Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture Memos Reveal National Disgrace

The Obama Administration has recently released a number of memos from the Bush Justice Department that portray in painstaking detail the depths to which agents of the U.S. government sunk in their green-lighting of torture against prisoners detained as terror suspects. The memos, released in response to lawsuits filed by the ACLU (you may follow a link on this page to their website to read the memos and to sign a petition requesting a further inquiry of these charges), discuss in great detail the techniques that would be used and seek to provide legal justifications for these actions.

Immediately, the apologists for torture have lambasted the decision to release the memos primarily based on three notions; 1) that terrorists will be better able to prepare against these techniques, 2) that we can't use the techniques again and 3) that they sully the reputation of the United States. All three of these objections are patently absurd. First and foremost, the techniques have been widely discussed and are well known so the idea that terrorists can now better prepare is specious at best. The argument that the release of the memos, really the overt admission of torture, prevents future use of the methods is precisely the point of releasing them and is related to the idea that admitting this somehow sullies the nation's reputation.

It was not admitting to torture that damaged that country, it was ENGAGING IN TORTURE that damaged the nation's reputation. The very reason that we are involved in this ongoing clash is because of our actions. Only by coming clean and admitting to these acts and taking steps to ensure that they will never occur again can there be a way forward.

The complete disgrace revealed by these memos though has been lost in the debate about their release. What these memos really reveal is that the torture had nothing to do with making the nation safe. It has long been recognized that torture is ineffective as a method of gathering intelligence due to the fact that you can't trust the information. Tortured people will tell you anything and try any effort to make the pain stop. In the case of those tortured by CIA operatives and others, it is becoming abundantly clear that information gathered through torture was a complete bust.

In the case of Abu Zubaydah, one of the more infamous torture cases, he had provided a plethora of information prior to being tortured. Once the torture started, he ceased to provide useful and reliable information.

Reading the memos it becomes apparent the sadistic nature of those who plotted, condoned and justified these actions. Abu Zubaydah, for example, was apparently subjected not only to repeated water boarding, but also to sleep deprivation and having his head banged against the wall. When it became known that he was afraid of insects there were plans to put him in a confined space with an insect and make him believe its sting was poisonous. Another prisoner had an artificial leg taken from him so that episodes of prolonged standing would be even more arduous. As I said, sadistic. Sexual humiliation and personal degradation were common elements of the interrogations. It had nothing to do with gathering information it was all about the torture. As Scott Shane reported in the New York Times, senior officials from CIA headquarters were so involved in the micromanagement of the torture that some actually showed up to watch the final water boarding of Abu Zubaydah.

Why everyone seems so shocked now is the big surprise. Cheney has practically bragged about his part in the torture, former detainees have given detailed interviews about their torture and who can forget Donald Rumsfeld rationalizing the techniques years ago when they were first brought into question. The Red Cross, recognized as the arbiter of torture claims, has already filed a report that firmly accused the U.S. of torture. The fact of torture no longer seems disputable.

The national disgrace is that so many knew for so long what was going on. The national disgrace is that so many attempted to rationalize and concoct legal justifications for what was clearly wrong, clearly and indisputably war crimes. The only way to even begin to repair this stain on the nation is by dragging the criminal behavior out into the light of day and holding those responsible accountable.

The greatest national disgrace would be to let those responsible get away with it.

Shortly after posting the above blog, I learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water boarded 183 times in one month. What could the interrogators possibly have learned on the 183rd time that they could not have learned on the 182nd time? This one bit of information demonstrates that the purposes of these actions were not to gather intelligence but simply the infliction of torture.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer