U.N. Investigator Criticizes Obama For Record On Torture

President_Barack_Obamatorture -abu ghraibWe have been criticizing President Barack Obama for years over the failure of his Administration to prosecute officials responsible for torture as well as the intentional destruction of torture tapes at the CIA. Now a high-ranking United Nations official is joining the condemnation of Obama and his Administration. Ben Emmerson, U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights, has condemned the failure to prosecute a single person for the official torture program implemented during the Bush years. The Obama Administration has thrown the books at those who leaked the information on our torture program but Obama himself promised the CIA after his election that CIA personnel would not be prosecuted despite our obligations under international treaty.

Emmerson coupled his criticism with a call for the Obama Administration to release the reports on the U.S. torture program. Despite his pledge of transparency, Obama has kept such reports classified. Emmerson noted that “[d]espite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States.”

As I have written before (here and here), the Obama Administration has destroyed some of the core Nuremburg principles, particularly in its revisal of the “superior orders defense” to excuse U.S. officials. Emmerson specifically criticized the use of this defense that we once rejected by Nazi defendants.

Emmerson is specifically interested in a report by the U.S. Senate select committee on intelligence on our torture program. However, the chair of that select committee — Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California — has long been accused of covering up the program and the knowledge of Democratic leadership during the Bush Administration.

Emmerson’s non-binding report is just another embarrassment that the United States has gone from the leader against torture to the world’s greatest hypocrite on the issue. The fact that Bush ordered such torture is not itself an indictment of this country. We had the ability to redeem ourselves by holding our own officials accountable as we have demanded from other countries. Obama and his Administration denied us that redemption as a nation.

Source: Guardian

64 thoughts on “U.N. Investigator Criticizes Obama For Record On Torture”

  1. More to Fear Than Fear Itself: The War on Terror’s War on Human Rights

    Wednesday, 06 March 2013 10:35 By Stephen Rohde, Truthout | Op-Ed


    In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

    Eighty years later to the day, Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, called on the United States to publish its findings on the CIA’s Bush-era program of rendition and secret detention of terrorism suspects. Emmerson could well expand his demand to a far wider array of human rights violations that span far more that what the United States has done under the Bush and Obama administrations.

    America’s nameless, unreasoning, unjustified fear of terror has caused us to launch immoral wars, slaughter innocent civilians with bombs and drones, impose an undeclared military draft on the poor and people of color, violate civil liberties and human rights, demonize Muslims and Islam, divert precious resources from desperate human needs into weapons of mass destruction, delay for generations the prospects of peace, and, most recently, shamefully refuse to investigate and prosecute any of these crimes against humanity.

    Emmerson expressed grave concern that while Obama’s administration has rejected CIA practices conducted under his predecessor, there have been no prosecutions. “Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States,” Emmerson said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council, which he will address on March 5. The war on terror led to “gross or systematic” violations involving secret prisons for Islamic militant suspects, clandestine transfers and torture, Emmerson said.

    In response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s position that the Department of Justice would not prosecute any official who acted in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance given by its Office of Legal Counsel on interrogation, Emmerson pointed out that using a “superior orders defense” and invoking secrecy on national security grounds was “perpetuating impunity for the public officials implicated in these crimes.”

    Emmerson said he believed that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), which has investigated the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation practices, including waterboarding, has had unrestricted access to classified information. He urged the US government “to publish without delay, and to the fullest extent possible” the Senate report, except for any information strictly necessary to protect legitimate national security interests or the safety of people identified in it.

    “There is now credible evidence to show that CIA black sites were located on the territory of Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand, and that the officials of at least 49 other states allowed their airspace or airports to be used for rendition flights,” Emmerson said. He urged those five countries to conduct “effective independent judicial or quasi-judicial inquiries” into the allegations. Any public officials who may have authorized or helped in setting up such facilities should be held accountable, he added.

    In January, Emmerson announced he would investigate the use of unmanned drones in counterterrorism operations, given the number of innocent civilians killed. Emmerson’s nonbinding report has only moral authority, but it will add pressure on the Obama administration not to allow what he called a “blanket of official impunity” to descend.

    Fear – that “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified fear” FDR spoke of (and which even he could not resist, as he would later send 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans into internment camps), fomented every day by politicians and warmongers – has blinded the American people to accept the new normal as all around us, cherished human rights are sacrificed on the altar of national security. Benjamin Franklin’s dire warning cannot be repeated often enough. “Any Society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

    Stephen Rohde, a constitutional lawyer and Chair of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, is author of American Words of Freedom and Freedom of Assembly.

  2. Operation Condor Trial Tackles Coordinated Campaign by Latin American Dictatorships to Kill Leftists


    AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a State Department cable, 1978, begins—the jacket of your book, says, “Kissinger explained his opinion [that] the Government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.” The significance of the judge calling for Kissinger’s testimony and the Obama administration not responding?

    JOHN DINGES: They have asked for Kissinger to give testimony many times. And in my book, I quote the one time where he actually responded to a petition from France, I believe it was. And he basically denied everything. This is very frustrating. I was able to—it was clear to me that, there’s no other word for it, these were lies. I mean, the documents say one thing; Kissinger said another thing. And he knew what those documents said. It’s not—the United States has never allowed any of its officials to face trial in other countries. We are not a member of the ICC. There’s never—

    AMY GOODMAN: The International Criminal Court.

    JOHN DINGES: The International Criminal Court. There’s never been any participate—there’s never been any trials that have brought Americans in the dock. There was an attempt in Italy; of course, all of those people were gone. The United States, for one reason or another, Democrats and Republicans, protect our own human rights criminals when it’s involving human rights crimes outside of the United States. It’s just the way it is.

    AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe Henry Kissinger in that way, as a human rights criminal?

    JOHN DINGES: Yes, absolutely.

    JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the relevance of this history of farming out the battle against terrorism, and so you could have no finger marks—no fingerprints of your own involvement to the current war against terrorism in the United States?

    JOHN DINGES: Well, I wrote—I was writing chapter one, when 9/11 happened, in my house in Washington. And as I finished the book—and I actually end with a reference to 9/11—I said this is not something that we’re condemned to repeat. And I was making the comparison between the war on terror in the 1970s and the current war on terror that was launched by President Bush. I thought we were going to—we had learned the lesson, that you don’t imitate the methods of your enemies and—or those who had been shown to be human rights criminals. Unfortunately, we crossed that line, I think, many times.

    The current discussion about drones, I think, is very frightening, because I’m having a hard time distinguishing between what they did with Operation Condor, low-tech, and what a drone does, because a drone is basically going into somebody else’s country, even with the permission of that country—of course, that’s what Operation Condor did, in most cases: You track somebody down, and you kill them. Now, the justification is: “Well, they were a criminal. They were a combatant.” Well, that may or may not be true, but nobody is determining that except the person that’s pulling the trigger.

    I just think that this has to be something that we discuss. And maybe trials like this, going back to the ’70s, people say, “Well, that was the dictatorships of the 1970s.” But the tendency of a state to feel that they can move against their enemies in the most effective way possible is still there, and it is certainly not limited to dictatorships.

    AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, John Dinges, for being with us. John Dinges is author of The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents. Before that, he was with National Public Radio, NPR, worked as a freelance reporter in Latin America, is currently a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.

  3. From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads

    In 2004, with the war in Iraq going from bad to worse, the US drafted in a veteran of Central America’s dirty wars to help set up a new force to fight the insurgency. The result: secret detention centres, torture and a spiral into sectarian carnage

    Mona Mahmood, Maggie O’Kane, Chavala Madlena, Teresa Smith, Ben Ferguson, Patrick Farrelly, Guy Grandjean, Josh Strauss, Roisin Glynn, Irene Baqué, Marcus Morgan, Jake Zervudachi and Joshua Boswell

    The Guardian, Wednesday 6 March 2013 11.16 EST


  4. Revealed: Pentagon’s link to Iraqi torture centres

    Exclusive: General David Petraeus and ‘dirty wars’ veteran behind commando units implicated in detainee abuse

    See the full-length documentary film of the 15-month investigation

    Mona Mahmood, Maggie O’Kane, Chavala Madlena and Teresa Smith

    The Guardian, Wednesday 6 March 2013 15.04 EST



    “The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war.

    Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic shows.

    After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades.

    A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding.

    Coffman reported directly to General David Petraeus, sent to Iraq in June 2004 to organise and train the new Iraqi security forces. Steele, who was in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and returned to the country in 2006, reported directly to Rumsfeld.

    The allegations made by US and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, implicate US advisers for the first time in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse.

    Coffman reported to Petraeus and described himself in an interview with the US military newspaper Stars and Stripes as Petraeus’s “eyes and ears out on the ground” in Iraq.

    “They worked hand in hand,” said General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year while the commandos were being set up. “I never saw them apart in the 40 or 50 times I saw them inside the detention centres. They knew everything that was going on there … the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture.”

    Additional Guardian reporting has confirmed more details of how the interrogation system worked. “Every single detention centre would have its own interrogation committee,” claimed Samari, talking for the first time in detail about the US role in the interrogation units.

    “Each one was made up of an intelligence officer and eight interrogators. This committee will use all means of torture to make the detainee confess like using electricity or hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails, and beating them on sensitive parts.”

    There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman tortured prisoners themselves, only that they were sometimes present in the detention centres where torture took place, and were involved in the processing of thousands of detainees.

    The Guardian/BBC Arabic investigation was sparked by the release of classified US military logs on WikiLeaks that detailed hundreds of incidents where US soldiers came across tortured detainees in a network of detention centres run by the police commandos across Iraq. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a prison sentence of up to 20 years after he pleaded guilty to leaking the documents.

    Samari claimed that torture was routine in the SPC-controlled detention centres. “I remember a 14-year-old who was tied to one of the library’s columns. And he was tied up, with his legs above his head. Tied up. His whole body was blue because of the impact of the cables with which he had been beaten.”

    Gilles Peress, a photographer, came across Steele when he was on assignment for the New York Times, visiting one of the commando centres in the same library, in Samarra. “We were in a room in the library interviewing Steele and I’m looking around I see blood everywhere.”

    The reporter Peter Maass was also there, working on the story with Peress. “And while this interview was going on with a Saudi jihadi with Jim Steele also in the room, there were these terrible screams, somebody shouting: ‘Allah, Allah, Allah!’ But it wasn’t kind of religious ecstasy or something like that, these were screams of pain and terror.”

    The pattern in Iraq provides an eerie parallel to the well-documented human rights abuses committed by US-advised and funded paramilitary squads in Central America in the 1980s. Steele was head of a US team of special military advisers that trained units of El Salvador’s security forces in counterinsurgency. Petraeus visited El Salvador in 1986 while Steele was there and became a major advocate of counterinsurgency methods.

    Steele has not responded to any questions from the Guardian and BBC Arabic about his role in El Salvador or Iraq. He has in the past denied any involvement in torture and said publicly he is “opposed to human rights abuses.” Coffman declined to comment.

    An official speaking for Petraeus said: “During the course of his years in Iraq, General Petraeus did learn of allegations of Iraqi forces torturing detainees. In each incident, he shared information immediately with the US military chain of command, the US ambassador in Baghdad … and the relevant Iraqi leaders.”

    The Guardian has learned that the SPC units’ involvement with torture entered the popular consciousness in Iraq when some of their victims were paraded in front of a TV audience on a programme called “Terrorism In The Hands of Justice.”

    SPC detention centres bought video cameras, funded by the US military, which they used to film detainees for the show. When the show began to outrage the Iraqi public, Samari remembers being in the home of General Adnan Thabit – head of the special commandos – when a call came from Petraeus’s office demanding that they stop showing tortured men on TV.

    “General Petraeus’s special translator, Sadi Othman, rang up to pass on a message from General Petraeus telling us not to show the prisoners on TV after they had been tortured,” said Samari. “Then 20 minutes later we got a call from the Iraqi ministry of interior telling us the same thing, that General Petraeus didn’t want the torture victims shown on TV.”

    Othman, who now lives in New York, confirmed that he made the phone call on behalf of Petraeus to the head of the SPC to ask him to stop showing the tortured prisoners. “But General Petraeus does not agree with torture,” he added. “To suggest he does support torture is horseshit.”

    Thabit is dismissive of the idea that the Americans he dealt with were unaware of what the commandos were doing. “Until I left, the Americans knew about everything I did; they knew what was going on in the interrogations and they knew the detainees. Even some of the intelligence about the detainees came to us from them – they are lying.”

    Just before Petraeus and Steele left Iraq in September 2005, Jabr al-Solagh was appointed as the new minister of the interior. Under Solagh, who was closely associated with the violent Badr Brigades militia, allegations of torture and brutality by the commandos soared. It was also widely believed that the units had evolved into death squads.

    The Guardian has learned that high-ranking Iraqis who worked with the US after the invasion warned Petraeus of the consequences of appointing Solagh but their pleas were ignored.

    The long-term impact of funding and arming this paramilitary force was to unleash a deadly sectarian militia that terrorised the Sunni community and helped germinate a civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. At the height of that sectarian conflict, 3,000 bodies a month were strewn on the streets of Iraq.”

    Refer to link for Steele’s CV.

  5. I am delighted by the general tone of the comments on this post. Most of you have got it right: its not a left/right thing; the dirty laundry is strewn on both sides of the aisle, and its not even an aisle that anyone should be paying attention to. Right now we have a nasty piece of work in power; we could call him a wolf in sheep’s clothing but that would be unfair to the wolf.
    800 869 2247 is the number for the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights. They are the single group to have successfully isolated the true source & reason for the not infrequent shooting sprees in the United States. They provide a real solution they are actively working on but they could use your help. The solution does not include turning in your guns; since 9/11 we need our 2nd Amendment rights more than ever. Please back & join the NRA if you have not done so; Obama’s viscous attack on gun rights prompted me to do so.
    Back to the CCHR, this is the group that got widely published recently the plight of veterans killing themselves at the rate of something like 22 vets per day! (see a current John Turley blog on this) Again, they have the answer. They also revived the UN’s Human Rights that was broadcast in the 50s & quietly swept under the rug. You should google that. Its a briliant piece of work; the only flaw I see is the wording of one right as being Equality when it should say Equal Rights, though most understand that. You can knock the UN all you want, but far better to use it for good & urge it to do right. Mespo knocks this Emerson Queen’s Council guy, & perhaps he has skeletons in his closet too, but far better to validate him when he does something right.

  6. Regarding war crimes trials.

    At the end of WW-II, not a single charge was brought against Goering or any other Luftwaffe officer for bombing raids against civilian targets. Not to mention the V-I and V-2 missiles aimed at civilian centers. Remember London and Coventry? But not a single war crime charge related to the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets. In fact, the rocket scientists who developed the V-weapons were scooped up in Operation Paperclip and shipped off to Huntsville, Alabama.

    That was no accidental oversight. If those charges had been brought, Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris and General Curtis LeMay would have had a lot of explaining to do.

    It has long been a truism that war crimes trials are only held by the winners of a conflict.

  7. Besides his more eloquent teleprompter presence, Obama is making Bush look better all the time. I can’t stand either of them, since they act more like corporate hacks than stewards of a democracy. As Orwell put so succinctly, truth is treason in the empire of lies.

  8. It’s good to see people or some still care about the rule and don’t make excuses for this imbeciles actions…. Good work Agene, Rafff ndvElaine…

Comments are closed.