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Echoes of Mengele: Medical Experiments, Torture and Continuity in the American Gulag
First published on Empire Burlesque Monday, 7 May 2010
The perpetrators of this system were well aware they were breaking the United States' clear and ironclad laws prohibiting torture.
This is the language of power – unfiltered, unadorned, dispassionate, professional – discussing how best to inflict tortures on helpless captives without causing "long-term" damage that might be visible later:
This is taken from a memo written in 2005 by Justice Department lawyer Steven Bradbury to a legal officer at the CIA. It comes from a new report from Physicians for Human Rights, outlining the mass of evidence that the Bush Administration used its Terror War captives for medical experiments. Mother Jones has the story:
Sure, why not? So if you tie someone up in a "stress position," force them to their knees and slap them around while dousing them with cold water, it's not torture. Especially if you have some modern Mengeles there with you, monitoring and measuring the degree of despair so they can use the data to "enhance" future interrogations.
And as always, the perpetrators of this system were well aware they were breaking the United States' clear and ironclad laws prohibiting torture. That's why they went to Congress to get some additional cover – with an extraordinary legal provision that essentially authorizes medical experiments on captives:
The infamous Military Commissions Act was one of the more heinous legislative actions in last 25 years or more. When it passed, with the help of a dozen Democrats, one senator rose to make an impassioned protest against the measure. He railed against the draconian nature of the bill, which he said eliminated the ancient right of habeas corpus. He denounced the bill for "allowing this President - or any President - to decide what does and does not constitute torture." He lamented "the innocent people we may have accidentally rounded up and mistaken for terrorists - people who may stay in prison for the rest of their lives." He pointed to "a report authored by sixteen of our own government's intelligence agencies, a previous draft of which described, and I quote, "...actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay..." He summed up with a damning appraisal: "This is NOT how a serious Administration would approach the problem of terrorism."
Yes, as you've already guessed, that passionate dissenter was Senator Barack Obama. Yet you will notice that the Military Commissions Act is still in force; it received a few cosmetic changes in 2009, but it remains essentially intact, including the authoritarian powers of the president decried by the senator. Multitudes of captives remain locked up in the ever-swelling American gulag, which, although it has shifted its focus to Afghanistan, continues to include the still-unclosed, jihadi-stoking prison at Guantanamo Bay. The indefinite detention of prisoners has been eagerly championed by the senator turned president, who is seeking to entrench the practice deeply into American law. And once the young denouncer of the Bush approach to terrorism took power for himself, he quickly embraced that same approach almost in its entirety, defending its most egregious depredations – indefinite detention, illegal wiretapping, etc. – against all legal challenges, and even making personal assurances that no one from the previous administration would ever be prosecuted for instituting a vast apparatus of torture.
Indeed, aside from waterboarding – which had already been abandoned by the Bush Administration – it is unclear if any of the Bush torture techniques have been discontinued. As Andy Worthington notes, for example:
And as Jason Leopold notes – in an excellent story which gives extensive background and context for the PHR report – the use of captives as guinea pigs for "enhancing interrogation techniques" is still going on under Obama:
This would be the same Dennis Blair who also announced Obama's embrace – and entrenchment – of the universal murder principle claimed by Bush, whereby the American president can kill any person on earth by the simple expedient of dubbing his victim a "terrorist" or even a "suspected terrorist." As Leopold notes, Blair has now been ash-canned – apparently for insufficient sycophancy, or perhaps he was simply ousted in one of the grim power struggles that forever rage among the factions at the imperial court.
His replacement is yet another dim apparatchik from the bowels of the military-security complex, ex-general, ex-spy-eye-in-the-sky guy James Clapper. This "intelligence expert's" chief claim to fame is his earnest insistence that Saddam Hussein had transferred his bristling arsenal of non-existent weapons of mass destruction to Syria right before the American war of aggression in 2003 – a fairy story long touted by the defenders of that mass slaughter, even after Bush's own investigators confirmed the truth of what the Anglo-American intelligence agencies had known for many years (because Saddam's own son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, head of the WMD programs, had told them back in 1995): that Iraq's WMD programs had been dismantled just after the Gulf War – 12 years before the 2003 attack. Still, Clapper persisted in his propagation of this myth, as the Washington Times reports.
Of course, the Times, being the Times – the creation of a maniacal Korean arms peddler who pretends to be divine -- also says that the Syria-WMD story still "remains a matter of dispute." Well, yes it does – to the same degree that the spheroidicity of the earth remains "a matter of dispute" for handful of cranks. In any case, a crank of this order will shortly be guiding the nation's intelligence apparatus, thanks to the abiding progressive wisdom of the president.
And so on and on it goes. The horrors of the past keep belching up from the sulfurous deeps, only to be subsumed in the noxious "continuity" that engulfs the present.
Chris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column is republished here with the permission of the author.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on June 8, 2010.