Sunday, November 4, 2007

Will Feinstein and Schumer Be Prosecuted for War Crimes?

Before I get to the Feinstein/Schumer imbroglio, let me first introduce Stephen Grey, the well-known author of Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Rendition and Torture Program (read an excerpt at the link), and a reporter for Frontline's upcoming November 9 documentary, Extraordinary Rendition, on PBS. He has a new piece over at that's worth reading, "The Extraordinary Truth about CIA Renditions".

Grey points out that as terrible as waterboarding and other forms of torture practiced by the CIA and their foreign partners are, there are some things that are even more terrible. Anyone who has read my articles on sensory deprivation and DDD-style torture will recognize the subject as addressed in Grey's Salon piece.

In the course of investigating the rendition program for the past four years, I have interviewed victims, CIA pilots, case officers who have actually carried out renditions, senior CIA officers who directed such operations and officials at the White House who were involved in authorizing such measures. All of these sources told me in private or on the record that repeated claims by the White House that we "don't send people to countries where they will be tortured" are plain lies....

Inside its own "black site" prisons, the CIA uses interrogation methods that -- while falling short of the medieval techniques used in the Arab world -- still, in the eyes of many within the agency, amount to straightforward torture. It is not only the physical methods like waterboarding (simulated drowning), but also refined techniques of sensory deprivation, that can cripple a prisoner psychologically.

One witness to such abuse was Bisher al-Rawi, a longtime British resident who was snatched by the CIA and held for more than four years, first in Afghanistan, then in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In a recent interview he told me about the "dark prison" where he was held in solitary confinement while being bombarded with strange music. It was freezing cold and so dark, he said, "you couldn't see the end of your nose." Physical torture, like the beatings he later endured, could be overcome, he said, but psychological torture "lives with you all your life."

The biggest news, of course, in the ongoing U.S. torture scandal is the capitulation of Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who announced at the end of last week that they would vote to recommend Bushite right-wing hack, Federal Judge Michael B. Mukasey, to the Senate for confirmation vote as the Attorney General nominee to replace the unlamented Alberto Gonzales. Feinstein has already famously pronounced her rationale for her vote: "Judge Mukasey is not Alberto R. Gonzales." Furthermore, she described Mukasey's replies to the committee's questions to be "crisp and to the point". Mukasey told her that waterboarding (an abhorrent torture technique with roots in medieval torture), with Feinstein quoting Mukasey here, seems

"...over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans....

"I do know... that waterboarding cannot be used by the United States military because its use by the military would be a clear violation of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA). That is because waterboarding and certain other coercive interrogation techniques are expressly prohibited by the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation"....

Feinstein appears to want to compound her betrayal by rewriting history as well. Does the typical American's memory really only last a couple of weeks? Here's our "crisp" and "to the point" AJ nominee answering the questions of Senator Whitehouse, as reported in the New York Times (though the link is to my previous posting on Mukasey, cleverly enabling you to review my past writings on this issue):

"Is waterboarding constitutional?” he was asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, in one of today’s sharpest exchanges.

"I don’t know what is involved in the technique,” Mr. Mukasey replied. “If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.”

Mr. Whitehouse described Mr. Mukasey’s response as a “massive hedge”....

“It either is or it isn’t,” the senator continued. “Waterboarding is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, tying them down, putting cloth over their faces, and then pouring water over them to simulate drowning. Is that constitutional?”

Mr. Mukasey repeated his answer: “If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.”

Mr. Whitehouse said he was “very disappointed in that answer — I think it is purely semantic.”

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Mukasey replied.

I guess Mukasey learned a lot about waterboarding after his encounter with Sen. Whitehorse. But Feinstein and Schumer have certainly learned nothing. Perhaps they are unaware that keeping the threat of waterboarding alive enhances fear in prisoners currently held by the CIA, and that such induction of fear is itself a form of torture. Could Feinstein and Schumer be prosecuted themselves someday as accessories to war crimes? It may not be out of the question. But then, I doubt anyone on their staff mentioned that to these quintessential cowards and sell-outs. (It goes without saying that Bush Administration officials deserve such prosecution.)

Here's some of the relevant law:

Torture or inhuman treatment of prisoners-of-war (Geneva III, arts. 17 & 87) or protected persons (Geneva IV, art. 32) are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and are considered war crimes (Geneva III, art. 130; Geneva IV, art. 147). War crimes create an obligation on any state to prosecute the alleged perpetrators or turn them over to another state for prosecution. This obligation applies regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator, the nationality of the victim or the place where the act of torture or inhuman treatment was committed (Geneva III, art.129; Geneva IV, art. 146).

During the Vietnam War, anti-war protesters used to shout, "Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?" Will anti-war and anti-torture protesters soon be yelling at Lady DiFi, "Hey DiFi, Di Fi, how many will be waterboarded because of your lie?"

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