Video: Culture of Impunity – New Online Film Includes Andy Worthington Talking About Guantánamo, Torture and Ibn Al-Shaykh Al-Libi


As today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote a newly released half-hour documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.

The film, the first of a two-part documentary (with the second part to follow later in the year) was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.

Dealing with the illegal invasion of Iraq, the establishment of Guantánamo, “extraordinary rendition,” CIA “black sites,” America’s secret torture program, and the guilt of those responsible for initiating the war, the arbitrary detention and the torture — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice  — the film also covers the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who I spoke about.

One of the most notorious victims of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” al-Libi was rendered to Egypt, after his capture in Afghanistan late in 2001, where he was tortured and made a false claim that al-Qaeda representatives were meeting Saddam Hussein to discuss the use of chemical and biological weapons, which, disgracefully, was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

After Egypt, al-Libi was shunted around a variety of CIA “black sites,” ending up being sent back to Libya and Col. Gaddafi, probably in 2006, where he died — allegedly by committing suicide — in 2009. My key articles about al-Libi are “Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison,” “WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi” and “Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies.”

I also spoke about the disgraceful manipulation of the truth about torture in the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which suggests that torture helped to lead to the US identifying the location of Osama bin Laden, when that is patently untrue, and briefly spoke about the torture of Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner tortured in the “high-value detainee” torture program that John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is supposed to provide impartial advice to the executive branch, attempted to justify in a series of memos that will be forever known as the “torture memos.”

As we mark the victims of torture today, it remains a horrible truth that those who authorized and attempted to justify the use of torture in America’s “war on terror” — including the senior officials mentioned above, as well as others including David Addington, Dick Cheney’s senior lawyer, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Douglas Feith, the former under secretary of Defense for policy, and Jay S. Bybee, who signed Yoo’s memos — remain at large, when they should all have been prosecuted for their crimes against humanity.

As Article 2.2 of the UN Convention Against Torture explains, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” You don’t get a pass on the above by being America, or by having a cynical lawyer onside (John Yoo), who attempts to explain that torture isn’t torture. One day, I hope, there will be accountability and not impunity because, until that day comes, the torturers and their apologists are still able to peddle filthy lies about their monstrous activities, and to persuade others that they were right.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

29 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Elizabeth Ferrari wrote:

    Thanks, Andy.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Elizabeth, for your support.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Elizabeth Ferrari wrote:

    Today is unusual. Everyone here is celebrating the Supreme Court decisions regarding gay equality, (except for the nutcases, of course.) Some are also still reeling from yesterday’s horrible decision that guts our voting rights act. Maybe tomorrow will bring more clarity.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Elizabeth, yes, it certainly seems to be a rollercoaster – with very bad news from the Supreme Court yesterday, and very good news today. I fear that and the relentless chatter (most of it pointless) abut Snowden – and the spending review here in the UK, in which the Tory butchers promised yet more savage cuts to an already broken economy – will have effectively drowned out most of the coverage of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Umm Ghazi wrote:

    Good stuff Andy. Sadly though, given that culture of impunity in the times we live in, where men can be whisked away, tortured and held without charge, and where even upon release they cannot find any court in the us or uk to bring those complict to trial, nor find any sort of justice for the absolute horrors committed against them, its hard to seriously believe that any of the characters in the opening titles will ever be charged with war crimes.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Umm Ghazi. I completely understand what you’re saying, and it may be true, but often great institutional crimes take a long time to be properly addressed – as with the internment of Japanese Americans in WWII, for example. The intention of the US establishment, evidently, is to say that whatever crimes were committed need to be excused because everyone was under a lot of stress (the excuse used to overwrite the findings of the damning ethics investigation into the behavior of Yoo and Bybee), but I don’t know if that can stand as the official position forever.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Umm Ghazi wrote:

    For those who live with aftermath of torture, justice cant come soon enough.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Umm Ghazi. Absolutely. From the dedicated torture chambers to the more mundane reality of the experiment in indefinite detention that is Guantanamo, we need to be looking back on all of this, and saying, “never again.”

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Elizabeth Ferrari wrote, in response to 4, above:

    It’s hard for me to believe that America is sleeping through the torture of prisoners sold to Donald Rumsfeld so he could have a parade, just as it’s hard to believe that America is again passively witnessing the stalking of yet another whistle blower. But there it is. I hope tomorrow, people will have more focus to see beyond their immediate circle. Take care, Andy.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    You too, Elizabeth. Just took a bike round around my neighbourhood – my two local hill-top parks at sunset – Hilly Fields and Telegraph Hill park – were a refreshing break from the man-made horrors that afflict us. The new housing development, in contrast, was more of the same. Soulless, and no doubt hideously overpriced.
    OK, back to work …

  11. Tom says...

    Heard two of the most surreal “news reports” online earlier today. First, a Python sketch approach to the Snowden case. We can’t find him anywhere here in the airport. So he MUST be a Russian spy! How Not to Be Seen? Is the BBC THAT desperate to fill airtime?

    Second, doing away with Voting Rights. Does this mean that segregation is legal again (instead of the “coded racism” from the Reagan Era)? Maybe I should ask all the people of color I see every day fighting to get health care and not literally die in the street. Then again, why add insult to injury?

  12. Tom says...

    The second surreal BBC news story of the day? Some right wing think tank spokesman actually said we have a study that proves that almost no one is protesting or cares about austerity cuts. All we see in Trafalgar Square are tourists and lots of pigeons. Which proves this is true.

    The BBC actually has the nerve to ask people for a license fee in return for this?

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote:

    Andy, thanks sharing. I am part of a group campaigning an inquiry to explore how Australia got into the illegal war of aggression against the people of Iraq. We haven’t had an inquiry here, although Britain has has three thoroughly unsatisfactory inquiries. The torture of Ibn Al-Shaykh Al-Libi certainly played an important part in allowing Bush and Blaair, and Howard to push for war. Now that these various governments are pushing to be allowed to snoop on every shopping list and birthday party – and the answer must be that they can’t be trusted with these extraordinary powers and here is the proof.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s a very good point, Willy. Our governments certainly can’t be trusted – and it seems to me that one of the main points that’s being emphasized by members of the public in the latest revelations about surveillance, in the case of Edward Snowden, is that it’s hit home to people how their governments have crossed a line – instead of regarding the vast majority of people as not posing a threat to national security, their default position is to routinely treat everyone as suspicious. Now if people would also realize that our governments are entirely in the service of the banks and the corporations, and the majority of politicians are little more than crooks, playing the political game to get well connected, and to be financially rewarded, we’d have all the ingredients necessary for a new political movement – of the people and for the people.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments, Tom. The emptiness of the mainstream media captured very well there.
    I’m actually depressed by the austerity scenario you describe. Cowed since Alistair Campbell nearly took it down for exposing the lie at the heart of the pre-war “intelligence” on Iraq, the BBC has become spineless. Add to this how well-paid media professionals have become complacent, and, perhaps even without realizing it, have become part of the false culture of entitlement that is the domain of the comfortable middle classes nowadays, and it’s no wonder that proper journalism is so endangered. These comfortable professionals have lost their empathy, and their political antennae – which were once great bullshit detectors – no longer work, and presumably the young people who should know what is what are so desperate for the work that they don’t point out the shortcomings of their employers.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach wrote, in response to 14, above:

    Andy, my thoughts exactly, very quotable. I actually think it would be very healthy for British people to wake up to the fact that the line was probably crossed some time ago. If it was done for their benefit, you’d wonder why the government kept it so quiet (they must really hate Snowden). I think the securitised state protects only itself and its sponsors, as you say – not the general populace.

    It is time for many to abandon the untrustworthy Labour and Conservative Parties, not vote them into Parliament. Grrrr!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    The problem, Willy, is getting to that point. People look at politics and only see the mainstream parties, and, if they’re disaffected, they give up on politics entirely. It doesn’t help in the UK that we have a ridiculous “winner takes it all” system, because it’s not genuinely representative, and the majority of people can refuse to vote and know that it doesn’t even make any difference anyway.
    However, apathy only really plays into the hands of the parties that have given up on genuinely representing the people, so it’s time for a major change. It makes me sad to think that, 100 years ago, meetings of working people attracted tens of thousands of people, as the Labour movement built support, and people engaged with the realities of life, and the problems of oppression and exploitation and war, whereas now, it seems, we’re horribly atomized. The internet enables us to communicate, and to educate each other, and even to campaign, but we need to be out on the streets too, and in meetings, and we need to be establishing a genuine political alternative.

  18. Tom says...

    While I’m following from abroad, I’m seeing the effects of austerity spread everywhere. How then do you cope in the face of all this?

    Keep in mind that if you cut into someone’s profit margin (with enough people backing you), a corporate or political power will make time for you. Having said that, it’s hard at times to not get depressed when it feels like everything is a battle for money and power using soundbites, social media and anything else you can use. I’ve come across many examples recently where essentially people say one thing but are blatantly lying for profit.

    Does this mean that everybody’s lying? No. However, not all but many “professional pundits” are not criticizing the govt. (Obama or Cameron). In return, you keep your nice well-paying network job, column, syndicated chat show, lecture tour agent and everything else. If you say anything, you lose everything. This results in many sincere activists having to stoop really low to be heard. If they don’t, the response is nobody will give me the time of day. What else am I supposed to do?

  19. Tom says...

    A suggestion. As everyone here continues, set boundaries where necessary. Screen everything and take the time to check reputable sources. In addition, I hear this from many other activists. If I could save the world from all of the evil, nasty people out there I would. But I can’t. I can’t deal with my pain and everyone else’s all at the same time. Meanwhile, the mostly right wing corporate MSM continues with endless death and destruction headlines, screaming “debates” that are a waste of time, and other rubbish. Why? Because our consultant says people love this s**t. No they don’t.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comments and advice, Tom. You have mentioned previously how so many people in the mainstream, who claim to be involved in journalism, have forgotten what that means, and are in fact mouthpieces for the government (and their puppet masters in the corporate world). Nick Davies had a good word for the work of so-called journalists recycling press releases, in his book Flat Earth News. He called it “churnalism.”

  21. Tom says...

    In your various BBC appearances, have you had any ongoing contact with any BBC news people?

  22. Tom says...

    Hopefully not too off topic (in a good way). All of these surreal moments with politicians bending the truth or flat out lying reminds me of an old Paxman interview with two art critics. Both were arguing over a painting of a blue rabbit. One critic says it’s great, a great example of superb impressionism, etc. The other says it’s complete rubbish, totally boring style, and so on. Paxman meanwhile is in the middle and says, what’s the big deal? It’s just a blue rabbit. Am I the only one on this set that sees that’s only a BLUE RABBIT(and various other unprintable comments)?

    What does this have to do with Guantanamo, torture, drone attacks and more? At time I feel like I’m the only one that sees what’s really going on. I know I’m not, of course. However, you still have that feeling at times, and it’s like what do I do?

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    No. The problem in the UK, Tom, is that Guantanamo’s not the story it was when many citizens and residents were held, unfortunately.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Ah well, in the “war on terror,” language has been rewritten, Tom. Torture is “enhanced interrogation,” even waterboarding is “a tactic that some human rights advocates say is torture,” the prisoners at Guantanamo are “detainees,” and holding people without charge or trial is acceptable because “enemy combatants” don’t have any rights. I could go on and on ….

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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