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The New American Justice: Aafia Siddiqui’s Trial by Water

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In the late Middle Ages, a person accused of sorcery was deemed guilty if — submerged in water — she drowned. Later, during the Salem witch hunts trials in America, drowning served as proof of innocence. Today’s American justice system is no less capricious. It seems we’ve regressed as a people. Perhaps this is because our existing justice system was not equipped to convict the accused based on the level of hysteria and fear their alleged crimes induced in the populace — nor to process evidence concocted through primitive methods such as torture and trial by ordeal. Under our new American system of justice, guilt is determined before trial — and, indeed, even before the accused has been arrested. Confessions by torture only confirm our suspicions. The formalities  — judge, jury and due process of law — have been reduced to sham procedures, as if by putting on such a show we could still lay claim to the right to call ourselves a civilized nation.

FORWARD

Googling the news for “Aafia Siddiqui,” the first headline that came up told us all we need to know about the kangaroo trial that started today in New York: Aafia Siddiqui, aka ‘Lady Al Qaeda,’ thrown out of court after ranting at jurors again.

While other headlines and stories echoed this tone, deeming Ms. Siddiqui’s comments as “strange” and “angry,” none of these news-writers seem to have been possessed by the sort of journalistic curiosity and integrity that once defined American journalism. None bothered to ask themselves (nor seek answers for their readerships), exactly what Aafia Siddiqui might have meant in one of her courtroom “outbursts” when she said:

“I never get a chance to speak! If you were held in a secret prison and your children were tortured….”

Or when she said:

“There was no list of targets against New York. I was never planning to bomb it! You’re lying!”

That’s the problem with kangaroo courts. The verdict is already in. The rest is just for show. The official record will never show what she meant by those words. In fact, the topic of terrorism (headlines notwithstanding) has been formally forbidden in her trial, officially scrubbed from the record. The verdict is in. All other points, including the truth, are moot.

We at canarypapers have been writing about Aafia Siddiqui since August of 2008, shortly after her alleged “capture” by Afghan authorities in July 2008. For those interested in the background on her story, we have several extensively-linked posts in the canarypapers’ archives. (See links at bottom of page).

Until the Obama Administration takes a mind to bring out of the dark, secret places all of our government’s illegal activities over the past 9 years (e.g. extraordinary renditions, secret prisons and confessions by torture — including the torture of detainees’ children), how can we take seriously our government’s accusations against any “terrorist suspect” — past, present or future?

The question is this: Is there truth to Aafia Siddiqui’s allegations that she and her three children were imprisoned and tortured for 5 years at the hands of U.S. authorities? If so, we can hardly give credence to this same government’s say-so that she was carrying out a terrorist plot when she was “captured” just a few days after she claims that she and one of her children were finally released from this prison in July of 2008 (Note: Her other two children are still missing, with her infant daughter believed to have died in this prison). If Aafia Siddiqui’s allegations are true, she is no doubt, as reported, psychologically scarred — not to mention justifiably outraged.

Yet, Aafia Siddiqui is not on trial for terrorism. She has already been presumed guilty of this on the say-so of the very government that justified “any means necessary,” including primitive torture, to produce evidence of guilt. Going by such monikers as “the female bin Laden,” and “Lady al Qaeda” and “al Qaeda Mom”  in the headlines, Aafia Siddiqui stands before the American public as evil incarnate, guilty of a crime for which she’ll never be tried.

How to proclaim one’s innocence under such circumstances? How to defend yourself, when your side of the story has been censored from the official record, as if your words were nothing but the ramblings of a madman?

The behaviors of the witches who vehemently proclaimed their innocence only sealed their guilt, in the minds of the officials and the gawkers. Time will tell, but there is little doubt — if today’s headlines are any indication — that Aafia Siddiqui’s behavior is also on trial and will be used by the American press to help indict her in the court of public opinion, which is about all that is left to us of our former justice system.

To the credit of Ms. Siddiqui’s attorneys, they are at least making a sound case that she has been falsely accused of the crime for which she’s been charged — attempted murder, for allegedly attempting to shoot at a group of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan, an incident in which the only person shot was Aafia Siddiqui, who was gravely wounded.  Her attorneys have produced forensic evidence and credible witnesses to substantiate her innocence. However, these attorneys are walking a thin line. On the periphery of her defense is the unspoken story — her allegation that she and her children were imprisoned and tortured for 5 years at the hands of U.S. authorities — a story that sounds eerily similar to those told by so many other detainees renditioned to secret U.S. prisons around the world.

How else to try her, except in a sham trial, where she has been issued a gag order regarding any of the events that transpired during the 5 years leading up to her arrest and the alleged shooting? To allow her allegations to surface in any credible manner would be to put the U.S. government on trial. And that’s not going to happen.

Our most recent article on Aafia Siddiqui was in June 2009 post titled, 183 Times is the Charm: The Accusation (by Torture) of a Young Mother Named Aafia Siddiqui. Herein, we told the stories of but a small handful of the victims of the Bush- Cheney war of terror. Below are some excerpts from this post. But to better understand the case of Aafia Siddiqui, and others like her, we would urge you to read the entirety of “183 Times is the Charm…” as this post frames these stories in a more comprehensive context. Again, the excerpts below are from that June 2009 post, so some of the information may be dated.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Aafia Siddiqui

We begin with the events of March-April 2003, when Aafia Siddiqui and her three children disappeared.

  • Various news agencies (CNN, Boston Glove, UPI) reported that Aafia Siddiqui’s name had surfaced during the “interrogation” of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which we now know involved 183 waterboarding sessions.
  • In the wake of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed waterboarding sessions, the FBI issued an alert, on March 18, for Aafia Siddiqui.
  • On March 31, Aafia and her three children disappeared.
  • On April 3, various news agencies (NBC, Associated Press) report that, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and U.S. intelligence officils, Aafia Siddiqui was recently captured and was being held for interrogation at an “undisclosed location.”
  • On April 4th, the FBI “backed off” their initial claim, explaining that it had been a case of mistaken identity.
  • Aafia was not seen or heard from again for over 5 years.

We offer full version of her timeline from March 2003 through June 2009, with pertinent links, here.

The Story of Aafia Siddiqui

Imagine this: You are a 31-year old mother of three; you are also an MIT graduate with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. [In hindsight, there is cruel irony to the topic of your dissertation, in which you explored how people learn — specifically, the interaction between visual memory and perception. In your abstract, you wrote, “Without a visible trail, it is difficult for the subject to form a picture or story.”] . It is late March of 2003. Just a few days earlier, the U.S. went to war in Iraq and — as is now known — the CIA, the FBI and the Bush Administration at large were working around the clock to put together the intelligence necessary to justifying this war.

Up until a year earlier, you’d spent 12 years living in America as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Pakistan. You’d originally moved to the U.S. in 1990 to attend college and be nearer your sister and brother — a Harvard-trained neurologist and a Houston architect, respectively. While living in the U.S., you married a medical student in Boston, who went on to work as an anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. You gave birth to 2 children. Neighbors and friends described you as a devoted mother, spending the bulk of your time in the everyday routines of raising your children, overseeing play groups with their friends. You were also a devout Muslim and donated both time and money to charitable causes and missionary work to help less fortunate Muslims.

Because contributing to Muslim charities constituted a red flag in post-9-11 American, the FBI was watching you and had been since the fall of 2001. According to U.S. intelligence sources, your husband purchased night goggles and body armor off the internet in 2001, which he claimed were intended for big game hunting. Because of these purchases, you, yourself, were brought in for questioning by U.S. officials. Although you were released after questioning, this interrogation served as further evidence that the post-9-11 hostility toward Muslims was escalating. This factored into your decision to return to Pakistan — a debate that had already caused considerable strain in your marriage: you wanted to raise your children in America, while your husband wanted to raise them in Pakistan. In 2002 — with your marriage now on the rocks — you and your husband returned to Pakistan.

By March of 2003, you’d been estranged from your husband for over 7 months, during which time you lived with your mother and gave birth to your third child, who was now 6 months old. Three months earlier, in December 2002, you’d returned to the United States to apply for jobs in the Baltimore area, where your sister was now working at Sinai Hospital. After making several applications — and interviewing with both Johns Hopkins and SUNY — you opened a post office box to receive replies from prospective employers, then returned to your children and your mother in Pakistan.

Now imagine that the FBI believes the only reason you opened that post office box was to receive communications as part of an al Qaeda plot to blow up gas stations and fuel tanks in the Baltimore area. Imagine, too, that during the course of the FBI’s 18-month surveillance of you and your husband, they discovered that, during the summer of 2001, one of your former Muslim acquaintances from Boston had been wired $20,000 from Saudi Arabia (a sum which, according to the explanation given by a Saudi official to the Boston Globe, was sent to pay for medical treatment for the man’s wife). Lastly, imagine that, the FBI believes that this $20,000 is connected to a purported diamond smuggling trip, made by a mysterious woman in the summer of 2001, to fund al Qaeda operations. According to the FBI, that mystery woman is you.

To this story add water, then quickly spin

It is now March 28, 2003. Just a week earlier, on March 20th, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Several weeks earlier, on March 1st, the alleged architect of 9-11,  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured. It seems that — during one of his 183 waterboard interrogation sessions — your name came up. Such confessions do not arise out of the blue.

Here’s how it works: The interrogators accuse the detainee of a crime, supplying him/her with the details of the alleged crime (e.g. flying to the sabbath on a broomstick or plotting to blow something up). The detainee is then — over a period of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and/or years – beaten, cut, sliced, subjected to electric shock, freezing cold, left naked and forced to stay awake for days on end, hung from the ceiling by his wrists, starved, suffocated, water-tortured, and/or threatened with rape or death to himself, his wife or his children (who may, indeed, be heard screaming in an adjoining room) and otherwise tortured, threatened, humiliated and terrorized until he confesses to the crime(s). Next, the interrogators demand the names of his co-conspirators – supplying the detainee with the names and specifics of their alleged crimes (e.g. supplying broomsticks or bombs to other witches). He is then tortured until he tells the interrogators what they want to hear. New arrests follow. The accused co-conspirators are likewise tortured into confessing crimes and fingering still more co-conspirators. New arrests follow….

Your name is Aafia Siddiqui, and you have just been fingered (albeit under torture) by none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is March 28, 2003. You have just left your mother’s house, with your three children, to visit your uncle in Islamabad. Only, you never arrive. Over the next several days, your name is broadcast in headlines around the world. According to a statement by the FBI, which had issued an alert for you only 10 days earlier, you were apprehended in Karachi, Pakistan and were being held for interrogation at an undisclosed location. A few days later, the FBI retracts this statement, saying that — despite their initial optimism — it was a case of mistaken identity. They had not captured you, after all.

The fact nonetheless remains: You and your three children seemingly disappeared into thin air. Over the next 5 years, your mother, sister and brother would search for you, traveling back and forth between the United States and Pakistan, demanding answers from authorities. Pakistani citizens joined humanitarian agencies and human rights groups the world over, waging protests on your behalf and demanding answers. The U.S. and Pakistani governments staunchly denied owning any information on your whereabouts, although, during 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller III announced that an informant in Africa had seen your picture  and fingered you as the diamond-smuggling woman from June 2001, which placed you on the FBI’s offical list of wanted terrorist suspects.

An attorney now working on your behalf says that she can prove that you were in the U.S. during June 2001. The likelihood of this evidence ever being presented at trial is, so far, slim to non-existent.

Your name is Aafia Siddiqui, just one in a long list of names of ghost detainees, being spirited from prison to prison, torture session to torture session; just one in a long list of terrorist suspects who have been fingered — under torture – by another terrorist suspect, who was perhaps fingered, under torture, by yet another terrorist suspect; just another body in another secret prison.

“Without a visible trail, it is difficult for the subject to form a picture or story.”

While the words Abu Garib and Guantanaomo Bay have been out of the closet for several years now, the words Dark Prison, Camp Slappy and the Salt Pit have yet to emerge in the American vernacular. These are but a few of the twenty or so secret prisons in Afghanistan — and a mere fraction of the total number of “dark sites” worldwide –  where the Bush-Cheney Administration sent detainees for the explicit purpose of extracting information through torture. Part and parcel of these detentions has been the fullscale denial by the Bush Administration — and, now, the Obama Administration — that these prisons (and, by extension, the prisoners, themselves) even exist.

Pertinent to the case of Aafia Siddiqui is the word Bagram Prison, which has been alternately a stopping point and the ultimate destination of thousands of Bush Administration terrorist suspects (the distinction between a bona fide terrorist and terrorist suspect being a moot one, within the current framework of the U.S. justice system). Within this tortured system of justice, the only evidence that these prisons exist has come from the ghosts that inhabited these prisons — those terrorist suspects who were eventually released, and have since given testimony to the various forms of tortures they endured, some of which make the stomach wretch just to read about them.

It can be seen as a sign of progress that the word waterboarding, along with enhanced interrogation and extraordinary rendition, have now made their way into the daily dialogue of mainstream media, granting the average American citizen permission to discuss these words without being branded a nut-job. But these words are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg that is the Bush-Cheney torture program. Beneath the surface are so many other words — much-spoken elsewhere in the world, but yet to emerge in the American vernacular: hoods, electrocutions, whips, mock executions, sexual humiliation, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, dog terror, starvation, hypothermiathe rapes (both threatened and consummated), the electric prods, the “dog box,” the rubber bands on the penis designed to stop urination for days at a time, the hot metal rods, the threats to harm a prisoner’s wife or child (some allegedly carried out), the razor cuts and pepper spray on the genitals – not to mention the full menu of  “sanctioned” tortures that have also been inflicted on the thousands of human beings — including uncounted scores of innocents – chained and shackled at the mercy of their torturers, whose explicit job description was to extract information through whatever means were necessary.

Beneath the surface, still, are the numbers of detainee children (ages from infancy onward) who have been imprisoned and held for the cruelest ransom: a full confession from their parents. Further, still, beneath the surface are the stinging insects and the deprivation of food and water — two tortures which have been repeatedly alleged as being used on these children. And we have yet to learn the extent and nature of those “gruesome” forms of torture, such as “crushing the testicles of a person’s child,” that were approved by the Bush Administration for use on detainee children. In this vein, it must be remembered that, along with Aafia Siddiqui disappeared her three children — ages 6 months, 4 years and 6 years in March 2003.

It would be another five years before Aafia Siddiqui would see the light of day.

HEADLINE: The Female Osama bin Laden is Captured!

Aafia Siddiqui ‘reappeared’ in the summer of 2008. She was promptly arrested, and — even as she was dubbed “the female Osama bin Laden,” with her capture deemed to be “the most significant break in U.S. intelligence in 5 years” — her story drew only small mention in the mainstream U.S. media before disappearing completely off the radar.

Given the seriousness of the accusations waged against her, it’s astonishing that few American have even heard her name, much less know her story. What’s even more astonishing is the utter absence of natural or professional curiosity by those U.S. media outlets that did cover her arrest in the summer of 2008. More astonishing, still, is the menu of accusations waged against her in the court of the U.S. media — in which she was essentially tried and convicted — and with much relish by one ABC anchor (seen in the video, below), as he recited the laundry list of allegations against Aafia Siddiqui, as if they were fact:

What has made her capture so important is what the FBI says it found in her handbag: maps of New York City and information on subways, Time Square, the Statue of Liberty, and the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center, run by the Federal government. Also discovered, according to court documents, information on explosives, chemical weapons, and other weapons involving biological material and radiological agents being researched by al Qaeda….”

Perhaps the most important discovery, says the FBI, is a computer thumb drive, packed with emails to what she called ‘her units’ — a possible roadmap to plots in the works…

Among the many plots authorities say she was connected to was a reported effort to assassinate former presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton using chemical or biological agents. While her friends and family say she is an innocent woman being persecuted by the U.S., when she was captured, she was discovered to have a large quantity of cyanide in her possession, perhaps prepared to take her life to avoid capture…..

She was also told by leaders “Have lots of babies. Raise little jihadists.” …. She was ideal to have more little jihadists.” ,

Those well-versed in the talking points of human rights’ abusers might have noticed, in the above news segment, the heavy-handed treatment given to Aafia’s children, as they were pre-emptively dehumanized. See, these are not real human children, folks. They are “little jihadists.” Don’t let their size fool you. Pint-sized Miriam (who, at six months of age, was likely just learning to sit up and could, perhaps, even say the word, “coo” and wave goodbye) was a full-fledged terrorist, in miniature. And don’t be swayed by the fact that her older siblings, Suleman and Ahmed (ages 4 and 6 years of age, respectively) were both American-born citizens. This was no doubt part of the global terrorist plot to infiltrate America and destroy our way of life.

With Aafia Siddiqui’s children thusly dehumanized, we Americans could go on with our lives (rent a flick, buy a new pair of stilettos, plan a trip to Vegas) with a clear conscience. No need to give a second thought to the fate of those three children — two of whom are still missing, with Miriam believed to have died in captivity.

The story of Aafia Siddiqui, as told by her brother

The most comprehensive and — by virtue of its source — the most compelling account on Aafia Siddiqui was given just last month, in April 2009, by her brother, at the Muslim Legal Fund of America’s annual fundraising dinner. The full text of his speech is given below (following the asterisks).

Aafia, You Are Not AlonePerhaps one day someone in the mainstream U.S. media will take aim at the story of Aafia Siddiqui. Perhaps, if her story were told in the full light of day, it would be legitimized and could thereby be removed from the minions of so-called conspiracy theorists (like us) and the so-called terrorist appeasers (like Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Cageprisoners, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, to name a few). Maybe, then, all the other stories could be told, too. Because the truth — which is not so foreign outside of the U.S. — is that Aafia Siddiqui is not the only one. (Here is another. And another. And another….)

The stories of these prisoners make clear that — no matter how much Obama and Cheney protest that these torture incidents are mere aberrations, committed by a small handful of “a few bad apples” — the U.S. torture program is, by design (and a clever one, at that) as elusive as it is systematic. And, even as there are many Americans who fully condone torture — saying yes, “Hell yes!” to torture — surely, surely no one would condone torturing a child, even if her mother were, indeed, guilty of the most heinous crimes.

Surely, the American soul has not succumbed to such putrid rot. Or has it?

*     *     *     *     *

THE TEXT OF THE SPEECH GIVEN BY AAFIA SIDDIQUI’S BROTHER ON APRIL 25, 2009

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you information about my little sister, Aafia Siddiqui’s case. I especially want to commend you for your courage and support in that you are here tonight.

I have been given the difficult task of presenting a short briefing regarding the facts surrounding Aafia’s case.

However, a brief explanation will not allow me delve into all the angles involved in the case so I will try to focus on the core points from my perspective.

So much has been claimed about my sister. So many labels have been applied to Aafia that unfortunately her humanity has been lost. In order to put the case in context, I will have to digress slightly, and perhaps the best place to start is the beginning – the beginning for me was our upbringing.

Aafia was the youngest child in our small family of three. She was always an accomplished student, who treasured education and it was this pursuit of education that lead her to the U.S. at a young age. When she came here, she lived with me before getting her scholarship to MIT. During this time, my little sister devoted herself to her studies and Muslim student activities. She always had a soft spot for helping people and dawah work.

Aafia also had a passion for children, which sounds nice to say; however, proof was in the fact that she dedicated her education at MIT and Brandeis towards the developing of creative and easy techniques for teaching children. Her own dream was to start a school where her techniques could be put into practice. And when she had children of her own, she was totally devoted to them.

Here is one of the many cruel ironies of Aafia’s life in that someone who dedicated her life to children would end up losing her own.

It was just over 6 years ago that my family’s nightmare began.

In March 2003, my little sister and her three small children all disappeared from Karachi.

It was Aafia, her oldest, Ahmad, who was 6 at the time, Maryum who was 4 and Suleman, who was only 6 months.

After many attempts by my family to find out what happened, we heard reports from both the Pakistani & U.S. press that Aafia had been picked up by security officials and handed over to the U.S. for questioning.

Then nothing… Silence. We could get no official word.

As we started to raise questions, my family was “advised” to stay quiet and told we would be left alone…

I am sure you all remember the atmosphere of the time. There was a tremendous climate of fear… and many reports of people just disappearing, especially overseas. Over time, we made discreet inquiries but as hope began to fade we resigned ourselves to the belief that she and her children were probably dead. My mother would search burial sites as not a single day went by that we forgot her but we kept our pain private as we struggled to move on.

Meanwhile, my sister Aafia, the human being, the mother of three was lost in her own abduction. Her story made her fair game. She was transformed into a flash point, a talking point for all sorts of allegations and speculations in the press, while legends evolved around her from parties with their own interests and agendas.

While we were silently grieving, many human rights groups added Aafia’s name to the growing list of missing persons. It seems Aafia’s was not an isolated case. There were hundreds…

Some of you may recall the time when the issue of missing persons became a hot button in Pakistan. It was during this time, when the Chief Justice started asking about the missing persons, that he was sacked.

In early 2008, Moazzem Beg, a former detainee at Gitmo identified Aafia among the women prisoners at Bagram. By early July, a prominent Pakistani politician, Imran Khan and British reporters released reports about Aafia being a detainee in one of the secret prisons.

Then suddenly, in late July 2008, we learned directly from the FBI that Aafia had been shot in Afghanistan and was being brought to the US on charges of attempting to shoot U.S. servicemen.

We were in total shock – on the one hand my family was overjoyed to learn that Aafia was alive… yet at the same time she faced such extraordinary charges and allegations that we feared for her future.

In an instant, we experienced simultaneous joy and horror; hope and despair, a miracle and an extraordinary test.

And the children – Only one of her children is accounted for. The others, to this day are still missing.

I have often wondered what it must have been like for her and I cannot imagine … just imagine what you would do if somebody took your children? Or, rather what would you not do?

It is important that you understand this, because unless you grasp this, you will not grasp the enormity of this case and what it represents. Why Aafia is where she is and how she acts. Why so many feel for her and why others may feel threatened by her case.

Officially she is charged with the attempted murder of U.S. soldiers. She has categorically denied these charges. Several journalists, including one of the first foreign journalists from Reuters who visited the scene and interviewed eye witnesses have disputed the official version, echoing Aafia’s account.

The charges are hard for me to understand because my little sister loved this country (The U.S.), where she earned an outstanding education. She disliked violence and respected the American work ethic and the value placed on merit and self achievement. Her own life exemplified this. She completed her education at MIT by working campus jobs and earning scholarships. She balanced her religious faith with a desire to forge a modern education. – And here is another one of those cruel ironies – as that very education is being used to vilify her.

Currently, the court proceedings are lingering. This adds to all the confusion and hype surrounding the case, not to mention challenging her physical and mental well being and even the ability to build a proper defense.

Then, there is the atmosphere of fear that we still live in today as those who would rise up and speak boldly are few and far between. I hear many private testimonials from people who knew her and still speak highly favorably about her but most fear speaking out publicly.

Aafia has alleged that she was held captive for over 5 years. The government’s response was to initially send Aafia for a mental evaluation and their own doctors determined she was incompetent to stand trial and may have post traumatic stress disorder.

The prosecution, not liking this, decided to get outside experts to overrule the findings (their own original findings) and currently the original doctors are revising their findings so she can stand trial.

Meanwhile, so much time has passed and Aafia continues to linger in prison. But despite all these challenges, she remains spiritually strong and her faith is undiminished although I do find myself questioning my own at times.

Aafia does have court appointed lawyers. But we learned over the past few months that court appointed lawyers have severe restrictions. For example, in 9 months not one defense lawyer has visited the scene of the crime nor interviewed a single witness or even made a motion for bail.

Court appointed lawyers are paid low fees, and even then, the lawyers constantly struggle get funds pre-approved from the judge. In this system, the other side knows everything you are doing.

Appointed lawyers do not even have to have expertise or experience in the area of charges relevant to the case of Aafia.

So, how can Aafia build a trusting and confidential relationship without a lawyer of her own choosing?

The case is complex and requires independent investigation and a team of capable and experienced lawyers.

This is why are teaming up with MLFA. They have experience in getting a solid legal team in place and are set up to do proper fund raising and accounting for cases like this. They have access to the best legal minds and experts and the ability to negotiate the best fees.

I never thought anything like this could ever happen to my family… I mean this is, or this was, something that only happens to other people…. We were professionals going about our daily lives and yet, here I stand before you after 6 years, 6 long and painful years that have taken a very heavy toll on all our lives, the lives of our children and on our community.

But I stand here because I want to thank you for your courage, your support and your prayers. In spite of, or perhaps because of all the contradicting reports, you are here tonight. Help us help Aafia.

I believe that perhaps the most striking duality about my little sister’s case is that while justice has eluded her, perhaps she can help establish justice for others.”

__________________________________

by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

__________________________________

Links to our other posts on Aafia Siddiqui


Note: Please excuse the discordant font sizes in the earlier posts. We transferred these from a different blog server and, for some reason, the fonts arrived in a jarring mix of big fonts plus fonts so tiny you can barely read them. We make no apologies, however, for any expressions of outrage we may have expressed in our writings in our posts on Aafia Siddiqui and her three children.


What did the Bush Administration do with Aafia Siddiqui and her three children?

Aafia Siddiqui and Her 3 Children: Victims to an America that has lost its soul

The Tragic Case of Aafia Siddiqui: How Each of Us Can Help

UPDATES: The Tragic Case of Aafia Siddiqui

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Written by canarypapers

January 20, 2010 at 12:14 am

UPDATED: The U.S. War Machine Leaves an Ugly Slick of Oil & Blood

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UPDATE — DECEMBER 31, 2009: The post below, originally published on July 26, 2008, was written as an outcropping of our disgust over the genocide and ethnic cleansing taking place in the United States’ brutal covert war in Somalia. We never finished this post and never will (see note at bottom of this page). However, the information herein continues to be as relevant today as it will be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. (Think Obama constitutes a change from the Bush Administration’s warmongering for oil under the guise of fighting terrorism? Think again.)

Many Americans would be surprised to know that, throughout the course of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has also been busy with wars elsewhere in the world. Only, we don’t call them wars. We call them things like peacekeeping missions, nation-building or “low intensity conflicts.” Or, as is the case in Colombia, where the U.S. is at work wresting control of oil pipelines and trying to destabilize the bordering oil-rich countries, such as Venezuela, while demonizing the leaders of these countries, we call it a “war on drugs” — even as the U.S. is the pusher man working out of Colombia, using the proceeds from our drug sales to fund our war machine in South America. (Think about it. Has cocaine ever been cheaper or more available than since Clinton and Bush began their war on drugs in Colombia? The same is true of heroin in the Afghanistan drug trade). And we don’t, as a rule, fight these wars ourselves. Instead, we buy off corrupt dictators and/or destabilize and overthrow democratically elected leaders and install corrupt dictators of our own choosing. Then we build armies for them — funding, training and arming these paramilitaries to the tune of millions, so that they can fight our various covert and proxy wars on terror around the globe, which are, coincidentally, in the most mineral-strategic countries on the planet — from South America to Africa and the Middle East. It is no coincidence that the U.S. is the world’s largest arms supplier, our war machine generating loyalties, death and destruction in over 174 states and territories.


These wars are given little scrutiny on the media radar, even as they’re claimed to be part of the larger war on terror — or, in the case of, say, Sudan, they fly under the guise of humanitarian efforts. Much like Somalia, Yemen is not so strategic for its oil reserves, but for its natural gas reserves. Oh, and there’s also that matter of its location (location, location). Specifically, Somalia and Yemen are located across from each other, like mirrors, on either side of the opening from the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. This strait connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden through which our oil and gas laden ships must pass.The U.S. has been covertly warring for years to control this shipping lane. As such, news stories — past present and future — on Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen, Somalia and, yes, pirates are inseparable from this larger story, a story about a superpower that will use any ruse to get what it wants, up to and including climbing in and out of bed with friends, enemies and even the terrorists we claim to be fighting.

As for the collateral damage from our clandestine wars — genocide, ethnic cleansing and untold millions of human lives ground into starvation, disease, misery, death and civil war — America alternately ignores and feigns outrage. When it becomes strategically feasible and/or necessary, the U.S. military steps out of the shadows, setting up high-profile military installations, so that we may help these poor victims, or protect them from the “bad guys,” with whom we may or may not still be in bed. This is the story being replayed in countries throughout the world. Yemen is no exception.

Considering that during the months before 9-11, the FBI had their finger on the pulse of the pre-9-11 terrorist network in Yemen (to which the Bush Administration was in
“ignore” mode), it is curious that U.S.has subsequently enjoyed the sort of relationship with Yemen over the past 8 years, where we could rendition detainees there to be tortured at our CIA black sites in Yemen. Which makes it somehow ironic that the media is using the Yemen connections of the recent underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab
/AbdulMutallab, to help us recall and re-ignite our anger over 9-11. It seems the American public is now being signaled that it’s time to switch from from ignore-mode to the outrage-mode being feigned by our leaders. This is, of course, our cue, as patriotic, freedom-loving Americans to rally behind our pre-Christmas bombing campaign waged on the innocent men, women and children in Yemen, which promises to be an ongoing campaign in the war formerly known as Bush’s war on terror. It is no coincidence that this latest bombing campaign was already underway when the underpants bomber boarded the plane for America. Nor is it a coincidence that the trail of the underpants bomber is littered with questions that, for the official record, go unasked and unanswered.

Such has been the nature of America’s war on terror, beginning with 9-11. Our leaders can afford to be arrogant and sloppy because, truth be known, the U.S. is untouchable. We encourage those interested in these stories to do their own research. This page is a good starting point. Our apologies that we cannot finish our own effort out, and for any dead links on this page.


An odd coincidence: Pick any oil-rich spot on the globe, and you will find the U.S. engaged in the war on terror.

In this vein, why has there been such a preponderance of al Qaeda terrorists (or, rather, a preponderance of **propaganda about **al Qaeda) surrounding the oil fields of the world over the past 7 years?

The current war in Iraq is not the first U.S. war for oil. Nor is it the first war for oil that has claimed massive civilian casualties, which were then concealed by the U.S. media. This is the first war for oil, however, fought on the grounds that a foreign country posed a direct threat to the U.S. — false grounds — which our government intentionally deceived us into believing. This is also the first war for oil fought under the mantle of spreading freedom and democracy, even as the U.S. government funds and arms both sides in a civil war: Shiites against Sunnis and Sunnis against Shiites — who then terrorize, torture, slaughter and commit ethnic cleansing of the very Iraqi populations we’re supposedly fighting to “save” from the evil terrorists. There’s a term for the type of warfare being waged by the U.S. in Iraq. It’s called war crimes.


That the American people have not demanded accountability from Congress, and have largely remained silent about the atrocities of this war – whether through complacent ignorance or sheer disbelief that our government could actually commit such atrocities — has only served to condone this war and the policies of this administration. Our collective silence has, in effect, given Bush-Cheney carte blanche to wage other wars on terrorism – wars now being fought in countires throughout the world, with scarcely a mention in the U.S. media.

Unknown to most Americans is that dozens of countries throughout the world have now been accused of harboring al Qaeda terrorists. Unknown to most Americans is that the Bush-Cheney Administraion is and has been waging clandestine wars in these countries, under the banner of “fighting terrorism,” sometimes called “peacekeeping missions” and “nation-building.” Unknown to most Americans is that we are currently spending millions of dollars in each of these countries, to fight mere handsful of alleged al Qaeda terrorists, whose existence — in many instances — is based on “intelligence” as leaky as the intelligence that sent us to war in Iraq. The potential and the reality (as seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan) is that these wars result in “chasing needles by burning haystacks,” as entire populations of innocent civilians are brutalized by the Bush-Cheney war machine , as it pursues small handsful of terrorists, who may or may not even exist.

In Iraq, alone, the Bush-Cheney war machine left in its wake over 4 million “displaced” Iraqi citizens — driven from their homes through violence and ethnic cleansing. From this point forward, if there were any questions left regarding the true intention of the U.S. forces, one need look no further than the billions of U.S. dollars spent building the enormous network of permanent U.S. bases over the past 7 years. These mega-bases have been built with every U.S. lifestyle amenity imaginable — from Baskin Robbins to Burger King, from miniature golf to swimming pools, from Hertz Rent-a-Car to department stores, and from football stadiums to movie theatres — not to mention air-conditioning, satellite internet access, cable television and international phone service.
The average Iraqi citizen has not enjoyed some of these amenities — such as electricity, food, water, shelter, sanitation and health care — since the days of Saddam Hussein. Ironically, construction on the permanent U.S. bases in Iraq proceeded swiftly toward completion, while U.S. work on to restore the most rudimentary of services for Iraqis — such as water purification, food, health care and electricity — fell to the wayside.

A Crude Awakening

Despite what we, in America, hear on the evening news, the words ‘victory’ and ’success’ do not belong in the same sentence with the word ‘Iraq.” The situation in Iraq is one of humanitarian crisis. Five years into the U.S. invasion of their country, Iraq is now deemed, the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East since 1948. Human rights and relief agencies throughout the world (International Red Cross, Amnesty International, Oxfam) have described the situation as “disasterous,” as a “dire humanitarian crisis,” calling Iraq, “one of the most dangerous countries in the world…. a place of carnage and despair.” Our vice-president, Dick Cheney, recently described Iraq as a “successful endeavor,” a sentiment we hear echoed daily from our mainstream U.S. media. Would the American public be silent, if they knew that we are waging similar wars in dozens of countries?
Question: When is a war a war?
Is it a war, if it’s called a ‘low-intensity conflict’? Is it a war, if only a small number of U.S. military troops are sent in? And is it a war, if the soldiers are from private mercenary armies hired through U.S. corporations? And is it a war, if our military funds, trains and arms rogue armies to fight these wars? Is it a war if the military’s stated purpose is ‘peacekeeping’ or to lend humanitarian aid? And what if it’s a little of each? Is it a war?
The answers lie in the oil fields: If U.S. military engagement and/or aid results in the U.S. gaining control of a country’s oil/mineral profits — at the expense of the native populations, who suffer impoverishment, torture, ethnic cleansing and/or genocide as a result of our actions — then that military engagement is, indeed, a war. It is a war for oil.  
Curious to know just how many wars are being fought for oil, we decided to take a head count of each and every country where the U.S. is fighting the war on terror. Our bet is that each and every one is also, ultimately, a war for oil. Whether the resulting silence from this truth is deafening, or not, is anyone’s guess.

Pick a Continent, Any Continent…

Say, Africa. Although Africa is but one stop on Dick Cheney’s proposed world tour for oil, it’s a good place to start, since the entire continent stands to be devoured, beginning with its name. Renamed in February 2007 (for military purposes only, mind you) Africa is now called the U.S. African Command (USAFRICOM or AFRICOM). As shown on this map, USAFRICOM was created from the existing United States European Command (USEUCOM), United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) and United States Pacific Command (USPACOM). Whatever that means. It is with some haste, then, that we inventory the African countries involved in Bush-Cheney’s global war on terror.

Lost in all the flurry of Bush’s February 2007 announcement of the surge in Iraq was his concurrent announcement of another surge — this one on the continent of Africa. Having neatly accomplished ‘Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems’ in their war for oil distribution in Iraq, Bush-Cheney — poised, now, to undertake another empire — easily won congressional approval for “African solutions to African problems.” aka, U.S.AFRICOM: the U.S. African Command and its military arm ACOTA. A Department of Defense military operation, AFRICOM was created by Bush-Cheney to enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa. Started in October 2007, and set to be fully operational by September 30, 2008, AFRICOM is installing military commands in a total of 53 African countries – that’s all of Africa, except Egypt.

In an August 2007 congressional briefing, State and Defense Department officials emphasized to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that AFRICOM’s aim is to boost cooperation on anti-terrorism and peacekeeping activities, and programs that promote regional stability. In this same briefing, Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant for African affairs, echoed this sentiment — assuring Congress that AFRICOM is focused on security, not combat. On the heels of this assurance, however, she nonetheless cautioned: ” I would anticipate that there would be an increase in the amount of exercises we conduct and other military-to-military cooperation activity.”

Many in Africa are understandably suspicious. Believing, perhaps, that past is prologue — the majority of countries are protesting the presence of AFRICOM, as are many individuals around the world, including some high-profile activists, such as Danny Glover , who consider the ongoing U.S.-British militarization of Africa to be little more than a strategy toward gaining control of Africa’s natural resources, most notably its oil. As one critic noted: “Peace operations” and “nation building” are what the military and the mercenaries call their activities. But just like Bush’s “healthy forests” and “clear skies” initiatives, the names mean the opposite of what they do.


The Oil Fields of Africa: Black Gold, Texas Tea

The conundrum the Bush-Cheney Administration faces in Africa is the same all the world over: how to pry the mineral rights from the rightful owners — the African people, in this case — while convincing Congress and the American public that our presence is purely benevolent? The events of September 11th provided an easily path: wage war on terror. This path is all the easier in Africa, where so many countries are already under the control of corrupt, suppressive dictators, whose loyalties are easily purchased.

The tactics used by Bush-Cheney are generally the same, however, no matter what the county. First, they make a case for terrorism in the country – preferably al Qaeda. Then, and not necessarily in this order, they (1) provide U.S. military assistance to fight terrorism, (2) accuse any one who disagrees with the U.S. military presence of being a terrorist insurgent, (3) incite existing cultural tensions toward divisiveness or civil war, (4) fund and arm the “goods guys” and/or the “bad guys” (aka terrorists) to physically remove — through either ethnic cleansing and sometimes genocide — the native populations living on the lands around the oil fields and pipelines, (5) if these populations protest, label them as terrorist insurgents.

Throughout each step of the process, U.S. oil interests are expanded and secured — under the guise of “economic development” for the host country. When all is said and done, however, it is the U.S. who owns the controlling interests in their oil fields. Of course, by the time AFRICOM was created, Bush-Cheney had already done the legwork, having identified terrorist influences in most of the oil-rich African countries set to receive AFRICOM’s military commands. And in a few countries — such as Somalia and Sudan — they’d already accomplished steps 1 through 5.

_____________________________

As an aside, a smattering of quotables on the topic:

After the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy toward Africa was driven by President George H. W. Bush’s vision of a “New World Order.” …. President Bush announced in his 2006 State of the Union Address his intention to “to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025,” …. analysts estimate that Africa may supply as much as 25% of all U.S. oil imports by 2015. — from the Report for Congress, “Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa,” March 10, 2008.

Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we’ve known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. — From President George H.W. Bush’s speech, “Toward a New World Order,” delivered before the nation and a joint session of Congress, September 11, 1990

Along with Latin America, West Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing sources of oil and gas for the American market. African oil tends to be of high quality and low in sulfur, making it suitable for stringent refined product requirements, and giving it a growing market share for the refining Centers on the East Coast of the U.S.Dick Cheney, May 16, 2001

In the aftermath in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, it is increasingly clear that the United States ignores Africa at its peril….The continent’s failed states and huge swaths of ungoverned territory offer sanctuary to terrorist groups.American Enterprise Institute May 2004 conference bulletin: Leave No Continent Behind: U.S. National Security Interests in Africa

Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: Ethnic cleansing works. Armed Forces Journal, June 2006. “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look,” by Ralph Peters

_____________________________

It is easy to understand, then, the fears of African citizens, who feel helpless to the incoming U.S. military presence in their countries. Some in America know this same helplessess, as we’ve seen war protesters branded as terrorist sympathizers or “homegrown terrorists” in recent years. The difference between Americans and Africans is that we do not have a history (up to this point, anyway) of being forced from our homes by the U.S. military, or of witnessing the mass slaughtering of our families, neighbors, communities, of whole towns of people, who protested the policies of the U.S. government. The fear of these African countries is understandable, then, as America’s war on terror turns its calculating eye toward the oil fields of Africa.

U.S. Oil & Mineral Claims vs. Terrorist Claims in Africa:
An Alphabetical Compendium of Coincidences
 
**Benin (important for its proximity to Nigeria oil and its political-economic relationship w/ECOWAS)
**Burkina Faso (important for its proximity to Nigeria oil and its political-economic relationship w/ECOWAS)
**Cape Verde (important for its proximity to Nigeria oil and its political-economic relationship w/ECOWAS)
Guinea-Bissau
**Lesotho
Liberia
**Madagascar
**Malawi
**Mali
**Mozambique
**Namibia
Niger
Senegal
Sierra Leone
Swaziland
**Tanzania
Togo
Zambia
Zimbabwe
** these countries receive aid through compacts with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government corporation, created by Bush in 2002, to “undercut terrorism by attacking poverty overseas.” While most of these countries lack significant oil reserves, their geographical & political relationships with oil-rich countries lends a strategic importance to U.S. interests in Africa.
* * *
 
 
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our original idea with this post was to document every mineral/gas/oil-rich country in the world where the U.S. is engaged in various military operations. Frankly, the task is too disgusting to continue. To anyone interested in such things, just google to find which countries have rich reserves of oil and gas (or gold, diamonds and other minerals). Then google the name of any of these countries + “al Qaeda” or “insurgents” or “Dick Cheney” or “U.S. military,” or “USNORTHCOM” or “Blackwater,” or “mercenary armies,” or the name of either Bush Jr. or Sr.
Dig just a little, and you will find the U.S. in the thick of it, secretly funding covert and proxy wars, arming and training paramilitaries. You can also google terms such as: genocide, ethnic cleansing, humanitarian crisis, starvation, rape, death squads, disease, etc. and find your way to the U.S. through the back door, so to speak. One notable exception to the rule will be Darfur, where China beat us to the punch. In Sudan, however, the U.S. and China seem to be in partnership, each country jockeying for their fair share of oil and carnage.
Depending on the country, you may also find a “war on drugs,” particularly in South America, but also in Afghanistan. This is how the U.S. funds some of it’s illegal wars, as there is only so much money that can be hoodwinked out of Congress to fund our covert wars. But drug money is only one of the many ways the U.S. gets around the inconvenience of laws that forbid us to provide military aid to countries engaged in genocide, torture, renditions, illegal imprisonments and so on.

The Art of Trying Terrorist Suspects (without really trying)

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UPDATE: I stand corrected. When I wrote the post, below, I predicted that the plans to try terrorist suspects in federal courts would be aborted once the left and right had finished their political theater (one side pretending to aspire to justice, while the other lobs their usual “soft-on-terror” accusations plus a heapin’ helping of fearful predictions of danger should the trials be allowed to take place), the end result being that — to the blame of no one — justice could continue to be deferred. I now see that, in one fell swoop, the debate over the trials — as well as the debate over the closing of Guantanamo — has instead been neatly suffocated by the recent underpants fire on Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

Until the following questions have been openly asked and comprehensively answered (sans any bogus excuses about state secrets and/or blame games and attacks against those who would deign ask such questions) concerning the incidents surrounding this purported terrorist plot, it would be difficult to conclude this to be anything but a different brand of political theater, designed to do exactly what it will — derail plans to close Guantanamo and put an end to this nonsense about due process of law:

  1. Who was the well-dressed Indian man described in this CNN interview, who allegedly assisted Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab in boarding the plane without a passport?
  2. What was the identity and purpose of the man aboard Flight 253 (described in the same interview, above) who oddly, to the notice of at least one passenger, began videotaping the flight hours before the underpants incident and, during the fire, was the only one standing up, as he intently filmed the incident?
  3. On whose say-so was Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab working for al Qaeda?
  4. On whose say-so did al Qaeda claim responsibility for this plot?

Because, if the only authorities for answering questions #3 and #4 are either IntelCenter or SITE (the official Bush-Cheney Ministries of Propaganda, aka “terrorist monitoring firms,” run by the supreme Reichsministers of Propaganda, Rita Katz and Ben N. Venzke, who have been responsible for most, if not all of the ludicrously fraudulent al Qaeda and bin Laden tapes released since 9-11), then that’s evidence enough that — 2008 election results notwithstanding — that wascally wat Cheney is still at the helm.

Flying to the Sabbath on a Broomstick

From the vantage point of our comfy armchairs, it’s difficult to imagine what crimes any one of us might confess under the duress of “enhanced interrogation.” To what would you confess if someone stormed into your living room and shoved a loaded gun into your mouth? Or, more true to life, if you were stripped naked and hung by your wrists from the ceiling until you fell unconscious from the pain? Or had an electric prod shoved up your rectum?

What if someone threatened to do these things to your child? To what would you confess? Malfeasance? Petty larceny? Murder? Flying to the Sabbath on a broomstick? Plots to blow up bridges?

We are all witches as soon as we are tortured. — Jesuit priest Von Spee, denouncing confessions by torture, from his  1627 book, “Cautio Criminalis,”

water-torture-damhoudere-15561

"The Water Torture" 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture

As could be predicted, the announcement of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tral instantaneously split America down the middle. On the right are the godly, law-abiding, pro-Americans. On the left are the godless, terrorist-appeasing anti-Americans. Before we get too far into this argument, let’s get one thing straight: The reason the folk on the right object to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s trial is because they don’t trust the American judicial system.

The folk on the right don’t trust our constitution, and they don’t want to hear a bunch of liberal, tree-hugging crap about habeas corpus, due process and international treaties. (God help the folk on the right, should they ever find themselves on the wrong side of the legal system to which they aspire). What they want is 100% assurance that the accused will be convicted. Period. The finer points of law — such as evidence of guilt — have become moot. After all, there are some crimes so horrible, that the mere accusation is enough to taint a person with guilt. Coddling such people with attorneys and due process of law is an affront to real justice.

To these folk, real justice is what you do with the raw anger in your gut — not this fancy-pants, Harvard Law school mumbo jumbo designed to mollycoddle evil. Real justice is Biblical: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and so on. This is why the folk on the right are still on board with the same administration that, for 8 years, blatantly spat on the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions and, instead, resorted to torturing people to exact punishment and extract evidence — even as we’ve known for centuries that people will say anything to make the torture stop:

Such confessions do not arise out of the clear blue. Here’s how it works:

The interrogators accuse the detainee of a crime, supplying him/her with the details of the alleged crime (e.g. kissing the anus of a demon or plotting  to blow something up). The detainee is then — over a period of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and/or years — beaten, cut, sliced, subjected to electric shock, freezing cold, left naked and forced to stay awake for days on end, hung from the ceiling by his wrists, starved, suffocated, water-tortured, and/or threatened with rape or death to himself, his wife or his children (who may, indeed, be heard screaming in an adjoining room) and otherwise tortured, threatened, humiliated and terrorized until he confesses to the crime(s). Next, the interrogators demand the names of his co-conspirators — supplying the detainee with the names and specifics of their alleged crimes (e.g. supplying broomsticks or bombs to other witches). He is then tortured until he tells the interrogators what they want to hear. New arrests follow. The accused co-conspirators are likewise tortured into confessing crimes and fingering still more co-conspirators. New arrests follow….

Our country has spent a lot of air time over the past several years, deliberating from comfy armchairs (What is torture?), debating from media roundtables (Did we torture?), engaging in parlor games (Is torture wrong?), and daintily sipping sophisms from silver spoons (When is torture justifiable?).

Aside from being immoral, inhumane, a violation of the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (notwithstanding the legal and semantic sleights-of-hand concocted through the Bybee and Bradbury torture memos), a violation of the terms of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, a violation of the the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and in defiance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in short, a violation of all international law) — torture is not only wrong and unjustifiable in all circumstances, but it goes against natural law.

Natural law? Say what?

The Martens Clause

Introduced in a preamble to the 1899 Hague Convention, the Martens Clause was intended to bridge the gap between the basic principles of humanity and the existing international treaties on armed conflict — treaties which can never be said to be complete, as they constantly evolve according to the new inventions of war. The Martens Clause provides that, just because something is not explicitly prohibited by a treaty doesn’t mean it is legal:

“Until a more complete code of the laws of war is issued, the High Contracting Parties think it right to declare that in cases not included in the Regulations adopted by them, populations and belligerents remain under the protection and empire of the principles of international law, as they result from the usages established between civilized nations, from the laws of humanity and the requirements of the public conscience.”the Martens Clause, July 29, 1899 ¹

In other words — should the law fail to spell this out — we human beings are expected, during wartime, to observe the basic laws of humanity and should refrain from doing those things that are innately, universally understood to be unconscionable.

Not exactly a law, but a guiding principle or aspiration, the Martens Clause has long been the topic of debate, interpretation, re-interpretation and, at times, dismissed as irrelevent. The International Law Commission interprets the Martens Clause as such: “[it] provides that even in cases not covered by specific international agreements, civilians and combatants remain under the protection and authority of the principles of international law derived from established custom, from the principles of humanity and from the dictates of public conscience.” ¹

One notable example of the importance of the Martens Clause was the Nuremberg trials, conducted at a time when international laws and treaties had yet to catch up with the inventions of that particular war. According to Rupert Ticehurst, Lecturer in Law at King’s College School of Law, London:

…. the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which to a great extent relied on natural law to determine the culpability of the Nazi high command, confirmed the continuing validity of natural law as a basis for international law in the twentieth century.

“In contrast to positive law,” writes Ticehurst, “natural law is universal, binding all people and all States. It is therefore a non-consensual law based upon the notion of the prevalence of right and justice.¹

Whether or not this should apply to the current war — fka “the war on terror” — doesn’t appear to be a topic of debate. But it should be. We should be asking ourselves:

Are all prisoners entitled to the principles of humanity and the dictates of the public conscience? Or just certain ones? And if we classify our prisoners as “enemy combatants” and “detainees” can we ignore all the laws governing prisoners of war and, instead, indefinitely imprison them — never charging them with a crime, yet barring all avenues for release; forever denying them access to an attorney, formal charges, the right to testify and present evidence?

Equally important: Is a man still considered innocent until proven guilty? And do confessions extracted under torture and/or the threat of harm to one’s family constitute evidence?

Or have we human being finally discovered that one special exception that nullifies all known laws and codes of human conduct? Have we finally discovered that there is, indeed, a class of human beings who — regardless of their innocence or guilt — are exempt from equal protection under the law? Have we become so divine in our wisdom, that we can now dispense with such quaint notions as the law of the land and, instead, allow our most primal responses to fear to serve as the foundation for justice in America?

Enter King George

The reasons why the Bush-Cheney Administration chose to crush both the spirit and letter of both international treaties and U.S. constitutional law — and, with them, the most basic principles of humanity — are still up for debate. But the end result was this: they polluted the entire judicial process.

Having broken all known laws regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and criminal suspects, it then became necessary for the Bush Administration to rewrite, reinterpret and, alternately, nullify our 225-year old Constitution and Bill of Rights, so as to legalize torture and crimes against humanity. And to ensure that no one tried to stop them, they waged a campaign of fear, bolstered by the timely releases of scary, albeit fraudulent, audios and videos disseminated by their paid propaganda hacks at SITE and IntelCenter. And to discredit constitutionally-minded lawmakers and scholars, they accused them of being elitist and “soft on terror.” And to discredit a skeptical public, they branded anyone who disagreed with their agenda as either a terrorist appeaser or a conspiracy theorist. And to ensure that the eyes of the world would never know the details of their crimes, they slapped labels such as “state secrets” and “national security” onto the sloppy paper trail left in their wake.

And, to be sure that the voices of these prisoners would never heard — that their testimony and the lack of evidence against them would never be known — the Bush Administration concocted a brand new judicial systems for trying their torture victims.

Hence, the President’s Military Order of November 13, 2001, one of the first great assaults on democracy and the U.S. Constitution, which empowered the Department of Defense with the sole authority to try these prisoners, unencumbered by the scrutiny of the judicial branch of our government. Hence, the later Military Commissions Act of 2006 — crafted by a Republican Congress to thwart an earlier 2004 Supreme Court decision that granted habeas corpus to these detainees. Hence the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which the Supreme Court ultimately decided in their 2008 ruling were inadequate to meet the terms of habeas corpus, since they did not allow the detainees to be represented by lawyers, gave them limited ability to present evidence on their behalf, and left no mechanism for their release, should a federal court find inadequate reason to hold them.  Hence an 8 year assault on the U.S. Constitution through a series of new-fangled systems of justice designed to forbid the accused from presenting evidence or plead a defense, with access to attorneys — if allowed at all — so limited, abridged and censored as to be little more than a token nod to procedure within a sham system of justice.

In short, these prisoners have been brought to trial before the Military Tribunals for no other reason than to be pronounced guilty. Or, as has more often been the case, to be pronounced as being inherently dangerous, sans any evidence — beyond that extracted under torture — to support this claim. In the latter scenario, these prisoners are left suspended in indefinite limbo, mired in procedural mumbo jumbo under the guise of state secrets, as part of the systemic effort to make sure that the truth about these prisoners is never heard outside the prison walls.

The beauty of these new American systems of justice is that, by invoking the “state secrets” privilege, King George and his presidential progeny have, thus far, been able to evade — in the interest of national security — judicial scrutiny and at least some of the international condemnation over our illegal detentions, extraordinary renditions and “disappearances,” prisoner abuses, torture and other war crimes.

Our Dirty Little Secret

The fact is this: Untold numbers of prisoners in Guantanamo are not being held because of they’ve committed any crime, but because of the crimes committed against them. The only way to covering up these crimes is through “indefinite detention” — by keeping these prisoners forever locked away — barring them from all legal or judicial recourse, barring the outside world from ever hearing of the torture and extraordinary rendition to which they’ve been subjected.

We in America are told that these prisoners are dangerous. And we’re told that the evidence of their dangerousness must be kept secret, else it would threaten our national security. What we haven’t been told — and what the prisoners, themelves, have yet to be told — are their charges: With what crimes exactly, are these men being charged? What are they guilty of?

The answer for many of the prisoners is this: nothing. They have not been charged with one single crime — and they never will be — because the only evidence against them is that which has been coerced through torture. And, despite years of effort and armies of investigators,  King George was never able to find any evidence to substantiate the crimes to which these tortured prisoners confessed.

Many Americans, reacting to the gut horror of the September 11th, have become hardened to the tenets of justice.  To them, the term, “due process of law,” is a dirty phrase. To them, it is still not well enough that our country has already extracted more than 100 million of pounds of flesh — collateral damage, it’s called — from the innocent Iraqi and Afghani mothers, fathers and children who have been blown to pieces by our bombs and our guns.

To them, the deaths of these innocents is a small price to pay for….. For what? What exactly do we hope to accomplish at this point, beyond saving face in Afghanistan and raising the stock market value of the defense contractors? What, exactly, do we hope to buy with the million-dollar-per-soldier bandages we are slapping on our gaping hypocrisy of a war in Afghanistan? Our real war, now, is in Pakistan — a war we carelessly blundered into existence and, in the process, created a real potential for nuclear armegeddon.

God forbid that any in this country would commit treason by asking the real question we need to be asking: What are the seeds to this whole war? Because the seeds were planted long before September 11th. At the risk of over-simplifying the issue, I would propose that, were the United States to (1) lessen its dependency on fossil fuels, and (2) discontinue its blind support, funding and arming of Israel’s campaigns of aggression and violence, and (3) stop torturing and illegally detaining people, (4) stop funding covert wars and arming proxy militias, and (5) begin honoring international treaties, that the complexion of world politics would be fundamentally changed for the better.

God forbid that anyone but a conspiracy theorist would point out that all of our wars — overt, covert and by-proxy — are in the most mineral and oil-strategic spots on the globe; or would draw a relationship between America’s sanction of Israel’s terrorism and al Qaeda terrorism; or would point out that our torture and illegal detention programs have only recruited retaliation. God forbid that any in this country would ask: 

What’s the net difference between al Qaeda retaliating for their grievances against America by plowing planes into buildings and killing nearly 3,000 innocents, and America’s retaliating for grievances against al Qaeda by plowing bombs into villages for 8 years straight — killing, perhaps, more than a million innocents?

How many pounds of flesh is enough?

King George and Lord Cheney have told us — and Obama concurs — that terrorists kill and torture because they are innately evil, while America kills and tortures to spread spread freedom and democracy. Yet, it was democracy and freedom that also died on September 11th — a crime for which Osama bin Laden never claimed credit, outside of the controversially-sourced December 13, 2001 video (and subsequent others, equally controversial); a crime that compelled America’s war on terror, whose by-product has been unprecedented levels of wealth and power for those political and corporate profiteers (from Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales, to Cofer Black and Erik Prince ), whose pockets have been filled from the blood of our wars.

The Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Against this backdrop, it’s no wonder that the prevailing right and the sycophant left in America are up in arms over the prospect of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being tried in federal court. Aside from the fears over what might be revealed, in the way of facts, such trials do not come with a 100% guarantee that the accused will be convicted.

Having said this — and knowing what I know of our country’s history over the past 8 years  — I have to wonder: Why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

Why did the DOJ and the Obama Administration choose this particular prisoner — the most hated, despised man on the planet, aside from Osama bin Laden — to use as the test case in America’s return to the standards of justice?

Could it be that the Obama Administration really doesn’t want this trial to take place? Could it be that they, like the Bush Administraion before them, they would like to just sweep the whole matter under the rug and keep forever hidden from scrutiny the crimes committed by our government?

I think so.

Otherwise, the first case on the docket would have been a prisoner such as Guantanamo detainee, Majid Khan — in all likelihood an innocent man — who was tortured into making confessions in 2003, yet has never been legally, officially, formally or otherwise charged with a crime. A man who has been rotting in secret prisons, then in Guantanamo, for the past 6-1/2 years.  A man for whom — few who know the facts of his case could argue — justice has been grossly perverted and denied.

Call me jaded, but I see red flags in the DOJ/Obama Administration announcement of the intention to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court, rather than putting the full weight of our judicial system behind Majid Khan and the hundreds of others like him, whose fates have already been ruled on by the Supreme Court.

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court ruled this in 2008: Either charge these prisoners with a crime, or set them free.

So why has the Obama Adminstration, just like the Bush Administration, choosen to ignore this directive? It would appear that neither administration wants to openly acknowledge, before the entire free world, that our war on terror is not only immoral and illegal, but is being orchestrated by same ilk of men who would — upon coercing a man to confess flying to the Sabbath on a broomstick — sincerely believe that the end justifies the means.

To what crimes would you confess if someone stormed into your living room and kidnapped your infant niece? Or if you were suffocated with water? Or stripped naked and hung by your wrists from the ceiling until fell unconscious from the pain? Or had an electric prod shoved up your rectum?

What if someone threatened to do these things to your child? To what would you confess? Malfeasance? Petty larceny? Murder? Flying to church on a broomstick? Plots to blow up bridges?

And would you accuse others, as well?

Majid Khan is but one of many “co-conspirators” whose name happened to come up during one of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s 183 waterboarding sessions during March 2003 — back when the Bush-Cheney Administration was desperate to find any intelligence, even cooked intelligence, to justify going to war in Iraq.

Beyond the confessions extracted through the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — and, later, the torture of Majid Khan — that there is not one scintilla of evidence that Majid Khan is guilty of any crime, terrorist or otherwise. In fact, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself has several times acknowledged that he sometimes told the interrogators exactly what they wanted to hear, just to make the torture stop.

Yet, the questions still drift from our comfy armchairs: When is torture justifiable?

The answer is this: Never. Beyond the fact that is is immoral, inhumane and illegal, it has also made it impossible to try these detainees in a just court of law. There is no justice system on this planet, unless in kangaroo courts in the most oppressive, dictatorial regimes — courts much like our own Military Tribunals — that could do anything but throw out the charges against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. While — from what we’ve been told — there exists actual evidence of his guilt, the pool of justice has been so thoroughly polluted that it is all but impossible to ascertain his guilt or innocence through legal channels. The best that can be hoped is to stage a show trial, so that he may formally be pronounced guilty.

Time will tell, but I predict that the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will never take place in federal court. I predict that, instead, Americans on the left and the right will continue to step-up the rhetoric.  Words will be twisted behind people’s backs until, finally, someone in the Obama Administration or the Department of Justice cries, “Uncle!”

We’ll know the battle’s over by the silence left in its wake. It’s the same silence that was heard from the witches left dangling from the gallows; it’s the silence left by the burning bodies hanging from the lynching trees; it’s the sound made by a thousand tortured souls echoing from our illegal prisons. It’s the sound that justice makes, after being dragged kicking and screaming to the grave.

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by Mantis Katz for the canarypapers

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1. The Martens Clause and Armed Conflict by Rupert Ticehurst BA LLM,  Lecturer in Law, King’s College School of Law, London (article from the International Committee of the Red Cross website).

FOR MORE READING:

Guantanamo Voices: Guantanamo Basics: Answers questions on the prisoners at Guantanamo related to their detention, crimes and the judicial process

The Idolatry of Lesser Gods: Bogeymen and Heroes in the Bush Age

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No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving god looks upon them with favor. — President Obama, speaking at the Fort Hood memorial service on November 10, 2009

Listening to the radio yesterday, I heard Obama speak at the memorial for the 13 slain soldiers at Fort Hood. I listened to another mourner call the shooting rampage a “mini 9/11.” I listened to Obama.

At the risk of committing blasphemy, I’m going to state the obvious. When it comes to honoring tragedy, violence and death, Americans rise to the occasion. But only so long as these can be turned into a cause, of sorts: a cause for waving the flag and waxing patriotic about how great we are, as a people and a country — a cause, ultimately, for uniting against a common enemy. Because  without our enemies, we’d be nothing.

pro war
More than 200 demonstrators gathered at a Lafayette, California hillside in 2007 to voice their support for Bush and the Iraq War. The more than 3,000 crosses in the background represent the soldiers killed in Iraq.

I say this not to dishonor the victims of this horrible tragedy, but because it is incomprehensible that the American people have not embraced, with an equal degree of passion and mourning, the estimated 738 innocent American lives that have been lost — due to the simple inability to afford medical care — since the November 5th shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

Traditionally, Americans don’t rally around common enemies like poverty, racism or injustice. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our enemies are whatever bogeyman currently embodies our centuries-long hatred of other races, of other cultures,  and most especially of non-Christians.  And — as we learned during the Bush-Cheney Administration — it makes no difference whether these enemies are real or imaginary. The important thing is that we have them.

Without our enemies, around whom would we unite? Against what would we fight? What would be our common cause? Certainly not a reverence for the living.

If we’ve learned nothing from the health care wars of 2009, it’s that here in American, there are some folk who wouldn’t give a slug nickel to buy a poor man 5 minutes with the doctor — and who would, in fact, fight to the death to ensure he doesn’t get a red cent. By no coincidence, these are the same folk who have proved they don’t give a rat’s ass how big the price tag, when it comes to war.

The proof of this is in the pudding of the last 8 years. The rabid mobs who took to the streets this summer in protest against health care reform are the same folk who raised nary a squeak over the trillions of their grandchildrens’ futures that were mortagaged by Bush, Cheney & Co. Not a single pip was heard over the trillions that have been squandered to foot the bill for two wars that were waged on false pretenses and lies — wars which have accomplished little more than generating new armies of enemies, while making billionaires out of oil men, defense contractors and the myriad other for-profit agents of modern warfare. 

And in the wake the shootings at Fort Hood, we’ve learned something else. Americans easily unite to shed tears and decry the tragedy of 13 soldiers whose lives were brutally cut short by an irrational act of insanity. Yet we, as a people, are unable to extend this same level of sadness and outrage over the 123 Americans whose lives are brutally cut short each and every day — lives that could be saved, were these human beings simply given access to medical care.    

child-of-warIn America, we readily unite around our wars, our enemies and our soldiers. We generously open our pocketbooks to bullets and bombs and missiles. And we turn a blind eye to the repercussions of our purchases — millions maimed and slaughtered, falsely imprisoned and tortured, the women and children forced by American mercenaries into servitude and sex slavery, the uncounted number of babies born grossly deformed and dead in the wake of our depleted uranium bombs. Even as we don’t dare look our deeds in the eye, we rejoice in their righteousness. 

Yet, we fracture at the prospect of peace; ridicule peacemakers as weak; label them “terrorist appeasers.” We resent humanitarian causes, squabble over whose job it is — and isn’t — to protect and care for the sick, the oppressed, the hurt, the weak and the hungry. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that we were unable, as a country, to unite during the summer of 2009 to ensure that — never again — would any American citizen suffer fear, hunger, destitution, bankruptcy or homelessness due to medical bills  — or, worse, that any American citizen would die for simple a lack of money to pay for medical care. It should come as no surprise, but yet it caught us all by surprise to find our nation split in two, with many citizens taking to the streets with guns and threats of violence, sedition, assassination and lynching. 

Could it be that — for all our claims of being a godly nation — the moral pulse of our country is driven less by love than by hatred? Could this be the reason why Christians want to embed their religion into our laws, post their commandments in our national parks, plaster their piety on bumper stickers — cramming their hypocritical holiness down the throat of every non-Christian — so that we may, as a country, legitimize greed, ignorance, fear and intolerance? So that we may, on paper, divide the godly from the godless — and, in doing so, elevate our wars, our hatreds, and our petty missions into something they’re not? Is this why — whenever our leaders have attempted to pass legislation to protect people from racism, discrimination, lynching and hate crimes, or to protect the earth, feed the hungry or heal the sick — the Christians are the ones who take to the streets, armed to the teeth in protest? 

Could this be the reason why the American people seem almost obsessed with the need to know that the tragedy in Texas was not a random act of insanity but was, indeed, the long hand of the Muslim bogeyman reaching out to get us?  

Here, the tension is palpable. Patriotic Americans everywhere are waiting with bated breath — flags in hand — for the answer to that question. The media and our leaders wait with us, their fingers on the trigger, ready at a moment’s notice to shoot the answer to this all-encompassing question: Was Nidal Hasan’s shooting rampage part of a *gasp* Muslim terrorist plot?

They hope the answer is yes. 

They hope the answer is yes: permission granted to loathe and fear Muslims. Permission granted to believe that all Muslims are secretly planning to wage jihad against America. Permission granted to label all Muslims — and anyone who resembles, sympathizes or socializes with Muslims — as terrorists. Permission granted to elevate them all to the status of enemy.  And because all foreigners look alike to Americans, permission granted to fear and loathe all foreigners. 

They hope the answer is yes. Otherwise, Nidal Hasan’s rampage wouldn’t be so different than that of a disgruntled, white Protestant American worker who — perhaps suffering one more ounce of burden, stress or perceived injustice than he could handle — simply snapped. He succumbed to insanity; we went “postal” and slaughtered innocent people. 

By the same token, what if Nidal Hasan were, indeed, on a self-appointed mission from God? Americans have never, in the wake of similar tragedies, waged war against postal workers or factory workers. Nor have they persecuted Christians in the wake of crimes by men such as Timothy McVeigh, Jim Jones, Warren Jeffs and others who have committed equally heinous acts, including mass murder, under the delusion that they were on a mission from God:

Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.” — George W. Bush in early 2003, before the US-led invasion of Iraq began, speaking to French President Jacques Chirac, in the hope of drawing his country into the “coalition of the willing.”

I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.George W. Bush four months after the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, speaking before a Palestinian delegation in Egypt during the Israeli-Palestinian summit, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq began. 

As the child and grandchild of World War veterans, I am grateful to those who lay their lives on the line to protect America and our allies from real enemies. But being an American does not commit me to leave my mind and my conscience on the doorstep every time the decision is made to go to war. History has already shown — and one day the history books will catch up: America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan — be they Christian crusades, wars for oil, or a crude mix of the two — were unnecessary and avoidable.  

Had the shoe been on the other foot — had, say, Timothy McVeigh et al been accused of flying suicide planes into the heart of Afghanistan, we would have responded exactly as the Taliban did in the wake of 9-11:  Show us the evidence that these people committed this horrible crime, and we will turn the criminals over to the courts for prosecution. Specifically, America was told:

“Punishment must only be brought once clear evidence of the crime has been established, and that must come through the relevant judicial channels.”

Judicial channels. What a novel concept. The Bush cabal cast such quaint notions aside, in what was to be their first successful abuse of the “state secrets” priviledge to deny accountability for their actions. To provide evidence that al Qaeda was responsible for 9-11 would have been “in conflict with the imperative of keeping intelligence information secret.”

The United States is going to do nothing that jeopardises the investigation,” opined Condi Rice.

The American people take encouragement from the fact that this government will not have loose lips,” bragged White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

But “In the near future,” promised Colin Powell, “we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to the attack.” Of course, these documents never materialized. And the American people, it seems, didn’t really care, anyway.   

bush praying

"I accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al Qaeda in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world..." Bush memo, dated February 7, 2002

And as the 8 years wound on, around the world, in dark, secret places, America accumulated prisons full of accused bogeymen — prisoners for whom, we were assured, the normal judicial channels and international law didn’t apply. Indeed, to have provided things like evidence, formal charges and jury trials against any man on the planet accused of terrorism would have also been “in conflict with the imperative of keeping intelligence information secret.” These bogeymen were so very bad, that they didn’t even deserve the normal channels of justice. In fact, these men were so evil that the only way to proving their crimes was to torture them into making confessions.   

Imagine a court of law in Podunk, USA pronouncing a man guilty of murder, yet refusing to allow the evidence of his guilt, based on the argument that to do so would jeopardize the police investigation. Or that the only way to proving his guilt was to torture him — beat him, starve him, keep him awake for weeks on end, cut his genitals, rape him with broom handles, suffocate him with water, threaten to torture or kill his wife, his sons, his daughters — whatever means were necessary to making him ‘fess up.     

It would be equally unjust, under the scenario above ( with Timothy McVeigh being accused of flying a suicide mission into the heart of Afghanistan)  if Afghanistan simply refused to follow judicial channels and, instead, chose to invade American soil and kill tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Or if Afghanistan were to go on a worldwide crusade to round up and imprison whatever Christians they deemed terrorists. No evidence necessary, of course, beyond whatever confessions could be extracted under torture. After all, as we now know, Christians can and do commit heinous crimes under the delusion that they are on a mission from God. 

My heart goes out to the victims and the families who suffered from the brutal violence and murders commited by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009. My gripe is not with those who fight real enemies. My gripe is with people who hurt innocent people. My gripe is with those who try to elevate ignorance, fear, intolerance, indifference, greed and violence into something they are not. Namely patriotism, capitalist enterprise, or a mission from God. There is nothing noble or heroic in murdering or allowing harm to come to innocent people, no matter what your religion, nationality or office, and no matter how justifiable your fear, anger or rage.   

A blind reverence to those institutions and individuals who claim license to kill innocents flies in the face of all gods. Obama got that much right yesterday.    

No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving god looks upon them with favor. — President Obama, speaking at the Fort Hood memorial service on November 10, 2009

Similar words were spoken 3 years ago, by the United States Conference for the World Council of Churches, in their criticism of the Bush Administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks:

We are citizens of a nation that has done much in these years to endanger the human family and to abuse the creation. Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests. Nations have been demonised and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous.

 

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by Mantis Katz for canarypapers

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The (Unfinished) Story of Majid Khan, Dick Cheney and the Torture Memos

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FROM THE UNPUBLISHED ARCHIVES: This post is among several unpublished, unfinished drafts — all of them works-in-progress, when I set them aside to speak out on behalf of other issues. The news in America is relentlessly bad, and it’s only getting worse. It’s difficult for the average person to stand still long enough to make sense of one horror story, before another one overtakes it. Torture is promising to be an ongoing horror — past, present and future.  And I remain unconvinced that the Obama Adminstration has done enough — or intends to do enough — to ensure, “Never again.”

In this vein, we should never stop shedding light on all the terrorist acts Dick Cheney committed under the false flag of fighting terrorism. We should never stop demanding that Cheney and his gang be held accountable for their war crimes. Even as this post is unfinished, it holds value as a reference tool for shedding light onto the complex legal sleights-of-hand Cheney used to “legalize” torture.

Equally important is the need to continually shed light onto the victims of the Cheney-era war crimes. Many of these victims — if not most — are believed to be innocent. And who’s to say otherwise? Few have ever been officially charged with a crime and none have been permitted the basic right of a trial — their every effort to do so having been defeated by Team Cheney’s devious legalese, which is still a de facto part of American law. The number of these victims is seemingly countless. Majid Khan is but one of these human souls left to rot in jail, his guilt long ago sealed by accusations and confessions extracted under torture.

My apologies for not finishing this post, and for any loose ends I didn’t tie up.

The (Unfinished) Story of Majid Khan

Dick Cheney and his torture regime are like the vampire in the B-grade movie that refuses to die. Until someone drives a stake through its heart — that is, until the Department of Justice sees fit to take the gloves off and conduct an honest investigation into Cheney’s regime of corruption and torture — the monster will continue to re-injure our country, our laws, our integrity, our standing in the world. Not to mention the victims, whose stories are the stuff of nightmares. Problem is, the more time passes, the easier it becomes for Dick Cheney and daughter, Liz (who is — mark my words — being groomed to run for the vice-presidency in 2012), to re-write history and for the American public to then blindly accept their bill of goods. But, make no mistake, the rest of the world — the good, the bad and the ugly — aren’t buying.

Obama’s refusal to acknowledge America’s war crimes and hold these criminals acountable is not only short-sighted — permitting this history to exist unimpeded and ripe to repeat itself — but it also makes  Obama party to the crimes.  Obama’s neglect does not abrogate the DOJ from their duty to investigate these crimes to the fullest extent of the law. But that’s not how things are done in America today. Ultimately, it is up the American people to demand this. Perhaps we can pencil this fight into our busy agendas, somewhere between our battle for health care reform our own personal struggles with the collapsing American economy.

I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: the United States does not torture. — George W. Bush, September 6, 2006

By the time George Bush uttered those words, he was (technically, anyway) correct. That is, according to the precise letter of the law, as interpreted by Dick Cheney’s crackerjack team of attorneys at the Dept. of Justice Office of Legal Council (OLC) and published in the four Bybee and Bradbury memos, dating from August 2002 and May 2005. According to Team Cheney, we never did torture, and even if we did, the point was moot. Here’s why, according to the Bybee and Bradbury memos:

  • Intention is nine-tenths (plus one-tenth) of the law: Unless the interrogators intended to inflict pain and suffering, it was not torture. And since the specific intention of the interrogators was to gather intelligence — and not to inflict pain and suffering, per se — it was not technically torture.
  • Location, location, location: Under the terms Article 16 in the Geneva Convention Against Torture (CAT), the torture prohibitions apply specifically to “territories under [United States] jurisdiction.” To ascertain whether we were in compliance with this treaty obligation, the memo authors repeatedly consulted dictionary definitions of “territory” and “jurisdiction,” which neatly supported their argument that it is was not illegal for the U.S. to torture prisoners, so long as the torture took place in non-U.S. territories. Thus, the network of secret black site prisons around the globe (e.g. Afghanistan, Poland, Syria, Morocco, Thailand, etc.) where torture took place were determined to be, technically, legal, as were enhanced interrogations on any ships not registered with the U.S.  (see pages 17-21 in the May 30, 2005 Bradbury Memo)
  • Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls: An existing U.S. Senate reservation states the the U.S. is bound to the obligations of the Geneva Convention Against Torture “only insofar as the term ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'[ means [that] prohibited by the Fifth, Eigth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to Constitution of the United States.” Scrutinizing the language of this reservation, Team Cheney again consulted the dictionary for clarity on the precise definitions of key words and terms, such as “torture” and “calculated” and “severe physical suffering” and “severe mental pain or suffering” and “prolonged mental harm.” After careful consideration of the dictionary definitions, they concluded that  the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, were legal. Waterboarding cannot be considered “severe physical suffering” because, according to the dictionary, for distress to be “severe,” the intensity and duration of the distress must be taken into account. The memo explains that, by definition, waterboarding does not constitute “severe physical suffering,” since (a) the physical distress of waterboarding ends as soon as the session is over, and since (b) these sessions were, by their estimation, brief (with the maximum time set at 12 minutes per day, total, of actual waterboarding per day, with each session to last no longer than 40 seconds.) A similar argument is used to explain why waterboarding does not cause “prolonged mental harm,” as the length of these sessions do not conform to the dictionary definition of “prolonged.” You’d have to read the memos to appreciate the beauty of these definitions, as they apply to the blow-by-blow legalization of torture, as construed in these memos. Here are a few examples, as they apply to each of the following Constitutional Amendments:
    • 8th Amendment – This amendment protects against the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” As the memo argues, however, this amendment only applies after an individual has been convicted of a crime. Thus, the memo concludes that “Because the high-value detainees on whom the CIA might use enhanced interrogation techniques have not been convicted of any crime, the substantive requirements of the Eighth Amendment would not be relevant here.” Accordingly, so long as the due process is denied ( per the provisions of the 14th Amendment, below) then a detainee could be detained forever, being subjected all the while to “cruel and unusual punishments.”
    • 5th Amendment — Unlike the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Fifth Amendment allows that NO person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Setting aside the dictionary for a moment, the memo’s authors turned to case law, citing a 1952 ruling, which stated that the due process component of the 5th Amendment protects, specifically, against executive action that “shocks the conscience.” And to determine whether an action “shocks the conscience,” it is necessary to determine whether it is “arbitrary in the constitutional sense,” which, in turn, depends on whether the action is justifiable “in the service of a legitimate government objective.” The memo authors devote several pages to this concern before ultimately determining waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques do not “shock the conscience” and therefore do not violate the 5th amendment.  Building on this argument, the memo asserts that — since aliens (non-U.S. citizens) are not entitled to Fifth Amendment rights outside of the sovereign territory of the United States — it is not illegal to subject aliens to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”so long as this takes place in the above mentioned black prison sites. This argument was no doubt used to justify the extraordinary rendition of Canadian citizen Mahar Arar to Syria. (To be sure, since the Constitution technically only applies to U.S. citizens, it stands to reason (and this is painstakingly spelled out in the Bybee-Bradbury memo) that it is perfectly legal to subject non-U.S. citizens to “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” )
    • Fourteenth Amendment — While this amendment provides that “No State shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law,” this provision does not *technically* apply in the District of Columbia, which is coincidentally where the White House is located. This gave the Bush-Cheney Administration additional license, as if they needed it, to deprive anyone they jolly well pleased — from American citizens to aliens — of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

In other words, (according to the authority of Dick Cheney and his crackerjack team of lawyers) there are no domestic or international laws to prohibit the U.S. from torture, illegal detainment, extraordinary rendition or the denial of due process. Which brings me to the case of Majid Khan.

It is only appropriate (since his incarceration and torture would have been deemed illegal in pre-Bybee-Bradbury years) that his name is physically present in these memos. In the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, if you look at the 2nd paragraph on page 10, you’ll find his name. Look closely, because the words “Majid Khan” — much like the actual person — have been partially obliterated by the ubiquitious redactions.

In broad brushstrokes, the story of Majid Khan  can be given in two sentences: Majid Khan, a legal U.S. resident from Baltimore, was arrested in 2003, based on accusations from a torture victim, who has since acknowledged giving false information under torture, simply to make the torture stop. Majid Khan has spent the past 6 years — and counting — in prison, without charges, during which time he, himself, has been reportedly subjected to torture, under which he confessed to crimes he never committed.

Majid Khan is seen in year in high school in Baltimore, Maryland. Khan, 27, is now jailed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Majid Khan is seen in 1999 during his senior year in high school in Baltimore, Maryland. Khan, 27, is now jailed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Again, my apologies to Majid Khan and his family for not finishing this post. I hope that this post will be a starting point for others to take an interest in his story.  By all appearances, Mr. Khan is an innocent man: he has yet to be charged with any crime — much less been granted the basic right of a trial — and, as such, appears to be guilty of nothing more than getting mired in the web of Dick Cheney’s deceitful war on terror.

Below is a synopsis of Majid Khan’s story, quoted from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. CCR has been actively involved in litigation on behalf of many Guantanamo detainees, including Mr. Khan, whom they’ve represented since Sept. 2006, a timeline of which can be found here, at the CCR website, along a list of PDF files of their actions throughout this case:

Mr. Khan was kidnapped in 2003 while visiting relatives in Pakistan, imprisoned in secret CIA detention for three-and-a-half years and subjected to “alternative interrogation methods” that amount to torture. He has never been formally charged with a crime.

Majid Khan had immigrated with his family to the United States in 1996. They settled in Baltimore, where he attended Owings Mills High School, graduating in 1999. Majid was granted legal asylum in the U.S. in 1998 and subsequently worked for the State of Maryland. In 2002, he went to Pakistan to get married and then came home to the United States to continue working. Shortly after returning to his wife in Pakistan, Majid and other relatives were kidnapped from their residence.

In the middle of the night, on March 5, 2003, individuals identified as Pakistan security officials pounded on the door of the home of Majid’s brother in Karachi, and rushed into the flat. The family members at home included Majid, his brother, his brother’s wife and their month-old daughter. As the family was trying to wake up, the officials hooded and bound them before placing them in a vehicle. They were all taken to an unknown location.

Majid’s sister-in-law and infant niece were imprisoned for about a week. Pakistan officials imprisoned his brother for approximately one month. When Majid’s brother was released, officials threatened him not to make any public statements or inquire after Majid. As a result of the threats, Majid’s family in Baltimore and Karachi waited anxiously and fearfully for his return. He was never released or heard from again.

Back home in the U.S., Majid’s family cooperated with U.S. authorities in every way they could; Majid’s older brother, a U.S. citizen, was interviewed hundreds of times by the FBI and he asked repeatedly about Majid’s whereabouts. Nonetheless, Majid’s family did not learn he was in U.S. custody or even that he was alive until a news reporter knocked on their door and told them President Bush announced Majid’s name in a speech before the nation on September 6, 2006.

Majid now has a young daughter he hasn’t seen.

For more on Majid Khan from the Center for Constituional Rights archives:

Khan v. Bush / Khan v. Gates Synopsis: CCR’s representation of Majid Khan involves two cases: Khan v. Bush is a habeas corpus … of former Baltimore, MD resident and U.S. asylum-holder, Majid Khan, who was transferred from three-years in secret C.I.A. detention to …
Going to See a Ghost: Majid Khan and the Abuses of the ‘War on Terror’ … wrote this op-ed in The Washington Post on CCR client Majid Khan, a former Baltimore resident who was “disappeared” into a CIA …
Redacted Motion to Declare Interrogation Methods Used on Majid Khan Are Torture Cleared By CIA … the government to preserve evidence of Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan’s torture by the CIA, a second motion filed by the Center for … the motion is due to the court on December 20. “Majid Khan was subjected by U.S. personnel to a ruthless program of …
CCR Attorneys Release Revelations of Torture of Former Ghost Detainee Majid Khan Sub Heading: Motion Filed to Preserve Evidence of Majid‘s Torture While at CIA Black Site Last week, a motion that … attorneys filed in the case of former ghost detainee Majid Khan was made public. The heavily redacted motion, which was filed in order to …
Government Declassifies Majid Khan Torture Motion … by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Majid Khan, a former CIA ghost detainee now held at Guantanamo. The motion and its …
Freedom of Information Act: Ghost Detention and Extraordinary Rendition Case … tortured in Syria for nearly a year. CCR also represents Majid Khan, a former resident of Baltimore, Maryland, who was detained in secret for …
Dixon, J. Wells … Yemen. He also represents former Baltimore-area resident Majid Khan, who was imprisoned and tortured in secret CIA “black sites” for more …
CCR Files Important Brief in Khan v. Bush … response to the government’s efforts to deny CCR access to Majid Khan, on whose behalf CCR previously filed a petition of habeas corpus. Mr. …
Gutierrez, Gitanjali … Convening Authority in May 2008.  She also represents Majid Khan, a Baltimore resident and citizen of Pakistan transferred from secret CIA …
CCR Attorney Gives Unprecedented Classified Briefing to Senate Intelligence Committee on Details of CIA Torture Program … provided a thorough account of what was done to CCR client Majid Khan and of the on-the-ground implementation of the CIA’s “enhanced …

Court Orders Government Not to Destroy Torture Evidence … to preserve” evidence relating to Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan, including evidence of his torture by the CIA. The U.S. Court of Appeals …

FAQs: What Are Ghost Detentions and Black Sites … In addition, CCR provides legal representation to Majid Khan, one of the 15 men transferred from secret CIA custody to Guantanamo Bay. …
House Votes to Outlaw Waterboarding … was released on the same day that the government brought Majid Khan, who is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, and others to …
CIA Acknowledges It Has More than 7,000 Documents Relating to Secret Detention Program, Rendition, and Torture … of men. These include some of our clients, like Majid Khan, who were known to be in the program. The public needs to know what …

Sources plus more info for further reading:

April 17, 2009 Letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to  Sen. John D. Rockefeller in response to the Senator’s Feb. 2009 request for declassification and release of a narrative regarding advice provided by the CIA on the legality of certain interrogation techniques

World Socialist Website: More Revelations from Bush Torture Memos

Security Dilemmas (A blog dedicated to examining issues of international and national security, international politics, and international law): Legalizing Torture? Part II: The 30 May 2005 Bradbury Memo

Emptywheel/Firedoglake: The Gestation of Bradbury’s Torture Memos

Congressional Research Service: The U.N. Convention Against Torture: Overview of U.S. Implementation Policy Concerning the Removal of Aliens (January 21, 2009)

The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: The text

ACLU: FAQs on the U.N. Convention Against Torture

ACLU: On April 16, 2009, the Department of Justice released four secret Bybee-Bradbury Memos, which were used by the Bush-Cheney Administration to justify torture. This page includes links to the texts of the following memos:

  • The Bybee-Memo: An 18-page memo, dated August 1, 2002, from Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
  • Bradbury Memo: A 46-page memo, dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
  • Bradbury Memo: A 20-page memo, dated May 10, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
  • Bradbury Memo: A 40-page memo, dated May 30, 2005, from Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA. [PDF]
    • NOTE: This is the memo where you will find mention of Majid Khan in the 2nd paragraph on page 10, which reads:

More specifically, we understand that KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] admitted he had tasked Majid Khan with delivering a large sum of money to an al Qaeda associate… Khan subsequentgly identified the associate (Zubair) who was then captured. Zubair, in turn, provided information that led to the arrest of Hambali. the information acquired from these captures allowed CIA interrogators to pose more specific questions to KSM, which led the CIA to Hambali’s brother, al-Hadi. Using information from multiple sources, al-Hadi was captured, and he subsequently identified the Guraba cell…. With the aid of this additional information, interrogations of Hambali confirmed much of what was learned from KSM.

The footnote (#6) to the above section was redacted in entirety, except for this sentence:

We discuss only a small fraction of the important intelligence CIA interrogators have obtained from KSM.

2007 International Red Cross report This ICRC report, dated February 2007, details the treatment of fourteen “high value detainees” in CIA custody. The leaked report was first published by the New York Review of Books. This report cites specific instances of ill-treatment as reported by these 14 detainees. Below are the passages that mention Majid Khan:

  • Prolonged Stress Standing (Section 1.3.2): Ten of the fourteen [detainees] alleged that they were subjected to prolonged stress standing positions, during which their wrists were shackled to a bar or hook in the ceiling above the head for periods ranging from two or three days continuously, and for up to two or more months intermittently. All those detainees who reported being held in this position were allegedly kept naked throughout the use of this form of ill-treatment. For example…. Mr. Majid Khan [was shackled] for three days in Afghanistan and seven days in his third place of detention…. While being held in this position some of the detainees were allowed to defecate in a bucket. A guard would come to release their hands from the bar or hook in the ceiling so that they could sit on the bucket. None of them, however, were allowed to clean themselves afterwards. Others were made to wear a garment that resembled a diaper… Three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids. Of these, on Mr. Bin Lep agreed that his name be transmitted to the authorities.
  • Prolonged Nudity (Section 1.3.6): The most common method of ill-treatment noted during the interiews with the fourteen was the use of nudity. Eleven of the fourteen alleged that they were subjected to extended periods of nudity during detention and interrogation, ranging from several weeks continuously up to several months intermittently. For example…. Mr. Majid Khan alleged that he was kept naked for three days in Afghanistan and for seven days in his third place of detention….. Most of the detainees commented that the provision of clothes was determined by how cooperative they were perceived by the interrogators.
  • Deprivation/Restricted Provision of Solid Food (Section 1.3.12) Eight of the fourteen alleged that they were deprived of solid food for periods ranging from three days to one month.This was often followed by a period with the provision of food was restricted and allegedly used as an incentive for cooperation. Two other detainees alleged that, whilst they were not totally deprived of solid food, food was provided intermittently or provided in restricted amounts. For example…. Mr. Majid Khan alleged that he did not receive any solid food for seven days in Afghanistan.
  • In addition, the dates of the ICRC’s written interventions to the U.S. authorities, requesting information on Majid Khan are given in Annex 2 of this same report.

The Washington Post:

  • Human Beings Without Humanity — (Excerpt: “The profoundly disgusting memos made public yesterday — in which government lawyers attempted to justify flatly unconscionable and illegal acts — provide a depressing reminder of a time when the powerful and powerless alike were stripped of their humanity. These memos gave the CIA the go-ahead to do things to people that you’d be arrested for doing to a dog. And the legalistic, mechanistic analysis shows signs of an almost inconceivable callousness. The memos serve as a vivid illustration of the moral chasm into which the nation fell — or rather, was pushed — during the Bush era. President Obama deserves great credit for defying members of the intelligence community who wanted to keep these memos secret. But in calling for the nation to move on without any further looking back, Obama put his political needs above his moral and legal obligations…..”)
  • Too Embarrassing to Disclose? (Excerpt: “President Obama’s approach to government transparency is disturbingly opaque in places, particularly when it comes to disclosing information about the Bush administration’s torture legacy….”)

Salon.comIs waterboarding torture? Ask the prisoners (November 6, 2007)

Long Excerpt: If senators such as Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein have doubts about whether waterboarding is torture, they should — and should be allowed to — interview the men who have likely experienced it in secret CIA detention facilities in American hands.

For example, they should interview Majid Khan, a Baltimore resident abducted and held for years in secret CIA prisons. He was a “ghost detainee” who this past year was among the “reappeared” at Guantánamo.

President Bush himself has clearly stated that Khan was held at a secret CIA facility before being transferred to Guantánamo. Bush also made clear that an “alternative set of procedures” were enforced — procedures widely believed to include waterboarding.

So, was Majid Khan really waterboarded? I don’t know. Khan has been prohibited from speaking to anyone except my colleagues, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights who were finally allowed to visit him recently. One of those attorneys, Gitanjali Gutierrez, and her colleagues have also since been silenced: The government forced them to sign a protective order because Khan knew about “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Likely translation: Khan was tortured and the government is trying to cover it up by silencing him — and even his attorneys….

Those senators are perfectly within their rights and powers to pick up the phone right now and demand to interview Khan and others who were likely tortured at CIA secret sites. They can conduct classified interviews with the lawyers for the Center for Constitutional Rights about their milestone visit with Khan. They can learn exactly what happened to these men. And, if the men were waterboarded, they can learn exactly what the practice entails.

What they will likely hear are descriptions like one written by Henri Alleg, a French journalist who suffered waterboarding during the Algerian war: “I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me.”

…. And so the question is extremely simple: Do the men and women who serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee want to know, or not? Do they care about whether our nation has tortured?

….I believe that upon talking to victims of waterboarding any reasonable senator — or citizen — will define it as torture. There is no reasonable disagreement on this point. It was a technique invented in the Spanish Inquisition and used to terrible effect in the centuries since. The only question is whether there is any institution or group of politicians in this nation with the will to stand up for our Constitution, even at the risk of their own political prospects. If there are such men and women, then there is yet hope that our nation will rescue the Constitution from those who would shred it.

This is not a moment for political theater. This is not a moment for politics at all. This is the moment for good and decent leaders to remember that the truth still matters and to act accordingly.

POTENT QUOTABLES:

This is a highly classified area. All I want to say is that there was “before” 9/11 and “after” 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off. Nearly three thousand al-Qa’ida terrorists and their supporters have been detained. In Afghanistan the al-Qa’ida who refused to surrender have been killed. The hunt is on. — Cofer Black (former Director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center from 199 to May 2002) in his Sept. 2002 testimony before the House/Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing in their joint investigation into September 11th

The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees…. we want these individuals broken. — U.S. Senate Committed on Armed Services report, titled “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody” November 2008, pg. 199 [quoting an August 2003 email sent by Capt. William Ponce (the battle captain in the Combined Joint Task Force 7’s Human Intelligence and Counterintelligence Office in Iraq) to interrogation elements in the field, in which he requested they submit “interrogation techniques wish lists.”]

The danger facing us is enormous. The efforts we take to meet it must be just as enormous. The time has come to remove the gloves! We must use our fists now! ….Those who do not understand this fight today will thank us on bended knee tomorrow that we took it! — Joseph Goebbels, from his 1943 speech, “Nation Rise Up and Let the Storm Break Loose”

183 Times is the Charm: The Accusation (by Torture) of a Young Mother Named Aafia Siddiqui

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NOTE: The post, below, is from June 2009. To see our most recent post on Aafia Siddiqui, published 1/19/2010, see:  The New American Justice: Aafia Siddiqui’s Trial by Water

HAS IT BEEN ONLY 317 YEARS?

From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts ended. (“An Account of Events in Salem,” from the University of Missouri — Kansas City website)

The hunt was characterized by unrestrained torture and and an obsession with getting tortured witches to name other witches. (from Witch Hunts in Europe and America: An Encyclopedia, by William E. Burns)

"Water Torture" 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture

"The Water Torture" 16th century woodcut by Joos de Damhouder, illustrating how to interrogate witch suspects under torture

By now, most Americans — having heard the word “waterboarding” at least 183 times over the past month — seem to have grown immune to the visceral horrors attending to that particular techinque that the International Red Cross terms “suffocation by drowning.” We’ve surely grown immune to human suffering. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have reduced the topic of torture to a mere parlor game — an exercise in sophistry — as the left and the right mentally wrestle with questions whose answers have been known for centuries: Is waterboarding torture? Does torture ‘work’?

[Click here to read the rest of this introduction on U.S. policy and torture. Or just skip the intro entirely, and keep reading onward, into the stories of several individuals (with particular focus on Aafia Siddiqui) who have been falsely arrested, illegally imprisoned, “disappeared,” subjected to extraordinarily rendition and/or tortured over the past 8 years — and counting.]

An American Story

Imagine this: You are a 41 year-old man, a U.S. citizen, born in Kansas, an Army veteran, married with three children, practicing family law in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon; you pay your taxes on time, have never had a brush with the law. You are the quintessential “average American citizen.” Imagine, then, your surprise when the FBI descends on your home and fingers you as the mastermind of the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people and injured over 2000. Your name is Brandon Mayfield, and it’s official: You have just been arrested as the mastermind in an international terrorist plot.

“But I haven’t left the country in over 10 years!” you protest. “And I’ve never even been to Spain! How could this happen?”

Turns out it was your fingerprint. The FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) identified your fingerprint as a possible match to the one found on a plastic bag near the Madrid bombing. The match was then verified in quadruplicate by FBI fingerprint experts, which lent full credibility to the claim in their affidavit: “….the FBI lab stands by their conclusion of a 100 percent positive identification.” It was the fingerprint, see.

‘Lucky’ for you, your incarceration lasted only 2 weeks. The Spanish police identified the real mastermind (some guy from Algeria), prompting the FBI to dismiss the charges against you. In return, you file a a civil-rights lawsuit against the U.S. government. Herein, more facts emerge. Turns out, the Spanish police had already rejected the FBI’s identification of your fingerprint — twenty-three days before your arrest — as “conclusively negative.” Perhaps that would have been the end of that, if not for the smoking gun: you were also a Muslim convert.

Convinced of your guilt, the FBI spent those twenty-three days doggedly pursuing a case against you, with an intensity that the Spanish Police found perplexing. As one commissioner said, “It seemed as though they [the FBI] had something against him, and they wanted to involve us.” Lacking probable cause for search and seizure, the FBI turned to the nifty new provisions in the Patriot Act, which allowed them to entirely sidestep your Fourth Amendment rights, via “sneak and peak” warrants.

Turns out, you and your wife hadn’t been imagining things. Your door lock had been tampered; someone had been in your home. You were being watched. It was the FBI who, in your absence, snuck into your home, your office, and even the family farm in Kansas,“surreptitiously, photographing papers, downloading hard drives, and planting listening devices.”

But you were ‘lucky.’ You had, at your disposal, due process — stuff like habeas corpus, and an attorney to represent you in a U.S. court of law. Your case was fairly clear-cut, too. That is, once the facts were allowed to see the light of day. In the end, the FBI aplogized and you were awarded a $2 million settlement. And in 2007, a federal judge ruled that those nifty Patriot Act provisions used by the FBI to sneak into your home actually violated the U.S. Constitution.

2891436BG002_Ottawa_CitizenNow imagine that you are a 34-year old man — married, a father, a Canadian citizen for 17 years, Syrian-born. And, oh, a muslim. Imagine yourself going on vacation with your family to Tunisia in 2002 and, upon your return flight home to Canada, passing through the JFK airport in New York City. Here, you are detained in solitary confinement and interrogated for 12 days, then shackled and flown to Syria, where you are imprisoned inside a coffin-sized underground cell for 10 months + 10 days, being subjected throughout this time to beatings and torture sessions to extract information which the U.S. government is certain you own.

While you initially refuse to admit to something you didn’t do, the torture finally becomes so unbearable, that you will say anything to make it stop — up to and including making false confessions, admitting guilt to whatever terrorist acts your torturers accuse you. Your name is Maher Arar and — even as you are ultimately determined to be 100% innocent — your case is not as clear cut as Brandon Mayfield’s. You are, after all, a Canadian citizen. And, oh, a muslim of Arab descent.

Still, the facts of your case do eventually see the light of day. The Canadian government launches a Commission of Inquiry into your case and, in 2006 (three years after your release from your extraordinary rendition to Syria), you are cleared of all accusations. The Canadian government issues an official apology, and you are awarded a settlement of $10.5 million Canadian dollars. For their part, however, the U.S. government and the FBI refuse to extend an apology, official or otherwise (even as there were a few notable lawmakers of integrity on Capitol Hill who did issue personal apologies on behalf of the U.S. government).

[see also: Patrick Leahy’s interrogation of Gonzales on the Maher Arar case here, and the 1-1/2 hour video of the U.S. Congressional hearing on Maher Arar’s case here].

Seeking to clear your name, you file a lawsuit against the U.S. government for violating your civil rights. But the Bush Administration refuses to allow your case to come to trial, for reasons of “national security.” To this day, you are still on the U.S. terrorist watch list and are forbidden to enter the country.

The likelihood of your case going to trial in the U.S. is slim, as the Obama Administration has, so far, aligned itself with the Bush Administration, — having recently used the “state secrets” argument to deny trials to 5 other Bush Administration victims who were similarly flown to other countries to be tortured. According to Obama, the Bush Administration was right: allowing these innocent victims a trial could threaten national security.

Ibrahim JassamNow imagine this: You are a 31-year old man, an accredited freelance cameraman and photographer, working for Reuters in Iraq. On September 1, 2008,  U.S. forces, accompanied by dogs, storm your home in the middle of the night — breaking down your door, barking orders and terrifying the grandparents, children and grandchildren inside. You are taken into custody and thrown into jail, without charges. Three months pass. Still, no formal charges, no evidence, no due process.

In a stroke of democracy, the Iraqi central criminal court orders your release, for lack of evidence. The U.S. bars your release, however, saying you are a threat to Iraq security and stability. The protests of your family, of Reuters and international human rights and media rights groups fall on deaf ears. More months pass. To this day, you are still in jail, without charges. Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and you are but one of  dozens of  journalists imprisoned — without charges — under the Bush Administration.

You are, so far, luckier than some. According to Reporters Without Borders,  hundreds of journalists have been killed in Iraq, with many more forced into exile, imprisoned or simply disappeared. Too, some have been imprisoned for much longer than you. Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, Bilal Hussein, for instance, was imprisoned for two years. Al Jazeera journalist, Sami al-Haj was imprisoned for over 7 years, with 6-1/2 of these years spent at Guantanamo, where America sends “the worst of the worst.”

A young boy hopes for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

2007 photo: A young boy hoping for the release of his father, Sami al-Haj -- a journalist and cameraman, better known to U.S. officials as Prisoner 345 at Guantanamo, where he spent 6-1/2 years without charges.

[Here it must be said that Sami al-Haj’s story, alone, is evidence enough that our leaders and media should give pause to the Bush Administration’s “intelligence” that has effectively colored the entire population of 240 Guantanamo detainees — including those who have been long-pronounced innocent, but also those whose guilt was cemented under confessions extracted through torture — as a mix of terrorists and men so dangerous that they cannot safely be released anywhere on the planet Earth, much less allowed fair trials that would, in all likelihood, clear the names of some of these prisoners, the only “threat to national security” being that their trials would reveal the extent of the U.S. government’s tyranny.]

(video, above) Associated Press report (39 seconds long) on Bilal Hussein’s release in 2008, with footage of his reunion with his AP colleagues and his family

Both Bilal Hussein and Sami al-Haj were released  in 2008. Neither was ever charged with a crime, even as their incarcerations were justified by a series of shifting accusations, based on top secret evidence that, for national security reasons, could not be divulged: Bilal Hussein (see AP timeline of his case here) was accused, at one point, of being caught in possession of bomb-making materials, while Sami al-Haj was alternately accused of videotaping Osama bin Laden, sending money to suspicious Muslim charities, and arranging for the transport of a Stinger anti-aircraft system from Afghanistan to Chechnya. Despite these ludicrous accusations, in appears that these journalists were guilty of nothing more than practicing journalism.

Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and you’ve been in jail for 9 months, without charges. Your misfortune is that you are being detained by the U.S. government. Had you been detained by, say, Iran you would have been afforded at least some semblance of due process — formal charges, an attorney, a trial, an appeals process. Had you been detained by, say, North Korea, your injustice would be given a voice in the U.S. media. Had you been arrested by anyone but the American government, you would be a poster child, of sorts, for media suppression under tyrannical regimes.

Your name is Ibrahim Jassam, and your story is almost, but not quite, unknown in America. According to your family, which has been allowed only a handful of visits, you used to be handsome. “But now he’s pale and he’s tired,” says your brother, describing one of these visits: “Every now and then while we were talking, he would start crying. He was begging me: ‘Please do something to get me out of here. I don’t know what is the charge against me.‘ I told him we already tried everything.”

Now imagine this: You are a 31-year old mother of three; you are also an MIT graduate with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. [In hindsight, there is cruel irony to the topic of your dissertation, in which you explored how people learn — specifically, the interaction between visual memory and perception. In your abstract, you wrote, “Without a visible trail, it is difficult for the subject to form a picture or story.”] . It is late March of 2003. Just a few days earlier, the U.S. went to war in Iraq and — as is now known — the CIA, the FBI and the Bush Administration at large were working around the clock to put together the intelligence necessary to justifying this war.

Up until a year earlier, you’d spent 12 years living in America as a dual citizen of the U.S. and Pakistan. You’d originally moved to the U.S. in 1990 to attend college and be nearer your sister and brother — a Harvard-trained neurologist and a Houston architect, respectively. While living in the U.S., you married a medical student in Boston, who went on to work as an anesthesiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. You gave birth to 2 children. Neighbors and friends described you as a devoted mother, spending the bulk of your time in the everyday routines of raising your children, overseeing play groups with their friends. You were also a devout Muslim and donated both time and money to charitable causes and missionary work to help less fortunate Muslims.

Because contributing to Muslim charities constituted a red flag in post-9-11 American, the FBI was watching you and had been since the fall of 2001. According to U.S. intelligence sources, your husband purchased night goggles and body armor off the internet in 2001, which he claimed were intended for big game hunting. Because of these purchases, you, yourself, were brought in for questioning by U.S. officials.  Although you were released after questioning, this interrogation served as further evidence that the post-9-11 hostility toward Muslims was escalating. This factored into your decision to return to Pakistan — a debate that had already caused considerable strain in your marriage: you you wanted to raise your children in America, while your husband wanted to raise them in Pakistan. In 2002 — with your marriage now on the rocks — you and your husband returned to Pakistan.

By March of 2003, you’d been estranged from your husband for over 7 months, during which time you lived with your mother and gave birth to your third child, who was now 6 months old. Three months earlier, in December 2002, you’d returned to the United States to apply for jobs in the Baltimore area, where your sister was now working at Sinai Hospital. After making several applications — and interviewing with both Johns Hopkins and SUNY — you opened a post office box to receive replies from prospective employers, then returned to your children and your mother in Pakistan.

Now imagine that the FBI believes the only reason you opened that post office box was to receive communications as part of an al Qaeda plot to blow up gas stations and fuel tanks in the Baltimore area. Imagine, too, that during the course of the FBI’s 18-month surveillance of you and your husband, they discovered that, during the summer of 2001, one of your former Muslim acquaintances from Boston had been wired $20,000 from Saudi Arabia (a sum which, according to the explanation given by a Saudi official to the Boston Globe, was sent to pay for medical treatment for the man’s wife).  Lastly, imagine that, the FBI believes that this $20,000 is connected to a purported diamond smuggling trip, made by a mysterious woman in the summer of 2001, to fund al Qaeda operations. According to the FBI, that mystery woman is you.

To this story add water, then quickly spin

It is now March 28, 2003. Just a week earlier, on March 20th, the U.S. invaded Iraq. Several weeks earlier, on March 1st, the alleged architect of 9-11,  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was captured. It seems that — during one of his 183 waterboard interrogation sessions — your name came up.

(continued page 2 —–>)

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Sarah Palin’s Reflection, as Seen from the Abyss

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Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you. — Friedrich Nietzsche

Many of us have been wishing for just a modicum of news coverage on Joe Biden, whose presence on the national stage has been dwarfed to near non-existence by the paparazzi-style coverage of Sarah Palin– our media’s latest flash-in-the-frying-pan darling, who has stepped into the shoes previously occupied by such notables as Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith. 

Be careful what you wish for. Joe Biden finally got some news coverage this past Thursday, as he was “interviewed” by Barbara West, an anchor for Florida station WFTV (see video, below), who regaled Biden with a series of classic “when did you stop beating your wife” questions on Marxism. 

This interview needs to be preserved in the annals of American history, so that future generations can see, firsthand, how fearmongering and demagoguery work. For historical perspective on how this has played out in America over the past 300+ years, read on. Otherwise, just vote. For cripe’s sakes, vote — and urge everyone you know to vote. And if, by chance, on November 4th, you find you’ve been caged or purged or challenged – call Election Protection at 1-(866) OURVOTE (1-866-687-8683). Click here for more info on protecting yourself from voter fraud.

HAS IT BEEN ONLY 316 YEARS?

From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts ended. — “An Account of Events in Salem,” from the University of Missouri — Kansas City website

As years passed, apologies were offered, and restitution was made to the victims’ families. Historians and sociologists have examined this most complex episode in our history so that we may understand the issues of that time and apply our understanding to our own society. The parallels between the Salem witch trials and more modern examples of “witch hunting” like the McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s, are remarkable. — from the Salem Witch Museum website

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 HAS IT BEEN ONLY 60 YEARS?

Below is a video with clips of various anti-communist footage, produced by the U.S. government during the McCarthy era, and designed to red-scare the bejeebers out of Americans. The Sarah Palin speech (see video at end of post) is a modern version of the same, just not yet whipped into the full frenzy that this sort of fearmongering ever-threatens to incite.  

HAS IT BEEN ONLY 7 YEARS?

In the wake of 9-11, the Bush Administration exploited our justifiable fear of terrorists to both squelch American dissent over their agenda, and to strong-arm Congress into approving all the legislation they enacted (e.g. the Patriot Act, FISA, extraordinary rendition and related torture laws), all of which were designed to sidestep both the spirit and letter of Constitutional law. Over the past 7 years this legislation has, word by word, dismantled our U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. These documents have yet to be restored to the former integrity they held for over two centuries. While these fundamental changes to our democracy affect each and every American, we’ve fortunately been spared, thus far, some of the worst outcomes potential to this legislation, even as this potential will continue to loom over us until our Constitution and Bill of Rights are restored to their pre-Bush Administration integrity. We’ve been fortunate. Some, such as Maher Arar have not been so fortunate: 

For more on this case, see the full Congressional hearing (1 hour, 28 minutes) on this case, held in October 2007, here, which includes Maher Arar’s testimony. Also, see footage here (7 minutes) from a related hearing, in which an outraged Sen. Patrick Leahy demands answers from Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales regarding the extraordinary rendition and torture-outsourcing in the Maher Arar case. 

  

HAS IT BEEN ONLY 1 DAY?

In the above video, Sarah Palin resurrects the ghosts of Salem and the McCarthy era, as she weaves a scary tale of lies to suggest that Obama’s tax plan will turn American into a nightmare communist state. Inherent to this accusation is a promise to carry the torch of the Bush-Cheney Administration’s legacy of fearmongering, persecution and lawlessness.  History bears this out: certain people in America live in a constant state of fear. All they need is someone to take the stage and tell them, exactly, what it is they’re so afraid of: Witches? Socialists? Blacks? Muslims? Communists? The McCain Palin campaign is telling them exactly what they want to hear. 

dem·a·gogue: One who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots — H.L. Mencken

  

WILL IT BE ONLY 9 DAYS?

Vote on November 4th. And do everything in your power to make sure that vote isn’t stolen from you. So much depends on this, with such a tremendous degree of voter fraud taking place by both Republicans and the Christian right. The extent of this fraud can only be known after the fact, when it’s too late to do anything about it.