Globalist Paper: The U.S. Torture Report and White Supremacy

This essay originally appeared in The Globalist, where I am a Senior Editor.

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The United States already decided decades ago that no human deserved to be subjected to the treatment after September 11th described in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogations. Such torture – which included sexual assault and partial drowning – was not to be employed by the United States (or any) government.

The United States suddenly restored these horrific tactics in 2001. It did so not just for known terrorists, but also for people mistakenly detained. This decision would supposedly “protect the American people.”

Many in Washington and beyond have continued to insist that the methods employed were effective at promoting national security (and thus self-justifying), despite the report’s findings — and centuries of evidence — to the contrary.

Asking a morally wrong question

But the very debate on the “effectiveness” of immoral methods is itself immoral. Ignoring the taboo on torturing captives necessarily implies that some people are worth so little – when they might possibly pose a threat – that they do not count as humans.

The moment one asks of an immoral action “Did it work?”, the asker has rejected the humanity of those whom it was used upon. And the matter of whose humanity “counts” or is arbitrarily conditional is a major factor behind this efficacy debate’s existence at all.

When effectiveness is considered instead of the morality of abusing or killing fellow humans, such crimes can and will reoccur.

The question Americans must ask themselves and each other is not “Did it work?” – of course it did not, but that is beside the point. It was known full well at the time that they would not. And so the real question is: “Why did we illegally and deliberately decide to perpetrate ineffective war crimes, including torture, in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001?”

When one considers specifically who was subjected to these war crimes, the path to the answer inevitably turns in one direction: racial supremacy and the prioritization of White America’s safety above all else.

Dehumanization abroad

In short, the Torture Report is really about how the United States chose once again, as official post-9/11 policy, to debate the efficacy (not the morality) of doing harm to those bodies deemed sub-human, specifically non-white bodies, in a drive to protect White America.

As it stands, the “efficacy” question itself appears to mask an inexcusably primal desire to seek revenge against the non-White communities from which the terrorists happened (that time) to have come.

The suspension of full human status – and the legal protections that go along with that – for Muslims suspected of terrorism after 9/11/01 is at the core of the CIA’s actions. Sadly, it fits into a broader pattern in American history. It is the same logic that allowed early U.S. leaders to count enslaved Black laborers as constitutionally 60% human.

Nineteen attackers and their supporting network were made to represent an entire people, whose humanity was then stripped away as official policy. Such a broad-brush response did not occur six and a half years earlier when two White Christian extremists with ties to various shadowy anti-government networks destroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City.

The former was an attack by the “Other,” the latter was deemed an in-group attack. The fact that those received two entirely different treatments is a testament that the reaction was a matter of race. It is a primordial fear-response befitting a skirmish between prehistoric clans crossing paths, not a 21st century global superpower encountering an aggressive band of malcontents.

Such “Us vs. Them” taxonomies are dangerous. To protect the innocent lives of some, the innocent lives of so many others become purely expendable.

The argument simply boils down to asserting in stark terms: “Our lives are worth ending or abusing yours, even by mistake, just to be 100% sure ours remain safe.”

This is about race

But perhaps this division is just a case of misguided hyper-nationalism or ultra-patriotism by the United States? Perhaps the “Us vs. Them” division is not racially, ethnically or religiously motivated, as I have suggested?

Unfortunately, that does not seem to hold up to scrutiny. For one thing, the United States has acted much more leniently toward terrorists and mass murderers who are White and/or Christian, both at home and abroad.

Instead of being summarily killed or tortured by law enforcement, White mass shooters (in Tucson, Aurora, etc.) and White anti-government bombers (Oklahoma City, Unabomber, Weather Underground, etc.) are often arrested and tried normally.

For another, consider the current “targeted airstrikes” that keep raining down on Arab and Muslim populations, from Africa to South Asia, as encapsulated so neatly in Akbar Ahmed’s parable of “The Thistle and the Drone.” The logic of illegal torture of detainees – from the same populations – was framed in the same terms as the ongoing drones debate: “Does it work?” – instead of “Is it wrong?”

Drones instead of torture?

Indeed, it seems quite possible that drone strikes, with an extreme level of remove from the situation, have replaced torture fairly directly in the counterterrorism toolbox.

According to The Atlantic, the “CIA began moving away from capturing and detaining suspected terrorists in favor of killing them via drone strikes.” There have been around 490 targeted drone strikes, which have been mostly performed by the CIA.

President Obama is not relieved from responsibility simply because he banned (already illegal) torture, since those interrogations had already been replaced by the terminal actions of drone strikes. In fact, 90% of U.S. “targeted strikes” have occurred under the Obama Administration, not the Bush Administration.

Finding oneself accidentally in the wrong place can lead to execution by drone. (Previously the result was extraordinary rendition and torture.)

And that victim will not even be counted as a mistake. According to a New York Times investigation in 2012, under official U.S. policy, “all military-age males in a strike zone [count] as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”

Read that last half-sentence again – and again. Their lives are devalued until they are not even dignified with the status of accidental death. Instead, they are chalked up as a win.

The bigger picture

But this trouble made in the U.S.A. does not end with torture and drones. It also includes – closer to home – police brutality and excessive use of deadly force by law enforcement or Stand-Your-Ground vigilantes. What unites all of these tactics is that they have that “Does it work?” calculus in common when deployed by the United States. Morality is out of the picture.

The so-called “post-9/11 environment” – so often touted as a justification for torture and other hysterical overreactions of the era – existed within a wider, darker context.

On a micro level, we hear the same justifications from police and vigilantes who use lethal force by mistake on an unarmed person: I was afraid, and therefore I am not responsible for my actions. In 51% of police shootings, that unarmed victim is Black or Latino, despite those combined groups representing just 29% of the total population.

In truth, that environment beginning in late 2001 was simply American racial and ethnic paranoia writ large, the same as it as always been.

The high toll of White supremacy

In the pursuit of extreme counterterrorism methods, and in police/vigilante shootings, U.S. leaders and their most aggressive defenders have endorsed a view that at its core insists the bodies of (White) Americans must be so priceless that everyone else’s bodies are expendable in the effort to protect the first group.

There is no other way to explain writing off so many innocent lives because someone looked like a threat. There is no other way to explain applying a different set of rules for treatment of White attackers and non-White attackers.

Whether or not that is consciously intended, it is the effect. And it is the most reduced and unadorned version of the arguments offered to justify such policies.
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Texas to Syria: The Jihadist Journey of a Used Pickup Truck

Woops:

Texas plumber says he has no idea how his old company truck ended up in a jihadi photo from the front lines of the war in Syria produced by the militant group ISIS.

The New York Daily News reported that Mark Oberholtzer of Texas City traded the company car in at a dealership in 2013 and hadn’t thought of it since.

On Monday, however, the Ansar al-Deen Front, a Syrian militant group, posted a photo featuring the black Ford F-250 pickup with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the truck bed and the logo of Oberholtzer’s Mark-1 Plumbing Company and contact information emblazoned on the doors.

 
Ansar al-Deen Front (aka “Supporters of the Religion” Front) is one of the newer Syrian militant coalitions, operating as an alliance of three “neutral” rebel fighters (mostly foreigners) only since July 2014. They are based in western Syria and claim not to be aligned with either ISIS or the various FSA and Nusra Front groups opposing ISIS. This isn’t terribly surprising since they are apparently mostly not Syrians — hailing from farther flung places such as Morocco and Chechnya — which probably reduces their stake in the internal divisions of the anti-Assad groups.

But back to the poor plumber in Texas. Apart from the death threats from stupid people who can’t figure out this was obviously unintended, I love this story for its globalized absurdity. It is the perfect distillation of all the dedicated but under-appreciated reporting for about 10 years by all the Iraq correspondents noticing pre-owned/stolen North American vehicles repeatedly showing up in bombing attacks and trying to figure out how they got there but not being able to trace them very far. Even FBI investigations didn’t make definitive progress. See this 2005 account:

The inquiry began after coalition troops raided a bomb-making factory in Fallujah last November and found a sport utility vehicle registered in Texas that was being prepared for a bombing mission.

Investigators said they are comparing several other cases where vehicles evidently stolen in the United States wound up in Syria or other Middle East countries and ultimately into the hands of Iraqi insurgent groups — including Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab Al Zarqawi.

 
Of course, Al Qaeda in Iraq was subsequently renamed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), bringing the whole thing full circle to today’s conflict.

And this new story also involves another of my favorite topics (dating to the Libyan Revolution in 2011): Militants Driving Fast With Stolen Anti-Aircraft Guns on Pickup Truck Beds That Should Not Be Used That Way.

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December 17, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 111

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Topics: Torture Report, CRomnibus spending package, video game review – This War of Mine. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: December 15th, 2014.

Discussion Points:

– Torture Report: Why US actions after 9/11 are symptomatic of a wider unresolved White Supremacy in American policymaking and society — and why torture and drones are the logical extension of daily police brutality and accidental shootings.
– CRomnibus Spending Package: Should Democrats and President Obama have stood more firmly on principle against the new funding measure even at the cost of a shutdown?
– Political Pop Culture: Nate reviews “This War of Mine,” a survival game set in the Siege of Sarajevo

Part 1 – Torture Report:
Part 1 – Torture – AFD 111
Part 2 – CRomnibus:
Part 2 – CRomnibus – AFD 111
Part 3 – This War of Mine:
Part 3 – This War of Mine – AFD 111

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links
Segment 1

Boston Globe: 20 key findings of Senate’s CIA torture report
Arsenal For Democracy coverage of the 2014 Torture Report
Arsenal For Democracy archive coverage of the 2009 Torture Memos

Segment 2

AFD: The Terrible CRomnibus
NYT Dealbook: Wall Street Seeks to Tuck Dodd-Frank Changes in Budget Bill
Huffington Post:The Levee Breaks: Democrats Rage Against Obama Over Wall Street Giveaway
AFD: US prepares to give sacred Native land to Australian mining firm
AP: Federal budget would raise limits on big donors in campaign finance

Segment 3

AFD Review by Nate: My War
Steam: “This War of Mine”

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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

This can only possibly end amazingly well

A further step in the never-ending deepening process of Egypt’s militarized state, country, and society:

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi issued a decree on Monday to create a new police rank with arrest powers, the move will increase the number of law enforcement staff.

Spokesperson to the presidency, Alaa Youssef said in a statement that the decision aims at creating a new rank of ‘police aides’ who will be appointed and trained according to specific criteria.

The low ranking police positions will be limited to 19 to 23 year-olds who have completed preparatory school.

 
flag-of-egyptSounds a lot like it will be a nominally secular, Egyptian version of Iran’s Basij militias. No doubt they will be used to intimidate and terrorize the general population by endless harassment for petty infractions and alleged religious violations. In particular, expect heavy harassment of female citizens.

At minimum, it will create a whole new class of people loyal to and dependent upon the centrality of security forces in Egyptian political and economic life. And that kind of insurance policy for the military is exactly what the 2013 coup was meant to bring about.

In support of the youth-led movement after Ferguson

The tagline for Arsenal For Democracy is “a new generation in democratic leadership.” Not the “next” generation, which would imply leadership later, but the “new” generation — the one that is already here.

I’ve been rattling the bars of the cage here and there for the past four years, as I’ve gotten increasingly tired of being told by grindingly-slow-moving (and often unrepresentative) “movement” leaders to “wait your turn” and the like, while they continually pre-compromise and reach for nowhere close to the stars.

Unsurprisingly, I’m 100% on board for my fellow young people taking charge of a political movement the way we’ve seen young people seizing the reins of the new wave of civil rights action after Ferguson — even if they have to physically grab the microphone from people who refuse to accept that their own time (and credibility) to lead has passed. I stand behind young leaders — people like Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson and so many others — in these efforts, on a range of issues.

I’m not saying there’s no value to folks with more experience, but sometimes that means advising rather than insisting on leading. Why? We need young people leading movements for change because we haven’t yet been defeated by “The Way Things Are” and because we aren’t resting on old wins. We’re still able to re-imagine what is possible and achievable and to try to get farther than those who came before us. We need to move past the paradigms of “Once Upon A Time We Took A Step Forward” & “Why can’t you just be grateful you got one thing a while ago?”

We need to stop saying “Why can’t you ever be happy with what we’ve achieved?” and listen when people say “I can’t accept partial-progress.” Not because they’re picky or overly demanding but because their lives depend on not accepting half-measures that still leave them in danger.

Compromise has its place but it’s not the end goal. And it’s ok to point out what else needs to be fixed. How else would more get done? Not everyone who is unhappy with past compromises and past steps forward is a mean complainer. Most are just ambitious for more.

Western Libya militias move on eastern oil export terminals

According to the BBC, western Libyan Islamist militias this past weekend launched a surprise attack on the eastern / anti-Islamist controlled oil export terminals at Sidra and Ra’s Lanuf, two port cities just west of the approximate political dividing line between eastern and western Libya.

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 - Wikimedia)

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 – Wikimedia)

This is when things are going to get really real in Libya’s rising domestic conflict. Right now, as explained here previously, Libya’s oil export terminals at Sidra and other locations in the eastern end of the country are under control of the anti-Islamist “House of Representatives government” (HOR), based in Tobruk in the east, while the revenues from overseas oil sales are under the control of the pro-Islamist “General National Congress government” (GNC), based in in Tripoli.

But if the oil ports fall to the GNC, unifying control of both the exports and revenues under one side, what little cooperation remains between the two factions (by fiscal/economic necessity at the moment) will disintegrate. It will also put the HOR and its vaguely aligned anti-Islamist paramilitaries at serious risk of running out of funds for its payroll (and possibly trigger a very messy, major foreign intervention against the GNC).

Neither rival government currently has legal standing in Libya anymore, but the HOR faction has international recognition and was elected more recently.

My War

New video game review: “This War of Mine”

Scavenging in the ruins of a bombed-out school, Pavle was able to locate wood, water, scrap parts, tobacco and vital medicine for his compatriots. Icy temperatures had led to an outbreak of sickness in the ruined building that Pavle and three other survivors were squatting in to avoid snipers. I had neglected to build a vital furnace in the early days of the game. Pavle’s nighttime excursions, which often meant dodging armed patrols and hostile civilians, were critical for gathering the food and supplies necessary for the daily struggle for survival in “This War of Mine.”

An image from one of the trailer videos for "This War of Mine."

An image from one of the trailer videos for “This War of Mine.”

Released last month on Steam for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux by the Polish company 11-Bit studios, “This War of Mine” is a gritty, haunting simulation of life during the Siege of Sarajevo in the war in Bosnia. By day, you race to construct everything from armchairs to moonshine stills. By night, you must risk everything to find the supplies vital to survival. The game is reminiscent of Minecraft in both its addictiveness and the depth of its crafting system. I played for hours straight, angrily restarting when I felt I had done a poor job of gathering resources (or when my characters started starving). Before long, you are anxiously cooking food and carefully apportioning supplies, lest any of the characters you’ve become invested in die from wounds, sickness, starvation, or suicide.

The game forces you to make complex moral decisions that could potentially affect your group’s morale. If you aid the various neighbors who come calling for your assistance, you will lose a player for the night but increase the happiness of your group. Steal from from a family and, despite the necessities of survival, your group might get angry. Sometimes it pays to do both — I once traded medicine to a sick old man and then cleaned out his basement of rare supplies and weapons, darting out the back exit when the old man’s son came to check on the noise downstairs. In another incident, Zlata raided a supply crate with a neighbor and I was later offered food and cigarettes by soldiers if we ratted out our neighbors as supply crate thieves (I refused). Cigarettes and books can also increase the group’s happiness.

Smart players will find ways to survive through the barter system. Moonshine and homemade cigarettes can be traded for food and medicine with a traveling salesman, soldiers or friendly civilians. Trade for and cook with vegetables to double food yield.

Although not an impossibly difficult or complex game, “This War of Mine” is appropriately unforgiving for beginners — only after several runs though were my citizens comfortable after a week. My really only complaint is the limited space in some characters backpacks — only a few characters had anything beyond 10 spaces. While frustrating, this really forces the player to make tough choices about supplies. Perhaps the controls for guns could be a bit better, as my scavenger is often killed by bandits before I can fire. That’s probably on me, however, and not my civilians.

While not one of the flashy, cinematic shooters that dominate game shelves these days, “This War of Mine” is a more compelling and realistic war game than any “Call of Duty” released recently. Highly addictive and challenging, “This War of Mine” is a must-own on Steam.

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