Tag Archives: torture

Codified, Indefinite Detention Now On The Books

It hurts to admit, but it's the first step to realizing both political sides want the same thing in this case.

It hurts to admit, but it's the first step to realizing both political sides want the same thing in this case.

Usually when someone – a business, government, or otherwise – wants to let out some bad information that needs to be public but could do with less exposure (to the benefit of the releaser) it’s a good idea to release said information late on a Friday. This is known as a “document dump”. With the weekend about to begin, whatever stories would come out from the release of said information would be treated to less media exposure than otherwise during the week whether it’s from a function of less journalists writing or less readers reading. It’s a tacky way to play political games that each party, each Presidency, is entirely guilty of.

There’s varying degrees of the dumps, though. A Friday evening is bad enough. A Friday evening before a holiday weekend garners you even less attention. A Saturday afternoon hours before New Year’s Eve celebrations begin? Now that’s a special kind of dump. It was in that dim of a spotlight that President Obama decided to sign into law the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As mentioned previously, the NDAA is an annual event. It’s a has-to-pass piece of legislation in order to keep funding basic military functions and operations, right on down to paying soldiers. This makes it a juicy and ripe target for attaching controversial riders that would otherwise probably not stand a chance on their own for being passed – or would draw too much negative attention if an attempt was made.

The highlight of this year’s attached uselessness were buried in sections 1031 and 1032 of the law. Signing this bill would codify into law the practices the U.S. has engaged in in the post 9/11 security state: indefinite detention of terror suspects – even the ones who have been cleared of wrongdoing (Guantanamo Bay) – redefining the battlefield as “anywhere” to match the War on Terror’s end time as “never”, and extending the ability to indefinitely detain someone from non U.S. citizens to U.S. citizens in the United States. After some previous argument about draft language of the bill, language that would have given the Secretary of Defense the power to decide who gets to be held indefinitely or not in federal prison or at a military facility was instead transferred to the President. President Obama had threatened to veto the bill if that was not done, and sure enough dropped the veto threat once that was accomplished.

Instead of signing the bill when the cameras were still in Washington and the political world had not checked out for the holidays, the President waited to sign the bill until nearly the last possible moment – during the afternoon on New Year’s Eve. He did sign it with some “reservations” though, expressed in a signing statement:

“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” Mr. Obama said in a statement issued in Hawaii, where he is on vacation. “I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”

The president, for example, said that he would never authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens, because “doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.” He also said he would reject a “rigid across-the-board requirement” that suspects be tried in military courts rather than civilian courts.

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From the “Boy, We’re Pondering Some Bad Laws Lately” Department: SOPA, NDAA

I’d like to submit the following comic from Virtual Shackles as today’s Image of the Day:

There’s a couple of problems out there in the “upcoming laws” department – both progressing through our law making systems with a bit too much speed – implying that the more time is spent to stop and dwell on consequences and ramifications, the less likely said pieces of legislation will be ultimately approved and signed by President Obama.

On the downside, before this is gone into any more deeply – both of these pieces of legislation probably will be signed into law by President Obama.

Both requiring a bit more in-depth dissection than I will be able to get to now – I hope to remedy that in the coming days – the general gist of these probably-going-to-be-laws is as follows:

SOPA: Stop Online Piracy ActNDAA: National Defense Authorization Act
SOPA is a proposed law that sounds like it has a rather clear and concise goal – to stop online piracy. While there is a myriad of ways to combat online piracy with varying degrees of potential success, the methods proposed stink of a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Internet works. In short, if a lawsuit is brought or court order given to shut down a website, instead of stopping at the website now everyone involved with “supporting” that website is a target to. It works like this:

  • Blah.com hosts Thing-someone-calls-illegal
  • Takedown notice of blah.com issued, domain seized.
  • Web hosting provider for blah.com can also be culpable, even though they had no knowledge of the “illegal” content being hosted. Presently this can be gotten around through the “safe harbor” privilege of the DMCA (the current fighting-online-piracy law on the books). SOPA would end that.

This would essentially be the business-oriented equivalent of someone slipping on a floor at the local market, falling, and proceeding to sue the janitor on duty, the maker of the mop used, the store, the company that owns the store, and the municipality for providing the water. The effect of this law would be absolutely devastating to providers of web hosting, virtual private networks, and socially generated content sites: YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and others. Each site would be inundated with an avalanche of legal threats over the most mundane of infringements that the cost of doing business would skyrocket to the point it is no longer feasible.

  • That cute video of the baby dancing to the pop song? Takedowns and lawsuits.
  • The old floppy drives that are used to play Star Wars’ Imperial March? Takedowns and lawsuits.
  • The latest entertaining meme that might include a person, place, or thing that is trademarked? Takedowns and lawsuits.

Also there’s the small matter of the rest of the world uses the Internet, too. What passes for a crime in the U.S. might not be judged the same way in, say, Canada. Still, once blah.com is seized in the U.S., international viewers lose the same site. The owners of blah.com can also hedge their bets and just reincorporate in a different country – thereby depriving the U.S. of tax revenue. Better still, if blah.com can’t be seized anymore, it will be directed to be blocked instead, creating our own Great Firewall of China.

The NDAA is actually an annual event – it’s been enacted for the last 48 years straight and has to do with setting the defense budget. Thus, it’s a bill that “has to pass” and is a sweet honeypot for attaching riders and provisions that might not normally be passed if they were to be brought up as individual pieces of legislation. This year’s biggest entrants are sections 1031 and 1032. The breakdown of the sections:

  • Section 1031: Codifies laws enacted after September 11th which allows the President to detain anyone “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces,” as long as the war is going on and “without trial, until the end of hostilities.” Instead of trial in a civilian court, the person can be tried by a military tribunal, sent in a “transfer to the custody or control of the person’s country of origin,” or best yet, sent to “any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity”. That process is called extraordinary rendition and is a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture – of which the U.S. has signed and ratified.
  • Section 1032: Anyone captured under Section 1031 must be held by the military indefinitely until the President decides differently. If the person is a U.S. citizen, they can (but not must) be held indefinitely by either the military or in a federal prison – the choice of which is left up to the President.

The NDAA also extends the definition of “the battlefield” – or places people can be caught – to the United States’ own soil.

When it was revealed that the President was going to veto the NDAA because of these two sections, many were relieved that Bush-era assaults on the Bill of Rights were being ended. Instead, it turns out the original language of the sections left the decision making powers in the hands of the Secretary of Defense. The new language, which was approved by both the House and Senate after the White House veto threat was dropped, transferred those powers to the President himself.

President Obama threatened a veto because it didn’t give him enough power, and relinquished when it did.

This would be the type of thing the Left in the U.S. would be screaming at the top of their lungs over if it were the Bush Administration or Republicans of any sort proposing it. Instead, there is a very distinct fracture that has formed among those who are on the left side of the isle. The “Professional Left” or “Obama Supporters” or “Obamabots” will tell you either none of the above is true, it’s okay if it’s true because Obama won’t abuse the power, or to suck it up and shut up because the Republicans are worse. The true Liberals – and at this point anyone from any part of the spectrum that is supportive of the rule of law – are thus left out in the cold with no real place to turn, and both sides of the political establishment know this to be true.

As the NDAA nears a Presidential signature, the White House used its official Twitter account (one of the sites that could be shut down if SOPA passes) to send out what is probably the tweet of the year in the hypocrisy category:

The Obama Dream & 30 Items From A Sold Out Reality

Policy items accomplished?  Sure, and many of them.  What has been left behind, however, is inexcusable.

Policy items accomplished? Sure, and many of them. What has been left behind, however, is inexcusable.

In the still-infant months of the Obama administration, April of 2009, the shine of hope and promise that was ushered in during the previous campaign began to see its first blemishes.  While there was the embracing of releasing Bush-era memos detailing exactly how and when captives held by the United States could be tortured, and under what legal framework would be created to protect said behavior, any hope for actual justice for such heinous acts carried out in the name of the United States were quickly snuffed from existence.

Obama stated, back then, that CIA agents right on up to members of the Bush administration would not face prosecution for orchestrating, implementing, and justifying systematic torture of prisoners.  Not now, and in theory not ever.

Within days, the enormous amount of power that was diverted to the Executive Branch during the Bush administration via the AT&T-led warrant-less wiretapping program also found a new voice of support stemming from the Obama administration.  There would be no investigation of high-level Bush administration officials that pushed for the surveillance and there would be no investigation of the American companies that took part in the American government-sponsored spying on American citizens of every walk of life.

The reaction from the vast and general public was a collective shrug of the shoulder.  The President took shelter behind approval ratings in the mid 60′s and continued to ride out the storm.  Nearly two years later, the government can also now take nearly-nude photographs of you and feel you up – for your safety, of course.

Thus highlighted what would become an extremely depressing and long line of Very Important Things that the President would either ignore, capitulate on, reverse course, and – as much as the cheesiness of the phrase makes me cringe – flip flop on.

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Difference Indistinguishable

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faces a protest in 2007

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faces a protest in 2007

In the early days of the Obama Administration – March of 2009 – a human rights group in Spain named Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners made an appeal to Spain’s National Court that the body use its ability to protect the rights of Spanish citizens no matter where they may be by targeting the United States and it’s creation of “a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture”.  Charges were brought against a who’s-who list of the legal accomplices to the pro-torture policy of the Bush Administration:

  • Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
  • Chief of staff/legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington
  • Pentagon general counsel William Haynes
  • Undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith
  • Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee
  • Official in the Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo

Between these men, you had the sources for policies that reigned for most of the opening decade of this century when it came to America’s outward appearance to the rest of the world.  From these men you saw the legal framework and backing for the undoing of decades of goodwill that the United States made and gained throughout the 20th century.  From these men you saw the legal justification for a superpower – and by extension anyone else if they so chose – to abandon things like the Geneva Convention.

The Obama Administration had a rather important decision to make.

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Waterboaring-lite: It’s still torture

While noted conservative talking head Sean Hannity has failed to take up a challenge from noted liberal talking head Keith Olbermann to be waterboarded for charity, another conservative talking head – Erich “Mancow” Muller – stepped up to the plate and found out just what waterboarding feels like, admitting that it is – in fact – torture.

Funny thing about this, though, is that compared to how it is “really” done – Mancow went through what you could only really describe as Waterboarding-lite. Current.tv has a video of Waterboarding that is much closer to how it’s actually done (skip ahead to about 3:00 for the actual act):

Somehow, I fear, the right wing echo chamber will continue shouting on despite all of this – even if it’s done to each and every last one of them.

The U.S. Enters an Exclusive Club of the World’s Worst

Iran, Syria, China: three countries that probably don’t bring out the best of thoughts in Americans’ minds. Leave China out and you have your typical freedom-hating Arabs. Add China in and you have your run of the mill America-hating countries. Add the United States to that list and you have a list of countries that normally wouldn’t appear next to each other regarding much of anything at all. Safe to say if the United States has something in common with Iran, Syria, and China, it’s not going to be a good thing.

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We torture our own citizens. We torture our own vets. We torture our own.

I try, lord do I ever try to keep optimistic on this country and its future. I keep telling myself we are living in a bad dream that makes up the first decade of the 21st century, a bad dream we will wake up from in the next decade and the decade after – some time in my life, basically.

And then there’s this

One after another, the men and women who have stepped forward to report corruption in the massive effort to rebuild Iraq have been vilified, fired and demoted.

Or worse.

For daring to report illegal arms sales, Navy veteran Donald Vance says he was imprisoned by the American military in a security compound outside Baghdad and subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

There were times, huddled on the floor in solitary confinement with that head-banging music blaring dawn to dusk and interrogators yelling the same questions over and over, that Vance began to wish he had just kept his mouth shut.

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Did Ahmadinejad just score a moral victory?

The world can breathe another collective sigh of relief as yet another incident that had the potential to spiral out of control into a serious regional war was rendered neutralized. As an added bonus, however, the one doing the neutralizing was one of the bad guys (from our vantage point). Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad’s sudden decision to release fifteen British Navy personnel after two weeks of capture was a surprising end to a rather odd from the start ordeal that, thanks to the wonderful political climate in the region, threatened for a time to escalate into renewed conflict in the Persian Gulf region.

From the start of the ordeal I was rather perplexed at the logic of the move. It is possible that British Navy personnel were in fact in Iranian waters which caused the Iranian Navy to capture the intruders, but it is also possible that Iran used a long-standing waterway border dispute as an excuse to not only assert their sovereignty over a stretch of real estate they claimed was their’s, but to also force the hand of the British and, by proxy, the Americans. Still, even if that was the case, to what end? What exactly could be gained by capturing the soldiers? Intelligence gathering would probably be much easier and convenient through the network of Shi’ite militiamen throughout much of Iraq, and one would have to wonder what the point of bringing the wrath of an invading army down upon Iran.
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