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Did Torture Lead to Osama?

June 7, 2011

Did Torture Lead to Osama Bin Laden? The Last Post

I think we’ve had enough of Bush administration leftovers and their acolytes trying to justify their crimes by claiming that waterboarding and other “harsh” interrogation techniques produced information that helped target Osama Bin Laden. I’ve posted on this before, and don’t want to waste any more time on it. So, as my final words, here are a few more resources on the issue for those who are still being harangued by neighbors or co-workers, and need to muster their arguments. After this, no mas, basta, genug…

♦   I have to start with a column by Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe op-ed page’s resident right-winger, and someone with whom I almost never find the slightest grounds for agreement. Here, though, Jacoby takes a rock-solid stance against the use of torture, even if it may sometimes yield valuable information.

“The case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness. It is wrong when bad guys do it to good guys. It is just as wrong when good guys do it to Al Qaeda…There was good reason why waterboarding was one of the war crimes for which Japanese officers were hanged after World War II.
            “Like chemical and biological warfare, torture is something we refuse to engage in, despite its potential effectiveness, on the grounds that it is fundamentally immoral and uncivilized. Our repudiation of torture is absolute — the international Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, allows for ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever.’ That unconditional repudiation is one of the lines that separates us from the barbaric jihadists with whom we are at war.”

♦   I’ve wondered whether the torture debate in the U.S. may have led to a decline in public respect for international human rights norms, but haven’t seen any data on the question. Human Rights Now, a blog of Amnesty International, calls our attention to a rather disturbing survey of U.S. attitudes to international humanitarian law. The survey was conducted by the American Red Cross to mark the 150th anniversary of our Civil War. It found that 59% of teenagers and 51% of adults surveyed believe that it is sometimes acceptable to torture enemy fighters to obtain military information. As Amnesty notes, “The survey powerfully suggests just how far the norm against torture in American public life has been eroded.” The Red Cross Survey is brief and graphically presented, and I strongly recommend taking a look.

♦   As Ellen Massimino, President of Human Rights First, writes: “The renewed debate has made clear that we can’t sit back and let the torture apologists speak unopposed…I went to the American Enterprise Institute to debate the issue with prominent torture supporters, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, on a panel moderated by John Yoo.”  Watch the debate here.

♦   Writing for Common Dreams, Marjorie Cohn musters considerable historical background to demonstrate that the torture of detainees had no impact on the quest for the Al Quaeda leader; that it in fact produced substantial misleading information (an argument also emphasized by Senator John McCain); and that all of the crucial information was obtained through non-abusive interrogation techniques and intelligence gathering. She quotes Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, as saying: “If we had some kind of smoking-gun intelligence from waterboarding in 2003, we would have taken out Osama in 2003…It took years of collection and analysis from many different sources to develop the case…” Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild.

♦   Finally, Peter Weiss, a vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, cites one of the organization’s cases, in which the Federal Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit) said “The torturer has become like the pirate and slave trader before him, hostis humani generic, an enemy of all mankind.”


Upcoming Events: June, 2011

June 7, 2011

June 20 – World Refugee Day

Since, 2001, June 20th has been celebrated worldwide as World Refugee Day, dedicated to raising awareness and understanding of the plight of millions of refugees throughout the world. Check out the sites of the United Nations and the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) for further information, and Wikipedia for historical background.

“On World Refugee Day, let us reaffirm the importance of solidarity and burden-sharing by the international community. Refugees have been deprived of their homes, but they must not be deprived of their futures.”
                                                 — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 

June 21 – D.C. Conference on Trauma & Torture Survivors

According to the organizers of this conference, “The Washington, DC, metro area is one of the gateway cities for immigration in the country. An estimated 40,000 of those people are survivors of severe trauma or torture…There are different organizations that are set up to work with this population, but little communication between them.” In response, Northern Virginia Family Service, through its Program for Survivors of Torture and Severe Trauma, has joined with the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) to initiate this one-day workshop at George Washington University. Registration is $20, $10 for students, and free for survivors. Check the website for further information and to register.

June 19-26 – International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture

In addition to its participation in the conference above, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), has an entire week of event planned to mark the International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture, declared by the United Nations in 1998.

Let Us Know About Other Events, Now and in the Future

If you know about other commemorations of World Refugee Day or the International Day in Support of Survivors of Torture — anywhere in the United States — please let us know. The same goes for conferences or other events dealing with torture, immigration, and related subjects.

Keeping our Communities Safe?

June 2, 2011

Is this Really the Way to
Keep Our Communities Safe?

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is warning that legislation currently under consideration in the House of Representatives (HR 1932) may result in prolonged or even permanent detention of some asylum seekers and survivors of torture – without meaningful judicial review. In a recent newsletter they estimate that the law could result in the detention of 6,000 immigrants over current levels, and could increase our spending on detention by over $26 million. Check the LIRS website for a summary of the “Keep our Communities Safe Act” and a statement on the expected impact of the proposed law on immigrants. LIRS also has some suggestions on taking action. (Photo from LIRS.)

In the News: 5-21-2011

May 21, 2011

United States will Renew Temporary Protected
Status for Refugees from Haiti’s Earthquake

As reported by the Boston Globe – and most other major papers – the U.S. has authorized a continuation of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians who fled their country after last year’s devastating earthquake. TPS allows recipients to remain in the United States legally, and in some cases to work, for a fixed amount of time. It can be renewed – or not – at the discretion of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service. Federal officials had resisted granting the special discretionary to earthquake survivors, ostensibly out of concern that it would encourage Haitians to risk their lives trying to reach the U.S. by sea.
            Haitians wishing to establish or renew TPS must file written applications (see the USCIS website) and pay fees that vary depending on the age of the applicant, whether they are requesting the status for the first time or renewing, and whether they wish a work permit or not.
            See our prior post on this issue for more perspective on U.S. reactions to the disaster, and on Temporary Protective Status. (photo above from UNHCR)

Guantánamo’s Sixth Suicide,
Eighth Prisoner Death

Al Jazeera English reports the sixth death by apparent suicide of a prisoner at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay naval base. Known as Inayatullah, the 37-year-old was found dead on Wednesday, May 18. Two other prisoners are reported to have died of natural causes. Inayatullah had been held without charges since September 2007. Spokeswoman Tamsen Reese said that “an investigation is underway.”

New York Times Article Challenges
Belief that Private Prisons Save Money

Challenging the major rationale for our mushrooming private prison system, a new New York Times piece by Richard A. Oppel, Jr., documents growing doubts that the for-profit jails are actually saving money for the more than 30 states which have outsourced incarceration. Data from Arizona, for example, suggest that the bill for holding an inmate in a private prison may be as much as $1,600 more per year than in prisons run by the state itself.
            In addition, according the article, private jails in many states have contracts which allow them to keep their profits high by declining to accept prisoners who will be more expensive to manage – those with physical or mental health problems, or other disabilities. The states are then forced to pick up the substantially higher costs of caring for these more costly inmates. (See our recent post on the death of an immigrant while in detention in Massachusetts.)

Use of Solitary Confinement Questioned

May 20, 2011

Video Questions Excessive Use of
Solitary Confinement in United States

So, now that I’ve learned how to incorporate video in the blog, it might be hard to stop. Anyway, following up on my post about the deaths of immigrants from inadequate medical care while in ICE detention, I’m passing along today’s video, from RT America television, on the excessive use of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system, another topic I’ve explored in prior posts (see a listing of other posts here). RT is a Russian-based international news service. It’s been criticized for political bias (certainly something no U.S. network would ever be guilty of) but this report seems pretty solid. Included is a brief interview clip with Steven Soldz of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a group which has campaigned actively against the involvement of psychologists in abusive interrogations.

REQUEST FOR INPUT: The video suggests – without documentation – that many children in U.S. prisons are held in solitary confinement, ostensibly to protect them from adult inmates. I would welcome further information on this if any of you out there are on top of this issue.

New Resources: 5-20-2011

May 19, 2011

Best and Emerging Practices in the Care of Torture Survivors

That’s the focus of the latest issue of TORTURE Journal, a publication of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). Featured articles focus on best practices in medical and psychiatric care, social and legal services, expressive therapies, and spiritual care. The journal is available for free download; for the hard copy, IRCT requests a contribution to cover shipping.

Hidden Anxiety and the Conspiracy
of Silence: an Interview Recalls
the Armenian

In a late 2010, edition of the Mirror Spectator, an English Language newspaper published in Massachusetts for the Armenian community, Marni Pilafian has an interview with psychologist Jack Danielian. Danielian is the author of “A Century of Silence: Terror and the Armenian Genocide,” recently published in the American Journal of Psychoanalysis, (and reprinted in Ararat Magazine.)
            In the interview, Dr. Danielian, a grandchild of survivors, reflects on the impact of the genocide on the second and third generations of Armenian immigrants. Here, he recounts an incident from his own childhood (emphases are mine.)

“An 8-year-old boy hears a terrifying wail emanating from a female visitor in another room having coffee with the boy’s parents and grandparents. The wail is followed by prolonged sobbing, which then is followed by an equally prolonged silence. The woman is a victim- survivor of the Armenian Genocide and a participant in the Death March, arriving in this country a shell of her former self. She is thoroughly trapped in the dangerous and potentially lethal world between terror and nothingness, despite seemingly involved in an innocuous social situation.
            Without awareness, the boy is also trapped between hearing and not-hearing, between knowing and not-knowing. Despite belonging to a close-knit family, the 8-year-old does not enter the coffee room to seek explanation or reassurance from his family. And neither the boy nor his parents ever bring up the experience again.”

Among the Asylum Seekers

With J.K. Rowling’s 2008 commencement address in mind – and its exhortation to young graduates touse your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice,” I wanted to mention a little essay in The Pennsylvania Gazette, alumni magazine of the University of Pennsylvania.
            Livia Rurarz-Huygens is an ’06 graduate who has been working as a resettlement consultant for the UNHCR in Iraq and now in Kenya. In describing her work with asylum seekers, she reflects on the influence of her own background. (The complete article is available online):

I do know something about the pain and despair of being uprooted from your home. My mother’s family came to the US as refugees from Poland in 1981. The sense of loss that comes from being orphaned from one’s home and culture is hard to describe, but even as a child born in my mother’s adoptive homeland, I could feel their disorientation and knew that it would never fully disappear. No refugee can really know what awaits them in a land so different from their own.

J.K. Rowling on Torture

May 18, 2011

J.K. Rowling’s Encounter with Torture

In this season of university graduations, as the relatively privileged youth of the United States and Western Europe prepare to face the realities of a rapidly changing world, it’s worth revisiting some excerpts from one of the best commencement speeches I’ve ever heard or read – J.K. Rowling’s address to the Harvard class of 2008. (See the full text here.)

“One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books…I paid the rent in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes…
            “I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him back to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.
            “And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just had to give him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed…
            “I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard, and read. And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before…”

“Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places…The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden. If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”