Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
Prisoners of Hypocrisy
By Anthony Lappé, Guerrilla News Network
March 25, 2003
"American intelligence agents have been torturing terrorist suspects,
or engaging in practices pretty close to torture. They have also been
handing over suspects to countries, such as Egypt, whose intelligence
agencies have a reputation for brutality."
The Economist, London, January 11
You probably haven't heard this said too many times on progressive
sites like this one before, and you most likely won't hear it again
soon, so enjoy: Donald Rumsfeld is right.
When Iraqi television aired footage of five American POWs being
interrogated by Iraqi officials they did in fact violate the Geneva
Conventions, as the visibly pissed off Secretary of Defense charged
Sunday in interviews with CNN and other networks.
"It is absolutely clear that POWs have to be protected against insult
and public curiosity under Article 13 of the [Third] Geneva
Convention," Dina Dinah PoKempner, General Counsel for Human Rights
Watch, told GNN. "Public humiliation isn't part of humane treatment."
The footage, which also included grisly images of dead American
soldiers, aired around the world on the Arab-language Al-Jazeera
network. The footage showed a prisoner who identified herself as
Shoshana, 30, from Texas. Her eyes darted back and forth as she was
interviewed and she held her arms tightly in her lap as she was
At one point, the camera panned back, showing a massive white bandage
wrapped around her ankle. Her voice was very shaky.
The prisoners looked scared. One captive, who said he was from
Kansas, answered all his questions in a shaky voice, his eyes darting
back and forth between an interviewer and another person who couldn't
be seen on camera.
Iraqi TV attempted to interview a wounded man lying down, at one
point trying to cradle his head so it would hold steady for the
The first Geneva Convention was held in 1864 to adopt a universal
code of conduct for nations at war. In 1949 the Third Geneva
Convention was signed in an effort to address the many abuses of
prisoners and civilians suffered during World War II. It included
provisions to protect captured soldiers from being used as propaganda
With images of thousands of surrendering Iraqi troops being treated
decently by U.S. and British forces over the last couple of days, it
seems the Americans have, at least for now, scored a grim PR victory.
Despite claims they are not mistreating the prisoners, the Iraqis
However, the U.S. is in a precarious position to be complaining about
Iraqi war crimes. In the already ignored Afghanistan campaign (which
Dan Rather called the "forgotten war" this evening), the U.S. has a
dismal human rights record.
In November 2001, it's alleged that Northern Alliance warlord, heroin
trafficker and U.S. top-ally Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum rounded up
hundreds of Taliban fighters on behalf of U.S. forces and stuffed
them into cargo containers.
They were supposed to be headed for Sheberghan prison. But hundreds
never made it. They were left to asphyxiate in the air-tight
containers. Before dying, many licked each other's sweat, bit off
their fingertips or tore into their own arms and legs - and those of
others - in a desperate search for fluid.
A confidential UN memo leaked to Newsweek magazine in Sept. 2002
quoted a witness saying that 960 prisoners had died and were buried
in mass graves near Dasht-i-Laili.
Taliban Johnny's Magic Carpet Ride
Then there's America's most famous "enemy combatant" Taliban Johnny,
aka John Walker Lindh. Immediately after being captured following the
the brutal prison rebellion at Mazar-e-Sharif, the frail, frightened
American jihadist was interviewed by war zone aficionado Robert Young
Pelton (who was staying at Dostum's compound at the time). According
to an account in the New Yorker magazine, after asking his Special
Forces buddies to wait to "shoot him" until he was done, Pelton
interrogated the wounded Lindh under the gun of U.S. military
personnel. Later the military stripped him naked, taped him to a
gurney and threw him in the back of a transport plane back to the
U.S. Pelton's interview ran on CNN and was used to convict Lindh for
conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and to provide material support to
a terrorist organization. He is currently serving a 20-year sentence.
Gloves Come Off
Further complicating the United States' position on the top of the
moral high ground are allegations of on-going mistreatment of Taliban
and Al Qaeda prisoners at Camp X-Ray, in Afghanistan and
other "undisclosed" locations.
In December, the Washington Post ("U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends
Interrogations," 12/26/02) exposed how U.S. interrogators at Bagram
Air Force Base in Afghanistan, on the Indian Ocean island of Diego
Garcia, and at other overseas sites, have been systematically abusing
al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in a "brass-knuckled quest for
information" to uncover future terrorist plots. "Take-down teams,"
consisting of U.S. Army Special Forces troops, FBI and CIA agents and
Northern Alliance troops, blindfold and beat prisoners, throwing them
into walls, binding them for long periods in contorted positions and
depriving them of sleep for days at a time.
The teams then allegedly "package" some prisoners by hooding them,
duct-taping them to stretchers and then flying them to friendly
states less picky about the norms of human decency. According to the
Post article, approximately 100 prisoners have been sent to basements
in Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia for interrogations.
There has been little outcry over these charges because torture as an
interrogation technique has largely been embraced by the American
When Cofer Black, then head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center,
told House and Senate intelligence committees in Sept. 2002
that "there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After
9/11 the gloves come off" - few politicians complained.
Influential Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter wrote in a Nov. 2002
article that while he didn't support legalizing physical torture in
the U.S., he did suggest we consider using "legal" forms of
psychological torture at home, while "transferring some suspects to
our less squeamish allies."
Even prominent liberals like celebrity civil rights attorney and
death penalty opponent Alan Dershowitz have implicitly recognized a
gray area between torture and humane treatment.
But human rights advocates have been clear. In a letter to President
Bush, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch,
wrote: "Torture is always prohibited under any circumstances. U.S.
officials who take part in torture, authorize it, or even close their
eyes to it, can be prosecuted by courts anywhere in the world."
Rumsfeld has insisted that Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners have been
handled humanely. He will not, however, grant them "prisoner of war"
status. The U.S. position is they are not part of a "regular" army,
and are thus not protected by the Geneva Conventions - a distinction
that allows the Pentagon convenient wiggle-room.
Rumsfeld stated in Jan. 2002, "They will be handled not as prisoners
of war, because they're not, but as unlawful combatants. Technically
unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva
Convention. We have indicated that we do plan to, for the most part,
treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva
conventions, to the extent they are appropriate."
In other words, the law applies to us, only when we feel like it.
Let's hope, for Shoshana's sake, the Iraqis don't share such a
Anthony Lappé is Excutive Editor of GNN.tv. He has written for The
New York Times, New York, Details, and Salon, among many others.
Get Ready for PATRIOT II
By Matt Welch, AlterNet
April 2, 2003
The "fog of war" obscures more than just news from the battlefield.
It also provides cover for radical domestic legislation, especially
ill-considered liberty-for-security swaps, which have been
historically popular at the onset of major conflicts.
The last time allied bombs fell over a foreign capital, the Bush
Administration rammed through the USA PATRIOT Act, a clever acronym
for maximum with-us-or-against-us leverage (the full name is "Uniting
and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to
Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism").
Remarkably, this 342-page law was written, passed (by a 98-1 vote in
the U.S. Senate) and signed into law within seven weeks of the Sept.
11 terrorist attack. As a result, the government gained new power to
wiretap phones, confiscate property of suspected terrorists, spy on
its own citizens without judicial review, conduct secret searches,
snoop on the reading habits of library users, and so General John
Ashcroft wants to finish the job. On Jan. 10, 2003, he sent around a
draft of PATRIOT II; this time, called "The Domestic Security
Enhancement Act of 2003." The more than 100 new provisions, Justice
Department spokesperson Mark Corallo told the Village Voice
recently, "will be filling in the holes" of PATRIOT I, "refining
things that will enable us to do our job."
Though Ashcroft and his mouthpieces have issued repeated denials that
the draft represents anything like a finished proposal, the Voice
reported that: "Corallo confirmed ... that such measures were coming
You can read the entire 87-page draft here. Constitutional watchdog
Nat Hentoff has called it "the most radical government plan in our
history to remove from Americans their liberties under the Bill of
Rights." Some of DSEA's more draconian provisions:
Americans could have their citizenship revoked, if found to have
contributed "material support" to organizations deemed by the
government, even retroactively, to be "terrorist." As Hentoff wrote
in the Feb. 28 Village Voice: "Until now, in our law, an American
could only lose his or her citizenship by declaring a clear intent to
abandon it. But - and read this carefully from the new bill - 'the
intent to relinquish nationality need not be manifested in words, but
can be inferred from conduct.'" (Italics Hentoff's.)
Legal permanent residents (like, say, my French wife), could be
deported instantaneously, without a criminal charge or even evidence,
if the Attorney General considers them a threat to national security.
If they commit minor, non-terrorist offenses, they can still be
booted out, without so much as a day in court, because the law would
exempt habeas corpus review in some cases. As the American Civil
Liberties Union stated in its long brief against the DSEA, "Congress
has not exempted any person from habeas corpus - a protection
guaranteed by the Constitution - since the Civil War."
The government would be instructed to build a mammoth database of
citizen DNA information, aimed at "detecting, investigating,
prosecuting, preventing or responding to terrorist activities."
Samples could be collected without a court order; one need only be
suspected of wrongdoing by a law enforcement officer. Those refusing
the cheek-swab could be fined $200,000 and jailed for a
year. "Because no federal genetic privacy law regulates DNA
databases, privacy advocates fear that the data they contain could be
misused," Wired News reported March 31. "People with 'flawed' DNA
have already suffered genetic discrimination at the hands of
employers, insurance companies and the government."
Authorities could wiretap anybody for 15 days, and snoop on anyone's
Internet usage (including chat and email), all without obtaining a
The government would be specifically instructed not to release any
information about detainees held on suspicion of terrorist
activities, until they are actually charged with a crime. Or, as
Hentoff put it, "for the first time in U.S. history, secret arrests
will be specifically permitted."
Businesses that rat on their customers to the Feds - even if the
information violates privacy agreements, or is, in fact, dead wrong -
would be granted immunity. "Such immunity," the ACLU
contended, "could provide an incentive for neighbor to spy on
neighbor and pose problems similar to those inherent in Attorney
General Ashcroft's Operation TIPS."
Police officers carrying out illegal searches would also be granted
legal immunity if they were just carrying out orders.
Federal "consent decrees" limiting local law enforcement agencies'
abilities to spy on citizens in their jurisdiction would be rolled
back. As Howard Simon, executive director of Florida's ACLU, noted in
a March 19 column in the Sarasota Herald Tribune: "The restrictions
on political surveillance were hard-fought victories for civil
liberties during the 1970s."
American citizens could be subject to secret surveillance by their
own government on behalf of foreign countries, including
The death penalty would be expanded to cover 15 new offenses.
And many of PATRIOT I's "sunset provisions" - stipulating that the
expanded new enforcement powers would be rescinded in 2005 - would be
erased from the books, cementing Ashcroft's rushed legislation in the
law books. As UPI noted March 10, "These sunset provisions were a
concession to critics of the bill in Congress."
I wouldn't be writing this article today had an alarmed Justice
Department staffer not leaked the draft to the Center for Public
Integrity in early February. Ashcroft, up to that point, had
repeatedly refused to even discuss what his lawyers might be cooking
up. But if 10,000 residents of Los Angeles had been vaporized by
a "suitcase nuke" in late January, it is reasonable to assume that
the then-secret proposal would have been speed-delivered for a
congressional vote, even though Congress has not so far participated
in drafting the legislation (which is, after all, its Constitutional
As a result of the leak, and the ensuing bad press, opposition to the
measure has had time to gather momentum before the first bomb was
dropped on Saddam's bunker. Some of the criticism has originated from
the right side of the political spectrum - a March 17 open letter to
Congress was signed not only by the ACLU and People for the American
Way, but the cultural-conservative think tank Free Congress
Foundation, the Gun Owners of America, the American Conservative
Union, and more.
One does not have to believe that Ashcroft is a Constitution-
shredding ghoul to find these measures alarming, improper and
possibly illegal. Glancing over the list above, and at the other DSEA
literature, I can see multiple ways in which a Fed with a grudge
could legally ruin my life. Removing checks and balances on law
enforcement assumes perfect behavior on the part of the police.
Safeguarding civil liberties is an unpopular project in the most
placid of times. Since Sept. 11, the Bush Administration has shown
that it will push the envelope on nearly every restriction it
considers to be impeding its prosecution of the war on terrorism.
This single-minded drive requires extreme vigilance, before the fog
of war becomes toxic.
Detailed critiques of the Patriot II draft have been prepared by the
ACLU and the Center for Public Integrity. The Lawyers Committee for
Human Rights also has a useful 98-page report on post-Sept. 11 civil
liberties, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center maintains an
outstanding PATRIOT-related site.
Matt Welch is the Los Angeles correspondent for the National Post,
and an editor of the L.A. Examiner. He also maintains a weblog about