THOLOS OF ATHENA

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"WE HAVE COME TO LOVE OUR FEARS MORE THAN WE LOVE OUR FREEDOMS"

A society that tortures and kills those placed entirely in it's power and passes this fact by as a matter of indifference truly is plunging into the dark side of the world.
--Scott Horton

Anyone who expects better of the Obama administration should not look for any fresh glimmer of leadership or any bending of the arc of history towards justice. The results are in. This administration is closing its eyes to some of the foulest crimes to have been committed by government and military personnel during the Bush/Cheney years. The murder by torture of three prisoners at Guantanamo prison on the 9th of June, 2006, and the cover-up of that killing, is one example.

A Yemeni man, Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, and two Saudi men, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, seem to have upset their captors by staging a hunger strike over the conditions of their captivity. Yet these men posed no danger to the United States; they were young men in their twenties and thirties; and they were not advised that, in fact, the authorities were working towards releasing them.

It's important to note that when the prisoners' bodies were returned to their next of kin, their throats had been removed.
In 2006, the use of a gagging restraint had already been connected to the death on January 9, 2004, of an Iraqi prisoner, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Jameel, in the custody of the Army Special Forces. And the bodies of the three men who died at Guantanamo showed signs of torture, including hemorrhages, needle marks, and significant bruising. The removal of their throats made it difficult to determine whether they were already dead when their bodies were suspended by a noose. (Horton, Harper's Magazine, March 2010)
From Scott Horton's investigation in Harper's Magazine, the horrific sequence of events is reconstructed. Sometime during the evening of June 9th, Guantanamo guards observed these men being transferred after dark from Camp Delta, along a route to a clandestine camp they knew only as a landmark, and by reputation, that was dubbed "Camp No", a name that implied that one was not supposed to talk about it.

According to Horton's article, The U.S. Naval Criminal Investigation Service issued a report two years after the deaths at Guantanamo.
[...] The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS documents were carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seaton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners' deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report--a reconstruction of events--was simply unbelievable.
According to the NCIS documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell's eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated.
And going back to 2006, it should be remembered that as these deaths were being announced to the world by Rear Admiral Harry Harris, commander of Guantanamo, that he added mockery of the dead and "affliction to their families", to the crime that had been committed in secret, which he was busy describing as suicide. And it should never be forgotten that Harris, the camp commander, lividly refused any interpretation by the press, that the three prisoners acted from desperation, taking their own lives in despair, because of their treatment in the hands of the US military, or because they resolved to give up their lives rather than face endless detention.

No, the story for public consumption was as bizarre as it was politically expedient. According to the official line, the dead men had synchronized their suicides as a potent kind political theater, and what Harris described as "an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us". Coleen Graffy threw in her two cents, representing the State Department, as diplomatic Deputy Assistant Secretary: "Taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good PR move".
On the day of these deaths in 2006, the American commander in Guantanamo violated the Homeric rules of decorum by taunting the dead and afflicting their families. The deceased prisoners "have no regard for human life," he said. But in the end we must ask to whom these words more appropriately attach--the prisoners or those who have orchestrated the tragedy at Guantanamo?
(Horton, Auden--The Shield of Achilles, from Harper's Magazine)
The Obama Administration is trying to close the book on this and other investigations of torture. These Bush Administration crimes are off limits to prosecution; and if we are to judge by Horton's instinct that the Justice Department has its own secrets to hide, the continuing cover-up and obstruction of justice is still the policy, even if the joint is under new management.

Other news this week can serve as a reminder of where this country is heading: the vote in the House to approve renewal of the PATRIOT Act, unmodified. The bill was passed in the Senate by a voice vote, without debate. The offending measures, the most odious of which were hotly debated during the Bush years, are still around. The Thursday vote in the House was 315-97. The bill is now slinking to the Oval Office, where the President is expected to sign it on Sunday.

Raw Story reported that a few of our stalwarts, like Dennis Kucinich, were irate on our behalf:
The title of his press release pleaded for congress to "repeal" the Patriot Act and "restore Constitutional rights to Americans."
On this occasion, Congressman Kucinich recalled the words of Shane Harris, National Journal correspondent, on how we were witnessing the rise of an "American Surveillance State". And Kucinich added, "We have come to love our fears more than we love our freedoms".

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