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The Primacy of Healing: Politics and Combat Stress in America
By Tyler E. Boudreau | Truthout
I am a veteran of the war in Iraq. Like many, I came home bearing an unexpected skepticism toward our operations there and a fresh perspective on America's use of military power. And also like many, I found myself emotionally and psychologically harried by my experiences on the battlefield. But unlike many, I landed after discharge in a community where criticism for the war was both socially acceptable and, in fact, quite common, leaving me free to process a distress which was directly connected to US foreign policy. I was, literally and figuratively, right at home. So, I couldn't help noticing how the political dissent of my community was facilitating my mental healing. That has given me reason to consider all the ways in which politics has corresponded with and influenced the understanding and acceptance of combat stress. And while combat stress survivors have, in some ways, benefited from this relationship; they have suffered from it as well.
Combat stress has a stigmatic heritage, well-recognized now, but that was not always so. World War I was an era in which distraught soldiers were often labeled "men of deficient character"; and yet, the unspeakable carnage of its battles seemed to have offered latitude enough in the aftermath for the painful expressions of its veterans. But after the infinitely more popular World War II, veterans became known more for reticence than effusion and for a stoical veneer beneath which (we know now) a growing tumult was quietly raging. With the country so steeped in enthusiasm, it is not surprising that their invisible wounds went largely unnoticed. After all, with whom, in such a climate, might a veteran have shared his horrible stories?
Imagine if, on the day in early April when Jiverly Voong walked into the American Civic Association Building in Binghamton, New York, and gunned down 13 people, you read this headline in the news: "Binghamton in shock as police investigate what some critics call 'mass murder.'" If American newspapers, as well as the TV and radio news were to adopt that as a form, we would, of course, find it absurd. Until proven guilty, a man with a gun may be called "a suspect," but we know mass murder when we see it. And yet, in one of the Bush administration's lingering linguistic triumphs, even as information on torture programs pours out, the word "torture" has generally suffered a similar fate.
The agents of that administration, for instance, used what, in the Middle Ages, used to be known bluntly as "the water torture" -- we call it "waterboarding" -- 183 times in a single month on a single prisoner and yet the other morning I woke up to this formulation on National Public Radio's Morning Edition: "...harsh interrogations that some consider torture." And here's how Gwen Ifill of the News Hour put it the other night: "A tough Senate report out today raised new questions about drastic interrogations of terror suspects in the Bush years." Or as USA Today typically had it: "Obama opened the door for possible investigation and prosecution of former Bush administration officials who authorized the 'enhanced interrogation techniques' that critics call torture." Or, for that matter, the New York Times: "...the Bush administration's use of waterboarding and other techniques that critiques say crossed the line into torture..."
Torture, as a word, except in documents or in the mouths of other people -- those "critics" -- has evidently lost its descriptive powers in our news world where almost any other formulation is preferred. Often these days the word of choice is "harsh," or even "brutal," both substitutes for the anodyne "enhanced" in the Bush administration's own description of the package of torture "techniques" it institutionalized and justified after the fact in those legal memos. The phrase was, of course, meant to be law-evading, since torture is a crime, not just in international law, but in this country. The fact is that, if you can't call something what it is, you're going to have a tough time facing what you've done, no less prosecuting crimes committed not quite in its name.
Dick Cheney has called for declassifying memos he claims will vindicate the Bush administration’s torture policy. Now former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV urges the former vice president to extend his demand for transparency to his still-secret testimony in the Scooter Libby obstruction of justice case.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s reemergence on the political stage after his ignominious departure on Inauguration Day, eschewing the traditional handshake with his successor and the new president, is nothing if not ironic. The most secretive individual in American politics is now calling for the selective release of documents that remain classified in one of his own files marked “Detainees.” We have also learned that a principal reason for having tortured senior al Qaeda detainees was not, in fact, to defend the Homeland, but rather to build the case for war with Iraq based on alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Despite literally hundreds of waterboarding sessions, there was no evidence developed that such a link existed. But that did not stop Cheney. He and others in the Bush administration simply asserted a link even though they knew one did not exist.
The disinformation campaign to manipulate public opinion in favor of the [Iraq] invasion, the torture program, and the illegal exposure of a clandestine CIA agent—my wife, Valerie Plame Wilson—were linked events.
Written by Melvin A. Goodman | The Public Record
Under the stewardship of Fred Hiatt, the editorial and op-ed pages of the Washington Post have gradually moved to the right. Post editorials and op-eds have defended the decision to go to war in Iraq; opposed any improvement in bilateral relations with Russia; refused to acknowledge Israel’s misuse of military power in the Middle East; and lobbied against the need for investigation of the detention and interrogation programs of the Bush administration.
When the U.S. military began sending terror suspects to Guantanamo in 2002, President Bush proclaimed that it was unwavering U.S. policy that they would be treated "humanely." But according to a report made available to NEWSWEEK and other organizations, internal Defense Department memos show that U.S. interrogators quickly strayed from that approach, devising elaborate plans to break down the resistance of two high-value detainees by stripping them and forcing them "to bark and perform dog tricks." These techniques were derived in part from classified U.S. military training slides that recommended subjecting detainees to "religious disgrace" and a process of "degradation" that included addressing them as though they were "an animal," the memos show.
CIA reportedly declined to closely evaluate harsh interrogations
Current and former U.S. officials say the failure to carefully examine the value of 'enhanced' methods such as waterboarding -- despite calls to do so as early as 2003 -- was part of a broader trend.
By Greg Miller | LA Times
The CIA used an arsenal of severe interrogation techniques on imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects for nearly seven years without seeking a rigorous assessment of whether the methods were effective or necessary, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
AD HOC CAMPAIGN TO FREE EHREN WATADA | Press Release
End the U.S. Army’s Prosecution of Lt. Ehren Watada: The Justice Department Can Say No to Army’s Legal Appeal
In June 2006, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada refused orders to Iraq on the grounds that the war was illegal and immoral. His court martial in February 2007 ended in an Army-contrived mistrial. In October 2007, the Army attempt to have a second court martial was stopped by a Federal judge who ruled that a second court martial would be double jeopardy. But the Army has not allowed Lt. Watada to leave military service. Instead, they have notified the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit of their plans to appeal the double jeopardy ruling. The Army has also threatened to revive old charges stemming from Lt. Watada’s speech in Seattle to the 2006 convention of Veterans For Peace.
Justice Department to Decide If Army Will Appeal Double Jeopardy Ruling
The U.S. Solicitor General’s office in the Department of Justice will soon decide whether the Army can go ahead with its plans to appeal Federal Court rulings in Lt. Watada’s favor.
Never Give A Life, Or Take A Life, For A Lie
A Call to American Generals to Respect the Rights of our Troops
by Veterans For Peace and Asian Pacific Islanders Resist
There are many kinds of betrayal in human affairs. But in the affairs of state, there is no greater act of disloyalty than to send young men and women to their deaths on the basis of fraud. No soldier should ever give a life, or take a life, for a lie.<
All American ranking officers and commanders take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. For self-serving generals, to be sure, the oath is a mere ritual, of no consequence to real behavior in war. But for generals of conscience and integrity (and here is our hope and reason for writing) their oath is a solemn obligation to the American people, especially to American troops, to abide by the law. Our men and women in uniform place great trust in their superiors. They risk their lives in the belief that they will not be used falsely, illegally, or for ill-gain.
If not the Justice Department lawyers, who gave the earlier go-ahead? The Senate report puts the onus directly on the decider-in-chief, President George W. Bush. He issued a written determination on February 7, 2002, "that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees."
Three cheers for Dick Cheney. The former vice president has urged, however rhetorically, that the Obama administration release more of the torture memos. "One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort," the former vice president told FoxNews.
"I've now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was."
News reports differ as to whether Mr. Cheney has formally made the request, but he is absolutely right that the American people need to see the complete record. He is wrong about what the record will show. From the material already released or ferreted out by journalists, it is clear that he and Mr. Bush succeeded in using torture, not primarily to secure needed intelligence, but to create the propaganda they used to sell their invasion of Iraq.
In a CNN debate with Ari Fleischer, I said the United States executed Japanese war criminals for waterboarding. My point was that it is disingenuous for Bush Republicans to argue that waterboarding is not torture and thus illegal. It's kind of awkward to argue that waterboarding is not a crime when you hanged someone for doing it to our troops. My precise words were: "Our country executed Japanese soldiers who waterboarded American POWs. We executed them for the same crime we are now committing ourselves."
Mr. Fleischer, ordinarily the most voluble of men, was tongue-tied. The silence, rare in cable debates, spoke volumes for the vacuity of his position.
CIA Contractors Get the Boot
The Pentagon is ordered to bar private contractors from interrogation and security operations in accordance with the defense secretary’s new budget proposal, Jody Ray Bennett writes for ISN Security Watch.
By Jody Ray Bennett | ISN Security Watch
In his latest budget proposal announced on 6 April, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for the Pentagon to reduce the amount of private contractors it employs, replacing many of them with thousands of federally employed civil servants.
This is vital, because it reveals just how bad a card Cheney has to play in protecting himself from being prosecuted as a war criminal. The CIA inspector general's report found no evidence that torture had given any information that would not have been found using legal and moral means. Even one of the legal architects of the torture program, Steven Bradbury, had to concede that much:
"It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program," Steven G. Bradbury, then the Justice Department's principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 30, 2005, memo to CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, one of four released last week by the Obama administration.
"As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. And because the CIA has used enhanced techniques sparingly, 'there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness'," Bradbury wrote, quoting the IG report.
More salient for future war crime prosecutions will be the fact that the actual waterboarding did not even follow the absurd attempts to make it non-torture:
CIA official: no proof harsh techniques stopped terror attacks
By Mark Seibel and Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers
The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.
That undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off terrorist attacks.
The military agency that provided advice on harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as "torture" in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon's chief lawyer and warned that it would produce "unreliable information."
"The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel," says the document, an unsigned two-page attachment to a memo by the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. Parts of the attachment, obtained in full by The Washington Post, were quoted in a Senate report on harsh interrogation released this week.
It remains unclear whether the attachment reached high-ranking officials in the Bush administration. But the document offers the clearest evidence that has come to light so far that technical advisers on the harsh interrogation methods voiced early concerns about the effectiveness of applying severe physical or psychological pressure.
The document was included among July 2002 memorandums that described severe techniques used against Americans in past conflicts and the psychological effects of such treatment. JPRA ran the military program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which trains pilots and others to resist hostile questioning.
The cautionary attachment was forwarded to the Pentagon's Office of the General Counsel as the administration finalized the legal underpinnings of a CIA interrogation program that would sanction the use of 10 forms of coercion, including waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning. The JPRA material was sent from the Pentagon to the CIA's acting general counsel, John A. Rizzo, and on to the Justice Department, according to testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
5 hours after the 9/11 attacks, Donald Rumsfeld said "my interest is to hit Saddam".
And at 2:40 p.m. on September 11th, in a memorandum of discussions between top administration officials, several lines below the statement "judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [that is, Saddam Hussein] at same time", is the statement "Hard to get a good case." In other words, top officials knew that there wasn’t a good case that Hussein was behind 9/11, but they wanted to use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to justify war with Iraq anyway.
Moreover, "Ten days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush was told in a highly classified briefing that the U.S. intelligence community had no evidence linking the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein to the [9/11] attacks and that there was scant credible evidence that Iraq had any significant collaborative ties with Al Qaeda".
And a Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary issued in February 2002 by the United States Defense Intelligence Agency cast significant doubt on the possibility of a Saddam Hussein-al-Qaeda conspiracy.
And yet Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials claimed repeatedly for years that Saddam was behind 9/11. See this analysis. Indeed, Bush administration officials apparently swore in a lawsuit that Saddam was behind 9/11.
Fixing the Facts and Legal Opinions Around the Torture Policy: The Case for 'Looking Forward' to the Impeachment of Jay S. Bybee
Fixing the Facts and Legal Opinions Around the Torture Policy: The Case for 'Looking Forward' to the Impeachment of Jay S. Bybee
Guest Blogged by Ernest A. Canning | BradBlog
At the same time he took a step forward, releasing the four Justice Department torture memos he described as a "dark and painful chapter in our history," President Barack Obama assured CIA employees, who tortured under cover of these quasi-legal sophistries, they would not be prosecuted. The President said this was "a time for reflection, not retribution...nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibb explained that the President insisted on "looking forward." U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder not only seconded the President's promise not to prosecute, but vowed to provide legal counsel to defend these war criminals and to pay the damages awarded to their victims.
Great Britain's Times Online, quoting an unnamed former official, suggested there may be cases where the CIA exceeded the DOJ guidelines; perhaps even killed detainees. The President's hint at immunity does not extend to officials who exceeded the guidelines. Although the President, in his remarks, made no mention of those who ordered torture, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told ABC's George Stephanopoulos last Sunday that the President did not believe "those who devised the policy" should "be prosecuted."
The President's promise not to prosecute generated a firestorm of protest from the legal community. Law Professor Jonathan Turley blasted the effort to equate law enforcement with "retribution."
He is trying to lay the ground work for principle when he is doing an unprincipled thing....President Obama himself has said that waterboarding is torture, and torture itself violates four treaties and is considered a war crime. So the refusal to allow it to be investigated is to obstruct a war crimes investigation.…There aren't any convenient or inconvenient times to investigate war crimes. You don't have a choice....You have an obligation to do it, and what I think the President is desperately trying to do is to sell this idea that somehow it's a principled thing not to investigate war crimes because its going to be painful…It will be politically unpopular because an investigation will go directly to the doorstep of President Bush…and there's not going to be a lot of defenses that can be raised for ordering a torture program.
Underscoring Obama’s new stance on the issue, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters: "the president determined the concept didn't seem altogether workable in this case."...At a congressional hearing Thursday, Holder told lawmakers that he would not "permit the criminalization of policy differences. However, it is my responsibility as the attorney general to enforce the law. "If I see wrongdoing, I will pursue it to the full extent of the law," Holder said....Conyers has also said that Holder should appoint a special prosecutor to conduct a probe simulataneously....But at the White House meeting Thursday, attended by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including Pelosi and Rep. John Boehner, Obama said he would not support any attempt to investigate the Bush administration’s “war on terror” policies. Whether Congress decides to act in defiance of Obama's wishes remains to be seen.
Thanks to your efforts, we were able to bring Rick Reyes, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, to Congress's attention. A former Corporal in the US Marines, Reyes was powerful and truthful as he told Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "I urge you on behalf of truth and patriotism to consider carefully and rethink Afghanistan. More troops, more occupation is not the answer."
Much more inside.
This trip report covers the period of April 13-20 as I traveled to Seoul, South Korea to attend the Global Network’s (GN) 17th annual space organizing conference. Traveling with me was Mary Beth Sullivan and Tom Sturtevant, a leader from Maine Veterans for Peace.
A Korean Organizing Committee, comprised of 10 groups, organized the GN conference and they collectively did a wonderful job of hosting the large international delegation that came from about 25 countries. In addition to our GN international delegation the conference was also supported and attended by many international activists from the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).
Our first day was a field trip by bus to visit the DMZ along the border between North and South Korea.
Nancy Pelosi denies knowing U.S. officials used waterboarding — but GOP operatives are pointing to a 2007 Washington Post story which describes an hour-long 2002 briefing in which Pelosi was told about enhanced interrogation techniques in graphic detail.
Iraq's government has recorded 87,215 of its citizens killed since 2005 in violence ranging from catastrophic bombings to execution-style slayings, according to government statistics obtained by The Associated Press that break open one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war.
Combined with tallies based on hospital sources and media reports since the beginning of the war and an in-depth review of available evidence by The Associated Press, the figures show that more than 110,600 Iraqis have died in violence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
"I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences. However, it is my responsibility as attorney general to enforce the law. It is my duty to enforce the law. If I see evidence of wrongdoing I will pursue it to the full extent of the law," Holder said.
Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Thursday he won't play "hide and seek" with secret memos about harsh interrogations of terror suspects and their effectiveness. In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Holder said he's willing to release as much information as possible about the interrogations.
Several members of the committee pressed him about the Justice Department's release last week of four long-secret legal memos detailing the harsh techniques used on some detainees during the Bush administration.
"It is certainly the intention of this administration not to play hide and seek, or not to release certain things," said Holder. "It is not our intention to try to advance a political agenda or to try to hide things from the American people."
Report: Abusive tactics used to seek Iraq-al Qaida link
By Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers
The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.
Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.
Jonathan Turley on Rachel Maddow: "Obama is obstructing justice"