Archive for April, 2009


Monday, April 27th, 2009

amnesia, 2004-5, 35″ x 28″ x 2″, oil, enamel, and inlay on wood click on image for enlargement

Peggy Noonan; “Oh I have reservations about all this. It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking oh much good will come of that. Sometimes in life you wanna’ just keep walkin’. History has changed. It does change. We have a new administration, a new way. Sometimes I think just keep walkin’. Don’t always be issuing papers and reports.” And then adds; “some of life has to be mysterious”.

John McCain; a former POW who was himself tortured in North Vietnam; “Maybe, there’s an element of settling old political scores here,” he said. “We need to put this behind us, we need to move forward. We made a commitment that we will never do this again….we need a united nation, not a divided one.”

Barack Obama; “This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence.”

David Broder;
“If ever there were a time for President Obama to trust his instincts and stick to his guns, that time is now, when he is being pressured to change his mind about closing the books on the “torture” policies of the past.

Obama, to his credit, has ended one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States.

He was right to do this. But he was just as right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices.


Monday, April 27th, 2009

2004-5, 35″ x 28″ x 2″, oil, enamel, and inlay on wood (click on image for enlargement)

torture, not

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

forgiveness not, 2007, 11″ x 18″, oil and enamel on wood

Excerpted below is from Patrick Cockburn’s interview with a U.S. Major in Iraq – and wonders if “torture has killed as many Americans as 911 did”. A Major whom gathered the intelligence that enabled the U.S. to kill Al Qa’ida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Arguably one of the most successful U.S. intelligence accomplishments of the entire Iraq occupation:

(my bold)

“The reason why foreign fighters joined al-Qa’ida in Iraq was overwhelmingly because of abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and not Islamic ideology,” says Major Matthew Alexander, who personally conducted 300 interrogations of prisoners in Iraq. It was the team led by Major Alexander [a named assumed for security reasons] that obtained the information that led to the US military being able to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa’ida in Iraq. Zarqawi was then killed by bombs dropped by two US aircraft on the farm where he was hiding outside Baghdad on 7 June 2006. Major Alexander said that he learnt where Zarqawi was during a six-hour interrogation of a prisoner with whom he established relations of trust.

Major Alexander’s attitude to torture by the US is a combination of moral outrage and professional contempt. “It plays into the hands of al-Qa’ida in Iraq because it shows us up as hypocrites when we talk about human rights,” he says. An eloquent and highly intelligent man with experience as a criminal investigator within the US military, he says that torture is ineffective, as well as counter-productive. “People will only tell you the minimum to make the pain stop,” he says. “They might tell you the location of a house used by insurgents but not that it is booby-trapped.”

In his compelling book How to Break a Terrorist, Major Alexander explains that prisoners subjected to abuse usually clam up, say nothing, or provide misleading information. In an interview he was particularly dismissive of the “ticking bomb” argument often used in the justification of torture. This supposes that there is a bomb timed to explode on a bus or in the street which will kill many civilians. The authorities hold a prisoner who knows where the bomb is. Should they not torture him to find out in time where the bomb is before it explodes?

Major Alexander says he faced the “ticking time bomb” every day in Iraq because “we held people who knew about future suicide bombings”. Leaving aside the moral arguments, he says torture simply does not work. “It hardens their resolve. They shut up.” He points out that the FBI uses normal methods of interrogation to build up trust even when they are investigating a kidnapping and time is of the essence. He would do the same, he says, “even if my mother was on a bus” with a hypothetical ticking bomb on board. It is quite untrue to imagine that torture is the fastest way of obtaining information, he says.

A career officer, Major Alexander spent 14 years in the US air force, beginning by flying helicopters for special operations. He saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, was an air force counter-intelligence agent and criminal interrogator, and was stationed in Saudi Arabia, with an anti-terrorist role, during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some years later, the US army was short of interrogators. He wanted to help shape developments in Iraq and volunteered.

Arriving in Iraq in early 2006 he found that the team he was working with were mostly dedicated, but young, men between 18 and 24. “Many of them had never been out of the States before,” he recalls. “When they sat down to interrogate somebody it was often the first time they had met a Muslim.” In addition to these inexperienced officers, Major Alexander says there was “an old guard” of interrogators using the methods employed at Guantanamo. He could not say exactly what they had been doing for legal reasons, though in the rest of the interview he left little doubt that prisoners were being tortured and abused. The “old guard’s” methods, he says, were based on instilling “fear and control” in a prisoner.

He refused to take part in torture and abuse, and forbade the team he commanded to use such methods. Instead, he says, he used normal US police interrogation techniques which are “based on relationship building and a degree of deception”. He adds that the deception was often of a simple kind such as saying untruthfully that another prisoner has already told all.

Before he started interrogating insurgent prisoners in Iraq, he had been told that they were highly ideological and committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, Major Alexander says. In the course of the hundreds of interrogations carried out by himself, as well as more than 1,000 that he supervised, he found that the motives of both foreign fighters joining al-Qa’ida in Iraq and Iraqi-born members were very different from the official stereotype.

In the case of foreign fighters – recruited mostly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and North Africa – the reason cited by the great majority for coming to Iraq was what they had heard of the torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. These abuses, not fundamentalist Islam, had provoked so many of the foreign fighters volunteering to become suicide bombers.

For Iraqi Sunni Arabs joining al-Qa’ida, the abuses played a role, but more often the reason for their recruitment was political rather than religious. They had taken up arms because the Shia Arabs were taking power; de-Baathification marginalised the Sunni and took away their jobs; they feared an Iranian takeover. Above all, al-Qa’ida was able to provide money and arms to the insurgents. Once, Major Alexander recalls, the top US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, came to visit the prison where he was working. Asking about what motivated the suspected al-Qa’ida prisoners, he was at first given the official story that they were Islamic Jihadi full of religious zeal. Major Alexander intervened to say that this really was not true and there was a much more complicated series of motivations at work. General Casey did not respond.

The objective of Major Alexander’s team was to find Zarqawi, the Jordanian born leader of al-Qa’ida who built it into a fearsome organisation. Attempts by US military intelligence to locate him had failed despite three years of trying. Major Alexander was finally able to persuade one of Zarqawi’s associates to give away his location because the associate had come to reject his methods, such as the mass slaughter of civilians.

What the major discovered was that many of the Sunni fighters were members of, or allied to, al-Qa’ida through necessity. They did not share its extreme, puritanical Sunni beliefs or hatred of the Shia majority. He says that General Casey had ignored his findings but he was pleased when General David Petraeus became commander in Iraq and began to take account of the real motives of the Sunni fighters. “He peeled back those Sunnis from al-Qa’ida,” he says.

In the aftermath of his experience in Iraq, which he left at the end of 2006, Major Alexander came to believe that the battle against the US using torture was more important than the war in Iraq. He sees President Obama’s declaration against torture as “a historic victory”, though he is concerned about loopholes remaining and the lack of accountability of senior officers. Reflecting on his own interrogations, he says he always monitored his actions by asking himself, “If the enemy was doing this to one of my troops, would I consider it torture?” His overall message is that the American people do not have to make a choice between torture and terror.

If this Major were in command of the al-Qa’ida interrogations we’re all mulling over now, Bin-Laden and crew would probably already have been rolled up and we’d be on the way out of Afghanistan by now, and maybe the Iraq war wouldn’t have happened. Instead of tearing ourselves apart over something we made illegal for good reason in the first place.

torture explained by liz cheney

Friday, April 24th, 2009

forgiveness not, 2007

Today on MSNBC Dick Cheney’s daughter and former Deputy Sec. of State, Liz Cheney was interviewed by Nora O’Donnell. This contentious cat fight of an interview was probably an attempt to get Ms.Cheney to directly expound on her daddy’s role as the “prime mover” behind to attempts to re-legalize or authorize warterbording torture. To which Ms Cheney deflected rather well by emphasizing that all the other usual (National Security Councils) suspects were equally responsible – to which of course, she added Colin Powell.

The most interesting aspect of the interview was that it kept returning back to what exactly constitutes “torture” and whether the administration did it. Fortunatly, Liz Cheney, in this regard, was rather forthcoming, and regrettably Nora O’Donnell let slip away a perfect opportunity to expose if not Cheney’s faulty logic, then a textbook case of a political neologism working its magic. According to Cheney, “the National Security Council had reviewed the program and assured that it had legal approval before going forward”. And that what they approved “was not torture”. Because “it was tactics that our own people go through in SERE training”. And further “its a disservice to those people conducting the program and those that approved the program in order to keep the nation safe and prevent attacks – to call it torture”. Later in the interview Cheney reiterated the same assertion by saying “that these were a series of techniques that had all been done to our own people, and are not torture, therefore, the tactics are not torture” to which she then refers to the memos as “laying out the extent exactly how far we could go before it would become torture. Because it was very important that we not cross that line”.

Ms Cheney’s veracity in the interview is belied by the almost embarrassing, childlike logic of her argument. She asserts that because the “techniques” are used by U.S. professionals in training, it therefore couldn’t be torture, because in following, we wouldn’t torture our own people. And if we do the same thing to an enemy, it couldn’t be torture either. Which is why we need the legal team, to define the limits of such. And further, it’s a disservice to these professionals to call what they do as “torture”.

First off, his assumes that there are no other laws that pertain to what torture is, while there are already on the books, both national and international laws defining what torture is. There is no need for a special council to re-define what torture is or is not. As such, it can only be an “insult” to such professionals to call it torture, if what they are doing fall outside the existing definitions of torture, which clearly, they do not. Finally, the notion that if we do it to our own people, it cannot be torture is a bit like a lawyer watching a robbery demonstration by a police academy, with the trainees playing both the robber and the robbed, and then later after the trainee commits robbery in the real world, declaring that it could not be robbery. Because it wasn’t robbery back at the academy demonstration. The levels to which we have sunk as a culture, is inversely proportional to the degree which we consume the current neologisms being sold – without question.

common sense

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

forgiveness not, 2007

Updated, 4/21/09, 4/22/09, 4/23/09, below post

In following up on the torture memos, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings makes a compelling common sense plea for investigations and why:


That’s why I found today’s White House briefing so infuriating:

“Q So I understand, you’re saying that people in the CIA who followed through in what they were told was legal, they should not be prosecuted. But why not the Bush administration lawyers who, in the eyes of a lot of your supporters on the left, twisted the law — why are they not being held accountable?

MR. GIBBS: The President is focused on looking forward, that’s why.”

You know what? I’m focused on looking forward too. And as I gaze into my crystal ball, I see a world in which members of the executive branch take it for granted that they can do whatever they want with impunity. Why not break the law? Why not eavesdrop on Americans? Why not torture people? Why not detain citizens indefinitely without charges? Heck, why not impose martial law and make yourself dictator for life? There is nothing to stop the people who make these decisions. They have nothing to fear. Because once they’ve made them, their actions are back there, in the past that no one ever wants to look at.
I also see a world in which everyone takes it for granted that there are two kinds of people, as far as the law is concerned. If most people tried to make the case that prosecuting their criminal acts was just “looking backwards”, or a sign that the prosecutor was motivated by a desire for retribution, they’d be laughed out of court. Imagine the likely reaction if your average crack dealer were to urge the judge not to dwell on the past, or if someone who used accounting fraud to flip houses told offered a prosecutor the chance to be “very Mandelalike in the sense [of] saying let the past be the past and let us move into the future”, or if I were pulled over for speeding and, when asked if I knew how fast I was going, replied that “Some things in life need to be mysterious … Sometimes you need to just keep walking.” I don’t think any of us would get very far.
And yet, somehow, when people say these things about members of the Bush administration, no one bats an eye. Of course it would be going too far to actually prosecute them if they broke the law. That’s just not done.
I do not want a world in which members of my government can break the law with impunity. I do not want a world in which some people are above the law. In a perfect world, we would not need to prosecute people to achieve these results. But the past eight years have shown us that we don’t live in that world. […]
I like such common sense reactions, because simple common sense also informs my reaction to the previous post. Most people can easily imagine that if they were themselves captured by an alien power (whom ever) and waterboard tortured into divulging information (what ever) on their public and private lives – they would do so willingly, if not by the mere threat of torture, would do so most willingly after some few initial sessions. Even military people familiar with the effects of torture train, plan on, and expect such results. As such, the name , rank, and serial number expectations of modern combatants is well understood as an urban myth. Even populist presidential candidate John McCain would surely agree, having been there, done that. People would also understand that after willingly spilling their guts under such treatment, that, should the treatment continue on relentlessly, for instance 25 times, 50 times, or 180 more times, irregardless of whatever answers were given – that there must be something altogether different, and nefarious at work. Something that erases the central difference between how we view ourselves and what we do in the world, and how we view the terrorists and what they do.
Update: #1: 4/21/09
Apparently, the reason that torture “erases the difference between how we view ourselves and what we do, and how we view the terrorists and what they do” was no accident but was instead based on a program cribbed from the Chinese during the Korean war:

The tactics, such as waterboarding, body slapping, the use of dogs and insects, prolonged standing, sleep deprivation and forced sexual humiliation are all part of the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) program.

“In SERE training, U.S. troops are briefly exposed, in a highly controlled setting, to abusive interrogation techniques used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions,” the report reads. “The techniques are based on tactics used by Chinese Communists against American soldiers during the Korean War for the purpose of eliciting false confessions for propaganda purposes. Techniques used in SERE training include stripping trainees of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, subjecting them to face and body slaps, depriving them of sleep, throwing them up against a wall, confining them in a small box, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures.

For the purpose of “eliciting false confessions”? Since no confessions were broadcast on behalf of the two AQ members that were tortured, exactly who wanted false confessions, and why?

Update#2: 4/22/09

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings alludes to the oblique observation – that the go to person in the Bush administration seeking to legalize the Chinese torture methods was none other than John Yoo. Ick!

Update#3: 4/23/09

Emptywheels latest post on the torture memos sees one possible answer to my above question “exactly who wanted false confessions and why”. And that would be those in Bush administration that were looking desperately for a connection between AQ and Saddam, in order to justify expanding the war on terror to include an invasion of Iraq – which had not yet happened. Apparently Dick Cheney felt confident enough in the prospects of “eliciting false confessions” that he went on the record announcing that there was indeed an active connection between AQ and Iraq when it had not had not only not been established, but at the same time both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zabaydah (pre torture?) absolutely denied any connection.

Update #4, 4/24/09

Ron Suskind on the Rachael Maddow program adds further confirmation that the White House was purposely using waterboard torture to force a confession from KSM and AZ that Iraq and AQ were connected – as a justification for the war in Iraq:

“What‘s fascinating, in the Senate report, is finally clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and mind you, the frustration inside of the White House that was actually driving action. The quote, in fact, inside of the Senate report from a major said that as frustration built inside of the White House, that there was no link that was established—because the CIA told the White House from the very start there is no Saddam/al Qaeda link. We checked it out. We did every which way. Sorry.

The White House simply wouldn‘t take no for an answer and it went with another method. Torture was the method. “Get me a confession, I don‘t care how you do it.” And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side. It‘s extraordinary.

Mind you, Rachel, this is important. This is not about an impetus to foil an upcoming potential al Qaeda attacks. The impetus here is largely political diplomatic. The White House had a political diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run-up to the war.”

To repeat that last sentence for emphasis – “This is not about an impetus to foil an upcoming potential al Qaeda attacks. The impetus here is largely political diplomatic. The White House had a political diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run-up to the war.”

crime of pleasure

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

forgiveness not, 2007

Emptywheel has a post up today on the newly released torture memos, that reveal some profoundly disturbing details. According to the documents (and in spite of the presidents denials that we torture) both Al Qaeda Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah were tortured by waterboarding. While it’s disturbing enough that the president broke both domestic and international laws in authorizing the torture in the first place, had doctors and psychologists (in violation of their hippocratic oath) assist in the procedures, and had the whole process filmed repeatedly by the CIA and delivered to the White House for viewing – these are bad enough, but, now it also comes to light that both men were not only subjected to torture, but tortured so many times repeatedly that it defies all comprehension. In the course of a month Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded no less than 184 times, and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 84 times during one month. That averages out to being waterboarded something like 6 and 3 times a day for 30 consecutive days. Bear in mind also that these procedures were not the so called “simulated drowning” technique (used in training), but the “real drowning” technique of actually pouring water into the respiratory system. Most experts in such matters agree that these methods are unreliable as intelligence gathering tools because the terror inspired by enduring one or two of these procedures is enough for the subject to begin confessing and admitting to what ever information they think the perpetrators are after in order to make it stop. The evidence of the intelligence received from these two, according to many accounts, would also confirm this, in that the only reliable information gathered was early in their confinement. And when the information flow began to slow to a tickle, the Bush administration then ordered that the torture increase in intensity to the astronomically absurd levels now being revealed.

There is really no other way to process or account for this information other than to view it as an act of pure sadistic sickness, hell bent, and addicted on the tactile pleasure of revenge. Is it any wonder that just a year or so after this, the Abu Ghraib debacle would also be revealed repeating the same mindset, if not in the same proportions. There’s no way any of this can be reduced to euphemism or the polite nomenclature of “what if’s” – this is pure evil, in undeniably large, unfathomable, and unwieldy quantities, that will not go away quietly, because there is a big difference between someone who commits a crime of passion and one who keeps his victim alive and locked in the cellar for his personal pleasure.

a clever, action-packed ride

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

2008, full frame color film image on 11″ x 14″ paper (click on image for enlargement)

two skys

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

2008, color transparency image (click on image for enlargement)

shadow cart

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

2007, full frame color film image on 11″ x 14″ paper (click on image to enlarge)

accidental pussycat

Friday, April 17th, 2009

2008, full frame color film image on 11″ x 14″ paper (click on image for enlargement)