Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Torture Debate: Laying Out the Terms


You may or may not follow "Talking Points Memo"
<< >> which is one of the most widely-read political blogs.
Anyway, under a recent report about the president-elect naming a Department of Justice transitional chief, the first two comments seemed to me to be important background items as we look ahead, because they lay out the terms of an ongoing debate.
Here they are.
First Comment: I realize I'm in the minority, but I believe it is of the utmost importance that the DOJ go after any and all that worked to undermine our civil rights. The acts of spying on Americans without a warrant, among many other criminal acts need to be investigated and brought to trial. That includes Torture and the murder of prisoners in our custody. The violation of the Geneva Convention cannot be allowed to go unpunished . . . no matter how politically dangerous it may be.

Second Comment: <<< "The violation of the Geneva Convention cannot be allowed to go unpunished .no matter how politically dangerous it may be." >>>
No. People want to move on. They shouldn't want to...they should be hungry for blood, for justice, to right the wrongs and all that, but half the country was (voting-wise) complicit in the madness of the last regime, and folks don't like having their noses rubbed in it.
The bureaucratic purification should occur, but quietly. The focus should be on nuts 'n bolts stuff: antitrust, securities, and the like. There are lots of good antitrust lawyers out there who have been twiddling their thumbs since 1978. Give 'em some work, especially now that the spotlight is on corporate malfeasance.>>

These two comments lay out concisely the ongoing debate over what to do about torture in the coming years: Forget It and Move On, versus Enforce the Law Come What May.

My own personal view is that, while there are certainly plenty of other critical problems to be dealt with (see under: "Economy, Collapse"; "Iraq, Quagmire," etc.), giving impunity to those who planned, carried out, and justified torture creates a problem of a different, and very grave magnitude. It cuts at the very root of our constitutional order.Impunity (which is the outcome of the "Move On" approach) will accelerate what I have dubbed "The Torture Transition," the extremely dangerous shift from regarding it as a shocking anomaly to accepting it as a regrettable but tolerable precedent. This concern has occurred to others involved in this issue as well.
This "Torture transition" should be resisted and stopped. I’ve written about this task in more detail in an article, ‘Torture & Impunity," just published in Friends Journal’s December 2008 issue. That article is available online here: Torture & Impunity.

"The Torture Transition." How do we stop it? This question is also part of the basis for the "START NOW" program for ending torture discussed below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Got It Goin' On In Carolina!

These are my homeys, kicking torture-complicit derriere last Monday night. . . .

From the [North Carolina] Independent Weekly website


Johnston County Airport: Stop what torture?

By Bob Geary

For three years, the activist group N.C. Stop Torture Now has blanketed the Johnston County Airport with vigils, reports that CIA rendition flights may originate there and warnings about a half-dozen planes implicated in "torture flights" that are operated by a private carrier based there.

The group wants the county-owned airport to investigate. Start paying attention, members say. Adopt a policy against abetting torture. Call in the sheriff or the State Bureau of Investigation to help.

Airport Authority Chairman John Bullock's latest response,: Investigate what?

"We have no facts," Bullock told Stop Torture Now members who attended the authority's Nov. 17 meeting in Smithfield. Aero Contractors, the private carrier, he added, "is a good tenant, good client; they've been here for years."

At the authority's meeting a month ago, Stop Torture Now members distributed a thick packet of information, including accounts from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, about the CIA's secret renditions and the role private air carriers, including Aero Contractors, play. According to the reports, terrorism suspects captured in countries where torture is outlawed are "rendered" to other countries—Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan—where torture is practiced.

One case, involving a German citizen mistakenly arrested in Macedonia and tortured in Afghanistan, resulted in the indictment of three Aero pilots on charges of kidnapping by a German grand jury.

In another, the Swedish government agreed to pay $450,000 to an Egyptian citizen seeking asylum who was rendered back to Egypt, allegedly by Aero pilots, and imprisoned and tortured.

"Did you find [the information] compelling?" Allyson Caison, a county resident, asked Bullock.

"I found it interesting," Bullock said, smiling uncomfortably. "I'm not in favor of torture."

Ironically, the 30-minute meeting Monday was dominated by Airport Director Ray Blackmon's revelation that folks are driving too fast around the hangars, where airplanes have the right-of-way. Lest the county be sued for negligence if there's an accident, the authority voted to reduce the speed limit from 20 mph to 10.

"I was happy to hear Ray mention his concern about negligence and liability," Caison told authority members. She urged them to think hard, however, about the liability of allowing a company to use the airport in the commission of kidnappings and torture.

"Winds of change blew through this country on Nov. 4," she said. "There may soon be congressional and international investigations of the rendition program. Johnston County needs to get on the right side of history before these investigations shine the spotlight on us. At that point, it will be too late to claim we didn't know what was going on here."

Bullock said he asked the county attorney for advice but hasn't gotten any yet.

N.C. Stop Torture Now received an "Indy Citizen Award" for its work in 2007. AND An ACLU Award this year.

For more about protests at Aero Contractors, the primo Torture Taxi company:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To End Torture: START NOW


I've been reflecting on how most of the proposals I've seen for opposing torture in the coming years seem too narrow and oriented to one or another "silver bullet" idea.

The problem is more complex, and more entrenched, it seems to me. So I've been drafting an outline that I think is more comprehensive. The working title is "START NOW," an acronym for the main elements.

The current draft is pasted below for your review. It's a working document now, but when it's finalized, and with approval of our board, I hope it could be published as a flyer or brochure, as well as posted online.

I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Chuck Fager

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
President-Elect Barack Obama, November 16, 2008:

“I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture.
And I'm going to make sure that we don't torture.”

To Make Sure: START NOW

START NOW is a comprehensive outline of steps toward eradicating torture from the United States government and military system:


1. S = The first step is to STOP IT. Issue a presidential executive order, banning "enhanced interrogation techniques" in all U.S. agencies and facilities. Re-establish the restrictions in the Army Field Manual, apply to all military and intelligence services.

– Follow up to see that the order is followed.

– Identify and specifically revoke all secret memos and orders from the White House and agencies that authorize torture or inhibit investigations of torture allegations.

– Dismantle the torture infrastructure. Close Guantanamo. Identify and close other secret detention facilities. Terminate arrangements with third countries for torture-by-proxy. Cancel contracts with Aero and other CIA torture flight front companies. Follow up with investigations to ensure compliance.

– Preserve all relevant records, by impoundment if necessary.

2. T = TRUTH. Find and make public the actual record of U.S. agencies and contractors relating to abuse and torture. To do so, launch investigations into allegations of torture, other war crimes, and conspiracy to commit these acts. The principal investigative focus would be the period since the beginning of 2002; but relevant earlier events will be included.These investigations to proceed on numerous fronts, to include:

– Inspectors General in the relevant intelligence and federal agencies;

– The Government Accountability Office;

– The Justice Department, including independent counsels where advisable;

– Congressional hearings and probes, using subpoena power;

-- Specially-created investigative bodies ("Truth Commission")

– State-level reviews into possible violations of state laws by front companies and contractors.

– Cooperate with investigations by international agencies and other governments

– Encourage journalists and independent investigators in their fact-finding efforts.

3. A = ACCOUNTABILITY. Initiate enforcement actions for alleged war crimes and torture committed by U.S. citizens, agents or contractors. To this end:

– Rescind all exemptions for private contractors from applicable U.S. and international laws against torture and abuse.

– Convene grand juries in affected jurisdictions.

– In the military, initiate disciplinary procedures for those who took part in, gave orders for, or drafted policy guidance that permitted torture and abuse in contravention of the applicable field manuals, US laws and treaty obligations. Such procedures to begin at the top of the relevant commands.

– State officials to follow up when torture and conspiracy allegations involve violations of state laws.

4. R = RESTITUTION/COMPENSATION for victims of US torture, kidnaping, imprisonment without trial, and other related abuses, inflicted either directly by U.S. agents, contractors, or by proxy states. The cases of Maher Arar in Canada, who was granted $9 million in compensation by the Canadian government, and Ahmed Agiza in Sweden, of $377,000, are early examples of restitution payments.Open US courts to such claims. Withdraw or severely restrict the doctrine of "state secrets" as a way of avoiding this litigation.

5. T = TREATMENT: Medical, psychological, and social welfare services to be provided to victims and their families, at government expense. This may be the one part of this program where the country is already reasonably well-prepared. A network of treatment centers for torture survivors is already in place. To meet the scale of the need, this network may require expansion.


1. NEVER let up: ending torture is a long-term project. Stay informed about torture issues.

2. ORGANIZE: Keep the issue of torture in the public arena:

– Form or join local committees and coalitions to pursue the end-torture agenda.

– Conduct public witness: vigils demonstrations, protests

– Organize forums and conferences

– Write letters to the editor; Op Eds, articles in local/regional media. Blog!

– Work in churches and professional groups for statements and actions to end torture.

– Press local and state officials for action at these levels

3. WORK on the government: Lobby Congress, the White House, and federal agencies to eradicate the roots and legacy of official torture

– Find supportive organizational partners among national groups; collaborate.

– Stay in touch with your US. Representatives & Senators; don’t let them evade the issue.

– Monitor international efforts, support and join with them when practical.