Torture, Torture Everywhere

21.12.12

For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.

That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.

Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.”

El-Masri was unfortunate enough to have the same name as a man who allegedly aided the 9/11 hijackers, and when, after a row with his wife, he arrived in Macedonia on New Year’s Eve 2003 for a short break on his own, he was, instead, seized and held in a hotel room for 23 days by Macedonian agents, and then handed over to CIA operatives at Skopje airport.

He was then “beaten severely from all sides,” as the court described it, adding, “His clothes were sliced from his body with scissors or a knife. His underwear was forcibly removed. He was thrown to the floor, his hands were pulled back and a boot was placed on his back. He then felt a firm object being forced into his anus … a suppository was forcibly administered on that occasion.” He was then placed in a nappy, hooded, shackled and put on a plane.

Horrendously, El-Masri was flown by the CIA to the “Salt Pit,” a secret torture prison in Afghanistan, where he was held for five months until the CIA realized that he was a case of mistaken identity, and he was flown back to Europe. Dropped off on the border with Albania, he was abandoned and left to make his own way home, with his incredible-sounding story.

Since then, he has found every door to accountability shut, and has struggled with mental health issues as a result of his ordeal. The ruling by the ECHR will help to vindicate this poor man, and the 60,000 Euros ($80,000) the court also awarded him will presumably be of some use too.

His victory will not compel the US to accept any kind of responsibility, of course, but it joins the conviction of 22 CIA operatives and a senior US military official in Italy, for the kidnap and rendition to torture in Egypt of a cleric, Abu Omar, in February 2003, and it also provides hopes that other cases before the ECHR — against PolandRomania and Lithuania, for their involvement in the Bush administration’s torture program — will lead to similar victories for those involved — in this case, the “high-value detainees” Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who are currently in Guantánamo.

While Khaled El-Masri was securing his victory in Strasbourg, another victim of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, Sami al-Saadi, a Libyan and a former opponent of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, secured an important victory in the UK, when the British government agreed to pay him £2.23 million ($3.5 million) in an out-of-court settlement relating to the key role played by the UK, working with the US and Libya, in kidnapping Mr. al-Saadi and his family and rendering them to Col. Gaddafi, who then imprisoned and tortured him.

The British role in al-Saadi’s kidnapping and rendition to torture was confirmed in letters found in the office of Col. Gaddafi’s spy chief Moussa Koussa in Tripoli, during the fall of Gaddafi last year, and they cast the UK in a bleak light, not only in relation to Sami al-Saadi, but also in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, another long-term Gaddafi opponent, who was also kidnapped (in Malaysia) and rendered to torture with British involvement. Both kidnappings took place in 2004, while Gaddafi was being courted to renounce terrorism, and grant the US and the UK access to his oil fields. Belhaj is still pursuing his claim against the British government through the courts, even though his friend al-Saadi accepted a settlement.

Al-Saadi explained, “My family suffered enough when they were kidnapped and flown to Gaddafi’s Libya. They will now have the chance to complete their education in the new, free Libya. I will be able to afford the medical care I need because of the injuries I suffered in prison.”

He added, “I started this process believing that a British trial would get to the truth in my case. But today, with the government trying to push through secret courts, I feel that to proceed is not best for my family. I went through a secret trial once before, in Gaddafi’s Libya. In many ways, it was as bad as the torture. It is not an experience I care to repeat. Even now, the British government has never given an answer to the simple question: ‘Were you involved in the kidnap of me, my wife and my children?’”

Again, the US is not directly implicated, but the reverberations from the settlement cannot be wished away by the US, and, it seems, there will be more to come in the case of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who said of al-Saadi, “When my friend Sami al-Saadi was freed from Abu Salim prison on 23 August 2011, he weighed seven stone. He was close to death. It is a miracle he survived his ordeal and is home with his family.”

The third significant development last week was the approval, by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, of a 6,000-page report that took three years to complete, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the CIA’s torture program under the Bush administration. The report will now be sent to the CIA and the Obama administration, although it is unclear if it will ever be publicly released. Because it remains classified, lawmakers were not at liberty to discuss its contents as openly as they might have wished, although their criticism of the torture program was evident. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated, “The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight.” She also stated, “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”

In addition, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) stated, “It is my hope that we can reach a consensus in this country that we will never again engage in these horrific abuses, and that the mere suggestion of doing so should be ruled out of our political discourse, regardless of which party holds power. It is therefore my hope that this Committee will take whatever steps necessary to finalize and declassify this report, so that all Americans can see the record for themselves, which I believe will finally close this painful chapter for our country.”

Unfortunately, while I also hope, first of all, that the report will be published, and, secondly, that it will not be excessively redacted, it is troubling to realize that everything relating to it will be calibrated by those in power to avoid the possibility that anyone will be held accountable for what took place in the darkest years of the Bush administration.

Sadly, torture remains either off-limits or glorified in the two other places where it counts — in the military commissions at Guantánamo, where the chief judge, Army Col. James Pohl, confirmed last week that those facing trials were prohibited from mentioning the torture to which they were subjected in the CIA’s “black sites,” and in movie theaters across the country, where Kathryn Bigelow’s new movie, “Zero Dark Thirty,” will soon be showing.

As Carol Rosenberg described it in the Miami Herald, Judge Pohl “approved the use of a time delay on public viewing of the Sept. 11 death-penalty trial as well as a censor in his court to make sure nobody divulges details of a now defunct CIA interrogation program, citing national security interests.” Rosenberg also explained that, in a 20-page protective order accompanying his ruling, in response to a challenge by the ACLU, he spelled out that “anything about their CIA custody is classified, including ‘their observations and experiences,’ meaning the accused can’t say what happened to them at the so-called ‘dark sites’ in open court.”

In contrast, film director Kathryn Bigelow faces no censorship for her deluded and dangerous account of the events that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. As Jane Mayer of the New Yorker explained last week, the film “seems to accept almost without question that the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ played a key role in enabling the agency to identify the courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden,” even though “this claim has been debunked, repeatedly, by reliable sources with access to the facts.”

Mayer also explained that the film “does not capture the complexity of the debate about America’s brutal detention program. It doesn’t include a single scene in which torture is questioned, even though the Bush years were racked by internal strife over just that issue — again, not just among human-rights and civil-liberties lawyers, but inside the FBI, the military, the Justice Department, and the CIA itself, which eventually abandoned waterboarding because it feared, correctly, that the act constituted a war crime.”

As movies are so powerful, I fear that Bigelow will be playing a major cheerleading role for the advocates of torture, to which the best response, while repeatedly highlighting the case of Khaled El-Masri and the shame of rendering political opponents to Col. Gaddafi to secure his support and his oil, will be for President Obama and Congress to make sure that the Senate’s comprehensive torture report is released, and not hidden away, so that the torturers cannot continue to evade accountability for their crimes.

Without accountability, the toxic virus of torture in America’s body politic will continue to infect the whole country with its poison. It is time for the denial to end.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

49 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    You saw it…I sat there stunned by what I had just witnessed. Utter shock. The man sitting behind me summed it up in two words that I could not even form ‘Disgusting film’ – and the uncomfortable silence that followed the credits was just awkward.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Janice Williamson wrote:

    Why don’t we all protest outside of the cinemas….

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    and it’s being tipped for an Oscar

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Have you seen it, Saleyha? I’m just taking Jane Mayer’s word for it, and the comments of friends in the US. I don’t intend to watch it. Your comments – and those of the man behind you – also make important points.
    Janice, I think protests outside cinemas are a great idea, as they will give protestors an opportunity to explain what is wrong with the film. I also think that the complaint made to Sony by Sens. McCain, Feinstein and Levin should lead to them being filmed and their complaints added to the end of the film.
    There should also be a campaign to prevent the film from winning an Oscar.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Using the mass media of entertainment to attempt to justify criminal behaviour as justified, by public institutions that recieve public funds, as we all know, is just wrong!

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia, yes, absolutely!

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote, in response to 4, above:

    Yes Andy I did…I got a free ticket to see it and went. And felt grossly uncomfortable, angry and shocked by the whole thing. I just could not even formulate my words – I was rendered speechless. Hard I know! But that film achieved it. Really? those senators made comments about the film?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    oh and the other thing that really frustrated me was the scene where an American man is praying – he does it all wrong. It always happens but surely it’s not something too complicated to get right? Its a bug bear of mine. If all that money goes into making the film – why muck up the iconic Muslim prayer? The praying man appears to be a white CIA man – a convert- but if so, i am sure such a person would get their ‘int’ together to get it right.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    it has the good guy (US) versus the bad guy-saving the world recipe. stuff ‘they’ love. A propaganda film if there ever was one. So torture works – is that the message? So now what? Torture everyone in detention to get the desired result? And even from a filmmaker’s view – it felt predictable right to the end when the key character sits on the plane and is asked where she wants to go. She starts to cry. I just begged not to hear the word ‘home’ – but the question was so expected I had already said it in my head before I heard it.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    In contrast – I loved the film Argo – totally loved it. Ok it was about how the US harboured the Shah and we had CIA agents trying to get American hostages out of Iran – but such an excellent film. based on fact, depicted beautifully and honestly without all the propagandist feel of Zero Dark Thirty.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the New York Times on the Senators’ letter, Saleyha. I’ll post the while thing in a few days’ time: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/senators-say-zero-dark-thirty-torture-scenes-are-misleading.html
    What disturbs me about ZDT – beyond the unforgiveable truth that it lies about torture and the hunt for bin Laden – is that (a) Bigelow and her team believe it is nuanced when it’s evidently not, and (b) they are unable to recognize that they are kind of getting into it – whether they attribute that to giving audiences what they want or because they are infected by some horrific macho bullsh*t, or both. It’s such a terrible topic that only someone who would actually be physically sick dealing with it should be allowed near it. These people are evidently rather shallow emotionally and intellectually. Dangerously so.

  12. Tom says...

    Bigelow and her co-executive producer have been quoted as saying don’t blame us. We can’t be expected to get 100% of this right. It’s called “artistic license”.

    Another part of this is John Kerry being nominated to replace Hillary. All I’m hearing so far is his “star power”. He’s travelled the world. He knows everyone who’s anyone. Yet, nothing about does he respect intl. law, treaties and many things that a diplomat has to deal with.

    How will the right wing attack Kerry during his confirmation hearing? Some of what they should ask:
    When you were in the Navy, did you ever torture anyone? Did you observe someone else being tortured and did nothing to stop it?
    Palestinians can legally be tortured in Israeli jails. Then, that evidence can be used against them in court. As an attorney, what’s your view on this?
    Should the President have the power to literally kill anyone in the world that he says is a “terrorist”?
    Have you ever been treated for PTSD?
    Is outsourcing torture good foreign policy?

    They should ask these questions. Instead, it’ll just be about his money, power and how well connected he is Inside the Beltway.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Yes, interesting points about John Kerry – and the questions that won’t be asked.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I just reposted this article, Andy. You know how much I despise torture.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Saleyha, they are not making these films in order to be factual. They are making them specifically to create a fictional narrative that justifies the ‘war on terror’ under which they have created illegal justifications for torture, which are illegal in both US laws, and international laws. The whole of the justification for the invasion of Iraq, was based on fiction, and likewise this is why they are now using the mass media to create fictional stories to corroborate their narrative. I don’t know the plot line of Zero Dark Thirty, but I can imagine something from what you’ve said that it’s similar to a DC comics book called Ahmed and Aaron that was published with ‘awards’ given by the Rockefeller institute. Likewise the same story attempted to justify the 9/11 narrative as justifying torture at Guantanamo Bay and various torture techniques of the CIA, throughout the entire book. It is all based on fraud, but at the same time, the same emphasis is that torture is necessary and it’s all needed in order to decode the Muslim personality. The same references to prayers and the Arabic language are all used, in the narrative, but with so many mistakes you can not imagine. Arabic letters written backwards, or not joined up correctly or just written wrong. People described as being ‘Arabs’ when they are not, and are instead in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The amount of mistakes is just unbelievable, when you think that they went to such effort to fund and create these fantasy stories, with sickening torture in the narratives all as if it’s part of some action drama when these films are meant to be based on ‘real life’. It just shows how messed up in the head these people actually are. Even during the invasion of Iraq, they used Hollywood script writers in order to write the ‘news’ to present to the world during the invasion in order to prevent an ‘action movie’ theme to the war crimes they were perpetrating.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Andy, re that article, and the reference to Osama bin Laden being killed by the Navy Seals. If you do the research in relation to this story. This is also fake. Osama bin Laden is reported widely to have died as a result of illness already in 2001. There is no evidence at all that Osama bin Laden was killed in the story relating to the Navy Seals. Instead the story from eye witness observers in Pakistan stated that a house was raided and a helicopter with US service-men inside had an accident during the event and blew up. Likewise there are reports from navy servicemen on the vessel stated as being used to send Osama bin Laden’s corpse into the sea, that all state that there was no evidence of this taking place from the ship either. Therefore for a film to be commissioned to repeat a narrative that is false, means the film itself is a total fraud and has to be questioned as to why it is being sold in the first place. Aiming to profiteer from fraudulent propoganda created to attempt to justify behaviour that is illegal in international law and constitute war crimes is criminally negligent.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George, and thanks again, Lilia. Very interesting points. I don’t know one way or another how much truth there is to the bin Laden death story, but I do know that the way the torture story is being interpreted – in ZDT, for example – involves a lot of people spinning a version of reality that protects them, if they’re the torturers, and is designed to manipulate US citizens. My feeling is that Bigelow and her team were far too easily played by those with powerful reasons to want to protect themselves.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Saleyha Ahsan wrote:

    good point Andy….who knows. but a message was being sent out during that disturbing film – and whoever wanted to get that point across did so. I kind of think it was something working both ways – a filmmaker wanting to make a very successful film and powers wanting to propagate an ugly message.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Lilia Patterson wrote:

    Well, there are already criminal prosecutions against Dick Cheney, Bush and Obama, as a result of the CIA torture rendition program they used the Assad regime for, in Canada now. Those same criminal prosecutions were brought against them in the US, but Obama stated that he could not allow the legal case to be presented citing ‘the war on terror’ as the justification and that the CIA complicity in torture was a question of ‘national security’ and therefore could not be discussed under secrecy laws. This is how they aim to operate as part of the ‘war on terror’ justification and this is why they will repeat the same lies to cover their own backs and justify what they are responsible for. This is all the tip of the ice-berg of course, since justifying torture is only one aspect of what the war on terror is part of, drone strikes, supporting terror and torture regimes in other countries, while claiming to support ‘human rights’ purely only for the purpose of attempting to gain legal justification for what in real terms represents trillion dollar fraud, and gross crimes of mass murder, and mass destruction across the world, not just sanctioning the use of torture. It also has to be remembered that Halliburton are large beneficiaries of the torture prison black sites as part of their construction deals. Halliburton of which the Clintons are also share-holders, for example profitted from the building contract of Guantanamo Bay, alongside other building contracts across the world, on behalf of the US military complex with trillion dollar fraud as part of their accounting system along with the deal. This all comes from the US tax-payers pockets of course.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    I like your analysis, Saleyha, of how the two parties ended up getting what they wanted. I really do hope that there will be a huge backlash, but fear that far too many people will be brainwashed by the film.
    And thanks again, Lilia, although I must say that I haven’t been able to find any reference elsewhere to the Clintons being shareholders in Halliburton. The thing about torture, I believe, is that it was a specific program of the Bush administration, and in the bigger picture is not regarded as a success, or an ongoing policy, or something to be repeated, by most people inside the government. That’s why Bigelow’s wretched film is so damaging, as it helps those who least deserve to be helped – Cheney, Bush and other senior Bush administration officials and lawyers, and those in the CIA who actively supported and promoted the program.
    None of this gets Obama off the hook for his drone killings and general spinelessness regarding ending Bush-era crimes and holding people accountable, but it does show, I believe, that the military-industrial complex is not static, but keeps shifting its ways of operating.

  21. Thomas says...

    Torture creates far more terroists then it stops as well as being often ineffective. Normally it just makes the person say what the torturer wants to hear.

  22. Tomuchistomuch says...

    U love to lick the ass of alqaeda. Al this articles are washing the alqaeda profil of Belhajd. Go to libya and see how he is now killing ppl. Check Belhaj Torture praxis. And U are defending he deserves what? Money to torture now Libyan ppl? To sodomize people with knives until death is a very well know praxis of Belhaj Brigade. You are defending him. Why? Why?

  23. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy! I am going to take the liberty of adding some further information about Khalid el-Masri. He said he lost dozens of pounds during the four or five months he was in CIA custody. An analysis of his hair confirmed that he was severely malnourished during the time he was in custody.

    Torture apologists, trying to scrape together a post-facto justification for el-Masri’s detention, claimed the US had evidence that he had had an affiliation to Zarqawi’s terrorist group. Why? Before his group was renamed “Al Qaeda in Iraq”, Zarqawi’s group was named, “Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad”, and el Masri was a Druze, whose name in Arabic is “Ahl al-Tawhid. Tawhid means “monotheism”, and lots of group’s names include monotheism, without having any association with violence.

    If I recall correctly, the timing on this wasn’t even right. Tawhid was mentioned during el-Masri’s application to immigrate to Germany, which preceded Zarqawi creating his group.

  24. arcticredriver says...

    I am planning to see “Zero Dark Thirty”, I want to know the details of what they got wrong.

    It has struck me, for weeks, that there may be a bizarre connection between the lead character played by Jessica Chastain, and the CIA official most responsible for Khaled el-Masri’s detention. I recall her being described as an abrasive individual, with spiky red-hair, and of course, Chastain has red hair. What if the red-haired pushy CIA official from 2005 was the same red-haired determined CIA official of 2011? Sometimes coincidences so far fetched no novelist would put them in a novel, happen in real life. And this isn’t even so far fetched.

    I forgot to mention el Masri’s passport. I remember this happening to a couple of innocent individuals. US intelligence officials were so fixed on the narrative that they were phonies, that when reports that initial examinations of their passports did not find any sign that they were forgeries, senior officials would tell the document examiners “Well, look harder then.” Invariably, “looking harder” resulted in the destruction of those passports. So, they had one further embarrassment, when they were forced to release them — they couldn’t hand their passports back to them.

  25. arcticredriver says...

    With regard to comparing Zero Dark Thirty and ArgoArgo wasn’t very accurate either. A couple of months ago a student newspaper here in Toronto covered a meeting between a retired Canadian diplomat who played a role in the incident, and one of the American diplomats who had been rescued. The retired American diplomat said that security was tighter when he flew from the States to Toronto than when they flew from Tehran. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thenewspaper.ca%2Fthe-news%2Fitem%2F989-diplomats-in-iranian-hostage-crisis-discuss-argo&date=2012-11-17

    Quite a few commentators here in Canada were angry that Affleck had taken a story that had Canadians playing a heroic role, and demoted them to the status of mere concierges. But the liberties the film took didn’t seem so bad to me — well within the range of liberties film-maker’s routinely take.

    I didn’t see “A mighty heart”. I probably should have. I did see an interview with one of Daniel Pearl’s colleagues, a young South-Asian woman, who remarked how, when the film had been made, her character remained in the story, but she had been demoted to being a gopher, not Pearl’s equal.

    It is still routine to see editorial writers and other commentators, and officials, take a hard line, and ignore the reasons to doubt the credibility of the USA’s official narrative, as happened recently with Omar Khadr — http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1305329–omar-khadr-will-remain-incarcerated-for-at-least-two-years-report-says
    So, should those editorial writers, commentators, and officials, be held to a higher standard, than director Kathryn Bigelow, whose movie is a work of fiction? On the other hand her movie may have a more important effect on the public’s view of torture than dozens, or hundreds of editorials.

    Most movies that are described as being based on a true story have a tenuous tie to that story. The movies Psycho, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Silence of the lambs, while not usually described as being inspired by a true story, are all based on a single crazed killer who skinned some of his victims. If I am debating torture with someone, and they try to use this movie as an argument for forgiving torture, I’ll remind them of how different those three movies were, and how slim a real-life basis remains in a film-script, by the time it gets to shooting scenes.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    In response to 21, above:

    Yes. exactly, Thomas. Thanks.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    In response to 22, above:

    I’m defending his right not to be kidnapped and rendered to torture by the US and the UK, in order to ingratiate themselves with Gaddafi for his oil, while pretending to be countries who respect international laws and treaties and human rights. I’m happy to be told more about him, whether positive or not, but that doesn’t change my feelings regarding the prohibition on rendition and torture.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    In response to 23-25, above:

    Yes, it is a portrayal of that particular woman, arcticredriver, and I don’t believe it’s mentioned that she was responsible for the terrible ordeal of Khaled El-masri, or that she was the dreadful individual who got such a kick out of torture that she wanted to fly out to attend a waterboarding session, until her colleagues had to point out that it wasn’t a spectator sport for sadists. What a terrible person to be glorifying in the film!
    Thanks for all your other contributions too. I hope you have a happy, healthy and peaceful time over the holidays.

  29. Kabuli says...

    I have not seen the film and do not intend to boost its sales by going to see it either. Debra Sweet in her blog wrote an interesting comment on the supposed ‘artistic & cinematographic (Oscar) value’ of the film :

    “People have to know this is almost literally a propaganda film from the CIA.
    Like the makers of this film, Leni Riefenstahl was known for her aesthetics and innovations, but Triumph of the Will–a celebratory documentary film made at the 1934 Nazi Party congress in Nuremberg–was also a triumph of propaganda.”

    Some people will go to great lengths to be the toast of the town and acclaimed by whomever it takes to make them famous : the goal justifies the means.
    Whether too naive politically, too gullible when flattered, too much blinded by ambition, too a-moral or simply too stupid to realize what they’re doing, the devastating impact of their erring remains the same.
    The CIA’s propaganda department must now be enjoying its bonus for work well done.
    Was it Lenin who once coined the term ‘useful idiots’?

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Kabuli. Wonderful to hear from you. And Debra’s words are very powerful, and echo exactly what I’ve been thinking and writing about. I’ll be seeing her in two weeks’ time in the US. I do hope all is well with you.

  31. Tom says...

    You realize that here, talking about prosecuting everyone from Kissinger to Bush and Cheney is a punchline. Will they or won’t they get arrested when they go to Canada? So far, the Canadian govt. (despite the talk about “prosecuting war criminals”) refuse to touch them.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, of course, Tom, but the problem is that torture is torture, whatever John Yoo said!

  33. Dick Overfield says...

    There is no meaningful moral distinction between a young man wielding a military assault rifle slaughtering children in an American classroom & another young man, & now woman, slaughtering children who happen to be near a person Washington has decided to assassinate. One chooses to be immersed in the bloody results while the other sits back & has another cup of coffee. One wades through the blood while the other is safely on the other side of the world just doing his or her job.
    Our schizophrenic media define the one as a crazed psychopath & the other as a hero. The hero, known in the military as an “unmanned systems operator,” following orders in a secret base somewhere, possibly next door or in an abandoned salt mine, the location doesn’t much matter, gets to retire on a full pension while the other’s life ends violently with suicide, or in a similarly violent way at the hands of the police.
    What have we become?
    Andy is raising another issue: collective guilt. If there is no possibility of accountability, we are all guilty of every moment of torture, every assassination,
    I reposted this article on opednews: http://www.opednews.com/articles/Torture-Torture-Everywher-by-Andy-Worthington-121228-58.html

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Dick, both for reposting the article, and for your pertinent comments. Very much appreciated.

  35. Tom says...

    To add to Dick’s post. Part of the problem is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality that not all but many Obama supporters (and Republicans) have.

    Iraq was OVER THERE. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and innocent people killed in drone strikes are there, not here. Therefore, it’s ok that they’re killed. Obama is personally keeping me safe. Why then should I complain? If someone points out Obama policies that are making real terrorism worse, instantly these Obama supporters will deny it and try to beat you down. Dissent wasn’t allowed under Bush. Now, the same applies under Obama (despite the soundbites about being “the most open and transparent Administration in history”). Congress refuses to close Guantanemo and to stop the fiscal cliff cuts. What does Obama do? He gives them a pay raise. Why? Political leverage (a bribe)? Does this mean he gets a raise as well?

    We’re in a society now where Hillary says she’s in the hospital with a blot cot, and instantly many attack and say she’s faking it to avoid testifying about the consulate attack in Benghazi. Regardless of what you may think of Hillary and Bill, on a human decency level that is way beyond cynical? Obama tries to talk about stopping gun violence, and not all but many say get that ******* ****** off my TV screen.

    Will Obama sign any Executive Orders before midnight like he did last year when the rest of us weren’t looking? To close Guantanemo? No. To stop the fiscal cliff cuts? No. To implement single payer health care? Again, no.

    If you meet a torture survivor, do you have the nerve to say to their face that torture is okay? Do you seriously believe that the PTSD symptoms they may have are their fault? It’s your problem, so just go away and fix it? What would it feel like if you were a torture survivor, and nobody wanted to admit that you existed. How are you supposed to deal with that? Right. Just shut up and carry on? No, it doesn’t work like that.

    Obama knows that his supporter’s blind faith in him will protect him in almost everything he does. Right now, would anybody try to impeach him? It’ll never happen. Besides, if he was impeached, would Biden, Boehner or Hillary be any better? IMO, no.

    I may not be able to singlehandedly stop all the evil neocons. But like Chomsky and others, I can’t just sit back and do nothing.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Like the escalation of gun ownership instead of gun control, the denial that what happens “over there” may make life less safe rather than more safe contributes to a relentless increase in paranoia that just fuels further horrors. What a mess. I’m delighted, of course, that you “can’t just sit back and do nothing,” Tom. If everyone felt like that, the world would become a better place swiftly. Combatting apathy and indifference remains, in many ways, our biggest struggle.
    Wishing you a happy New Year, or perhaps I should say, wishing us all a more informed, healthy and peaceful New Year!

  37. Tom says...

    Happy New Year to you as well. Hope you’re not being affected by the flooding that still seems to be going on. Here, it’s rainy, wet and cold. Which means I’ll stay in and stay globally connected tonight.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. We had a wonderful party at our house and have been relaxing today. No flooding in London, fortunately for us.

  39. arcticredriver says...

    The Associated Press quotes Bisher al Rawi and Omar Deghayes on the film.

    http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/ExGuantanamo+inmates+Zero+Dark+Thirty+aimed+excusing+torture/7801114/story.html

  40. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, some information about American dads who have used waterboarding on their children — in case it is useful for a later article.

    I have come across three dads who made the news for using waterboarding. It seems that the torture of possibly innocent captives in CIA has lowered the bar so some dads think it is OK to waterboard children under their care.

    In this first case the dad was an off-duty soldier, who had recently been granted access to his four year old daughter for the first time in her life. His justification — he didn`t think she was working hard enough to memorize the alphabet.
    http://en.wikialpha.org/wiki/Yelm_waterboarding_incident

    In the most recent incident the dad threatened to use his arsenal of guns on school officials. He broke his girlfriend`s fingers when she tried to stop him. http://en.wikialpha.org/wiki/Using_waterboarding_as_corporal_punishment_in_Jefferson_City,_Montana
    Other than defending his waterboarding as a learning experience he didn`t offer any explanation for his actions.

    The incident I found most disturbing however involved a pediatrician named Melvin Morse, who had appeared on the Oprah show, and on Larry King. Morse made his name as an expert on the study of the `near death experience`. In particular, he specialized in studying children who had undergone near death experiences.

    Morse was a best-selling author, but his books must have been ghost-written, because when the news broke and I went to his web-site, his web-site contained a brief ranting incoherent autobiographical piece, where he described himself as a man with a `big idea`. He clearly couldn`t write worth beans.

    His `big idea` seems to be some kind of creepy fusion of contradictory elements of fundamentalist christianity and new-age mysticism.

    A neighbour phoned the police after seeing him drag his 11 year old step daughter, by her heels, down their gravel driveway.

    The girl told police he used to routinely waterboard her, and she told details like, that he had said he could keep her immersed for up to five minutes, without her risking permanent brain damage. She told police that she was even more terrified when he looked away, as she was afraid he would lose track of time, and go past that five minute limit.

    It took a while for the press to write what crossed my mind right away, was it possible that these otherwise unexplained waterboarding sessions he subjected this girl to were connected to his earlier research on near death experiences in children?

    Morse threatened the life of an elderly neighbour the same day his treatment of his step-daughter was reported.

    The only good part of the story is that Morse has lost his license to practice medicine.

    Anyhow, I am know there were creepy parents, who abused their children, prior to 9-11. My question is to what extent have creepy parents felt authorized to add waterboarding to their toolkit of child-rearing techniques because of its new public acceptance.

  41. arcticredriver says...

    Woops, I forgot the URL to Morse — http://en.wikialpha.org/wiki/Melvin_L._Morse

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, that’s absolutely disgusting, isn’t it, arcticredriver? And you’re absolutely right, of course. This is what happens when torture becomes official policy, and those who introduced it are not prosecuted.

  44. Tortura, tortura por todas partes | Moncadista says...

    [...] Andy Worthington 21 de diciembre de 2012 [...]

  45. Michael Ratner: Zero Dark Thirty, Manhunt and Obama Admin. Justify Use of Torture + Globalizing Torture « Dandelion Salad says...

  46. America’s Disappeared « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] Bush administration, while Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, “Zero Dark Thirty,” continues to pump out the irresponsible false message that torture played a key role in identifying the location of Osama bin Laden, and on the eve of [...]

  47. arcticredriver says...

    The excellent Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, noted that Zero Dark Thirty was scheduled to be screened for Guantanamo staff — during a period when there were no reporters on the base.

    The camp has two (open air) movie theatres, with what looks like comfortable seats, popcorn stands. They each screen (free) films seven nights a week.

    Anyhow, The Wire published a review on 2013-02-22. For the sake of completeness I’ll include a URL to a copy of the review.
    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Movie_Review:_Zero_Dark_Thirty

    I’ll quote two paragraphs:

    “How the film was shot and directed provided a mood similar to “The Hurt Locker,” and because “Zero Dark Thirty” showed here at GTMO, Troopers watching the film seemed to relate to it as well.

    “GTMO was referenced a couple of times in the film, which even showed news clips of President Barack Obama addressing his no-torture policy as the time progressed in the film. Being a part of JTF GTMO’s missions of conducting safe, humane, legal and transparent care and custody of detainees, I could also relate to the film and the political changes that were occurring during its chronological format.”

    I would prefer that staff at Guantanamo couldn’t relate to a film where the hero engages in brutal torture.

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree wholeheartedly, arcticredriver. Thanks for seeking out that review, and making it available here.

  49. freedetainees.org | Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo: Photos and Report from Saturday’s Day of Action in Tooting says...

    [...] for Europe as a whole. She also spoke about how the countries need to pursue accountability for their involvement in rendition and torture during the Bush administration, and how, in Europe and globally, there is still a need for [...]

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