We, as prisoners, or detainees, we weren’t just the victims at Guantánamo. There are also guards and camp staff, were also victims of Guantánamo itself. You know, that war situation or condition brought us together and proved that we’re all human and we share the same humanity, first.
This is the verdict of Mansoor Adayfi, who had been abducted as a teenager, imprisoned, interrogated and tortured, kept in solitary confinement, force-fed, and finally released without charge from the CIA gulag of so-called ‘black sites’. Speaking to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, he continues:
Also, Amy, a simple question: What makes a human as a human, make Amy as Amy, make Mansoor as Mansoor, makes the guys in there as individual and person, you know? What makes you as a human, and uniquely, is your name, your language, your faith, your morals, your ethics, your memories, your relationships, your knowledge, your experience, basically, your family, also what makes a person as a person.
At Guantánamo, when you arrive there, imagine, the system was designed to strip us of who we are. You know, even our names was taken. We became numbers. You’re not allowed to practice religion. You are not allowed to talk. You’re not allowed to have relationships. So, to the extent we thought, if they were able to control our thought, they would have done it.
So, we arrived at Guantánamo. One of the things people still don’t know about Guantánamo, we had no shared life before Guantánamo. Everything was different, was new and unknown and scary unknown, you know? So, we started developing some kind of relationship with each other at Guantánamo between — among us, like prisoners or brothers, and with the guards, too, because when guards came to work at Guantánamo, they became part of our life, part of our memories. That will never go away. The same thing, we become part of their life, become memories.
Before the guards arrived at Guantánamo, they were told — some of them were taken to the 9/11 site, ground zero, and they were told the one who has done this are in Guantánamo. Imagine, when they arrive at Guantánamo, they came with a lot of hate and courage and revenge.
But when they live with us and watch us every day eat, drink, sleep, get beaten, get sick, screaming, yelling, interrogated, torture, you know, also they are humans. You know, the camp administration, they cannot lie to them forever. So the guards also, when they lived with us, they found out that they are not the men we were told they’re about. Some of them, you know, were apologizing to us. Some of them, we formed strong friendships with them. Some of them converted to Islam.
The military rules is cruel. And they treat those guards as a product, not humans, you know? Even those guards, when they — some of them went to tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When they came back, we saw how they changed. When I grew up and became my thirties, when they used to bring younger guards, I looked at them as like younger brothers and sisters, and always told them, like, “Please, get out of the military, because it’s going to devastate you. I have seen many people change.”
Adayfi, the author of the new memoir, Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo, says Guantánamo was not only constructed as a prison and torture site but reminds us how under the direction of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, it was used as a US research lab for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (EIT) and other forms of unusual punishment of detainees. Moreover, when army captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, had courageously spoken out against these crimes, he was in turn falsely accused of stealing classified documents, denounced and punished as a collaborator:
I remember, the first time I talked to James Yee, I was taken to the interrogation room, stripped naked, and they put me in a — we call it the satanic room, where they have like stars, signs, candles, a crazy guy come in like white crazy clothes reciting something. So, they also used to throw the Holy Qur’an on the ground, and, you know, they tried to pressure us to — you know, like, they were experimenting, basically. When I met James Yee, I told him, “Look, that won’t happen with us that way.”
James Yee tried to — he was protesting against the torture at Guantánamo. General Miller, the one who was actually developing enhanced interrogation technique, enhanced torture technique, saw that James Yee, as a chaplain, is going to be a problem. So he was accused as sympathizer with terrorists. He was arrested, detained and interrogated. This is American Army captain, a graduate of West Point University, came to serve at Guantánamo to serve his own country, was — because of Muslim background, he was accused of terrorism and was detained and imprisoned. This is this American guy. Imagine what would happen to us at that place.
So, when they took James Yee, we protested. We asked to bring him back, because the lawyers told us what happened for him after like one year. We wrote letters to the camp administration, to the White House, to the Security Council, to the United Nations — to everyone, basically.
Today Mansoor Adayfi works as the Guantánamo Project coordinator at CAGE, an organization that advocates on behalf of victims of the ‘war on terror’. Wearing an orange scarf during the interview, he says he likes to wear orange – inside the camp he had been told by a psychologist then whenever he saw the colour, it would traumatise him again, to which his response was, “No, this is part of my life, and I will never let Guantánamo change me.” Adayfi and his fellow inmates also found solace in music and painting:
People who were at Guantánamo, they were artists, singers, doctors, nurses, divers, mafia, drug addicts, teachers, scholars, poets. That diversity of culture interacted with each other, melted and formed what we call Guantánamo culture, what I call “the beautiful Guantánamo.”
Imagine, I’m going to sing now two songs, please. Imagine we used to have celebrate once a week, night, to escape away pain of being in jail, try to have some kind of like — to take our minds from being in cages, torture, abuses. So, we had one night a week, in a week, to us, like in the block. So, we just started singing in Arabic, English, Pashto, Urdu, Farsi, French, all kind of languages, poets in different languages, stories. People danced, from Yemen to Saudi Arabia, to rap, to all kind. It’s like, imagine you hear in one block 48 detainees. You heard those beautiful songs in different languages. It just — it was captivating.
However, the interrogators took it as a challenge. We weren’t challenging them. We were just trying to survive. This was a way of surviving, because we had only each other. The things we brought with us at Guantánamo, whether our faith, whether our knowledge, our memories, our emotions, our relationships, who we are, helped us to survive. We had only each other.
Also, the guard was part of survival, because they play a role in that by helping someone held sometimes and singing with us sometimes. We also had the art classes. I think you heard about the — especially in that time when we get access to classes, we paint. So, those things helped us to survive at that place.
Hope also. Hope, it was a matter of life or death. You know, you have to keep hoping. You know that place was designed just to take your hope away, so you can see the only hope is through the interrogators, through Americans. We said, “No, it’s not going to happen that way.” So we had to support each other, try to stay alive.
Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.
Additional: the case of Abu Zubaydah, the first post-9/11 CIA torture victim
On Wednesday [Oct 6th] The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case brought by Abu Zubaydah, the Guantánamo prisoner who was the first subject of the CIA’s torture programme. Zubaydah’s legal team has spent years trying to obtain testimony from two psychologists, Drs James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who helped the CIA design and implement his torture, and the Biden administration is continuing the Trump’s administration strategy to keep key information about Zubaydah’s torture in Poland classified despite the fact that the two psychologists are willing to testify:
On Thursday, Democracy Now! spoke with Abu Zubaydah’s attorney, Joe Margulies, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Raymond Bonner, who has long followed the case – the segment is embedded above.
Raymond Bonner, who assisted Alex Gibney in making a new documentary, The Forever Prisoner, about the case, provides the background story on how Abu Zubaydah – the first terrorist suspect captured after the 9/11 attacks – was quickly rendered to a secret site in Thailand, where he was then subjected to relentless bouts of torture:
Soon after he got there is when James Mitchell and then Bruce Jessen showed up and began the interrogation. And as Joe just pointed out, it was very interesting yesterday in the argument to hear, and Justice Barrett included, talking straight about torture. What happened to Zubaydah was torture. There was none of this euphemisms like EITs, you know, enhanced interrogation techniques. And he was the guinea pig, in a way. This is where Mitchell designed the program and tested the program of torture.
You know, Amy [Goodman], it’s always struck me that a lot is made of the 83 times he was waterboarded. If you read what was done to him, read in the government cables that were sent at the time, I mean, to me, the waterboarding was almost benign. I mean, they kept him sleepless. They put him in a small coffin-sized box for hours, overnight. He couldn’t move. They hung him by the cell bars with his feet dangling off the ground. I mean, it got to the point it was so bad, that Mitchell would just snap his fingers, and Zubaydah would act, would get onto the waterboard. I mean, what they did to him was far worse, in my view, than waterboarding.
And then, when journalists started to get onto the story about a secret prison — and you’ve got to remember, this was back in 2002, and we didn’t know about secret prisons and black sites. And when they found out about it and started to ask questions, then the CIA moved him to Poland, and quietly, of course, secretly, which leads to the case, as Joe has described, that’s in the Supreme Court, that was heard in the Supreme Court yesterday.
But if I could say one more thing about yesterday’s argument, in addition to the three points Joe raised, I was gobsmacked when they started asking the lawyers about Zubaydah’s habeas petition. Fourteen years ago — Justice Roberts asked about it, too: “Well, hasn’t he filed a habeas petition?” Yes, he has — 14 years ago. And Joe Margulies was his lawyer then. Fourteen years, and the court has yet to rule on his habeas petition. And it’s — “unprecedented” is always dangerous to say, because somebody will find a case that’s taken longer than 14 years. But it’s just staggering that for 14 years you have had two judges have now had the case in the D.C. District Court, the federal court in Washington, D.C., and they’ve yet to rule.
You know why? The cables are there. Because in 2002, Mitchell and the CIA interrogators in Thailand sent a cable to Washington saying, “We’re about to do these EITs,” the torture of this guy. “He might die,” they said. “He might die. And if he does, we’re going to cremate him. And if he doesn’t, we want assurances that he will never be in a position to tell his story.” And Langley cabled back: “You have the assurances of everyone here that he will be held incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” And that is exactly what is happening. We’re never going to hear from Abu Zubaydah. I would be stunned if he’s allowed to testify.
After this spell in Thailand, Zubaydah had then been transferred to a ‘black site’ located somewhere in Poland. His lawyer, Joe Margulies picks up the story:
What Ray describes is exactly right, but what he’s describing is the torture that took place in Thailand, which was the first black site. Abu Zubaydah was the first person thrown into a black site, the first person to have his interrogation, quote, “enhanced.” And we know a fair amount about what happened to him at Thailand.
But we don’t know what happened to him in Poland. We know that, in testimony, James Mitchell described it, just said that Abu Zubaydah was treated very shabbily. But he uses those kind of euphemisms for the most grotesque torture. And that’s all he says. But no one has ever questioned him about what went on in Poland. The Polish prosecutor knows where the site was. He knows when it operated. But inside the cell, he doesn’t know. There were only three people there. It was Abu Zubaydah, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. And they won’t let Abu Zubaydah testify. So if we’re going to get at what happened there, we have to get it from James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who, I should say, are perfectly willing to provide this testimony. When we sought their testimony in this case, they said, “We have no objection. We’re happy to tell you. We’re happy to sit down for a deposition.” It was the United States government that intervened and said, “No, their testimony is a state secret, and you can’t have any of it.”
The other thing I would want to observe — it’s important to remember this — even Mitchell and Jessen, when they were torturing him in Thailand, after six days of virtually 24-hour-a-day torture, they decided that they were done, that they had emptied the content of his head. And they had concluded that they had gotten all the information they needed from him, or all the information he had left — he had to give. And they cabled that to CIA headquarters in Langley. And Mitchell believes it was Jose Rodriguez who cabled back — someone in the Alec Station — who, in James Mitchell’s words, “You guys are a bunch of pussies. You’ve got to continue this. Blood is going to be on your hands if there’s another attack. Keep torturing him.” And so they did, for another two weeks. And what they eventually concluded is that Abu Zubaydah was telling the truth all along. Contrary to what they believed when they started torturing him, he was not a member of al-Qaeda. He had no involvement with the planning for 9/11. He’s never been a member of al-Qaeda. He is ideologically opposed to al-Qaeda, which is what he had been saying. And they eventually concluded that that was true.
The suppression of information relating to this case as well as the denial of justice continues under Biden, just as it did under Trump. As Margulies says:
Our litigation began during the Trump administration. And the Trump administration sought the review in the United States Supreme Court, and there was the passing of the baton between Trump and Biden, while the case was pending. And the Biden administration picked up the Trump administration’s argument and doubled down on it. So, there’s no — there’s no window. There’s no air between the two administrations.
Click here to read the full transcript or watch the same interview at the Democracy Now! website.
Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi was also tortured and detained for 13 years without charges
The United States repatriated Lotfi al-Arabi El Gherissi, to Tunisia on June 15, 2015, after 13 years in custody without charges or trial. El Gherissi, 52, here recounts being severely beaten with batons, threatened with an electric chair, subjected to various forms of water torture, and being chained by his arms to the ceiling of his cell for a long period. He has received no compensation or support for his wrongful detention or the torture he endured. At the time of filming in October 2016, he was destitute, unable to work, and experiencing the consequences of serious physical and emotional trauma that he says is a direct result of his treatment in US custody:
The only person to have been put on trial and convicted forany reason relating to America’s use of torture against prisoners is the former CIA analyst John Kiriakou. Kiriakou was the first insider to disclose the use of waterboarding and like many whistleblowers, he paid a heavy price.
Three years ago, in January 2012, just weeks after Obama had signed his name under the now notorious NDAA 2012 with its “indefinite detention” clauses, Kiriakou had been formally charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act as well as the Espionage Act of 1917 – and please note that under Obama’s administration, this act has been used to bring more indictments against whistleblowers than under all other presidents combined. A year later, after a plea deal had been reached with federal prosecutors, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The judge at the trial described Kiriakou’s sentence as “way too light.”1
Kiriakou was recently released from prison, although he remains under house arrest while finishing his two-and-a-half-year sentence. And following his release, he was interviewed from his home on yesterday’s Democracy Now! These are selected excerpts from what he had to say, beginning with the extraordinary case of Abu Zubaydah.
During his capture in Pakistan, Zubaydah was shot three times and gravely wounded. He was then sent to a secret location, where the CIA brought in a trauma surgeon from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center to treat him:
When we first captured him, we took him to a hospital, a military hospital in Pakistan. He had lost so much blood, we needed to transfuse him. And he was initially in a coma. He came out of the coma a couple of times, and we were able, at first, to just exchange an initial comment, later on, in the next couple of days, to have short conversations. For example, when he first came out of his coma, he asked me for a glass of red wine. He was delirious. Later in the evening, he asked me if I would take the pillow and smother him. And then, the next day, we talked about poetry. We talked about Islam. We talked about the fact that he had never supported the attacks on the United States. He wanted to attack Israel.
Well, he was sent from Pakistan to this secret location. And once he was healthy enough to withstand interrogation, a group of CIA interrogators—I’m sorry, a group of FBI interrogators interviewed him, appeared to have been successful in gathering some information, but then were replaced by CIA interrogators, that we’ve now learned were untrained, unprepared, and was subjected to waterboarding in addition to other torture techniques, placed into a cage. He had a fear of bugs, so they put him in a small box and put bugs in the box with him. He was subject to a cold cell, to lights on 24 hours a day, booming music so that he couldn’t sleep. There were several different things that the CIA did to him.
Torture is wrong under any circumstances. You know, we know from the Second World War, when the Justice Department was interrogating Nazi war criminals, we know that the establishment of a rapport, the establishment of a relationship with someone, results in actionable information, if that prisoner has actionable information which he’s willing to give. That wasn’t the case with Abu Zubaydah. He was beaten. He was waterboarded. He was subject to sleep deprivation. He had ice water poured on him in a 50-degree cell every several hours. The man just simply didn’t have any information to give.
I learned initially that he had been waterboarded in the summer of 2002, at the end of the summer of 2002. And as I said in the 2007 interview with Brian Ross, I believed what the CIA was telling us, that he was being waterboarded, it was working, and we were gathering important, actionable intelligence that was saving American lives. It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true—he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific.
It was in 2007, Amy [Goodman], that I decided to go public. President Bush said at the time, categorically, “We do not torture prisoners. We are not waterboarding.” And I knew that that was a lie. And he made it seem as though this was a rogue CIA officer who decided to pour water on people’s faces. And that simply wasn’t true. Torture—the entire torture program was approved by the president himself, and it was a very carefully planned-out program. So to say that it was rogue, it was just a bald-faced lie to the American people.
Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded no less than 83 times and yet we now know that he provided no useful information as a result. He remains imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge.
I will return to Kiriakou’s interview later. But first would like to address the bigger issues here. For instance, why does Guantánamo remain open at all, especially since more than half of its inmates have long since been acquitted of terrorist charges? Leaving aside the logistical and legalistic excuses, one of the unspoken reasons concerns us all. It is the same reason Obama was determined to surreptitiously sign into law the NDAA 2012. And part of the reason why we are seeing no serious repercussions following last December’s release of the long-delayed Senate reportwhich detailed the horrendous catalogue of crimes committed by the CIA (and only those committed by the CIA – which actually lets the Pentagon off the hook): crimes of torture nowadays chillingly redefined as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
Reading through those horrendous descriptions of what the spy agency has routinely been doing to prisoners in the name of “freedom and democracy” is painful. Not that these “revelations” come as much of a surprise. Other than the most lurid details, we already knew all of this, didn’t we? But then think about it this way, and imagine for a moment the public outcry if an ordinary citizen (a civilian, to use the preferred label attached by today’s news media) confessed to having chained their victims to a wall, repeatedly half-drowned them and also forcibly inserted a variety of objects into their anus (so-called “rectal feeding” is an abuse more straightforwardly described as rape). Such an individual would rightly be publicly judged to be a depraved monster and hurriedly locked away in a very secure facility (somewhere not so very different from Guantánamo, but without the torture regime). Yet instead, these open admissions of crimes committed by an extremely depraved “intelligence” arm of our terribly depraved system are met with little more than a grimace and a whimper. After the obligatory week of media coverage, the news of this systemic cruelty has largely been forgotten, and in spite of the weight of harrowing evidence, it appears that no-one at all will be prosecuted.
With Kiriakou locked away in jail for speaking out of turn, here is what CIA Director John Brennan had to say by way of apology for those most heinous of crimes:
CIA Director John Brennan has defended the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation methods but admitted some techniques were “harsh” and “abhorrent”.
Speaking at CIA headquarters, he said some officers acted beyond their authority but most did their duty.
So begins a report from BBC news entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy”. The implication being that torture is a “strategy”. Well, yes, if we listen to neo-con voices such as John Brennan, echoed without contradiction thanks to the drones at the BBC. But before returning to the BBC and their article, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of John Brennan’s prior approval of the CIA’s use of torture. Indeed, it helps to go back two years to his Senate confirmation hearing when he was appointed CIA Director. The following is taken from a Guardian article published in February 2013:
Brennan faced lengthy questioning over the CIA’s abduction and abuse of alleged terrorists at secret “black sites”, following a confidential 6,000-page Senate report that Brennan described as “very concerning and disturbing” in its evidence that the agency misrepresented and lied about the value of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. […]
Brennan defended an interview with CBS in 2007 in which he said that IETs [sic] “saved lives” by gathering valuable intelligence.
“The reports I was getting subsequent to that and in the years after that, it was clearly my impression it was valuable information that was coming out,” he said.2
In nominating John Brennan to head the CIA, President Obama has made it more urgent that the report be declassified. It is one of several sources that could help us to answer an important question: Are the American people being asked to entrust our clandestine spy agency and its killing and interrogation apparatuses to a man who was complicit in illegal torture?
There is strong circumstantial evidence that the answer is yes. At minimum, Brennan favored rendition and what he called “enhanced interrogation tactics” other than waterboarding. As Andrew Sullivan put it in 2008, when Obama first considered Brennan as CIA chief, “if Obama picks him, it will be a vindication of the kind of ambivalence and institutional moral cowardice that made America a torturing nation. It would be an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters and his ideals.”3
Incidentally, this latest release is merely a 525-page summary of the aforementioned 6,000-page report. Two years after it was approved by Senate, the full report remains highly classified. In any case, the White House needed time for the torture-happy Hollywood fantasy Zero Dark Thirty to seep deeply into the American collective unconscious before any part of this lesser report could be publicly released. Think I exaggerate…? Well then read how the Huffington Post reported on the story two years ago:
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 on Thursday to approve a report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program that could shed light on the debate over torture. But for now, even as the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty” stirs up public debate about the use of harsh interrogation tactics, declassifying the report to prepare for its release to the public could take months, if not longer. […]
While “Zero Dark Thirty” suggests that a critical piece of information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden was extracted from a prisoner by using “enhanced interrogation,” top senators speaking to The Huffington Post dismissed the proposition.
Nevertheless the idea that torture can provide valuable information was very helpfully implanted by the film – and it is still being repeated by Brennan and his ilk. Just as a different meme was being embedded at the very same time, and in this case by neo-con apologist Dianne Feinstein:
“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement after the vote. “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”4[my bold highlight]
So we are supposed to swallow this ludicrous defence that torturing was a terrible mistake. Just an accidental error of judgement. Which it obviously isn’t and never could be. And so let’s come back to the BBC newsreportalready quoted above, because it then continues:
Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose committee produced the report, said torture should now be banned by law. 5
But torture IS banned by law! It is already against the law because it was ‘banned’ (i.e., criminalised) a long time ago. For instance, “cruel and unusual punishments” are in direct violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. On top of which, torture contravenes the UN Convention against Torture that was signed by President Reagan in 1988 and then ratified by the Senate in October 1990. But more importantly, torture is internationally outlawed under the Geneva Conventions and legally defined as a war crime. So why does the BBC insist on perpetuating this kind of claptrap?
Deliberate or not (I leave the reader to judge), uncritical repetition of this sort of nonsense as if it were impartially reporting facts serves to acclimate readers to accept the unacceptable and to tolerate the intolerable. Torture may or may not be a necessary evil, they imply in this way, but regardless of the ethical concerns it was lawfully sanctionable. As I say, this is absolute rubbish – and patently so.
Incidentally, John Kiriakou describes Senator Feinstein as “one of the CIA’s leading supporters on Capitol Hill”. He adds: “So for Dianne Feinstein to come out with a report as critical as this report was just shows you how wrongheaded the CIA torture program was.”
But now we must come to an even more shocking illustration of how public perceptions are being shifted and reframed. And the author on this occasion happens to be Anthony Romero, who is none other than the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
BEFORE President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.
But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal. 6
I will not bother to outline the kinds of doublethink which encourage Mr Romero to reach such a startling and illogical conclusion. If you can stomach any more then I direct you read his New York Times op-ed.
So what we have in summary is one extremely shocking although highly redacted text that has been released in such a fashion as to make believe the rule of law is extant. As with child abuse, the offending authorities have taken care to draw an historical line so as to make it appear a problem of past failures. Torture was “a mistake”. And thus, like a fashion that disappeared for no more discernible reason than footballers stopped wearing moustaches and perms, all the torturing has since stopped, or so we are encouraged to believe (in spite of ample evidence to the contrary that the ‘black sites’ never went away), because the perpetrators, who were previously misguided in the actions, have since spontaneously and miraculously come to their senses.
After John Kiriakou had heard about the release of the Senate report whilst in jail, he says that “like most other Americans, [he] was absolutely shocked and appalled at some of the details”:
We need to prosecute some of these cases. I understand that reasonable people can agree to disagree on whether or not case officers who really believed they were carrying out a legal activity should be prosecuted. I understand that. But what about case officers who took the law into their own hands or who flouted the law and raped prisoners with broomsticks or carried out rectal hydration with hummus? Those were not approved interrogation techniques. Why aren’t those officers being prosecuted? I think, at the very least, that’s where we should start the prosecutions.
(Incidentally, I do not agree with everything Kiriakou says in this interview.) 7
The BBC may feel obliged to keep up this pretence that torture is not in itself illegal, and one of the largest civil rights organisations may actually believe that even though torture was and is illegal, for legal reasons it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, but as it happens John Kiriakou begs to differ. Likewise, I believe that the proper response must be to demand criminal prosecutions for those who were most responsible: beginning from the top with Cheney and Bush and working down. Kiriakou also believes that Cheney should now be tried and he makes this perhaps more important point:
We’ve seen Vice President Cheney, we’ve seen former CIA directors, several of them, former senior CIA officers go on the network news programs and defend, defend, defend their actions during the torture regime. The reason that they’re doing that is because torture is their legacy. When their obituaries are written, those obituaries are going to say that they were instrumental in the torture program. And the only thing they can do at this point to save their reputations is to keep repeating this lie that torture worked and hope that the American people eventually believe it.
Yes, torture is still being normalised. Doubtless, for the reason Kiriakou states above, but also because there remains a sinister determination by some at the top to undo the well-established justice process and take us back into the dark ages. So the horror of December’s report is not entirely contained within the text per se, but very much exists within the surrounding subtext too. That under a given pretext (which our never-ending “war on terror” usefully sustains) torture can be inflicted with absolute impunity on whosoever America and her close allies deems an enemy, because might is right and the rule of law be damned.
Click here to watch the interview or read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.
If you are wondering in what ways our own authorities in Britain have also been complicit in these torture programmes, then I recommend reading an article by former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, published in the Daily Mail last December, immediately following the release of the summary of the Senate report. It begins:
In the summer of 2004, I warned Tony Blair’s Foreign Office that Britain was using intelligence material which had been obtained by the CIA under torture. Two months later I was sacked as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan on the orders of Downing Street, bringing to an end my 20-year diplomatic career.
When I then went public with the news that Uzbek territory was part of a global CIA torture programme, I was dismissed as a fantasist by Mr Blair’s henchmen. Now finally, a decade later, I have been vindicated by last week’s shocking Senate Intelligence Committee report.
Over 500 pages it details the CIA’s brutal abuse of Al Qaeda suspects, who were flown around the world to be tortured in a network of secret prisons. One of these was in Uzbekistan, where the US had an air base.
Murray continues later:
The British Government continues to cover up the truth even today. We should not forget that the climate of public and media opinion which made it possible for this US Senate report to be published at all was generated entirely by the work of whistleblowers. I was the first of these, but at least I remain at liberty: two subsequent whistleblowers – soldier Chelsea Manning and CIA agent John Kiriakou – are serving long stretches in prison. Although it is in no way comparable to the horrifying abuses suffered by the torture victims, we truth-tellers have also been through hell.
It is very strange to now hear Westminster politicians calling for a judicial inquiry into our involvement in rendition. There has already been one, headed by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson. He started to gather evidence, and ordered the Foreign Office to give me full access to all the classified documentation on the subject from my time as Ambassador. Indeed, Gibson gave every appearance of being a man of integrity, appointed to lead an investigation into governmental wrongdoing.
It was therefore no surprise when the Gibson inquiry was cancelled and his duties handed to politicians on the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. Incredibly, its members include Hazel Blears, one of Tony Blair’s Ministers at a time when the Government had a policy of using intelligence from torture. She is therefore investigating herself.
No wonder a source on the Intelligence and Security Committee told journalists last week that they would only scrutinise members of the security services, not the politicians who instructed them.
He concludes with a call for both Tony Blair and Jack Straw to be put on trial:
Recent scandals, such as the alleged cover-up of an Establishment paedophile ring, highlight the apparent impunity of our political class in the face of the honest forces of law and order.
We don’t need an inquiry into British complicity in torture. We need a trial. And it should be Tony Blair and Jack Straw in the dock.
7Kiriakou adds that: “I understand that President Obama is not going to seek the prosecution of the CIA leaders who carried out the torture, the case officers involved in the day-to-day torture program. I understand that. The lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, I understand. No problem. But what about the CIA officers who directly violated the law, who carried out interrogations that resulted in death? What about the torturers of Hassan Ghul? Hassan Ghul was killed during an interrogation session.”
I strongly disagree with him on these points. All those in charge must be prosecuted and the lawyers who sanctioned these crimes doubly so.
The UN human rights office has condemned force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay, calling it ‘torture’ and a breach of international law. At least 21 inmates out of the 100 officially on strike are being force-fed through nasal tubes.
Click here to read more from an article published by Russia Today yesterday.
Shockingly, the majority of the inmates still incarcerated at Guantánamo – 86 of the 166 – have long since been cleared of all terrorism charges by the Obama administration and so are legally entitled to return home. These prisoners continue to languish at Gitmo simply as a consequence of diplomatic and procedural constraints.
Little more than a month ago, I put together a short post drawing attention to the plight of the prisoners who remain trapped at Guantánamo, and to the fact that the majority of those inmates were involved in a mass hunger strike; a protest, which having started on February 6th, was by then already past its fiftieth day. At this time, the officially reported number was only 26 of the inmates, but this figure was totally dismissed by lawyers with access to the prisoners who were already aware that the true number exceeded a hundred.
The official figure has been steadily rising ever since. So by April 13th, according to The Pentagon at least, the hunger strike involved up to 43 prisoners.1Little more than a week later, on April 22nd, another BBC news report raised the official figure of prisoners on hunger strike to 84.2And then, by April 24th, that official figure had grown once more “with Gitmo authorities saying only 92 detainees are taking part in the hunger strike”.
On the same day, Russia Today‘s Sara Firth spoke with Clive Stafford Smith, who is currently representing 15 Guantánamo prisoners, including the last remaining British resident Shaker Aamer held indefinitely at the camp. He told them:
I spent my whole life representing people on death rows. I’ve been to most of the death rows of the southern states of America. Guantánamo, for all the nonsense that the military puts out about it, is worse than any death row I’ve ever been to on two different levels. First you’ve got the physical treatment of the prisoners. There is no prison in the US, where you can beat a prisoner and not get sued until next millennium. So it’s worse because no one controls the military. But on the other level it’s far worse psychologically.
The military got upset when we called Guantánamo a gulag, because they don’t like the echoes of the Soviet Union and the old days. To take that analogy a bit further, which I think is totally fair, I don’t think that there was a gulag in the Soviet Union where 52 percent of the prisoners had been told that they were cleared for release but they couldn’t go. That sort of torture is worse than anything. Shaker was told he was cleared in 2007 by Bush, 2009 by Obama and he is still there. And there is no legitimate reason why he can’t come back to London tomorrow.
The Foreign Secretary [William Hague] wrote to me saying that he’d been told by the Americans that Shaker is only cleared to go to Saudi Arabia, not to Britain. But that’s total drivel. There is no other prisoner, I know of 166 people in Guantánamo, who has only been cleared to go to one place. Shaker has never been told he has only been cleared to go to one place. He’s been given two notices neither of which says that. And there is a reason for it. And the reason is that they want to gag him. The US wants him to go to Saudi Arabia on the promise that the Saudis will keep him banged up forever, he won’t be able to talk to the media, he won’t talk to anyone.
So certainly the US would like to keep Shaker quiet because of everything he has seen and everything that’s happened to him. But I’m very much afraid that it’s also the British intelligence services who want to keep him quiet, because they know that Shaker is a witness against them. Going down to Bagram airforce base in January 2002 the British saw him and were legally complicit in his torture there. But also Shaker saw Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi being tortured and this is the most embarrassing example America has ever had. So the last thing that the British or Americans want to come out of the Guantánamo Bay is Shaker Aamer, who can shed some lights on the torture that led to catastrophic mistakes. […]
He was one of the first five prisoners held by the Americans in Bagram and he was taken there just before New Year 2001. Al-Libi had just been taken and the Americans at the time thought that he was a big Al-Qaeda person, which he wasn’t even a member of. The Americans were abusing him to try to get him to make statements. Shaker was taken from the cage, where he was held, into the room where al-Libi was being abused. He saw the people who were there, he can identify some of those people. The British were present in Bagram at that time. And he can tell you a whole lot about what was going on in terms of abuse of al-Libi. Now al-Libi can’t speak for himself, because he was sent back to Libya, where he according to the Libyans died or according to the other people was murdered. One extraordinary embarrassing witness has disappeared and Shaker is one of the few people that remain.
Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Russia Today website.
Click here to follow RT’s day-by-day timeline of the Gitmo hunger strike.
Clive Stafford Smith is a person I have greatly admired for many years. He had initially trained to be a journalist, but then, following a summer spent meeting death row inmates — an experience that reinforced his original abhorrence of capital punishment — he came to the dramatic conclusion that he might achieve more by legally defending them instead of simply writing about them. Following this revelation, he retrained in law and set up his own legal practice.
During the decades since, Stafford Smith, who became founder and director of Reprieve, has represented more than 300 prisoners facing the death penalty in the southern United States. And then, when the preposterous “War on Terror” was launched and the hooded men in orange boiler suits began to be unloaded and dumped into the cages at Guantánamo without due process and their human rights violated, Stafford Smith turned his attention to helping these “enemy combatants” – the majority of whom, he quickly realised, were not merely being detained without charge, but entirely innocent of any involvement in terrorist activities. Up to now, he has helped secure the release of 65 Guantánamo Bay prisoners as well as others across the world who have been detained and tortured in black prisons such as Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, Afghanistan.
Here is Clive Stafford Smith speaking at a recent conference and sat alongside some of the prisoners he has helped to release, including Sudanese journalist Sami al-Hajj who was picked up in Afghanistan by the Pakistani army whilst on assignment with Al Jazeera, and ended up being held in Guantánamo without charge for more than six years.
The very epitome of the eternal optimist, it seems that almost nothing can dull Stafford Smith’s enthusiasm and sense of humour, or dent his belief that we will eventually reach a better future. He finishes on a characteristically upbeat point saying “We’re going to win this battle, it’s just a matter of when”:
On January 20th 2010, just one year after Obama’s inauguration, Clive Stafford Smith had been invited to speak at the Frontline Club with regards to the situation at Guantánamo Bay as well as the detention facilities at Bagram and Abu Ghraib. The proceedings were moderated by BBC correspondent Jon Manel.
One of the underlying issues back then was to what extent had Obama helped in propelling the United States away from the Bush administration’s use of torture and extraordinary rendition? In my view, and certainly with hindsight, Clive Stafford Smith is rather too generous when it comes to Obama’s record, but overall what he had to say was as insightful as ever:
It is a frankly staggering but barely reported fact that the majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay – 86 of the 166 – have actually been cleared by the Obama administration to leave. Indeed, only a tiny fraction of the remaining “detainees” – as few as 34 – are ever likely to be charged by the US government. Yet, in spite of this, the more than fifty percent being held without any charge against them, still see little or no prospect of release after more than a decade of false imprisonment.
To highlight their continuing plight some of these inmates (and I will return to numbers in a moment) decided to go on hunger strike. A mass protest that started on February 6th and which is now into its eighth week. So far, however, the mainstream media has mostly ignored their protest altogether, with only Russia Today consistently reporting on the deteriorating situation at Guantánamo.
Democracy Now! also featured a report just over a fortnight ago on Wednesday March 13th, and this is what Pardiss Kebriaei, senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights as well as counsel for Ghaleb Al-Bihani, one of the hunger strikers, told us back then:
He [Ghaleb Al-Bihani] said what we’ve heard from every other detainee who has communicated with his lawyer since February, which is that there is a large-scale hunger strike in Camp 6, which is the largest of the facilities at Guantánamo. That prison holds about 130 men. He said that almost everyone, except for a few who are sick and elderly, are on strike.
He himself had lost over 20 pounds. He is a diabetic. His blood glucose levels are fluctuating wildly. He told me that medical staff at Guantánamo have told him his life is in danger. And he and others want us to get the word out about this.
At this time, the official version was that “only five or six” prisoners were involved in the hunger strike, but here’s Pardiss Kebriaei again:
They have downplayed the scale of the strikes and have said that there are only a handful on strike and only a handful being tube-fed. It may be a matter of semantics: the way that Guantánamo authorities define people on hunger strike is largely discretionary.
But what we have heard from every habeas counsel who has been down to the base or communicated with their clients since February is the same, which is that there is a large-scale strike, men are refusing food.
Click here to read a complete transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.
And here’s a more recent Russia Today article from Monday [March 25th]:
US officials initially denied that a strike was taking place at all.
“As you recall, they started off by saying, ‘no one is on hunger strike, just five or six people who have been on the hunger strike for many years’. Then that figure was revised up to 14 and now we are seeing the figure steadily increasing, but to nowhere near the extent that the prisoners’ lawyers are talking about,” investigative journalist and author of ‘The Guantanamo Files’ Andy Worthington told RT.
Currently the officially-acknowledged number of Gitmo detainees on hunger strike has reached 26 people, according to the US Defense Department. Eight of them are being force-fed, which means they are administered food in the form of a nutritional supplement through a hose snaked into their nose while they are restrained in a chair.1
Click here to read more from the same Russia Today report or to watch video of the report.
Hidden away on the BBC website, you can also find this report from yesterday:
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is urgently sending a doctor to Guantanamo Bay because of a growing hunger strike among detainees.
The ICRC says the doctor and another group member are flying to Guantanamo a week earlier than planned “because of the current tensions” there.2
The same BBC article also reports that officially 31 of the 166 prisoners are now on hunger strike. The official figures rising as news of the hunger strike slowly leaks out… but why so slowly. Here are the thoughts of outspoken British MP George Galloway talking on Russia Today (and published in the same article):
“Nobody else is talking about this subject. If this were happening in Russia, if people disappeared into an illegal black hole in Russia and were facing indefinite incarceration, without trial, without charge and without access of attorneys, we’d never hear the end of it. The Western media would be full of it. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, they’d be screaming from the rooftops of Westminster.
But because this is an American crime, they’re allowed to get away with it. Because the people that control the so-called mainstream media are fully on side with the agenda of the Obama administration.”
Whatever you may think about Galloway, it is hard to deny the truth of much that he has to say. And the fact that during the past fifty days, our own media outlets have consistently declined to draw any serious attention to this important story ought to be a cause for concern for all of us.
Incidentally, I happen to be on the emailing lists of both Amnesty International and Avaaz and neither organisation has sent any news about the mass hunger strike taking place at Guantánamo, let alone any campaigns calling for action to be taken. Shame on both organisations.
The following is a Russia Today report from January last year, marking the tenth anniversary of the opening of Gitmo at Guantánamo Bay:
On May 16th, District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan made a preliminarily ruling in favour of a group of seven civilian activists and journalists, which included Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, and perhaps most prominently, former New York Times war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.
The plaintiffs had argued that a section of the NDAA 2012 bill, which had been signed into law by President Barack Obama late on New Year’s Eve, was in violation of “both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”1
… saying that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the law and that it was “extraordinary” for her to have restrained future military operations that might be ordered by the commander in chief during wartime.2
In case you’re not sure, by the way, the US commander in chief is the President. And yes, just like Bush, Obama obviously sees himself as a “war president”. After all, he’s still fighting that preposterous “war on terror”, which rumbles mercilessly on and on, forever and ever, as it inevitably must – “terror” being such a deliberately ill-defined adversary.
Bravely, Judge Forrest stood her ground:
As part of that request, the government said in a footnote that it was interpreting her injunction narrowly as applying only to the handful of people specifically named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Chris Hedges, a journalist who interacts with terrorists as part of his reporting work, and several prominent supporters of WikiLeaks.
But on Wednesday [June 6th], Judge Forrest said that her order still stood — and that, contrary to the government’s narrow interpretation of it, her injunction applied broadly and not just to the named plaintiffs.
“Put more bluntly, the May 16 order enjoined enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) against anyone until further action by this, or a higher, court — or by Congress,” she wrote. “This order should eliminate any doubt as to the May 16 order’s scope.”3
And then, on September 12th, Judge Forrest made permanent her order that blocked enforcement of the provision within NDAA 2012:
The permanent injunction prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a portion of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions.4
However, the Obama administration came rushing back again, and on Monday [Sept 17th] won an emergency suspension of the ruling that was now blocking their indefinite detention provisions:
The Justice Department, which represents U.S. President Barack Obama, argued the judge’s September 12 injunction barring enforcement of a portion of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions would harm U.S. war efforts abroad. […]
Monday night’s order by Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier said the district court’s order is stayed until an appeals panel considers the issue.
Carl Mayer, a lawyer for Hedges, said Tuesday that the order was procedural and “we are confident the district court opinion will be vindicated.”5
On Tuesday [Sept 18th], Democracy Now! covered the issue of the Obama administration’s appeals against Judge Forrest’s rulings on NDAA 2012, as well as Obama’s continuing use of indefinite detention at Guantánamo.
Amy Goodman spoke to Marcy Wheeler, investigative blogger who runs the website emptywheel.net. Wheeler told her:
Just last night, the Second Circuit did issue a stay in that. So, Friday night, the judge issued an injunction saying you can’t hold anybody according to this NDAA. The government immediately said they were going to appeal. There are some interesting legal issues about whether the government appeal—should have been able to appeal, but nevertheless, judges in this country continue to say, you know, “As soon as the president says ‘national security,’ we’re going to do whatever you say.” And they did that in this case. They’ve issued—they’ve issued a stay, which means they can go ahead and use the NDAA.
And what it means is this kind of vaguely defined—the government hasn’t even been able to define it—this vaguely defined category of people who substantially support al-Qaeda, Taliban, other terrorist organizations can be indefinitely detained. U.S. citizens, Obama has said, wouldn’t be held in military custody, but there’s a lot of gray area there, and I think people are right to be concerned.
Of course, Obama is far from alone in endorsing the tyrannical and unconstitutional NDAA 2012. Here’s what presidential rival Mitt Romney had to say when asked if he would have signed the act:
Yes, I would have. And I do believe that it’s appropriate to have in our nation the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country, who are members of al-Qaeda. Look, you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues, but you don’t have a right to join a group that has challenged America and has threatened killing Americans, has killed Americans and has declared war against America. That’s treason. And in this country, we have a right to take those people and put them in jail.
The highlight in bold is mine, of course, added to drew attention to what civil rights campaigners and all true constitutionalists are constantly up against – that like it or lump it, America remains at war… Romney being eager to pick up where Obama left off, as the next war president.
So these are the two guys running for office and heaven help us all! As bad as Obama has been during his four years in the White House, we can only expect Romney to be at least as bad, and judging from what we already know, a good deal worse again.
To get some measure of just how bad Romney could be, here’s Marcy Wheeler again, taking a closer look at a few of the people now installed around him:
You know, as problematic as Obama has been on things like indefinite detention, when you look at Romney’s aides, they’ve got people like Cofer Black6, who really invented the counterterrorism program that we’ve been using since 9/11. You’ve got Steven Bradbury”7, who was one of the writers of the—
Amy Goodman: Cofer Black, who used to be an official with Blackwater.
Yeah, he went from the CIA to the State Department to Blackwater. But he’s the guy who invented targeted killing, who invented torture, who invented—I mean, he’s the architect of our entire counterterrorism program—top Mitt Romney aide. You’ve got Tim Flanigan8, who’s another one of the architects of the torture program. So, if you you look at the people who are close to Mitt Romney, and if you look at what he said—he’s also said that he thinks we should bring back torture—it’s clear that, if anything, he’s going to be worse than Obama on these issues. We don’t—we don’t have a great choice on these issues at the top of the ticket in November.
Nothing can really change in America until the “war on terror” is officially ended. A ‘war’ that is without any sense or direction, although undoubtedly useful when it comes to justifying the old wars, and with the dangerous potential for sparking new ones: Iran, very evidently, now in the cross-hairs. And aside from keeping the war machine ticking over, the “war on terror” also continues to provide cover for the escalating assault against all of our individual rights and freedoms – so perfectly encapsulated in the current legal battle taking place over NDAA 2012.
“The war against terror is like the war against dandruff, I mean it’s a metaphor. It doesn’t mean anything…” said the late Gore Vidal, but in truth it’s even less meaningful than that, since when it comes to dandruff we at least know what we’re looking for.
For further information about NDAA 2012 and the Hedges vs Obama legal battle visit www.stopndaa.org
Click here to read more of the transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.
Carl Mayer, an attorney with The Mayer Law Group and legal counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, spoke with Russia Today on September 14th:
In brief, Mayer says:
“[The Obama administration] plan to appeal this to the Second Circuit and probably ultimately to the Supreme Court. We think this is ill advised because it contradicts President Obama’s campaign statements, it contradicts his criticism of his own legislation in his signing statement and he knows, as a former constitutional law professor, that this is wholly unconstitutional.” […]
“Because the language is so vague in this law,” Mr. Mayer explains, “if any journalist or activist is seen as reporting or offering opinions about groups that could somehow be linked not just to al-Qaeda but to any opponent of the United States or even opponents of our allies” they could be imprisoned indefinitely.
“I think they are ill advised to appeal this at all,” he tells Russia Today. “The Obama administration has now lost three times. They lost the temporary injunction, they lost the motion for reconsideration and they lost the hearing for permanent injunction. I say three strikes and you’re out.”
Click here to read a more complete transcript or to watch the interview on the Russia Today website.
6If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, his trusted man inside the intel community will almost certainly be Cofer Black, a retired CIA officer best known for running the agency’s counterterrorism center on 9/11. […] Early in his career, Black was credited with doing much of the street work that led to France’s apprehension in Khartoum, Sudan, of the master terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal. After the 9/11 attacks, according to Bob Woodward’s first book in his series about the Bush presidency, it was Black who briefed the president on the CIA’s war plan for Afghanistan. He’s also the guy who promised to leave al Qaeda’s operatives with “flies walking across their eyeballs.”
7 “Steven G. Bradbury is one of three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos enabling the Central Intelligence Agency to use harsh interrogation methodson terrorism suspects. […] The first of the memos, from August 2002, was signed by Jay S. Bybee, who oversaw the Office of Legal Counsel, and gave the C.I.A. its first detailed legal approval for waterboarding and other harsh treatment. Three others, signed by Mr. Bradbury, sought to reassure the agency in May 2005 that its methods were still legal, even when multiple methods were used in combination, and despite the prohibition in international law against “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment. Mr. Bradbury was serving as the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.”
Taken from an article published by the New York Times and updated on April 22, 2009.
8“The torture memos recently released by the Obama administration have focused interest on three of their authors: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury. However, there’s another lawyer involved in the creation of the torture memos whose name hasn’t yet come into the discussion — Timothy Flanigan.
Flanigan did not work for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel like the others. He was a deputy to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in 2001-02, when he helped craft some of the earliest justifications for the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture”
A few months ago, as I was out buying some milk from the local convenience store, I was quite stunned to read the headline story in the local paper:
ARMED police forced a busy Sheffield road to close after marksmen swooped on a car while hunting for a suspect.
City Road, between Wulfric Road and Cradock Road, was blocked by police cars holding up trams, buses and motorists.
Eyewitnesses told The Star the officers searched local businesses and police appeared to be focusing on a vehicle on City Road.
Tram passenger Stewart Dalton said his journey was interrupted when an unmarked police car stopped ‘abruptly’ outside a barber’s shop, blocking the tramlines.
He said several other police cars with armed officers arrived ‘within seconds’, and ordered customers out of the shop at gunpoint.1
Another eyewitness, Steve Smith, was also interviewed:
Mr Smith said the police officers arranged themselves in a circle as they surrounded the vehicle.
“There were officers with hard hats, big rifles and stun guns. There were a lot of people looking at what was going on.”
Mr Smith added he saw ‘at least three’ marksmen and felt concerned after seeing the incident develop.
“I’m quite shocked to see something like this happening,” he said.
Having been shaken a little just reading about such an incident so close to my home, those who actually witnessed the events first-hand must have been shocked in the extreme. Armed police “order[ing] customers out of the shop at gunpoint” to be “frisked and held until the incident was over”. Obviously there was a good reason for this excess show of police force…
A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman confirmed officers stopped a vehicle on the road yesterday morning ‘in relation to an ongoing policing operation’.
“Armed officers assisted as a matter of precaution, the road was temporarily closed for about 30 minutes but was fully re-opened at around 10.40am. No arrests have been made and inquiries continue. Police would like to reassure the public they can safely go about their daily business.”
What? No arrests. And no national news reports. Click here to read the full article in The Star.
I recall this story because I was reminded of it on hearing about the M6 Megabus fiasco on Thursday morning [July 5th]. Here’s the story from BBC news, which begins “Armed police swooped on a coach on the M6 Toll motorway in the West Midlands”2:
[Earlier,] Armed police officers could be seen next to the single-decker coach on the southbound carriageway, as passengers were led off one by one.
Passengers were made to sit on the northbound carriageway, apart from one another, while surrounded by officers.
Sniffer dogs and forensic officers were also brought in to aid the search, as officers in forensic suits and others in military fatigues checked the area.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed military personnel were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure.
One of the passengers on the bus told the BBC that she had no idea what was going on, that she didn’t see anything supsicious [sic], and wasn’t told why they were pulled over.
She was made to sit cross-legged on the tarmac and still was not told what was happening. She said the whole experience had been very “scary and frightening”.
And the reason this time…?
A police source told BBC Radio WM a passenger was seen pouring a liquid into a box, which then started smoking.
That was enough apparently for calling out police from the West Midlands and Staffordshire forces, not to mention the fire service and ambulance crews. It was enough to close carriageways in both directions on one of our busiest motorways for four hours, to bring in sniffer dogs and forensic teams, and most disturbingly “military personnel [who] were assisting police, at their request, under routine procedure”. Yes, under routine procedure! On this occasion, one of the eyewitnesses, Nick Jones, who was four vehicles behind the coach when police stopped traffic told the BBC:
“I’ve never seen so many ambulances turning up, also armed police, helicopter and dozens of police cars.”
Another eye-witness Barry Jarvis said:
“It was very puzzling as to what was going on at first as there weren’t that many police there.
“It was only after 20 minutes or so when all these unmarked cars [were] coming through that we thought something major was happening.”
I think it is fair to conclude that “something major was happening”, but what was the actual reason for such a staggering show of police and military strength. Well, here’s a BBC news article posted just a few hours later:
Staffordshire Police have said they are not linking an incident on the M6 Toll motorway with terrorism.
Superintendent Dave Holdway from Staffordshire police confirmed that no-one was being treated as a suspect and the case was “not being treated as counterterrorism at this time”.3
So no arrests again. But plenty of sound and fury signifying nothing. Then some empty (or should I say ‘robust’) apologies and reassurances that this “multi-agency response” was “swift”, which it was, and “proportionate”, which it blatantly wasn’t.
Click here to read the complete BBC news article and watch video of the police statement.
This latest incident has since caused me to recall a different occasion when the police took exception to a coach load of passengers, although not because “they had received a report from a genuinely concerned member of the public”, but because the passengers in question were heading off for an anti-Iraq War protest outside the RAF Base in Fairford, Gloucestershire. Although the passengers on this occasion [March 2003] represented no threat whatsoever, the coaches were nevertheless held up for two hours by a hundred riot police, whilst the passengers and their possessions were searched under the Terrorism Act. Denied their right to protest they were all then “escorted” back to London.
This incident neatly book-ends Chris Atkins’ excellent film Taking Liberties (released in June 2007 and freely available online). It’s a documentary that should be watched by everyone who is concerned by the on-going erosion of our civil liberties (and that really should be everybody living in Britain right now), and it’s also a film that’s well worth watching a second time, as I discovered a few nights ago:
You can watch the complete documentary here on Ustream (albeit annoyingly interrupted by advert breaks).
Back then, the Terrorism bills were already being used against peaceful dissenters, and this is something I had personally experienced in the days immediately prior to the London bombings.
A mini-G8 summit had come to Sheffield. It was an event that passed off almost unreported but, and in spite of the lack of media exposure, a hundred or so peaceful protesters ventured out into the city centre. Once there, we were confronted by a large number of regular police officers. Police marksmen had also been stationed on many of the rooftops. The regular police formed a line of blue across Fargate, the main shopping street, and for whatever reason (since the site of the actual meeting was unknown to most of us) the protesters assembled in front of them. A little later, three vans filled with riot police pulled up. These promptly disembarked and assembled into another line that looked on menacingly. In the meantime, the main police line allowed protesters and others to cross through but only from one direction. When a friend of mine tried to go back to where he had originally come from, he was told that if he continued he would be arrested. “Under what law?” he’d asked. The Terrorism Act was the answer, of course.
A week or so later, I’d also encountered another high-visibility police presence around the Edinburgh march against the actual G8 summit, with even more marksmen and more officers pointing their cameras towards us. This protest again represented no threat whatsoever to the G8 meeting, which was in any case being held some miles away at Gleneagles. Indeed, it was an almost embarrassingly non-confrontational assembly. What little bite it might have had – and it didn’t have much once the organisers had decided, in their infinite wisdom, to banish politics for the day and focus only on the vacuous demand to “Make Poverty History” – was entirely stolen by Bob Geldof’s simultaneous and self-aggrandising “Live 8” gig. “What the hell was all that about?” I wondered after we’d returned to our hostel – why did any of us even bother to turn out at all? But I am digressing.
Guardian journalist Rachel Shabi wrote a brilliant article previewing the protests at the G8, although one that I came across only later, which perfectly conveyed my feelings at the time. In the same piece, she also detailed the new measures being brought in to stifle “illegitimate” protests (as opposed to the all-too-legitimate protest I’d been a part of), as well as the extraordinary level and cost of security that had been put into place around the Gleneagles summit itself:
We are about to witness how “illegitimate” protest is dealt with at the G8 summit. Already, anti-G8 protesters-to-be say they have been intimidated by police and now fear attending demonstrations. Hundreds of individuals have been filmed going into public meetings held by peaceful protest groups. More have been searched, visited at home, had notes and computers seized, and been offered cash rewards for information on other protesters.
Meanwhile at Gleneagles, rings of steel fencing surround the hotel grounds. More than 10,000 police will be in force, along with a reported 2,000 US marines, an SAS team and specially trained snipers. The area will be riddled with roadblocks and exclusion zones – protesters aren’t allowed to march near the hotel. All this security is estimated to cost around £100m. We can’t tell for sure because there’s a blanket information ban on preparations for the summit.4
As if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, and slap bang in the middle of the G8 summit, we were hit by the London bombings. Blair immediately rushed back to the capital and, before you could say Jack Straw (or on this occasion Charles Clarke), we were being made ready for yet another draft of anti-terrorist legislation: The Terrorism Act 2006. With a few strokes of the pen, still more of our civil liberties had been stolen from us, and all in the name of security.
Comparing these recent incidents to the situation back in 2007, when the horrors of the July 7th bombings of 2005 (which also feature in Atkins’ documentary) were still fresh in our minds, and it’s not difficult to see how the world has changed again. The most staggering example being the security measures at this year’s Olympics. Anti-aircraft missiles on top of London flats and battleships in the Thames. Welcome to Airstrip One!
The Overton Window, that narrow range of ideas that the general public responds to as acceptable, is being stretched again and again, just a little wider each time. A racheting up that started in Britain even before the September 11th attack thanks to Blair’s first Terrorism Act that was passed in 2000. And ever since then, no crisis is wasted, no opportunity missed.
At this point, I’d like to make a comparison. Anyone over the age of about twenty will be uncomfortably familiar with the threat of IRA atrocities. The IRA were a very real and ever-present danger. A group who in October 1984 had bombed the party in government at the Grand Hotel in Brighton and on a second occasion, in February 1991, mortar bombed John Major’s official residence in Downing Street. The ordinary person also had good reason to be concerned, public spaces having been frequently targeted throughout the seventies, eighties and well into the nineties.
Back then our governments had properly advised everyone to keep alert. Keep a look out for unattended luggage; this was the main thing. A few sensible precautions and nothing more. No paranoia descended over our nation. No calls for heavyweight legislation (at least not on the UK mainland). But then, of course, for much of that period we had enough on our minds already with the other very real threat of Cold War annihilation.
So the old bogeyman was the Soviet Union, but that apparently went away – in fact it didn’t, but that’s another story. Meanwhile today’s official bogeyman is al-Qaeda, which is actually quite an improvement when you think about it. After all, al-Qaeda don’t have the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. They just have a few fanatics with home-made bombs – so just why are we being told to be more afraid than ever?
Since September 11th, right throughout the whole period of this ludicrous “War on Terror”, successive British governments have all been behaving hysterically. Amplifying public fears in order to make wrongful arrest and imprisonment appear justified as necessary evils. This endless war against an altogether nebulous and shape-shifting enemy has also been used to justify and permit such truly Orwellian measures as indefinite detention in places like Guantanamo Bay, where facilities are soon to be upgraded at a cost of $40 million, along with “extraordinary rendition”, which also continues under Obama.
Click here to watch the same interview and read a transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.
When torture becomes permissible on the grounds that it is necessary to defend our freedom then it doesn’t take a genius to understand that we are rapidly approaching the rocky shores of La-La Land. Which brings me back to the events of Thursday morning on the M6. Troops of armed police and military closing a motorway because someone on a coach was looking a bit suspicious, or, as the official story now has it, “smoking a fake cigarette” .
If an emergency response of this kind had happened twenty years ago I feel sure that it would have caused a storm of public outrage. Twenty years ago it would also have been considered absolutely unacceptable for police, let alone military officers, to hold perfectly innocent citizens at gunpoint. These days, however, a lame apology is deemed more than sufficient for the matter to rest. The media are quick to move on, the passengers feel happy just to be alive (or so we are informed), and meanwhile the message has been reinforced that we all just need to “keep calm and carry on… following orders”; the Overton Window having been pushed an inch or two wider again.
Fear, Joseph Goebbals once said, was the approach the Nazis had used to keep control of the German people. A cast-iron way of controlling the masses, it was fear that helped to instill compliance and stifle the voice of all who opposed the tightening bonds of tyranny. Fostering fear was simply the easiest and most effective way to keep the people in their boxes. It still is.
The following message from Amnesty International comes on the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay ‘detention camp’. At a time when Obama is slackening the rules to allow indefinite detention without trial of US citizens with the new provisions of NDAA 2012 (see earlier post), it calls on people from around the world to send a message to Obama to keep his original election promise of closing Guantánamo:
Today marks a decade since the first detainee was transferred to the US detention centre at Guantánamo Bay. Ten years, some 779 detainees, numerous torture allegations and a string of broken promises later, 171 men remain behind bars at the camp.
Most detainees have never been charged with a crime and have no sense of when they might face trial, if at all.
President Obama has failed to come true on the promise he made two days after taking office to close Guantánamo Bay. So we need to collect at least 100,000 signatures globally to send a powerful message that we’re tired of his excuses.
The US authorities must either charge the remaining detainees, granting them a fair trial, or release them unconditionally.
Ten years of Guantánamo Bay means ten years of human rights abuse. It’s been ten years too long. Sign the petition
In April 2007, Naomi Wolf published an article in the Guardian entitled: “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.1
Her article began:
If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways.
But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.
As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.
Of course, we no longer have the spectre of a Bush administration, and barely a year had elapsed after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s wake-up call, before the election of Barack Hussein Obama meant we should worry no longer.
Obama, with his offers of “change we can believe in”, and mantra of “hope” and “progress”. Surely, he would undo the damage of the Bush years. Surely those 10 steps that Wolf outlined would begin to be retraced. However, with the tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11 fast approaching, has anything really changed?
Let me begin from Wolf’s own analytical breakdown of the Bush Years, applying her same criteria to Obama’s term in office, point by point, before considering what, if any, new threats we may now be facing.
1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.
We still live in a world deformed by the events of 9/11. John Ashcroft’s so-called Patriot Act still stands, and on February 27th 2010, Obama signed a one-year extension of the act.
The three sections of the Patriot Act that Obama agreed to extend included:
Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, which is a non-US citizen engaged in terrorism who many not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
Allow court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations2
Then, on May 26th, 2011, just minutes before another deadline, Obama approved a further four-year extension of the Patriot Act powers, maintaining provisions for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves”.3
Where Bush played up the threat from Al Qaeda, according to Obama, the bigger threat is now from “lone wolves”. So whereas the Bush administration justified civil rights infringements on the grounds that it needed to protect America from Al Qaeda, Obama is saying that America’s most wanted are no longer external enemies, but those with altogether more domestic grievances, and with a very different agenda than Holy Jihad. In making this claim he has widened the net, and set the stage for even tighter restrictions on the civil liberties. 2 Create a gulag
Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.
At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.
In spite of Obama’s election pledge, Guantánamo remains open. But Guantánamo is, in any case, just one of many secret (or at least out-of-sight) US detention centres still operating around the world. There is, thankfully, less talk of the need for torture. Torture is almost a dirty word again. The Obama administration prefers to talk of “enhanced interrogation” and “debriefing”. But does anyone seriously believe that torture (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) is no longer sanctioned at Guantánamo and in those other darker corners.
Undoubtedly, the most high-profile case of the Obama years involves the detention of alleged wikileaks source Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year in the Quantico marine base in Virginia awaiting court-martial in what have been described as “degrading and inhumane conditions”:
Under the terms of his detention, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called “prevention of injury order” and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.4
However, and as Mehdi Hasan writing for the Guardian in April of this year points out, the case of Bradley Manning represents only the tip of the iceberg:
[But] it wasn’t a Republican Congress that forced [Obama], for instance, to double the size of the Bagram facility – where human rights groups have documented torture and deaths – and deny prisoners the right to challenge their detention. He did that on his own. Bagram is Obama’s Guantánamo.5
More recently, Jeremy Scahill has also shone light on CIA operations at secret sites in Somalia:
Meanwhile, Obama has consistently refused to allow the prosecution of those who openly called for and approved the use of torture, and has thus failed to draw a necessary line under the crimes of the previous administration.6
3 Develop a thug caste
When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.
The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.
It’s hard to get precise numbers here due to the covert nature of many US operations, but it seems that the Obama administration has actually increased the use of “military contractors”. For instance, by June 2009, although the number of military contractors in Iraq was reduced, in Afghanistan, it rose to almost 74,000, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point.7 Under Obama, the use of mercenaries has also spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan.8 In March 2011, there were more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than “uniformed personnel”.9
4 Set up an internal surveillance system
In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.
In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.
In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.
So that was Naomi Wolf in September 2007, and here is Charlie Savage reporting for The New York Times in June 2011:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.
Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.10
More generally, as National Journal correspondent, Shane Harris, explained to Democracy Now! in February 2010, spying on US citizens has actually become easier under the Obama administration’s national security strategy:
Click here to read the full transcript of the interview. 5 Harass citizens’ groups
The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.
Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”.
The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.
And again, here is Charlie Savage from the same article of June 2011:
The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.
The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.
This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.
In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA] confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens. […]
It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.
About a year after Obama took office, in January 2010, the “watch” and “no-fly” lists were expanded to “improve our watchlisting system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks”.11
There are videos all over youtube which show how searches conducted by TSA contractors are in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Even children are now subjected to routine harassment. Here, for example, a distraught mother watches as her six-year-old girl is searched, presumably for explosives, by TSA ‘officers’:
7 Target key individuals
Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.
Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.
Perhaps the most high-profile case since Obama took office has been attempts to prosecute National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. According to The New Yorker, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to press criminal charges in a total of five alleged instances of national security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.12
Democracy Now! spoke to former Justice Department whistleblower, Jesselyn Radack, about the case of Thomas Drake in May 2011:
Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.
In June 2011, on the eve of the trial, the whole case against Thomas Drake was dropped:
Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.
Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. […]
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth.
In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.
“Who cares what the media says about anything? They are bought and paid for a thousand times over. They couldn’t tell the truth if they could find it.” So said Gore Vidal in October 2006.14
Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.
But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat. The following extract is taken directly from the wikipedia entry on Cass Sunstein, who, in September 2009, was appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the original footnotes to references are preserved)15:
[Cass] Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled “Conspiracy Theories,” dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from “cascades” of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”, where they suggest, among other tactics, “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.” They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as “extremist groups.”
Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting “nongovernmental officials”; they suggest that “government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes,” further warning that “too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.” Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, “might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.” This position has been criticized by some commentators, who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens. Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.
So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?
Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.
9 Dissent equals treason
Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”.
wrote Wolf back in 2007, and as we have seen the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 on more occasions than any other administration.
There is also the continuation of the “Threat Fusion Centers” created under Bush, which been found guilty of targeting, amongst other groups, anti-war activists:
In late February, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.16
Wolf’s analysis continues:
And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.
Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)
We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done.
In 2009, the Military Commissions Act was amended to “remove some of its worst violations of due process”, but, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions.”17:
[The Military Commissions Act of 2009 ] continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children.
After legal challenges and pressure from federal judges, in March 2009, the Obama administration “jettisoned the Bush-era term ‘enemy combatant’ but maintained a broad right to detain those who provide ‘substantial’ assistance to al-Qaeda and its associates around the globe.” A report from the Washington Post continues:
Many human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday that the administration had not made a more radical change in tactics and policies.
Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, “It’s symbolically significant that he’s dropped the term ‘enemy combatant,’ but the power to detain individuals within the ‘indefinite detention without charge’ paradigm remains substantially intact.”
The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama’s team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration.18
Click here to read the full article. 10 Suspend the rule of law
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens. […]
Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.
Section 1076, which allowed the President to declare a public emergency and station the military anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, was repealed in 2008. But then, on January 11th 2010 “in order to strengthen the partnership between federal and state governments in protecting the nation against all manner of threats, including terrorism and natural disasters,” President Obama signed an Executive Order, which established a body of ten state governors directly appointed by Obama to work to help advance the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States” (see item (d) from section 2).
So does this open the door again for US troops to be brought in to control civil unrest in the aftermath of a national emergency? Well, the US Patriot Act is still in operation, which means that the US remains in a state of emergency.
Obama then has not substantially moved away from the policies he inherited from Bush. Nearly everything that Bush & co put into place following the 9/11 attacks remains in place, and so if Wolf is right, then America is just as close to tyranny as it was before his election. But actually there are reasons to belief that the situation is even worse, and that brings me to steps 11 and 12.
11 Collapse of the economy
Wolf wrote her article in April 2007. But it was only later, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, when the seriousness of the current banking crisis first became apparent to most people. The response of the Bush administration was the shameless and underhand Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which was signed into law on October 3rd 2008.19 But we should also remember that the whole TARP, which came in two stages, involved a total banker bailout of $700 billion, and the second half of this money was cleared by Obama’s incoming administration.20
Bailing out the “troubled assets” hasn’t worked and never could. It was intended to save the bankers, or at least prop them up a while longer, but following the TARP and then quantitative easing QE1 followed by QE2, America, along with the rest of the developed world, is still heading towards outright financial meltdown. As Alan Greenspan correctly pointed out at the time of all the hoo-hah about raising the debt ceiling, there is no danger of a debt default because the US can always print more money. But how much more is needed? And how long before QE3 or even QE4? If they print enough then America faces the prospect of hyperinflation, and of course hyperinflation was precisely the final straw that collapsed the Weimar Republic and allowed Hitler to come to power. The lesson from history is a stark one.
12 Rule by a Super Congress
Another piece of the fallout of last month’s raising of the debt ceiling fiasco, was the largely unreported establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This new “Super Congress” which consists of twelve members of Congress, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Obama retaining an overall right to veto, is mandated to make proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In the event that Congress then refuses to pass those proposals, “a trigger mechanism” will enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts:
This “Super Congress” of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. They must make their recommendations by Thanksgiving, then the congress must have up or down votes with no changes. A simple yes or no vote to enact new law with vast implications on the lives of every American. That this group will be appointed and not elected is bad enough, but if their cuts hopefully done with a scalpel are not voted in, there will be a trigger that takes effect and makes even more draconian cuts, most likely with a butcher knife or ax.21
So an unelected committee eager to dish out some more “austerity” is now determining America’s economic future, and thus, by extension, forcing decisions in every area of governance. Why bother having coups when you can take control so sneakily?
Going back to Naomi Wolf, she writes:
Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.
Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.
It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”
All of this is absolutely right, of course, and unfortunately under Obama the ‘process of erosion’ that began after 9/11 has continued; and, perhaps more importantly, it has become normalised. Bush was an obvious tyrant, whereas Obama is more the persuader. And the big difference between Bush and Obama has really been style, with Obama, by virtue of being far the more stylish, also arguably the more dangerous. In any case, the stage remains set for whoever comes to power next, because as Wolf put it in 2007:
What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.
In 2008, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stein produced a documentary film based on Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, on which her 2007 Guardian article had been based. Released on DVD and online in October 2008, the film offers a chilling warning of the dangers that America still faces. As Naomi Wolf concluded in her 2007 article:
We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.
1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.
From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all
6 “Despite overwhelming evidence that senior Bush administration officials approved illegal interrogation methods involving torture and other ill-treatment, the Obama administration has yet to pursue prosecutions of any high-level officials or to establish a commission of inquiry.” from Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, p. 624
9 According to a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis” by Moshe Schwartz & Joyprada Swain, published May 13, 2011:
“As of March 2011, DOD had more contractor personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq (155,000) then uniformed personnel (145,000). Contractors made up 52% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
14 Taken from an interview he gave at the Texas Book Festival on October 29th, 2006. In response to a question about the government cover-up surrounding the September 11th attacks and the indifference of the media response.
17 “While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.
“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”
From American Civil Liberties Press Release of October 8, 2009.
19 “The man charged with monitoring the $700 billion financial rescue has launched more than a dozen investigations into possible misuse of the money, according to a report sent to Congress today.
“In findings that are not likely to soothe agitated taxpayers who are wondering what return they are getting from the bailouts, Neil Barofsky — Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — said billions of taxpayer dollars are vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.
“Barofsky — who detailed the bailout fund perils in a 250-page tome [pdf] — said that the criminal probes are looking into possible public corruption, stock, tax, and corporate fraud, insider trading and mortgage fraud. There would be no details on the targets, according to the report, ‘until public action is taken.'”
From an article entitled, “TARP Fraud Probes Begin” written by Elizabeth Olson, from April 21st 2009.
20 “In a decisive and hard-fought victory for President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate cleared the way today for Obama’s incoming administration to spend the second $350 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“A measure to block the funds was voted down 42 to 52 after an intense lobbying campaign by the Obama economic team and by Obama himself.
“Just hours before the vote, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote a letter promising the Senate that the Obama administration would take specific steps to ensure the money is spent more responsibly and with more transparency than the Bush Administration spent the first $350 billion in TARP cash.”
Taken from an article entitled, “Obama Wins $350B Senate TARP Vote”, written by Jonathan Karl on January 15, 2009 for ABC World News.
On Monday, a US federal appeals court refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by two U.S. citizens against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and unnamed others for developing, authorizing and using “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees in Iraq.
Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel were working for a private U.S. government contractor, Shield Group Security, in 2006 when they witnessed the sale of U.S. government weapons to Iraqi rebel groups for money and alcohol. Having been asked to become unpaid FBI informants, their cover was then blown, and the company retaliated. By revoking their credentials to enter Iraq’s so-called Green Zone, they were effectively barred access to the safest part of the country. Shortly thereafter, they were arrested and detained by U.S. troops.
Both men were then moved to Camp Cropper, where they say they were subjected to physical and psychological torture at the hands of U.S. forces. Vance was held for three months, Ertel for six weeks. The two men were subjected to extreme sleep deprivation, interrogated for hours at a time, kept in a very cold cell, denied food and water for long periods. They were eventually released, and never charged with any crime.
On Thursday, Donald Vance was interviewed on Democracy Now! about his ordeal and the case he has filed against Donald Rumsfeld, which he hopes will now move forward after Monday’s federal court ruling:
Democracy Now! also spoke with Andrea Prasow, the senior counsel in the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch. She says that “this case is incredibly significant” since it demonstrates:
“the significant role that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played in personally authorizing the torture not only of the plaintiffs, as they allege, but of hundreds, if not thousands, of other detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo.”
In reply to the question of what message she thinks this case sends to whistleblowers in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and around the world, Prasow replied:
“That’s a difficult question. I certainly hope that it doesn’t deter anyone from coming forward with allegations of misconduct or illegal behavior. And I do think that the President’s rejection of torture and his executive order that closed the CIA prisons as soon as he took office, I think those were very incredibly important statements about U.S. policy going forward. But as I said before, the U.S. can’t move forward completely without looking backwards, without examining what happened in the past, why it happened, and holding people accountable.”
Vance also says he’s “under the firm, absolute firm belief that these programs are still ongoing”, and when asked whether, in light of what had happened to him, he would encourage other whistleblowers to come forward, he replied:
“Absolutely. I am imploring any civilian operating in any war zone or anywhere in the world to—absolutely, if you’re seeing something illegal happening, please talk to the authorities and come forward. I mean, we don’t have a long history of doing our very best at protecting our whistleblowers, but to this very day, I’m actually glad that I—what I did—of what I did. And I would do it again.”
Click here to read a full transcript of the interview.
Click here to read more on the same story at BBC News.
Osama Bin Laden is finally dead. It’s official. Although, of course, you may recall some earlier pronouncements to similar effect. Indeed, investigator James Corbett has recently catalogued at least eight earlier instances (with links to the relevant articles) when heads of state, high-ranking government officials, and intelligence agencies have spoken of Bin Laden’s demise:
“Given Bin Laden’s documented kidney problems and consequent need for dialysis, government officials, heads of state and counterterrorism experts have repeatedly opined that Osama Bin Laden has in fact been dead for some time. These assertions are based on Bin Laden’s failing health in late 2001 and visible signs of his deteriorating condition, as well as actual reports of his death from the same time frame.
In July of 2001, Osama Bin Laden was flown to the American Hospital in Dubai for kidney treatment. According to French intelligence sources, he was there met by the local CIA attache. When the agent bragged about his encounter to friends later, he was promptly recalled to Washington.
On the eve of September 11, Osama Bin Laden was staying in a Pakistani military hospital under the watchful eye of Pakistan’s ISI, the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA with deep ties to the American intelligence community.”
On July 17, 2002, the then-head of counterterrorism at the FBI, Dale Watson, told a conference of law enforcement officials that “I personally think he [Bin Laden] is probably not with us anymore,” before carefully adding that “I have no evidence to support that.”
In October 2002, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CNN that “I would come to believe that [Bin Laden] probably is dead.”
In November 2005, Senator Harry Reid revealed that he was told Osama may have died in the Pakistani earthquake of October that year.
On November 2, 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto told Al-Jazeera’s David Frost that Omar Sheikh had killed Osama Bin Laden.
In March 2009, former US foreign intelligence officer and professor of international relations at Boston University Angelo Codevilla stated: “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama Bin Laden.”
In May 2009, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari confirmed that his “counterparts in the American intelligence agencies” hadn’t heard anything from Bin Laden in seven years and confirmed “I don’t think he’s alive.”
Why then has this week’s pronouncement been accepted as credible? Well, as Corbett points out, the big difference this time round is not that we have proof at last, but that news of Bin Laden’s death comes direct from the White House:
“Now in 2011, President Obama has added himself to the mix of people in positions of authority who have pronounced Osama Bin Laden dead. Some might charge that none of the previous reports had any credibility, but as it is now emerging that Osama’s body was buried at sea less than 12 hours after his death with no opportunity for any independent corroboration of his identity, the same question of credibility has to be leveled at this latest charge. To this point, the only evidence we have been provided that Osama Bin Laden was killed yesterday are some images on tv of a burning compound and the word of the man currently occupying the oval office.”
Now if the man occupying the White House still had the name Bush, then there can be little doubting that this story would have come under far greater scrutiny than it is receiving. The sketchiness and strangeness of many details, and importantly, the lack of a body, or as yet, even any photos of a body, would surely have raised more eyebrows under Bush. And still we have only excuses for why none of this evidence has been presented. In other words, we have Obama’s word.
Of course we know Bush lied – both of them. George W. told us there were WMDs in Iraq, just as his father had sworn, a decade earlier, that Saddam’s forces were throwing babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on the hospital floors of Kuwait. Both these stories turned out to be complete fabrications, although they still passed sufficiently under the mainstream radar to help ignite two different wars. But Obama is different. He’s not Bush, and he’s not even Clinton. He actually inhales. So if he says they killed Bin Laden then that’s good enough for me, right? After all, it’s not as if he’s in need of any more wars…
Whether more solid evidence emerges to prove the story of Bin Laden’s death, we must wait and see (though I wouldn’t hold your breath), whilst bearing in mind that it wasn’t long for the first major deception to appear – a badly photo-shopped fake image of his corpse – quickly passed off as authentic by almost every national newspaper. The Guardian (May 2nd) just happened to be a little wiser and more cautious:
“Osama bin Laden corpse photo is fake: Image of bloodied man picked up by British newspapers has been circulating online for two years”
“An image apparently showing a dead Osama Bin Laden broadcast on Pakistani television and picked up by British newspaper websites is a fake.
The bloodied image of a man with matted hair and a blank, half-opened eye has been circulating on the internet for the past two years. It was used on the front pages of the Mail, Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mirror websites, though swiftly removed after the fake was exposed on Twitter.
It appears the fake picture was initially published by the Middle East online newspaper themedialine.org on 29 April 2009, with a warning from the editor that it was ‘unable to ascertain whether the photo is genuine or not’.”
So Bin Laden is finally dead, apparently. What’s the likely upshot? Does this mark some kind of closure to the war on terrorism? Can we now move away from a policy of secret detainment and legitimised use of torture? Can we end the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Might we also begin to reverse the anti-civil rights measures and systems of surveillance purportedly in place to save us from terrorist attacks? Can we all sleep more comfortably in our beds? Well, sadly, the most frequent answers we’re getting are simply no, no, and no again.
Let’s begin with Pakistan. Of the many mysteries still hanging over Bin Laden’s assassination, one of the strangest is that his hide-out was located just a few hundred yards from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy in Abbottabad. So how was it that Pakistan’s own intelligence service had failed to notice him? Indeed, how had it taken the US so long? Or was there some kind of a conspiracy afoot? A report from The Telegraph on May 2nd turns up some interesting documents:
“WikiLeaks: Osama bin Laden ‘protected’ by Pakistani security – Pakistani security forces allegedly helped Osama bin Laden evade American troops for almost 10 years, according to secret US government files.”
“American diplomats were told that one of the key reasons why they had failed to find bin Laden was that Pakistan’s security services tipped him off whenever US troops approached.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) also allegedly smuggled al-Qaeda terrorists through airport security to help them avoid capture and sent a unit into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban.
The claims, made in leaked US government files obtained by Wikileaks, will add to questions over Pakistan’s capacity to fight al-Qaeda.” […]
“According to a US diplomatic dispatch, General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov, a senior Tajik counterterrorism official, told the Americans that “many” inside Pakistan knew where bin Laden was.
The document stated: ‘In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the security forces.’”
So is this actually true? Well, it’s in a document – so that bit’s true. Obviously, we don’t know if the information is true, however, and in light of what has happened since, the release of these documents has, to put it mildly, been a little inconvenient for Pakistan. On the other hand, of course, for those seeking justification for Obama’s military incursions into Pakistan, the release of these documents is a godsend.
And here is another article from The Telegraph, also May 2nd, and based on “information” contained in other leaked documents, which asks whether: “The killing of the world’s most wanted man as a direct result of information obtained from Guantanamo detainees such as KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] will reignite the debate over whether torture is a legitimate interrogation technique in the ‘war on terror’”:
“WikiLeaks: Osama bin Laden killed after tip-offs from Guantanamo – The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who was interrogated using “torture” techniques, gave the United States the breakthrough that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden.”
“Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who was repeatedly subjected to methods including ‘waterboarding’ and stress positions, provided the CIA with the name of bin Laden’s personal courier, according to US officials.
A second source – also an al-Qaeda ‘leader’ held at Guantanamo Bay – then confirmed the courier’s identity, sparking an intense manhunt that resulted in the dramatic final raid.
So does this mean we now need even more secret detainment and torture? Bin Laden’s death making the world still more brutal and barbaric…
As for the world being a safer place – and quite aside from the already flourishing speculation about “almost certain” and “highly likely” reprisals – if previous newspaper reports are to be understood correctly, then this might have been the very worst thing that ever happened – if, that is, the “information” contained in these documents (also recently released by wikileaks) is to be believed. Here’s one from February 1st, published in The Vancouver Sun:
‘Al-Qaida on brink of using nuclear bomb’
“Al-Qaida is on the verge of producing radioactive weapons after sourcing nuclear material and recruiting rogue scientists to build “dirty” bombs, according to leaked diplomatic documents.
A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a “nuclear 9/11”.
Security briefings suggest that jihadi groups are also close to producing “workable and efficient” biological and chemical weapons that could kill thousands if unleashed in attacks on the West.
Thousands of classified American cables obtained by the WikiLeaks website and passed to The Daily Telegraph detail the international struggle to stop the spread of weapons-grade nuclear, chemical and biological material around the globe.
At a Nato meeting in January 2009, security chiefs briefed member states that al-Qaida was plotting a program of “dirty radioactive IEDs”, makeshift nuclear roadside bombs that could be used against British troops in Afghanistan.
Click here to read the full article by Heidi Blake and Christopher Hope (of The Daily Telegraph).
And a day later, another article about the leaks appeared in the Daily Mail:
“World ‘on brink of nuclear 9/11’ as Al Qaeda plans large ‘dirty’ bomb”
“Al Qaeda is attempting to stockpile ‘dirty’ radioactive explosives that could be used to target British troops or for a larger urban attack, it has emerged.
New diplomatic documents released by WikiLeaks show that U.S. intelligence personnel have been informed of terrorist attempts to acquire dangerous amounts of uranium and plutonium.
The cables warn of a large trafficking operation of chemical weapons material and threats of a ‘nuclear 9/11’ unless the West intervenes swiftly.
Security chiefs briefed a Nato meeting in January 2009 that Al Qaeda was planning a programme of ‘dirty radioactive improvised explosive devices (IEDs)’.
The IEDs could be used against coalition forces in Afghanistan but would also contaminate the surrounding land with nuclear waste for years to come.” 1
And now we have this – right on time – published April 26th in The Telegraph:
“Wikileaks: Al-Qaeda plotted chemical and nuclear attack on the West: Guantanamo interrogators have uncovered a determined attempt by al-Qaeda to attack Western countries using chemical or nuclear weapons, according to the top-secret files.”
“One of the terrorist group’s most senior figures warned that al-Qaeda had obtained and hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if Osama bin Laden was killed or captured.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda mastermind currently facing trial in America over the 9/11 atrocities, was involved in a range of plans including attacks on US nuclear plants and a“nuclear hellstorm” plotin America.”
“According to the US WikiLeaks files, a Libyan detainee, Abu Al-Libi, “has knowledge of al-Qaeda possibly possessing a nuclear bomb”. Al-Libi, the operational chief of al-Qaeda and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before his detention, allegedly knew the location of a nuclear bomb in Europe that would be detonated if bin Laden were killed or captured.”
Now just think about this story for a moment – if a nuclear bomb were already planted in Europe or the US, would al-Qaeda then just “sit on it”, waiting for their enemy to strike whilst simultaneously hoping they don’t get too lucky; discovering the bomb before they get to Bin Laden? Or would they just have pressed the button long ago, in fact shortly after acquiring it, making sure to perpetrate the greatest terrorist attack in history, bar none? All of these leaks just seem too good to be true – at least, for anyone looking to perpetuate the “war on terror” and put an extra squeeze on Pakistan.
But there are also other doubts about the killing of Bin Laden. For instance, and given that the Americans had apparently been on his tail for months, if not years, why hadn’t they planned an operation to capture him alive? Especially as it seems he’d been holed up in this compound without phone or internet connection for years – so a sitting duck, basically – and that Bin Laden wasn’t even armed when they reached him.
By killing instead of capturing him, they’ve missed the chance to interrogate the man who was formerly at the helm of al-Qaeda, and remains accused of planning the 9/11 attacks. So why didn’t they put him on trial? On top of which, bringing Bin Laden to justice might have eased a little of the sting from any anti-American backlash. It would have demonstrated to the world that America really can occupy the moral high-ground. Yet instead of this, it seems that they couldn’t kill and bury Bin Laden fast enough, which inevitably looks suspicious.
Whatever the final truth – and information, let alone truth, seems to be in such short supply at present – Bin Laden’s demise couldn’t have been better timed for the US administration. Coming immediately in the wake of Obama’s reshuffling of his war-room staff last week, it has already helped him to legitimise America’s continuing role in what is now a whole decade of bloody imperialist interventions. At another stroke, it has established Obama’s newly nominated Secretary of Defense and former CIA chief, Panetta, as the latest in a long line of all-American heroes. And aside from being a helpful distraction from Obama’s many current domestic difficulties and failings, not to mention the deepening crisis in Libya, it will no doubt help rally support for the President, delivering a vital shot in the arm at the start of his re-election campaign.
As it happens, Bin Laden’s death also comes on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the event that brought him such infamy in the first place, and so we must hope that his end brings with it, an end to this post-9/11 era. Worryingly, however, there remains no end in sight for the “war on terror” – a war, or rather wars, that supposedly began with the singular object of finding Bin Laden “dead or alive” – the manhunt is now officially over, and yet, and aside from the unedifying spectacle of street celebrations, it actually feels like nothing has changed…
Of course, the many people cheering and waving flags at Ground Zero were already eager to believe that Bin Laden was killed by US special forces, just as Obama said; and obviously it’s always easier selling propaganda to the willing. Hardly surprisingly, in Pakistan, the public reaction has been quite different. The same story linking their own country directly to al-Qaeda, the Pakistani people have every reason to be suspicious of a frame-up and fearful of what comes next, especially given what happened to the last place that had “harboured” Bin Laden. If recent history has taught us anything, then it’s that we should be doubtful too.
The simple fact is that we are all swimming against constant currents of propaganda – currents that certainly strengthened in the wake of 9/11. And if you don’t notice these currents, then, as the joke goes, that just shows how really effective they are. Those cheering did so because they want to believe that U-S-A has won, or is winning. It has not, and it is not. And for just so long as this ridiculous and endless “war on terror” goes on, everyone has lost and will continue losing — everyone except for the corporate profiteers, that is.
But since Bin Laden is officially dead, the mission is accomplished, right? – which means it’s high time to stop the fighting and bring the troops home. And if not now, Obama, then when?
1 What the document fails to say is that the land in Afghanistan has in all likelihood already been contaminated “with nuclear waste for years to come” thanks to our use of so-called “depleted uranium”. This is certainly the case in Iraq:
“US rejects Iraq DU clean-up”:
“The US says it has no plans to remove the debris left over from depleted uranium (DU) weapons it is using in Iraq. It says no clean-up is needed, because research shows DU has no long-term effects. It says a 1990 study suggesting health risks to local people and veterans is out of date.”
Click here to read full article by Alex Kerby, BBC News Monday 14th April, 2003.