The first post on this here blog popped up sixteen years ago, today. The original format of this blog was as a two-column "point-counterpoint" between moi, then "the left-leaning dog," and the former blogger known then as "the rabid dog" and later known as "the raving atheist," that lasted a couple of months or so, before the current one-column forum whereby "the talking dog" became the sole voice here. And so here we are.
"Blogs" were then a new phenomenon, as the much younger internet (although then, as now, a little too dependent on gambling, porn and fraud) had not yet supplanted "legacy" newspapers, magazines and much of journalism, and further, blogs were the province of genuine independent voices, and there were very few "professional" bloggers.
Oh, did I mention that it was also one week after September 11th, an event for which I had a front row seat so close that it put me out of a job as the office building was shut down for months? (And of course, Mrs. TD and I live (as does the loquacious pup when she's home), and still do, about a mile downwind of WTC here in Brooklyn).
And so a winding journey of witnessing and observation the events of the 21st century unfolded, with you as a fellow witness. And an interesting 21st century it has been: September 11th led directly to a "global war on terror," including a war in Afghanistan that is already the longest war ever engaged in by the United States (with no end in sight, apparently ever), as a consequence of that war (one of many), a gulag to house alleged prisoners of war of that conflict established at an American military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba which has been the subject of independent journalism here (my most recent interview and the over seventy other related interviews can be found here), a follow-on war against Saddam Hussein's in Iraq that would ultimately destroy the underpinnings of American moral and financial authority as well as killing thousands and wounding tens of thousands (and countless Iraqis), the election of America's first Black President (my Columbia college classmate) Barack Obama, a financial crisis followed by a recession that has probably eviscerated much of America's middle class, the rise of Wall Street casino tactics (derivatives, derivatives on derivatives, zero or even negative interest rates, etc.) that will probably finish us off as well, and then the piece de resistance, the deliberate election of an unqualified buffoon (apparently with the help of the Russian state thanks to a shockingly unsecure internet) as President of the United States whose mandate is simply to undo whatever the Black President did. Some unfortunate trends- rising health care costs (along with declining "health outcomes"), income and wealth inequality, climate change, the zombification of the populace thanks to the "smart phone," and the increasing number of global refugees- are all increasing.
What began as the ravings of an angry 38-year old have become more of the musings of a less angry, but perhaps more troubled 54-year old: obviously, I have lived most of my life now in whatever "order" there has been so far. Indeed, TD Dad has passed on (though thankfully most of TD Familia is still around). My daughter was less than two sixteen years ago at the start of this blog; now she has started college. While I suspect we will have left a world for her generation, the shocking selfishness of the baby boom generation will have rendered it, most likely, a less pleasant world than what we inherited. Perhaps the next generations will, by necessity if for no other reason, act more responsibly in every sense- morally, environmentally, financially, and what have you. I can only hope so, even as I observe only glimmers of hope, amidst a large-ish holdover to (or if you like restoration of) "traditional" values like bigotry, ignorance and superstition.
Don't know. As with the original post on 18 September 2001, we are nearing Rosh Ha Shanah, the Jewish New Year, a traditional time for reflection (before we come to the Day of Atonement just ten days later). And this is as good a time as any for reflection. The format has allowed an independent schnook with a keyboard access to reach every other schnook with a keyboard on Earth. Thanks for following along. We'll see what the next sixteen years bring.
And so, it's September 11th again. For some people, life doesn't get any better.
For the rest of us, it seems, maybe we should use this moment to "take stock," for some level of genuine introspection.
We recently passed the twelve year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, whose ferociousness was at least thought to have been assisted by man-made climate change (hurricanes are strengthened by warmer water), and the response of the American people, aside from doing nothing, was ultimately to elect a man who not only denied the existence of climate change at all, but who promised (a promise he kept) to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and who is hellbent on policies designed to increase global temperatures as fast as possible. Naturally, Ameircans are blissfully unconcerned about the fact that twelve years on, we have seen, for example, devastating "Superstorm Sandy" wreak havoc here in the New York area, and, of course, Hurricane Harvey devastate Houston last week and most powerful Atlantic storm ever Hurricane Irma devastate Florida even as I type this (after it rampaged across the Caribbean leveling a number of islands). But enough people prefer the illusion of normalcy so that, at least in the allegedly "advanced" United States, man-made climate change is still "an issue." So be it. A disproportionate number of people stupid enough to have such beliefs live in danger of the results, I suppose; perhaps God will sort it out after all.
Not so much with the other issue: American "hegemony." After the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, the United States found itself as "the sole super-power." We could, of course, have quickly taken down the scope of our military reach (hundreds of garrisons around the world), decommissioned our massive stockpile of nuclear weapons aimed at the no longer extant Soviet Union, canceled contracts for weapons systems, etc. Instead, almost immediately we picked a rather large scale fight with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and formed a massive coalition, with a massive American presence, leaving a rather large footprint in the Arab world (especially Saudi Arabia) to contain the vanquished Saddam. This in turn led directly to a backlash, as "the Infidels" were in the Saudi kingdom, home of two of Islams holiest places, and al Qaeda was apparently formed to "address" this, rather violently, including attacks on the Khobar towers in Saudi itself, American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the U.S.S. Cole then in Yemen, culminating in the events of Sept. 11th. With some irony, al Qaeda arose from elements of the Afghan Mujahadeen, an American financed guerrilla group designed to pester the Soviets in Afghanistan, which the Soviets eventually did quit, shortly before the USSR imploded.
Unlike climate change, where, notwithstanding the preference of seemingly controlling elements of the American power structure (and a huge part of the population) to deny something they don't like, one can certainly talk about it. With issues of American hegemony that pretty much led right to 9-11, perhaps not so much. The late Susan Sontag was vilified for this short essay in the New Yorker (third from last) in which she dared question that linkage; I'll quote it:
The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.
Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.
Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.
We're sixteen years on, and none of those questions has been asked, as the United States doubled down again and again, with another massive war in Iraq, its longest war ever in Afghanistan (with no end in sight), potential engagements everywhere, "terrorism" having morphed into the "lone wolf" variety of night-club shoot-ups and vehicle crashes (although transportation systems are still targeted), only, of course, we can throw in the pressures of sixteen more years of unaddressed global warming coupled with Middle Eastern unrest to add a humongous refugee problem in Europe (the decision to take out Qaddaffi in Libya didn't help that either). Oh, and our relations with Russia are bad (that nation probably interfered in our recent election, and though no one wants to say it, may have manipulated enough electoral levers to install Donald Trump over the rightful winner), with China not so good, and North Korea may have the means to hit us with a nuclear ICBM. For her part, Hillary Clinton is touring the country complaining about all the things that cost her the election (including whining at Bernie Sanders, the man who tried to not talk about "her damned emails," and, in a spirit of non-introspection, minimizing her own disastrous decisions to rely on big data and not on the actual reports of her campaign field operations and freaking go to Wisconsin and Michigan). And while we're at it, we're still holding 41 men at Guantanamo (our current President promises to "fill it up with bad dudes," though no one else wants to), and we have a massive national security state that captures all your emails and phone calls (even as it lacks the manpower to read and listen to them). Oh, and since everything is digitized, hackers have stolen your social security numbers, account numbers and everything else you thought was "secure." But that's ok, because you have the latest I-phone.
And so here we are, sixteen years on. My daughter, who was then less than two, and who has no memories of a "pre-9-11 world," has started college, where, among other things, she is studying history and international relations, two things that Sontag noted most Americans, at least, would rather avoid. Maybe her generation will set about to build a more rational world (a world that will have less available resources for that generation, as we are hellbent on squandering them for our temporary comfort). We can hope. Because it seems to me that most Americans are ultimately unflappable, that is, whether it's 9-11, or Katrina, or Sandy, or Orlando/San Bernadino, or now Harvey and Irma, they don't seem to want to think about anything at a meaningful level.
I get it; as Sontag said: "Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy." Think about that--the abiding power of narrative over reality-- as we celebrate 9-11's not particularly "sweet" sixteenth.
Run, don't walk, to this piece in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates called "The First White President." For those wondering why so many were obsessed with "the White working class," and what that had to do with an election where the circus clown (Coates prefers "carnival barker") Donald J. Trump prevailed in every economic category of White people for no reason other than that he was White (to be fair, I would add that he was also male)... Coates gives us the rather unsettling answers.
Coates's thesis, which has the troubling attribute of evidence, is that the handing of the potential to destroy all life on this planet to a clown simply because of his race might be either the ultimate demonstration of White privilege or the ultimate expiation of White guilt (though most people on this planet are not even White).
Next month will mark the sixteenth anniversary of this blog, not to mention the sixteenth anniversary of America's Own Reichstag Fire[TM], September 11th (and now, as then, I still work a city block or so from the WTC complex).
Still trying to reconcile the fact that the winning combination of the minority of American voters managed to install an actual circus clown as President, at a moment when the American Empire is coming apart at the seams anyway, largely as a result of the decisions made as a result of... the aftermath of September 11th. Specifically, the endless expenditure on blood and treasure in Western and Central Asia has resulted in military adventures that literally sucked the life blood out of the American spirit (and economy). They have been also been used as pretexts to justify universal surveillance on virtually every communication on Earth that technology will permit to be monitored, torture, even more cruel and arbitrary treatment of prisoners (both military and civilian, Joe Arpaio), and evidently as cover for financial institutions to rig the financial world to explode (which it did in 2007 and 2008, and might be ready to again).
And at a moment when the leader of the nation (such as he is and it is) might consider appropriate for genuine introspection, we have, instead, a man who thinks that his own P.T. Barnum-like impression of a poor person's idea of a rich person is more important than the Presidency that he has somehow stumbled into (thanks again, Hillary), and so, instead of even asking the irritating Ed Koch-ish "how am I doing?" insists on touting his non-existent accomplishments, with "I'm doing great, right? What a turnout for me!" When, instead, he should be expressing sympathy and compassion for victims of a horror.
The disconnect between the clown show that now passes for national discourse and, ahem, reality is nothing short of exhausting.
I'd suggest that fewer and fewer of you were following along with whatever it is I'm trying to do, but even Sitemeter has gone ahead and given up! So... hopefully, I'm not just yelling into the void. In any event, GTMO is still an abomination, and Andy and Candace are on the beat; I hope to have some more interviews one of these days, and I do keep playing with a "more substantial written product" in this area... stay tuned.
A bittersweet time (aside from the shitshow of state)... August coming to an end, summer to follow shortly thereafter; the Loquacious Pup has gone off to college; Donald J. Putin is up to over 400 followers... such is life-- a cyclical thing, which we forget at our peril (even as too many of our countrymen insist on telling us that they are stupid and racist and that they resent being called stupid and racist.) Pshaw.
Alrightie. Hey, keep the faith, fight the power, etc. Never have people of goodwill been needed more; your efforts may not appear to be immediately rewarded, but... karma... just saying.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists (including the Ku Klux Klan) were protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a vehicle plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing at least one and injuring at least nineteen.
The Governor of Virginia had declared a state of emergency, and even
Il Douché the President tweeted something on the subject, without, of course, mentioning his base those actually responsible for the violence, i.e. the White supremacists themselves, or the specific incident.
please God our next President Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah (#PresidentHatch) to actually condemn the violence.
It is not without irony that I have just returned from a week long visit to Hungary, a fascinating and beautiful country, but one with its own troubled history of fascism (and whose hard-right anti-immigrant leader Viktor Orban was actually among the first-- and the first EU leader- to congratulate
Il Douché the President on his electoral victory.) I understand Big Boss Vladimir Russian leader Vladimir Putin will actually be visiting Hungary for the second time this year later in August.
Alrightie then. If we couldn't do so before, we can now officially say that there is now a body-count to the President's overt racism (which, after all, got him "elected" in the first place, assuming you accept the sadly bipartisan, but ever more unlikely narrative that actual voting machines and tallies weren't hacked). We can only say that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's work now takes on a new urgency (even assuming that the President's amateurish and ill-advised tit for tat posturing with nuclear armed North Korea doesn't get us all killed).
We have completed what has probably been the longest six-months in American history (even as shockingly little apparently happened, while what we have come to believe was a functioning government is quietly being dismantled affirmatively or otherwise suffering rather malign neglect in front of us, and our nation's standing in the world deteriorates perhaps more rapidly.)
Is this the start of the race-war that Mr. Trump and his supporters have been trying to bait now since long before the election? We can only hope that calmer heads prevail (and strangely, we have to hope that one of those calmer heads belongs to Kim Jong Un.)
The old Chinese curse has clearly come true for us: we live in interesting times.
Long-time GTMO prisoner and "child soldier" (apprehended and taken to GTMO when he was fifteen years old) Omar Khadr will receive ten million dollars in compensation for mistreatment he received in custody as well as an apology from... wait for it... Justin Trudeau's Canadian government. You didn't think that Donald Trump's #AmericaFirstmeansRussiafirst government would have done anything like that, did you?
Well, I didn't. And it didn't.
Happy fourth of July. Given how much "great work he is doing" according to our current American President, I link you to Frederick Douglass's Fourth of July address (Rochester, NY, 1852).
It's Dominion Day in the Great White North (funny that expression in light of developments in the soon-to-be-former-superpower to its South)... and there were well-attended celebrations of Canada Day on its 150th anniversary.
No context; just puttin' it out there.
Oh... isn't he dreamy?
It seems that the Trump Administration has announced the first military commission charges in a really long time, in this case, charges against Indonesian national Riduan “Hambali” Isomuddin for orchestrating the 2003 Bali bombing. Interestingly, I always seem to find that my life parallels the ruling class in some way (either I or Mrs. TD have, for example, met the last two U.S. Presidents). I say all that because the charges have to be referred to a Pentagon official with the title "convening authority" (that's who decides if GTMO military commission charges go forward to trial). The convening authority is... Harvey Rishikof, who is an NYU Law School classmate of... oh, you kind of know already. And unlike my college classmate Barack, whom I knew in passing, I knew Harvey quite well.
So, we'll send a message to Harvey, assuming you're listening! Here's the message: for the sake of the victims, if charges against Mr. Isomuddin are appropriate, they should be referred either to court martial (assuming jurisdiction for same), or else to a U.S. federal court, period, end of story. The sole purpose of the military commissions is, was, and always will be to cover up torture, and I understand that Mr. Isomuddin had a full panoply of torture himself. The federal courts can deal with it: if we have to admit that our nation did really bad things, so be it. If the price of that is Mr. Isomuddin walks, so be it.
Because, Harvey, we are now in one of our darkest hours as a nation. We have elected a mean-spirited buffoon who really doesn't care about governance, and is willing to just hand over major decisions of war and peace and life and death to others that no other President would or has done. Which means, I suppose, that maybe you have some independence here. OK. Exercise it, please, PLEASE. GTMO is down to 41 men-- the 9-11 trials have bogged down for years and look like they will bog down for decades. The military commissions only existed to cover for torture-- we could, and routinely do, try terrorism acts everywhere else on Earth in our federal courts with a very high conviction rate. This is the time.
Not agreeing that the commission trial should go forward doesn't mean that the prisoner goes free: it seems that our courts are just fine with holding the 41 remaining men at GTMO for "the duration" (at least the never-ending Afghan conflict, if nothing else). That's its own separate set of insane injustices, but for another time.
Just as one of your predecessors abandoned a commissions case noting the obvious torture that the defendant had suffered, you have a similar opportunity to do the right thing and say, no, sorry, on net, the victims of the Bali bombing deserve better than to have a proceeding bog down over the question of the abuse that the United States and its allies subjected the suspect to; if he's referred to federal court, fine (or a court-martial if possible), and otherwise... cabin the commissions to the currently pending cases.
We are in a dark moment; subjecting anyone- even our worst enemies- to star chamber "justice" to cover up torture they suffered at our hands, will only make this darker. Do the right thing, Harvey. Please.
For everyone else, we have now come to a watershed moment, without any notice from "the media." This President campaigned on restoring torture, apparently, because in what passes for his mind, he believes it is "effective." At what is left to the imagination. The military commissions exist for the sole purpose of sanitizing Bush-era torture. This President has delegated virtually all military matters to "the generals," some of whom were pretty damned aggressive in their previous management of matters GTMO. Some of whom may well think the military commissions are useful for their own purposes. What? Don't know; could be scary. All we know is that the Obama Administration, for the many legitimate criticisms one could make of it, held back on pressing too many military commissions cases. Now, it seems, the generals and the military are un-tethered, and can do what they want. The apparent yielding of civilian command of the military to the military itself is a remarkable development. We need to make this a bigger issue than the media will present it as. We just do. Or we will go down a slippery slope to tyranny (possibly via an "inverse coup," or some other means) faster than you can imagine.
As is often the case, I must temper my remarks by noting my personal exhaustion: I had a "short finish" (31 miles out of the official length of 40) in yesterday's BUS Anniversary Run in Queens (Alley Pond Park), followed by today's NYRR Retro 5-Miler in Central Park to mark the NY Road Runners Club's 59th anniversary. Seems a big weekend for running club anniversaries.
And speaking of things that have been around a while, what can we say about the President's ongoing feud with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, which resulted in the President pouring salt on the wounds of Londoners with tweets critical of their mayor's call for calm after the recent multiple attacks in London that left at least seven dead.
Among other things, the President called for the U.S. Courts to back him in his desired "travel ban" (even though his own legal team is trying to argue it isn't a travel ban.) Anyway, the President's policy appears to be to never leave behind an opportunity to drive a wedge or put distance between the United States and its traditional allies. Perhaps this can be explained by kompromat to Putin's Russia (isolating the United States, especially from Europe, certainly must bring a smile to Vladimir Vladimirovich). I believe, however, that most things with the President can, unfortunately, be explained all too easily.
Mr. Khan is one of the few Muslim mayors of a major Western City, and for that reason alone, it seems, the President must oppose and attempt to humiliate him. Just as, it seems, the President must try to repeal "Obamacare" (and send over 23 million people, a huge number of them presumably his own voters, into the realm of not having health insurance) as well as to take the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord (notwithstanding that his executive orders largely repealed many of the measures intended to implement it already and the Paris agreement requirements were ultimately "voluntary") for no reason other than to attempt to sully the legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama; in short, both Khan and Obama have dark skin, and that seems to be the principal guide to Mr. Trump's policies.
And the thing is, say what you will, it is this petty school-yard racism that won him the Republican nomination and ultimately the Presidency, and is still holding his base together (albeit less overwhelmingly than he once did.) Which means that a huge number of Americans continue to believe that, as long as it is done in the spirit of racism, it is o.k. to crap on our allies, isolate the country in terms of near universal agreements (we now join Syria and Nicaragua in being on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Accord) and and even sentence millions of Americans to go without health insurance as our population ages and likely sickens.
Which means that this petty, counterproductive, hateful bullshit is likely to go on for the foreseeable future. Isn't that special?
I'm coming into the party a bit late, so I'll jump in with this piece noting that top Congressional Democrats are calling for a report on Jeff Sessions role in the clusterfuck known as the Jim Comey firing. Thing is, right now we not only have Dick Nixon, without the brains or experience, but on coke, in the Oval Office, but an entire party of treasonous enablers whose sole concern is that they can get right wing judges and policies and more tax cuts for the rich. They (Paul and Mitch, and your committee chairmen, I mean YOU) don't give two shits about the fact that a hostile foreign power has undertaken to interfere in the entire gigantic project known as democracy in the West, through the simple expedient of computer hacking and other activity designed to selectively disrupt elections (though, fortunately, so far at least, only English speaking countries have been stupid enough to actually fall for it.)
And so here we are. This President, thus far, has sacked three high profile officials (former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara and now former FBI Director James Comey) whose portfolios included investigation of his own campaign, its officials (including presumably himself) and their involvement- up to and including deliberate collusion- with Russia and its operatives in order to at least disrupt and quite possibly to change the outcome of the recent national election. And Comey was ignominiously sacked for made up cause, notwithstanding that Comey's own actions probably handed Trump the presidency. Even still it seems, Comey was taken aback by a demand for a pledge of personal loyalty, not to the Constitution, but to der Führer. The relevant movie, it seems, not being All the President's Men, but simply, The Godfather, as nothing short of kissing the Don's (funny that) ring would suffice.
And that's just it. Was this another Saturday Night Massacre (my own theoretical account is here), with Donald Trump in the Nixon role of trying to rid himself of a meddlesome interlocutor? I tend to think it's more Bowling Green Massacre- a completely made-up grievance (what was it again, his handling of the Hillary emails? his showboating? his loss of confidence among FBI rank and file?) Or was it simply that he was pressing the (real) Russian involvement investigation rather than (Bowling Green Massacre again) made up "Obama wire-tapped me" claim?
Let me bottom line this for you. Our institutions were designed to block a man like Donald J. Trump from getting anywhere near this position. They have failed us. Mr. Trump, aside from a dearth of public experience (he is of course the only man ever to assume the presidency while never holding either public office or military rank) is also devoid of character, let alone respect for the institutions he is now in charge of. Further, his instincts are those of a tyrant in charge of a family business. Unfortunately, he has a strong racist streak which comes genuinely, whether calling for the executions of the Central Park 5, for which he refuses to apologize even after they were exonerated, to his leadership role in the Obama birth certificate
controversy LIE, to his well-known assaults on Mexicans ("rapists and murderers") and Muslims on the campaign trail-- aberrant, racist views which were appallingly popular among Republican primary and ultimately general election voters.
And of course, a President who is both insecure about his popularity, and legitimately concerned about holding his base since he has done everything in his power to alienate all but his most hard-core supporters, has given his supporters the red meat of a travel ban of people from Muslim countries (struck down by the courts), or an immigration crack-down including deportation of undocumented people whose sole offense is being undocumented, or gratuitous reversal of Obama-era environmental regulations (and the House "Obamacare repeal") which seem not to be about policy but trying to disrespect the legacy of the Black President (and who can forget the "Obama wiretapped ME in the [Holy confines of] the Trump tower"
And amazingly, he is obsessed with the fact that he is not getting fawning press coverage for his appalling excuse for a "government" (which features little more than, as feared, the expression of his own grievances interspersed with his family's attempts to profit from his Office)... oh wait, he did appoint a remarkably un-empathetic hard-right wing (naturally White male) judge to the Supreme Court. Well, Gorsuch is certainly more red meat for the base... but where was I?
Oh yes. His "100 days" have shown an amazing paucity of accomplishment for a man whose own unfortunate popularity carried his party to control of both houses of Congress as well as the presidency.
Which is kind of the only good news. It's true that he is desperately trying to undermine the few checks and balances that there are when the president's own party controls Congress (see above re: strategic firings of those investigating him). But it's also true that there's no evidence that there's anything behind his bravado (see my own "April 1st" interview). We have nothing but a scared little man with extremely limited intellectual capacity, tiny hands and a big mouth; even he knows he's not remotely up to the job, and worse, has chosen to surround himself with sycophants rather than capable operatives, but despite all this, he is still obsessed with good p.r., even though he's not only not entitled to any, but isn't going to get any (except, of course, from sycophant "media" that uncritically cheer-leads for him).
In short, Herr Drumpf ain't Herr Hitler: Hitler knew what he was doing. Doesn't mean someone as unstable and incompetent as the current holder of the presidency in that position isn't extraordinarily dangerous. But, it seems, as long as they get their right-wing judges and tax cuts for the rich, and there are enough hardened racists in the party to keep his approval numbers in the 80's or about among Republicans, his Congressional enablers aren't going to take away the punch bowl or the keys. The republic has suffered fools and survived before.
Surviving this is going to take "all hands on deck" from people of good will; and even with that, we'll still need some luck.
Everything I want to say on the subject has been said better by Professor Lemieux concerning what's wrong with the chattering
classes, to wit, God forbid political coverage tell us the actual substance of a policy, such as the abomination that just passed the House of Representatives that purports to repeal the suddenly-popular-package-of-health-insurance-programs-best-known-as-ACA-or-Obamacare.
Bottom line to Chris Cillizza (formerly of WaPo, now trading his superficial wares at CNN) is that the Democrats sang the lines from a song by "Steam," "Na na na na hey hey goodbye" (or whatever they did) upon passage of the bill in the House [btw, pure payback as the Republicans did that to the Democrats back in the early 90's]... where was I... oh yes... Mr. Cillizza is appalled at the bad sportsmanship... if only our lawmakers behaved "in a more civilized way" the public would like Congress better. Never mind that the substance of the vote would kick tens of millions of people off of health insurance for no reason other than so that extremely rich people would pay even lower taxes than they already do (and health insurance companies' CEOs can get even more obscene bonuses, on which they would pay lower taxes).
Professor Lemieux hearkens back to the 2016 campaign (hell, all campaigns within memory) to note the extraordinary vacuousness of coverage-- the outright anathema to many in the media (yes, Mr. Cillizza, you included, and especially) to cover anything except personalities, and especially anything superficial (especially if it was bad about Hillary), and stay away from actual policy as if it were the plague.
And the nation's reward is that we have a political plague upon us-- the oldest President on record, while being the only one never to hold either public office or military rank (or indeed, so much as an actual job other than working for his own father), whose only saving grace is that he is actually too incompetent (and yes, stupid) to actually implement much of the really harmful policy that he has promised at his Nuremberg-style campaign rallies (which he is still conducting).
And it is in this spirit that we can observe his actually celebrating the potential dismemberment of one of the great advances in public health (at least in terms of sheer number of people brought into the regular system, regardless of any critiques one may level at Obamacare). Perhaps it's not too much of a stretch to see the possibility of actual plague-like consequences of increased mortality?
But why so serious? Who can forget Mr. Cilizza in this:
Fortunately, we have the best meta-takedown ever, right back at ya':
In your face!
Could this Politico piece linking the Hasidic Jewish group Chabad, Putin's Russia and Trump amount to a "unified field theory of #Trumprussia"?
Certainly, many of the names are there; I believe that, perhaps, a Rosetta "Bayrock" might be a better explanation, as that name has come up before. Obviously, my good friend Donald J. Putin follows the issue more closely than I.
Now that it seems, at a superficial level (an extraordinarily superficial level, because it is bullshit), an argument can be made that the gratuitous firing of 59 (why that number?) Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase somehow takes the Trump/Russia/election interference issue off the table. Those paid to make this argument make it notwithstanding that Syrian jets have taken off from the very airfield we supposedly bombed to oblivion... which, of course, supports the premise that the whole thing is a damned kabuki, possibly even involving the Russians orchestrating the chemical weapons attack precisely so that Trump could launch missiles and look "presidential."
In short, anything goes and nothing matters; the problem is, if you live in, say, Syria, you are under assault from the Russian-backed regime, the "rebels," the Islamic State, and God knows whom else... and Mr. Donald J. "I care so much about the widdle Syrian children" Trump also purports to bar those fleeing the violence there from entering this country as refugees no matter how "extreme vetted" they might be. And since governance by the cable-t.v.-news-cycle might not properly consider the "consequences" of impulsive action, we don't know what they will be.
Of course, Neil Gorsuch has been shoved down our throats as the next Supreme Court justice... so the question becomes how much longer Mr. Trump will be needed, particularly if the vaunted competence and thoughtfulness he showed with the health care
dismembering reform is applied to tax cut for millionaires and billionaires reform and "infrastructure"? Damned if I know.
Still, it seems like most of what we need to know is out there in front of us; the irony is how few hearts and minds knowing the actual objective truth will change.
Thus sayeth T.S. Eliot somewhere or other. As you know, it's the 1st of April, a day for "fooling." And indeed, in the history of this blog, I have often used the occasion for fun, such as my most-viewed-post-of-all time, this interview with former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld. Using my patented blog-interview format, I also presented interviews with notables such as Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, and just last year, Donald J. Trump.
Thing is, we are now in a world where everything goes and nothing matters, the world's most prolific liars accuse others of spreading "fake news," the most obvious lies are deemed "alternative facts," and much of what transpires seems designed as a clever artifice (by a hostile foreign power no less) to advance false news stories benefiting one candidate (though seemingly not one party). In short, we have arrived at "the end."
April Fool's jokes are no longer really that funny, given where "reality" has gone. Indeed, I'm finding the blog format (at least mine, where I spend at least a little time exploring and discussing something) to be cumbersome-- quite frankly, I can't keep up, and the irony is that the stupid, but frenetic Twitter format, which
I my good friend Donald J. Putin (btw, please follow me my friend Donald J. Putin at twitter) has taken up residence is better suited to a news cycle of potentially dozens of (often insane) events a day.
I don't know; it seems to me that nothing this insanely frenetic-- particularly from a candidate who had no plan if he won-- can possibly go on indefinitely, but then, what do I know? All I can say is that I find myself "humor challenged." I'll just suggest we all take a moment of silence for the victims of the Bowling Green Massacre.
Jeffrey S. Kaye is a native Californian and is a practicing psychologist in San Francisco, Calif. Dr. Kaye has a bachelors degree from the University of California, Berkeley and he received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley. After working as a cab driver, an assistant casting director, a proofreader, a typographer, and assorted odd jobs, he settled down and became a clinical psychologist in his middle age. He still has a full-time psychotherapy practice in San Francisco, California. Dr. Kaye also taught Adult Development and History and Systems of Psychology to Bay Area graduate students in psychology. For 10 years he worked part time with Survivors International, conducting both assessment and psychotherapy of torture victims. After 9/11, he became involved with other psychologists in protesting the use of psychological expertise in the CIA and Department of Defense interrogation programs, which have widely been exposed as including torture and other forms of cruel treatment of prisoners. "Cover-up at Guantanamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri" is his first eBook. He has published articles on torture and other subjects at Truthout, The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, Alternet, and other online websites, and he maintains the blog "Invictus" and the website Guantanamo Truth (where he posts the results of his Guantanamo related Freedom of Information requests and key source documents.)
On March 25, 2017, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Kaye by email exchange.
The Talking Dog: Where were you on 9/11?
Jeffrey Kaye: I was living in San Rafael, California at the time. I’m not a very religious or superstitious person, but on the morning of 9/11 I was awoken around 6pm with a nightmare. People and cars and cows (!) and other items were falling down out of the sky. It was bizarre, and scary enough it work me up. I felt creepy, but shook it off as I had to start the day: get my daughter ready for school and myself ready for the commute to work in San Francisco. I never watch TV in the morning, nor did I listen to the news in those days. But after I dropped my daughter off, I got on the freeway and quickly was in the typical commute crawl. Out of the corner of my eye I could see people making strange faces. One woman had her mouth agape in shock. I turned on the news and heard about the planes hitting the World Trade Center and Pentagon. This was before the buildings had collapsed. I rushed home to watch some on TV, and then headed into work late. I figured my daughter was safe at school, and my wife would pick her up later. I remember thinking, this is so strange, so bizarre. I thought about my dream. I imagined that thousands were dead (after the buildings collapsed). It all felt unreal. Amazingly, in my psychotherapy practice that day, not one person mentioned the terror attack. That added to the surreal atmosphere of the day.
The Talking Dog: Your book, "Cover-Up at Guantanamo," is a detailed takedown of the official story surrounding three prisoners suicides-while-in- detention-at-Guantanamo, in three separate incidents spanning a five year period (or, if you like two suicides and a "bonus" chapter on a third), noting, among other things. deliberate decisions to turn off the detainee data management system moments after the discovery of a suicide, documents (and forensic physical evidence, such as fabric that may have been implicated in the death) missing, or apparently deliberately suppressed, from investigative records, along with the usual overarching redactions and secrecy that define Guantanamo as the default. Before we take them on, I have a couple of pet theories I'd love to hear your take on. As you know, the first alleged suicides at Guantanamo, three simultaneous, took place on the night of 9 June 2006 (reported on 10 June 2006), four and a half years into the operation of the prison. By then, the Supreme Court opened up the possibility of habeas and lawyers were running around Guantanamo. It was also obvious that so called actionable intelligence from non-high value prisoners was a fantasy, and that the bulk of GTMO prisoners were, as feared, taxi drivers and farmers and missionaries and otherwise people of no "intel" value, actionable or otherwise. Oh-- Dubya got reelected as well. That said, I wonder if, to be brutally blunt about it, the compelling need to keep prisoners alive kind of dissipated. Further, I wonder if, by 2006, the staff that rotated into GTMO, particularly in the medical and psychological areas, was, well, just less top-notch (if that term ever applied) than staff earlier, and this was a factor in the "suicides". While Joe Hickman believes that those first three deaths were homicides, and he's likely right, I posit whether it could be gross negligence homicide rather than intentional murder... In other words, let's hypothesize that some sick game of dry-boarding for example which earlier would have been stopped well before the edge of death, by '06 could be pushed just a few seconds or inches further...just a little less quality control... It was less of a "catastrophe" as it were, if GTMO prisoners died on site. Can you comment on any of that? I'd also like to toss out an "Occam's Razor" explanation: after years and years of extreme boredom (even boredom at having to inflict the sort of abuse they were ordered to do), prison and medical staff just suffered periodic breakdowns in doing their jobs-- they just fell asleep at the wheel, whether of keeping contraband out or watching prisoners on schedule and so forth or taking steps to prevent suicides. Can you comment on any of this?
Jeffrey Kaye: It’s worth remembering at every stage that so much has been shrouded in secrecy, that we really don’t know. I think Joe Hickman is right and the three prisoners in 2006 were murdered. It may have been “accidental,” but I don’t think so in their case. After the first died, there should have been some concern by interrogators, or whoever was torturing these prisoners, about what they were doing. But three died, and there was more than one trip in and out to Camp No. Why were these detainees given disorienting drugs (at least one was tested for mefloquine)? Were they dryboarded, or was it even worse than that. The same goes for one of the prisoners whose death I examined, Abdul Rahman Al Amri. He was likely murdered himself. In fact, it seems he was executed (hands tied behind his back, a former compliant prisoner, perhaps even an informant, turned hunger striker, his file was very heavily redacted, with hundreds of pages withheld).
Now, we know (or believe we know) that there were many suicide attempts in the first few years at Guantanamo, or at least there were actions attributable to self-harm. Did the strenuous efforts to prevent suicide wane as the years wore on? Perhaps. There is the possibility that those who were difficult mental health cases (Al Hanashi, Al Latif, and Inayatullah) were killed or allowed to die by withdrawal of care or allowance of self-harm as a result of counter-transference hatred among guards and/or clinical staff. I remember I volunteered at San Francisco Suicide Prevention in the early 1990s. I read about a case where two suicide prevention workers in Sacramento were so incensed and fed up with a “chronic” suicide caller that they drove to his house and tried to strangle him. When I brought up the subject in my own agency, no one wanted to discuss it. I thought that strange. But then later I learned that hostility towards difficult patients is real problem in hospitals. The way Guantanamo was staffed, possibly with poorly trained and less talented staff, but more importantly, with heavy turn-over and therefore poor institutional memory and lousy esprit de corps. I also believe, due to the fact medical decisions were subordinated to military or intelligence officials’ needs, there was a deterioration in the culture of caring that took place. I saw some nurses from the Behavioral Health Unit at Guantanamo speak at the 2007 American Psychological Convention. They seemed like automatons to me, as they lied about the pronounced evidence of personality disorders and the lack of PTSD at Guantanamo.
The Talking Dog: I'd like to acknowledge the nine prisoners who died in custody at Guantanamo. I haven't been able to find the descriptions of all nine men in the same place, so I'll try to put it together in this question. Let's do a quick overview of the ultimate "forever prisoners"- the nine men whose life ended as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Ali Abdullah Ahmed (Salah Ahmed al-Salami) (June 10, 2006) suicide [by hanging]
Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi Al-Utaybi (June 10, 2006) suicide [by hanging]
Yasser Talal al Zahrani (June 10, 2006) suicide [by hanging]
Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi (June 1, 2009) suicide [self-strangulation]
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (September 8, 2012) suicide [apparent drug overdose]
I'm going to defer to Joe Hickman on Ahmed, al-Utaybi and al-Zahrani (my interview with Joe is here) and I think it's fair to say that your book is the definitive work on the controversial deaths of al-Amri, al-Hanashi and Latif. I'm wondering if you have done any research or have any particular take on the other three deaths-- Inayatullah, so mysterious that we're usually not even given a cause of death besides "suicide" (I suppose "hanging by a bed sheet" is an explanation), or the cardiac arrest of a man my age [I was born in 1962] on an elliptical machine of Awal Gul, something that his family believes is a cover-up of something more insidious, and of course, the death of a 68 year old prisoner Abdul Razzak Hekmati by cancer while undergoing treatment? Whether or not you have specifically researched the other deaths, can you comment on overall media reaction to them, including international media, and can you comment on what I'll call the extraordinarily helpful irony that, but for their deaths, we might be looking at 50 prisoners still at GTMO rather than 41 (even though a couple of the "suicides" were "cleared for transfer")? Also, with respect to the other deaths by suicide, including those you profile, in an inordinate number of cases, the prisoners somehow managed to tie their own hands before hanging themselves... is that common in suicides, and does that not dramatically make one question whether, at minimum, these were "assisted" suicides [if not, as Joe Hickman suggests, murders]? Also, please comment on "the suicide note" of al-Hanashi.
Jeffrey Kaye: I have indeed looked briefly at the deaths of Awal Gul and Inayatullah/Nassim. Both raise questions even upon a superficial look. I have not had the time to really dig into their deaths. The timeline around Gul’s death seems suspicious. And how did Inayatullah/Nassim ever get past guards to carry a blanket into the recreation yard, which he supposedly used then to hang himself? It’s not like you can hide a blanket!
The media reaction to the deaths has for the most part been awful. Harpers did open up their pages to Hickman and Scott Horton. But when in 2010 the story got an National Magazine Award there was significant growling from the rest of the media. Most amazing, to me, was the tirade of abuse coming from the pages of Adweek, an advertising industry stalwart. That must have thrown editors into a frenzy, with what I believe was practically explicit warning to stay away from these kinds of story, derogated as irresponsible conspiracy-mongering. From that time forward, you did not see stories about the deaths at Guantanamo. A year earlier, Al Hanashi’s death had garnered a good deal of attention. But there was, except for myself, no follow-up. It was as if marching orders had been given. Major journalists who had worked on the torture story – Mark Benjamin at Salon, Jane Meyer at The New Yorker – were either condemnatory of the Harpers piece, or silent.
In general, the press does not attempt to look beyond the official story at Guantanamo, and this is especially true when it comes to the deaths at Guantanamo. I’ve never seen the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, for instance, question the government narrative around any of these deaths, or at least I’ve seen nothing in print. I tried to get people interested in the fact I discovered a government meeting in February 2002 where the deaths of early arrivals at Guantanamo, from “battlefield wounds,” was casually discussed, even after I verified with the government official that he had in fact been told of such deaths. It was as if such evidence fell like sterile seeds onto a hard, barren rocky and soilless field. I write about that in my book, too.
You ask about the tying of hands in the case of four of the suicides. Uniquely, Al Amri’s hands were tied behind his back. The three 2006 prisoners found dead had hands bound in front, and some sort of masks on their faces, not to mention rags stuffed down their throats. None of this seems natural. The government alleges that the 2006 deaths were really a form of Al Qaeda mass suicide, conducted in a ritualistic manner as a form of “asymmetric warfare.” They are totally silent about Al Amri, even seemed to try and hide the circumstances of his death. I did some research on whether hands tied behind the back was a typical finding in suicide cases. No, it is rare. Apparently it can be done. But the authorities I consulted said that you would have to take seriously the possibility also of foul play. I see no indication that government investigators ever considered such a possibility. Indeed, in Al Amri’s case, actual evidence was thrown away or destroyed.
Al Hanashi’s so-called suicide note written on the last day of his life indicated that he was tired of living because of the prospect of abuse of the Koran and Islam in general, and the threat to turn the psychiatric unit at Gitmo over to harsher forms of discipline. He also that very day been pointedly rejected by a leading medical provider when he complained of being tortured. All of this could have led to a decision to kill himself. But as I show in my book, the means by which he killed himself, if he did so by himself, came from unauthorized access to materials he should not have had. Meanwhile, an earlier document, written about a month before, suggested he had consulted with Islam authorities inside Guantanamo and they had said suicide was acceptable to God under the conditions they were in. Internally, Guantanamo officials told medical personnel that Al Hanashi was on some sort of directed suicide list. Certainly Al Hanashi had indicated a wish to die and made multiple suicide attempts in the weeks and months leading up to his death. The “suicide note” never indicates that he was going to kill himself that very day, so I don’t think we can call it a suicide note strictly speaking.
The Talking Dog: One subject I found of interest was the crazy weight fluctuations you have described from the available unredacted records-- how a prisoner might go from, say, a thin 130 lbs. to Auschwitz survivor level of 80, sometimes even, 70 lbs. in a matter of weeks, and then back. You have noted a few possible explanations for this, including deliberate withholding of food in an effort to break the men or otherwise psychologically control them as part of broader psychological experimentation and torture, force-feeding, including pumping detainees up with fluids,hunger striking, or of course, mis-recording, whether as a result of outright negligence or incompetence in weighing or recording or for some more deliberate purpose, You hinted at it in your book, but do you have your own working theory on what the hell was going on with these wildly disparate weight readings?
Jeffrey Kaye: I know there have been some in the medical and legal community who have examined this issue. I’m not at liberty to discuss their research. Thus far it has not been published, and I’m not certain it ever will be. I’ve shown that some of the weight fluctuations seem almost impossible to believe. I’m not sure it’s even physically possible to gain 30 or 40 pounds in a matter of days. The forced-feeding is abusive, it goes without saying. They certainly didn’t want a Gitmo version of Bobby Sands on their hands.
The primary misunderstood fact about Guantanamo was that it was a facility for experimentation. Top Pentagon brass referred to it themselves as a “Battle Lab in the War on Terror.” Later this embarrassed them and they tried to suppress that fact, even redacting the term in a FOIA document I received. But I was able to cross-check that document with a quote from it in the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse, and successfully appeal that redaction.
The reference in the book is to a decades-old meeting of CIA and military-linked health scientists, one of whom, Josef Brozek, who conducted something called the Minnesota Starvation Study in 1944-45, considered then and even now as the definitive study on human starvation and semi-starvation. At a psychiatry symposium on “forceful indoctrination’ in 1956, Brozek told those present, who included the former Chief Medical Officer at Alcatraz, that differential offerings and withdrawals of food, combined with “other forms of deprivation and insults” can induce a “breakdown” in most people. I truly believe the U.S. government analyzed everything that happened at Guantanamo, and that food, even the forced feedings and the prisoners’ own hunger strikes, were used to collect data in their insatiable effort to gain knowledge about human beings so they can be controlled. It is a fantasy that they will ever achieve total control, but that doesn’t keep them from trying.
The Talking Dog: Let's talk about record-keeping, such as the mysterious disappearance of the seemingly omniscient "DIMS" (Detainee Information Management System) that invariably failed right around the time of any prisoner deaths. In particular in the case of al-Hanashi, it seems an order (from NCIS? Or was it Langley, VA?) came down to stop making recordings in a DIMS system whose instructions included " "Relevant observations" of detainee behavior to be recorded include requests for copies of the Koran; refusals to let their cell be searched; refusal of a meal; visits by non-block personnel; and anything deemed a "significant activity."" And something near and dear to both of us professionally, I suppose, forensic records- in this case, criminal, psychological, medical and so forth... even in the redacted form you received some of them, there was left a great deal to be desired. You also noted, that even with "DIMS' in place, there was an apparent false entry concerning a headcount concerning the three simultaneous 2006 "suicides." Please comment on this, and if you have had a chance to observe other military records, or in the civilian context, can you compare and contrast with what is clearly endemic -- somewhere between "lapses of protocol" and outright deliberate cover-up, quite probably criminal in nature?
Jeffrey Kaye: The DIMS system did not fail. It was deliberately sabotaged in the case of al Hanashi, as you note– ordered turned off – and manipulated with false information in other cases. In the case of Al Latif, evidently the failure was to enter necessary data, in other words, a human failure, if indeed it was a failure and not a deliberate obfuscation of evidence.
Unfortunately, I cannot give you an opinion as to the legality of such shenanigans, as I am not legally trained. The only contemporary documents I have experience with are medical records and reports, as well as psychotherapy notes. I also have experience looking at government documents of various sorts, but I don’t believe I have seen anything to match the situation with the DIMS. It would be as if a bank had its security monitoring systems turned off just as a major hack was taking place and money stolen. In this case, men’s lives were stolen from them.
I think your readers and the common man would hear about all this and think, where there’s smoke there’s fire. This kind of obvious destruction of or tampering with records, or the creation of records, is sadly nothing new. We have the example of the destruction by the CIA of the torture videotapes. Over 40 years ago, just as the revelations around the CIA’s notorious MKULTRA program was taking place, the CIA destroyed massive amounts of documents related to that program. No one was prosecuted or indicted for that. Back in 1999, a U.S. academic told Congress that documents he was seeking about the U.S. biowarfare program and its collaboration with the World War II Japanese war criminals of Unit 731 and similar operations were being destroyed upon his inquiry. The charge was entered in the Congressional Record, and helped lead to the passing of the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act a few years later, and the declassification of the documents. But no one was held to account for what was destroyed.
Of course, I believe the destruction of records in a criminal case, especially a case of possible murder, would, you’d think, carry even greater penalties and merit greater attention from authorities. But it didn’t, although my book does document an internal investigation by NCIS into the turning off of DIMS in the al Hanashi case. That investigation, however, went nowhere, or its findings were covered-up.
The Talking Dog: You are, of course, a practicing psychologist. In that light, can you describe some of the stresses (or stressors) these men were under-- we can talk about the three men [al-Amri, al-Hanashi and Latif] you have profiled, and then talk about the more general "treatment" that men at Guantanamo have been, and as far as we know, still are subjected to. Americans, being on the whole, not very imaginative (or perhaps this is just what the media tells them) generally assume that "torture" has to mean "waterboarding" or some overt act that, say, Torquemada might have employed during the Inquisition, rather than, oh, sleep deprivation, or "stress positions," or constant cell moving, or denial of dignity or indefinite detention itself or any of the other "degrading treatment" that, along with torture, is barred by international and domestic law (including treaty). So... bottom line it, please for the three guys your book discusses, and then, as a practicing psychologist, describe the likelihood that such treatment might result in suicide attempts.
Jeffrey Kaye: The autopsy report for Mohammad al Hanashi stated that he suffered from “adjustment disorder, anti-social personality disorder and stressors of confinement." What did the military mean by “stressors of confinement”? They do not say, but it can only mean the stressors of an imprisonment that was precisely calculated to break down men psychologically. This was done by applying the formula of DDD – Debility, Dependency, and Dread. This form of torture was codified in a 1950s article by famous U.S. psychologist Harry Harlow, CIA-linked psychiatrist Louis Joylon West, and another researcher. By debility, they meant the physical weakening of the prisoner.
We’ve already discussed starvation and differential food intake. Other major factors inducing physical weakness included solitary confinement, forms of sensory deprivation and sensory overload (loud music, strobe lights), constant lighting or deprivation of light, exposure to cold, use of drugs, beatings, sleep deprivation, forced exercise, and stress positions. This is likely not a definitive list. By dread, of course they mean induction of fear. This was done by threats to life, to the life and safety of family members, threats of physical harm, use of the sanctioned Army Field Manual technique, used even today, of “Fear Up,” manipulation of phobias (as determined by psychologists), and again, likely more. The whole idea, you see, is to break the prisoner’s sense of self by an attack on the body, its autonomic nervous system, and its sense of personal self and connection to the world in order to produce total dependency, the third D, in the prisoner for purposes of “exploitation.”
By “exploitation,” the CIA and Pentagon mean not only the gathering of information, but the use of prisoners for other purposes as well: as experimental subjects, as informants, as propaganda tools in show trials.
But the government had one problem. Individuals exposed to these “stressors of confinement” experienced intolerable pain via the induction of such breakdown. Some, many turned to self-harm to reduce that pain, even at the expense of their own lives. Government documents speak to a rash of suicide attempts in the early years at Guantanamo. Government psychiatrist Elspeth Ritchie, who later gave talks on the neurological effects of mefloquine, and also did government assessments of detainees at Guantanamo, was supposedly sent to Guantanamo in late 2002 to deal with a spate of suicide attempts or “gestures” there. Ritchie later was involved in the training of psychologists and other mental health professionals in the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams used to assist interrogators and Guantanamo camp officials. Even later yet, she became chief clinical officer for the District of Columbia's Department of Mental Health. I believe she is now retired.
In clinical work, each person’s situation is unique and their response to environmental stressors, even torture, is also individual to them. Not everyone tortured gets PTSD or tries to commit suicide. People also try to commit suicide, or succeed in doing so, who have never been tortured or experienced extreme environmental insult or trauma.
In the case of the Guantanamo detainees who died by purported suicide, all we can do is look at the evidence we have. In the case of the three detainees who died in 2006, there is no evidence that they were suicidal prior to their deaths. Even the so-called suicide notes were not really suicide notes.
In the case of the 2007 death of Al Amri, the government has chosen to withhold hundreds of pages of documents from the NCIS investigation into his death. What little information we have is contradictory. There’s a possibility that he was in poor health, and that might have inclined him, along with torture and “conditions of confinement,” to have considered suicide. Additionally, we know there’s a good likelihood that he, along with 2006 “suicide,” Ali Abdullah Ahmed, were administered mefloquine for reasons having nothing to do with malaria or prevention of malaria. Mefloquine is a controversial antimalarial drug that has been documented to cause extreme neurological and psychological side effects, including suicidal behavior. Both Al Amri and Ahmed were tested for the presence of mefloquine in their systems. This was not a routine lab test.
I think my book adequately documents the persistent suicidal behaviors and thoughts of both Al Hanashi and Al Latif. They suffered greatly and were certainly depressed. It is also certain that their conditions were caused by or exacerbated by mistreatment at Guantanamo. We don’t know the full extent of the harm caused, and we don’t know if their suicides were truly spontaneous. I make a case that they were allowed to happen. In that case, we have murder by medical negligence, or by clever design. I think one would need to see the full panoply of evidence as presented in my book and the documents I published to judge for oneself if that conclusion is merited.
I’d like to add some convergent evidence to my own findings. In a recently released 2012 psychiatric assessment of the purported USS Cole bomber, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, held at Guantanamo since 2006, after years of torture in CIA black site prisons, Dr. Sandra Crosby stated lacked “appropriate mental health treatment at Guantanamo.” Dr. Crosby said that Al Nashiri’s medical and psychiatric care was “woefully inadequate to his medical needs.” She found that Guantanamo medical professionals, including those in mental health care, were instructed not to inquire into the basis of his mental distress, and to ignore protestations of torture. They misdiagnosed Al Nashiri to cover-up the real nature of his condition and provide stigmatizing diagnoses, like Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (See PDF page 129)
The Talking Dog: Your book observes that, certainly with the three suicides you profile, that there was "contraband" in the cells (be it in general population camps, or in the "Behavioral Health Unit", a euphemism if not oxymoron), including sheets or underwear one could hang himself with, razors to cut said sheets (or self) or drugs, and then let's juxtapose that with monitoring of cells, supposedly by camera and direct visual observation. Both from the documents you have obtained, people you've talked to, and your own surmise, what do you think was going on? In particular, I'm wondering if we're looking at "gross negligence," "failure to follow standard operating procedures," intentional-assisted-suicide (i.e. homicide) or something else?
Jeffrey Kaye: I believe that certain detainees were singled out for harm. The reasons are murky. I’d guess that the guards were responsible, if not at least complicit. Al Hanashi and Al Latif were in particular considered troublesome and problematic. It was also believed Al Hanashi was some kind of leader or spokesperson for the other detainees. I think they were hated by medical and guard personnel, if not command officials, and their deaths were therefore facilitated. In other words, it was known they were suicidal, or that they could be driven to suicidal desperation, and the means were provided to them. Can I prove it? No, although there is plenty of circumstantial evidence. There is also testimony that such contraband material was provided to detainees, as well as testimony that in the case of Al Hanashi, Al Amri and Al Latif that they had materials or drugs that could be used to harm themselves, materials that were heavily monitored and controlled by prison authorities. Speaking of monitoring, there is also the fact these detainees were under constant surveillance and searched repeatedly. How they found time to render complex modes of killing themselves without being observed is a mystery to all who have looked at these cases.
The Talking Dog: Let's talk about Col. John Bogdan, whose command pretty much precipitated the most widespread (in terms of percentage of participation) of the many hunger strikes that broke out at GTMO-- a hunger strike so widespread that it captured the public imagination and made Barack Obama start to pick up the pace of periodic reviews and prisoner transfers out. In particular, we're talking about the context of Latif, as it seems that Bogdan wanted him punished for his behavior issues, and so, notwithstanding that he should have been on suicide watch and probably had pneumonia, was transferred back to a camp 5 solitary cell, rather than held in a medical facility. Bogdan seemed unusually martinet-like, even for an unpleasant place like Guantanamo. We should note that, interestingly, no prisoner actually died during the tenure of the notorious Gen. Geoffrey Miller. But Bogdan in particular seemed hellbent on making life hell for his prisoners, and while he may have been at an extreme, I think other commanders-- and you note at least one psychologist who evidently walked away from a prisoner/patient in the middle of a consult-- had their role in the prisoner suicides. Can you comment on this (what I call "personnel = destiny")?
Jeffrey Kaye: If I read your question correctly, you are asking about the personal culpability of individuals at Guantanamo for the abuse and the deaths. Bogdan is a convenient, if not an apt, scapegoat. He made the decision to move Latif to a cell as punishment, even as he was warned by others that Latif was going to commit suicide. Oddly, Bogdan says he didn’t get the high priority email warning him, but says even if he did, it wouldn’t have changed his mind. Bogdan ran the prison with a heavy hand, and his insensitivity to the distress of the prisoners is clear in what we have of the documentation. But I say Bogdan is a scapegoat, because while he is certainly responsible at least in part for Latif’s death, I’d lay the responsibility more at the hands of the doctors and medical personnel who cleared Latif for transfer out of the detainee hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit. And Bogdan needed that clearance to transfer Latif. These doctors should have seen the signs, for instance, of pneumonia. They also know how distressed Latif was, and how mentally ill he was. They were in charge of watching that medications were actually taken and not hoarded or disposed of. It was even known that Latif was being sent back to a cell where he had previous bad experience causing significant mental distress. Apparently there was some kind of generator hum or something causing constant noise that set him on edge. Interestingly, the high-value prisoner, former CIA prisoner Ramsi bin al Shibh has also protested the use of vibrations and noise in his cell at Camp 7 at Guantanamo. A recent article at the Miami Herald described his accusation of the use of noise and vibrations as a form of sleep deprivation, as it makes it very hard to concentrate or sleep. Did something similar happen to Latif? It seems very possible. Other detainees as well have complained about such sensory disturbance.
The Talking Dog: Can you comment on the quality of care-- both medical care in general and mental health care in particular-- as you have observed it at Guantanamo, whether from the records you have seen, anecdotal evidence, or otherwise? I note that I have some familiarity with the case of Candace Gorman's client al-Ghizzawi, who, at various times, was told he might have tuberculosis, AIDS, assorted liver problems and other ailments, but who, thankfully, was released before GTMO killed him.
Jeffrey Kaye: I think I have touched on this point already. I will only add that the quality of care at Guantanamo was fatally compromised by the secret nature of the prison, and the subordination of medical care to command and intelligence decision-making. Medical records at Guantanamo, despite many complaints and exposure over the years, remain available to investigators. There is no privacy for the “patients” there. Moreover, the diagnoses of patients was also used to stigmatize prisoners, not to accurately assess condition and thereby treatment. How can you have humane care for prisoners in a torture prison? The answer is you can’t. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t moments of caring by individual providers. Some detainees have testified to that. But these were the exceptions, moments of respite in an inexorable regime of cruelty. The providers involved, by giving themselves over to care, legitimized such cruelty, in my mind. They compromised their ethics and became parties to torture and war crimes, such as illegal experimentation. The academic medical ethics professionals call the problem one of dual loyalty, split loyalty, that is, to the military or CIA and to the canon of medical care. They would like to believe that this divided loyalty could be worked out somehow. But in practice, the individual almost always bows to the coercive authority. In all the years at Guantanamo, we only know of one medical protest, the nurse who a few years ago decided he would not participate in the inhumane forced feedings there. He was threatened with court martial, and while that didn’t happen, his military career was certainly destroyed or fatally compromised.
The Talking Dog: Your book ends on an interesting note that might strike some as discordant, noting a "holdback" by progressives to criticize the handling of GTMO issues by a Democratic Administration, for short-term electoral benefit. I note that [my college classmate!] Barack Obama actually had charge of Guantanamo for about a year longer than George W. Bush did, and unlike Dubya, Obama promised- consistently-- that he would close the prison at Guantanamo (in practice, he really meant move it, but he didn't even manage to do that). In any event, the point, I suppose, is that once Guantanamo ceased to be a partisan issue associated solely with Dubya, overall public interest waned dramatically, as (you noted) no one it seems wanted to risk undermining Democratic electoral chances by criticizing the policy of a sitting Democrat, notwithstanding, of course, that this is exactly how you end up with Donald Trump, and of course, we did. All that said, we're over 15 years into this, and there are 41 poor bastards still there, of whom three are "convicted" of something by the dubious military commissions, another seven charged in the commissions system (including the alleged 9-11 plotters) will probably die before their commission trials are ever completed, five are "cleared for transfer" (good luck, guys) and 26 are "forever prisoners"-- too dangerous, bla bla bla. Its fairly obvious that, at least for the foreseeable future, Trump is such a target rich environment that getting the public imagination focusing on Guantanamo again seems a long-shot. You and I have been interested in this subject a long time, and neither us nor anyone else seems to have come up with a narrative that Americans care about, even though we believe this will be a blemish of historical proportions, like the Japanese internment, for example. And yet... Obviously, your work, and the work of others interested in running down the horrifying truth about prisoner deaths at Guantanamo is essential to establishing "the story." Do you see anything else on the horizon that can alter the present moribund (I swear, Obama said he would close GTMO so many times, most people believe he already did) narrative?
Jeffrey Kaye: Unfortunately I do not. I cannot, however, limit the question of indifference to Guantanamo. What about the pervasive ill treatment of prisoners in U.S.-sited prisons? What about the pervasive racism? The neglect of the homeless? The lack of remorse or moral quandary over the literally millions killed by the U.S. military in my own lifetime?
The record, to be sure, is ambiguous and not one-sided. There is plenty of mistrust and scandal around the record of CIA torture. But it only goes as far as official Washington or the mainstream press of record shapes the boundaries of acceptable scandal. So while the anal rape of prisoners has finally broken through to public consciousness and has been written about, the drugging of prisoners remains something barely mentioned, and even, at this point, pointedly suppressed.
I do believe, as I’ve written, that the entire subject of torture has been subordinated to political concerns: first, the need to present the United States as some kind of beacon of human rights in the world, especially in contrast to its “enemies.” And second, as a club to wield over one’s domestic political opponents. In the latter matter, the Democrats, including most of their so-called progressive supporters, have buried protest over torture and crimes committed by Democratic administrations, and tried to present the issue has one of purely GOP perfidy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Torture is bipartisan. Nowhere is this greater represented than by the total failure of the press and, well, nearly everyone, to ignore the recent UN Committee Against Torture report on the use of torture and “ill-treatment” in the Army Field Manual on interrogation. If such a report was made about Bush or Trump, we’d not hear the end of it. But because it was about activities of the Obama administration, nothing is said or reported. This is criminal and immoral.
The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you about but didn't, or anything else the public needs to know on these critically important issues, particularly as we seem to be heading into even darker times of an ignorant, feckless President who wants to fill Guantanamo with "bad dudes" and facilitate torture?
Jeffrey Kaye: I want to mention before I go that I don’t believe all is dark. I don’t want to ignore the many, many people who are incensed by and have acted to stop torture. That includes former detainees, certain members of the armed forces and even the CIA. It especially includes the attorneys for the detainees and the organizations that employ them, including law firms and human rights organizations. Most prominent of the latter include the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Reprieve. The attorneys have gone over and over into the heart of the beast in an effort to represent their clients and try to win their trust. Some have come back and been outspoken in their outrage, even as the government puts legal shackles on what they are allowed to say: attorneys such as Candace Gorman, David Remes, David Frakt, Nancy Hollander, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, Shayana Kadidal and many, many others, too long a list to name. There are also the journalists who have kept the issue alive, and the publications that support their work. While I am critical of some of these journalists, and have said so in this interview, I am also grateful to them for attending to the exposure of these crimes. Journalists such as Jason Leopold, Carol Rosenberg, Michael Otterman, Sheri Fink, Bill Morlan, Mark Benjamin, James Risen, Doug Valentine, Greg Miller, Jane Mayer, Charlie Savage and others. The criticism is that some of these journalists have been too quick to accept the government’s limited hangout of events. By limited hangout, I mean that governmental admissions are often too easily accepted as the full narrative, whereas often further crimes are ignored, and the real criminals left off the hook.
The government’s criminal justice system is the worst villain in this tale, as it has failed to do what it is supposed to do, hold government officials responsible for crimes, and the investigation of those crimes. That is one reason I concentrated on the failures of one of those investigatory agencies, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, in my book on Guantanamo. If we are going to get to the heart of the suppression of the truth, it should start with a close look at those officially responsible for the search for truth. That includes the need for a full declassification of the reports and associated documents of the Congressional investigating committees that have looked into this issue, none of which have recommended any kind of punishment for anyone involved in crimes they themselves documented.
I finally have to thank you as well, as an excellent example of someone who for years has pursued the truth, and tried to bring what evidence you could to bear before the public to expose these crimes. The interviews you have conducted have been invaluable. It is up to the American people to act. It is part of our historical dilemma that the need for action is acute, while the road to effect such action is unclear or even blocked.
The Talking Dog: I join my readers in thanking Dr. Jeffrey Kaye for that thorough and thought-provoking interview. Interested readers should check out Cover-up at Guantanamo: The NCIS Investigation into the “Suicides” of Mohammed Al Hanashi and Abdul Rahman Al Amri .
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with former Guantanamo military commissions prosecutors Morris Davis and Darrel Vandeveld, with Guantanamo military commissions defense attorney Todd Pierce, with former Guantanamo combatant status review tribunal/"OARDEC" officer Stephen Abraham, with attorneys Pardiss Kebriaei, Nancy Hollander, Jon Eisenberg, David Marshall, Jan Kitchel, Eric Lewis, Cori Crider, Michael Mone, Matt O'Hara, Carlos Warner, Matthew Melewski, Stewart "Buz" Eisenberg, Patricia Bronte, Kristine Huskey, Ellen Lubell, Ramzi Kassem, George Clarke, Buz Eisenberg, Steven Wax, Wells Dixon, Rebecca Dick, Wesley Powell, Martha Rayner, Angela Campbell, Stephen Truitt and Charles Carpenter, Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with former Guantanamo sergeant-of-the-guard Joseph Hickman, with former Guantanamo military guard Terry Holdbrooks, Jr., with former military interrogator Matthew Alexander, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo, with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture and related issues, with author and historian Andy Worthington detailing the capture and provenance of all of the Guantanamo detainees, with law professor Peter Honigsberg on various aspects of detention policy in the war on terror, with Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch, with Almerindo Ojeda of the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, with Karen Greenberg, author of The LeastWorst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days, with Charles Gittings of the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions, Laurel Fletcher, author of "The Guantanamo Effect" documenting the experience of Guantanamo detainees after their release, with John Hickman, author of "Selling Guantanamo," critiquing the official narrative surrounding Guantanamo, and with Rebecca Gordon, author of "The New Nuremberg" identifying potential war crimes prosecutions arising from the conduct of the War on Terror, and with Naomi Paik, author of Rightlessness: Testimony and Redress in US Prison Camps since World War II, to be of interest.
I more or less agree with this quite critical assessment in Slate of last night's "major scoop" concerning a release of President Donald Trump's 2005 income tax return by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. I only tuned in as a result of a friend's text message, and we both watched in rapt anticipation, which turned to disbelief when the first commercial break rolled around without "the big reveal." At that moment, we both knew not only that there was no there there, but that "the story" was that (IMHO) it was more likely than not that the President himself leaked his own tax returns to a journalist (in this case Pulitzer Prize winning financial journalist David Cay Johnston), for his own purposes, the most obvious being to change the subject.
And the subject includes the new and not much improved Muslim ban faces several immediate court challenges,
the FBI may or may not be investigating the Trump presidential campaign's ties to Russia, a "Trumpcare" debacle he'd probably prefer to not talk about, and assorted other crises of the petulant and childish President's own making.
What better way to distract than to come back to "the tax returns," a tactic (again, IMHO) he employed successfully during the campaign when he released a single schedule of a single return (1995, IIRC) that showed he had a humongous loss he could carry forward for a really long time-- a loss that he was still using in 2005 (a likely very successful year for him, as he sold two major properties and had over $150,000,000 in income, if the two page fragment of a single tax return is to be believed.)
It is an interesting scoop for a number of reasons-- including that the White House immediately pounced on it and confirmed the income and tax paid-- but does nothing toward establishing the obvious questions, to wit, whether or not the President is in deep hock to foreign powers China and Russia, of which there is strong anecdotal evidence that he is, as well as the extent he is molding national policy with his personal enrichment in mind (again, strong anecdotal evidence, at least.)
At noon EDT today, we'll be at 54 days of this
and I must hand it to the President: he has quite literally slowed down the passage of time, something I didn't believe was possible (and I don't know if Professor Stephen Hawking or other experts on the subject have an opinion). That said, his other "accomplishments" include emboldening anti-semitism, using the White House to tout his daughter's brand of clothing, and inventing "alternative facts" as a neologism for "bald-face lies."
In the face of this, a tax-return-fragment that undermines Rachel Maddow just a bit seems... a welcome diversion, as it were. Heckuva job, Donny!