Category Archives: Afghanistan

Torture and US

Almost lost in the news is a report  from a blue-ribbon bipartisan Constitution Project commission that states bluntly that the U.S. government has conducted torture in violation of law.

The commission found there is “indisputable” evidence that U.S. government officials bear responsibility for mistreatment of detainees. Members reached unanimous consent on their findings, although they were stonewalled in receiving some official documents and full interviews with officials of the administration of George W. Bush. The committee includes Democratic and Republican former lawmakers, jurists, academics and retired and decorated high-ranking military officials. They cannot be dismissed on political grounds.

The commission said in a 560-page report:

“U.S. Forces, in many instances, used interrogation techniques on detainees that constitute torture. American personnel conducted an even larger number of interrogations that involved ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading  treatment.’  Both categories of actions violate U.S. laws and international treaties. Such conduct was directly counter to the values of the Constitution and our nation.”

Among other things, the report debunks the notion that so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — the euphemism for torture — obtain useful information. The report concludes:

“The nation’s most senior officials … bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of illegal and improper interrogation techniques used by some US personnel on detainees in several theaters.”

The commission was hampered by the lack of subpoena power to get to the bottom of the systematic decision during the Bush administration to torture detainees. The commission says authorization of subpoenas should be the next step, a step that might lead to something akin to what many people have advocated for years — a Truth Commission.

Here’s what the organization Human Rights said about the commission report:

“The American people deserve a full accounting of the torture conducted in their name…The work of this private, bipartisan commission sends a clear message that full disclosure is an issue of great importance to all Americans, no matter their political leanings.”

Will Americans demand accounting or will they be complacent to the techniques of torture practiced in their name?

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Filed under Afghanistan, Bush, Intelligence, Obama, Politics

Torture and the Movies: A false impression

A friend saw Zero Dark Thirty, the Katherine Bigelow thriller, the other day and was mightily impressed. He was also surprised when I mentioned the controversy about the film’s implication that torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden. There is every indication that this never happened.

Another friend and colleague, Jeff Stein, writes this:

Moviegoers would be well advised to remember what one of the CIA’s most ardent defenders of torture, former clandestine services head José Rodriquez, admitted last April: That agency interrogators couldn’t get Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to give up Osama Bin Laden’s courier despite days of water-boarding and sleep deprivation.

Click here for Jeff’s report on the subject.

Starting with the Bush administration, some have tried to sell us on the notion that torture produces real-time intelligence. A great number of intelligence officers say the premise is not true. Virtually all of the time, a tortured prisoner will spill whatever beans necessary to stop the torture. Most, if not all of the time, the beans are so old as not to be useful at all.

My concern is that disseminating an idea of the false value of torture softens people up to thinking: “We don’t like it, but it’s necessary.” The necessity is extremely rare.

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Obama’s Victory In International Headlines: “The Best is Still To Come.”

A Reminder that the Whole world is watching and waiting:

Obama tras su reelección: “Para EE UU, lo mejor está por venir” El Pais, Madrid

(Obama after his re-election For the US, The Best is Yet to Come)

“Nate Silver, La Revanche du Geek” Le Monde, Paris
(Nate Silver, the Revenge of the Geek)

Obama wins four more years as Romney challenge is crushed The Independent, London

War-weary Afghans shrug off Obama re-election, http://dawn.com/2012/11/07/obama-says-best-is-yet-to-come-in-victory-speech/, Islamabad.

Iran to take center stage again on new-old President Obama’s agenda Haaretz, Jerusalem

US Daily: Iran’s Tourism Industry Prospering Despite Sanction Fars News Agency, Tehran, which announced Obama’s victory earlier.

Later additions:

Mediocre Mitt Crashes Out, Sydney Morning Herald.

Obama to continue his China policy, <em>China (English) Daily USA</em>

Thai-American elected to US Congress, The Nation, Bangkok

The U.S. Should Learn From Venezuela How to Hold Elections, The Daily Journal, Caracas

Sin los latinos, republicanos ven díficil regresar a la Casa Blanca, El Tiempo, Bogota
(WIthout Latinos, Republicans find it difficult to return to the White House)

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Filed under 1, Afghanistan, Elections, Journalism, Obama, Politics

Looking ahead to President Obama’s Bully Pulpit

Preliminary thoughts about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The elimination of Osama bin Laden warranted jubilation, public demonstrations and cheers, dampened by somber reminders of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans recognized the obvious – This was a historic victory. President Obama said it well:

For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies.  The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.  There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us.  We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam.  I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam.  Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.  Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.  So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Bin Laden leaves the stage in May 2011, but his operational capacity was limited if not eliminated years before his death. He existed as a symbol of terror. It is hard to think that anyone could rise to the same level, anytime soon.

His death now is as strong a blow to international terror as it would have been years earlier. Striking down the symbol will be accompanied by newly energized pursuit of his number two – Ayman al-Zawahiri – and the estimated several hundred al Qaeda fighters along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Questions and Answers


How could bin Laden have lived in plain site for so long, one kilometer from a Pakistani military post?

We don’t know yet, but U.S. officials won’t want to beat up on the Pakistanis. The civil government in Islamabad is a weak enterprise, and its stability depends on domestic public perception. The Pakistani military and intelligence service – ISI – are a power unto themselves and comprise a complicated, rivalry-ridden command structure. U.S. officials are giving the Pakistanis a chance to save face. The Obama administration will keep working with Pakistani officials on future operations of joint interest – decreasing violence, enhancing political and economic stability.


What about increased vigilance and retaliation?

Intelligence and police forces have been doing a fine job over the last decade to counteract, block and limit the scope of terror attacks. The system isn’t fool-proof, but there has never been a reason to live in fear. [Fortunately, Tom Ridge’s foolish color-coded alert warnings have gone the way of the Edsel.]

Will the death of bin Laden accelerate demands for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
Probably so. However, the Obama administration will take some time, looking for a changes in the wind–the flagging ability and will of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters to pursue their goals.

What policies should be on the agenda?

–Israel and the Palestinians–Seizing the moment to push the Israelis and the Palestinians toward an equitable peace. Presidential persuasion is a key—a successful compromise is needed. A resolution for the West Bank and Gaza has always been a major recipe toward drying up the seedbeds of future terrorism.
The U.S. Abroad–—pursuing further efforts to improve the U.S. image abroad. That image could hardly have been worse when President Obama took office after the multiple failures of the Bush administration. Obama can use the moment and the bully pulpit to push recalcitrant players toward real mediation and compromise for peace in the Middle East.
–Middle East Uprisings–Hard work to land fairly in each of the civil uprisings burning in the Middle East. And taking care that Yemen evolves peacefully, and with a future government that continues to fight al Qaeda cells there with U.S. support.
–Kashmir — Push for peace talks and negotiations between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, supported by the United States and Europe. Success feeds world peace and creates the prospects for a more friendly relationship with Pakistan.

The bill of particulars is long, but President Obama has checked off one of the greatest action items he may ever face.

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Filed under 1, Afghanistan, Middle East, Obama, Politics