Articles and commentary regarding world events
February 15, 2005

BEYOND THE LAW


"On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that “torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.”

       Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of Bush’s statement.  Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. When Arar described his experience in a phone interview recently, he invoked an Arabic expression. The pain was so unbearable, he said, that “you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.”

From: "Outsourcing Torture, The Secret History of America's "Extraordinary Rendition" Program,"  by Jane Mayer. (Feb. 8, 2005)

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       The above quotation, as well as others listed throughout this article, describes the 'new paradigm' currently employed by the Bush administration.  This phrase, coined by Alberto Gonzales during his tenure as White House Counsel, relates, among other things, to the use of extreme and 'extra-legal' methods of interrogation employed to break down detainees for the purpose of gaining potentially valuable information.  The shift to this 'new paradigm' includes a growing emphasis on the direct application of torture by American military and C.I.A.personnel, as well as by agents acting on behalf of the U.S. in foreign countries. 

       There are various aspects to this 'new paradigm'.  The policy of using foreign enforcers to implement practices of interrogation which are illegal in the U.S., called 'extraordinary rendition', is one. It involves the transportation of detainees to another country where torture will be used, in order to circumvent the legal requirements of American constitutional law and due process. 

      The history of American use of 'extra-legal' methods for extracting information from people did not just begin on Sept. 11, 2001, although it has expanded greatly since then.  Jane Mayer, in a powerful article published recently in the New Yorker, documents the history of this practice which began in the nineteen-nineties.  All of the quotes below are taken from her article. 

"In 1995, (Michael) Scheuer, (a former C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert who helped establish the practice of 'rendition'), said, "American agents proposed the rendition program to Egypt, making clear that it had the resources to track, capture, and transport terrorist suspects globally - including access to a small fleet of aircraft.  Egypt embraced the idea..." Technically, U.S. law requires the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from foreign governments that rendered suspects won’t be tortured. Scheuer told me (Jane Mayer) that this was done, but he was “not sure” if any documents confirming the arrangement were signed."

 

"A more elaborate operation was staged in Tirana, Albania, in the summer of 1998... Over the next few months, according to the (Wall Street) Journal, Albanian security forces, working with U.S. agents, killed one suspect and captured Attiya and four others. These men were bound, blindfolded, and taken to an abandoned airbase, then flown by jet to Cairo for interrogation."

 

"The U.S. began rendering terror suspects to other countries, but the most common destination remained Egypt. The partnership between the American and the Egyptian intelligence services was extraordinarily close."

       The 'new paradigm' named by Alberto Gonzales does not just involve the use of torture, however, in relation to suspects having links to terrorism.  The 'war on terrorism' has justified other practices which also form part of this paradigm, including the illegal detention of persons for unlimited periods of time without due process of law, abandonment of rules of the Geneva Conventions, and other abridgments of international and constitutional law. The mentality of being 'beyond the law' has also created a new category of persons called 'illegal enemy combatants' - people who are not protected by any legal process or standard while being held indefinitely at U.S. bases.  One attorney, formerly in the General Counsel's office of the C.I.A.says about this:


"
As a society, we haven’t figured out what the rough rules are yet... There are hardly any rules for illegal enemy combatants. It’s the law of the jungle. And right now we happen to be the strongest animal.”

John Radsan, Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota

       Another expression of non-accountability to existing legal standards comes from the Vice-President himself:


“A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. And so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

Vice-President Dick Cheney on "Meet the Press," five days after the Sept. 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

       Finally, from Michael Scheuer, former C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert who helped establish the practice of 'rendition' and who left the agency in 2004:


"Since September 11th, as the number of renditions has grown, and hundreds of terrorist suspects have been deposited indefinitely in places like Guantánamo Bay, the shortcomings of this approach have become manifest. “Are we going to hold these people forever?” Scheuer asked. “The policymakers hadn’t thought what to do with them, and what would happen when it was found out that we were turning them over to governments that the human-rights world reviled.” Once a detainee’s rights have been violated, he says, “you absolutely can’t” reinstate him into the court system. “You can’t kill him, either,” he added. “All we’ve done is create a nightmare.”

From Jane Mayer's Outsourcing Torture, The Secret History of America’s “Extraordinary Rendition” Program. (Feb. 8, 2005).

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       We are moving, as a country, in a dangerous direction that increasing numbers of observers have written about.  This direction has been called various things: unilateralism (1), hegemony (2), full spectrum dominance (3), global imperialism (4), a 'state of exception' (5) among them.  It involves a willingness to exist beyond the law, exempt from both international and constitutional constraints, adhering to no one else's standards but our own, brought about by the necessities of the moment or by plans for the future. This movement is not complete, nor is it left uncountered by voices and principles that are the touchstones of democracy - principles which still seek checks and balances to run-away power and which still feel keenly the importance of upholding individual rights.

       Nevertheless, this trend, which did not just begin with the Bush administration but has expanded greatly in the last several years, is becoming more deeply embedded within American policy. Some say the trend began with the dismantling of the Soviet Union and our movement into the status of being the only remaining superpower in the world.  Others say it began even earlier, after World War II, when our demonstrable strength in being able to kill and destroy, placed us out of range of other nations due to our singular power. 

       Our present claimed exemption from the law, both international and constitutional, includes, but is not limited to:

- the use and direct application of torture (See also: Claims of torture in Guantanamo Bay), or its application through third parties as described above,

- rejection of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (LO, Dec. 4, 2004),

- rejection of the rules of the Geneva Conventions  and especially those that relate to the treatment of prisoners of war (LO, Nov.18, 2004),

- allowance, as a consequence of the above, of the abuse and illegal detention of detainees at military prisons in Guantanamo and elsewhere,

- allowance, also as a consequence of the above, of the infringement of rights of civilians in Iraq, most notably the right of protection, glaringly demonstrated in the assault upon Fallujah,

- justification of what Belgian philosopher Lieven de Cauter has called a permanent 'state of exception' in which the government does not abide by the law but rather creates it as it goes along.  (LO, Sept. 20, 2004).

       Such a shift toward the use of 'extra-legal' means to fight a 'war on terrorism' has been supported by all kinds of justifications, especially from those serving in the White House Counsel's and Attorney General's office.  One of the primary justifications was offered by current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who, in a now famous memo written while he was still White House Counsel, stated:

"the war against terrorism is a new kind of war" and "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." (Jan. 25, 2002)

The memo pushes to make al Qaeda and Taliban detainees exempt from the Geneva Conventions' provisions on the proper, legal treatment of prisoners.

       Historically, we learn from Mayer's article that the 'new paradigm' actually began in discrete and selected areas of counter-terrorist activity during the nineteen-nineties, at a time when ways were being sought to locate persons and groups associated with terrorist attacks, both here and abroad. From 1995 on, through the practice of 'extraordinary rendition' described above, the United States became able to extradite suspects to a foreign country in order to gain access to information through means that could not be legally employed within theU.S. The country of choice for extradition at that time was Egypt.  In pursuit of known terrorists, individuals suspected of affiliation were transported there to become subject to Egyptian agents and methods of interrogation, which often included torture.  Since that time, the implementation of this policy continues to include Egypt, but has expanded to include more situations and additional countries to which detainees have been secretly transported.

       Today, it is almost commonplace to see in the news, new facts and stories related to extra-legal detainment of foreign nationals who, after being released from custody, or in certain rare instances as revealed to their attorneys, describe what happened to them. A case in point is that of Mahar Arar, referred to above.  Arar is suing the U.S. government for his mistreatment. “They are outsourcing torture because they know it’s illegal,” he said. “Why, if they have suspicions, don’t they question people within the boundary of the law?”

 

       Others, too, have revealed shocking facts concerning the use of illegal practices within American military bases such as Guantanamo, and have described their own experience of secretive extradition to countries whose brutality they have encountered first hand.  Many such stories are emerging among news sources today, making it clear that in the name of 'national security', the 'state of exception' is becoming more widespread.

        Nevertheless, despite this increased exposure, these 'extra-legal' practices continue to find ongoing justification in the counsel of those who advise the Executive, and especially through loopholes that can be found in existing legislative language. 

       For example, there is the loophole developed by John Yoo, formerly Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which designates a new class of persons called 'illegal enemy combatants' who are different than 'prisoners of war'.  This new classification removed individuals in this group from the protection of the Geneva Conventions, allowing them to be locked up for years without legal counsel, without contact with their families, and without corroborating evidence.  Nine such 'enemy combatants' - British citizens held at Guantanamo for a period of years - were subsequently released by the White House due to pressure from the British government for their release, and due also to reportage by the detainees themselves of practices of abuse and torture while being held at the military base.  Five were released in March, 2004; four in January, 2005.  Of the nine released, upon returning to Britain, all were set free without charge, due to insufficient evidence against them. 

       The designation of this new category of persons not covered by the Geneva Conventions is shocking in its own right since it impinges upon fundamental human rights.  It has also generated a large number of people for whom there is now no legal protection and no legal recourse.  At present, the U.S. government does not know what to do with them. 

     Another loophole, written into 1998 legislation, stated that

it is “the policy of the United States not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial (italics mine) grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States.”

Efforts to circumvent this legislation have occurred along the following lines:  As stated by Martin Lederman, a lawyer who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002: “The Convention only applies when you know a suspect is more likely than not to be tortured, but what if you kind of know? That’s not enough. So there are ways to get around it.”

     More recently, there has also been an attempt to redefine torture so that it does not focus on the experience of extreme pain or distress caused to the recipient or the motive of the abuser, but rather measures whether the harm done was

"equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." (See: Bybee Memo, 2002).

This loophole eliminated from the definition of torture, many practices that were both humiliating and emotionally devastating, while not likely to produce organ failure or death.  Its assumptions guided the Bush administration for twenty-two months until public disclosures and outcry following the Abu Ghraib scandal caused rejection of its premises.  Subsequent repudiation of this memo by the Justice Department took place in stages throughout 2004, and became official in December, 2004, when a new legal opinion was issued that superseded the August 2002 Memorandum entirely.

Danger in Our Midst

        Within the cradle of democracy, we are in noticeable danger today, from something that sleeps fitfully within our midst.  This something is the mentality of being 'beyond the law'.  It is an attitude that lies like a sleeping giant in fairy tales of old, that has begun to stir from its somnolent state and threatens grave consequences when it fully awakens. There are many hazards implied by this mentality.  A central one is that this same orientation can, given sufficient circumstances that seem to warrant it, be turned against American citizens themselves, justified by the everpresent 'war on terrorism'. Many feel that this movement has already begun, supported by the new permissions that are part of Patriot Act I and even more so of Patriot II. Both of these Acts have begun to disturb the sensibilities of numerous civil liberties advocates, who see in them grave consequences for the rights of individuals and the fundamentals of democracy.

       All it would take in order for the giant to awaken would be fear of sufficient measure - fear of terrorists within our midst - to create the circumstances through which American citizens as a whole, could become suspect of terrorist activity and have their rights denied, as are the rights, currently, of many foreign nationals and often even of foreign-born American citizens.  Such increased fear could turn the 'beyond the law' mentality of the present Administrative structure against its own citizens, in the name of 'national security'. 

       Such an outcome would, indeed, require an event of great magnitude to take place to justify it - one such as a second terrorist attack which involved even greater loss of life than the first.  If such an attack were to occur, it could then activate strict countermeasures on the part of the Administration - measures which are already in place - that would follow and expand upon the practices and policies described above.  These measures, however, would no longer apply to just foreign-born suspects, but rather to American suspects and to people of every walk of life, who might be thought to have some affiliation with terrorist groups. 

       There is little doubt that the personnel and statutes are already in place which would allow the present Administration to respond in such a manner to a second, large-scale al Qaeda attack. In the wake of such an event, the power of the Executive would come into play and would give full authority to both the military and to the Dept. of Homeland Security during a state of 'national emergency', to initiate a full-scale response in order to cope with the situation. This 'emergency status' would be real, and efforts to create order would also be real and necessary.  The problem with this scenario is that the mentality of being 'beyond the law' would allow those in power, especially at a time of crisis, to go well beyond the issue of national safety toward the justification of widespread abandonment of individual rights in the name of security, unrestricted by constitutional provisions or current law. 

       As witnesses to the current trend in policy regarding the conduct of the 'war on terrorism', it seems imperative for each of us to consider where we are in relation to the extra-legal measures that have already been taken by our government, and specifically in relation to the policy of 'rendition' and the practice of torture. Here are some questions to ask ourselves that may help articulate the beliefs and emotions we hold. Granted, that since we are dealing with them in the abstract, our actual responses to these questions might not be what we would feel in the moment in which these issues became personally relevant. Nevertheless, they are worth contemplating, however abstractly:

- What would it take for me to condone torture?  Do I reject it in all instances or only in some? 

- What if my child, brother, wife, or mother were abducted and were going to be executed, and someone currently held within federal custody was presumed to know where they were being held and when they would be executed, but refused to tell.  Would I condone it under these circumstances? 

- What if my entire family were killed by a group of terrorists who had deliberately plotted to randomly kill people as a symbol of hate and of power.  Would I condone it for one of this group, in order to gain access to the names of the other perpetrators?  

- What if a group of al Qaeda operatives placed a bomb in the center of the city that I live in, and tens of thousands of people who lived and worked in this city died.  Would I be willing to allow torture of those who might know of the perpetrators, in order to find the ones who had committed this mass murder?

       Answering these questions, even tentatively, allows us to view not only possible future behavior of government, but also present circumstances that we can choose to be aware of, out of which future behavior evolves.  These present circumstances have been amply described, and as a way of learning to hold the light more strongly within ourselves, it is important to know with what truth, with what confidence, and with what trust we are ready to meet the 'state of exception' that is already with us.

      

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REFERENCES:

(1) US and the triumph of unilateralism, Sept. 10, 2002.

(2) Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky.

(3) Full Spectrum Dominance by Rahul Mahajan.

 

Mahajan begins the book with a quote originating from a report issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which Army General Henry Sheltonmore called “Joint Vision 2020.”

“The overall goal of the transformation described in this document is the creation of a force that is dominant across the full spectrum of military operations—persuasive in peace, decisive in war, preeminent in any form of conflict…Full spectrum dominance—the ability of U.S. forces, operating unilaterally or in combination with multi-national and interagency partners, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the full range of military operations.”

(4) America's Imperial Ambition, Foreign Affairs, Sept-Oct., 2002.

(5) Seeking Method in the Madness of Abu Ghraib, Sept. 10, 2004

 

 



The purpose of Light Omega is to bring us all into greater planetary consciousness with awareness of the suffering of others and with a willingness to remain awake to the challenges, dangers, and possibilities we face today.

Julie Redstone


A DARKENED AMERICA

       There will come a time when questions regarding right and wrong, fear and trust, revenge and forgiveness, hope and despair, will be the important ones to ask and to answer - a time in which wrongdoing shall prevail and in pursuit of so-called 'justice', safety, and an end to fear, more wrongdoing shall be heaped upon what has already taken place.  This shall be justified in the name of freedom, liberty, and the preservation of American ideals.

      At that time, it will be important to be able to distinguish good from bad.  It will be important to be able to cling with our hearts to the principle that it is never right to justify what the heart knows to be wrong because it seems like the only thing to do.  It is never the only thing to do.  The justification of such action can not only lead to harm toward others, it can also wound the soul, creating consequences that are as severe as the dreaded consequence of feeling helpless. 

       The answer to reducing pain, to protecting loved ones, to preserving freedom - in a word, to enduring - can never come through acts of darkness, cruelty, brutality, or sadism.  Pain cannot be reduced, nor love protected, nor freedom preserved, by doing what is clearly wrong, even if such action momentarily soothes the heart.  Murder cannot beget peace.  Torture cannot beget truth.  Revenge cannot beget an end to pain.  And hatred cannot beget an end to suffering, but brings new suffering of its own.

     In the times ahead, many will have their hearts tested to see if it is possible to hold fast to the light in the presence of darkness.  The light will hold, but only if it is recognized that there is always another way to act and to be, other than through willing corruption of the heart's truth and the soul's conscience.  Such corruption may justify itself as being reasonable, practical, and effective.  It may broadcast its message in order to create false hope through a course of action that diminishes helplessness.  This is the deceptive power of darkness - to hide itself in the clothing of convincing language, claiming to bring peace and an end to pain, but in reality bringing far more suffering than was present to begin with.  The deception is effective, unless one possesses great clarity of heart, for in this case the heart is more important than the mind and can hold fast to truth, even while the mind may be in doubt.  The heart can know things that the mind may not, for the truth it knows is of God and of the deepest moral center that is carried within each human being.  It is to this center we each must turn in the presence of deceptive words. 

       To do this, the question must be asked, always, regarding any behavior or policy - does it reflect love?  Not only love for that which has been personally lost or for which protection is sought, but love for the sacredness of life.  It is impossible to feel this love and to take life, to abuse it, or to desecrate it.  These things are mutually incompatible.  Within God's reality, life is always and eternally sacred, and hatred and murderous intent are always what separates us from God.  Such love involves offering the conditions of humane treatment to all; respect for life to all; freedom and protection under the law to all.  If love is not extended in this way, if we rush to repay those who have harmed us with harm, we become complicit in the very darkness that we seek to end, and have no hope of victory over it.

     This is why torture and sadism in the service of any goal can never be justified.  Not only because these methods have shown themselves time and again to be impractical and ineffective, producing false information, offered only on the basis of fear and the desire to end pain.  In addition, these actions are inherently disrespectful toward individual life and toward what we have come to understand as the common humanity that underlies all. 

       Our behavior, when it moves 'beyond the law',  instead of having the possibility for healing a situation by raising those who have fallen from truth so that they no longer seek to harm or destroy, brings us, instead, to a place where we sink down to the level of darkness in which lies the very source of harm we seek to put an end to.  We become complicit in what we abhor, and bring into the world more cause for hatred, anger, and revenge, rather than less.  In the service of relief from fear and an end to pain, when we move 'beyond the law', both moral and constitutional, we run the risk of sacrificing our own humanity to a goal and action that cannot, in the end, bring what we desire to us.  One observer has remarked that torture is not only wrong because it is impractical.  It is wrong because in the process, we lose our soul.   

       All of this would not be of such import today, were it not for the fact that there are forces and motives at work that are taking us, as a nation, beyond the boundaries which our forefathers and the rest of the world recognize as legitimate behavior.  We are being viewed by both the past and the present as hypocrites, and as having abandoned the very principles that our country claims to stand for and that lie at the heart of democracy.

      In the midst of this movement, it is necessary not only that we become aware, but also that we have hope and trust in God.  This trust is, and must be, based on the understanding that no matter what forces are moving us in a particular direction, there are also counterforces at work that are deeply engaged with preserving the rights and liberties of all.  In the midst of ascending darkness, these forces are preserving and upholding light.  In the midst of helplessness, they are allowing consciousness to strengthen so that another option can reveal itself to those who seek it.  It is true, that this alternative path may not become available before the illegitimacy of the 'beyond the law' mentality has made itself abundantly clear.  But it will become available, as the path of truth and light that God wishes us to go in.

      Nations are composed of people as are governments. Both are made of human beings whose consciousness can be affected in various ways by the light that we each hold in our own.  This light will uphold the presence of truth in the midst of falseness, and hope in the presence of fear.  It will stand firm in the midst of whatever threat faces us so that we, as a people, and as a land dedicated to the principles of liberty and democracy, shall not be deceived by whatever events are to come, but shall remain upright, held in place by the spirit and light of truth which protects us.

 

 





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the times ahead, many will have their hearts tested to see if it is possible to hold fast to the light in the presence of darkness.  The light will hold, but only if it is recognized that there is always another way... other than through willing corruption of the heart's truth and the soul's conscience. 

 

 

 

 

 

...the question must be asked, always, regarding any behavior or policy - does it reflect love?  Not only love for that which has been personally lost or for which protection is sought, but love for the sacredness of life. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...no matter what forces are moving us in a particular direction, there are also counterforces at work that are deeply engaged with preserving the rights and liberties of all.  In the midst of ascending darkness, these forces are preserving and upholding light.

 
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