Senate Torture Report Gives Horrifying View into the American Torture Regime

© Josh Sager – December 2014

For years, the world has known that the United States is a nation that committed the war crime of torture during our nation’s “war on terror.” Numerous Bush officials have come out in defense of their use of “enhanced interrogation,” during which they have argued that waterboarding, stress positions, isolation and temperature extremes are perfectly acceptable techniques for interrogators that don’t constitute torture.

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Put simply, the law disagrees, and the United States has prosecuted individuals for using those tactics on our soldiers in the past (including several Japanese Officers who we executed for waterboarding American POWs during WWII). Renaming torture “enhanced interrogation” is simply a rhetorical flourish that does nothing to mitigate the inhumanity and criminality of the practice.

Unfortunately, while we knew a little bit about US torture program, it appears that we didn’t know the full scope of our nations’ crimes. Just this week, the Senate released a redacted version of its comprehensive torture investigation—with this report, we get a much more comprehensive view of the CIA’s interrogation activities which paints a much worse picture than previously envisioned.

The Torture Report

Arguably the worst revelations that came from this report are the terribly inhumane types of torture used. New types of torture revealed in the report include the following:

  • Multiple detainees were “rectally infused” with nutrients when there was no medical reason to do so. In short, the CIA pureed food into a liquid, shoved a plastic tube into the rectums of detainees, and pumped that food into their intestines as high pressure. Given how painful oral force-feeding is, one can only imagine how terrible this practice is. By any legal definition, this is a form of forcible sodomy and a certain war crime.

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  • Interrogators threatened detainees’ families—including their mothers and children—with rape and murder if they didn’t talk.
  • Detainees were kept awake for up to 180 hours, often in stress positions or in cramped spaces with loud music blaring. Sleep deprivation is extremely dangerous and can cause a variety of disorders including heart failure, psychosis, and brain damage.
  • Interrogators put detainees in a series of scenarios that threatened death, including forced games of Russian roulette and mock burials.
  • Detainees with broken or otherwise injured feet were chained with their hands raised above their head so that they were forced to stand for hours at a time.

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In addition to these inhuman torture methods, we now know that the CIA didn’t just torture people during interrogations, but as a matter of routine and a type of punishment. They tortured detainees before asking them any questions to “soften them up” and as a punishment for any perceived disrespect. Two times, the CIA even accidentally tortured CIA informants who had a history of assisting the agency, simply because they reflexively tortured new detainees. By the CIA’s own assessment, at least a fifth of these detainees were entirely innocent.

Some CIA officials were concerned by the torture regime that they were expected to participate in, but they were directed specifically by the CIA leadership to continue the program. This demonstrates that at least a few lower-level CIA agents on-site had consciences, but that the power structure of the organization was dead-set on implementing their torture regime.

In order to facilitate their use of torture, the CIA and White House conspired to conceal this torture program from anybody who would provide pushback. In addition to selectively leaking deceptive documents to the media, the CIA was directed by top-level White House officials to conceal the torture program’s existence from the State Department and Colin Powel (both were considered unlikely to support torture). The CIA went as far as to conceal the details of its torture program from the oversight committees that theoretically provide accountability to their actions.

Ramifications of the Report

From a legal sense, the Senate torture report should create an incontrovertible need to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes in domestic court or to send them abroad to face international charges. According to both domestic and international law, torture is illegal and there is no option for a nation to simply disregard the law.

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The USA is a signatory to the UN’s Convention Against Torture, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Geneva Conventions—all of these international agreements ban torture and mandate severe legal consequences for the offenders.

Even if domestic prosecutors decline to file charges against these torturers, we are bound by treaty to hand over torturers to international authorities to face their crimes. They are not protected by executive immunity, nor are they able to hide behind the chain of command.

If Obama had any moral credibility, he would detain Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and every other link in the chain of command down to the individual torturers, and then send them to The Hague to face charges. To facilitate this, he should send an un-redacted version of the report with these torturers and give the courts access to all of the source documents that were used by the Senate staff to write their report.

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Given their clear admissions of ordering torture (ex. Bush admitting his knowledge of waterboarding during media appearances and in his book), I see no way for most of these torturers to escape conviction and would fully expect them to be sentences to decades in prison.

Unfortunately, Obama is a coward and self-interested politician who will never take this principled stand. Not only does he fear the political ramifications of these prosecutions, but he also wouldn’t want to set a precedent where presidents can be arrested for violating international law (this is particularly important in his case, as his drone program is arguably criminal). The release of this report has stirred up a lot of anger, but that will pass from the mainstream eye as the next shiny political distraction occurs and the media loses interest. In all likelihood, these torturers will escape all responsibility and justice will never be served.

Every American should be outraged at this torture, as it was done in our names. Our elected officials have dishonored our nation, both by torturing and by protecting the torturers from criminal prosecution, and we are all tarred by association. At minimum, this stain will fuel even more anti-Americanism in the world, and, at worst, it will be the justification for the next 9/11.

© Josh Sager – December 2014 – TheProgressiveCynic.com

All views are the writer’s and may not represent the views of all Activate staff

The modern right wing establishment has developed an extremely effective formula for partisan political success. They have deployed this formula—backed up by billions of dollars in corporate and interests group money—to great effect and the left has had no cohesive response.

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There are the three ingredients in this formula: Simplicity, absolutism, and repetition.

Simplicity: When talking about policy, the right wing keeps the message short, extremely simple, and easy for the lay-person to grasp (ex. cutting taxes stimulates growth, regulation retards growth, etc.). It doesn’t matter if the right wing message is complete nonsense, because the people will remember the short sound bite and will likely lack an understanding of the nuanced and wonky refutation.

Absolutism: They make every issue black or white and tolerate no nuance (ex. no regulation on guns). This creates a stark contrast between the acceptable point of view and everything else, creating a strong political herd mentality that suppresses dissent. Additionally this absolutism ensures that the right wing position on any one issue is far more uniform than the corresponding position by the Democrats (who split their policy platform within their larger tent).

Repetition: When the right wing decides upon a course of action, they begin repeating the same talking points ad infinitum (ex. Benghazi)—every politician and pundit gets on the same page and they use their positions to create an echo chamber that magnifies the spread of their message. This repetition allows even patently ridiculous ideas to gain major traction because the media will cover the “debate” between the entire right wing, which has agreed on a lie, and everybody else.

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Here is a basic example of this entire process playing out: After the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the right wing decided that the situation was a scandal that would permanently scar the Obama administration. Every politician and pundit in the right wing started talking about the attack and going through a consistent series of accusations (ex. Obama didn’t call the attack terrorism, the State Department was lying about the motivation for the attack, the Obama administration stopped the deployment of reinforcements, etc.). For months, every right winger to be on the public airwaves would mention the same talking points and accusations, leading media organizations to turn what should have been an unfortunate few days of news into a months-long saga through a quagmire of accusations that were quickly proven false.

In short, the right wing decides what it wants to achieve, creates easily quoted talking points to mobilize their base in that direction, and ensures that every person within their umbrella stays with that unified message; even if those talking points are completely unrealistic or easily debunked by basic reading of the facts they are repeated until the ill-informed American public have them imprinted on their brain. Because they stick together and have power in numbers, the media is hesitant to call them out and the public never realizes that they are being lied to (one politician spouting nonsense is easily mocked, but when half of the political establishment decides to spout that same nonsense, the media calls is a debate).

While this formula is very effective for mobilizing partisan support, it is also completely toxic to the creation of realistic policy. Reality is complex, filled with nuance, and rarely easy to reduce to bumper-sticker slogans. This means that a policy platform which is based around overly simplified slogans that everybody decides to get on board with rarely accounts for the complexity that is demanded by real life policy challenges.

From what I can see, progressives have declined to enact such a propaganda formula for several reasons.

First, progressives have tried to deal in good faith while pursuing their goals, and have tried to sway people with factual arguments rather than convincing lies. In effect, the progressives have focused on leading people to think like they do, while conservatives have adopted an “ends justify the means” mindset and have little compunction about using lies to lead people to their point of view.

Second, while progressives have to align unions, the poor, racial minorities, youths, women, and a whole host of diverse groups, the conservatives largely just have to align a largely-homogenous pool of older, white men behind their message. Because progressives rely on a much more diverse constituency it is far harder for them to achieve absolutism in their messaging.

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Third, the mainstream media is a corporate entity that is far more accepting of conservative corporatism than leftist populism—even MSNBC, which is the “left” news station is more corporatist and Democratic apologist than progressive. This means that, even if they were to create a unified message tailored to trick low-information voters, it would be far harder for progressives to repeat those talking points than it is for conservatives. They would face more pushback from the punditry and would likely be called out by media outlets hoping to prove that they aren’t part of the “left-wing media.”

It is important for the left to understand this right wing formula, if only so we can make efforts to disrupt it when it inevitably happens in the future. If we can rapidly debunk the right wing talking points in the mainstream media before they become a meme, we may be able to limit the spread of such propaganda to the right wing echo chamber (Fox, Drudge, etc.), where they are preaching to the choir. This would require very rapid responses to nascent right wing talking points and for the left to coordinate unified responses across its diverse constituency—such a plan is likely only possible on some issues, where there are few conflicts within the left’s tent (ex. minimum wages, voting rights, etc.).

Black Friday vs. the 2014 Election, One Statistic Shows the Sickness of our “Democracy”

© Josh Sager – December 2014 – TheProgressiveCynic.com

All views are of the writer and may not represent the views of all Activate staff

Americans love to believe that we live in “the home of the free and land of the brave” that sets the standard for democracy across the globe. Unfortunately, those who believe this are seriously delude and there is one simple statistic that proves it:

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On Black Friday, approximately 140 million Americans braved the crowds at major shopping outlets, nearly 22 million of whom shopped at Walmart alone—when compared against the total US population of 316.1 million, this represents a shopper turnout of nearly 44% (which is an under-estimate, as the total US population includes children, inmates and people who are logistically unable to access stores). Conversely, during the 2014 election, only 77 million Americans voted—this represents a voter turnout of just over 36.4% of the eligible population.

To put the pathetic turnout in American elections into perspective, we just need to look at Europe as a comparison. Our 36.4% voter turnout puts us marginally below that of Estonia (36.5%), far below Italy’s 57% turnout, and comically below Belgium’s nearly 90% turnout. Although, to be fair, we did edge out Bulgaria, the UK, Romania, Latvia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

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Put simply, nearly twice as many Americans were motivated to rush to the stores in search of deals on holiday gifts, than who wanted a say in who governs of the most powerful nation on earth for the next few years. This is a disgrace, both for the people whose priorities are so messed up and for the people who have made every effort to suppress the vote.

Millions have fought and died across the world fighting for the right to vote, yet Americans, who have the franchise, neglect to use it. We have devalued our vote to the point where people value it less than the ability to go out and buy useless consumer goods that are “on sale” only because the store up-marked the price during the week before the event.

Americans are disenchanted with politics, largely because it is common knowledge that money has swamped out political system, corrupting Washington and breeding widespread dysfunction/gridlock. This has led them to disengage from voting, particularly in the midterm elections. Unfortunately, while widespread, this belief isn’t rational, as the only way to change a broken system is to work towards reform—opting out only gives the corrupt politicians a veneer of credibility because they won an election.

While it may initially appear rational to abstain from voting in a system that you see as corrupt, the fact is that a refusal to vote simply reduces your influence and gives those who support the status quo a chance to declare that they have a “mandate” from the people to enact their twisted agenda. We have seen this in numerous recent elections (ex. 2010 and 1014) and will continue to see it until the American people learn.

The first step towards a future where the USA is actually a democracy—rather than a nation of the disinterested, governed by the representatives of the extreme—is to vote into power people who will enact a long-term framework for a sustainable democracy. They must create non-partisan voting districts (eliminating gerrymandering), make voting day a holiday, ensure that all citizens have equal access to the voting booths, and impose severe consequences on anybody who tries to disenfranchise voters (from either side of the political spectrum).

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If possible, these reforms should be locked behind a political firewall by passing them through a Constitutional Amendment (currently the general right to vote is not actually protected) that prevents future politicians from reducing the oversight that they face. This type of reform isn’t common or easy to achieve, but similar reforms have been passed in the past (namely the 17th Amendment that made senators directly elected rather than appointed by the state legislatures).