One big happy family: Gitmo and Abu Ghraib and Lynndie England and SERE

“It’s like a big family,” said commander Colonel Mike Bumgarner to a group of officials touring Guantanamo back in 2005, when Jane Mayer wrote about it for the New Yorker.

Now Mayer has a new book out that connects some more dots. Apparently psychologists attached to a military torture training program called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), which has had some bad press over the years, were moved to Guantanamo and then to Iraq. The new job description for military shrinks was not teaching our military how to resist torture themselves, but how to torture prisoners more effectively. Oh ho! So Lynndie England didn’t think of that stuff all by herself.

And yes, we torture our own soldiers. When they say they don’t do anything to the prisoners at Guantanamo that they don’t do to our own people, they’re absolutely correct. That’s what SERE is all about. One commenter says after he got through the SERE training he “vowed to never be captured alive.” And we’re supposed to be the good guys.

Years ago there was a PBS special called I, Claudius, a historical series set in ancient Rome. In one episode, Caligula asks Claudius, played by Derek Jacobi, whether he might be in fact insane. Jacobi, who has a heavy stutter in this series, had remained unscathed as Caligula, believing himself to be a god, murdered one political rival after another, including his sister who is pregnant with his unborn heir. Jacobi, stuttering magnificently through the scene manages to blurt out the reply, “You set the standard of sanity for the entire empire.”

Back when Lynndie England and the others were photographed at Abu Ghraib, they were called “bad apples.” Now we find out someone else in authority has indeed been setting the standard of sanity for American core values. The whole bushel basket is rotten. England was just the most visible apple.

Now tell me what happens to the good apples when there is a preponderance of rotten ones.

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Shopkeepers who don’t want to sell t-shirts produced in sweatshops or with child labor are still waiting to find out how the marketing department at is going to supply information about the origins of their products. Fortunately Cafepress offers shopkeepers the option of choosing which products to offer for a given design, so I will continue to offer their products identified as either union made or made by American Apparel, whose fair labor practices are well documented.

In the meantime, I will start offering tee shirts through Skreened uses only shirts made by American Apparel and donates 10% of its sales to a not-for-profit called Asia’s Hope. So when you wear one of their shirts, you know it was not made with inhuman labor practices or child labor.

Here are the same Arabic language tees I have been offering now in summer colors from Skreened:

The green shirt is based on the “T-shirt of mass destruction” that got Raed Jarrer thrown off of Jet Blue airlines. It says “We will not be silent”, in Arabic pronounced “lahn nesmitt”, and has the English translation underneath. The one pictured has dark blue letters, you can also get black letters.

The white shirt says “I heart New York”, also in Arabic. So far, you can also heart Chicago, Jordan, Amman, and Baghdad. If you want to heart something or someone I don’t have listed, post a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

The slogan on the yellow tee is from a sign I saw at an impromptu street demonstration while Christmas caroling at Daley Plaza. It says “Who would Jesus torture”. If you are fond of the Geneva Convention, there are several designs with this slogan.

You can check out the designs here.


Related posts:

Make a difference on World Fair Trade Day–contact CafePress
Is hiding sweatshops?
CafePress responds to Fair Trade concerns with form letter, maintains holding pattern


The Case for Torture (totally fictional of course): Vince Flynn’s bestseller “Memorial Day”

Mich Rapp is about as one-dimensional as a character can get. Oh sure, he has a wife, so when he returns to DC from Afghanistan where he has been busy killing suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers, the first thing he does is call her up, right? Nope. He goes to the Facility, a place “so secret, it didn’t even have a name,” where he can torture some more suspected al-Qaeda sympathizers.

So begins Vince Flynn’s 2004 bestseller Memorial Day. Throughout the book the twin themes of torture and secrecy are explored, however shallowly, and in this fictional scenario they are the only tools standing between America and its certain destruction by terrorists.

Rapp didn’t like torture, not only because of its effect on the person being brutalized, but for what it did to the person who sanctioned and carried it out. He had no desire to sink to those depths unless it was a last resort, but unfortunately they were quickly approaching that point. Lives were at stake. Two CIA operatives were already dead, thanks to the duplicitous scum in the other room, and many more lives were in the balance. Something was in the works, and if Rapp didn’t find out what it was hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent people would die.

Sure enough, something is going on, at least in this fictional account, that justifies torturing this particular prisoner, who is, after all, “duplicitous scum”. It is nothing less than a plot to kill the president of the United States, along with several other heads of state who will be attending a Memorial Day ceremony, hence the novel’s title. The Terrorists have managed to assemble a bomb made from nuclear materials scavenged from a former Soviet nuclear test site in Kazakhstan. A twenty-kiloton bomb capable of destroying the capitol, killing a hundred thousand people in the initial burst and double that many in the following month from radiation has been smuggled into the country. The bomb is getting closer and closer to Washington.

But Rapp has enemies. Lawyers who want public trials instead of secret torture. Politicians trying to make a name for themselves. “Haters of America’s capitalistic muscle.” Fortunately for the plot line, Rapp is “neither delicate nor squeamish”.

In a private interview with the president of the United States, Rapp sums up his argument for his methods:

We pulled five prisoners out of that village in Pakistan, sir, and none of them were willing to talk. I lined them all up, and started with a man named Ali Saed al-Houri. I put a gun to his head, and when he refused to answer my questions I blew his brains out, Mr. President. I executed the bastard, and I didn’t feel an ounce of shame or guilt. I thought of the innocent men and women who were forced to jump out of the burning World Trade Center, and I pulled the trigger. I moved on to the next terrorist and blew his brains out too, and then the third guy in line started singing like a bird. That’s how we found out about the bomb, sir. That’s what it takes to win this war on terror.

Although the book was first published in 2004, Amazon still ranks this book #98,926 in sales, and is about to reissue the book. Several of Flynn’s other 8 terrorist thrillers are doing even better than this one. does not yet allow for reselling used copies of this title, but you can get one at Would I recommend the book? No. The characters are too shallow; the political message depends too heavily on emotion generated from a purely fictional event. But a lot of people have been reading these books. Who knows how many of them are buying in to the implicit message.

Posted in Arabs, Homeland Security, Torture. Comments Off on The Case for Torture (totally fictional of course): Vince Flynn’s bestseller “Memorial Day”

Senator Dick Durbin speaks out against S. 3930–the Military Commissions Act of 2006

On the morning the Senate passed S. 3930 abolishing habeas corpus and legalizing torture, I called the offices of both Illinois Senators Obama and Durbin to ask how they would vote on the bill. Then I followed up with Emails. The content of the Emails was brief: “Please vote no on detainee torture S. 3930.” and signed my name, ward, and precinct number.

I have now received a response from Senator Durbin’s office. I read his Senate speech with great interest, and now I am posting his letter in its entirety. It is worth reading.

Thank you for contacting me about our nation’s policies regarding the detention and trial of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and throughout the world. I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue.

Since September 11, Bush Administration officials have bent many of the time-honored rules of warfare regarding the treatment of prisoners. They have claimed the right to seize anyone, including an American citizen in the United States, and hold him indefinitely. They have claimed that Americans and others who were detained have no right to challenge their detention, no right to see the evidence against them, and no right to even know why they are being held. The Justice Department even issued a memo redefining the meaning of torture, stating that abuse only rises to the level of torture if it causes pain equivalent to organ failure or death. The memo concluded that the President had the authority to order the use of torture, even though torture is a crime under U.S. law. This became official Administration policy for over two years before it was withdrawn under public pressure.

The Administration also determined that it would deviate from established trial processes and create a new military commission system to try Guantanamo detainees. The Supreme Court rejected this system of military commissions in its June 2006 decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld because the commission process did not comply with American laws and treaty obligations. In the Hamdan decision, the Supreme Court essentially reminded the President that no one is above the law, even during a time of war.

In September 2006, the Administration proposed new legislation to recreate a military commission system and to redefine what interrogation tactics the Administration deemed acceptable. I believed there were two crucial tests for this legislation: First, did it create a process which we would consider fair if it were applied by other countries to American prisoners? And second, was it consistent with our Constitution and America’s fundamental values?

The Administration’s bill, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S.3930), failed both tests. This bill did not create clear standards for unacceptable treatment of prisoners. It also eliminated the fundamental protection of habeas corpus, meaning that individuals – including legal residents of the United States – could be detained indefinitely without the opportunity to challenge their detention in court. I believe that those who are dangerous to America should be charged, tried and incarcerated, but 200 years of American history have given us clear guidance on how to do this the right way. The drafters of S. 3930 did not heed those historical lessons. I voted against this legislation, but it passed the Senate on September 28, 2006.

This Administration has demonstrated that by instilling a climate of fear it can lead a majority in Congress to turn its back on fundamental values we all swear to uphold. I recognize that our enemies in the war on terror have committed atrocities upon American soldiers and others whom they have taken prisoner. I condemn this vile behavior in the strongest terms, and the perpetrators of these atrocities must be found and brought to justice.But in our own detention practices and trial procedures, the United States must hold itself to the same high moral values that we stand for in other circumstances. The war on terror is also a struggle of values and principles, and in order to win it we must convince those who might be swayed by the advocates of terror that the values we Americans hold dear — such as freedom, due process, human dignity, and the rule of law — are values they can embrace as they advance toward a brighter future. Unfortunately, S. 3930 does not represent the values that the United States of America stands for.

S. 3930 will be the subject of legal challenges, and it remains to be seen whether the Administration’s new detention, interrogation and commission policies will survive constitutional scrutiny. In the meantime, I will continue to work to ensure that our laws — and the core values upon which they are based – are not laid aside as we act to defend our national security in a time of war.

Thank you again for your message.


Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator


P.S. If you are ever visiting Washington, please feel free to join Senator Obama and me at our weekly constituent coffee. When the Senate is in session, we provide coffee and donuts every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. as we hear what is on the minds of Illinoisans and respond to your questions. We would welcome your participation. Please call my D.C. office for more details.

Posted in Government, Homeland Security, Torture. Comments Off on Senator Dick Durbin speaks out against S. 3930–the Military Commissions Act of 2006

Religions Agree: Torture is Godless

The National Religions Campaign Against Torture kicked off a national campaign today with a full-page ad in the op-ed section of the New York Times. The campaign is being promoted by, among others, Nobel laureates President Jimmy Carter and Elie Weisel.

The following is the full text of the “Statement of Conscience”

Torture Is A Moral Issue
A Statement of the National Religious Campaign against Torture

Please join the over 5000 people who have already endorsed this statement.

Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear. It degrades everyone involved –policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.

Torture and inhumane treatment have long been banned by U.S. treaty obligations, and are punishable by criminal statute. Recent developments, however, have created new uncertainties. By reaffirming the ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as torture, the McCain amendment, now signed into law, is a step in the right direction. Yet its implementation remains unclear.

The President’s signing statement, which he issued when he signed the McCain Amendment into law, implies that the President does not believe he is bound by the amendment in his role as commander in chief. The possibility remains open that inhumane methods of interrogation will continue.

Furthermore, in a troubling development, for the first time in our nation’s history, legislation has now been signed into law that effectively permits evidence obtained by torture to be used in a court of law. The military tribunals that are trying some terrorist suspects are now expressly permitted to consider information obtained under coercive interrogation techniques, including degrading and inhumane techniques and torture.

We urge Congress and the President to remove all ambiguities by prohibiting:

* Exemptions from the human rights standards of international law for any arm of our government.
* The practice of extraordinary rendition, whereby suspects are apprehended and flown to countries that use torture as a means of interrogation.
* Any disconnection of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” from the ban against “torture” so as to permit inhumane interrogation.
* The existence of secret U.S. prisons around the world.
* Any denial of Red Cross access to detainees held by our government overseas.

We also call for an independent investigation of the severe human rights abuses at U.S. installations like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now –without exceptions.

You can also sign the petition from the website, or download their education information or “It’s a sin to legalize torturCandlePosterTh1.jpge” poster.

The site also gives a list of sponsors and signers of the petition, as well as a prayer for “those who endure torture”, “those who inflict torture” and “those who authorize torture”.  Interesting differentiation.

Posted in Government, Homeland Security, Torture. Comments Off on Religions Agree: Torture is Godless

Outsourcing Torture: Amnesty International presents evidence of “rendition” flights

We’ve suspected it all along, but Amnesty International has now put together evidence of how the CIA outsources torture. Here’s the link, as well as the link to the Secretary of State’s remarks denying the use of third-party torture.“Amnesty International today released a new report which exposes a covert operation whereby people have been arrested or abducted, transferred and held in secret or handed over to countries where they have faced torture and other ill-treatment. The report describes how the CIA has used private aircraft operators and front companies to preserve the secrecy of “rendition” flights.”

The US government has claimed that renditions do not lead to a risk of torture. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice insisted that: “the United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country when we believe he will be tortured. Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.”

Posted in Government, Homeland Security, Torture. Comments Off on Outsourcing Torture: Amnesty International presents evidence of “rendition” flights