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Posts Tagged ‘Torture’

Your Brain Of Mud Or President Obama’s Magic Show In Cairo

In Israel/Palestine, Journalism, Our Wars on May 19, 2011 at 8:26 am
(Originally written in response to Obama’s first condescending speech to the A-rabs back in 2009. Reposted to reflect that nothing really has changed.)
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“It is well”, I said carelessly “…beware! Play us no tricks, make us no snares, for before your brains of mud have thought of them, we shall know them and avenge them. The light from the transparent eye of him with the bare legs and half haired face [the white man with his magnifying glass] shall destroy you and go through your land: his vanishing teeth shall fix themselves fast on to you and eat you up, you and your wives and children; the magic tubes shall talk with you loudly, and make you as sieves. Beware!”

Qautermain confronts the African Kukuana tribe, from the book King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Ruth Mayer, in her work Artificial Africas, points us to Mary Pratt’s book  Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing & Transculturation, in which Ms Pratt:

…differentiates two main stances in colonial self-stylizations, an imperial ‘rhetoric of conquest’ suffusing the absolutist era and an ensuing rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’ demarcating the split consciousness of Western travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries, their paradoxical desire ‘to secure their innocence’ in the same moment as they assert European hegemony

she further points out that:

To contain an imperialist system within a rhetoric of anti-conquest calls for confusion … and indeed a highly contradictory symbolic system resulted from the efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable. What I call ‘trick translation’ is perhaps one of the most persistent troupes for casting colonial contact in terms of mutual understanding without abandoning the idea of a clear-cut hierarchy of communication and an European [today American] monopoly of meaning production.

It was an act of ‘trick translation’ that Barack Obama had actually come to perform on June 4th 2009 in Cairo, Egypt.  To offer a language of ‘anti-conquest’, and should we add ‘anti-involvement’, in a region with the most deeply entrenched American political, economic, and military involvement since WW II.

On June 4th 2009, President Barack Obama (a man I voted for!) took the stage on the soil of one of the region’s most despotic and repressive regimes. But more than that, he was standing in the center of the geography of American imperial projections that has been the Middle East since the British, Germans, French and other smaller European nations were forced to leave it in the 1940s.

The Middle East is home to some of America’s most important client states – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, The United Arab Emirates and of course, the unbreakable, Israel. It is also the site of some of her largest military bases and home to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American military and undercover operations personnel. It is the site of her most extensive energy resources and investments. It is the site where she has repeatedly engaged in covert and overt political and military operations to ensure access and control to these energy resources. It is the region where her operatives, military, covert and political, keep a close hand on political and economic developments and work to ensure that the nations of the region remain in the realm of American influence.

But, we are here to weave a rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’, and I focus on those specific areas of his speech that I felt were particularly obfuscatory and Huxlian (Aldous Huxley being one of the original genius’ to describe a modernity where language becomes the most powerful weapon of war and conquest).

Like a great white hunter confronting a group of cannibals about the eat his friend alive, President Obama arrived with a few rhetorical tricks up his sleeves meant to appease the torridly infantile minds of his audience and hosts by offering them trinkets and hoping to dazzle them with his erudition and ‘respect’ for their histories.

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate

The determination to see something called ‘the Muslim world’ as one large homogeneous entity is the hallmark of a classic Orientalist mind who fails or refuses to recognize that the polity of ‘Islam’ covers a remarkable diversity of people, cultures, ethnicity’s, and most importantly histories and heritages. To say nothing about the horribly embarrassing fact that the largest number of Muslims in fact live outside of the Middle East (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India contain the largest number of officially defined Muslims), and where many practice regional varieties of Islam that many in the Middle East consider blasphemous!

More importantly, it is an act of the most egregious arrogance and even ignorance to suggest that if there are ‘tensions’ between a people who may be Muslim, and a nation that is in fact imperialistic and colonizing in the lands inhabited by Muslims than it is because of ‘historical forces’ and not because of  immediate military, political and economic realities.

Perhaps I am being naive in believing that it is less the crusades that concern the Palestinians, or their slaughter by Richard the Lionheart, and more the ongoing and brutal military occupation of their lands being carried out by one of America’s favorite client states, Israel!

The hubris of a statement the attempts to erase the entire post-WWII history and engagement of the United States of America in the region of the Middle East, and replaces it with imagined ‘historical forces’ that point to events and imagined acts from hundreds if not thousands of years in the past is staggering! Perhaps President Obama, this self-claimed student of history, needs to return to his college library and pick up a few books on the American entanglements in the region. He could not do badly by starting with Robert Fisk’s  The Great War For Civilization, or Michael B Oren’s Power, Faith & Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 – Present . I could suggest many others.

And to say nothing about the fact that the issues that cripple the Middle East are the least likely to be understood if seen as emerging from the region’s ‘Islamic’ character. They would in fact be better acknowledged if seen, as we see most every other region of the globe, with a careful and rigorous examination of the local and regional political, economic, social and strategic issues that infect the region. The crisis in Lebanon and the crisis in Kuwait have separate, if only tangentially related if that, issues and require a local focus.

It is this refusal to engage the region in its specificity that allows a number of American intellectual, commentators, politicians, journalists and other opinion makers to repeatedly conflate entities like Hamas with others like Hezbollah, the Islamic Brotherhood with Al -Qaeda. In a tribute to the most obscurantist and simplistic ideas perpetuated by classical Orientalists, the American administration and her providers of thought (think tanks, hired intellectuals, lobby and media organizations) continue to aggregate largely diverse and political complex matters that should in fact be examined within their local and regional social, political and regional contexts.


Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Perhaps the only thing more embarrassing than this statement – a classic Orientalist construction that cleverly claims modernity for ‘the white man’ while falsely praising the natives for their ‘traditions’  (read: backward, anti-modern, unchanging, out-dated, medieval), was that probably none of the luminaries in the audience, representing the worst and most illiterate of their nations, understood what had just been said to them!

And ironically, it was a statement that would have appealed to the most obscurantist and fundamentalists of reactionaries in the audience; the people who in fact work day and night through state control of media, culture, society and speech to ensure that their people remain in the shackles of ‘traditions’ and avoid such modern day comforts such as full and enforceable rights as citizens of a functioning democracy with the rule of law and equality for all. In that room full of hereditary leaders or despots, there could not have been a mind not nodding in quiet agreement at the American presidents endorsement of Islam’s ‘traditional’ values and the threat it faces from the ‘foreigner’s’ modernity, for after all, these same people use this very argument, with the help of their obscurantist mullahs and TV celebrity preachers, to demand that their citizens not ask for such modern innovations such as equal justice under the law, juridical accountability for elected representatives, legal and social ad human rights,  and a representative polity.

But the presence of this orientalist canard was certainly a surprise. Recent works by the historian Jack Good (The Theft of History) and Marcel Detienne (The Greeks And Us have challenged Europe’s belief in her modernity and certainly her assumptions that she was uniquely equipped to facilitate it. As John B Hobson states in his work Eastern Origins of Western Civilization:

“Eurocentrism errs by asking wrong questions at the outset. All Eurocentric scholars (either explicitly or implicitly) begin by asking two interrelated questions: ‘What was it about the West that enabled its breakthrough to capitalist modernity?’ and ‘What was it about the East that prevented it from making the breakthrough?’” But these questions assume that western dominance was inevitable, and lead historians to scour the past for the factors that explain it. “The rise of the West is understood through a logic of immanence: that it can only be accounted for by factors that are strictly endogenous to Europe.”


His words were frequently met with applause. President Obama threw them some crumbs, and they gobbled them up like hungry natives. Condescension were accepted as genuine respect and appreciation by people so devoid of dignity and honor that they will accept false pearls to disguise their being real swine. (I hope people get the colonial reference here!)

They applauded when he spoke to them in the only Arabic phrase he could be bothered to remember; the greeting of Assalaamu alaykum. How touching. Taking a note right out of an off-the-shelf travel guide to sites remote and exotic, Mr Obama did not forget that even ‘attempting’ the local lingo will result in smiles and graciousness!

They applauded when he appeared to respect something called ‘Islam’s’ contributions to European civilization.

Perhaps most had failed to realize that he was referring to contributions that were some 500 years or more old while retaining, subtly of course, the right to all other innovations since then for the more civilized and ‘modern’ Europe. Or the fact that, once again, it was not ‘Islam’ that made these contributions but individuals of questionable Muslim, Jewish, and other uncertain origins who were given deeply to issues of intellectual inquiry and study and open to influences all the way from China and India, who just happened to be living under a Muslim dynasty made these contributions.

Algebra is not a religious achievement – it is a human achievement, produced by men for man and with the effort of man. Religion has had no influence on the creation of this, or the arch or the compass or the other items Mr. Obama seemed to think ‘Islam’ contributed to. To attribute the discover of vaccine to a spiritual, religious, and some would argue, mythical philosphy is ignorant and anti-intellectual. It would be the equivalent of suggesting that Penicillin was a Christian discover, or the splitting of the atom a Jewish one! But apparently such inanities go down well in the Middle East!

(Rather than applaud, they should have hung their heads in shame; there is not a library of note, nor a university of even mediocre repute in all the lands across all the sands in all of the oil drenched nations in this region! That Arabs (and Obama was speaking to Arabs, not Muslims or even a nebulous ‘Islam’) continue to contribute to modernity, science, culture, arts, literature and the future, but must often flee their homelands and do so elsewhere!)

They applauded again when he spoke about Islam’s traditions of tolerance and racial equality. It was bizarre to say the least to offer this conventional sop to a room filled with representatives of intolerant and at times rascist regimes, applauding a philosophical concept alien to the very societies they have created and rule. They applauded when told that Thomas Jefferson kept a copy of the Koran in his personal library – did they imagine that he consulted it for his political and personal affairs, or was influenced by it?

They applauded when Mr. Obama claimed that the 7 million American Muslims enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. What that says about the deprivations of the average American, particularly the African-American community I am not so sure about. Who are these extremely successful and wealthy Muslims we do not quite know. But to make a claim to suggest that in fact in America the Muslims even do better than the Americans is sheer nonsense!

Their success or failure, as that of any immigrant in the USA is independent of their status as ‘Muslims. The Asian American, the West Indian and most recently the South Asian Indian community are highly successful immigrant communities and there is no way to claim that their religious choices are a determinant or a measure of their success. Furthermore, given that America allows only the ‘best and the brightest’  or the very wealthy from ‘other’ nations to come to the country, particularly when they are from Asia and/or the Middle East, it should not surprise us that these immigrant communities in fact do rather well.

But this obfuscation was essential to hide America’s ridiculous and immoral detainment, harassment, incarceration, deportation, and torture of hundreds of ‘Muslims’ either living in America or abroad. It was necessary to say to hide the rendition programs targeting of Muslims, the ‘black’ sites and their exclusively Muslim inhabitants, and the air and environment of overtly racist anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades American print, radio and television, particularly if you are of the conservative kind. And I will not even mention what the Evangelical fanatics and retards have been saying and encouraging amongst their congregations! By the way, I doubt that the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis festering in hovels in Jamaica Plains, scrambling from apartment to apartment to avoid the prying and ‘black’ eyes of the Homeland Security Department, quite fit into this fabulous President Obama statistic.

They applauded when Mr. Obama claimed that
the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. Which left me perplexed because I was sure that I was told that we had invaded Afghanistan to liberate that nation’s women from ‘oppression’ symbolized by the burqa! And yet as devastation and horror now marks that country, with the arguments for the liberation of their women center stage, I wonder if it is not time to bring the daisy-cutters and pilot-less drones back to the USA where apparently women are being given constitution protection for a practice that elsewhere is considered by the Americans to be a sign of their backwardness and oppression!

And is this the same government that did not go to court to protect the rights of men and women being held at Guantanamo? As men continue to die in American ‘black’ site custody, I find it shocking that legal and judicial resources are available for women’s right to cover themselves where as they have been argued away for men we are torturing, murdering and discarding at unknown locations around the world!

And the inanities continued.


President Obama called the war in Iraq – this most brutal, hideous, illegal and greed based invasion of a nation in recent memory, as a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Quite the soft way to describe an event that was and is in fact nothing less than an illegal, unprovoked, premeditated invasion of a sovereign nation (to say nothing about the genocidal 12 year sanctions regime instituted against the civilian population of a de-armed state!)  led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands, the deaths of nearly a million, the torturing of thousands (pictures of which President Obama recently decided to censor to protect our delicate sensibilities – we are so civilized) and frankly remains a hell hole for those outside the centrally air-conditioned ‘green zone’ and should in fact be a crime prosecutable in the International Court of Justice.

Oh but wait, as President quickly added,  he believes that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

Ah, then its ok. For now at least we have a ‘democracy’ that requires private/corporate armed militia to protect politicians, businessmen, journalists and anyone not sanctioned by the many crooks and criminal organizations that now actually control the country while  masquerading behind banners of religions and sects. And for added measure the under cover assassination teams/death squads, massive torture centers, prisons, 24×7 hour private security, walls/dividers, daily 24×7 military patrols, towns like Falujah that remain under marshal law, kidnappings, criminality, a dysfunctional social and civil service, and the entire government under the guidance of our American generals and politicians necessary just to keep this duct-tape kleptocracy together for a little while longer.

Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.

What then are the consequences, Mr. Obama, of the fear and trauma of the Iraqis and the Afghanis who are in fact at this very moment confronted as they are by American tanks and pilot-less drones trying to understand how they will act contrary to their traditions and ideals? Or perhaps we will just blame their actions on ‘Islam’.


Speaking of America’s intolerance of extremism and violence, Mr Obama went out of his way to celebrate Israel. Walking in the footsteps of his predecessor, he proclaimed with great stress America’s ‘unbreakable’ relationship with the country. He even manufactured completely fictitious ‘cultural and historical’ ties. I can’t imagine what ties a group of European religious fanatics determined to create an ethnically exclusive state by intentionally and violently colonizing and driving out its original inhabitants would have with the United States of America? Oh yes, I forgot, it would be the penchant for violent European colonization of native lands, institutionalized and military cleansing of them from these lands, and the celebration of the now completed fact as liberty, modernity, progress and civility, with a neat set of ‘reservations’ for the unfortunately who survived. How silly of me!

It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.

No Mr President, they have not suffered in the pursuit of a homeland. They have suffered in the dispossession of it.

They are waiting not for gifts from America, but for their rights, rights for which we have gone to war for other nations (Bosnia, Kuwait and now would love to for Chad) but remain silent on their behalf.

And in what can only be described as the most contorted reading of history, Mr Obama laid claim to the entire process of decolonization as one of a long heritage of non-violent resistance

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed…from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

I wonder if Mr Obama is reading the same books of history.. I also wonder as President Obama escalates the now senselessly immoral and unjust conflict in Afghanistan if he listening to himself!

The history of colonial Africa, Middle East, South and South East Asia is marked by repeated and consistent armed insurrections and resistance to the colonial enterprise. The colonialists often painted this resistance as ‘minor’ or ‘marginal’ but none of the occupied people, even the Africans who were so savagely raped and enslaved, did not ‘go quietly into the night’. To say nothing about the intellectual, artistic, cultural and political resistance to occupying and colonizing regimes across the globe. Edward Said’s Culture And Imperialism would be a decent place for him to begin to start to understand regimes of resistance to colonial oppression that existed from the very moment the colonialists arrived on the shores of Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Or if Said is too politically sensitive for him, then perhaps he would like to read a fellow African; C.L.R. James’ masterful The Black Jacobins will remind our President of the power of violent resistance in breaking the back of a rapacious and brutal colonizer and usurper.

And if these nations and peoples of the far South and Africa are too complex for him to understand, then perhaps he would do well to remember if nothing else then the American Revolution and the great American war of independence, celebrated every year with great fanfare on July 4th. I believe that General George Washington would take umbrage to the suggestion that violence is a dead end. Or perhaps he would remember the American Civil War, a war that liberated the ancestors of his black citizens and moved America towards the path of modernity. Perhaps if they had followed a non-violent approach…… But then again, the oppressors and users of violence always love to lecture the oppressed about their ‘barbaric’ violent resistance and their need to demonstrate ‘civility’ by adopting a softer and more nuanced tone to the occupiers continued and increasingly military and violent responses!

Notice how the occupier is never told to adopt a non-violent occupation!

And the sheer arrogance to lecture to an unarmed and hopelessly repressed and dehumanized people, while their lands are under brutal military occupation from the only nation in the region that has in fact repeatedly attacked, occupied, summarily killed and displaced lands and peoples across the entire region is sheer mind boggling. The Palestinians are being asked to renounce violence, while the Israelis are being funded with more arms, more jets, more tanks, more training, more excuses for their illegal nuclear weapons program, and more aid packages – all of which continue to go towards and fund the creation of more settlements and more dispossessions and more brutality and more killings and more strangulations.

Continuing what has now become an almost too-boring-to-repeat cliche’s, President Obama placed all the blame for the violence, the intransigence of the conflict in Palestine on the Palestinians. There, in the world he was weaving on that stage in Cairo, where there is no Iraq and no Afghanistan, and no oil and interests, and business connections and shady deals and under handed greed, there was also no nuclear-armed, American funded, religiously fundamentalist, military controlled, ethnically discriminatory pseudo-democracy only for Jews with its American funded M16s and jackboots across the throats of a helpless and desperate people.

Yes, we are told that it is not the military bases, the settlements, the Wall, the check points, the gates, the farm lands, the murdering settlers, the curfews, the summary arrests, the targeted assassinations, the random detentions, the expropriations, the home demolitions, the expulsions, the incarcerations, the discrimination, the humiliations, the bombings, the phosphorous, the slow and daily grinding away at human dignity that are all part and parcel of a highly sophisticated military, architectural, social, political and economic settlement regime. Its the Palestinians with their handful of AK-47s and their donkey carts!

Calling the democratically elected Hamas Government as having ‘some support’ amongst the Palestinians, while calling upon the corrupt and discredited Palestinian Authority to develop a capacity to govern President Obama continued the insistent, anti-democratic approach of supporting the very people the citizenry rejected, while rejecting the very people the citizenry selected.

The only democratically elected official government in the very Middle East Mr. Obama claims to be talking to, and it is just not the one that we want.

Israel is in illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It has permanently constructed roads, settlements, military camps and emplacements, check points and gates, a massive Wall, security fences and cameras, farms and industrial estates all across the West Bank and done so with the absolute and complete support of the United States of America who funds these activities through a myriad and complex set of private, corporate and governmental institutions.

It is not there because the Palestinians are ‘violent’ or have ‘rockets’. It has been there because it wants these lands. It has done everything in its power to destroy the prospects of an independent Palestinian state, and only the beltway in Washington D.C. are a handful of people who think otherwise.

Israel’s obligations are not just what President Obama claimed: to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society but in fact to withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza to the 1967 green lines, to compensate financially the victims of the 1948 displacements, and to offer restitution both verbal, financial, legal and other to the millions who now suffer thanks to its intransigence, occupations, wars and religiously sanctioned hysteria and radicalism. The settlements don’t just need to be stopped, they need to be destroyed, dismantled, reversed, erased, and along with it the entire occupation machinery of men, tanks, gates, check points, walls, soldiers, settlers, goons, fanatics, businessmen and of course Palestinian collaborators.


And far from distancing himself from the pathologies of religious mysticism and mumbo-jumbo, President Obama sadly chose to pander to it further. Continuing yet another grand orientalist tradition of speaking to ‘the natives’ through the use of what the orientalist imagines is their particular world formulations – they are too stupid to understand our modernity, so we must use our ‘trick translation’ and speak to them about reality in their barbaric tongue – Mr. Obama like a modern day Quatermain decided to end his speech in a ‘one for the road’ chorus of quotations from the 3 religious texts and this shocking and rather insulting statement:

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

President Obama may have pulled off the greatest Evangelical mind tricks in history when he may have convinced a room full of ‘Muslim’ despots and criminal national leaders to join him in the support of a vision fantastically and naively created on the basis of a religious text that has been variously used to different degrees to also justified the inquisition, the crusades, the holocaust and possibly even the recent slaughter of the people of Iraq by an Evangelical, fanatic and religiously drunk American administration.

America engages the Middle East through conquest, investments, manipulations, espionage, education, extraction of resources, training of the military, politics and geo-political entanglements. For some odd reason President Obama can’t see that it can also be communicated with in simple, worldly, adult language without resorting to false and frankly cynical and hypocritical exploitation of religious texts and quotes, like a high school kid desperate to decorate a poor term paper that lacks content but may sound interesting if a few ‘notable’ quotes are thrown in!

As President Obama walked off that Cairo stage to go and bask in the glow of the glory that was being orchestrated for him by his obsequious hosts and minders, a General McChrystal was being appointed to head the operations in Obama’s favorite war in Afghanistan. As Tom Engelhart explained in a recent post on the fabulous Tom’s Dispatch blog site:

General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)…McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.

Tomorrow we will explain the war in Afghanistan as that between the liberal values of the United States of America and obscurantist, mysoginist and barbaric values of ‘radical Islam’. General McChrystal, with his legacy of broken souls and bodies, his torture centers and assassination teams, his professionally executed operations of terror and mayhem, will be left to the sidelines and forgotten. Some old orientalists, or obfuscators (perhaps a newer version of a Ahmed Rashid!) will be trotted out to explain why ‘they hate us’.

President Obama stood in Cairo and wove a fantasy. A fantasy that claimed that there is something called ‘Islam’ that he could speak to as if he was speaking to a homogeneous entity. A fantasy that claimed that America does not in fact have interests and protects interests with military and other means in the Middle East. A fantasy that denies the roots of the violence that does in fact plague that region and emanates from within regimes whose despotic and irrational leaders are amongst America’s closest allies. A fantasy where the tiresome, outdated, discredited and artificial construct of ‘the clash of civilizations’ is trotted out to obfuscate the hard political and economic factors that in fact create alliances and foster the conflicts.

The speech on June 4th 2009 will sadly not go down in history as a great moment in diplomacy. There is an air of desperation about the writings that are trying to claim it so. Much like the photo-op in the White House Lawn the day the Oslo Accords were signed, we will drown our fears under misguided hopes and self-imposed delusions while the relentless machinery of imperial power and politics will continue to cut its merciless path through a region cursed with oil and men of supreme venality.

A few hours after this speech President Obama headed to Buchenwald where he said:

I have no patience for people who would deny history

Indeed Mr. President.

Indeed.

ADDENDUM: I was reminded by a friend that in fact there could be religious motivations for the explorations of algebra e.g. man’s need to measure time more precisely, or to work out the geometries and structures of complex domes, mosques or even the decorative patterns that decorated it. A similar argument has in fact been made by Kim Plofker in his new book Mathematics in India – that Indian innovations in mathematics may have been driven by a need for temple designs or astrology. Regardless, as has already been argued, these remain worldly requirements to serve worldly needs and for universal relevance and application must apply consistently across man’s known world. Their measure of innovation comes from their universality, their non-specificity to any one set of beliefs of religious values.


Photographing The Unseen Or What Conventional Photojournalism Is Not Telling Us About Ourselves

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, Photography, The Daily Discussion on July 27, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Trevor Paglen is a man on a mission and it is one that reminds us that what makes any work of photography relevant, interesting, important or even significant, are the ideas and intentions that inform it. Anything else is merely gazing at pretty pictures.

Unmarked 737 at "Gold Coast" Terminal Las Vegas, NV Distance ~ 1 mile 10:44 p.m.

Unmarked 737 at "Gold Coast" Terminal Las Vegas, NV Distance ~ 1 mile 10:44 p.m.

Paglen has spent the greater part of the last decade photographing, tracking, highlighting and revealing the dark, illegal, horror-ridden underbelly of the great American ‘Global War Against Terror’ (GWAT). Paglen is a 35-year-old artist, geographer, writer, and photographer who holds both a B.A. (religious studies, 1998) and a Ph.D. (geography, 2008) from Cal, as well as an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He’s currently a researcher at Berkeley.

A review of his work tells us that:

…his work traces the seam line between the government’s desire for secrecy and the public’s right to know. Besides the spy satellites, which he captures arcing across the night sky in lush art prints, Paglen has photographed classified air bases; tracked down CIA cover names and displayed them on gallery walls; and compiled a book full of patches from Pentagon black-ops units. It’s called I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me. The patches—in some cases, the only evidence that the programs even exist—feature an absurd gallery of aliens, reapers, and wizards along with perverse accompanying mottos. One from the stealth bomber wing reads Gustatus Similis Pullus, Latin for “tastes like chicken.”

His most recent work, Invisible, (thanks to Conscientious) recently released by Aperture books, is based on his eight year documentation of secret CIA flights and ‘black sites’ that the government does not want us to know about. It reveals the secret military sites, but also, and perhaps most importantly, his works reveal the many who have been ‘disappeared’ in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘our liberties’. In an installation project called ‘Missing Persons’, Paglen lays out the names of the missing. As the exhibition description points out:

Since the mid 1990s, the CIA has spearheaded a covert program to kidnap suspected terrorists from all over the world. These people are then brought to a network of secret CIA-operated prisons, called “black sites,” where they are routinely tortured. The CIA calls this the “extraordinary rendition” program.

People taken to these secret prisons are effectively “disappeared”: there are no public records of their captivity, their identities are kept secret, and they are prohibited from communicating with the outside world. Among CIA operatives, they are called “ghost detainees.”

The locations of these black sites, known by code-names such as “Salt Pit” and “Bright Light,” are some of the CIA’s deepest secrets.

To capture and subsequently transport these ghost detainees, the CIA uses a fleet of unmarked airplanes. These airplanes are owned by intricate networks of front companies whose boards of directors are non-existent people. Missing Persons is a collection of their signatures culled from business records, aircraft registrations, and corporate filings.

He has also documented our ‘black site’ – prisons and torture centers in Afghanistan for example, CIA’s secret flights and also co-authored a book called Torture Taxi: On The Trial Of CIA’s Rendition Flights


You can even track his most recent investigations on his blog.
This is critical work, and it is the work of a man who understands the fundamentals of democratic engagement and dissent. He understands that there are forces that claim to ‘defend’ our republic but are in fact engaged in activities that undermine it. It draws our eyes and mind towards basic structures of power and repression that underpin modern ‘democracies’ and the ‘background noise’ of control and violence that is believed essential for sustaining it.

For me personally, such works do something else very important - they highlight the shallowness of what passes for ‘photojournalism’ in our modern world. They remind us how most photojournalists prefer to pander in the simple, the obvious and the conventional, while never engaging in the complex and crucual. Our newspapers and photographers have, either out of convenience, laziness or sheer careerism, chosen to veil the GWAT behind beautifully rendered and largely distracting projects produced from the confines of embedded positions on the front line.

Conventional photojournalism – with its insistent focus on combat and consequences – has gone a long way towards allowing us to forget that we, the United States of America, is in an illegal and brutal military occupation of two nations whose inhabitants continue to fight and resist our presence there through guns, politics and a large-scale, popular rejection of our legitimacy and relevance. The hundreds of thousands of troops that are needed to maintain these post-occupation pathologies called Iraq and Afghanistan reflect our failure, and the vast chasm that exists between the region’s population and our imagined ideas of our role and impact in the region. These projects bring us to ‘the combat’ – the fireworks, and stun our minds into unthinking simplicities while distracting us from the general un-sustainability, and injustice of the wars themselves. They ensure that the hard political questions, the difficult presumptions and prejudices that assume that we have a right to be there, are not seen or heard. They avoid the ugly realities as they have manifest themselves at home (renditions, tortures, illegal detentions, immigrant sweeps, racial discrimination, xenophobia, impoverishment etc.) and abroad (mass killings, torture, the administration of the occupation, civilian displacement, dispossession, destruction of societies and culture, corruption, drugs, NGO culture of excess etc.)

Our embedded photographers and journalists – many celebrated with awards and celebrity screenings at major film festivals, keep coming back to convince us that they have ‘seen’ the war, and that it has been ‘reported’ it. Some seem so determined to convince us the that the ‘embedded’ program is without constraints that their protests are starting to sound a bit too desperate, a bit too defensive and frankly a bit too insulting. These photographer – award winners, movie makers and celebrities, are working too hard to hide from us the fact that ‘embedding’ no matter how ‘free’ and ‘friendly’ hides the truth, obfuscates the horrors and does not allow you to call yourself a ‘reporter. I don’t care how many Sundance Awards they bring back, they are merely propagandist because they challenge nothing, question nothing, confront nothing and resist nothing. It is not physical courage the defines journalism, but moral and intellectual courage.

And the real measure of the ‘propaganda’ nature of such works is the fact that the Afghan and the Iraqi has been completely erased from our minds and eye. What is worse, they have been erased from our moral equation. They do not exist. The injustices inflicted on them are not worthy of consideration. Their dead are not counted. Their humiliations irrelevant. Their blood does not run. They are merely objects upon which we act and not humans struggling to regain control of their own lives and futures. And resisting. We obfuscate their motives and humanity behind words like ‘Taliban’ and ‘Al-Qaeda’ so as to make it easier for us to justify indiscriminate killings and murder. Front page stories about the ‘liberation of their women’ act as justifications for acts of mass murder, bombing of civilians, pre-emptive killings, summary arrests, terrorizing of civilian populations in order to control them, construction of barriers/walls, torture and injustice that we carry out with impunity. Our righteousness needs to be fed, and our photographers and journalists have been happily doing that. We are constantly being shown as ‘saving’, ‘helping’, ‘aiding’, ‘educating’, ‘liberating’  the Afghan or the Iraqi and its all done with the same desperation with which the dark side is erased. Its not as if they are not confronting, resisting, speaking, challenging, rejecting, fighting, demanding, and defending. It is we who are not listening, or simply not allowing their voices and acts to be represented to others like us.

But it’s not just the embedded works. Another set of photographers have focused on the ‘aftermath’ of those suffering from the violence of combat. Most all of these works act as quiet ‘memorials’ to the sacrifices of ‘our boys and girls’. These reveal the individual soldiers and their post-conflict trauma and take us into the world of those who are physically or emotionally maimed, or whose families are dealing with loss. As important as these works are, what concerns me is the sheer one-sidedness that has now emerged as a result of not a single American or European or other photographer producing similar works about the other victims of our conflicts. Most all the projects concentrate on American soldiers, – with parallel works being produced in the UK, Germany, Sweden or elsewhere from the ‘coalition of the willing’ countries, and assiduously avoid any revelation of anything called an Iraqi or an Afghani.

The fact remains that hundreds if not thousands of Afghani civilians are dying each year in our war. Hundreds of thousands died as a direct result of our invasion of Iraq. To say nothing of the near million who may have died as a result of our sanctions against the country. The erasures of these people are reflected in the ridiculous ‘outrage’ that has been unleashed because of the leaking of CIA Afghan logs. The Afghan War Logs reveal the thousands of civilians that have been killed in our war there but rather than be outraged by this horror, we are outraged that people now know! We are outraged at the leak, not the realities and brutalities the leaks reveal.

The same misguided outrage has been targeted against WikiLeaks that has been quietly revealing the realities we so wish to forget. Few things were amusing (facetious comment, people!) than Robert Grenier, former CIA station chief in Islamabad (they have one!) and current CIA counter-terror director, writing for Al-Jazeera a piece called “US Needs Lesson in ‘Secret-Keeping’”. I can ask what a CIA director is doing writing for this network, but I will ask why he felt he had to make such an effort to suggest that the logs reveal nothing. He is wrong; they reveal the incompetence and sheer callous disregard for the civilians that is the base idea of this military operation in Afghanistan, and it reveals the failure of the American military machine to make any real progress anywhere within the country. They reveal a military occupation over a resistant population in progress. They reveal us as jackboot occupiers and in cohort with those who are considered corrupt, unjust, illegitimate and venal. It reveals how we have reduced our finest to acts of low repression and military violence. They reveal how after nine years we are still struggling, fighting, retreating, and blaming each other while the nation remains mired in corruption, violence and a movement that may be retrograde and violent but has been allowed to position itself as nationalist and anti-occupation. Yes, the appeal of the resistance comes not from any particular message of ‘Islam’ or ‘Global Jihad’, but from simply pointing out the inequities and injustices prevalent in the country under our watch.

But all this is entirely missing from the works being produced at the moment. The wars that exist in the documents of the CIA is nothing like the war that is offered to us by our reporters and photographers. The latter is a vision from Dante’s Inferno, the former a cleansed Hollywood production complete with acceptable rending of ‘violence’ so that can are not ‘disturbed’ from our morning coffee.

In fact, there is nothing that one can turn to and understand the broader consequences of our wars. And yet we continue to produce a whole host of works that concentrate on the trauma of our ‘boys and girls’. I do not mean to dismiss the suffering of the American soldiers injured or those of the American families suffering from loss. Far from it. But I am in fact dismayed that as Americans at war we can be so ignorant, dismissive and blind to the vast sufferings that are being inflicted on others who are also human, but happen not to be American (or British, or Swedish etc.). I am ashamed at the silence in the face of the murders being committed, the horrors being inflicted, the injustices raining upon the heads of a poor, impoverished nation whose people are today rising up in revolt against our presence there and the hideous, murderous, greedy and callous ‘democrats’ we have foisted on the people. The sheer shame of the illegal and illegitimate Karzai government – supported purely and only because of our money, is perhaps just too much to take!

They, the ‘other’, is completely missing in this discussion. The one-sidedness is difficult to accept. The attention is absolutely and exclusively on ‘us’ and ‘ourselves’, which is what these projects are about in the end. What I fear is that these projects on post-war scars – as wonderful as so many of them are e.g. Nina Berman‘s work, or Ashly Gilbertson’s or Eugene Richard’s to name just a few, are helping the rest of us forget the real innocent victims, and the real crimes committed here. They are distracting us from our willed and ‘democratically’ supported acts of warfare, terror, repression, torture, occupation, control, murder and devastation. They help repaint us a ‘good’ and ‘noble’, as involved in ‘defensive’ actions against ‘evil’, as simply honorable knights that have failed defending the faith, in innocence and purity.  They claim to be ‘anti-war’ but they in fact do quite the opposite. They create a sense of ‘us’ being wronged, as victims and innocent and fuel our ‘righteous’ belief for the need to continue their wars. They invert the situation in front of us, allowing us to think that we are the ‘objects’ of violence, the focus of ‘evil’ while helping us forget that we are in fact the aggressor, the occupier, and the oppressor. They help us wear the garbs of ‘honor’ and ‘courage’ and ‘dignity’ while we carry out acts of dishonor, cowardice and inhumanity. Rather than provoke a larger discussion – one that has yet to take place, about how we have entangled ourselves in this mess, and how our democratic ideals and the foundations of our republic have been weakened, we are using such projects to garland ourselves with righteousness and the self-pity of victims. And this is particularly obvious when there is little or scant attention being paid to those who are suffering, dying, being tortured, detained, displaced, deprived and devastated by our actions in their lands.

 Victims' families tell their stories following Nato airstrike in Afghanistan  'I took some flesh home and called it my son.' The Guardian interviews 11 villagers      * Reddit     * Buzz up     * Share on facebook (361)     * Tweet this (48)      * Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Kunduz     * The Guardian, Saturday 12 September 2009     * Article history  Fazel Muhamad Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Fazel Muhamad Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Of course, we have a long history of turning our acts of brutality and genocide into comforting victimhood. The Vietnam conflict still awaits a memorial to the millions of Vietnamese who died under our bombs, the millions maimed and scarred for life, and the tens of thousands who continue to suffer the consequences of Agent Orange and other chemicals. To say nothing about war crimes tribunals and criminal indictments.

The Afghanistan War Logs, much like Paglen’s work, reveals the shocking shallowness of our photojournalistic coverage. They lift the covers over the very things we wish not to see or confront – the darker aspects of ourselves and our actions in the world. They remind us how much, how most of it, has just been left unsaid. It reminds us how redundant, and limited, our photographic works are and how desperately most photographers just seem to want to copy and imitate. Not think and challenge.  The surface distracts while the depth confuses.

The entire corpus of mainstream photojournalism pales in comparison to the efforts of real reporters and individuals confronting the complex set of administrative, military, covert, civic and political shenanigans and injustices required to maintain our posture in the GWAT.

It is in moments like this that I am reminded of David Foster Wallace’s challenge to us:

Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

David was trying to remind us to hold on the things that matter, and to not get distracted by the ‘fire and glory’, the empty rhetoric, the debilitating and restrictive legal and judicial measures that will only reduce us as citizens while doing little to confront our enemies. Tim Paglen reminds me that at least some have heard his call.

As citizens of this nation, as Americans, perhaps our greatest challenge today, perhaps one of our most important acts of freedom, is to question what we see, hear and read. To look and hear past the slickly produced photo essays, reportage, movies and documentaries, and explore their methods of creation, their sponsors, their producers, their restrictions and their prejudices.

In a world increasingly obsessed with ‘packaging’ and ‘presentation’, in a world where an iPad application is being suggested as something ‘interesting’, it is becoming crucial to examine the underlying ‘method’. Trevor Paglen has a method – individual, determined and dissenting, which informs his works and productions. And the truths that he reveals. It is ‘method’ that most scares our mainstream press and it is ‘method’ that will determine and define meaningful journalism vs. simply slick business news production. As bureaus close, as the media markets consolidate, as wires take over foreign reporting, as ‘collaborations’ with NGOs are sought as substitute for independent investigative, questioning journalism, as we ‘cut corners’ and ‘make efficient’, it is ‘method’ that becomes the key differentiator. All else will simply be ‘production’.

Marc Thiessen And The Art Of The Lie Or What Skills Do Presidential Speech Writers Really Have

In Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on March 11, 2010 at 11:23 am

It was an amusing interview. Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, has written a book that argues for the efficieny of torture, relevance of illegal detentions, continued suspension of habeas corpus, the genius of Guantanamo and various other magnificently inane and stupid acts executed by the previous administration.

He came onto prime time TV to plug his newest collection of nonsense now compiled in a book and to of course parrot the idiocies of the hideous Lynn Cheney who has been insisting that those who defend the accused are in fact terrorist collaborators and possibly even Al-Qaeda sympathizers.

You can listen to the intellectually challenged arguments here…

But I want to draw your attention to a particular moment in the interview when it became quite clear what the conventional ‘nuclear’ option tactic that people like Mr. Thiessen frequently use when they run short of a serious argument; they lie.

So when confronted by a clearly indignant Jon Stewart about his stance which assumes that ‘accusation = guilt’ is the only way to handle any and all picked up by our rendition and ‘pay-per-prisoner’ programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, he makes the following claim:

No where in the Geneva Conventions does it say that you have a right to a lawyer, or the right to petition to be released before the end of hostilities…

This is a lie.

The Geneva Conventions are very clear on this question when it comes to the rights of prisoners of war. And lets be clear, that if you are going to claim the right to an endless war, then anyone picked up and/or captured in its process is a prisoner of war. The Geneva Conventions, in particular The Third Geneva Convention, clearly states:

Article 99. No moral or physical coercion may be exerted on a prisoner of war in order to induce him to admit himself guilty of the act of which he is accused.

No prisoner of war may be convicted without having had an opportunity to present his defence and the assistance of a qualified advocate or counsel.

Article 105. The prisoner of war shall be entitled to assistance by one of his prisoner comrades, to defence by a qualified advocate or counsel of his own choice, to the calling of witnesses and, if he deems necessary, to the services of a competent interpreter.

He shall be advised of these rights by the Detaining Power in due time before the trial.

Failing a choice by the prisoner of war, the Protecting Power shall find him an advocate or counsel, and shall have at least one week at its disposal for the purpose. The Detaining Power shall deliver to the said Power, on request, a list of persons qualified to present the defence. Failing a choice of an advocate or counsel by the prisoner of war or the Protecting Power, the Detaining Power shall appoint a competent advocate or counsel to conduct the defence.

The advocate or counsel conducting the defence on behalf of the prisoner of war shall have at his disposal a period of two weeks at least before the opening of the trial, as well as the necessary facilities to prepare the defence of the accused. He may, in particular, freely visit the accused and interview him in private. He may also confer with any witnesses for the defence, including prisoners of war. He shall have the benefit of these facilities until the term of appeal or petition has expired.

Particulars of the charge or charges on which the prisoner of war is to be arraigned, as well as the documents which are generally communicated to the accused by virtue of the laws in force in the armed forces of the Detaining Power, shall be communicated to the accused prisoner of war in a language which he understands, and in good time before the opening of the trial. The same communication in the same circumstances shall be made to the advocate or counsel conducting the defence on behalf of the prisoner of war.

Clearly Jon Steward himself is not aware of the niceties of the Geneva Conventions for otherwise he may have done well to simply call Mr. Thiessen’s lie.

But we can do that for him now.

Speaking of lies, and in the “I Told Yoo So” category, David Cole has a fascinating discussion about John Yoo’s original torture memos and the contortions of readings, interpretation and re-interpretation that were required to justify, at the behest of men in the highest (or should I say lowest) offices of our democracy, the overt, explicit and indubitable torture of ‘those’ people.

I quote his conclusion:

Responsibility for the illegal brutality inflicted on CIA and Guantánamo detainees cannot be limited to Yoo and Bybee. It extends to all those who approved the tactics—even those so eager later to condemn Yoo’s reasoning. And unless we as citizens demand that these lawyers be held to answer for the wrongs done in our name, responsibility extends to all of us, too. We must continue to insist on accountability—whether in congressional hearings, citizens’ commissions, civil lawsuits, or the marketplace of ideas. The essential lesson must be that torture and cruel treatment are not policy options—even when a lawyer is willing to write an opinion blessing illegality.

Hear. Hear.

Update; Jane Mayer of The New Yorker has written a detailed review of Marc Thiessen’s best selling Courting Disaster. The article, Counterfactual; A curious history of the C.I.A’s interrogation program reveals the misrepresentations, erasures and lies that make up Marc Thiessen’s book. That millions have read a book filled with obfuscations and outright deception and dishonesty can only fill us with dismay. But I loved Ms. Mayer’s conclusion in an article that is certainly worth reading. She offers a vivid and clear headed argument for why crimes, injustices, violations of rights and abuse of the constitution need to be investigated and prosecuted when she says:

Thiessen’s effort to rewrite the history of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program comes not long after a Presidential race in which both the Republican and the Democratic nominees agreed that state-sponsored cruelty had damaged and dishonored America. The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

Indeed.

Guantanamo Detainee Fouad Mahmoud Al Rabiah’s Petition for Habeus Corpus Is Granted!

In Journalism, Our Wars on October 13, 2009 at 10:28 am

In a remarkable, courageous and honest ruling, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, found that the government could not credibly support its allegation that Fouad Mahmoud Al Rabiah was part of the Taliban or al-Qaida, and that the evidence against him wasn’t sufficient to justify his continued detention. She ordered the government to release Al Rabiah “forthwith [1].” The actual statement read as follows:

Because the Government has not met its burden by a preponderance of evidence, the Court shall GRANT Al Rabiah’s petition for habeas corpus. The Court shall issue an Order requiring the Government to take all necessary and appropriate steps to facilitate Al Rabiah’s release forthwith. Dated: September 17, 2009

That there are institutions, procedures and individuals that still respect the rule of law, and the necessity of upholding our most cherished legal, judicial and moral precepts particularly in moments of crisis and fear should give us hope for our increasingly decimated republic.

But whereas we can argue for the rights of illegal detainees held in the USA few if any for that matter have raised a voice in outrage at the wholesale slaughter of imagined ‘terrorists’, ‘Taliban’ and ‘Al Qaeda’ operatives in the tribal areas of Pakistan. I say imagined because they are labeled ‘Taliban’ and/or ‘Al Qaeda’ to ensure that we never ask for evidence or proof and that we can kill them at will.

There the Pushtuns, a people dehumanized so completely that we do not even register their deaths, are being killed and maimed with impunity, thanks to the venal machinations of the Pakistani elite and toy-hungry military in bed with an American imperialist juggernaut that knows nothing other than the inspirations of its own greed and power.

The people of Pakistan’s tribal areas deserve their day in court if they are being accused of specific crimes and misdemeanors. Though I do not know what these would be other than that dastardly crime of not bending to the will of specious power and elite greed. I have argued in an earlier piece called Fear The Pushtun Bogeyman Or Scaring Children As An Imperialist Habit for the necessity of protecting the lives, and access to procedures of law and justice for all citizens of Pakistan particularly the criminalized Pushtun tribes of the frontier.

The Pakistan Army, and its establishment civilian leaders, have carried out an unjust, illegal, immoral and inhumane war against its own people. The bombs that capture our attention are a consequence of a belief that disproportionate force can erase memory and sorrow. The United States of America has provided the funds and the armaments and the quiet pat on the back. The war on the frontier serves political interests both in the USA and in Pakistan, ensuring that fear of this bogeyman never leaves us, that we believe that our manicured front lawns are in fact under direct threat of crazed, wide-eyed, bearded men in loose pants with designs to subjugate all that we love and cherish (Wall Mart? 24-cable TV? Unlimited internet porn?) and control the world.

Illegal detainees are being given a chance to argue their case, to defend themselves, and a Government that illegally tortured and incarcerated them is being taken to task. Here in the USA. But in Pakistan, where our surrogates are happy to dance to any tune we play, the deaths continue, the horror unfolds. There are few voices in opposition. So I suppose they will only come in the form of bomb blasts and more ‘terror’ attacks. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.

Sabra & Shatlia Or Histories That Do Not Make It To Prime Time

In Our Wars on September 19, 2009 at 9:15 pm

September 16th.

September 17th.

September 18th.

1982.

Least we forget.

Never.

Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

Fazel Muhamad, 48, holding pictures of family members who were killed in the attack. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

“I couldn’t find my son, so I took a piece of flesh with me home and I called it my son. I told my wife we had him, but I didn’t let his children or anyone see. We buried the flesh as it if was my son.” Jan Mohamad.

This and more.

They sowed the wind and reap the whirlwind;They plowed evil and reap injustice.

(Hosea 8:7; 10:13)

Our feigned innocence is leaking blood. Vividly our future is being written today as it was once in the past. But then too, as today, we will look and ask ourselves, in numbed confusion inspired by discardable memory, whence our enemies came from. Can you hear it – the answer to our question?

The ICRC Torture Report & The Search For The Truth

In Journalism, Our Wars, Photography on March 14, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Contents
Introduction
1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.10 Threats
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime….

This is the Table of Contents of the recently released ICRC Report On The Treatment of Fourteen ‘High Value Detainees’ in CIA Custody.

It is also clear and precise in its indictment, for example:

The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The tireless and determined Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books has written more on this report and it makes for compelling and anxious reading.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, has been speaking across the country trying to garner support for an investigation into the actions of the Bush Administration and its now nearly countless violations of American and International Law.  We, Americans and non-Americans, need to join our voices to his. In his own words, his actions are meant to:

One path to that goal would be a reconciliation process and truth commission. We could develop and authorize a person or group of people universally recognized as fair minded, and without axes to grind. Their straightforward mission would be to find the truth. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts. If needed, such a process could involve subpoena powers, and even the authority to obtain immunity from prosecutions in order to get to the whole truth.

Whether this will come to pass, I can’t tell.  That he is at least demanding it gives me hope.

Echoes of Guantanamo

In The Daily Discussion on February 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm

It begins with the Haitians.

HIV/AIDS infected Haitians in fact.

It begins with George Bush, the senior.

It begins in 1991.

Jean-Bertrande Aristide has been overthrown – a democratically elected President evicted by a military junta which later had to use excessive force to contain the protests of the citizens of the country.

Nearly 250,000 refugees fled the country in the face of the 1991 coup and a systematic campaign of executions and torture against Aristide partisans.

These ‘boat people‘ as George Bush’s administration labelled where, in clear violation of international law, forcibly repatriated despite clear evidence of threat to their lives.  The administration insisted on calling them ‘economic refugees‘ and forcibly turning them away from the shores of the USA.

In 1992 George Bush, sitting comfortably in his house at Kennebunkport, issued Executive Order 12,807, ordering the Coast G to return all boats and people to the country from which it came.

This order was onlly the latest in acts of indifference and cruelty that came years after a policy of forced repatriation that had already been in place – despite 4 years of the horror of the Duvaliar regime, and another 6 of a bloody military junta ensconsed in the palace at Port Au Prince.

The United States Supreme Court supported the actions of the government and the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) – an act that led Professor Kevin Johnson of the University of California to call the decision ‘shameful acquiescence’.

But continued pressure from human rights groups and from the U.N High Commission of Refugees, amongst others, led to a compromise.  The forced repatriation was a violation of international law, and it was hypocrtical since most all Cuban refugees were being given immediate asylum.

The government decided to do something.

And the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was born.

And nearly 34,000 refugees were detained there in the most decrepit and inhumane of conditions.  And with this came the arguments of the extra-legality of the facility that would later be perfected for the illegal incarceration of suspected ‘Al-Qaeda’ and ‘Taliban‘ supporters.

‘While conceding that the Haitians are treated differently from other national groups who seek asylum in the US, the Government argued that the U.S. Constitution and other sources of U.S. and International law do not apply to Guantanamo’ – (Powell, page 59)

Confronted with the realization that the refugees where being detained at the facility for long periods of time – nearly 2 years for some, without a meaningful hearing, the administration called upon the finest legal minds it could find to justify its practices.

So basically, US officials could intercept boats of refugees fleeing persecution and detain them indefinitely and without access to legal advice and a fair trail at the US detention center at US military base at Guantanamo because it was not on US soil.  A policy that led one human rights lawyer to state:

‘The US policy of forced repatriation violated international legal
obligations of the United States under Article 33 of the Protocol
relating to the status of Refugees and undermines the credibiity of the
US commitment to international law in the eyes of the rest of the world’
– (O’Niell, page 39)

And amongst these detained refugees, there were about 250 very special refugees; the ones identified as HIV+.  And they were sent to Camp Bulkeley, the ‘HIV detention camp’.

What happened to them there is best read in Paul Farmer’s powerful book on health and human rights called ‘Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor’ Suffice it to say that they were victims of the most inhumane, cruel and callous treatment at the hands of US military, health and legal officials.

There was little or no public outcry about the treatment of the Haitians.  Most Americans never even noticed the hypocrisy of a policy that gave instant asylum to even terrorists arriving at our shores from Cuba – men involved in the bombing of civilian aeroplanes or assassination attempts on President Castro.  We continue to harbor these terrorists on our shores today.

The Haitians however, fleeing from genuine repression, torture and killings, were repeatedly stopped and returned to the very shores where certain death awaited them.

In 2009 the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is expected to close.

Its legacy of torture, humiliation, beatings, illegal courts, and inhumane treatment of the innocent (as most nearly all of the even recent so-called ‘terrorist‘ detainees are), weak and suffering will not so easily be forgotten.

Unfortunately, It Was A War Crime

In Journalism, Our Wars on December 21, 2008 at 4:24 pm

For those of you who may have missed it, Vice President Dick Cheney recently admitted on TV to Jonathan Karl of ABC news that he in fact did authorize the use of torture techniques such as waterboarding and other forms of torture.  The dialogue went like this:

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

KARL: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?

CHENEY: I don’t…

KARL: And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?

CHENEY: I do.

And just for those who may have not realized, but waterboarding “…has been defined as torture by the United States since at least 1903, the first military court-martial. The United States views waterboarding conducted for intelligence purposes during wartime as a war crime, and it has prosecuted both civilian and military figures involved in the chain of approval of its use. Penalties applied have ranged up to the death penalty. The crime is chargeable under the War Crimes Act and under the Anti-Torture Statute. There is no ambiguity or disagreement among serious lawyers on this part, and Cheney’s suggestion that what he did was lawful and vetted is the delusional elevation of political hackery over law.” This clarification and public service details from Harper’s Scott Horton.

I leave you with a statement from Major General Anthony Taguba (Ret.), a man who was forced to retire because of his statements about the Abu Grhaib prison, as published in a recent report for Physicians for Human Rights

“After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Indeed.

UPDATE: David Cole, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, has written a new piece in the New York Review of Books called ‘What To Do About The Torturers’ which examines 3 books that detail America’s torture program and its proceedings.  The books also provide us with details that yet again confirm the collaboration and support of the highest members of the Bush administration in the institution and functioning of the torture program at various sites in the USA and abroad.

UPDATE: Scott Horton at Harper’s has written an extensive piece Justice After Bush about the need for, and alternative ways, to prosecute the Bush administration that ‘… did more than commit crimes. It waged war against the law itself. It transformed the Justice Department into a vehicle for voter suppression, and it also summarily dismissed the U.S. attorneys who attempted to investigate its wrongdoing. It issued wartime contracts to substandard vendors with inside connections, and it also defunded efforts to police their performance. It spied on church groups and political protesters, and it also introduced a sweeping surveillance program that was so clearly illegal that virtually the entire senior echelon of the Justice Department threatened to (but did not in fact) tender their resignations over it. It waged an illegal and disastrous war, and it did so by falsely representing to Congress and to the American public nearly every piece of intelligence it had on Iraq.’