May 12, 2009

From Wanssee to Gitmo

I interned at HBO Films for a time when I was in film school, and, during that period of time, they produced a great film called "Conspiracy", about the Wannsee Conference.

In short, when Hitler decided he wanted to kill all the Jews, he ordered his military and bureaucratic leaders to get together and figure out how. After all, organizing the apparatus of a nation to systematically murder 6 million people is a helluva thing to pull off. So, they all got together in a mansion in Wansee to work out a plan.

Over dinner.

In short, you can find a lawyer to figure out a way to justify anything. Even a crime against humanity.

In case you were wondering, here's a treaty the U.S. signed back in 1988 (i.e. under Ronald Reagan), and ratified in 1994 (under Bill Clinton) which bans the use of torture under ALL circumstances.
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

And, it defines torture as:
"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
Now, with regard to waterboarding, as described by Bent Sørensen, a Senior Medical Consultant to the IRCT and former member of the United Nations Committee against Torture:
'"when water is forced into your lungs in this fashion, in addition to the pain you are likely to experience an immediate and extreme fear of death. You may even suffer a heart attack from the stress or damage to the lungs and brain from inhalation of water and oxygen deprivation. In other words there is no doubt that waterboarding causes severe physical and/or mental suffering – one central element in the UNCAT’s definition of torture”.

“In addition,” he continues, “the CIA’s waterboarding clearly fulfils the three additional definition criteria stated in the Convention for a deed to be labelled torture, since it is 1) done intentionally, 2) for a specific purpose and 3) by a representative of a state – in this case the US.”

“Finally,” says Prof. Sørensen, “it should not be forgotten that the consequences of torture – including waterboarding - are often long-lasting or even chronic. For instance, anxiety attacks, depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are very common sequelae after torture, regardless of course, whether the victim is guilty or innocent. So torture is never just a momentary infliction of suffering.”'
Which directly contradicts the conclusions of the Bybee memo, namely that it wouldn't constitute pain equivalent to organ failure or imminent death, or that it doesn't cause lasting pyschological trauma, and, therefore, doesn't rise to the level of torture.

But, let's be honest, wasn't the whole point of using these techniques was because it was torture? It's not just about interrogation and stopping attacks. It was payback for 9/11, right? And it was to send a message to anybody else - here's what happens if you fuck with America, suckers!

Which proves a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of Mr. Cheney and others: Al Qaeda has already been calling us The Great Satan, and this is how they're helping to rally people to their cause. By using these tactics, to try to prove that we're bigger and badder than Saddam or the Soviets or any other bad actors in the world simply proves their case.

And, more to the point, the people who need to prove that they're bigger and badder than everybody else are usually motivated by fear. I'm beginning to believe Larry Wilkerson's evaluation that Dick Cheney is "a profoundly fearful man." I know it's a joke, but I'm reminded of my thoughts on Dark Sidious:

How scared do you have to be if you need to subjugate the universe?

May 11, 2009

Ground Zero

I'd been going back through my old, unfinished drafts here on Macroscope when I came across this old article I'd saved from The Atlantic. It's a letter from a woman who was in Hiroshima on the only day that most of us in the rest of the world know anything about Hiroshima, and how, as Wayne Gale would put it, she lived to tell the tale.

Choice quote:

I rubbed my nose and mouth hard with a tenugui (a kind of towel) I had at my waist. To my horror, I found that the skin of my face had come off in the towel.

This, my friends, is pure, unadulterated horror.

But worth a read when we consider the modern state of nuclear proliferation.

The Atlantic | August 1980 | 'I Thought My Last Hour Had Come...' | Guillain