The brutal, uncivilized Libyans

Nothing would be more ridiculous or laughable than condemnation of Libya from the U.S. over Libya's mistreatment of its detainees.

Published August 10, 2007 12:13PM (EDT)

The Associated Press today documents today that Libya's Moammar Gadhafi remains an Evil Dictator, continuing to set the standard for human rights abuses and a complete disregard for the rule of law:

The son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi admitted in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV that the foreign medics jailed on charges of infecting children with HIV-AIDS were tortured during captivity, the pan-Arab network said on its Web site Thursday.

The five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor were released last month and have maintained that their confessions were extracted through torture.

"Yes, they (the medics) were tortured by electricity and they were threatened that their family members would be targeted. But a lot of what the Palestinian doctor has claimed are merely lies," Seif al-Islam Gadhafi was quoted as saying in the Al-Jazeera interview initially broadcast Wednesday.

Dr. Ashraf al-Hazouz, an Egyptian-born Palestinian, told Dutch television last month that Libyan authorities drugged him, shocked him by attaching electrodes to his feet and genitals, and set dogs on him. He also said they tied his arms and legs to a bar and spun him repeatedly, like a chicken on a rotisserie.

Also today, the New York Times reports on the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen abducted by the Bush administration and sent to Syria for a year to be tortured, only for it to be subsequently revealed that he had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism:

Canadian intelligence officials anticipated that the United States would ship Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was detained in New York in 2002 on suspicion of terrorism, to a third country to be tortured, declassified information released on Thursday shows.

Mr. Arar was sent by American intelligence officials in October 2002 to Syria, where he was tortured and jailed for a almost a year. Last September, an extensive Canadian inquiry concluded that the terrorism accusations against him were groundless.

Portions of the inquiry's report were originally removed for security and diplomatic reasons. But a court ruled last month that much of the editing was not justified.

The newly released sections indicate that neither the Syrian government nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation were convinced that Mr. Arar was a significant security threat. They also suggest that the investigation of Mr. Arar was prompted by the coerced confession of Ahmad Abou el-Maati, a Kuwaiti-born Canadian who was also imprisoned and tortured in Syria.

And despite claims by the United States government that Mr. Arar's removal to Syria was mainly an immigration matter, the new material suggests that the Central Intelligence Agency led the action.

Fourteen days after Mr. Arar was detained, while changing planes at Kennedy International Airport, Jack Hooper, the assistant director of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wrote, "I think the U.S. would like to get Arar to Jordan, where they can have their way with him."

Arar sued the Bush administration in federal court for his abduction and torture, but his case was dismissed because the administration argued that its adjudication would jeopardize the disclosure of "state secrets"; thereafter, the Canadian government paid Ahar damages for his ordeal and apologized to him for having been wrongfully abducted and tortured, something the U.S. government has steadfastly refused to do.

It is not, of course, actually fair to compare the torture to which the prisoners in Libya were subjected to the treatment which detainees in American custody receive. After all, there is no indication that the torture of the prisoners in Libya included even a fraction of the torture which Jane Mayer, in a truly superb article in The New Yorker this week, documented was practiced by the American government under the Bush presidency in the CIA's secret camps, i.e., "black sites," established beyond the reach of law:

"The C.I.A.'s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. 'It's one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,' an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. 'At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you've heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling'" . . . .

"A former member of a C.I.A. transport team has described the 'takeout' of prisoners as a carefully choreographed twenty-minute routine, during which a suspect was hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, and transported by plane to a secret location. A person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry, referring to cavity searches and the frequent use of suppositories during the takeout of detainees, likened the treatment to 'sodomy.' He said, 'It was used to absolutely strip the detainee of any dignity. It breaks down someone's sense of impenetrability. The interrogation became a process not just of getting information but of utterly subordinating the detainee through humiliation.' The former C.I.A. officer confirmed that the agency frequently photographed the prisoners naked, 'because it's demoralizing" . . . .

Ramzi Kassem, who teaches at Yale Law School, said that a Yemeni client of his, Sanad al-Kazimi, who is now in Guantanamo, alleged that he had received similar treatment in the Dark Prison, the facility near Kabul. Kazimi claimed to have been suspended by his arms for long periods, causing his legs to swell painfully. "It's so traumatic, he can barely speak of it," Kassem said. "He breaks down in tears." Kazimi also claimed that, while hanging, he was beaten with electric cables.

As Mayer reports, all of this torture was approved at the highest levels of our government:

Accurately or not, Bush Administration officials have described the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as the unauthorized actions of ill-trained personnel, eleven of whom have been convicted of crimes. By contrast, the treatment of high-value detainees has been directly, and repeatedly, approved by President Bush.

The program is monitored closely by C.I.A. lawyers, and supervised by the agency's director and his subordinates at the Counterterrorism Center. While Mohammed was being held by the agency, detailed dossiers on the treatment of detainees were regularly available to the former C.I.A. director George Tenet, according to informed sources inside and outside the agency. Through a spokesperson, Tenet denied making day-to-day decisions about the treatment of individual detainees. But, according to a former agency official, "Every single plan is drawn up by interrogators, and then submitted for approval to the highest possible level -- meaning the director of the C.I.A. Any change in the plan -- even if an extra day of a certain treatment was added -- was signed off by the C.I.A. director."

As always, it is vital to underscore that there is much of what we have done -- likely the most extreme and criminal aspects -- which remain undisclosed. But based solely on what we do know, we have become a country that not merely in isolation, but as overarching policy, embraces some of the most grotesque human rights abuses in the world. That is a difficult fact to acknowledge, but documented reports of our conduct make it inescapably true. And we have had very little discussion for what this means for our country, because the media and the Congress and all other other intended checks on these sorts of abuses have failed so dramatically.

On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, current Obama advisor (and new Time columnist) Samantha Power wrote an article (.pdf) for The New Republic (h/t Matt Ygelsias) in which she argued:

The "we-can-all-get-along" self-soothing naivete of recent years has given way to the dark assumption that none of us can get along. Bush's National Security Strategy made an overt appeal for an imbalance of power . . . Critics of U.S. decision-making became opponents. And opponents and competitors became enemies.

The exceptionalist impulses behind Bush's choices have been with us for a long time. What distinguished this round was that by 2002 the checks that could usually be counted on to rein in a president's militant moralism had vanished. . . .

Congress nodded or whimpered. It did not meaningfully dissent, a devastating abdication for the branch responsible for investigation, legislation, and financial control. The media withered as well, becoming the home for Bob Woodward-style stenography rather than Woodward and Bernstein-style scrutiny. And the American people remained relatively insulated from the vitriolic anti-Americanism bubbling abroad. . . .

The U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought. It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States.

Very few people with any influence were saying such things back in March of 2003, and even after all the revelations of severe abuses and excesses and criminality of the last several years, very few people (and none of the viable presidential candidates, including Power's candidate) say such things now. Acknowledging America's crimes in the world remain strictly off-limits in mainstream political discourse, the hallmarks of America-haters and fringe leftists. But the gap between (a) how Americans perceive of themselves and their country and (b) the reality of what we do in the world is vast, fundamental and still growing.

While American citizens inside of the U.S. still enjoy robust civil liberties as compared to most other countries around the world -- certainly nobody rational would compare the tyranny of a country like Libya to the state of domestic political affairs inside the U.S. -- one cannot say the same for our behavior as a world actor. In that regard, such comparisons are not only plausible but indisputably valid. And to prove that, try to imagine anything more ridiculous or laughable than George Bush standing up today and condemning the Libyan Government for its treatment of detainees in its custody.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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