Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Don't Mention The War

"Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind" - George Orwell

A simple Google search elicits more than a few articles drawing disturbing parallels between the years in Nazi Germany before World War II and the modern United States. Many of these articles are dramatically penned by writers who are already convinced that the worst horrors of the Holocaust occurring in the US homeland is only a matter of time.

While such articles must be treated with extreme skepticism, there are nonetheless notable similarities between 1930s Germany and the contemporary US. The post-9/11 period in particular has seen a remarkable drawing back of civil liberties while the state has claimed almost unprecedented power over, quite literally, the very lives of its citizens.

On 27th February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire in an arson attack that was blamed on the communists. Adolf Hitler, who had been sworn into power only a month earlier, used the attack to suspend civil liberties just one day later with the Reichstag Fire Decree, allowing him to carry out mass arrests of communists and even Communist Party delegates. With the delegates imprisoned, this further allowed the Nazi Party to obtain a majority in the German parliament.

The 2001 September 11th attacks were the catalyst for the Patriot Act, passed opportunistically a month later when the nation was still reeling with panic and fear, and barely even read by members of Congress and the Senate. It has massively curtailed civil liberties in the United States under the pretext of fighting the War on Terror. Restrictions on law enforcement have been drastically cut and police or government agencies are authorized to indefinitely detain immigrants. Searches of a person's home or office are permitted even without the owner's knowledge and law enforcement agents are further enabled to search email, telephone and financial records without a court order. This savage attack on individual freedoms has led to widespread abuse and disruption of society and the lives of ordinary civilians.

In March 1933, shortly after the Reichstag fire and with the communists safely locked up, the Enabling Act was passed, allowing Hitler and his cabinet to change laws without debate with any other parties in the parliament.

President Barack Obama has demonstrated that he also does not feel the need to seek congressional approval for his actions. Not one day of bombing in Libya last year was authorized by Congress under the War Powers Resolution, but Obama felt no restrictions in going ahead anyway, following in the footsteps of many of his predecessors.

President Obama also presides over his now infamous 'kill list' at a White House meeting on 'Terror Tuesdays'. Obama and his aides act as judge, jury and executioner by authorizing the killings via drone attacks of 'terror suspects' and 'militants' on a list of names. Even US citizens can be targeted: Anwar al-Awlaqi was killed in Yemen last year, and two weeks later, so was his 16-year-old son, Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki.

Why was a 16-year-old boy, whose only 'crime' was to be related to a suspect on the kill list, killed in a country with which the United States is not even at war? A US administration official claimed that the boy was not the target and was merely a bystander "in the wrong place at the wrong time". The official went on to say that "the US government did not know that Mr. Awlaki’s son was there" before the order to strike was given.

The kill list targets people who may or may not be guilty of any crime. Hundreds of bystanders have been killed for 'being in the wrong place at the wrong time'. There is no accountability or transparency whatsoever, and no congressional oversight. It is one man in an office, seemingly suffused and overwhelmed by his own power and importance, deciding whether a person on the other side of the world lives or dies. The lack of oversight leads to all kinds of tragedies, like those described in this article by Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve.

From the article:

During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west. At the Reprieve charity, we have a transparency project: importing cameras to the region to try to export the truth back out. Tariq wanted to take part, but I thought him too young.

Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee.


Obama, in recklessly claiming the power of life and death with no due process, murdered these people. They were not terrorists; they were ordinary people like you and me. If factory workers and teenagers can be killed by Obama, who can't be? Where does it end? What greater power can you imagine a leader taking for himself. The very worst dictators in history claimed such powers and were rightly condemned and despised for it.

Where is the outrage?

It is just not there, quite simply because the average American sees drone warfare through the malign prism of the establishment media, which sanitizes the realities of this brutal campaign by using vague words like 'militant' to describe victims.

And nowadays, innocent bystanders are apparently not so innocent...

From reporters Jo Becker and Scott Shane:

"Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent."

When this sanitized, Orwellian version of reality is mixed with aggressive US exceptionalism, we get the toxic result of hordes of woefully uninformed people who believe that their nation is killing bad guys and 'keeping them safe' with no inkling that innocent lives are being snuffed out on their tax dollar.

The Nazis had their own form of this travesty. Joseph Goebbels was a master of propaganda, and he had a lot to say on the subject:

"The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over."

"Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play."

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."


Sound familiar?

Hitler sought to undermine the Treaty of Versailles, which severely limited Germany's military capabilities. He did so with a series of aggressive actions designed to test the resolve of European rivals, beginning in 1933 when he pulled out of the League of Nations. His shrewd and daring strategies coupled with the desire of the other European powers at that time to appease Germany crucially tarnished the power of the treaty. When Britain agreed that Germany could build a naval fleet, the Treaty of Versailles became a worthless piece of paper.

When the US and its 'Coalition of the Willing' invaded Iraq in 2003, they did so without a UN mandate, making it an illegal act under international law. Robin Cook, a former UK foreign secretary and the then leader of the House of Commons, resigned in protest, saying: "In principle I believe it is wrong to embark on military action without broad international support. In practice I believe it is against Britain's interests to create a precedent for unilateral military action."

Cook understood that such a precedent would crucially undermine the United Nations as a global peacekeeping force and he had no wish to be associated with something that could set the tone for future actions by any other nation in defiance of international law.

The United States along with the UK and other NATO countries routinely carry out drone bombing raids in nations they are not at war with under the all-encompassing justification of the War on Terror. Modern warfare is testing the limits and blurring the lines of international law and all the while the United Nations stands on the sidelines, weak and increasingly irrelevant.

Like the Treaty of Versailles.

But how to keep the dissenters in line? The Nazis had the Gestapo, who relied quite heavily on ordinary Germans informing on each other. One of the Gestapo powers most open to abuse was schutzhaft, or 'protective custody', a euphemism for the power to imprison anyone without any due process for an unlimited period.

On New Year's Eve 2011, when most Americans were drinking in the new year, Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), making history as the first American president to officially make the US an authoritarian state. This law contains a provision which gives the US military the power to pick up any US citizen anywhere in the world and detain them indefinitely without trial.

The provision is currently blocked thanks to a US district judge as Naomi Wolf writes here. From the article (see original link for sources):

The back-and-forth between Judge Forrest and Obama administration's lawyers that goes to the heart of the judge's ruling was stunning to behold. Forrest asked frepeatedly, in a variety of different ways, for the government attorneys to give her some, any assurance that the wording of section 1021 could not be used to arrest and detain people like the plaintiffs. Finally she asked for assurance that it could not be used to sweep up a hypothetical peaceful best-selling nonfiction writer who had written a hypothetical book criticizing US foreign policy, along lines theater the Taliban might agree with. Again and again (the transcript from my notes is here), the two lawyers said directly that they could not, or would not, give her those assurances. In other words, this back-and-forth confirmed what people such as Glenn Greenwald, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the ACLU and others have been shouting about since January: the section was knowingly written in order to give the president these powers; and his lawyers were sent into that courtroom precisely to defeat the effort to challenge them. Forrest concluded:

"At the hearing on this motion, the government was unwilling or unable to state that these plaintiffs would not be subject to indefinite detention under [section] 1021. Plaintiffs are therefore at risk of detention, of losing their liberty, potentially for many years."

The government's assertions become even more hellishly farcical. Forrest further observed:

"An individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so. In the face of what could be indeterminate military detention, due process requires more."


If the US government wishes to pass such a law, they will not allow this setback to hinder them, and will eventually succeed. That such a deep desire to pass such a law exists bespeaks the pure authoritarianism of Obama and his administration, something that is quite incredible when one recalls the wave of hope that spread around the US and the rest of the world when he was elected. It is not so incredible, however, when one understands that the overriding purpose of US politicians, including the president, is to serve the interests of their donors and financial backers.

The post 9/11 changes begun by Bush and continued by Obama have taken the US further down the road toward a dystopian nightmare, in which anyone can be detained indefinitely without any hope of a trial if they somehow run afoul of the NSA (which has access to all emails and phone calls) or the militarized police, and any US citizen can be assassinated without due process or transparency at the whim of the US president. This is not a conspiracy theory. Indefinite detention, torture, extraordinary rendition, extra-judicial killing - These things have already happened and they continue to happen daily.

As yet, there are no known concentration camps or ethnic cleansing policies, although one could argue that CIA black sites in client states are a form of concentration camp, as are the camps used for immigrants, and one could also state that the drone bombing campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen target one particular group, namely Muslims, and have already killed at least hundreds of Muslim civilians who were manifestly not involved in any terrorist activity whatsoever.

However, the difference lies in perception. When one thinks of fascist dictatorships, one immediately envisages Hitler making passionate speeches that hypnotized multitudes, or hundreds of thousands of uniformed men marching in perfect time, or an evil secret police agency detaining, abusing and killing at will. One imagines all power in the hands of a single entity or political party with all dissent stifled, all opposition silenced.

So when people are told that they can vote in free elections and choose their leaders, they scoff at the very idea that they actually live in societies that are not free, and that their 'freedom' only lasts as long as they don't step too far out of line. The US in particular will stamp anyone out violently if they pose a serious threat to the status quo; one need look no further than the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has been brutalized by the police and ridiculed by the establishment media so viciously that it is now almost impossible to hear it mentioned anywhere outside of its Twitter network. Look also at how zealously the US is pursuing Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, who had the temerity to publish diplomatic cables proving the secret criminality of the US government and many of its Western allies.

The comparisons to Nazi Germany are not made here in order to predict an inevitable march to some kind of new holocaust. The Nazis failed to achieve their ludicrous and repugnant aims because they were overcome militarily but the Western powers, namely the trans-national corporations, the banks, the ultra-rich and the powerful lobby groups (NOT the state governments, which merely act as fronts), have already won. They have met their aims, namely to make of the masses of humanity an army of consumers and workers who toil endlessly to produce the green blood that circulates in their veins and sustains them. They understand that it is far easier to provide the illusion of freedom than to overtly crush it.

Their single remaining aim is to ensure that the status quo is maintained indefinitely and forever; in order to achieve this, in order to ensure that popular protest is no longer a viable means to overthrow a corrupt system, they finance political campaigns and are repaid in kind by grateful presidents, senators and congressmen, who do anything asked of them, specifically, writing and voting for laws that further entrench the elites and protect them ever more securely from harm.

The NDAA, the militarized police, the mass surveillance of every single American's emails and telephone calls, the buying up of almost every media outlet, the dumbing down of the education system, the PR campaigns so powerful they can defeat a serious climate scientist consensus of 97% and make a huge proportion of the public believe global warming is a hoax. All these things make up parts of the efforts to remove freedom and civil liberties, while at the same time maintaining the illusion of choice when election season comes around.

Every single person who votes for the establishment parties that support this rotten, corrupt and murderous system is culpable. Don't fall for the line that not voting is a betrayal of your democracy. In fact, not voting is currently the only meaningful way of fighting the system. By not voting, you say that you have no confidence in the system, a far more meaningful act than voting for a party that has almost precisely the same policies as its 'opponent'.

At this time there is little that can be done. A grassroots movement toward direct democracy is the only viable method of bringing down this spreading, global cancer. As this movement is still in its early stages, only one option remains to US citizens: do not vote, and if you do, vote only for a third-party candidate whose views most closely represent your own. The two main parties are in reality only one party: the Endless War Party, as they now enjoy bipartisan consensus on almost every key issue, particularly with regard to foreign policy, and their only purpose is to serve the interests of their financial backers.

The interests of their financial backers are diametrically opposed to yours.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Julian Assange - A Tale of Love and Hate

Author's note: This article is a detailed attempt to address concerns commonly raised about Julian Assange and Wikileaks throughout the media.

Ecuador yesterday granted 'diplomatic asylum' to Julian Assange, bringing about a slew of articles, comments, speeches and opinions; some based on false assumptions, others written by those with malicious intent, and just a few which actually spelled out the facts.

The single largest problem with the Assange case is the need to combat the wave of lies, slurs, smears and misdirection employed by those hostile to the idea of transparency in government and elsewhere. The Guardian, a newspaper with a proud history of holding powerful figures to account, shamed itself with today's editorial. An excerpt here:

...in his [Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino] long statement on the case in Quito. Mr Patiño made plenty of other points before confirming Ecuador's decision to grant asylum to Mr Assange. Most of these were based on the claim that the United States wants to get its hands on Mr Assange because of WikiLeaks, that it may torture him, that his deportation to Sweden by the UK would bring this closer, and that Ecuador has a right to protect him.

No one should be naïve about the US, but this is a fallacious chain of reasoning. The US has not said whether it wants to detain Mr Assange, though it has had plenty of time to do so. If it wanted his extradition, the US might logically be more likely to make use of Britain's excessively generous extradition treaty with the US – which has not happened – rather than wait until he was in Sweden, when both Sweden and the UK would have to sign off on any extradition application. And neither Sweden nor the UK would in any case deport someone who might face torture or the death penalty. Ecuador's own human rights record is also far from exemplary, as Human Rights Watch has made clear.


No mention here of the fact that there is strong evidence suggesting that the US has a sealed indictment against Mr. Assange, surely grounds for concern for anyone condemned repeatedly by high-level US officials like Democratic senator Diane Feinstein, who said he should be prosecuted for espionage, a crime which potentially carries the death penalty.

It is also interesting that the Guardian cited Human Rights Watch for Ecuador's human rights record. Human Rights Watch also reports here that two men were sent from Sweden to Egypt, a nation known for torture, at the behest of the US government. From the article:

The Swedish government called for an “international inquiry” after the Swedish television news program—Kalla Fakta—revealed on May 17 that the U.S. government was involved in the transfers of two asylum seekers, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed al-Zari, from Sweden to Egypt. The Swedish Ministry of Justice has since confirmed this.

The Kalla Fakta program included evidence that the two men were not only tortured upon their return to Egypt—as previously reported by the men’s lawyers and Swedish human rights groups—but were also physically abused by the Swedish police prior to being placed on the U.S. government-leased plane that transported them to Cairo.

The program also included a graphic description of the men’s treatment by hooded operatives aboard the plane, including details about their being blindfolded, hooded, drugged, and diapered. Press reports indicate that Egypt has agreed to an international inquiry into the treatment of Agiza and al-Zari following a visit to Cairo last week by a high-level delegation from the Swedish government.

Agiza and al-Zari were expelled from Sweden in December 2001. The Swedish government had acknowledged that both of the asylum seekers had a well-founded fear of being persecuted if returned to Egypt. However, the men were excluded from refugee status based on secret evidence that they were associated with Islamist groups responsible for acts of terrorism. In 1999, Agiza had been tried and convicted in absentia by an Egyptian military tribunal for terrorism-related acts. It remains unclear on what grounds al-Zari was expelled from Sweden and then imprisoned in Egypt. He was released from a Cairo prison in October 2003 without charge or trial, but remains under constant surveillance and is routinely summoned for interrogations.

To justify the expulsions the Swedish government relied upon “diplomatic assurances,” or formal guarantees from the Egyptian government that the two men would not be tortured and would have fair trials upon return. Human Rights Watch and a coalition of Swedish human rights groups subsequently learned that the men had been tortured and ill-treated in Egyptian prisons. International law prohibits absolutely the return of any person—no matter what his or her status or suspected crime—to a place where he would be at risk of torture or ill-treatment. There are no exceptions to this principle.


For a Guardian editorial to omit such vital and pertinent information with regard to Sweden's record on this issue is a disgrace to journalism. Given the well-documented falling-out between Mr. Assange and this newspaper, it suggests an even more sinister motive: to paint Mr. Assange in a negative light to add to the already considerable negative publicity surrounding him.

The Guardian also ran a translated (from Swedish) article by Karin Olssen, the 'culture editor' of the Swedish daily tabloid 'Expressen'. For more on the media climate towards Wikileaks in Sweden, partly created by tabloids like Expressen, please read in detail here. That the Guardian allowed this overtly biased piece onto its pages can only add to concerns about its motives with regard to Mr. Assange and the Wikileaks transparency organization.

A few gems as follows:

Julian Assange's circus has pulled off another breathtaking stunt: he has won political asylum in Ecuador. Assange's flight from Sweden, a decent democracy with a largely excellent justice system, takes ever more absurd forms. After the decision of Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, the Swedish Twitterverse filled with mocking jokes.

Circus? Stunt? Absurd? These are hardly neutral terms and they beg legitimate questions as to the agenda of the writer. And since when does a 'decent democracy' preclude the fact that bad things happen? Sweden's 'decent democracy' allowed two men to be shipped off to Egypt and tortured after all.

[Aside: the writer of this article would like to state that he generally has a very positive view of Sweden and its people, as detailed here.]

More:

Patiño praised Assange as a fighter for free expression, and explained that they had to protect his human rights. But Ecuador is a country with a dreadful record when it comes to freedom of expression and of the press. Inconvenient journalists are put on trial. Private media companies may not operate freely.

President Rafael Correa is patently unable to tolerate any truths that he does not own. Reporters Without Borders has strongly and often criticised the way that media freedoms are limited in Ecuador. Assange is a plaything for the president's megalomania.


It is irrelevant to raise the human rights record of Ecuador; it has no connection to the situation Mr. Assange is currently in. This is simply a bogus way of attacking a country that has done something the writer disagrees with. No one pretends that Ecuador is perfect, but what has that do to do with Mr. Assange's asylum request. All he wants is a place to avoid persecution, and frankly, given his options, he is likely to go anywhere he is invited.

Most of the women in Sweden who dare to report experiences of sexual assault to the police, despite the exposure that this brings, will find that the case is dropped because it is her word against his, and the other evidence is slight or non-existent. That is quite probably what would happen in this case, if Assange only dared come to Sweden for questioning. There is no reason to believe the fantastic conspiracy theories which say that the women's accusations are just a way to get at Assange.

Fantastic conspiracy theories? One of the main purposes of this article is to address the 'rape allegations' in detail, as they are bandied around in the media with very few people knowing what actually happened.

Our story begins:

Note: a detailed accounting of the exact events can be seen here.

Assange was invited to Sweden by the press secretary (Ms. A) of the Swedish Association of Christian Social Democrats. He stayed at her home, which was empty as she and her family were away for a few days, but she returned early to do some work and they stayed together temporarily. During this time, the two had consensual sex, but the condom split. She seemed to think he had done this deliberately [aside: why would anyone want to do this deliberately??] but he insisted it had been an accident.

Ms. A nevertheless attended the seminar the next day with Mr. Assange, and it was at this seminar he met Ms. B.

From the article linked above:

In her police statement, [Ms.] B described how, in the wake of the Afghanistan leaks, she saw Assange being interviewed on television and became instantly fascinated - some might even say obsessed.

She said she thought him ‘interesting, brave and admirable’.

Over the following two weeks she read everything she could find about him on the internet and followed news reports about his activities.

She discovered that he would be visiting Sweden to give a seminar, so she emailed the organisers to offer her help.

She registered to attend and booked the Saturday off work.


After the seminar:

At 6pm they entered a bijou cinema to watch a short film about the ocean, called Deep Sea. In the darkness Assange became amorous.

At one point they moved to the back row, where it is clear from the woman’s statement that the pair went far beyond kissing and fondling.

After the show, they wandered towards a park. He turned to her and said: ‘You are very attractive ... to me.’

Assange said he had a traditional Swedish crayfish party to attend and needed a power nap, so they lay side by side on the grass and he fell asleep.

She stayed awake and woke him about 20 minutes later. When she asked if they would meet again, he replied: ‘Of course.’

What he did not tell her was that the party was being hosted by the woman he had slept with two nights before and whose bed he would probably be sleeping in that night.


Later, on the Monday after the party, they met again at Ms. B's home and again had sex:

One source close to the investigation said the woman had insisted he wear a condom, but the following morning he made love to her without one.

This was the basis for the rape charge. But after the event she seemed unruffled enough to go out to buy food for his breakfast.

Her only concern was about leaving him alone in her flat. ‘I didn’t feel I knew him very well,’ she explained.

They ate in an atmosphere that was tense, though she said in her statement that she tried to lighten the mood by joking about the possibility that she might be pregnant.

They parted on friendly terms and she bought his train ticket back to Stockholm. When she asked if he would call, he said: ‘Yes, I will.’


While the crime of rape must never be trivialized, it must nevertheless be noted that one of the alleged victims held a party for Mr. Assange just days after the crime was alleged to have taken place, while the other joked that she might be pregnant and bought his ticket back to Stockholm. This all from sworn statements written by the women themselves. Do these sound like the kinds of things any rape victim would do?

In this article, Mr. Assange's Swedish lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, stated in an interview that he had seen secret police documents which prove that the women had an agenda and "lied" about the allegations.

From the article:

'It was, I believe, more about jealousy and disappointment on their part. I can prove that at least one of them had very big expectations for something to happen with Julian.’

He has asked for Swedish prosecutors’ permission to disclose more ‘sensational’ information.

‘If I am able to reveal what I know, everyone will realise this is all a charade,’ he said. ‘If I could tell the British courts, I suspect it would make extradition a moot point.

‘But at the moment I’m bound by the rules of the Swedish legal system, which say that the information can only be used as evidence in this country. For me to do otherwise would lead to me being disbarred.’


More:

[Ms.] B called the office of [Ms.] A, whom she had briefly met at the seminar, asking the whereabouts of Mr Assange. During the conversation they realised that they had both been ‘victims of his charms’. Mr Assange told Mr Hurtig he refused their request to take a test for sexually-transmitted diseases.

He said [Ms.] B was especially anxious about the possibility of HIV and pregnancy. It was then that she and [Ms.] A walked into a police station and told their stories.

Mr Hurtig said: ‘I don’t believe [Ms.] B felt she had been raped until she went to the police station. She was encouraged by a policewoman and a junior female prosecutor to think that way. While I don’t think there was any conspiracy, Julian says he is being victimised because of his role with WikiLeaks. The fact that he has a high profile has made him a target for opponents.’

Mr Hurtig said that before leaving Sweden to lecture in Britain at the end of September, Mr Assange tried in vain several times to arrange an interview with Stockholm police.


In this article, we can see that the two accusers 'boasted' about their sexual encounters with Mr. Assange, and that Swedish prosecutors confirmed the 'bragging and exculpatory character' of the women in the text messages between the two women after the alleged crimes, and that within the texts, there was no mention of the word 'rape'. The exact content of these text messages has not yet been released for legal reasons.

It should also be noted that one of the accusers wrote on her blog a piece entitled 'Seven Steps toward Legal Revenge'.

All these things need to be considered by readers when they next read the words 'rape allegations' with regard to Mr. Assange.

Nevertheless, under Swedish law, if a woman changes her consent midway through the act of sex, it can be considered rape, and split condoms are also taken seriously in the same way. It can certainly be argued that a Swedish prosecutor has the right to question Mr. Assange on these allegations.

Leading to this: another fallacy thrown around by those hostile to Mr. Assange is the idea that he is somehow evading justice. In fact, and this is a vital point, he has said on multiple occasions that he would fly to Sweden tomorrow for questioning as long as the Swedish authorities provide a guarantee that he will not then be extradited on to another country. As mentioned earlier in this article, he has legitimate fears along with documented precedent that Sweden may well send him on to a country that would love to get its hands on him.

However, Sweden has steadfastly refused to provide this guarantee, and has also rebuffed any attempts to send prosecutors to London to question Mr. Assange, even an invitation from the government of Ecuador to host them on the premises of its embassy.

From the article linked above:

On Thursday, Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said Quito decided to grant him asylum as London, Stockholm and Washington refused to guarantee that Assange would not be sent on to the United States where he fears trial for the release of a trove of classified US documents by his whistleblowing website.

This frankly makes no sense at all unless the Swedish government has ulterior motives for requiring Mr. Assange to fly to Sweden. It is also extremely suspicious that Sweden has yet to charge Mr. Assange with a crime, and rather telling that multiple establishment media publications and figures still, even now, refer to 'charges' against him in the full knowledge that he is only wanted for questioning.

After reading all of the above, try putting yourself in this man's shoes and ask yourself honestly what you would do, particularly when you know perfectly well how the United States treats whistleblowers. The treatment of Bradley Manning, the US army private accused of passing on the diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, has been condemned both by Amnesty International and the UN's top torture official as torture.

We know plenty about the US's record on torture.

For those who ask why the US does not simply apply for the extradition of Assange directly from the UK to the US, there are strong arguments against that happening:

Read the Freedom of Information (FOI) response from the Home Office (February 2012) regarding US Attorney General Eric Holder’s direct participation in UK Extradition Act ’review’

"If the Justice Department were actually to issue charges against Mr. Assange while he was still in Britain there could be potentially a decision for the UK government whether to extradite him to Sweden or to the United States, and that could get to be a complicated clash between the two different requests which would put the UK government in a difficult position." - John B. Bellinger III on Fox News

Some critical voices claim that the UK-US extradition treaty is more permissive than the Sweden-US extradition treaty. Extradition to the US, they claim, would be simpler from the UK than from Sweden.

This argument fails on several points:

The UK’s extradition treaty does not have the temporary surrender (’conditional release’) clause. The UK’s judicial review process, while far from perfect, has a number of practical review mechanisms. The nearest equivalent case, of Gary McKinnon - a UK citizen who has been charged for hacking US military systems - has been opposed in the courts for 8 years.

Public opinion and the media (to a greater extent) are more sympathetic to Julian Assange in the UK than in Sweden. Public pressure could draw out the process of extradition to the United States in the UK. In Sweden the media climate is hostile (see Media climate in Sweden) due to the sex allegations. Public outcry would be significantly weaker and therefore less likely to stand in the way of a strategically convenient extradition.

In the UK, Julian Assange is better able to defend himself, muster support and understand the legal procedures against him. In Sweden on the other hand, the language barrier prevents him from effectively challenging the actions against.

The UK is politically better positioned to withstand pressure from the United States than Sweden. Sweden is a small country of nine million people close to Russia. It has grown increasingly dependent on the United States. In recent years Sweden has complied with directives from the United States in a manner that has not been scrutinised by Parliament, as has been revealed by the disclosed diplomatic cables (see Political Interference).


[Aside: to view sources for the above, please follow the link in the paragraph immediately preceding the italicized text on the words 'strong arguments'.]

These sex allegations have all the hallmarks of a honey trap after the fact, and it has served those exposed as criminal and corrupt by the Wikileaks cables extremely well. The establishment media love Mr. Assange because his stories attract so much attention and therefore promise potentially increased advertising revenue and a higher profile. They also hate him because Wikileaks has exposed in its short lifetime more than all these vaunted organs, which exist to hold power accountable, have done in their entire histories. Wikileaks serves as a devastating comment on the state of modern establishment journalism and those who maintain its influence and power: the smears, the arrogance and the banality of it all.

Saddest of all is the fact that so many readers of the establishment media are not clued up to this: while maintaining a healthy skepticism of the media as a whole, in particular with regard to celebrity scandal and gossip thanks to the ongoing Leveson Inquiry, people generally appear to believe what they read about 'serious' news, topics like Wikileaks, and are therefore less likely to realize that vital information is often twisted or omitted entirely, fundamentally influencing their opinions on the subject. This lying by omission, for lying is what it is, can be devastating and even give people the opposite view to that they would take if they were given all the facts. The nuts and bolts of the Wikileaks saga detailed above, so vital for understanding the actual circumstances of the case, are routinely ignored.

For example, as detailed here, the media often label Wikileaks as reckless for releasing all 250,000 cables in unredacted form, neglecting of course to mention that it was due to the ignorance of the Guardian's David Leigh that all the files came to be accessible online. Recall that before the unauthorized release, Wikileaks were very slowly and in a careful and professional manner releasing cables in redacted form in order to protect diplomatic sources inside the cables.

Another claim commonly made is that the release of the cables caused harm to suddenly exposed informants. However, the US State Department itself admitted that no harm had come from the release of the cables except for considerable embarrassment to some of the governments involved. Considering the scale of the abuse, corruption and criminality exposed by the cables, a little embarrassment is surely a small price to pay.

So it is OK for the government to read our mail and listen to our telephone calls, 99.99999999% of which are utterly innocent (and, indeed, private), but as soon as someone has the temerity to expose the horrifying abuses and criminality committed in our names and with our tax dollars, the shit really hits the fan. This is in no way whatsoever the behavior of a democracy; indeed, it has been clear for a long time that the majority of us do not live in democracies.

This deluge of misinformation is extremely harmful and has directly led to the current diplomatic row between Ecuador and the UK/Sweden, and also a crisis of international law. The establishment media is culpable: articles like this monstrosity by Richard Littlejohn do not help in the slightest: filled with baseless smears and attacks on Wikileaks and its supporters, and can only fuel even greater confusion over the issue, as the comments below the line clearly show. It is a tragic comment on the state of the UK media that a person as ill-informed, biased and offensive as this is given free rein in a very widely-read newspaper, potentially influencing the opinions of millions of readers in a very negative fashion. People, far from being logical, rational beings, are a mass of cognitive biases and articles like this can only exacerbate them.

It is essential that people get a balanced picture from the media: the alternative is mass ignorance, which is dangerous and counterproductive for democracy. We live in a world with greatly warped perceptions: 27 million people are slaves around the world and millions of human beings, many of whom are children, are trafficked into the sex industry and the world responds with a shrug; but millions upon millions will read tripe like Fifty Shades of Grey or expend all their energy and attention on inane controversies in the fields of sport and entertainment. This skewed sense of priority: where human rights abuses and real tragedies are practically ignored by all except activists while the world and his dog obsess about the latest celebrity divorce is brought about in the main by the inanity of the mainstream media.

Until the media is reformed so that its serious watchdog role is restored, its cozy associations with those in power are expressly banned, its work reviewed by impartial citizen committees to ensure fairness and neutrality, and its lies, by omission or otherwise, punished in prohibitively severe ways, we do not stand a chance of having informed democracies. If there is one thing that the circumstances surrounding Julian Assange and Wikileaks have shown us, it is surely that.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

UK Police Surround Ecuadorian Embassy

In the early hours of this morning UK police surrounded the Ecuadorian embassy in London just hours after threatening in a diplomatic communication to storm the building and arrest Julian Assange, claiming that the 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act gives them the power to revoke diplomatic status in certain circumstances.

However, Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 states that:

1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter
them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

2.The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises
of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the
mission or impairment of its dignity.

3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of
transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.


When the UK embassy was raided in Iran by several hundred people in November last year, the UK Foreign Minister William Hague condemned the act as a fundamental violation of international law:

"It amounts to a grave breach of the Vienna Convention which requires the protection of diplomats and diplomatic premises under all circumstances. We hold the Iranian Government responsible for its failure to take adequate measures to protect our Embassy, as it is required to do."

Even if the UK government believes it has the legal power to storm an embassy, such an act, regardless of the justification, would set an extremely dangerous precedent; any country in the future could feel free to violate one of the fundamental tenets of international law, the inviolability of diplomatic missions, on the basis of a convenient interpretation of national law.

While it is unlikely (although possible) that the UK will actually violate the sovereign territory of Ecuador, knowing perfectly well what the legal ramifications may be, even the threat of such action will undoubtedly lead to serious protests at UK embassies abroad, particularly in nations sympathetic to Ecuador, putting diplomatic staff at risk of injury or worse.

It comes down to the inescapable fact that the UK is willing to threaten an action that would at the very least cause an international incident in order to get their hands on a man who has not been charged with any crime, a man who is simply wanted for questioning by the Swedish authorities with regard to sex crime allegations.

Why would the UK take such extraordinary risks with their international standing and reputation over a man who can not even leave the embassy without being arrested even if asylum is granted?

Julian Assange has repeatedly said that he will submit to questioning and has indeed actively sought to engage with the Swedish authorities, only for his offers to be rebuffed without explanation. The Ecuadorian authorities also offered Sweden a chance to question Assange on the premises of their embassy in London, again only to be refused.

If the Swedish authorities only want to ask questions as they say, such refusals can only be seen as highly suspicious with regard to a man who is so badly wanted by the United States for exposing its criminal behavior and corruption in the diplomatic cables.

It is therefore legitimate to ask whether Sweden is indeed a US lapdog. Time will tell.

One can easily imagine the uproar if China had threatened to storm the US embassy in Beijing when Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped and sought asylum there.

This reckless threat by the UK authorities crucially tarnishes both the spirit and substance of international law. It should be condemned by all right-thinking people, regardless of their opinion of Mr. Assange and the Wikileaks organization.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Life on Mars

"Pain is easy to handle -- but nobility.. the nobility of a man is judged by how much truth he can handle" - Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), Apocalypse Now

Congratulations are in order for the NASA Curiosity Rover research team after the successful, indeed, flawless landing of the rover on the surface of Mars. This Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission will send back invaluable data on Mars, a planet which will almost certainly host future manned missions and may someday even be colonized.

In other words, this is a mission that will advance human understanding and be of great use to the species as a whole, all at a cost of $2.5 billion.

Quick aside: around $6 billion dollars will be spent on this year's US election, a total waste of time.

With the economic and social problems currently plaguing the world, there have inevitably been some who have questioned spending such a large sum of money on this mission when it could have better been spent on 'real' issues on Earth such as health, poverty and infrastructure.

World military spending in 2011 was $1.74 trillion, roughly $200 million per hour. Thirteen hours of world military spending would pay for the MSL mission in full with $100 million in change.

In his book, The End of Poverty, Jeffery Sachs, one of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University, calculated that the total cost of ending extreme world poverty in twenty years would be around $175 billion per year, just 10% of world military spending.

The UN estimated in 2008 that it would cost $30 billion a year for ten years to eliminate world hunger. That's 1.72% of military spending. Other world hunger statistics can be found on this useful web counter.

According to friendsofwater.com, about 1 billion people lack access to clean water. It would cost between $10 and $30 billion a year to provide it. 3.575 million people, the population of the city of Los Angeles, die every year of diseases caused by dirty water.

With a simple calculation we can see that in order to end extreme world poverty and hunger and also provide clean water to everyone on the planet, it would cost a total of around $235 billion a year, 13.5% of current world military spending.

The US spent $663.8 billion on 'overseas contingency operations', the current name for the War on Terror, in fiscal 2010.

From my earlier blog post (linked in previous paragraph) on this issue:

According to Charles Kuzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, as of September 2011 there had been 33 deaths in the US - THIRTY-THREE, count 'em - from extremist Muslim terrorism since 9/11. That's 3.3 people per year. He also says that a third of tips responsible for foiling low-level terrorist threats have come from within the Muslim-American community itself, rather putting to the sword the popular (and disgusting) perception, happily propagated by certain corporate media outlets, that Muslim Equals Terrorist(TM).

So, gigantic sums of money for a so-called threat that kills 3.3 Americans a year, far less than the number killed by bees, but chump change for world poverty, hunger and lack of clean water.

The global arms trade is highly profitable, not to mention extremely shady. For an idea of what goes on in the arms trade (both legal and illegal), watch this devastating, must-watch 15-minute speech by the excellent Andrew Feinstein at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Those who profit from the arms trade are very wealthy and can therefore enjoy close connections with governments and other groups who deal in arms. This gives them enormous lobbying power over politicians and officials, elected in our so-called democracies, who are supposed to represent you and me, the ordinary man and woman in the street.

This is a ludicrous state of affairs, so one must ask why 'we' stand for it. Gigantic sums of money are spent on unnecessary weapons while poor people in nations in the grip of heavy debt, in so many cases brought on by the bailing out of the fraudulent activities of the major banks, suffer terrible deprivations and a serious lack of education/employment opportunities. This state of affairs is unsustainable; and yet sustained it is by our very own apathy and disinterest.

The Olympics are on, after all!

Such apathy is deadly. After the Olympics will come the football season and whatever else there is to distract the average Joe from what is actually happening.

And people will go on suffering.

A paradigm shift in thinking is required: a shift from NIMBY to what affects some will eventually affect all; everyone.

There are plenty of fine writers and journalists around the world, people who highlight terrible abuses of authorities and governments. Just reading and ingesting this information, while perhaps venting on Twitter or a message board, is simply not enough. The same goes for the Glenn Greenwalds and George Monbiots of this world; great writers and journalists and warriors for justice they may be, but their criticism and moaning about the various facets of broken systems will never change anything. Because...

...the game is rigged, and moaning about that fact will change nothing. It is up to us, ordinary people, to take power into our hands via a grassroots movement (explained in my FREE book) and force ourselves into power. The election systems we have are massively flawed as we have no real choice at elections; every single party on the ballot receives enormous amounts in contributions from people or groups who expect to get their money's worth once their paid-for guy is in power. And they get it, all right.

Representative democracy has demonstrably failed. Direct democracy, a system which is eminently workable and is not mob rule, as many ignorant characters online may protest, is the only escape from a future where the banks, the corporations and the rich lobbyists buy the officials you elect.

The time is right for direct democracy.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Terminator V - End of Sanity

"The sea pirates were white. The people who were already on the continent when the pirates arrived were copper-colored. When slavery was introduced onto the continent, the slaves were black.

Color was everything.

Here is how the pirates were able to take whatever they wanted from anybody else: they had the best boats in the world and they were much meaner than anybody else, and they had gunpowder, which was a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur. They touched this seemingly listless powder with fire, and it turned violently into gas. This gas blew projectiles out of metal tubes at terrific velocities. The projectiles cut through meat and bone very easily, so the pirates could wreck the wiring or the bellows or the plumbing of a human being, even when he was far away.

The chief weapon of the sea pirates, however, was their capacity to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was much too late, how heartless and greedy they were."


- Excerpt from Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Back in the eighties I often played computer games on the old ZX Spectrum with my school friends, games of a level of sophistication (given the memory capacity of 48K) that would almost certainly elicit guffaws of derision from teenagers now. Many of the games were variations on the classic Invaders theme, namely blowing up aliens in some kind of war.

This pleasant reminiscence was brought on by something rather more sinister. In an article in today's Guardian by Rory Carroll some light was shed on the thoughts and feelings of so-called 'drone operators', pilots who, with joysticks, headsets and computer screens, have become minions of the only man in the world who claims with his kill list a legitimate, God-like power over life and death, Barack Obama.

Some of their words:

"There's not a lot of time for emotion here. There's a war going on and we have a job to do," says Weaver, a veteran F15 fighter pilot.

"I've flown manned aircraft and believe me this, in terms of combat, is more up close and personal."


'Up close and personal'. 'There's a war on'. 'We have a job to do'. Does any of that sound familiar to you? To me it sounds like something some bloodthirsty fool in a Hollywood war/action movie would say.

"It wasn't the sexy thing to be seated in a ground control station. But we're changing a lot of minds," says Captain Chad, 29, another instructor. "People are seeing our capabilities and what we're doing."

Sexy???

A certain defensiveness mingles with the pride. Asked about accusations that drone strikes are extrajudicial executions, or assassinations, Weaver stiffens. "That's for the politicians to consider. We follow the orders of our civilian leaders."

All bristle at any suggestion that waging war by remote control requires less bravery than traditional combat.

"There are different types of courage," says Jon, a lieutenant colonel, standing in an officers' bar adorned with a replica medieval suit of armour, a framed tomahawk and oil paintings of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. "Ours requires moral courage. We take moral and legal risks. If I pull the trigger and I'm wrong I have to live with the consequences."


First, I reject any moral argument about war as that implies that it can be noble. There is no nobility in war. It is invariably waged either for territory, resources or control/hegemony, and justified with lies; none of these things can be called noble.

Indeed, war is closer to theft, and metaphorically to rape. The idea that it is 'cowardly' not to look your enemy in the eye as you kill him is bogus. The same argument could be applied to using bows and arrows instead of swords - advancements in military technology will always be taken advantage of - and in the only kind of war that I would personally fight in - one of self-defense/survival, I would most certainly use every strategic advantage I could to maximize the chances of victory.

Note also the cognitive dissonance in the three last quoted paragraphs: on one hand they disavow responsibility because 'it's for the politicians to consider' and 'we follow the orders of our civilian leaders' and on the other we have 'we take moral and legal risks' and 'if I pull the trigger and I'm wrong I have to live with the consequences'.

This is known as the Nuremberg Defense, namely the idea that soldiers are not responsible for their actions because they were just obeying orders. At the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-6, this defense was rejected as a means of lower-ranking soldiers escaping culpability, although it could lead to reduced punishments in some cases.

Two things need to be pointed out to these pilots. First, the fact that highly imperfect intelligence and unreliable informants can lead to the tragic loss of innocent life, as indeed it has done on a large scale. To take but one example of many, read the first four paragraphs of this article (which I strongly recommend you read in full) by Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve:

Last October I was at a jirga in Islamabad where 80 people from Waziristan had assembled to talk about the US Predator drones that buzz around overhead, periodically delivering death by Hellfire missile. A jirga is the traditional forum for discussing and resolving disputes, part parliament, part court of law. The turbaned tribal elders were joined by their young sons on a rare foray out of their region to meet outsiders and discuss the killing. The isolation of the Waziris is almost total – no western journalist has been to Miranshah for several years.

At our meeting I spoke as the representative westerner. I reported the CIA claim that not one single innocent civilian had been killed in over a year. I did not need to understand Pashtu to translate the snorts of derision when this claim was translated.

During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west. At the Reprieve charity, we have a transparency project: importing cameras to the region to try to export the truth back out. Tariq wanted to take part, but I thought him too young.

Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee.


Moral courage indeed.

The second thing these pilots need to hear is the tale of Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer in the US armed forces to refuse to deploy to Iraq on the grounds that he believed the war to be illegal and therefore did not wish to make himself party to a war crime.

That is moral courage.

Watada was brought before a court-martial, which ended in a mistrial, and he was discharged. Watada had the nobility and courage to stand up for his beliefs and listen to his conscience in full knowledge as an officer of the wider damaging implications of his decision with regard to chain of command, discipline and morale.

Perhaps these pilots have forgotten that there is little thing called due process, a fundamental tenet of law and justice: a person is suspected of a crime, brought before an open and fair court at the earliest opportunity, found guilty or not guilty after examination of all testimony and evidence, and sentenced in a manner consistent with legal precedent. The moment we dispense with these notions of justice is the same moment that we lose the right to name ourselves a civilized people.

But it was this quote from one of the pilots that chilled me to the bone:

"On the drive home I would decompress. Listen to music, take a deep breath, compartmentalise so I could make the transition to husband, father, family man."

As one Guardian reader (Lostindenmark) commented below the line, I would like to ask this individual: "And what do you turn into when you travel in the other direction?" Perhaps he turns into something like this piece of work.

Drones are the future of warfare for NATO and the major powers. Becoming a ground soldier in a large army would be an unwise career move as any large force could easily be bombed into the next world en masse without a single casualty suffered now that NATO powers already have literally thousands of these flying robots. Such an uneven balance in favor of NATO and the US will inevitably lead to developments by its opponents (China, Russia etc.) of other weapons to redress the balance, thereby making the world an infinitely more dangerous place.

The sociopaths who control the key strategic arms of global society have to be removed. We can no longer afford to simply talk about it. A future of endlessly escalating war beckons unless we act. As someone who has researched deeply the concept of direct democracy as well its alternatives, I know all too well that the only way to remove power from these corrupt regimes is through a grassroots movement towards direct democracy as described in my free book. The alternative, with regard to drone technology, is not only endless war and the killing of innocents, but also surveillance drones flitting overhead watching the moves of everyone below them 24/7. Is this the kind of society you want for you and your kids? Me neither.

Orwell is now spinning faster than Jenny. Stop thinking and talking, and act now.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Torture

"Congress's definition of torture in those laws - the infliction of severe mental or physical pain - leaves room for interrogation methods that go beyond polite conversation" - John Yoo

In an interview with Jon Delano on Pittsburgh Radio back in 2008, then-Republican Presidential candidate John McCain talked about his experience of torture (enhanced interrogation is the current euphemism of choice). He had this to say:

"When I was first interrogated and really had to give some information because of the physical pressures that were on me, I named the starting line-up - defensive line - of the Pittsburgh Steelers as my squadron-mates."

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan who led the Al Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, was captured by Pakistani officials in November 2001 and handed over to the FBI. He cooperated with FBI interrogators and freely gave information about Richard Reid, AKA the Shoe Bomber. He agreed to cooperate further if the US would allow his wife and family to emigrate to the US.

However, despite this progress, the CIA approached GW Bush and asked for permission to take him into their custody for, shall we say, more robust questioning at the hands of Egypt through the process of extraordinary rendition, in other words, torture by proxy. Given permission, the CIA just turned up and took him from the FBI. One fine CIA officer was heard saying as he took the prisoner away: "You know where you're going. Before you get there, I'm going to find your mother and fuck her."

The information gleaned from al-Libi was used repeatedly by officials of the Bush administration to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda as one of the many false pretexts for the invasion of Iraq, and was indeed used in the now infamous speech to the United Nations Security Council by then-Secretary of State, Colin Powell. These huge efforts were made despite then-classified reports by both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency that strongly questioned the credibility of the information.

It turns out those reports were correct. At least now we know why they were really classified.

These are just two stories of many that demonstrate not only the unreliability of torture, but also the tragedies that can unfold by embracing it as a tool, the Iraq War being one obvious example. On an individual level, the probability of innocent people being tortured is high. The International Committee of the Red Cross cited intelligence officials as saying that 70%-90% of the prisoners inside the Abu Ghraib prison, one of the most horrific sites of mass torture to receive wide publicity, were the 'wrong people'.

Recall the case of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, a car salesman and a father of six young children who just happened to have an identical name to an actual terror suspect. He was kidnapped by the CIA and subjected to torture (repeatedly beaten and sodomized) in Afghanistan before being transferred to United States' most famous gulag, Guantanamo Bay. When the CIA realized their error, they flew him to Albania and dumped him in a back street with not even an apology. According to cables released by Wikileaks, the US warned Germany not to allow any local investigation of his kidnapping or abuse.

The Land of the Free.

As torture is officially banned in most countries (although unofficially it remains widespread), and as there are binding international treaties forbidding its use, such a method of extracting information lies outside the normal framework of first establishing whether a captive is innocent or guilty.

Proponents of torture often introduce the 'ticking time bomb' argument, the idea that in certain extreme situations, such as a nuclear bomb with a timer in Times Square, international law goes out of the window and any technique can be used to obtain the information required to avert the disaster.

Authoritarians habitually introduce extreme and unlikely scenarios to make their case. Nevertheless, this is a persuasive argument which cannot be dismissed...until it is refuted by neuroscience.

The conventional wisdom is that subjects being tortured will say anything for the torture to stop, thereby rendering any information unreliable, although there could be some diamonds among the rough: in theory, this argument supports torture, albeit as an extremely inefficient way of gleaning information because every single thing the subject says would have to be checked out thoroughly. Rich states certainly have the resources to do this and that is likely to be one reason why nations like the UK and the US have resorted to outsourcing torture to black sites around the world.

However, according to neurobiologist Shane O'Mara of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin, this conventional thinking is bogus. In a paper in the journal Trends in Cognitive Science entitled 'Torturing the Brain', he says that the use of repeated extreme pain and stress can have profound effects on brain chemistry, radically affecting memory and so-called 'executive functions', namely planning or forming intentions.

From an article about the paper:

Fact One: To recall information stored in the brain, you must activate a number of areas, especially the prefrontal cortex (site of intentionality) and hippocampus (the door to long-term memory storage). Fact Two: Stress such as that caused by torture releases the hormone cortisol, which can impair cognitive function, including that of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. Studies in which soldiers were subjected to stress in the form of food and sleep deprivation have found that it impaired their ability to recall personal memories and information, as [a] 2006 study reported. "Studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred," notes O'Mara. "Water-boarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain."

Stress also releases catecholamines such as noradrenaline, which can enlarge the amygdale (structures involved in the processing of fear), also impairing memory and the ability to distinguish a true memory from a false or implanted one. Brain imaging of torture victims [] suggest why: torture triggers abnormal patterns of activation in the frontal and temporal lobes, impairing memory. Rather than a question triggering a (relatively) simple pattern of brain activation that leads to the stored memory of information that can answer the question, the question stimulates memories almost chaotically, without regard to their truthfulness.

These neurochemical effects set the stage for two serious pitfalls of interrogation under torture, argues O'Mara. The first is that "information presented by the captor to elicit responses during interrogation may inadvertently become part of the suspect's memory, especially since suspects are under extreme stress and are required to tell and retell the same events which may have happened over a period of years." As a result, information produced by the suspect may parrot or embellish suggestions from the interrogators rather than revealing something both truthful and unknown to the interrogators. Second, cortisol-induced damage to the prefrontal cortex can cause confabulation, or false memories. Because a person being tortured loses the ability to distinguish between true and false memories, as a 2008 study showed, further pain and stress does not cause him to tell the truth, but to retreat further into a fog where he cannot tell true from false.

The other barrier to eliciting truthful information through torture is that the captive quickly learns that, as O'Mara puts it, "while I'm talking, I'm not being water-boarded." In other words, speaking = relief from pain. That conditions the suspect to speak at all costs, not distinguishing between what is true and what is made up. "To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature: prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain," says O'Mara. "Coercive interrogations involving extreme stress are unlikely, given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, to facilitate the release of veridical information from long-term memory."


Note: please read the original article for sources to support the facts within the above four paragraphs.

Bang goes the ticking bomb argument.

This article by Doctor Ruwan M Jayatunge details the far-reaching psychological effects of torture, noting that not only the victim but the families and friends of the victim are exposed to deep suffering and psychological issues, often rendering them incapable of maintaining relationships or holding down a job on top of all the usual well-documented long-term problems of depression, insomnia and susceptibility to substance abuse.

That so many victims of torture are in fact completely innocent and unknowing of anything useful to their captors is a tragedy. That in many cases prisoners would be happy to give up everything they know simply by being threatened with torture is doubly so. It is quite unambiguously a crime against humanity with no rational argument that can support it.

Indeed, rationality rarely comes into the arguments of its proponents. Most readers will be familiar with the 'waterboarding' technique, often also called 'simulated drowning' by the establishment media. This euphemism makes it sound like a soft touch. However, this article from The Washington Post written by a former Nevada National Guard member makes it clear that it is more like 'simulated death'. From the article:

The victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding's effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.

The Bush administration used legal weasel words with their pet lawyers to justify the use of waterboarding in its War on Terror in the full knowledge that the United States tried and executed some Japanese officers for performing this very same technique (among other 'war crimes') on allied prisoners of war during World War II. Other Japanese soldiers were sentenced to hard labor. Barack Obama, with his damaging and cowardly mantra of 'not looking back, looking forward' has legitimized these clearly illegal and immoral acts, tarnishing international law and setting tragic precedents for dictators (and sometimes democratically elected leaders) everywhere.

Torture is illegal under international law and binding international treaties such as the United Nations Convention Against Torture and, for international conflicts, the Geneva Conventions III and IV. Condemnation comes from all quarters: the Catholic Church, no stranger to torture in its own history, unequivocally condemns torture in its Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows:

In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

Groups like the World Organization Against Torture and the International Coalition Against Torture as well as noble smaller organizations like Freedom From Torture, which provides medical care and counselling to victims, should all be given our full support. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook and do whatever else you can to help these groups end this holdover from the dark ages.

There is no room anywhere in a civilized world for torture, especially with the only rational argument supporting its use, the 'ticking time bomb', blown out of the water. The disgrace of the fact that supposed beacons of freedom, human rights and democracy like the US and the UK are guilty of it is overshadowed only by their craven attempts to evade responsibility and accountability by rendering victims overseas to hellholes where just about anything can happen to them. This is, in truth, yet another failing of our broken systems, fake democracies, in which this illegal and immoral behavior is able to persist.

Written by Simon Wood
Twitter: @simonwood11

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