Canada Involved in Abetting Torture by Afghani Forces

Here is one news announcement, of discovery and denial and documentation:

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A diplomatic report revealing that the Canadian government has been aware that Afghan security forces have been torturing prisoners handed over to them by Canadian soldiers has caused outrage across the country.

PWW summary, accessed 5/11/07 — The full summary is suggested reading.

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Alberto Gonzales’s Last Stand

I would like to think that testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee is the last appearance of Alberto Gonzales on the public scene. The bumbling idiot on the witness stand portrayed by the New York Times editorial here, who did not know people, or dates, or times, or actions, surely is not long for the political world.

Is this the same Alberto Gonzales who has been the godfather of the new presidential right to torture? The same Alberto Gonzales who has been one of the crafters of the “imperial presidency?”

There are a couple of possibilities: that this is a man who relies heavily on the ideas and work of his staff. It is his staff that has made him look menacingly intelligent, in the case of the torture/imperial presidency material, and it is his staff that has made him look like a bumbling idiot on the witness stand.

<>I did watch some of his testimony, getting the ‘Anita Hill’ treatment from Senator Arlen Specter (R Sen. Pennsylvania). As a result, I concur with the NYTimes’s assessment.

<>Alberto Gonzales seems to have thoroughly outlived his value and usefulness to the Georgy W. Bush presidency. I think he has been kept on as a screen for Karl Rove. That is, to paraphrase the NYTimes, the larger effort is to work through the information that none of the senior administrators in the Justice Department knew from where the list of federal prosecutors to be fired came.

<>Until or unless there is a way to question Karl Rove, and obtain email records of his dealings, it is deviously important to keep Alberto Gonzales in office. Although, from his testimony, Gonzales is not responsible for the firings, his Office, the Office of the Attorney General, is responsible for the unjust action in the Department of Justice.

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

From the NYTimes review, published prior to tonight’s TV evocation of the torture and torture photographs, at Abu Ghraib in Iraq:

“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” will appall and sadden viewers worried about human rights and international law. But it will be just as discouraging for those who believe that the danger posed by Al Qaeda trumps even those humanitarian concerns.

Abu Ghraib wasn’t just a moral failure, it was a strategic setback in the war against terror.

Again, that’s February 22, 2007 on HBO, 9:30 pm Eastern and Pacific time, 8:30 pm Central time.

Freedom of the Press

There is more than one way to erode the freedom of the press guarantee of the Constitution’s First Amendment. As a reminder, this brief Amendment reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment need not be eroded by Executive Branch subversion and challenges to the freedoms it grants. It can be eroded by the failure of the members of the press to investigate and report what they find. A single reporter faces enormous institutional pressures. These pressures come from major corporations that own broadcasting networks and newspaper facilities; from the routine, everyday sources for meeting deadlines; and from the “high-level” sources who, it is hoped, provide something new, however laden with spin. It is not easy to be a reporter, and it is even less easy to be an independent publisher of print media.

How this works is beautifully detailed in an article on the Media Matters website by Eric Boehlert, titled “Scooter Libby and the Media Debacle.” In careful prose he cites name after name of well-known reporters who were aware of the source of the information that Joseph Wilson, former Ambassador in Africa, had a wife who was an active undercover CIA agent, and that her name was Valerie Plame. In addition, some of these reporters knew that the story emanating from Libby and others in the Office of the Vice President was false. Their collective failures to report what they knew are carefully documented in Boehlert’s article, without flaming liberal prose.

In a similar vain, I have noted here Eric Umansky’s article in the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) on the U.S. record on torture, which asks “How Well Has the Press Covered Torture?”

<>The previous doctortwo comments on issues and articles connected with press freedom can be found under the titles “Press Freedom” and “Reason and Responsibility.”
<>The lack of press responsibility on the issues of compromising the CIA, and on torture, in the major, most used press outlets  means that as citizens we have a heavy burden of due diligence. This burden is the time-consuming search for alternate news sources, and failing (or suspecting) those as well, for reporting on the newsmakers themselves, and the newsmaking process.

Torture in the First Person

The following is a long excerpt from a guest contributor’s column on T r u t h o u t, a web site I would describe as an alternative news bureau.

The guest author is Phillip Butler, a former Navy pilot during the Viet Nam war. Here is the excerpt:

I spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, from 1965 to 1973. During that time, I and more than 90 percent of my fellow POWs were repeatedly tortured for the extortion of information to be used for political propaganda and sometimes just for retribution. We were not recognized by Vietnam as POWs, but as criminals, because the Vietnamese had not signed the 1949 “Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.”

Later, in 1975, the United Nations created the “Convention Against Torture.” Both conventions were ratified by Congress and became laws of our land. Unfortunately, Vietnam – along with numerous other countries who are still partially stuck in the 15th century – had institutionalized torture to punish and extract information from prisoners.

We received great moral and psychological strength during our incarceration from telling each other, “Our country is civilized and would never knowingly treat people like this.”

We felt we had the moral high ground and took great pride in being American, above such barbarity. Besides, we all knew from experience that torture is useless, because under torture we told our tormentors whatever we thought they wanted to hear. Whenever possible we slipped in ridiculous statements like one I used in a torture-extracted “confession,” that “only officers are allowed to use the swimming pool on the USS Midway.” Another friend wrote in a “confession” that “my commanding officer, Dick Tracy, ordered me to bomb schools and hospitals.” These are just two examples of the kind of culturally embedded nonsense people can expect to extract through torture.

I recommend reading the whole piece, which is about double the length quoted here.

Are we interested enough in reversing U.S. policy on torture to impeach George W. Bush? We would actually need to impeach Bush, Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales, the current Attorney General. In terms of salvaging the energy to govern the country in the next two years, it seems to me (reluctantly) that we will be better off riding out these rump years and prosecuting these men after they leave office.

Of course I am assuming a vigorous and successful election campaign by the Democrats, and an resulting executive branch that reverses existing policy. Is that a tenable assumption?

Press Freedom

In lieu of a year-end review, I want to call attention to two articles. The first is in Slate, not quite midyear, early May of 2006. The author, Jack Shafer, reviews the press-suppression tools used by the presidency of George W. Bush. He encourages reporters and editors to continue to seek out information from leakers inside and outside the administration.

Read Shafer’s article.

At a similar time, the Columbia Journalism Review published an examination of the military’s clash between the need to create disinformation, and the need to communicate a clear understanding of events on the ground. In both cases the press becomes an instrument.

Read Schulman’s CJR article, “Mind Games.”

This sentence in the CJR article tells me a lot about how to read the press on Iraq and Afghanistan:

Information warriors often formulate what they call “truth-based” messages — information that is often vague and one-dimensional, sometimes misleading, and frequently includes statements that are subtly derogatory.

So as soon as I notice that vague feeling that comes when reading a piece that is short on details, I should stop, and go find the details.

The relevant Year-End Review

My hat-tip goes to Dahlia Lithwick’s opinion piece, “The Bill of Wrongs,” for calling attention to Jack Shafer’s Slate article, which sent me on to the CJR article, and some musing about what is happening in the war.

Dealing with Managed Information

1. Too vague to verify.

2. Too specifically favorable to a country, an individual, an organization, to be credible.

3. Attempt to understand the sourcing.

4. Develop a sense of regional and global background, beyond Borat . . . Kazakhstan.