Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 10:36 am by Ash Kernen
On September 11, 2012, the European Parliament (‘EP’) overwhelmingly approved the adoption of a report by its Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs highlighting the complicity of member states with the global CIA-led rendition and secret detention program. The report, which pushed for countries to fulfill their legal obligation to investigate their role in the program, called for EU-wide accountability while giving primary focus to three EU countries known or alleged to have hosted secret CIA detention sites: Lithuania, Poland and Romania. With 568 votes approving and only 35 votes against adoption, it sends a clear message that the EP will not turn a blind eye to its own complicity in past human rights abuses and places emphasis on actions to address any future findings. EP rapporteur/draftsperson and Green MEP Hélène Flautre stated:
“The EP has again shone the spotlight on serious human rights abuses by the CIA in the EU and, in doing so, kept the pressure on to ensure these abuses are finally addressed. 5 years on from the original investigations into CIA abuses in the EU and, despite new evidence of violations surfacing, proper accountability or redress remains outstanding in many member states and at EU level. A large majority of MEPs has today supported my recommendations for concrete ways by which the EU’s institutions and governments should improve the accountability process. “
According to Amnesty International, between 2001 and 2006, at least 16 European countries in have in part, facilitated CIA rendition flights. The extraordinary rendition program involves the covert, extrajudicial kidnapping of ‘suspected terrorists’ worldwide for interrogation at secret CIA-backed ‘black sites’ where they are often tortured and otherwise ill-treate. To date, not a single country in the European Union has complied with its legal obligation to hold a full and effective investigation into its role in the CIA program. However, the report comes on the heels of a rulling by Italy’s highest appeals court upholding the guilty verdicts of 22 CIA agents and one U.S. Air Force pilot tried in absentia for the 2003 kidnapping of Abu Omar of the streets of Milan. The trial was he first of its kind involving extraordinary rendition.
Samuel Walker’s latest book, Presidents and Civil Liberties from Wilson to Obama: A Story of Poor Custodians, details the untold story of our nation’s leaders in their cumulative failure to guard and advance our civil liberties. While often viewed as a recent development, Walker rebukes the notion of presidential neglect as a modern precept. Rather, Walker portrays the modern state of civil liberty in the context of presidential history, connecting contemporary excesses to the precedents of former administrations.
Walker crafts a linear account of presidential action and dereliction across nearly a century, separating his analysis into four sections: (1) the early years, (2) civil liberties in the Cold War and civil rights era, (3) the post Watergate era, and (4) civil liberties in the age of terrorism. He examines a broad range of civil liberties issues, including First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, press, and assembly; due process; equal protection; privacy rights; and national security issues. In this context, Walker challenges the prevailing views of what makes a president great, as well as our assumptions of partisanship in the preservation of liberty.
While the last decade may seem to suggest that the “War on Terror” is responsible for our disappearing civil liberties, it is important to realize that post-9/11 offenses have their foundations in several administrations—Democratic and Republican alike. The excesses of the Bush and Obama administrations would not be possible without the prior precedents established by their predecessors, from FDR’s order to detain American citizens without due process to Truman’s first use of “State Secrets” protection; from Eisenhower’s creation of Executive Privilege to Ford’s assassination of government leaders; from Carter’s authorization of warrantless wiretapping to Reagan’s suspension of the “exclusionary rule” regarding illegal searches. In context, it becomes increasingly clear that the attack on civil liberties is no recent development. As Walker puts it, “The preference for security over liberty is almost inherent in the office of the presidency”.
Moreover, beyond the realm of the Oval Office, Walker elucidates the development of intelligence agencies in brokering the abuse of liberty. Rejecting the long-accepted premise that intelligence agencies, i.e. CIA, FBI, NSA, operated as rogue entities, Walker suggests they generally acted on orders from the President. Whether it be Johnson’s directive for the CIA to spy on U.S. citizens or Clinton’s use of CIA rendition, Walker clearly demonstrates, how at the hands of the presidency, the intelligence community became the greatest threat to civil liberties.
Walker demonstrates that regardless of perceived presidential greatness, time period, political affiliation, or threat level, presidents have proven themselves to be poor guardians of constitutional principles. Whether due to self-interest or a misguided sense of national security, presidents are generally reluctant to support limits on their own powers, and have often undermined the civil liberties that once inspired our Republic.
The author, Samuel Walker, is also a contributor on the People’s Blog for the Constitution and you can view his submissions online.
Doctors of the Dark Side examines how doctors and psychologists helped the Bush administration torture detainees. Directed by Martha Davis, the film is bolstered by critically acclaimed talent. Mercedes Ruehl, best-known for her Oscar winning performance in The Fisher King, narrates, while Doctors of the Dark Side is written by Mark Jonathan Harris, a three-time Academy Award winner renowned for his documentaries about the Holocaust.
Fittingly, the movie opens with footage of the Nuremberg Trials. After World War II, the United States held medical professional accountable, unlike this past decade, which has seen shameful disrespect for the rule of law. In 1946, 23 leading German physicians and administrators were charged with abetting war crimes. 16 were found guilty. Of those, seven were executed.
In stark contrast lies the actions of the Bush administration. Jay Bybee and John Yoo drafted the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos that justified so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Yoo once even argued that the president had the authority to torture anyone, even if it involved crushing a young boy’s testicles. However, these interrogations could only be justified if medical professionals were on-site and their methods did not cause “severe pain.” A sign at a prison operated by the Joint Special Operations Command was even more blunt: “NO BLOOD, NO FOUL.”
Doctors and psychologists who were involved with torture at Guantanamo Bay and other American detention sites, legitimized physical assault and extreme physical and psychological stress on detainees. According to Kristine Huskey, “those dark days are not far behind us, and they will be in our future if no one speaks out or acts against such policies.” But if medical professionals refused to cooperate, these “enhanced interrogations” could no longer be justified.
In the film, retired Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis, MD, elaborates on how this rejection could have led to a “curtailment” on torture:
Had the senior physicians come out forcefully and more or less unified that clinical practitioners were not going to participate in or condone any of these practices, that there could have very likely been at least a curtailment and a serious limitation of their happening.
Doctors uses standard documentary methods such as interview clips, but the film truly excels with its staged demonstrations of torture. Prisoners are waterboarded, slammed against walls, and locked in pitch-black cages. While these scenes don’t show any blood, they’re still agonizing to watch. Add in Ruehl reading the OLC’s detailed descriptions of how to torture someone, while doctors act as willing accomplices and Doctors of the Dark Side can seem like a Kafkaesque horror flick.
Yet the film never neglects the human element. Doctors of the Dark Side centers around the victims of torture, revealing distressing details about US foreign policy. For me, the most gripping narrative involved Daniel King. In 1999, Petty Officer and Navy cryptanalyst Daniel King was finishing a tour of duty on Guam when he took a polygraph test. Standard procedure.
But this time, the test found “inconclusive” results. On the basis of no other evidence, the Navy charged King with espionage. The man who proudly served his nation for more than two decades was now forced to endure interrogations that lasted up to 19 hours straight. Breaching medical ethics, King’s assigned psychologist, Dr. Michael Gelles, even acted in concert with the interrogation.
Ultimately, King was detained for 520 days. In the end, the Navy dropped all charges against King and he was honorably discharged. As for Dr. Gelles, he was assigned to Guantanamo Bay. But incredibly, Dr. Gelles even served on a task force by the American Psychological Association that found ”enhanced” interrogation could be “safe, legal, ethical and effective.”
While many of the worst practices at Guantanamo have ceased under the Obama administration, Doctors of the Dark Side notes that those who abetted torture have yet to face any accountability.Unfortunately, Doctors of the Dark Side has a very limited release. However, groups can request to host a screening. This is a poignant documentary about how the war on terror became a war of terror. Or as Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote in Beyond Good and Evil:
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster. And when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you.