Denver Post : After 9/11, stuck on terror watch lists

Saturday, August 16, 2014

After 9/11, stuck on terror watch lists

By The Denver Post Editorial Board | August 16, 2014

In the nearly 13 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has become clear there is a new normal in the U.S. where security is concerned.

Show your driver's license. Take off your shoes. Don't even think about a bomb joke.

One might think this post-9/11 era has gone on long enough to allow authorities to remedy the deficiencies that have emerged in measures designed to keep citizens safe.

Unfortunately, that appears not to be the case with the government's secret terrorist watch list and no-fly list.

Recent lawsuits, including one filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union, have shed more light on what appear to be unconstitutional practices.

Clearly it's time for that to change.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of five people of Muslim faith who contend the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has illegally blocked them from becoming naturalized citizens or permanent residents without telling them why.

They've been "blacklisted," according to the ACLU, because of their suspected inclusion on the terrorist watch list, a designation they have no meaningful way to challenge.

The list has as many as 1 million names on it, the lawsuit said, and has broad parameters for inclusion. An individual need not even be suspected of taking part in unlawful activity or belong to a suspicious organization to make the list, the lawsuit said.

And getting off the list? Good luck.

Several government reviews in recent years document the lax practices in taking people off terrorist watchlists.

In a separate matter, a federal judge in Oregon ruled the Department of Homeland Security had to do a better job of satisfying the requirements of due process when it came to appeals of inclusion on the list.

The government must, the judge said, reveal the unclassified information supporting the listing. And even if the material is classified, people deserve to know the nature and extent of it.

That seems reasonable given the restrictions involved. Those on the lists report being prevented from traveling on commercial airlines, being routinely detained, or being subjected to additional screenings that sometimes causes them to miss their flights.

Balancing civil liberties and security is a high-stakes challenge. But clearly there are ways to do a better job of protecting — while honoring — the principles this nation was founded upon.

William Blum : The United States and torture

Monday, August 11, 2014

The United States and torture

by William Blum | August 11th, 2014

Two of the things that governments tend to cover-up or lie about the most are assassinations and torture, both of which are widely looked upon as exceedingly immoral and unlawful, even uncivilized. Since the end of the Second World War the United States has attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders and has led the world in torture; not only the torture performed directly by Americans upon foreigners, but providing torture equipment, torture manuals, lists of people to be tortured, and in-person guidance and encouragement by American instructors, particularly in Latin America.

Thus it is somewhat to the credit of President Obama that at his August 1 press conference he declared “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

And he actually used the word “torture” at that moment, not “enhanced interrogation”, which has been the euphemism of preference the past decade, although two minutes later the president used “extraordinary interrogation techniques”. And “tortured some folks” makes me wince. The man is clearly uncomfortable with the subject.

But all this is minor. Much more important is the fact that for several years Mr. Obama’s supporters have credited him with having put an end to the practice of torture. And they simply have no right to make that claim.

Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that “rendition” was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time: “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.”

The English translation of “cooperate” is “torture”. Rendition is simply outsourcing torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo, or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, to name some of the known torture centers frequented by the United States. Kosovo and Diego Garcia – both of which house large and very secretive American military bases – if not some of the other locations, may well still be open for torture business. The same for the Guantánamo Base in Cuba.

Moreover, the Executive Order referred to, number 13491, issued January 22, 2009, “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations”, leaves a major loophole. It states repeatedly that humane treatment, including the absence of torture, is applicable only to prisoners detained in an “armed conflict”. Thus, torture by Americans outside an environment of “armed conflict” is not explicitly prohibited. But what about torture within an environment of “counter-terrorism”?

The Executive Order required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental manipulation such as temperature and noise, and stress positions.

After Panetta was questioned by a Senate panel, the New York Times wrote that he had “left open the possibility that the agency could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules … Mr. Panetta also said the agency would continue the Bush administration practice of ‘rendition’ – picking terrorism suspects off the street and sending them to a third country. But he said the agency would refuse to deliver a suspect into the hands of a country known for torture or other actions ‘that violate our human values’.”

The last sentence is of course childishly absurd. The countries chosen to receive rendition prisoners were chosen precisely because they were willing and able to torture them.

No official in the Bush and Obama administrations has been punished in any way for torture or other war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries they waged illegal war against. And, it could be added, no American bankster has been punished for their indispensable role in the world-wide financial torture they inflicted upon us all beginning in 2008. What a marvelously forgiving land is America. This, however, does not apply to Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, or Chelsea Manning.

In the last days of the Bush White House, Michael Ratner, professor at Columbia Law School and former president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out:
The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it. I don’t see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable.
I’d like at this point to once again remind my dear readers of the words of the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”, which was drafted by the United Nations in 1984, came into force in 1987, and ratified by the United States in 1994. Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Such marvelously clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud of humanity.

The Convention Against Torture has been and remains the supreme law of the land. It is a cornerstone of international law and a principle on a par with the prohibition against slavery and genocide.

“Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.” – United States Attorney General Eric Holder, July 26, 2013

John Brennan, appointed by President Obama in January 2013 to be Director of the CIA, has defended “rendition” as an “absolutely vital tool”; and stated that torture had produced “life saving” intelligence.

Obama had nominated Brennan for the CIA position in 2008, but there was such an outcry in the human-rights community over Brennan’s apparent acceptance of torture, that Brennan withdrew his nomination. Barack Obama evidently learned nothing from this and appointed the man again in 2013.

During Cold War One, a common theme in the rhetoric was that the Soviets tortured people and detained them without cause, extracted phony confessions, and did the unspeakable to detainees who were helpless against the full, heartless weight of the Communist state. As much as any other evil, torture differentiated the bad guys, the Commies, from the good guys, the American people and their government. However imperfect the US system might be – we were all taught – it had civilized standards that the enemy rejected.

Louisville Courier-Journal : Obama’s breezy words for post-9/11 torture

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Obama’s breezy words for post-9/11 torture

By Leonard Pitts | August 6, 2014

“…but we tortured some folks.”

— President Barack Obama, Aug.1, 2014

OK, in the first place: “tortured some folks?” Really?

Was there not something annoyingly breezy in the president’s phrasing last week as he acknowledged the abuse of suspected terrorists in the wake of Sept. 11? Was there not something off-putting in the folksy familiarity of it?

“We tortured some folks.”

What’s next? “He raped a chick?” “They stabbed a dude?”

Granted, it’s a relatively minor point. But to whatever degree phrasing is a window into mindset, the president’s phrasing was jarring. It is, however, what he said next that we are gathered here to discuss.

Obama, speaking to reporters Friday, invoked the atmosphere after Sept. 11 to explain why the CIA, ahem, tortured some folks. He reminded us that we were all terrified more attacks were imminent and our national security people were under great pressure to prevent them. So while what they did was wrong, said Obama, “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.”

In other words, we were all scared spitless, so it’s … understandable if not precisely condonable, that the CIA behaved in ways that betrayed our national values. But the president is wrong.

In fairness to him, though, let’s stipulate a few things:

One: Obama has never wavered in calling the torture of suspected terrorists precisely what it was, nor in defining it as a betrayal of what America is supposed to stand for. He did so again last week. “We did some things that were contrary to our values,” he said.

Two: Those things did not happen on Obama’s watch. It was George W. Bush’s administration that rationalized and justified the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation.” Bush made this mess. Obama is just the guy with the push broom.

Three: Obama was trying to walk a political tightrope that was probably unwalkable. Anticipating declassification of a Senate report that is said to cast a harsh light on these tactics, he sought to signal disapproval of what the CIA did, yet not throw its personnel — who now, after all, work for him — under the proverbial bus. That wouldn’t be great for morale.

All that said, it was disappointing to hear the president invoke the frenzy of that era as a mitigating factor. By that logic, you could justify the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, the McCarthy witch hunt of the 1950s, or dozens of other sins against freedom strewn like scars across the face of American history. All were born of the same broken rationale: We were scared, so we did things we should not have done.

The thinking seems to be that sometimes fear makes our values too heavy to uphold. Actually, it is our capacity for fear that makes them more critical to uphold. And it is disingenuous to pretend the hysteria of the 9/11 era was such that anyone might have done the same thing.

Not only is that not true, but it also insults the moral courage of people like Sen. John McCain and Obama himself who did stand up and say, emphatically and at political risk, that this was unworthy of us. So it’s not that it was impossible to speak reason, but that the torturers refused to hear it.

They followed orders instead.

The president opposes the idea of prosecuting them for that and he’s right. That would cast a pall over American intelligence gathering for generations forward.

But there is a lesson here that urgently needs learning, an accounting that ought not be ignored. With the best of intentions and the approval of a morally blinkered White House, the CIA vandalized American honor and all involved must be called on it. That isn’t sanctimony.

It’s patriotism.

Write to Pitts at

WDTV [WV] : Obama's 'Torture' Comments Reopen 9/11 Debate

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Obama's 'Torture' Comments Reopen 9/11 Debate

from WDTV, serving north central West Virginia

Lauren McMillen | August 2, 2014

"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks"

That's what President Obama had to say after recognizing that the U.S. may have went to far in torturing al-Queda detainees.

Since in office, Obama has taken a stand against the enhanced interrogation tactics that were put into place by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks. But some of you believe that the harsh conditions were the only solution.

"They shouldn't have bothered us to begin with then we wouldn't have been there to torture them. You're not going to resolve anything over there. It's been going on for the beginning of time," said Jim Feeda, visiting from Pennsylvania.

"They torture us, so we have to do what we can to get the information we need to get the job done," said Cliff Fox, Harrison County resident.

This all comes on the brink on a new Senate report that is expected to be released in the coming weeks. The nearly 7,000 page report will describe in detail the CIA's treatment of terrorist suspects.

Officials expect the document will reveal that actions, like water boarding, did not help us get any further.

"We did some things that were contrary to our values," said President Obama.

Others agree that these acts violated the principles of our country and what we stand for.

"I think torturing people is something we not ought to do. I think there are other techniques we can use to get the same information. I don't know if anyone has ever shown that using torture gets more and better information," said Joe Burrman, visiting from Maryland.

Obama's comments are likely to draw heavy criticism from some Republicans and former members of the Bush administration.