Below is a piece that never got posted in all the hackfoonery that was going with the site recently. It was written in the first heat of Egypt’s uprising, but in some ways, it is even more pertinent today, as the Obama Administration rallies around the suave and vicious torturer they have installed in Cairo, in a desperate attempt to produce the kind of “continuity” of militarist-elitist corruption in Egypt that Barack Obama has achieved so magnificently at home in his takeover from the Bush Regime.
This is when you know a regime is in on the ropes: when its security apparatchiks start the panicked, wholesale destruction of the evidence of their crimes. From the Economist:
I KNEW it was truly over when I came home to find a neighbour in a panic. He had smelled a fire nearby. We traced its source soon enough, after climbing to the roof of my building. Smoke drifted from the garden of the villa next door, where workers had recently been digging a peculiarly deep hole, as if for a swimming pool. In a far corner of the garden stood rows of cardboard boxes spilling over with freshly shredded paper, and next to them a smouldering fire.
More intriguingly, a group of ordinary looking young men sat on the lawn, next to the hole. More boxes surrounded them, and from these the men extracted, one by one, what looked like cassette tapes and compact discs. After carefully smashing each of these with hammers, they tossed them into the pit. Down at its bottom another man shovelled wet cement onto the broken bits of plastic. More boxes kept appearing, and their labours continued all afternoon.
The villa, surrounded by high walls, is always silent. Cars, mostly unobtrusive Fiats and Ladas, slip in and out of its automatic security gates at odd hours, and fluorescent light peeps through shuttered windows late in the night. This happens to be an unmarked branch office of one of the Mubarak regime’s top security agencies. It seems that someone had given the order to destroy their records. Whatever secrets were on those tapes and in those papers are now gone forever.
There were of course no such scenes in the leafy suburbs surrounding Washington in the days after Barack Obama’s election. Naturally, during the Bush years there had been the judicious destruction of particular pieces of evidence — tapes of torture sessions, for instance — that might have proved briefly embarrassing. (And embarrassment was really all that the Bushists had to worry about when they were still in power; they had seen that even the horrors of Abu Ghraib had scarcely troubled the public waters for more than a couple of news cycles.)
But there were no worries at all about the coming of Obama. No need for those involved in the torture of thousands and the custodial killing of dozens of captives to start digging deep holes and sealing their tapes and papers beneath concrete. They knew well how Obama would treat them: like heroes. Indeed, one of his earliest acts was to appear at CIA headquarters and assure the assembled covert operators that they would never be held accountable under the law for their atrocities.
Meanwhile, the Guardian alerts us to a piece in Dissident Voice detailing “The Torture Career of Egypt’s New Vice President: Omar Suleiman and the Rendition to Torture Program.” Suleiman was of course Cairo’s longtime chief of intelligence — and as such a willing proxy torturer for the bipartisan ruling elite in Washington. Bear in mind that the administration of the Nobel Peace Laureate worked closely with Suleiman in his intelligence role until his (doubtless temporary) elevation by Mubarak at the weekend. Stephen Soldz reports:
When Suleiman was first announced, Al-jazeera commentators were describing him as a “distinguished” and “respected ” man. It turns out, however, that he is distinguished for, among other things, his central role in Egyptian torture and in the US rendition-to-torture program. Further, he is “respected” by US officials for his cooperation with their torture plans, among other initiatives….Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, pointed to Suleiman’s role in the rendition program:
Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments….The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top Agency officials. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way” (pp. 113).
Suleiman wasn’t just the go-to bureaucrat for when the Americans wanted to arrange a little torture. This “urbane and sophisticated man” apparently enjoyed a little rough stuff himself. Shortly after 9/11, Australian citizen, Mamdouh Habib, was captured by Pakistani security forces and, under US pressure, tortured by Pakistanis. He was then rendered (with an Australian diplomats watching) by CIA operatives to Egypt, a not uncommon practice. In Egypt, Habib merited Suleiman’s personal attention. As related by Richard Neville, based on Habib’s memoir:
Habib was interrogated by the country’s Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman…. Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks.
That treatment wasn’t enough for Suleiman, so:
To loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib – and he did, with a vicious karate kick.
After Suleiman’s men extracted Habib’s confession, he was transferred back to US custody, where he eventually was imprisoned at Guantanamo. His “confession” was then used as evidence in his Guantanamo trial.
As I noted early in the Obama administration, the Peace Laureate has been fully on board with this program from the beginning. From June 2009:
But we must give credit where it’s due. Obama has wrought some changes in the imperial torture policies, making good on his campaign pledges to restore the American values that were lost or diminished under his odious predecessor. As Alfred McCoy — the premier historian of the American elite’s long, long love affair with torture — points out, Obama has revived the venerable bipartisan practice of relying on client states to do the bulk of the dirty work for the U.S. security apparat. McCoy writes (at TomDispatch):
If, like me, you’ve been following America’s torture policies not just for the last few years, but for decades, you can’t help but experience that eerie feeling of déjà vu these days. With the departure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from Washington and the arrival of Barack Obama, it may just be back to the future when it comes to torture policy, a turn away from a dark, do-it-yourself ethos and a return to the outsourcing of torture that went on, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, in the Cold War years….
Then, on April 16th, President Obama … released the four Bush-era memos detailing CIA torture, insisting: “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” During a visit to CIA headquarters four days later, Obama promised that there would be no prosecutions of Agency employees. “We’ve made some mistakes,” he admitted, but urged Americans simply to “acknowledge them and then move forward.” The president’s statements were in such blatant defiance of international law that the U.N.’s chief official on torture, Manfred Nowak, reminded him that Washington was actually obliged to investigate possible violations of the Convention Against Torture.
That piece, by the way, was prompted by a story about a then-recent “suicide” at the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, where the Peace Laureate was force-feeding captives being held in indefinite detention:
The recent, mysterious death of yet another captive in the Guantanamo concentration camp opens yet another door into the blood-caked labyrinth of the American gulag, where despite all the soaring rhetoric about “restoring the rule of law,” torture is still very much the order of the day.
Scott Horton at Harper’s provides this telling quote from an AP story on the death of Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi, which gulag officials have classified as an “apparent suicide”:
A Guantanamo Bay detainee who left his cell to meet with military commanders as prisoner representative never returned, and was instead sent to a psychiatric ward where he died five months later, a former detainee recalled…The U.S. military has refused to say how Saleh allegedly killed himself in the closely watched ward. But the former detainee, Binyam Mohamed, said it wasn’t like him to commit suicide. “He was patient and encouraged others to be the same,” Mohamed said. “He never viewed suicide as a means to end his despair.” Even if it was suicide, Mohamed still classifies the death as “murder, or unlawful killing, whichever way you look at it,” saying that the U.S. had caused Saleh to lose hope by locking him up indefinitely without charges.
They took him away, held him under the close supervision in a psychiatric ward — and yet he still managed to magically kill himself by some as-yet undisclosed method. No doubt the “ongoing investigation” — by the NCIS guys! just like on TV! — will eventually manage to concoct an explanation plausible enough to satisfy our ever-incurious political and media elites.
But as Horton notes, Saleh was also a victim of an particularly sadistic form of torture that is still being practiced — openly, unapologetically — by the Obama Administration’s agents in the Guantanamo concentration camp: force-feeding. Horton writes:
The techniques do not comply with the international standards for actual force-feeding, established in the World Medical Association’s Malta Declaration of 1991. Instead they have a darker and more distressing progeny. From the use of restraint chairs down to the specific brand of commercial diet supplement used by the doctors, the force-feeding techniques now in use at Guantanamo replicate the methods used by the CIA at black sites under Bush. At the black sites, those methods were not part of any medical regime. Instead, they were a part of a carefully designed torture regime, the very same regime that Obama claims to have abolished in his first executive order.
Meanwhile, as Egyptians rise up for freedom, the United States is forcing its puppet satrapy in Afghanistan to violate its own laws — in order to keep the Peace Laureate’s Bactrian gulag going. Clive Stafford Smith has the incredible story in the Guardian. (Yes, the British newspaper. What, you thought it would be leading the CBS Evening News?)
[As] the US looks to hand over responsibility for the prisoners in Parwan prison to the Karzai government … hey have come face-to-face with an intractable problem: they are holding 1,400 prisoners without trial. Every week, the number grows; it is predicted to rise to 3,200. Some have been there for many years.Dare we allow them to face Afghan justice?
According to the US, few if any of these prisoners would be convicted at a fair trial. They have been detained as a result of intelligence tips – and hearsay is not admissible in court; and there is no forensic evidence that proves them guilty of any crime.”Right now,” one unnamed, but clearly unnerved, senior American official said this week, “if we turned them over to the Afghans tomorrow, they’d be in a position, under their laws and their constitution, that they may be released.”
In other words, the Afghan legal system would respect their legal rights and, if they were not charged with a crime, they would have to be set free. Ten years ago, this would have been seen as a sign of great progress. Had the Taliban recognised the ancient writ of habeas corpus, and insisted on freedom or a fair trial, we would have been both surprised and delighted.Ten years on, we have taught the world a better way. Among the Afghan rules that concern the Americans is the requirement that a suspect be charged within 72 hours of arrest. He must also be granted a speedy trial – generally, within two months. The US also worries that a detainee must be tried in the province where he committed his crime.
Compare these “problems” with the rights ascribed to citizens under the US bill of rights, the paradigm that we once hoped to export to the lawless countries of the third world. The US constitution requires that the suspect be charged within 48 hours, and be allowed a speedy trial. The sixth amendment provides that he has a right to be tried “in the state and district” where the crime occurred.
He then tells of the case of yet another child prisoner of the American gulag:
…Hamidullah, a Pakistani kid who is in Parwan. He was just 14 years old when the Americans detained him, and he appears to be wholly innocent of any crime. After several years in which to gather evidence, his American captors recently conceded that they do not even know how old he is. Yet, they have successfully argued that he should be allowed no legal rights.
US officials will not speculate when a handover will occur, but say that a “detentions decree” from Karzai is a critical prerequisite. In other words, before he will be allowed to assume custody of Hamidullah and hundreds of other prisoners, Karzai must commit to dismantling the Afghan rule of law.
Thus is our civilisation exported to the world.
Do remember these stories the next time you are called upon by some earnest progressive to come to the aid of Barack Obama in his hour of political need. This is what they are asking you to support. And this is exactly what you will enable if you give that support.