Senegal, AU launch “universal jurisdiction” prosecution of ex-Chad dictator

Chad’s brutal ex-dictator Hissène Habré will stand trial for war crimes, torture, and crimes against humanity in a landmark trial in Senegal. This is huge news if it goes forward because the Senegal trial — undertaken with African Union backing — and will be the African continent’s first-ever use of “universal jurisdiction.”

Universal jurisdiction is a controversial doctrine that allows countries to prosecute people they arrest for significant crimes of mass violence and human rights abuses committed in other places, even without direct interests of or crimes against the prosecuting country. It has been used most heavily by Spain (full story➚).

Habré, who ruled from 1982 until the 1990 coup that brought incumbent President Idriss Déby to power, has been in Senegal since his fall from power. He was placed under house arrest in 2005 and then formally taken to jail in 2013 ahead of the now-upcoming trial. He has been sought by various jurisdictions, including Chad, for his 1980s crimes — which include hundreds if not tens of thousands of political killings and tens or hundreds of thousands of torture victims — but until now he has avoided prosecution.

Universal jurisdiction efforts against him began as far back as 2000. Senegal was initially unsure whether it could apply universal jurisdiction in its domestic courts, but the country is a firm supporter of international justice as a general principle, having been the first country to ratify the creation of the International Criminal Court.

Throughout Habré’s rule he received paramilitary assistance from the United States (via the CIA) as part of Chad’s on-again-off-again war with Libya’s Qaddafi regime. Besides his crimes again humanity, Habré was most notable on the international stage, especially in retrospect, for his pioneering use of Toyota pickup trucks with improvised gun-mounts for highly-mobile desert combat, a tactic he used against the Libyan Army’s tanks to surprisingly strong effect. This tactic’s late 1980s use in the war with Libya may well have influenced the use of pickup trucks with improvised gun mounts in Libya’s 2011 Revolution against Qaddafi, which may have then spread via Libyan fighters to ISIS (and other insurgent groups) in eastern Syria and western Iraq.

There was extensive (albeit secret) U.S. panic when Habré fell from power that CIA-delivered heavy weapons, including the same type of anti-air equipment as what they were delivering to Afghanistan at the same time, might fall into the hands of Qaddafi, who at that point had already brought down the Pan-Am flight over Lockerbie.

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

Pictured: Chadian President Hissène Habré and U.S. President Ronald Reagan in June 1987. (Ronald Reagan Library)

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

This essay originally appeared at The Globalist, where I am a Senior Editor. It was also republished at Salon.


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.
Read more

December 17, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 111


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

Episode 111 (53 min)
AFD 111

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”


RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
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.

China has some thoughts on the US Torture Report

International reactions to the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary of the Torture Report continue to roll out, including China:

China urged the United States on Wednesday to “correct its ways” in the wake of the U.S. Senate report.

“China has consistently opposed torture. We believe that the U.S. side should reflect on this, correct its ways and earnestly respect and follow the rules of related international conventions,” China foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing.

China is frequently accused by rights groups of using torture. The government has in the past said it has been used and vowed to stamp it out, following a series of cases of wrongful convictions after confessions were extracted under torture.

China and the United States often spar about each other’s human rights records. China has even begun issuing its own annual report on the U.S. rights record, criticising the United States for issues ranging from racism to gun crime and homelessness.


Reminder: CIA spied on Senate Intel committee

Just a reminder: the CIA has publicly admitted to spying on members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee as it was preparing the Torture Report. New York Times, July 31, 2014:

An internal investigation by the C.I.A. has found that its officers penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its damning report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.

The report by the agency’s inspector general also found that C.I.A. officers read the emails of the Senate investigators and sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department based on false information, according to a summary of findings made public on Thursday. One official with knowledge of the report’s conclusions said the investigation also discovered that the officers created a false online identity to gain access on more than one occasion to computers used by the committee staff.

There are people worried about fictional conspiracies and coverups on a wide range of topics from “chemtrails” and the moon landing to Benghazi, even as a US spy agency is admitting to hacking its own supervising Congressional committee and attempting to interfere with its work. I mean, that’s some Nikita-level shenanigans.

A secret organization could probably literally take over the government and the people who seem most concerned about “shadow governments” wouldn’t notice.


Senate Intel committee to release CIA torture report summary

A 500-page summary of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s secret 6,300 page report on torture by the Central Intelligence Agency during the “War on Terror,” the whole of which the CIA has been trying to suppress for quite some time, will be released tomorrow (Reuters):

The 500-plus page report which the Intelligence Committee has prepared for release — a summary of a much more detailed, 6,000-page narrative which will remain secret – includes a 200-page narrative of the interrogation program’s history and 20 case studies of the interrogations of specific detainees.


Graphic details about sexual threats and other harsh interrogation techniques the CIA meted out to captured militants will be detailed by a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the spy agency’s anti-terror tactics, sources familiar with the document said.
Some interrogation tactics meant to force detainees to divulge information on terrorist plots and cells, went beyond the harsh techniques authorized by White House, CIA and Justice Department lawyers working for President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, according to the sources familiar with the report.
Intelligence committee Democrats are expected to post the report on the panel’s website on Tuesday, along with lengthy critiques of it by committee Republicans and the CIA.

The report, which took years to produce, charts the history of the CIA’s “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation” program, which Bush authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Bush ended many aspects of the program before leaving office, and Obama swiftly banned so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which critics say are torture, after his 2009 inauguration.

The committee’s bottom-line conclusion is that harsh interrogations did not produce a single critical intelligence nugget that could not have been obtained by non-coercive means.

Ahead of this publication, which is the type of disclosure that my co-founder Nate and I have been calling for since the first year of our first blog (Starboard Broadside), I have spent the evening moving to this site some of the best posts we had written on this subject in 2009 and 2010 when the highly disturbing so-called “torture debates” (whether the acts were torture, whether they should be disclosed, and even whether they be brought back) were raging in Washington D.C. and in the blogosphere.

Almost six years ago, the newly inaugurated Obama Administration was adamantly opposed to publicly admitting such egregious moral failings and national stains (committed by the prior administration), but they seem to have made peace with it finally. Even so, the Reuters account makes it sound like a parting shot against the report:

Preparing for a worldwide outcry, and possibly even violence, from the publication of such graphic details, the White House and U.S. intelligence officials said on Monday they had taken steps to shore up security of U.S. facilities worldwide.

“There are some indications that … the release of the report could lead to greater risk that is posed to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Earnest reiterated that President Barack Obama supports making the document public “so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired.”

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence agencies secretly circulated a bulletin warning of possible violent reactions overseas, a senior intelligence official told Reuters. The Pentagon has also warned field commanders they should take appropriate steps to protect U.S. troops and bases overseas.

Intelligence community officials continue to dispute the report’s findings even until the 11th hour, insisting that torture tactics were vital to saving lives, despite internal CIA memos as early as 2004 stating that there was no evidence that any “enhanced interrogation” methods had stopped even one attack.

As quoted from Reuters above, much of tomorrow’s report is expected to make the case that the little intelligence gained from such methods at all did not include anything that likely could not otherwise have been gained through different (non-torture) interrogation methods in an equally timely manner.


Langley Papers: Will Udall leak the CIA torture report?

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is an outgoing member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has prepared a 6,300 page study on CIA torture. The CIA has blocked it from publication. Should he follow the Vietnam-era lead of then Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) — who famously read the suppressed “Pentagon Papers” on the Vietnam War into the Senate’s public record to force their release — and (legally) leak the torture report, perhaps along with other state secrets on surveillance abuses that he has access to? Conor Friedersdorf (among others) definitely thinks Udall should:

Using the speech or debate privilege to reveal abuses could be costly for a sitting Senator, who’d risk being stripped of his or her clearance to see classified information or even expelled from the Senate for violating the legislative chamber’s rules. Udall is a lame duck anyway, so his calculus is simpler. He need only ask himself what is right: What fulfills his obligations to his constituents, his country, and the oath of office he took to support and defend the Constitution? Preserving his ability to fight for civil liberties another day is no longer an option.