community has long believed - that there was a clear policy orchestrated at a high level within the Bush administration, which allowed to commit systematic crimes and gross violations of international human rights law.

The identities of the perpetrators, and many other details, have been redacted in the published summary report but are known to the Select Committee and to those who provided the Committee with information on the programme.

It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.
Yes, but they believed they had the authority, right?  I mean the OLC drafted a memo or two saying it was OK, right?  I mean even if subsequent officials in charge decided the memos were less than valuable, at the time they believed their now-criminal actions to be OK, right?

And the president even gave the order to waterboard, so it must've been OK, right?

Uh, no.  From Emmerson, again:
The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.

International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes.

As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.
Furthermore, The President says:
The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.

The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called "universal jurisdiction." Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.
Wait. Obama said THAT?!?

Um, no.  That would be President Ronald Reagan, when he signed the law in 1988.

Torture occurred.  We've known that for a while.  Reagan signed the UN Convention against torture that requires the prosecution of the torturers (both the people who did it and the people who ordered it).

For the sake of our stained national honor, for any claim to be a nation of laws, for any claim to be a beacon for all those who must have freedom, President Obama:
Prosecute the torturers.
This is your legacy, now.