Tag Archives: torture

Everything starts to come unglued

TW: ethnic cleansing, indefinite detention, torture, islamist violence

To be honest, I’m not quite sure what to make of the statements by Michael Sheehan, the US military official who explained that he’s concerned over the withdrawal of French troops from Mali and neighboring African countries aren’t “capable at all. What you saw there, it is a completely incapable force. That has to change.” You can practically see the rolling eyes that elicited as the Johannesburg Times summarized his explanation:

At the same time, [Sheehan] praised the French troops which ‘very rapidly’ pushed al Qaeda’s north African branch ‘back across the Niger river and took control of the major cities’ in northern Mali, he said. However, he added that much of the al Qaeda leadership had escaped. ‘They haven’t been killed or captured, but they (the French forces) have disrupted this very threatening sanctuary.’

Attributing the “successes” in Mali to the French seems like missing multiple forests for a single useless tree. As Sheehan makes it clear in the above quotes, he pictures the fight as being very geographically limited, which seems like deliberate stupidity considering that this is supposedly an intervention against an international islamist force that specialized in asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare. Beyond that particular nonsense, Sheehan seems very quick to declare the French forces superior, but there’s not a whole lot of semantic content to what they’re superior at. It’s been more than a month since the territorial advances he mentioned occurred – what have the French done since and beyond that?

The sad fact is that the French, Malian, and other purportedly anti-islamist forces in North Mali or Azawad have used different methods but frequently with similar methods: the deaths of seemingly innocent civilians of either Touareg, other Berber, or Arab background. I’ve covered a bit about that before, but in all honesty, what does the withdrawal of French troops do? Does it matter that the forces seeming to target especially Touareg civilians indiscriminately will be much more African than European? And trust me, there’s no indication of them stopping: the stories of torture, stories of murder by government forces, and other stories that make this seems like a developing bout of ethnic cleansing.

(Malian forces that have targeted Touareg civilians, from here.)

Many Touareg civilians seem to be caught between the threats of the Malian government’s forces and the assorted islamist rebel groups that threaten them as well, as much of the more in-depth reporting on civilians still living in the region show. Those are not conditions for long term peace, or even a simple conflict between islamists and the Malian government with Touareg nationalism rendered irrelevant.

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Looking away and laughing

TW: Argentinian “Dirty War”, torture, indefinite detention, police brutality, violence against protesters

So yesterday, amid assorted allegations (re)surfacing about the now sitting Pope, this happened:

Erick Erickson tweeting
(Tweet from yesterday, by former CNN commentator Erick Erickson.)

Um, okay then Mr. Erickson. There’s quite a few things that could be said about that type of joke, which I already jumped a bit into last week, but in the meanwhile let’s talk about the humor that people often deploy while trying to distance themselves from and trivialize violence. If you, as Erickson later explained himself, are able to somehow twist this into something else entirely, I honestly have no idea what to say to you.

For those of you who are still reading, allow me to clarify: some of the allegations against the current Pope are indeed false. The Guardian has retracted what they originally published about him in 2011 (namely that he might have allowed the Argentinian junta to move political prisoners onto Church-controlled islands in order to hide them, which seems to be what Erickson was basing his complaint off of). But aside from that, there’s the small matter of him having informed the Argentinian government of a fellow Jesuit he suspected of coordinating with feminine religious orders, guerrillas, and otherwise earned being deported (after being detained and tortured by Bergoglio’s own admission). Isn’t that pretty Pontius Pilate of him?

Bergoglio's memo to the Argentinian government urging the deportation of a Jesuit Priest
(The original document he had sent to the Argentinian government to request the deportation of another Jesuit priest.)

There’s a sort of confusing response that seems to typically crop up over these sorts of situations – where an ostensibly “conservative” or “traditional” government is killing and torturing thousands of people. It seems to be that many celebrate and are entertained by the violence against those they deem as deserving it, but on some level realize that that will be frowned on and deemed unacceptable. So, they joke about those disappeared, while denying that the disappearances happened (or, at least, that anyone prominent in Argentinian politics at the time could possibly have been involved). It’s a strategy of simultaneously reveling in and denying the existence of terrible violence.

That’s unfortunately a very relevant perspective to watch for appearing around Brooklyn today. In the wake of the police shooting Kimani Gray, a purportedly unarmed sixteen year old Black youth in the East Flatbush area, protests against those sorts of incidents failed to pass the police’s test of what was acceptable. As people were imprisoned and homes searched without warrants, the police also managed to remove most professional media from the area. In a very real sense, violence has been doled out in the past few days against an entire community in Brooklyn, and most our society has decided to look the other way.

Still, some accounts slip through. You can read descriptions like this one:

Towards the end of the night, a group of teenagers standing on a curb were taunting a few cops standing several feet away in the street. After a few minutes and seemingly unprovoked, an officer reached onto the sidewalk to grab one of the teenagers, who took off running. This sparked an all out foot-chase, with officers in hot pursuit of the runner and some of the NYPD’s less athletic members cheering their fellow officers on. The runner cut down a side street, media and police giving chase. The suspect got away, but about halfway down the street police briefly detained a separate young man who was going home for the night. He was black—as was the runner—and immediately informed the police that he wasn’t the person they were looking for. One cop was heard explaining that he was on orders from his sergeant to arrest him. While several white cops walked the wrong man toward a police van, they ultimately decided to let him go.

Or you can simply see a few of the clandestine photographs of the situation. Or you can hear about how everyone arrested under suspicion of “rioting” is being held for an extended period. Hopefully those sorts of depictions of what’s actually happening right now in one part of the most populous city in the United States will make you think.

Hopefully, the last thing they’ll make you do is laugh.

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Let’s catch up on Palestine

TW: indefinite detention, violation of due process, torture, racist violence

The number of politically significant events that occurred in Palestine and Israel over the past weekend is actually staggering, but between the Oscars and numerous other on-goings in the world, they’ve sadly been largely overlooked. I think it’s necessary to be informed about them, so hopefully this will provide a quick exploration of what’s happened so far.

While this isn’t as directly interconnected to the following events as they are to each other, it seems noteworthy that files from 1982 were finally declassified, which revealed that while Ariel Sharon, at that time serving as the Minister of Defense, feared that the Israeli government’s actions in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres could be legally considered genocide. This joins the fact that independent Israeli investigators tend to pin much higher casualty estimates on the massacres, in some cases determining as many as 3,000 Palestinian civilians then living in Lebanon to have been killed. In short, this reveals that the Israeli state is aware of the severity of its actions and either chooses to ignore their meanings or actively accept them.

The previous day Israel finally provided charges against and summarily convicted Samer Issawi, who had been held without them for over two hundred days – for the vast majority of which he has been on a hunger strike. Apparently he violated the terms of his early release from Israeli custody in 2011 by leaving East Jerusalem, where he lived, to go to the West Bank to fix his car at a particular garage. So, the eight months of him being held without charges have come to a close, but only because his prosecutors worked out something to charge him with.

Another imprisoned Palestinian, Arafat Jaradat, was even less lucky. After being arrested under suspicion of having thrown stones at Israelis on February 18, his body was provided to his family on Saturday. He disappeared into the blackhole of Israeli prisons and didn’t come out alive. His death has stimulated a series of mass protests, fueled by the fact that an autopsy conducted in Israel suggested that he had six different broken bones in his body – suggesting either serious mistreatment while in Israeli custody, or that he was quite purposefully killed. Yesterday, Israel announced that two additional Palestinian detainees, who like Samer Issawi had been protesting their detentions with hunger strikes, would not be provided to a court hearing because they were too weak. The fact that such a decision only extends their time without food was either deliberately ignored or never occurred to the Israeli court.

(On that same day, a Palestinian woman was jumped by a group of Jewish Israelis and beaten in public after a mild argument, from here. Other, Israeli sources suggest that municipal security guards witnessed the attack and did nothing.)

That’s the question that’s shouted by all of these incidents: does the Israeli state realize what it’s doing? And I’m not entirely sure which answer is worse.


As this post involves extensive discussion of both Israel and Palestine, I should let you know the requirements of comments are much higher. If for any reason I interpret your comments as expressing hostility towards broad political, social, religious, or ethnic groups, they will be deleted. That’s your warning.

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We’re taking the Cato Institute seriously on this?

TW: torture, indefinite detention, surveillance of civilians, violations of civil liberties

One of the more intriguing and yet overlooked things to have happened in the past couple of weeks while I haven’t been blogging at full speed happened on the Rachel Maddow show, a few days after Christmas while Ezra Klein was filling in for her. He decided to address the fact that bipartisan support for effectively warrantless wiretapping of US citizens is still the norm, which made particular sense in the wake of the Senate’s then recent extension of the government’s right to warrantlessly wiretap.

That said, a major part of how he covered those issues was to invite on Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, who then proceeded to label President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate as the fundamental barrier to rescinding the vestiges of Bush era surveillance. The fact that this had to pass through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives disappeared from the discussion, which made clear that Sanchez and by proxy the Cato Institute are holding Democrats responsible but letting Republicans off the hook.

Unsurprising though this may be, coming from the Cato Institute, this speaks to several broader political problems we need to understand and respond to. The Cato Institute and many other libertarians in recent years have largely reinvented themselves as not only a libertarian think tank, but the group leading a call to arms on issues pertaining civil liberties. As already quite clearly Republican-friendly, much of that narrative has focused on how Democrats are the wannabe despots, in spite of much of the ideological groundwork for this being put together during the Bush years. But that strategy has started to bear fruit, with President Obama being implicitly asked why he doesn’t support “internet freedom” when the Republicans do and with this sort of an appearance being treated seriously on the supposedly den of social democracy at MSNBC.

Of course, whether this narrative actually makes sense with the facts on the ground is another question entirely. There is a point to be made that the leadership of both parties are unwilling to take on this issue, but the real question to be asked when faced with that fact is which party is most salvageable. And the answer is quite clear: the Democrats even if their current status on this particular issue is not much better than the Republicans.

The vote tallies tell this story quite frankly. The bill passed the House with the support of 227 Republicans, which alone would have been sufficient for that body’s approval. Admittedly, 74 Democrats went along with them, and obviously they should be held accountable for their support. But look at where the groundswell of opposition to this sort of a governmental powers is coming from – 7 Republicans voted against, compared with 111 Democrats. It’s quite clear that if the Cato Institute took civil liberties quite seriously, they’d be considering how best to ally with the Democrats who support their position, rather than alienating them.

Even if we accept the framing that Klein and Sanchez put in place, in the much more surveillance-supportive Senate, we can’t help but come to a slightly weaker version of the same conclusion. Yes, a majority of Democrats and Republicans supported the bill, but of the 23 who opposed it, 19 were Democrats, compared to only 3 who were Republicans. If the Democratic Party isn’t salvageable with those numbers, then the Republicans are long past saving. After all, the sole independent in congress, Senator Bernie Sanders, voted against the bill.

Beyond the broader partisan issues of how this subject has frequently been framed, there’s also the question of why we should even honor the Cato Institute’s work on this issue. This is an institute with staff that treated the extension of Miranda rights to an alleged terrorist as something to complain about or an opportunity to state that the Miranda decision “smacks of judicial lawmaking” (which is nothing more than an intelligent way of saying “judicial activism”). This is an institute which could only publicly defend the Obama Administration’s proposal to criminally try Guantánamo detainees by refusing to credit it as being his administration’s proposal. Of course, that was only the viewpoint publicly provided by the Cato Institute when it wasn’t ambivalently worrying that a trial might provide “a forum for propagandizing on behalf of al Qaeda” or bemoaned the legal use of “alleged” in media coverage pertaining to those trials. Because why would you expect a civil liberties-oriented think tank to concern itself with freedom of speech or presumption of innocence?

(At the time, the Cato Institute’s response to this was more or less “meh”. Image originally from here.)

But beyond questioning garden variety rights of the accused, Cato has hardly much of a record when it comes to the peculiar legal standards of the Bush Administration, namely when it comes to torture. Among other discussions on the subject, they saw fit to publish in May 2011 an article titled “Did Waterboarding Work?” which contains astounding statements like “We’ll probably never know the real value of coercive techniques. Surely some accurate information came from their use.” Actually, the fact that torture was not only dehumanizing and degrading but counter-productive had been an established scientific fact for years at that point, but that didn’t seem to trouble anyone over at Cato. And yet somehow, the institute that saw fit to publish this and has continued hosting it since then is the voice we should look to for advice on civil liberties?

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Clinton probably should have double checked her calendar

TW: torture, political killings, neo-colonialism

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the violence in Benghazi, Libya, which caused the death of four foreign service members, including the United States’ ambassador to Libya.

Clinton made one rather interesting point:

How could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and at times how confounding the world can be.

She then proceeds to make the case that the provisional Libyan government and the majority of the Libyan people are grateful to the United States. Specifically she mentions, “when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post.” She makes an excellent case, but she leads with a declaration – that the United States was a force of liberation. While I don’t contest that conclusion, it’s not my place, the US Secretary of State’s place, or any American’s place to proclaim ourselves liberators.

Clinton notes that significance of the day of the attack – the anniversary of the terrifying Islamist attack that continues to influence the United State’s policies towards the entire Islamic world. Perhaps less well known is that the eleventh day in September is also the anniversary of the brutal US-backed coup against the democratically elected Allende Presidency in Chile, in 1973. A few days later in that same year, Henry Kissinger, then the National Security Adviser but who would hold in only a few days more the same position as Clinton does today, gruffly told then President Nixon, “we helped them,” nearly going so far as that the United States had liberated Chile.

Even as the current Chilean government seeks to ignore its history of repression, several thousand protesters took to the streets of Santiago on the same day as the attack in Libya. They commemorated the coup against Salvador Allende, painfully demanding that their country remember the thousands killed, tens of thousands tortured, and the democratic system destroyed as a result. The protest was an insistence that what they faced was a counterfeit liberation, disguising repression – a judgment which only Chileans can accurately make.

The next day, Clinton would call the United States “the greatest [global] force for peace, prosperity, and progress; and a force that has always stood for human dignity, the greatest force the world has ever known”.

(Civilian administrators being detained during the Chilean coup, September 11, 1973. Image originally posted here.)

Thomas Friedman once famously joked that American Exceptionalism was imperiled as Americans no longer “seem to understand that you can’t declare yourself ‘exceptional,’ only others can bestow that adjective upon you.” Perhaps even more damning is that we’ve forgotten that “liberator” is a description which only others can decide refers to you.

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Romney tipped his hand long before Ryan

TW: islamophobia, war crimes, torture, bush era impunity

You’ve probably already heard about what Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan for his Vice Presidential candidate means – that his record as an allegedly responsible corporate executive and supposedly moderate former governor have gone out the window. He’s no longer running as a moderate Republican only willing to negotiate with his party’s extremists in order to become the presidential nominee. He’s married the toxically conservative budgetary plan after everyone backed away from it. This act by his campaign is a dramatic move to the right – which might threaten what support he has from centrists and moderates, imperiling his campaign.

As I mentioned yesterday, however this isn’t some unprecedented move from Romney. He’s long given significant if somewhat symbolic gestures to the “severely” conservative. You only need to know about his recent encounter with former General William “Jerry” Boykin to realize that this isn’t his first sharp turn to the right.

Boykin, hardly a household name, is famous in certain circles for many of his deeds, but none more so than his comment that he was unafraid when facing off against Somali militants in the 1990s. Before a Daytona, Florida church congregation, dressed as a military officer, he insisted that he knew he would survive and be victorious while serving in Somalia since, “I knew that my God was bigger than his [a combatant’s]. I knew that my God was a real God and his [Allah] was an idol.” He collapsed his personal, religious understanding of the conflict with his professional role in the military and United States government, conflating various missions in Muslim-majority areas with a war both against and on the behalf of God. He also has a history of elsewhere interpreting military conflicts as part of a larger spiritual war between agents of darkness and the United States (which is, in his words, still “a Christian Nation”). Sometimes those agents of darkness are literal darkness, as he has multiple times insisted that a “dark mark” on a photograph of Mogadishu, Somalia, taken during the conflict is a revelation of “the principalities of darkness” and demonic forces in the city at the time.

While those remarks began to gain notice in the United States leading to several advocacy groups calling for Boykin’s resignation, in the United Kingdom allegations surfaced that Boykin was one of the planners of the extreme new offensive in Iraq at the time. His culpability in the war crimes during the Iraqi occupation extended past questionable combat techniques. It’s since been revealed that Boykin was charged with evaluating Major General Geoffrey Miller’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques in use at one of the branches of Camp Guantánamo. Of course, he praised Miller’s new methods and gave clearance for those techniques to be carried over by Miller himself to one relatively obscure prison in Iraq, located in the city of Abu Ghraib. You’ve probably heard of how that turned out. For many critics of the Bush Administration, Boykin was the epitome of the dangerous and broken government: obsessed with a literal crusade, culpable for assorted war crimes, and never prosecuted or even fired for his failures but able to retire when he pleased and take a cushy private sector job.

He’s also one of the social conservative powerhouses Romney met with earlier this month. Intriguingly enough, rather than Romney searching for Boykin’s approval, he apparently received it freely but with the request that he pick a Vice Presidential nominee as staunchly anti-abortion as Romney himself. The living embodiment of everything wrong with the Bush years gladly endorsed Romney before Ryan was even in the picture. All that’s changed with this announcement is how obvious Romney’s extreme conservatism is, not it’s presence.

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