Thursday, March 20, 2008

Short Takes: Obama, APA, & Omar Khadr

Arch-neocon William Kristol and the New York Times seem bent on shoving their racial swiftboating tactics down our throats. Kristol was forced to issue a partial retraction after writing a story that claimed Barack Obama lied when he said he wasn't present at a sermon by his pastor Jeremiah White that purportedly blamed "the 'arrogance' of the 'United States of White America' for much of the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks." Kristol and the right-wing want to paint Obama as a racial extremist, or someone who cynically manipulates racist extremists, and this to frighten white Americans.

Of course, Obama was never at such a sermon. And frankly, it wouldn't have mattered if he were. Obama spoke his piece on the anger of black America the other day, in a well-received speech on the impact of racial divisions on the United States. While I think Wright's comments weren't "divisive" -- comments Obama felt he had to disavow -- nevertheless, he said they were understandable, given the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and other racial discrimination. And that's more than any other U.S. politician would give towards the validation of black rage, much of it, as Obama pointed out, directed impotently at misplaced or non-powerful targets, or turned inward.


Noted bioethicist and physician, Steven Miles, comments favorably on my analysis of the APA's new resolution language concerning a ban on psychologist participation in torture in Bush's prison gulag abroad:
Valtin is correct. The February 22 APA statement entirely conforms to current US policy of lip service in public and war crimes in private.
Go read his entire comment.

Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association continues to do the dirty work for the Department of Defense. In past week, APA has been lobbying heavily to change the language of California State Senator Ridley-Thomas's resolution calling for California health-care professionals, including psychologists, to not work in the anti-human rights sewer that is Guantanamo, and other such prisons where torture and prisoner abuse has occurred. APA apparently was successful in getting the language of the resolution changed. Instead of an outright ban in participation at torture sites, the resolution now calls for non-participation only in interrogations that involve torture or abusive treatment.

This sounds good, but in reality it is a significant weakening of the resolution, rendering it all but meaningless. For one thing, it leave health care workers, and psychologists, especially, who staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams or BSCTs at Guantanamo and elsewhere, working in sites that do not allow basic human rights, such as habeas corpus. It also, as a recent article by intelligence and ethics experts Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD and David DeBatto (U.S. Army Counterintelligence Operative - ret.), point out in a recent article:
Many institutional factors combine to defeat APA principles on interrogation in national security settings under the Bush Administration....

In intelligence operations, information is passed to participants strictly on a “need to know” basis. Inasmuch as the February 2008 Modification prohibits psychologists from “knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques,” it is a simple matter to withhold morally relevant information from psychologists and to provide cover stories....
APA leadership knows what it's doing in sending lobbyists around the country, weakening any resolution, bill, or determined effort to stop the psychological presence at DoD and CIA torture sessions. This keeps the APA in the good graces of Pentagon and intelligence agency high echelon. It also destroys whatever claims APA has to being an organization that stands for anything progressive, or even represents the beneficent practice of psychology in America.

Representatives of Physicians for Social Responsibility / Los Angeles, who along with the American Friends Service Committee have worked with Ridley-Thomas on the resolution, assure me that there is still time to change the language of the resolution. But while that means the resolution can be made stronger, it can also be weakened even more. And there's no sign that APA will further ignore this legislative initiative in California, which if it passes would be a serious black-eye for the Pentagon and Bush's torture apologists.


Meanwhile, in Guantanamo itself, Omar Khadr, now 21 years old, but 15 when Special Forces arrested him in Afghanistan, had his trial at the hands of the Pentagon's phony tribunal system postponed indefinitely by a judge, while the defense finally gets a chance to look at the "evidence" the government has against Khadr. Some of this evidence is exculpatory.

For instance, the U.S. has maintained that young Khadr was the only person left alive inside a house when a grenade was used to kill a U.S. Army Sargent. But now we know otherwise:
Last month, the testimony of a soldier identified only as "OC-1," accidentally released to the public, showed that another fighter was alive inside the Afghan compound where the 2002 firefight took place and a grenade was thrown at U.S. soldiers, killing one of them. Until last month's revelation, it had long been assumed that Mr. Khadr was the only person alive inside the compound, and so must have thrown the grenade. Mr. Khadr now faces multiple charges in connection to the incident, including murder.

The U.S. officer's diary, snippets of which were made public this week, confirms the OC-1 account that another fighter was alive....

"I remember looking over my right shoulder and seeing [edited out by government] just waste the guy who was still alive. He was shooting him with controlled pairs..." the officer writes, referring to bursts of gunfire.
The Globe and Mail article goes on to describe the political circumstance surrounding the decision to put Khadr on trial, while another article on the case at Adelaide Now details new charges concerning the treatment of Khadr in U.S. custody.

Omar Khadr was a minor for his first three years at Guantanamo. But after his arrest in July 2002, he was held at Bagram, Afghanistan, where he suffered the standard American abuse: hooding, threatened with dogs, water poured over him. But there were other threats:
"On several occasions at Bagram, interrogators threatened to have me raped, or sent to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Israel to be raped," Khadr said in the document.

He said interrogators told him at one point that the Egyptians wound send "Soldier No. 9" to rape him....

"While my wounds were still healing, interrogators made me clean the floors on my hands and knees. They woke me up in the middle of the night after midnight and made me clean the floor with a brush and dry it with towels until dawn, carry heavy buckets of water," he said.

Later at Guantanamo, Khadr said an Afghan with a US flag on his pants threatened to send him back to Afghanistan unless he cooperated, telling him: "They like small boys in Afghanistan."
Omar said in his recently released affidavit that he said whatever he could think of to stop the brutal interrogations, in which he was shackled for hours at a time, and not allowed to use a bathroom, to the point he urinated on himself. Until a Canadian judge refused access to Khadr by Canadian intelligence officers, because conditions at Guantanamo failed to meet the criteria of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadian interrogators failed to intervene to stop any abuse. They were there, in part, to try and get the teenage Khadr to implicate Canadian torture rendition victim Maher Arar, among others, proving that Bush's "war on terror" torture campaign is an international affair.

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