Jesurgislac’s Journal

August 25, 2010

On the comparison of torture with equal marriage

Republicans Must Not Support Gay Marriage

Based on an actual post by a conservative blogger who was against torture in 2004, but who by 2009 was comparing the evils of allowing gay marriages to be federally recognized to the evils of allowing people to be tortured.

satire begins, for the sake of those without an irony-detector

I generally support the 9/11 Commission Bill [I suppose I could have picked out another piece of legislation, but it suited my sense of irony to pretend that we live in an alternate universe, where Republicans had decided to support gay marriage as a weapon in their War On Terror - which makes as much sense as supporting torture]. However, Sections 3032 and 3033 are very disturbing. They make it very easy for the US to accept gay marriages performed in other countries in order to allow such people to get married in that country.

I strongly believe in the principle of policing your own. I am a Republican and a regular advocate for the Republican Party. You should consider this post a kind of ‘toughlove’. As such I have some harsh words for the sponsors of this bill. This portion of the bill is morally, ethically, and politically wrong. It may be that you did not know all of what you were sponsoring (the bill is 300+ pages). But you should know now, and you should take action to change it.

There are so many things wrong with the idea of allowing gay marriage that I hardly know where to start.

First, it is wrong to treat people that way.

Second, these rules involve gay people. It is bad enough that we sometimes allow the wrong people to get married. Can we live with ourselves as a nation if we have condemned innocent men to get married to each other? If the French experience with PACS is any guide, the regularization of gay marriage causes an explosion of men getting married. They moved from the low hundreds to the thousands in just one year. That would likely involve at least a hundred innocent men getting married.

Third, it is a well understood conservative principle that people tend to push past the bounds of the legally permissible. Even though we have banned the use of gay marriage in our country, the line between gay marriage and non-marriage is still skirted from time to time. Overzealous gay people sometimes go a bit further than we allow. If we move the line to allow for gay marriages performed elsewhere, where will those who go a bit further go? They will go to using a person’s children against them. They will send a man and his wife to these other countries so both can be forced into same-sex marriages. I can’t predict exactly how it will work. But I know for a fact, and you do too if you think about it, that gay people push the line and push it hard. If we move the line so far as to allow gay people to go to other countries to get married, the actuality will go even further. You should also note that such exporting of gay marriage will never be under the classic ‘ticking bomb’ scenario which is sometimes used to justify gay marriage. If we have time to send them to another country, the information isn’t so crucial as a ‘ticking bomb’.

Fourth, gay marriage is rarely more effective than other marriages. Why open ourselves up to such horrors without even a payoff?

Fifth, for those not convinced by the above, it is politically stupid. This plays into all the left-wing fears about conservative blindness to the problems of the gay system. It makes all the whining about a ‘gay state’ look a bit less crazy. It provides a perfect example of willingness to abandon our country’s principles in the war on terrorism. Voters want tough, but they do not want crazy. We are at a crucial stage in a vital campaign. Throwing it all away by playing into every swing voter’s concerns about Republicans possibly going too far is just plain stupid. So if your heart is hardened to the moral implications, at least pay attention to the political implications.

My message to Republican leaders is this, either listen to the moral implications, or at least learn Dan Rather’s lesson. The blogosphere is beginning to focus its attention on this issue. Look at the number of trackbacks to katherine’s post. It isn’t just going away. Put it to rest now. Admit that you hadn’t fully thought through the implications of this small section of the bill and move on. It would be the height of foolishness to risk the American public’s backing for the War on Terror on a practice which is both highly immoral and typically unhelpful. We are going to have to steel the public’s nerves for a lot of things to come in the future. It would be a shame to waste time and energy defending the unhelpful and indefensible instead of dealing with other issues which are highly useful to the war and merely tough to defend.

January 22, 2010

Omar Deghayes: seeing clearly into Guantanamo

In response to a post by Eric Martin of Obsidian Wings about the denial of legal rights to people accused of terrorism, regular/right-winger Marty quotes Scott Brown: “And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation – they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.”

and claims that “for better or worse” this answers the question about why people who have been accused of terrorism ought not to receive the same legal rights as people accused of any other crime.

Here’s one of the “enemies in wartime”: Omar Deghayes, a refugee from Gadaffi (his father was executed in Libya in 1980) who was a legal British resident since age 10, whose wife and son are British citizens, who was taken in Pakistan when he took his family there to escape the war in Afghanistan after “the Americans began paying large amounts of money to find Arabs who had been in Afghanistan”.

In Guantanmo Bay:

It is not hot stabbing pain that Omar Deghayes remembers from the day a Guantánamo guard blinded him, but the cool sen­sation of fingers being stabbed deep into his eyeballs. He had joined other prisoners in protesting against a new humiliation – inmates ­being forced to take off their trousers and walk round in their pants – and a group of guards had entered his cell to punish him. He was held down and bound with chains.

“I didn’t realise what was going on until the guy had pushed his fingers ­inside my eyes and I could feel the coldness of his fingers. Then I realised he was trying to gouge out my eyes,” Deghayes says. He wanted to scream in agony, but was determined not to give his torturers the satisfaction. Then the officer standing over him instructed the eye-stabber to push harder. “When he pulled his hands out, I remember I couldn’t see anything – I’d lost sight completely in both eyes.” Deghayes was dumped in a cell, fluid streaming from his eyes.

The sight in his left eye returned over the following days, but he is still blind in his right eye. He also has a crooked nose (from being punched by the guards, he says) and a scar across his forefinger (slammed in a prison door), but otherwise this resident of Saltdean, near Brighton, appears ­relatively ­unscarred from the more than five years he spent locked in Guantánamo Bay.

read the rest

The “evidence” against Omar Deghayes, aside from the US having paid the Pakistani authorities a lot of money for him (apparently the Libyans and the Americans were competing in the auction) is that someone spotted someone who looked like him in an “Islamic terrorist” videotape: a Chechnyan rebel called Abu Walid, who is dead. His lawyers were denied access to the videotape by the American authorities: they eventually obtained a copy via the BBC and were able to show that the tape was of a different person.

Omar Deghayes is one of at least eight hundred of the US’s kidnap victims who suffered illegal imprisonment for years. He’s one of eight hundred people that Scott Brown claims are “enemies in wartime”. He’s a legal British resident whose brutal treatment Scott Brown defends because he’s not a US citizen and so was not entitled to any of the legal rights of a US citizen – including the right not to have your guards stick their fingers in your eyes and half-blind you: including the right for your lawyers to be able to see the evidence for the charges alleged against you.

Omar Deghayes did not take up arms against the US: he did not engage in criminal activity: he went to Afghanistan to do charitable work for some of the poorest people on Earth, and he fled to Pakistan to save his family when the US attacked. Yet Marty repeats this lie – that Omar Deghayes is an “enemy in wartime” and so this brutal treatment is justified – and will not explain why he thinks the lie answers the question.

Why is that?

A year ago, President Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay within 12 months. Even though his intent was to move many of the prisoners to another illegal prison camp in Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan, he has not yet managed even the face-saving exercise of closing down the US’s best known prison camp: the Cuban oubliette.

January 4, 2010

John Yoo: I am West Berlin!

…Huh. Even Kennedy was only claiming to be a jelly doughnut. (Which, yes, I know, is the Gaffe That Never Was.)

Yoo is the author of the Memo Regarding the Torture and Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States, in which (responding to “a legal question” from his client, President Bush/ the Bush administration) he gave the false and brutal answer his client wanted: it was legal to torture the prisoners claimed by the US to be “unlawful combatants”, providing certain specific methods of torture were avoided.

Given the date of the memo (March 14, 2003) this is a memo written to justify criminal actions that had already been committed by Yoo’s “client”, and were to continue being committed certainly until February 2009, and which may still be being committed in the US extra-judicial prisons which Obama intends to use to store the prisoners who were being kept illegally in Guantanamo Bay, and, when the Guantanamo prison is closed, are to be kept illegally elsewhere.

All of this is old news. What’s current news and ongoing news is Yoo’s being permitted by the University of California and the Californian Bar to continue to teach law at Berkeley’s School of Law. despite being publicly guilty of having condoned criminal actions on the part of his client, and having given his client legal advice on how to break the law.

Yoo’s reaction to the various public efforts to shame the University of California, and the lawyers who continue to tolerate this shame to their profession in their midst, is to compare himself to West Berlin: “I am used to it. I remind myself of West Berlin — West Berlin surrounded by East Germany during the Cold War.”

How far should a lawyer who advises his client to break the law – who writes a legal opinion that justifies to his client his client’s breaking the law! – be allowed to continue in his profession? John Yoo self-pityingly claims it’s his “conservative” views that denied him a post at more prestigious universities, rather than his ignorance of the law or his complete lack of principles.

(And I know it’s a joke that lawyers don’t have principles, but in fact lawyers tend to have extremely rigid principles in the structure of their profession. Those go with defending your client in court to the utmost of your ability, keeping client secrets confidential, etc. John Yoo makes much of how he was a very junior lawyer in the DoJ: if true, I suspect that means he was also the not the first lawyer asked to write this memo – but the others have upheld the principle of client confidentiality and are never going to admit their client asked them to write a memo advising him that his criminal actions were legal…)

April 8, 2009

Obama: for or against torture?

It would appear that President Obama has till May 11 to decide whether he does, in fact, actually oppose the US military torturing prisoners… or if he would just rather not know what the US military does to prisoners.

On May 11, Clive Stafford Smith, Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer, director of Reprieve, will appear in court to be charged with the crime of telling President Barack Obama that the Privilege Review Board had redacted the whole of a memo Smith wrote to Obama describing Binyam Mohamed’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay. (See Glenn Greenwald’s interview on Salon Radio.)

For that crime, Smith may spend up to six months in jail: that is, for the crime of telling the President of the United States that a secret committee in the Pentagon did not want him to know exactly what had been done to Binyam Mohamed.

Obama’s preference with regard to torture is clearly and explicitly to do nothing – that was unfortunately clear from November 22, when he announced he would keep George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense in the position he had held for two years. That’s an improvement on the pro-torture policies of the Bush administration, certainly – as King Log is better than King Stork.

But merely deciding to do nothing – neither to authorise torture techniques, nor take steps to prevent ongoing torture (prisoners were still being tortured at Guantanamo Bay in February this year, as Binyam Mohamed – and the doctors who examined him on his return to the UK – can testify), nor to prosecute those who committed torture with President Bush’s authorisation – is a complex balancing act, absolutely dependent on no one pushing.

Many Americans who objected to torture under Bush appear content now to not push – not to ask why Obama did not act to stop torture at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere as from January 21, not to ask why Obama is not setting in motion an investigation of torture under Bush, not to ask why the current Secretary of Defense, who may be implicated in the torture of prisoners under Bush, has been allowed to retain his position into Obama’s administration.

It’s true: Obama is so much better a President and a man than Bush that it’s actually hard to compare them: and the US and the rest of the world dodged a bullet when McCain lost so comprehensively last November. (Two bullets, in fact: President Palin.)

But because Obama is so much better than Bush, he should be pushed harder. Now it’s come down to a decision Obama has to make: is he going to take the position that people should be prosecuted and jailed for telling him about prisoners being tortured by the US – and let that happen to Clive Stafford Smith and others at Reprieve? Is he going to ask to read the unredacted memo? Is he going to begin the investigation of torture in the US military that should have begun in 2004?

May 11th. Obama has a deadline.

March 13, 2009

Torture in the US military: why it still matters

Terry Holdbrooks served as a military police officer with the rank of Specialist in the United States Army between 2002 and 2005, attached to the 252nd Military Police, and later assigned to the 463rd MP company, a mobile deploying unit, based at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. From 2003 to 2004, he was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, where he served as a prison guard. This is a quote from an interview by the Talking Dog, on March 5th 2009:

In my case, a few squad leaders decided that I had shown too much interest in the detainees… I was not appropriately abusive or angry enough… I didn’t harbor “the right feeling”. So I was taken behind my barracks, and some blows were issued, pushing and yelling, a lot of profanity. I was told to “get my head on straight”… and asked why I was not with the program… I responded that it was “not my prerogative.”

At that point, my own squad leader separated me out from the others, suggested that they end this, lest they all get in trouble. I did not report this to my captain or sergeant… I felt that the pain was temporary, and that there was no reason to worry about this incident, so I let it go.

In social terms, I will say that I ended up effectively shunned or “excommunicated” from the others in the company, and we really did not talk much until we left Guantanamo and returned to Fort Leonard Wood. Things largely returned to “normal” at some point between when I left GTMO in 2004 and left the Army in 2005. Closer to 2004, when we returned, the platoons were redistributed again, and things were different, almost as if it was an opportunity to start over, and we were reunited with 1st platoon who had been gone in Qatar at that point we were gone in GTMO.

Which is why posts by liberal American bloggers justifying Obama’s decision to keep Gates on as Defense Secretary do not impress me at all.

November 12, 2008

My Obama Wish List: 7

What’s next?

7. Investigate the Department of Defense for all those implicated in the torture of prisoners held by the US military.

Everyone who worked there during the Bush administration who could have known about the torture of prisoners before they read about it in the papers, must be investigated to discover if they did.

If they knew about the torture of prisoners and did not speak out, the minimum penalty exacted should be to be fired from their post and banned for life from any government employment: prosecution may follow. And yes, that includes the officers whose crime was “merely” to ignore the reports of lower-ranking soldiers that US soldiers were torturing prisoners. The more senior the position held, the more strongly an investigation should push for prosecution. Neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Robert M. Gates should be exempt.

Okay, break’s over!

November 9, 2008

Closing Guantanamo Bay

Twenty-four hours ago, I went to a demo organised by kids from my old school. (I didn’t take photos because I couldn’t find my camera, dammit.) They got support from Amnesty International and Stop the War, and from their headteacher (the school’s changed quite a bit since I was there!).

A lawyer talked about how the Bush administration’s consistent pattern, facilitated by lawyers in their service, had been to deny what they were doing, to minimize what they were doing, and to reframe what they were doing.

The MP for the constituency in which my old school stands, talked about how the UK Government had supported the US government’s lies and attack human rights.

Three students from the school made short and passionate speeches against the kidnappings and torture of the US: the last student also told Barack Obama – a message that I wish Obama could have heard – that this was Obama’s chance to prove he was truly going to change: to close down the gulags. To apologize to the victims who have suffered for so many years of American extra-judicial imprisonment. To give those against whom there is a case a fair trial.

To publish these people’s names: to admit they are there. The US government moves prisoners around the world, from one gulag to another.

To end this monstrous injustice that has become both a symbol of the US’s position in the world and a real horror for so many people who have spent years in the cages of the US and for the people who have lost kindred or friends to these cages.

The demo lasted half an hour: not long. We stood in the rain and sun and listened, a hundred or more of us. No reporter had attended, though several had been invited: apparently Guantanamo Bay is “not newsworthy”.

May 22, 2008

Torture doth never prosper

Torture doth never prosper, what’s the reason?
For when it prospers, people call it “harsh interrogation”.

Yeah, it doesn’t rhyme. (I looked up “torture” and found exactly two rhymes for it, neither of them easy to work into a verse: porcher, scorcher.)

This is the reason why I will not join Slacktivist’s campaign Torture is wrong – but when torture advocates can with bland voice say “of course torture is wrong – we only want to hurt our prisoners a little bit, no scars! and deliberately humiliating them to make them confess doesn’t count as torture, you liberal hippy!” what good does it do?

“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. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

When you hold someone prisoner, even if they are imprisoned legally and justly (which of course is not true of the extrajudicial prisoners who are being tortured by Americans), it is wrong to inflict on them severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental. Trying to define “severe” is pointless: but given that the Geneva Conventions repeatedly argue that the standard should be to treat soldiers and civilians of enemy nations as well as you treat your own soldiers and civilians, “severe” should be held to the same standard: if you would object to having this pain and suffering inflicted on one of your own*, don’t do it to a prisoner. Because it’s torture. Even if, gestapo-like, you prefer to call it “harsh interrogation”, or demand to know how else “the terrorists” can be fought.

*However you define “one of your own”.

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