torture & other things I'm reading about

Obama won't prosecute the torturers. This "stands Nuremberg on its head" according to Mike Farrell, President of the board of Death Penalty Focus and Co-Chair Emeritus of the Southern California Committee of Human Rights Watch.

The Nuremberg defense, as you know, Bob, is basically when people say that "I was just following orders when I committed this war crime. How was I to know slaughtering jews or simulating drowning was wrong? I mean: it's war, who am i to know that mass murder or torture is a bad thing? It's not like our society has a strict code of morality about these things or anything. Right? Right?"

Well, nuts to you, my good man! says the Nuremberg principles:

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.


What kind of torture, you ask? Well, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed experienced simulated execution by drowning (waterboarding) more than 6 times a day for a month, a total of 183 times in 30 days.


Bernhard Ellefsen was kind enough to make me aware of two articles by Mark Danner on the torture reports etc. I haven't looked at them yet, but from the skimming, they look really good:

"US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites" and "The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means".

Ellefsen has a video of Danner on CNN up right now at the link above.


Here are the actual torture memos by the Bush administration, recently released by the Obama administration, explaining in deliberate, crimes-against-humanity-conviction-inducing prose how to torture a person in such away that it somehow fails to be torture:

In addition to using the cont1ncment boxes alone, you would like to introduce an insect into one of the boxes with Zubaydah. As we understand it, you plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar. If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects "will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain. If, however, you were to place the insect in the box without informing him that you're doing so,then in order to commit a predicate act, you should not affirmatively lead him to believe that any insects... the approaches we have described, the insect's placement in the box should not constitute a threat of severe physical pain or suffering to a reasonable person in his position. An individual placed in a box, even an individual with a fear of insects, would not reasonably feel threatened with severe physical pain or suffering if a caterpillar was placed in the box. Further, you have informed us that you are not aware that Zubaydah has any allergies to insects, and you have not informed us of any other factors that would cause a reasonable person in that same situation to
believe that an ... cause him severe physical pain or death. Thus, we
conclude that the placement of the insect in the confinement box...
blah blah blah. Basically, Bybee is arguing that if you shut someone into a coffin-sized box WITH AN INSECT walking all over him, even if he had a phobia for insects, then that is somehow not torture. He could be in the box for hours at a time. With the insect. I have no such phobia, and I don't think I would remain sane if someone did this to me. These documents are worth reading. Pure, distilled banality of evil. 


Last but not least on torture, an editorial in the NY Times in which they finally, finally, fucking finally bring out the big guns against the Bush administration:

At least Mr. Obama is not following Mr. Bush’s example of showy trials for the small fry — like Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib notoriety. But he has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners — in violation of international law and the Constitution.

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to accountability. [my italics]


further torture update:

Digby, as usual making lots of sense. Read the Danner articles. They're good.


On the other hand, when Obama is not letting torturers go free, he is starting high-speed rail projects across the US. That is awesome. Now if only the Norwegian Arbeiderpartiet could get its ass in gear on this issue at their meeting this weekend, we could get something done in the next ten years.


Speaking of which, here's our prime minister saying that Twitter and Facebook are important (Norwegian). The left parties are finally starting to realise what a tool for change the web can be when they take the lead. I tried telling them this five years ago, but would they listen? No.


Ezra Klein on why the US health care system costs so much. Part I, part II.


Ian McEwan on John Updike. I never liked Updike. He could bang a sentence together like nobody's business but his books, the few that I have had to read, have always felt morally flawed and self-centered to me. But it's always interesting to see what others saw in him.

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Anonymous T said...



And is there a link missing in that last part?

April 19, 2009 8:57 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

"In brief, when it comes to breathing, give me good old air every time."

One of Hitchen's better pieces, not least because he's using his powers for good. I've read this before, but thanks for the links! I fixed the link in the last bit.

April 20, 2009 12:18 am  

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