Associated Articles 2
We have by now all seen much of this material before, but reading it all in one piece, told by human voices in this book-length interview, is not easy to take. "Guantánamo: What the World Should Know" (Chelsea Green) by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray becomes a heart-stopper once you cross the line and realize that you could be any of these victims.
Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is co-counsel in Rasul v. Bush, the historic case of Guantánamo detainees now before the U.S. Supreme Court. His interviewer, Ellen Ray, is President of the Institute for Media Analysis, and a widely published author and editor on U.S. intelligence and international politics.
It's hard to say which is more disgusting, the descriptions of the torture or the bone-chilling analyses of how the president of the United States gave himself the powers of an absolute military dictator. Under Military Order No. 1, which the president issued without congressional authority on November 13, 2001, George W. Bush has ordered people captured or detained from all over the world, flown to Guantánamo and tortured in a lawless zone where, the White House asserts, prisoners have no rights of any kind at all and can be kept forever at his pleasure. Despite the at-best marginal intervention of the American courts so far, there is no civilian judicial review, no due process of any kind.
While any military force will routinely violate the civil rights of anyone who gets in its way, Ratner's descriptions of how victims wound up in Guantánamo reveal wanton cruelty and callousness that will nauseate any sane human being.
Ratner writes: "A lot of the people picked up by warlords of the Northern Alliance were kept in metal shipping containers, so tightly packed that they had to ball themselves up, and the heat was unbearable. According to some detainees who were held in the containers and eventually released from Guantánamo, only a small number, thirty to fifty people in a container filled with three to four hundred people survived. And some of those released said that the Americans were in on this, that the Americans were shining lights on the containers. The people inside were suffocating, so the Northern Alliance soldiers shot holes into the containers, killing some of the prisoners inside."
Some prisoners were captured in battle; many others were picked up in random sweeps for no reason at all except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As usual in these kinds of operations, some were turned in as a result of petty revenge or as an excuse to steal their property. When asked in court to explain the criteria for detention, the government had no answer. There were no criteria, it appears. "The government even made the ridiculous argument before the Supreme Court that the prisoners get to tell their side of the story, by being interrogated," Ratner reports.
Ratner notes that 134 of the 147 prisoners later released from Guantánamo were guilty of absolutely nothing. Only thirteen were sent on to jail. He believes it is possible that a substantial majority of the Guantánamo prisoners had nothing to do with any kind of terrorism. One prisoner released after a year claimed he was somewhere between ninety and one hundred years old, according to Ratner. Old, frail and incontinent, he wept constantly, shackled to a walker.
Posted by Stefan Molyneux, MA at 4/08/2009 11:02:00 AM
Human Rights Crusader Michael Ratner: We'll Keep Going After Bush and Cheney When They Leave Office
By Joshua Holland for AlterNet. Posted December 3, 2007.
This week, the next round in the Bush administration's epic struggle against 800 years of Anglo-American legal tradition will unfold as the Supreme Court hears the latest in the "Guantanamo cases." The case will hinge on the question of whether detainees being held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base have the right to a day in court to challenge the circumstances of their imprisonment. At issue is the more fundamental matter of whether the president of the United States has the power to detain people indefinitely and without due process under the rubric of a nebulous "war on terror."
Since the attacks of 9/11, the Center for Constitutional Rights and its president, Michael Ratner, have been at the center of the battle; CCR's played David to Bush's Goliath from the very beginning.
Ratner and his colleagues are not new to using the legal system to keep the government in check, nor are they unfamiliar with the controversy that inevitably surrounds that process. The Center, born of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, has been at the forefront of human rights litigation ever since. CCR pursued the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in courts around the world and sued both the first Bush administration in an attempt to stop the Gulf War and the Clinton administration for bombing Kosovo. Ratner served as a special adviser to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president of Haiti who was deposed in a U.S.-supported coup, and won a key war crimes case against former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
But it's been the excesses of the Bush administration, especially at "Gitmo," that have thrust Ratner and what was once a radical legal shop into the international spotlight. "Here's Michael Ratner and CCR," Ratner said, "who were once considered to be firmly on the left but are now defending bread-and-butter constitutional issues that we never really thought would be in jeopardy, like habeas corpus." His involvement in what would become such a "mainstream" legal fight was "a transition for me personally as well as for the center politically," he added.
Ratner will be named the seventh winner of the Nation Institute/ Puffin Foundation award for "creative citizenship" this week. "I like the description," he said. "It's for taking on the status quo in a socially responsible way and in a way that required taking a risk. For me it's not the personal aspect, it's the acknowledgment that you have to take risks in this very difficult country if you want to make any real progress."
AlterNet interviewed Ratner at his New York home to discuss the case, Guantanamo and the ramifications of the so-called "war on terror."
Joshua Holland: Let's start with a little background on the case.
Michael Ratner: This all started shortly after the attacks of 9/11, in fact on Nov. 14, 2001, when the president issued what he called Military Order No. 1. Military Order No. 1 was what I call the "coup d'etat order," because it basically said the president could pick up any noncitizen -- at that point; it's now been extended to citizens -- anywhere in the world and hold them forever, and not allow them to go into a court to get what we call a writ of habeas corpus. That's the right to go to court and challenge your detention. So they could simply be held forever if they were a noncitizen and alleged terrorist -- not just Al Qaeda, but all "alleged terrorists." And the other part of the order said that if they were tried, they were to be tried by special military commissions.
So that's six weeks after 9/11, and we have what I called at the time the underpinnings of a police state. By that time, you already had the PATRIOT Act -- by Nov. 13 -- you had the roundups in New York City and around the country of noncitizen Muslims, with 5,000 of them taken to various jails, so you had a lot of bad stuff going on already. But that order of Nov. 13 was a power grab by the executive that I was just astounded by.
But, of course, that's not even close to what we have today. I mean when I look back at that time, what I thought was going on then was bad, but it's Mickey Mouse compared to what's happened since.
At the same time, you have to understand that people were still very nervous, the city was still mourning and it was a situation in which we were all still very frightened. There was that anthrax stuff and a lot of talk of sleeper cells everywhere. But when I read that order of Nov. 13, I said to myself: "We have to do something about this. We're going to represent the first people taken under this order." And even though there was talk at that time about how those being picked up were "the worst of the worst," I thought that this right, the right of habeas corpus, is so fundamental that it has to be defended. The difference between a police state and a nonpolice state is, fundamentally, whether the executive can pick you up and disappear you or whether you can go to a court and challenge the executive, whether you can say: "What's the legal reason you're holding me?"
Holland: That said, the Washington Post reported that you had misgivings at first about defending criminal cases -- that you were a New Yorker, you were here on 9/11, and that you at first wanted to defend the legal principle without defending anyone actually accused of being involved in the attacks. Tell me about that -- what changed?
Ratner: There were two issues that came up in terms of representing people. First, there was an institutional issue for the Center, and that was that we would be going in to defend those Rumsfeld had described as the "worst of the worst," and for all we knew we could be representing people who had actually been involved in the conspiracy to blow up the World Trade Center.
And at the first moment when I decided to take these cases, I said, "Look, what I'm fighting for is the writ of habeas corpus and the right to go to court." I wasn't saying that I would personally be able to defend someone involved in flying planes into the World Trade Center. I mean, I went into the law to represent people with whom I'm in general political agreement -- I looked at the law as a tool of social change.
So I had those doubts at first, but I've shifted because of what we've seen since then. First of all because of who's at Guantanamo. They're certainly not the worst of the worst; half of them have already been freed, and the people there are mostly the wrong people.
But we are representing a couple of people who the government claims are somehow involved with Al Qaeda -- Majid Khan is one. And, you know, he was tortured -- at least we think he was tortured -- he was taken to secret sites, and the idea that the government can do that is so ... medieval in my mind, that whatever Majid Khan is -- and I don't believe he was actually involved -- you have to offer people who the government claims were involved a real defense.
There were risks to the Center for taking those cases, and at the time we were the only human rights firm that was willing to move forward on them. Back then, the only lawyers who were willing to work on them were death penalty lawyers who are used to going into cases that are very unpopular.
So that's the background. And the first thing we filed was a writ of habeas corpus for David Hicks, who was an Australian taken on Jan. 11, 2002, to Guantanamo, a couple of English guys and some Kuwaitis. And in our first victory, the court said that the anathema with which executive detention is held exists because it undermines every other right you have -- if the executive can just put you in a cell and lose the key and disappear you without releasing your name ...
Holland: Let me just interrupt for a second here ... there's a clause in the Constitution that gives specific circumstances for the suspension of habeas corpus, right?
Ratner: It's called the Suspension Clause, and it says that the writ of habeas corpus can be suspended only in the case of invasion or rebellion.
Ratner: It's very narrow, and it's Congress that needs to suspend it. And, I mean, it's completely fundamental to liberty -- the actual habeas statute goes back to 1689 in England, but the concept goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215.
So we filed those writs, in February of 2002, for clients in Guantanamo who we couldn't speak with, who were being held incommunicado, who didn't even know we were working on their behalf. And the fact is that the choice of Guantanamo was obviously an intentional one because the Bush administration thought there would be no legal rights there. There's an early memo from Alberto Gonzales actually talking about how the government would have a good chance of maintaining its position that there were no rights at Guantanamo -- that it was essentially a law-free zone.
But we lost very quickly -- we lost in the district court and then in the circuit court.
Holland: OK, so just to clarify: The government's main contention in the case Rasul v. Bush was that Guantanamo Bay -- the American base -- wasn't sovereign U.S. territory, it was basically Cuban territory. Is that right?
Ratner: The administration maintained that they didn't have sovereignty over that territory; Cuba had ultimate sovereignty. And the word "sovereignty" was their sort of talisman, their way of saying: "This is Cuban.' And we're arguing: "No, the U.S. has complete 'jurisdiction and control' over the base."
Holland: So in 2004, you basically win on this question.
Ratner: In June 2004, we win. But here it gets a bit tricky. There are two parts of habeas: There's the constitutional right, and then there's the statute that implements the constitutional clause. The court's ruling went on the statute.
It's a critical victory -- the New York Times called it the most important civil rights victory in 50 years. It vindicates the decision of the Center for Constitutional Rights in taking on these cases and demonstrated that the risks we took were necessary for any lawyer who's serious about human rights.
And after that victory we got a lot of support -- from big-firm attorneys and small-firm attorneys and Republicans and Democrats -- people who just thought the idea of executive detention was just complete anathema to the Constitution and everything they stood for. The people who got this issue more than the American public were the attorneys, who were trained in these matters.
Holland: So you're getting more support from other lawyers, the detainees at Guantanamo are able to communicate with counsel, and that brings us to 2005.
Ratner: Right. By 2005, the government is going on the offensive, and they're setting up an alternate system instead of going to federal court -- a military tribunal system -- but they're mainly going to the Republican-controlled Congress, and they get passed what's called the Detainee Treatment Act, which strips habeas corpus from everybody at Guantanamo. And it did so by repealing the statute. So we get back in court again -- by "we" I mean the attorney in another related case -- and the Supreme Court says Congress didn't do it right. So in June of 2006, the court restores the right of habeas again.
We still at this point haven't had one factual hearing in a federal court. So we try to get a factual hearing for these Guantanamo detainees. But Congress wasn't done -- they were at it again, and they pass what's called the Military Commissions Act, and this time they learned from the Supreme Court's original ruling, and they stripped habeas completely, in every which way you can. Sadly, a lot of Democrats went along with that bill. It does other things that are terrible, like amnestying [intelligence officials accused of violating U.S. laws against torture], allowing evidence that came out of torture, all kinds of stuff.
At that point we went back into court and are now, on Dec. 5, going to the Supreme Court with 37 clients -- it'll be argued by Seth Waxman, who's not with the Center, on behalf of all the clients -- and the Dec. 5 case is the case that will, conceivably, determine whether the Constitution's suspension of the habeas clause protects people at Guantanamo, which, according to the government's view, is ostensibly outside the United States.
Holland: A direct challenge to the Military Commissions Act passed in October of 2006.
Ratner: Right. It's huge. Now, it's still going to mean more delay -- let's say we win, we'll still have a lot of work getting each person out. But I think that every single time the government has been faced with a real hearing, where they have to come up with evidence, the person has been released or sent home. So I'm confident that a large majority of people at Guantanamo will not be there in a year from now if we get them even a semblance of legal rights.
Holland: I want to move from the domestic law -- from that approach -- and touch on some issues of international law as well. We've seen Rumsfeld skipping a key NATO conference in Germany, and more recently he had to flee Paris to avoid -- depending on who you ask -- to avoid being entangled in legal problems resulting from U.S. torture policies. All of that gets to the concept of universal jurisdiction, which comes into force when a country is unwilling or unable to prosecute certain crimes in its own domestic courts.
First, have we reached that point? Are we living in a country where there's a culture of impunity? Are international remedies the only avenues for accountability, or is this case really going to determine that?
Ratner: That issue is somewhat different from the Guantanamo issue. Only the Supreme Court can determine whether the Guantanamo detainees get habeas corpus rights, because they're in U.S. custody. But Guantanamo isn't just about detention -- there's torture involved. And other courts can determine the issue of accountability. So we're trying to get rights for the detainees to test their detentions, but at the same time, torture, and other related activities, is also a violation of the law.
So the second question is how do you get accountability for U.S. officials who have violated that law? And in that sense, we're living in a closed system in the United States. There is absolutely nothing on the horizon indicating that accountability is going to be there for what Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney have done. We're talking about torture, the illegal war in Iraq, for what's called "extraordinary rendition" -- sending people to be tortured -- for the disappearances, for holding special military trials. These are a series of fundamental human rights violations that we at the Center have in the past sued other dictators for when they entered the United States.
So if I -- or the Center -- want to get accountability for Rumsfeld's torture techniques, which are open and acknowledged, or waterboarding, which is open and acknowledged -- these are clear violations of the universal right to be free of torture, and of our own convention against torture, passed by the United States -- we could not do that in the United States.
Look at the avenues. Congress has been milquetoast, even under the Democrats. There's not been one serious hearing on the origins of the torture program, not one serious hearing on waterboarding in which they've brought people to task. So Congress, sad to say, is dead in the water in terms of accountability. Certainly nobody at the Justice Department is going to do anything about it.
In the courts, there have been a series of cases filed directly against Rumsfeld and others for torture and on all of them so far, the courts have found that those people are either immune from suit or the cases would expose "state secrets" and you can't litigate them.
Lastly, the population is very quiescent on these issues, although there are strong grassroots groups working against torture. So the country is basically a hermetic system -- there's nothing we can do in the short term, and maybe not in the long term, to get accountability here, so what we've had to do is go abroad.
There are now two kinds of cases going on in Europe. The cases against Rumsfeld are universal jurisdiction cases, where torture can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. And I'm feeling pretty good about the Rumsfeld cases, because they're getting notoriety and people are understanding what's going on. We're making the world smaller for Rumsfeld -- he's not going to go back to France or Germany -- and in January or February we're looking to file in Spain, and in Spain you have Guantanamo detainees who were tortured under Rumsfeld's program and that gives the Spanish an extra incentive -- they can't just bury the case because there were Spanish citizens involved.
Holland: And you've said that you will continue to go after these officials for torture, even after they're out of office.
Ratner: Oh, yes. In fact, the case in Spain is already far along -- I've been spending more time in Europe than I ever did to get these cases going.
Holland: Might this go as high as George W. Bush himself?
Ratner: Well, we didn't name Bush or Cheney in any of these cases because they, as current office holders -- as essentially heads of state -- have immunity from national courts. They wouldn't be immune from a U.N. court, if there were ever a kind of Nuremberg Tribunal -- but they are from national courts. So while we have them named as unindicted co-conspirators, we don't list them as actual defendants. But we certainly will, afterwards, and ...
Holland: Wait, let me make sure I got that. You're saying that after 2009 -- January of 2009 -- you will be adding them to the complaints?
Ratner: Oh, absolutely. They're on the hook then. And it's going to be a hot world for them, because the world knows this -- this is an emperor's new clothes situation, because everyone in the world knows that the U.S. is running a torture program. You have to remember, this wasn't kept secret. And in my view, it was purposely exposed either because there was a desire to get vengeance, or because of machismo, or just to say to the Muslim world: "If you fall into our hands, we're going to take you to Guantanamo and we're going to torture you" as a way of controlling that population. It's been done intentionally and openly, and they've gotten the American public, somehow, to go along with it. They've convinced many people that they're safer, or that these are just a bunch of Muslims, and we don't give a damn what happens to them.
Holland: Let me take a step back from these cases for a second and ask about the larger picture. All of this comes in the context of a post-9/11 world, and we've spoken about how the Democrats have been involved not only in authorizing the war on Iraq, but at every stage there has been at least a group of Democrats who have gone along with the administration. So I want to get into the question of framing the issue of terrorism as a "war" in the first place.
After 9/11 there was almost a consensus that we would go to war against Al Qaeda rather than approaching it as a law enforcement issue -- the same way that organized crime gangs, for example, are dealt with. But throughout our history, the civil liberties standards have always been lowered during wartime. So what was the consequence, in your view, of not pushing back, early on, against the narrative that we needed to wage a "war" on terror?
Ratner: I think this is the most crucial issue ... this is not just in the past, it's also in the future -- this is the crucial issue in all of these debates.
The narrative that happened after 9/11 is a narrative that I didn't accept. I wrote at the time that it absolutely had to be treated as a criminal act. You cannot take a terrorist gang, a mafia gang or any other group and say that it's a war against that gang, because what happens is that you take what are the loosest set of rules we have for dealing with human beings, which are the rules of warfare -- and you apply them where they don't apply.
And then you need to apply them selectively, because they don't really fit. So you can say on the one hand that the law of war allows us to hold people until the end of a conflict, but that means until the end of a particular conflict that's going to last some number of years. The assumption is that there's another country on the other side, that you'll negotiate issues like prisoner of war exchanges. But when you use that for a terrorist band, and you say the laws of war apply, well the war against "terror" never ends, so you're claiming the right to hold those people forever.
So by using that analogy, what we've actually set up is a massive preventive detention scheme that has nothing to do with real war, but has to do with criminality. The president can say: "The world is my battlefield, even the United States, and I can pick up Michael Ratner or Joshua Holland tomorrow, and I can hold them as enemy combatants forever, with minimal process, even though they're U.S. citizens, and never even charge them with a crime."
And the idea that that wasn't challenged early on -- and I agree that progressives didn't even take it on -- is incredible.
Now, let's be clear: You can use force against terrorist bands, and Congress authorized that. But does that use of force mean that, after you capture somebody, you can detain them forever? It doesn't follow -- just because you can use force against some group doesn't mean you can hold people indefinitely. But people just don't get it. I don't know if it's falling on deaf ears, but I think we've lost the debate in the United States and I think we've lost it even among some progressives, and that's all related to the so-called "war."
What we've done here is made this into a global conflagration in which you're treating alleged terrorists as warriors, as if it's the U.S. against another huge force, and what that allows you to do, of course, is to completely eliminate and destroy civil liberties at home and abroad. All that when we may have been initially facing a band of only a couple of hundred people.
And of course you have the next stage, which is Iraq, and although there were a lot of lies told about Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and all that, it was the war paradigm that allowed them to tell those lies in the first place. Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer.
Tortured by Torture
By Erik Swanson
The New Hampshire – Commentary
February 2, 2005
"They poured cold water over me and applied electric shocks to my genitals. I was also beaten by several people with cables on my arms and back."
"During the first three days there was continuous torture. I was beaten with an aluminum rod and with cables. Then I was told to sign a statement with my hands tied behind my back, so I didn't even see the paper, and I don't know what I signed."
You might assume that the quotes above come from Iraqis suffering under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Saddam wasn't shy about using torture to extract information. Of course, this sort of thing appalls us Americans. The whole reason we invaded Iraq was to quell these human rights abuses once and for all.
Wasn't it? Sure, at first there was talk about terrorists and WMDs, but when it became clear that Saddam had no WMDs or ties to terrorists we still had a good reason to invade. To bring freedom and democracy to Iraq.
Unfortunately, it didn't work. The quotes above were from two of the 90 Iraqi detainees that Human Rights Watch interviewed for their 94-page report, "The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody." It's pretty grim. "Methods of torture cited by detainees include routine beatings to the body using cables, hosepipes and other implements," read the report. "Detainees report kicking, slapping and punching, prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days. In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability." Of the 90 men, women, and children interviewed, 72 alleged torture or ill-treatment.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division, said, "The people of Iraq were promised something better than this after the government of Saddam Hussein fell. The Iraqi interim government is not keeping its promises to honor and respect basic human rights." She went on to say, "We unequivocally condemn the insurgents' brutality. But international law is unambiguous on this point: no government can justify torture of detainees in the name of security."
That's true. Michael Ratner, co-author of the recent book Guantanamo: What the World Should Know makes precisely the same point: "Even if one argues that al Qaeda suspects [that America holds in Cuba] are not governed by the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and other human rights treaties ratified by the United States prohibit torture as well as other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The convention is crystal clear: under no circumstances can you torture people, whatever you call them, whether illegal combatants, enemy combatants, murderers, killers. You cannot torture anybody, ever; it's an absolute prohibition."
Whether you believe (as I do, after reading Seymour Hersch in The New Yorker) that torture committed by U.S. forces at Abu Ghirab and elsewhere in Iraq was an intentional policy to gather intelligence, or whether you believe the Bush administration's story that torture there was committed by a few bad apples that have now been brought to justice, there's no denying that torture is now rampant in Iraq's prisons under the Allawi government. Dahr Jamail, one of the very few American reporters who are able to move freely in Iraq, reports that there is some particularly dark humor circulating in Baghdad. A recent detainee told him, "The Americans brought electricity to my [expletive] before they brought it to my house!"
Iraq finally held its elections, and you could argue that Iraqis will eventually elect a government that will renounce torture. I hope that's true. Given a choice, people usually vote for freedom and human rights. Of course, here in America we didn't, did we? We voted for the torturers. The ACLU reported this week that American detainee abuses have been almost completely ignored by our government. In one gruesome episode, members of Special Forces Task Force 20 were accused of sodomizing an elderly Iraqi woman with a stick. Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney said, "Investigations were abandoned before relevant witnesses were questioned, and in some investigations where guilt was found, soldiers who engaged in heinous crimes were sent back to their posts with what amounts to a slap on the wrist."
I realize that some of you might be saying, "Good. Screw 'em. They're the bad guys." But there are reasons why the United Nations Convention Against Torture exists, and there are reasons why America signed on to it in the first place. It's so our people don't get tortured. If we sign on to treaties like this, it gives us the moral standing to keep our own people from being tortured. That's important.
Torture is always wrong. We must demand that it end, both here and in Iraq.
Why the World Must Know: Publisher Margo Baldwin on Guantánamo
from Narcosphere, a project of the Narcor News bulletin
By Benjamin Melancon,
Mon Jan 31, 2005
"Guantanamo just outraged me," wrote Margo Baldwin in a recent e-mail interview. President and publisher of Chelsea Green Publishing, Baldwin took the initiative to get the book Guantánamo: What the World Should Know
written and published. The results are unfolding on the Narco News Bulletin front page and can be purchased at the Salon Chingón giftshop.
Baldwin could herself have written a good-sized article, if not a book, on the United States government's capture, incarceration, inhuman treatment, and unstopping interrogation of foreigners at its military installation carved off of Cuba's sovereign land:
The media's coverage of Guantanamo has been incredibly simplistic. They just don’t deal with the larger legal issues about what’s going on. They never discuss the basically unlimited powers that Bush has taken on as commander-in-chief, never discuss the idea that detaining people indefinitely goes against 400 years of the rule of law. Nobody seems to make the connection that if he can do it to those people he can do it here or anywhere. Pathetic! Then, when [Guantánamo co-author Michael Ratner and the Center for Constitutional Rights] did win the cases before the Supreme Court, it basically hasn’t made any difference. The Bush administration has continued to deny any legal rights to the detainees and the media don't even mention it. Incredible!
Margo Baldwin founded Chelsea Green with her husband Ian in 1984, but had left day-to-day running it in 1992, as did Ian in 1998. Chelsea Green had become the leading publisher of books on sustainable living, and today has well over 200 titles in print, including the best-selling The Man Who Planted Trees, The Straw Bale House, and Eliot Coleman's The Four Season Harvest and The New Organic Grower. But after the company had a very bad year in 2002, and faced with the prospect of having the company sold, Baldwin stepped back in instead.
I knew that if the company was to survive and prosper that we had to break out of our "environment/sustainaibility" niche and do books, not just on the how-to, but on the politics of "authentic" living, which includes human rights, social justice, war and peace issues, and resistance to the culture at large. Because they're all connected: organic gardening is political, as is sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, green building, real food, etc. Low and behold, it worked!
Their national best-seller on progressive political strategy, Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff, has put the company in a position to do profit-sharing with it's employees ("because," Baldwin wrote, "we have a profit").
Chelsea Green's vision statement reflects the remarkable reorientation of its editorial mission in 2003:
With the destruction of the natural world ramped up to epidemic proportions, one wonders what “sustainable” really means. Indeed, one begins to wonder what “living” really means or will come to mean in the opening decade of the twenty-first century. Can anything be deemed sustainable when life itself–in all its myriad forms–is threatened at so many levels? Is it enough to focus on the how-to of “green living” in the face of such overwhelming force, the “shock and awe” of forest and ecosystem destruction, the rampant plundering of the world’s oceans, the terror of GMO-contaminated food, and the unintended consequences of biotechnology?
A new worldwide grassroots movement is taking shape. In India, Africa, and South America, in countries left “behind” and stripped of their resources and cultures, people increasingly feel that they have no choice: In order to continue living, they must reclaim, must lay claim to, their ecosystems, their food and water, their land and housing, their sufficiencies. It’s a new kind of politics, what Arundhati Roy calls, “Not the politics of governance, but the politics of resistance. The politics of opposition. The politics of forcing accountability. The politics of slowing things down. The politics of joining hands across the world and preventing certain destruction1.” It is the new, vibrant politics of sustainable living.
We wish to move the company forward boldly and with a new sense of urgency. While continuing our commitment to remain at the forefront of information about green building, organic growing, and renewable energy--the practical aspects of sustainability–we will also publish for a new politics of sustainability, for the cultural resistance that living demands of us now.
As co-author Ellen Ray wrote in her interviewer's preface, Baldwin didn't just ask that the book be written, she also pushed for the hard-hitting interview format. Baldwin explained the advantages of an interview style: Short, simple to understand, leads the reader through a set of questions and tells the story that way. Think of all the radio interviews we hear. They work very well. Why not do that more in writing? People are used to getting information that way. Seems like a more immediate and simpler way of getting certain kinds of information out there. These short, activist books need to come out fast and the interview format allows that. Also, in this case, Michael was so incredibly busy with the legal work that we would never have been able to take the time to sit down and write a book about Guantanamo. Ellen was able to do a series of interviews with him and then go back through the transcripts and do the heavy lifting to make it into a book. It was a lot of work and she really did a great job.
Despite the timeliness of its publication, coinciding with a historic Supreme Court victory, Baldwin said the book has received little press.
Basically the mainstream media have totally ignored it. No reviews, nothing. We even hired 2 different publicity firms. The issue has gotten a lot of coverage and even Michael has gotten a lot of coverage but not the book. Also, I think there is resistance from the public — people just don’t really want to know about this. It’s too depressing or something. Hard to get people to buy a book about torture and illegal detentions; they just don’t want to know.
Guantánamo will be the first Chelsea Green book published serially on-line, and Baldwin is glad of the opportunity to collaborate with Narco News: "I just want our books out there in the world where they'll get used!"
Anything more we can do to spread awareness about Guantanamo and illegal detentions in general will be good. Also, immediately if more people oppose Gonzales it’s just possible that we could derail his nomination. A long shot, I know, but worth a try. He’s really bad and one of the architects of all this totalitarian legal work. He needs to be opposed big time and if our book can help, great.
MoveOn.org calls for people to sign the Statement against Torture asking Senators not to confirm Gonzales unless he accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Baldwin is also donating copies of Guantánamo to bloggers who join a DailyKos petition against Gonzales.
The information to contact U.S. senators can be found at senate.gov and, including fax numbers, here: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/.
Margo Baldwin and Chelsea Green Publishing, in addition to letting Narco News publish the book on-line, donated books so the proceeds go to the Fund for Authentic Journalism. "Just seems like the right thing to do," Baldwin wrote.
In the Penal Colony
by Lisa Hajjar
from The Nation
January 20, 2005
A lberto Gonzales's nomination to succeed John Ashcroft as Attorney General put the Abu Ghraib torture scandal back on the front pages, since he was directly implicated, as White House counsel, in the formulation of policies authorizing and justifying the mistreatment of prisoners that paved the road to Abu Ghraib. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales was grilled about his judgment and views on torture. His responses were emblematic of the Bush Administration's "never say sorry" record: While he expressed the requisite abhorrence of torture, he refused to give Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and others what they wanted: a clear repudiation of the reasoning in the infamous "torture memos" that were declassified in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
A good deal of credit for the political pressure to release the torture memos belongs to New Yorker writer Seymour Hersh. His April 30, 2004, report on the Abu Ghraib prison investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba provided a deeper context for the shocking photos televised one day earlier on CBS's 60 Minutes II. Taguba had discovered not only deplorable conditions and chaos but unlawful interrogation tactics and patterns of prisoner treatment linking Iraq to Afghanistan and Guantánamo. Hersh's exposé jolted Congress into bipartisan--if short-lived--action; the Senate Armed Services Committee called for Bush Administration officials to do more than blame a few "bad apples," and the dissembling, evasiveness and, in Ashcroft's case, stonewalling merely increased pressure on the Administration to come clean. In June the first batch of secret memos was released, and multiple official investigations were tasked to report on detention and interrogation policies and practices. This documentary record failed to provide the vaunted cleansing, but it has substantially enriched our understanding of the history of the present.
That Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib story is no surprise, since he is unrivaled among American investigative journalists as a leak magnet for disgruntled insiders and whistleblowing frontliners. His book Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, provides a clear-eyed and sweeping survey of the terrain of American policy and the dispositions and activities of its makers. The use of torture, Hersh argues, began in Afghanistan, where Pentagon civilians sought to transform what they viewed as an "overly cautious" military culture, and spread in the late summer of 2003 to Iraq, where a growing insurgency fed desperation for "actionable intelligence." The larger question that Hersh's book raises is: How did a small group of neoconservatives come to monopolize and radically reshape US policy, intimidate the press, mislead Congress and dominate the military?
Good question, but while neoconservatism may help explain much about American military and foreign policy after 9/11, it doesn't account for the legal reasoning that set the conditions for the torture scandal. For that, we need to look to the Federalist Society, an organization established by right-wing lawyers in the early 1980s to redress "liberal bias" in American law schools and the legal profession. The thinking and influence of Federalist Society types who dominate legal positions (and judicial appointments) in the Bush Administration are laid bare in the torture memos, which document the triumph of international law-averse officials in the Justice Department, the Pentagon and the White House over dissenting voices in the State Department and sectors of the professional military. The victors' most egregious mistake was to conflate international humanitarian law--the laws of war--with other bodies of international law, especially human rights law, which they loathe as constraints on US sovereignty.
The Torture Papers, edited by Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel, reproduces many of the torture memos as well as reports of four military investigations (Taguba, Mikolashek, Schlesinger and Fay-Jones) and a February 2004 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Torture and Truth presents fewer memos and reports, but offers a collection of Abu Ghraib photos, affidavits of some Iraqi victims and editor Mark Danner's incisive analysis, which originally appeared in the New York Review of Books. Danner relates and compares the "logic of torture" in the current American wars to what happened in Vietnam, French Algeria, Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. Part of this history, he explains, entailed the evolution of torture tactics from sanguinary violence to methods that manipulate the body to break the mind but leave no marks.
The primary documents in these two collections--memos and interrogation policy directives--were written over the span of two years to guide and wage the "global war on terror" (or GWOT, the official acronym). The earliest memos, dating from late December 2001 and early January 2002, introduced the rationale for declaring the Geneva Conventions inapplicable and the advantages of Guantánamo as a prison and interrogation center. The principal intellectual author of these and many subsequent memos is John Yoo, a University of California, Berkeley, law professor who served in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003. Yoo and his OLC colleagues reasoned that the President has the constitutional authority to declare the Geneva Conventions irrelevant to the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that it is a "failed state," and to deny prisoner of war status to the Taliban and Al Qaeda as nonstate actors and terrorists who have no rights under international humanitarian law. Such a declaration would increase flexibility for harsh interrogation, reduce the risk that Americans could be prosecuted for torture or war crimes, and enable captives to be transported to Guantánamo (or other US-controlled secret detention facilities), where they would have no habeas corpus rights and could be held incommunicado indefinitely. While the OLC lawyers hedged their views as legal opinions, a January 25, 2002, memo from Gonzales to President Bush characterized their positions as "definitive," while noting that the State Department disagreed. (The Washington Post reported on January 5, 2005, that this memo was ghost-written by Vice President Dick Cheney's counsel David Addington.)
Gonzales counseled the President that there is no crime if there is no law, one good reason to declare the Geneva Conventions "obsolete." To drive home the point, he noted that the War Crimes Act of 1996, which gives domestic courts jurisdiction to prosecute Americans or anyone else for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, carries penalties up to the death penalty. He added, forebodingly: "It is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on [the War Crimes Act]." Immediately after, Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a memo to Gonzales criticizing the faultiness and dangers of this reasoning. Perhaps with the "Pinochet precedent" (i.e., no sovereign immunity for torture) in mind, he warned that if the United States declined to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, the effect might be to "provoke some individual foreign prosecutors to investigate and prosecute our officials and troops."
Ashcroft weighed in with his own memo on February 1, presenting the President with two clear choices: A "presidential determination" that the Geneva Conventions are inapplicable (i.e., the OLC position) would have status as the law of the land, and this would insure that no court would be able to "entertain charges" against American military officers, intelligence agents or law-enforcement officials for any violations. A "presidential interpretation" that the Geneva Conventions apply, even if POW status was not extended to the Taliban (i.e., the State Department position), would put US officials and agents at risk because courts "occasionally refuse to defer to presidential interpretation." Ashcroft was goading the President with the bogyman of "activist judges," a Federalist Society obsession.
The prospect that the OLC's line of reasoning might prevail raised alarms at the State Department, evident in a February 2 memo by legal adviser William Taft IV to Gonzales: "A decision that the Conventions apply...demonstrates that the United States bases its conduct not just on its policy preferences but on its international legal obligations." Five days later, in a resounding defeat for the State Department, President Bush endorsed the OLC's analysis in a secret memorandum to his National Security team, while seeking to mollify the losers with the line that US forces "shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva." Since all these memos were classified at the time, the public was only aware of the outcomes--no Geneva Conventions, no prisoner status review hearings, no habeas corpus or judicial oversight--not the legal reasoning or ideological preferences and panics that produced them.Almost immediately after the first US forces hit the ground in Afghanistan in October 2001, questions arose about whether prisoners would be tortured for information and what would constitute humane treatment. Public debate heated up with the publication in January 2002 of trophy-shot photos of the first group of hooded, bound and contorted prisoners being transported from Afghanistan and inside the Guantánamo prison. Defending their treatment at a Pentagon press conference on January 12, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, characterized the detainees as people who "would gnaw through hydraulic lines at the back of a C-17 to bring it down."
Through the end of 2002, public information about interrogation tactics remained scant, and debates about torture were largely academic. Even supposedly "liberal" commentators, invoking the hypothetical ticking bomb scenario, railed against the absolute and universal prohibition of torture as immoral and dangerous. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz made a distinctive contribution to public debate by proposing that American judges issue "torture warrants," thus bringing torture "within the law." He also offered a tactical suggestion: sterilized needles under the fingernails. As he told Salon: "I want maximal pain, minimum lethality."
Dershowitz and other proponents of "torture lite" were not suggesting that the American government should forsake the principle that torture is illegal, but rather that the principle could be suspended in the GWOT on the grounds that torture is a lesser evil than terror, and that terrorists have no right not to be tortured. This echoed the rhetoric and policy that "unlawful combatants" were undeserving of inclusion in the universe of human beings covered by international and domestic laws that categorically prohibit torture. Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth and other critics of coercive interrogations argued that torture is an illegal, desperate and patently unreliable means of obtaining accurate information vital to national security, and that opening the door to it is a dangerous slippery slope.
Interestingly, the example of Israel was invoked by lesser evilers and slippery slopers alike. The latter pointed to the fact that torturing tens of thousands of Palestinians over the past few decades had neither ameliorated the conflict nor enhanced Israeli security; rather it had heightened Israeli insecurity and degraded the legal system. According to Yael Stein, a researcher at the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, "Israel's experience shows you can't stop the slippery slope: they tortured almost all the Palestinians they could.... The moment you start, you can't stop." Lesser evilers, including Dershowitz, argued that Israel had preserved its democratic character by legally regulating torture (euphemistically termed "moderate measure of physical pressure") and that its security services had averted many "ticking bombs." The 1999 Israeli High Court decision that prohibited the routine use of "pressure" but left open the possibility of using it in exceptional circumstances played both ways in the American debate on torture. An excellent cross-section of academic analyses of torture, as well as the text of the 1999 Israeli court decision, is presented in Sanford Levinson's Torture: A Collection, whose seventeen contributors include Dershowitz, Elaine Scarry, Judge Richard Posner and Michael Walzer.
Public knowledge of US interrogation practices was transformed by a December 26, 2002, article by Dana Priest and Barton Gellman in the Washington Post. Officials revealed that US security agents were utilizing "stress and duress" tactics in the interrogation of people captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and that detainees who could not be broken by such methods might be given mind-altering drugs or "rendered" to foreign governments with well-established records of torture, like Egypt and Morocco. According to Priest and Gellman, "While the US government publicly denounces the use of torture, each of the current national security officials interviewed for this article defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary. They expressed confidence that the American public would back their view."
Several new books present a wealth of detail about interrogation in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, including firsthand descriptions of protracted hooding, deprivation of sleep and toilet facilities, forced nakedness and recurrent cavity searches, position abuse such as chaining and tying prisoners to chairs or hooks in the floor, and manipulation of lighting, sound, temperature, food and medicine. The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against al-Qaeda, by Sergeant First Class Chris Mackey (a pseudonym), written with Los Angeles Times reporter Greg Miller, is an account of interrogation at Kandahar and Bagram during the first year of the GWOT. Mackey describes his training as a military interrogator at Fort Huachuca, the deployment of his reserve unit after 9/11 and how he wrestled with his conscience and his colleagues about how to balance Geneva Convention rules with intense pressure from Washington for actionable intelligence. From his vantage point, this really was a "new kind of war" because military interrogation techniques devised in the cold war had to be rewritten to "break" the prisoners in Afghanistan. Mackey is bluntly critical of certain aspects of the war, acknowledging the difficulties in trying to distinguish members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban from innocents handed to US soldiers for bounty, as well as the risks of relying on privately contracted translators. Yet he seems unaware that threats to turn prisoners over to other countries for torture were not idle; he and his colleagues found this to be a successful "fear up harsh" tactic because it tapped into the anxieties of "conspiracy-obsessed Arabs." Among the prisoners he encountered were three from Britain, nicknamed by guards "the Beatles," whose accounts about how they had landed in Afghanistan and then in US custody he found "outrageous" and "comical."
These so-called Beatles were Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed, and their story is movingly told by David Rose in Guantanamo: The War on Human Rights. Mackey is half-right: Their experiences are outrageous. As the three men recounted to Rose, they had gone to Pakistan in September 2001 for Iqbal's arranged marriage and had ventured into Afghanistan in October, naïvely believing they could use their trip money to provide humanitarian aid for a country about to be attacked. When the war started, they were captured by Northern Alliance warlord Rashid Dostum's troops while trying to flee the country and were among the few to survive transport in truck containers to Shebargan prison. In late December 2001 they met ICRC representatives who reported their British identity to guards, at which point they were sent to the US-controlled prison in Kandahar. They were among the first to be sent to Guantánamo in early 2002, where they were interrogated hundreds of times and eventually released and repatriated to Britain in March 2004. Rose's Guantanamo combines a harrowing account of physical and psychological abuse from these and other former prisoners' perspectives with a finely honed analysis of the policies governing the lawless world of "Gitmo." As he explains, the degradation and desperation of prisoners gave rise, inevitably, to attempted suicides; by the end of September 2003, the official tally was thirty-two attempts, at which point they were reclassified as "manipulative self-injurious behavior."
Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray, also features the Britons. Two of the three are among the prisoners represented by Ratner, a human rights lawyer and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Written in the style of an interview, Ratner and Ray's book combines a primer on the history of Guantánamo and the laws of war with an insider's account of the legal battles that led eventually to the Supreme Court. It went to press before the June 2004 decision in the Guantánamo cases, but Ratner predicted correctly that a majority of Justices would not defer to executive power and permit indefinite incommunicado detention of prisoners without rights to a hearing.
The Interrogators and the two Guantanamos confirm the fraudulence of official pronouncements about humane treatment and commitment to the "spirit" of Geneva. They also substantiate revelations throughout 2003 and early 2004 by investigative journalists and human rights organizations that US agents were routinely subjecting prisoners to protracted hooding and isolation, stress positions and sleep deprivation, and more extreme tactics such as "waterboarding" against "high value targets." Before the Abu Ghraib scandal, however, when officials from the Pentagon and the White House were questioned about such tactics at press conferences, they answered in a manner that the sociologist Stanley Cohen characterized as "interpretive denial." Having concluded that these tactics did not constitute "torture" and were therefore not "illegal," they readily acknowledged and justified their use. The rationale for this conclusion lies in the most scandalous of all the torture memos, dated August 1, 2002, to Gonzales from then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee (subsequently appointed as a federal judge to the Ninth Circuit Court). But credit for intellectual authorship goes to Yoo and the OLC.
The background to this memo was a request by the CIA for an opinion on the legality of interrogation tactics already in use against prisoners held in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Hence, the main issue to which the authors devoted themselves was where to draw the line between "torture" and "not torture" in accordance with Title 18 of the US Code Section 2340, which implements the UN Torture Convention (ratified by Congress in 1994). The criminality of torture looms so large in the analysis that the imagined subject is repeatedly referred to as "the defendant."
The August 1 memo reads like a Federalist Society lesson plan. Lesson 1: US sovereignty is paramount and US law is the only relevant reference. In defining torture, the authors ignored human rights literature and international jurisprudence on torture, opting instead to comb the US record, where the only reference to "severe pain" could be found in laws governing emergency medical care. Hence the assertion that "physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." For mental pain or suffering, the authors fixated on the term "prolonged" in the phrase "prolonged mental harm." Finding no reference to this phrase in US case law, they drew upon dictionaries and medical reference books to conclude that, to rise to the level of punishable torture, the "harm must cause some lasting, though not necessarily permanent, damage.... The development of a mental disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, which can last months or even years, or even chronic depression, which also can last for a considerable period of time if untreated, might satisfy the prolonged harm requirement."
The OLC lawyers also surveyed the record of judicial decisions in Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA) cases, finding that federal courts had provided a civil remedy for victims who sued their foreign torturers for severe beatings, mock executions, burning with cigarettes, electric shocks, rape or sexual assault or injury to sex organs, and forcing a prisoner to watch the torture of others. But they added that these TVPA cases were not definitive for their own purposes because there are no US cases "that analyze the lowest boundary of what constitutes torture."
Since the "lowest boundary" would be, in their estimation, the line between "torture" and "not torture," between "crime" and "not crime," they turned for inspiration to two US allies: Britain and Israel. More specifically, they reproduced Israel's po