Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Four Recommended Articles

A lot of good work is being done by numerous bloggers these days, especially in the field of human rights. The controversy over what a President Obama's administration if and when Guantanamo is closed (which Obama promised to do in the first days of his term) has brought forth some important analyses, especially in the light of a recent New York Times article suggesting that some on Obama's transition team are pushing for a post-Guantanamo "preventive detention" law for "terrorists."

Smintheus has a good analysis of the arguments around "preventive detention in his article, "The 'debate' about Gitmo," at Unbossed.com.
Interwoven into this shameless assault on accountability and the rule of law are several preposterous (and therefore unstated) assumptions. In particular we're supposed to accept that certain prisoners are indescribably dangerous...more dangerous than the attack on our legal tradition...and that the Bush administration has lots of reliable information that "someone is a threat" though it can't be proved in court. An essential corollary is the assumption that these somebodies are critical operatives in the machinery of terrorism. Their release, we're to suppose, would lead inevitably to further acts of terror, whereas their continued detention prevents terrorism....

In any event, a single reason for rejecting that assumption is sufficiently devastating that there's little point in dwelling upon any others. And that is this: The Bush administration has shown again and again that it does not truly believe the inflated allegations it directs against Gitmo prisoners.

For example, obscured in the 'debate' thus far concerning what to do about Guantanamo is the Seton Hall study delivered in August to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That's a huge omission. This meticulous study (PDF) documents how many former prisoners have been released to their home countries, and how little correlation there has been between the rate and speed of their release, on the one hand, and the gravity of the Bush administration's allegations against them on the other.
Meanwhile, Scott Horton has a thought-provoking article over at Harper's, responding to the AP article suggesting that Obama's incoming administration is favoring investigations of the Bush administration over prosecutions.
The Obama transition team is enormous and it is peopled, appropriately enough, with a number of figures who have direct experience in the Bush Administration’s war on terror. No problem with that–in fact, Obama would be remiss if he failed to build such experience into his team. But there are a number of names in play right now who have troubling connections to the “dark side” of the intelligence community’s war on terror and who have pressing reasons to lobby against any investigation of any sort. Why? Because their own judgment-calls might come under unpleasant scrutiny. Just some for-instances:

  • John Brennan, who regularly surfaces as a key Obama advisor on intelligence issues and is supposedly in the running for a key intelligence community post. Brennan has a completely ambiguous record on the torture issue, depending on whether he speaks from the agency, as a commentator or on behalf of President-Elect Obama.

  • Jamie Miscik, another intelligence community careerist who was very close to the WMD in Iraq imbroglio and more recently was a key player at Lehman–and now understandably needs a new roof–is another figure who would clearly rather avoid a probe of the torture issue.

  • And finally Jamie Gorelick, a former key Clinton Justice Department official who, according to intelligence community sources, took a whopping retainer from the CIA to counsel and protect the psychologists who crafted the guts of the Bush torture program. [Horton in an article last January specifically named the clients as Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, SERE psychologists working under contract to the CIA.] Gorelick, a Hillary Clinton partisan, is also a name in play for a senior intelligence post.
  • While the battle over Guantanamo rages, Stephen Soldz has written an article for activists in the health professions, and particularly psychology, over what course an anti-torture campaign should take (big PDF file).
    Activist psychologists have achieved an amazing feat in transforming APA policy. In the process we have created a broad, decentralized movement. We brought together many individuals and organizations that collectively were able successfully to challenge the largest mental health organization in the world. This movement shines as a beacon to other activists, showing what a democratic participatory polity can accomplish. It has been noticed by many around the world who are trying to shake off the despair generated by the "global war on terror." It encourages those struggling to transform violent, authoritarian institutions and cultures in the U.S. and elsewhere....

    However, our task is far from over. I will end with a cautionary note. In the wider society, the fight against torture and human-rights abuses is never-ending. With luck, we will soon put an end to the Bush Administration's experiment with legalized torture in national security interrogations. But U.S. support for torture likely will not totally end. Intelligence work, by its nature, occurs in the shadows, away from public oversight. Further, as the scholar Darius Rejali revealed in his magisterial work Torture and Democracy, modern forms of torture, including psychological torture, through their lack of clear, tell-tale signs, were designed precisely to avoid democratic oversight.

    Only continual vigilance, combined with cultural change, can remove our nation from the list of those conducting or condoning torture.
    Finally, I want to highlight a recent report on a talk by former Rhode Island Chief Justice and now Chief Judge of the Court of Military Commission Review at Guantanamo, Frank J. Williams. The interview is by Annie, an intrepid blogger on human rights, posted online last September at Home of the Brave. Though a few months old now, the article is a telling look into the psychology of those who are actually running the U.S.'s detention and torture machine, and to the psychology of fear they expound:
    He cited Lincoln’s declaration of the president deriving power from the consent of the governed.

    But he then went on to state that Lincoln did what he had to do by whatever [means] it took. That’s when I got ready for the fear mongering, and just as expected, he let it fly.

    “Even the liberals who abhor Bush acknowledge the danger.”

    He conflates abhorring the harm to the Constitution with abhorring the man.

    He self-justified the military commissions by repeatedly declaring that the US is in a national crisis of being terrorized. He referred to the Global War on Terror as a military war instead of as an ideology, and I do not believe that he realized that he is conflating terms and their implications.

    He believed that Lincoln felt he had to act in suspending habeas corpus in the interest of the nation’s self preservation, and he expressed his great fear of a nuclear attack on Americans, with harm to millions.
    That's four very interesting articles, a selection out of many that are available during this period of heightened political awareness and activism, in the dwindling twilight of the Bush regime's rule.

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