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After a U-turn by President Obama, it would seem we (yes, I sometimes use the U.S. we) have reached the point of actually contemplating criminal responsibility for systematically authorizing torture of “War on Terror” detainees. It would seem that once again the flawed-but-awesome Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the bizarre nature of the state, which must both record everything and make up completely implausible justifications along the way, all deserve part of the credit. The camel’s-back-breaking straw seems to be this footnote in the May 30, 2005 memo:
The CIA used the waterboard “at least 83 times during August 2002″ in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of K[halid] S[haikh] M[ohammed], see id. at 91. (May 30, 2005 memo available from the ACLU)
As the paper trail is taken out from under a Bush administration coverup, we’re going to have to rewrite the entire narrative. In the process, we seem to be undergoing a moral transformation as well. As British reporter Phillippe Sands narrates it:
With a wide-ranging Spanish criminal investigation into torture at Guantánamo threatening to embarrass the US, Barack Obama decided to declassify legal memos sent under the Bush administration in the hope the country would move on. The opposite has happened. Ever more documents set out in meticulous detail the full extent of the cruelty: who was abused by whom, how they did it and what was done. The truth has been revealed in stark detail, from the number of times waterboarding was used to the legal deliberations that led to it. By Tuesday, President Obama had raised the possibility of US war crimes trials and far-reaching inquiries, developments that were unthinkable a month ago. (The Observer)
I’m not as hopeful that we’re really at a turning point on torture, as revealed by the unimpressive and unmoving poll results this week.
Currently, nearly half say the use of torture ["in order to gain important information"] is often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified; about the same proportion believes that the torture of suspected terrorists is rarely (22%) or never (25%) justified.
However, public exposure of the realities of Guantanamo, Bagram, the CIA Black Sites, and Clinton-initiated extraordinary rendition, can only be useful in transforming Americans into the morally aware creatures we have the capacity to be. [Homework assignment in that direction: listen to Maher Arar, the Canadian computer programmer "we" rendered to Syria describe his detention, torture, and its effect on his life. The compare "cramped confinement" as authorized in the 2002 and 2005 memos.] We might emerge with a bit less fear of the rest of the world and a lot less confidence in our (and our government’s) righteousness. If only the moral transformation would extend to the torture in our regular prisons and immigration detention centers…
For those of you as curious as I am how exactly the Justice Department has pursued its so-called terrorism cases (the sketchy Liberty City 7 case has been discussed here in the past), there’s now a fascinating look at one of the few “successful” prosecutions thus far: the Justice Department’s prosecution of the Detroit Sleeper Cell case. This American Life devoted an entire episode to Richard G. Convertino’s prosecution of four men of Middle Eastern descent for an alleged plot to attack Disneyland. Leaps of logic and imagining the worst appear to have combined with a zealous effort at prosecution. The case unraveled not due to any search for justice, but, it seems, due to internal Justice Department politics, which raise huge questions about public accountability. Reporter Petra Bartosiewicz’s The Best Terrorists We Could Find should make an interesting read when it comes out next year.
Meanwhile the FBI is proposing to let race and travel schedules tell them who is a terrorist, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights:
The proposed guidelines would give the domestic intelligence agency authority to investigate American citizens and residents without any evidence of criminal acts, relying instead on a “terrorist profile” that would include race, ethnicity and “travel to regions of the world known for terrorist activity” to spark an initial “national security investigation.”
These proposed guidelines would also allow, according to the reports, for FBI agents to ask “open-ended questions” about the activities of Muslim or Arab Americans, or investigate them if their jobs and backgrounds match other criteria considered to be “suspect.” Once this initial investigation stage was completed, a full investigation could be opened – allowing for wiretapping of phone calls or deep investigation of personal data – all guided merely by a “terrorist profile” that openly relies on race, ethnicity, religion and community connections.
Do something about it by pressuring Attorney General Mike Mukesey.
Inside the Green Scare
Elle Magazine has a profile piece of “Anna”, a young woman who volunteered to be an informant for the FBI on the anarchist scene. As it turns out, she was lurking at at least a couple of gatherings I’ve been to, the late 2003 protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami, and the 2004 RNC protests. The presence of a an infiltrator, pretending sympathy and often acting as a street medic, honestly, makes my skin crawl. It is all the worse for those she developed seemingly long-term relationships with, and worst of all for Eric McDavid, now sentenced to some 20 years in prison for something he never actually did, but was co-planning with FBI informant/pseudo-anarchist Anna.
And of course, it only strengthens the argument for those many times when the most compelling direct action strategy relies on bringing people in, and generating the numbers to do what a few people with the option of surprise can’t.
Anyway, you can now meet the informer, in Elle’s profile article, posted on Indybay for what seem to be solid fair use reasons. It would be unfair to not let people on Eric’s side respond, as one does anonymously here. See also Friends and Family of Eric McDavid.
p.s. More from CrimethInc.
Update: This is still one of the most visited articles on my blog. You can read a broader context on conspiracy charges as a tool of repression, and how to respond, in “The Age of Conspiracy Charges” (I wouldn’t go that far in naming it.).
And the Black & Brown Scare
Meanwhile the Liberty City 7 case, charging seven poor men in Miami with an “aspirational rather than operational” plot to attack the Sears Tower, gets ready for a third trial.
Serious coverage on that is also available at the Black Agenda Report.