Posts Tagged ‘torture memos’

“Zero Dark Thirty” pushes the torture debate into popular discussion

Monday, December 17, 2012 at 9:56 am by

This  week, Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow selectively screened “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film portraying the manhunt for Osama bin Laden and including graphic depictions of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  As critics contemplate the implications of these horrific scenes, conflicting reactions towards “Zero Dark Thirty” provoke debate on whether “enhanced interrogation techniques” entail critical methods for extracting imperative information, or merely demonize and jeopardize the United States.  The discussion also examines whether the film itself heralds torture as effective and necessary, or serves as an expose of illegal and inhumane exploits.

Discourse around “Zero Dark Thirty” also underlies controversy in Congress concerning the Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC) report investigating CIA interrogation.  SIC lead Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently announced that, though still withholding its 6,000-page report:

The committee is…scheduled to vote to approve the report. … Any decision on declassification and release of any portion of the report will be decided by committee members at a later time.

While our government obscures its illicit and severe conduct, “Zero Dark Thirty”, with its vivid and disturbing visuals, may incite We the people to loudly oppose the implementation of torture.  As Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, Ninth Circuit Judge Jay Bybee authorized waterboarding, closed confinement, sleep deprivation, air restriction, and other heinous forms of abuse in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention.  The UN defines “torture” as:

…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.

Under the ‘torture memos’, a series of documents including twisted legal analysis and private memorandums, the CIA euphemized torture as “enhanced interrogation tactics” and committed contemptible acts with zero due process, transparency, or accountability. This creates a pernicious standard justifying near-lethal treatment for individuals who pose no threat or possess no pertinent information, while the perpetrators of such acts enjoy impunity. Furthermore, the CIA destroyed video evidence of torture in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). This absurd degree of insulation and evasion undermines separation of powers by negating judicial review, and diminishes the people’s rights by thwarting public oversight.

Vicious scenes of “interrogation” in “Zero Dark Thirty” confront viewers with a truth that our government eludes: the CIA used torture, despite its inefficacy, to coerce insignificant information from low-level or innocent suspects. In doing so, this organization obstructed justice, compromised the pursuit of true threats, and humiliated the United States in the eyes of the world. Although the Obama administration expressly repudiates the use of torture, lack of liability and openness further enable torture and other reprehensible practices.

In his second term, President Obama  must take active measures to preserve justice, civil liberties, and human rights. Acting under his proper power, President Obama must order the declassification of documents, photographs, and video evidence concerning CIA secret sites and torture programs.  Additionally, President Obama must order the release of SIC’s report on CIA torture.  Without authoritative action to address the illegality of government conduct, particularly when it so devastatingly impacts the human condition, a nominal rejection signifies scarcely more than a look of disapproval.  The rest of the world glares upon the United States for its failed response to the cruel and criminal acts of its government agents.

Ultimately, “Zero Dark Thirty” may simply represent a film director’s vision of a highly intriguing narrative.  However, whether inadvertently or not, it raises realities of what has happened and exploration into what must be done to end torture and other inhumane acts by our government.

News Digest 11/27/12

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

News Digest 8/30/12

Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm by

News Digest 7/30/12

Monday, July 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

John Yoo can’t be sued for torture

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 9:32 am by

John-YooThe Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that Bush administration official John Yoo (pictured) cannot be sued for writing legal memos that approved torture. When he worked for the Department of Justice between 2001 and 2003, Yoo authored memos that provided legal justification for so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods. Among those tortured was Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was arrested and detained as an “enemy combatant” for almost four years.

While detained, Padilla endured brutal practices, including painful stress positions, isolation, sleep deprivation, death threats, and psychotropic drugs. Padilla was even denied medical attention for “serious and potentially life-threatening ailments.” Padilla later sued Yoo for $1, to symbolically demand accountability.

But instead, the Ninth Circuit granted “qualified immunity” to Yoo and tossed out Padilla’s lawsuit. To defend its decision, the court argued,

Although it has been clearly established for decades that torture of an American citizen violates the Constitution, and we assume without deciding that Padilla’s alleged treatment rose to the level of torture, that such treatment was torture was not clearly established in 2001-03.

Writing in The New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal attacks the Ninth Circuit’s “tortured logic”:

In English: If Mr. Padilla’s telling the truth, he was tortured, and that’s obviously unconstitutional…The government willfully ignored commonsense, and manufactured a debate about something obviously illegal. But the Ninth Circuit decided that what was obviously illegal wasn’t technically illegal because the Supreme Court hadn’t said so.

But as Glenn Greenwald notes, this is just the latest “disgraceful” decision made by the federal judiciary:

(1) not a single War on Terror victim — not one — has been permitted to sue for damages in an American court over what was done to them, even when everyone admits they were completely innocent, even when they were subjected to the most brutal torture, and even when the judiciary of other countries permitted their lawsuits to proceed; and,

(2) not a single government official — not one — has been held legally accountable, either criminally or even civilly, for any War on Terror crimes or abuses; perversely, the only government officials to pay any price were the ones who blew the whistle on those crimes.

Al Franken does what the courts won’t: question the authority of torture lawyers

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm by

FrankenAt this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Due Process Guarantee Act, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) did for the first time what prosecutors, courts, and the president have never done: question one of the Justice Department attorneys who authorized torture under the Bush administration.

Stephen Bradbury, former head of the Office of Legal Council and one of the authors of the legal documents commonly known as torture memos, appeared as a witness at the hearing, where he argued against the Due Process Guarantee Act introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). He claims that the law would place too many limits on the president’s ability to detain people suspected of connections to terrorism.

As reported by Talking Points Memo,

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said he was disappointed that Bradbury was a witness at the hearing given his history.

“It’s very difficult for me, frankly, to rely on your legal opinion today if the Office of Professional Responsibility questions your objectivity and reasonableness then I think we on the panel should as well,” Franken said before adding the OPR report on Bradbury’s involvement with the torture memos into the record.

Adam Serwer, who writes for Mother Jones, perhaps put it best:

Franken dressing down Bradbury is the worst consequence any torture architect has ever faced: Mild embarrassment.

US counterterrorism policy post-9/11: Chip Pitts vs. John Yoo

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 at 11:45 am by

In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the Executive Branch responded by enacting a number of new laws such as the USA PATRIOT Act and Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) aimed at identifying and preventing terrorist activities. These laws, which most lawmakers did not even read before voting on them, are now raising substantial questions regarding government detention, surveillance, and interrogation techniques (among other concerns) and the extent to which the government has endangered peoples’ civil liberties protected by the Constitution.

On October 22, 2011, Chip Pitts, a former Bill of Rights Defense Committee board member, and John Yoo, former Bush Administration official and author of the highly contested torture memos, debated whether US counter-terrorism policy since 9/11 has been consistent with the Constitution.