Obama’s justice department grants final immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers | Glenn Greenwald
GUARDIAN.CO.UK | AUGUST 31
By closing two cases of detainees tortured to death, Obama has put the US beyond any accountability under the rule of law
The Obama administration’s aggressive, full-scale whitewashing of the “war on terror” crimes committed by Bush officials is now complete. Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing without charges of the only two cases under investigation relating to the US torture program: one that resulted in the 2002 death of an Afghan detainee at a secret CIA prison near Kabul, and the other the 2003 death of an Iraqi citizen while in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib. This decision, says the New York Times Friday, “eliminat[es] the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the CIA”.
To see what a farce this is, it is worthwhile briefly to review the timeline of how Obama officials acted to shield Bush torturers from all accountability. During his 2008 campaign for president, Obamarepeatedly vowed that, while he opposed “partisan witch-hunts”, he would instruct his attorney general to “immediately review” the evidence of criminality in these torture programs because “nobody is above the law.” Yet, almost immediately after winning the 2008 election, Obama, before he was even inaugurated, made clear that he was opposed to any such investigations, citing what he called “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards”.
Throughout the first several months of his presidency, his top political aides, such as the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, publicly – and inappropriately – pressured the justice department to refrain from any criminal investigations. Over and over, they repeated the Orwellian mantra that such investigations were inappropriate because “we must look forward, not backward”. As Gibbs put it in April 2009, when asked to explain Obama’s opposition, “the president is focused on looking forward. That’s why.”
On 16 April 2009, Obama himself took the first step in formalizing the full-scale immunity he intended to bestow on all government officials involved even in the most heinous and lethal torture. On that date, he decreed absolute immunity for any official involved in torture provided that it comported with the permission slips produced by Bush department of justice (DOJ) lawyers which authorized certain techniques. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” the new president so movingly observed in his statement announcing this immunity. Obama added:
“[N]othing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past … we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.”
Note how, in Obama’s new formulation, those who believed that Bush officials should be held criminally accountable for their torture crimes – should be subjected to the rule of law on equal terms with ordinary citizens – were now scorned as “the forces that divide us”. On the same day, Holder issued his own statement arguing that “it would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the justice department.”
But at least this limited immunity left open the possibility of prosecuting those agents who went beyond the limits of the DOJ memos in how they tortured: in other words, those “rogue” torturers who used brutality and savagery beyond even what was permitted by Bush lawyers. On several occasions, Holder had flamboyantly leaked that he was horrified by what he read in certain case files about detainees who were severely injured by torture or even killed by it – there were more than 100 detainees who died while in US custody – and that he could not, in good conscience, simply sweep all of that under the rug.
As a result, in August 2009, Holderannounced a formal investigation to determine whether criminal charges should be brought in over 100 cases of severe detainee abuse involving “off-the-books methods” such as “mock execution and threatening a prisoner with a gun and a power drill”, as well as threats that “prisoners [would be] made to witness the sexual abuse of their relatives.” But less than two years later, on 30 June 2011, Holderannounced that of the more than 100 cases the justice department had reviewed, there would be no charges brought in any of them – except two.
The only exceptions were two particularly brutal cases, both of which resulted in the death of the detainee. One involved the 2002 abuse of Gul Rahman, who froze to death in a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit”, after he was beaten, stripped, and then shackled to a cement wall in freezing temperatures.
The other was the 2003 death of Manadel al-Jamadi at Abu Ghraib, who died in CIA custody after he was beaten, stripped, had cold water poured on him, and then shackled to the wall. It was al-Jamadi’s ice-packed body which was infamously photographed with a smiling US Army Sgt Charles Granier standing over it giving the thumbs-up sign.
A US military autopsy declared al-Jamadi’s death a homicide due to “blunt force trauma to the torso complicated by compromised respiration”. Autopsy photos showed “lacerations and multiple bruises on Jamadi’s feet, thighs and arms”, though “his most significant injuries – five broken ribs – are not visible in the photos.” A physician told NPR back in 2005:
“‘How Jamadi was shackled ‘makes it very difficult to breathe because you are suspended in a very awkward position. When you combine it with having the hood over your head and having broken ribs, it’s fairly clear that this death was caused by asphyxia because he couldn’t breathe properly.’”
So, those are the two cases which the DOJ this week announced it was closing without any charges of any kind being brought. Because the Obama administration has systematically blocked all other cases besides these two from any possibility of criminal charges, yesterday’s decision means thatnobody in the US government will pay any price for the systematic worldwide torture regime which that nation implemented and maintained for close to a decade.
This is so despite the findings of General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the torture regime and said that “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes” and “the only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” And it is done even in the face of General Barry McCaffrey’s extraordinary observation that:
“We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.”
“That the justice department will hold no one accountable for the killing of prisoners in CIA custody is nothing short of a scandal … the decision not to file charges against individuals who tortured prisoners to death is yet another entry in what is already a shameful record.”
Beyond the disgust that these events, on their own, should invoke in any decent person, there are two points worth making about all of this which really highlight just how odious all of it is.
First, Obama has shielded Bush torture crimes not only from criminal prosecution, but any and all forms of accountability. Obama himself vigorously opposed and succeeded in killing even a congressional investigations into the torture regime at a time when his party controlled both houses of Congress.
Moreover, Obama’s top officials, as WikiLeaks cables revealed, secretly worked with GOP operatives to coerce other countries, such asSpain and Germany, to quash their investigations into the US torture of their citizens, and issued extraordinary threats to prevent British courts from disclosing any of what was done. And probably worst of all, the Obama administration aggressively shielded Bush officialseven from being held accountable in civil cases brought by torture victims, by invoking radical secrecy powers and immunity doctrines to prevent courts even from hearing those claims.
In sum, the Obama administration has been desperate to ensure that there will be no accountability or even that meaningful investigations ever take place. That is almost certainly due to the fact thatnumerous high-level members of Obama’s own party were so complicit in these crimes. But at least equally important is this remarkable – and, it turns out, prescient – observation from a New York Times article by Charlie Savage in December 2008, on the prospect of torture investigations aimed at Bush officials:
“Because every president eventually leaves office, incoming chief executives have an incentive to quash investigations into their predecessor’s tenure.”
In other words, Obama is motivated to shield Bush officials from accountability for their crimes in the hope that once Obama leaves office, he, too, will be gifted identical immunity from the rule of law.
Second, although government torturers have now been fully protected by Obama from any accountability, those who blow the whistle on such crimes continue to be pursued by the same administration with unprecedented aggression. As Friday’s Times article on Holder’s announcement pointedly notes:
“While no one has been prosecuted for the harsh interrogations, a former CIA officer who helped hunt members of al-Qaida in Pakistan and later spoke publicly about waterboarding, John C Kiriakou, is awaiting trial on criminal charges that he disclosed to journalists the identity of other CIA officers who participated in the interrogations.”
Here, again, we see one of the prime precepts of American justice: high-level official who commit even the most egregious crimes are shielded from all accountability; the only real “criminals” are those who speak publicly about those crimes.
When Obama first announced his intent to run for president, he vowed that “the era of Scooter Libby justice … will be over” – meaning high-level officials will no longer be able to break the law with impunity. ….
Archive for September 1st, 2012
Posted by Xeno on September 1, 2012
Posted by Xeno on September 1, 2012
Many robotic designs take nature as their muse: sticking to walls like geckos, swimming through water like tuna, sprinting across terrain like cheetahs. Such designs borrow properties from nature, using engineered materials and hardware to mimic animals’ behavior.
Now, scientists at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania are taking more than inspiration from nature — they’re taking ingredients. The group has genetically engineered muscle cells to flex in response to light, and is using the light-sensitive tissue to build highly articulated robots. This “bio-integrated” approach, as they call it, may one day enable robotic animals that move with the strength and flexibility of their living counterparts.
The researchers’ approach will appear in the journal Lab on a Chip.
Harry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the group’s design effectively blurs the boundary between nature and machines.
“With bio-inspired designs, biology is a metaphor, and robotics is the tool to make it happen,” says Asada, who is a co-author on the paper. “With bio-integrated designs, biology provides the materials, not just the metaphor. This is a new direction we’re pushing in biorobotics.” …
Posted by Xeno on September 1, 2012
The cosmic find comes from data collected by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey (WISE) telescope, which scanned the entire sky in infrared light from December 2009 to February 2011. The full catalog of observations by WISE during its mission was publicly released in March, and astronomers are still poring through this celestrial trove for discoveries.
“WISE has found a bonanza of black holes in the universe,” astronomer Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said during a news briefing today (Aug. 29). WISE turned up about three times as many black holes as have been found by comparable surveys in visible light, offering up a total of 2.5 million new sources across the sky.
Posted by Xeno on September 1, 2012
Australian scientists said Thursday they had successfully implanted a “world first” bionic eye prototype, describing it as a major breakthrough for the visually impaired.
Bionic Vision Australia (BVA), a government-funded science consortium, said it had surgically installed an “early prototype” robotic eye in a woman with hereditary sight loss caused by degenerative retinitis pigmentosa.
Described as a “pre-bionic eye”, the tiny device is attached to Dianne Ashworth’s retina and contains 24 electrodes which send electrical impulses to stimulate her eye’s nerve cells.
Researchers switched on the device in their laboratory last month after Ashworth had fully recovered from surgery and she said it was an incredible experience.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but all of a sudden, I could see a little flash—it was amazing,” she said in a statement.
“Every time there was stimulation there was a different shape that appeared in front of my eye.
Penny Allen, the surgeon who implanted the device, described it as a “world first”.
Ashworth’s device only works when it is connected inside the lab and BVA chairman David Penington said it would be used to explore how images were “built” by the brain and eye.
Feedback from the device will be fed into a “vision processor” allowing doctors to determine exactly what Ashworth sees when her retina is subjected to various levels of stimulation.
“The team is looking for consistency of shapes, brightness, size and location of flashes to determine how the brain interprets this information,” explained Rob Shepherd, director of the Bionics Institute which was also involved in the breakthrough.
The team is working towards a “wide-view” 98-electrode device that will provide users with the ability to perceive large objects such as buildings and cars, and a “high-acuity” 1,024-electrode device.
Patients with the high-acuity device are expected to be able to recognise faces and read large print, and BVA said it would be suitable for people with retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.
Penington said the early results from Ashworth had “fulfilled our best expectations, giving us confidence that with further development we can achieve useful vision”.
“The next big step will be when we commence implants of the full devices,” he said. …
Posted by Xeno on September 1, 2012
Posted by Xeno on September 1, 2012
The smoke began rising above the farm fields and tidy forests of Woerlitz last Saturday morning, puffs of white and black that signaled something unusual. By sunset, thousands of people had gathered on the shores of an artificial lake, listening avidly to ominous rumbles. Dozens more, tipsy with schnapps and wine, floated in candlelit gondolas on the still water.
They were all here to see Europe’s biggest, oldest and—as far as anyone knows—only artificial volcano. Completed in 1794, the Stone Island of Woerlitz is a little-known wonder of the Enlightenment, a provincial prince’s attempt to bring a bit of Italian drama and grandeur to the farmers of Germany.
Today it’s part of the Garden Realm of Woerlitz, a Unesco World Heritage site about an hour’s drive south of Berlin. But just a decade ago, this odd structure was condemned, a decrepit ruin covered over with weeds and crumbling stone. After a five-year restoration project, the “volcano” was safe—but silent after nearly two centuries of neglect.
In 2004, the World Heritage site’s management turned to Wolfgang Spyra, an enthusiastic chemistry professor at the Brandenburg Technical University with a side interest in historical pyrotechnics, to bring the volcano back to life. “A volcano that can’t explode is a very sad volcano, and I wanted to make it happy again,” Spyra says. “We wanted to help the volcano get its identity back.”
But first, Spyra—who spent a decade as the head of Berlin’s criminology lab and signs his e-mails “the Eruptor”—had to do a little historical detective work to figure out how an artificial volcano had risen out of this decidedly un-volcanic region of Europe in the first place.
The trail led back to Leopold III Friedrich Franz, prince and duke of Anhalt-Dessau, who ruled a small kingdom near the modern-day town of Dessau in the 18th century. Born in 1740, Franz was an unusually enlightened ruler, even for the Age of Enlightenment. In his mid-20s, he went on a grand tour of Europe, a rite of passage for the continent’s nobility.
Franz’s travels took him to London, Paris, Marseilles, Rome, Venice and Naples, where the 27-year-old princeling was captivated by the smoldering Mount Vesuvius and the recent discovery of the buried Roman town of Pompeii.
“Vesuvius must have really impressed him, because 22 years later he came up with the idea to re-create the Gulf of Naples in flat Germany,” says Uwe Quilitzsch, the Woerlitz Garden Realm’s staff historian. “He saw himself as obliged to enlighten his subjects, and he saw this as a lesson for people who would never get to Naples.”
While preparing for the night’s eruption, Spyra and Quilitzsch explain some of the volcano’s secrets. Franz had his architects build a brick inner building nearly five stories high and cover it with local boulders. At the top, a hollow cone housed a high-ceilinged chamber with three fireplaces. The building’s roof also included an artificial “crater,” which could be filled with water.
Nearby, Franz built a Greek-style amphitheater and a small villa to serve as his personal study and flooded the corner of his estate to surround the “Stone Island” with water. Then, according to historical accounts, he invited his friends to watch his personal volcano erupt.