Saturday, June 05, 2004

Whoops! We only meant to abuse and torture non-Americans

The theory that torture of Iraqi prisoners was perpetuated only by "a few bad apples" is becoming more and more untenable. News has already come to light that Donald Rumsfeld personally approved brutal interrogation techniques used on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and that those "successful" techniques were then used in Iraq.

Now a new story is coming to light: That of Sean Baker, a recently discharged U.S. Army soldier who had been stationed at Guantanamo Bay. It seems that one day in January, Baker was asked to take part in a training exercise. Baker would pretend to be an uncooperative detainee, and a group of other soldiers would practice extracting him from a cell. As part of the exercise, Baker put on a prisoner's uniform and a hood. To make the simulation as real as possible, the officer in charge didn't tell the other soldiers that Baker was an American.

With the soldiers thinking Baker was an actual detainee, this is what happened:

"They grabbed my arms, my legs, twisted me up and unfortunately one of the individuals got up on my back from behind and put pressure down on me while I was face down. Then he — the same individual — reached around and began to choke me and press my head down against the steel floor. After several seconds, 20 to 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity because I couldn't breathe. When I couldn't breathe, I began to panic and I gave the code word I was supposed to give to stop the exercise, which was `red.' . . . That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air. I muttered out: `I'm a U.S. soldier. I'm a U.S. soldier.' "

Then the soldiers noticed that he was wearing a U.S. battle dress uniform under the jumpsuit. Mr. Baker was taken to a military hospital for treatment of his head injuries, then flown to a Navy hospital in Portsmouth, Va. After a six-day hospitalization there, he was given a two-week discharge to rest.

But Mr. Baker began suffering seizures, so the military sent him to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for treatment of a traumatic brain injury. He stayed at the hospital for 48 days, was transferred to light duty in an honor burial detail at Fort Dix, N.J., and was finally given a medical discharge two months ago.
The Army is denying that Baker was discharged as a result of the injuries he suffered in the training exercise, and refuses to release Baker's medical records. Baker told his story last week to a local TV station in his hometown. Nicholas Kristof read the interview and picked up the story in his New York Times column -- but ominously, Baker refused to talk to Kristof. I hope Baker wasn't pressured to clam up.

Let me rephrase that: I'm sure Baker was pressured to clam up, but I hope he doesn't give in to the pressure.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

One of my favorite journalists, William Saletan, has an especially good article in Slate which exposes one of Bush's recurrent rhetorical strategies: to say that results are what matters when talking about programs/endeavors he doesn't like, and to emphasize intentions and ignore results when talking about programs/endeavors (such as the "war on terror") he supports. Oh, and he takes some good whacks at the newly-resigned George Tenet:

Well, perhaps in time we'll hear all about the CIA's "hidden successes" under Bush and Tenet. In the meantime, here's a partial list of its glaring failures: The agency knew long before 9/11 that men who had attended an al-Qaida meeting in Malaysia were coming to the United States, but it didn't put their names on a terrorist watch list until August 2001. That month, Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested, and Tenet received an internal memo headlined, "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly," but he didn't brief Bush about it or mention the information at a Cabinet meeting a week before 9/11. In January 2003, Tenet failed to read—and Bush failed to provide him with—the final draft of the State of the Union address, in which Bush embraced reports, found spurious by a CIA investigator a year earlier, that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. In December 2002, according to Bob Woodward, Tenet told Bush that Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction was a "slam-dunk" certainty. And in February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the United Nations with "evidence" of Iraqi WMD, given to him by the CIA, that has since been discredited.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Abu Ghraibs in America

Bob Herbert points out that perhaps the torture of Iraqi citizens in Abu Ghraib prison wasn't such an abberation, because that's the way Americans routinely treat our own prisoners in the United States:

Not only are inmates at prisons in the U.S. frequently subjected to similarly grotesque treatment, but Congress passed a law in 1996 to ensure that in most cases they were barred from receiving any financial compensation for the abuse.

We routinely treat prisoners in the United States like animals. We brutalize and degrade them, both men and women. And we have a lousy record when it comes to protecting well-behaved, weak and mentally ill prisoners from the predators surrounding them.

Very few Americans have raised their voices in opposition to our shameful prison policies. And I'm convinced that's primarily because the inmates are viewed as less than human.
(Johnathan Cohn recently made the same point in The New Republic, but the excellent article requires a subscription. Here and here are other commentaries.)

It's a perfectly valid and shocking point: It is already American policy to treat prisoners as inhuman. Whatever torturous and inhumane conditions inmates are subjected to, the prevailing attitude is, "well, they deserved it." As Herbert points out in his op-ed, the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act specifically prohibits inmates from receiving compensation for abuse if they can't prove physical injury. So many of the abuses which occurred at Abu Ghraib -- the stripping naked and piling prisoners on top of each other, forcing prisoners to masturbate, scaring them with attack dogs, forcing them to eat out of toilets -- is impliedly sanctioned in the United States. The soldiers and officers who committed or sanctioned the torture in Iraq aren't so much "bad apples" as they simply reflect what already happens in this country.
Disenfranchising college students

The latest right-wing tactic to steal the election: prevent college students from voting. From a revealing Rolling Stone article:

... in recent years, many election officials have been building a variety of hurdles to make it more difficult for students to register and vote. In May 2002, the city council in Saratoga Springs, New York, shut down a polling place at Skidmore College, forcing students to travel off-campus to vote. That same year, a judge in Arkansas tried to block 1,000 students at Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University from casting ballots, ruling that they must vote in their hometowns -- even though the deadline for absentee ballots had already passed. And when students from the University of New Hampshire showed up at the polls on Election Day that year, poll workers handed them a pamphlet warning them that voting locally could affect their financial aid and taxes. The scare tactic worked: Many students left without voting.

Refusing to register students is "a blatant form of disenfranchisement," says Jennifer Weiser, who advocates for young voters as associate counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. "It's clearly illegal."

***

There's no way to tell how many college students are being turned away by local election boards -- but observers say it could be enough to re-elect George Bush this fall. Voters under the age of twenty-four favored the Democrats by at least twenty percentage points in each of the past three presidential elections, and polls this year indicate that they favor John Kerry by as many as ten points. If the race is as close as last time, keeping turnout down among voters at one major college campus in each battleground state could tip the election to the Republicans.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Calling it like it is

Gosh bless the Washington Post. A Monday front-page story details the lies the Bush re-election campaign has been leveling at John Kerry:

The charges were all tough, serious -- and wrong, or at least highly misleading. Kerry did not question the war on terrorism, has proposed repealing tax cuts only for those earning more than $200,000, supports wiretaps, has not endorsed a 50-cent gasoline tax increase in 10 years, and continues to support the education changes, albeit with modifications.

Scholars and political strategists say the ferocious Bush assault on Kerry this spring has been extraordinary, both for the volume of attacks and for the liberties the president and his campaign have taken with the facts. Though stretching the truth is hardly new in a political campaign, they say the volume of negative charges is unprecedented -- both in speeches and in advertising.
Now, if more media outlets would do straightforward stories like this instead of unreflectively regurgitating the bullshit the administration shovels out, then Bush will be sunk in November.