Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum: Looking At The CIA Torture Report

Last night, whilst chewing on pistachios, I read the descriptions of torture the CIA had been carrying out over the past decade. I could not help but constantly recall in the back of my mind a statement made by Anton Lavey:

‘There is a beast in every man that should be exercised, not exorcised’

For those unfamiliar, Anton Lavey founded the Church of Satan. He wrote the Satanic Bible. Read these descriptions of the CIA’s torture program and see if I was mistaken for subconsciously baptizing their actions with his words:

• 'The CIA put hummus in a detainee's rectum'
• ‘Prisoners were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. About five CIA officers would engage in what is described as a “rough takedown”. A detainee would be shouted at, have his clothes cut off, be secured with tape, hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched’.
• 'Interrogators forced detainees to stand on broken feet'
• 'The CIA tortured a detainee, he then gave them some bad information, and they used that bad information to detain two more people.'
• ‘The report mentions mock executions, Russian roulette.  One prisoner died of hypothermia brought on in part by being forced to sit on a bare concrete floor without pants.’

Psychologists were brought in and paid 80 million dollars to scientifically induce the maximum amount of pain possible. They did not of course have ‘any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counter-terrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise’[1] in this insane asylum. These cowboy psychologists used their private contracts to fleece the government of every penny they could. None of this includes the 9,000 pages still classified. It is as if someone read accounts like this of the Soviet gulags and had brought them back to life:

'“There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I have heard one torturer even say, “I thank God, in whom I don't believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflected on prisoners’.[2]

The bottom line is that torture, as well as being a moral abomination, does not work. The report concluded it led to ‘fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence’[3]. This isn’t difficult to work out. When you’re being tortured, you’ll say anything to stop being tortured. The historical record shows that torture unsurprisingly also impregnates the victim with an intensity to take revenge against their torturer, giving birth to worse outcomes than the torturer intended to eradicate. For instance, Sayyid Qutb is considered as the intellectual father of the modern Islamist movement[4] [5]. Qutb’s philosophy was hardened after he was tortured in jail by the Egyptian state authorities. One of his students was a young Ayman al-Zarhiwi. Zarhiwi is the current head of Al Qaeda[6]. Osama Bin Laden’s public statements are also littered with references to Qutb’s philosophy[7]. We can only wait and speculate if the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was once described as a ‘quiet, studious fellow and a talented soccer player’[8], was also tortured in the American prison he was held in, as some speculate[9].

The CIA, to their credit, released an official response to the torture report:

'[the] interrogation program had shortcomings and the Agency made mistakes. The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists[10].'

In other words, they're disappointed they didn't get to master the technique of ramming hummus into a man’s anus well enough. There is no admission of guilt. No mention of the c word (crimes). Just a passive regret they couldn’t do it better on a global scale. Any socially sick country[11] that indulges in such national sadism has no right to lecture others on moral precepts. Nor is the emission of the report into the media stratosphere, to be repeatedly shot at with our eye balls before falling out of memory, a moral waiver of crimes committed by the American state, any more so than retrospective admission of Stalin’s crimes by the Russian state. The discerning factor between these two cases is the immediacy of the crimes and the greater extent to which the criminals involved here can be prosecuted. Thus far, the Obama administration has only charged one individual for the crimes committed, John Kiriakou[12], the man who exposed them. Contrary to Dian Feinstein (who led the senate investigation) who said history would look kindly on the United States for publishing the report, it will only cement the reputation of the United States as a Banana Republic, with a two-tier justice system. Selling cigarettes on the street will get you killed, getting an intern to give you fellatio will get you impeached, but no crimes were committed here.

Internationally, human rights groups are again demanding George Bush and Dick Cheney be prosecuted for war crimes, but this only occurs to black Africans or Asians. If they were ever prosecuted, the United States has the American-Service Members Protection Act, colloquially referred to as the Netherlands Invasion Act, signed into law, by Bush, to quite literally invade The Hague should it have the audacity to ever trial an American for war crimes.[13] There is no upside or spin to this story. Just the brute reality the world is filled with utter moral bullshit.

[6] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World, The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, pp. 58
[7] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World, The Statements of Osama Bin Laden,  pp. 229

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Rise of the Hobgoblins

Recently, I stopped paying attention to the news, and started looking at how it’s being framed. Take this example of what I mean, from a headline published by the Financial Times:

Cynicism is no match for the mortal threat posed by ISIS[1]

The Daily Express had plastered on it three words from the Prime Minister discussing ISIS: Greatest Ever Threat[2].

If ISIS is the ‘Greatest Ever Threat’, then we may increase the national deficit paying Literature graduates to come up with descriptions for traumas of old. Let’s look at the facts. ISIS is fighting on two fronts in a mere 500-mile stretch between Baghdad and Damascus. To its north is Turkey, the second largest army in NATO, to its west, Israel, the fourth most capable military power on Earth, to its East, Iran, which has been bulking up its armed forces - since being made part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ - to its South, Shiite militias which were able to expel the British armed forces from Basra[3] and on top of all that is the Iraqi army who, now in Shiite areas, are motivated to actually fight than flee as they did in Sunni Mosul. Short of invading Jordan, ISIS has reached the greatest borders it can hope to achieve, conquering an area about the size of Belgium[4]. After ISIS, the fighting in Ukraine is the biggest scare story of the week. That conflict has claimed 2,200 lives, meaning the crude murder rate in Ukraine is about 4.8 violent deaths per 100,000 people, or the same murder rate as the annual one produced in the US from general gun violence. The Game of Thrones being played between Putin and NATO may be interesting for political theoreticians looking at the situation from 30,000 feet, but this isn’t quite Stalingrad. In light of all this, either the press is privy to information of an ISIS/Ukrainian/Putin/NATO super-weapon about to engulf the world, or we’re suffering the biggest stroke of collective amnesia in history. Are we really justified in letting the establishment wrap us all in a blanket of fear before nursing us with the sour medicine of more government policies and curtailment of our liberties? My short answer is no. Here’s the longer one.

Barack Obama was factually correct when reassuring the distraught news and twitter junkies around the world that the world is safer today than it has been. Lets go through our recent track record.
The 19th century was a complete and utter horror show. The ethnic cleansing of the Americas was completed. Across the Atlantic, Africa was completely colonized. Belgium, that small harmless country on the road to France for German armies to march through, killed some 8 million people in the Congo[5]. Lets not even go into what the industrial giants did. I could go on with that century.
The less said about the 20th century, the better. It averaged 1.6 million war deaths per year[6]. How does that compare to the 21st century? You know, the one in which a new crisis seems to pop up like a whack-a-mole every week? Using the highest estimates for the death tolls in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Mexican drug war and other conflicts currently raging around the world, we barely get to one tenth of that figure. One estimate (admittedly using the lower casualty counts) averages it at 1/30th of that figure, about 55,000 deaths per year this century[7]. Even the incurable Ebola virus, after having claimed 2,000 lives, is a well way short of the 60-100 million claimed by the Spanish flu just a century ago. Considering the jolt in speed modern transportation systems have over their counterparts a century ago, it’s quite reassuring it isn’t spreading and killing en masse.
That is of course not to negate the suffering of people today. For instance, the bombardment of Gaza has only recently ended. This conflict could be an article in of itself. But as a barometer, when 300 Holocaust survivors have to come out and condemn Israel for the ‘ongoing genocide of Palestinian people…[we]…are disgusted and outraged by…abuse of our history … to justify the unjustifiable[8]’, that’s a good indication of the state of affairs. Not to mention the quarter of a million people killed next door in Syria by a brutal tyrant.
But if our current panic is to go by, our ancestors would have committed collective suicide in despair had social media and a 24-hour news cycle been available during those times. It should be considered a miracle social media and instant sharing emerged in a time of such relative peace as it did. In light of this there is no good reason to be in the state of bewilderment as people are. The world is a much better place than it used to be.
In 1990 Freedom House only listed 69 countries as being ‘democracies’. Today the figure stands at 122[9]. Be under no illusions, being under democratic governance does not entail justice. In the world’s largest democracy, India, 200 million people live life as an ‘untouchable’, where sweeping excrement from the street is considered their job. Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other country on Earth[10], and here in England, the police raid the offices of newspapers to destroy their hard drives for printing stories the government disapproves of[11]. But the trend is nonetheless better than its reverse.

The real reason why the establishment is whipping up fear, is to provide an early introduction of laws which will later be used during actual times of crises. Humanity is about to cross over the Rubicon. The effects of global warming are real and being felt. Anyone who has studied the conflict in Syria will know that although the spark may have been lit in Tunisia, the dynamite was already in place to be lit, caused by the unprecedented drought and social disruption that preceded the uprising. The water-wars, lack of sufficient resources and food riots are coming. ISIS and Ukraine are mere stepping-stones over the Rubicon. As the American writer H. L. Mencken once noted:
'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.'[12]
The article I opened with by the Financial Times warned the megaphoning of ISIS and Ukraine was a way of ‘the security state’ being able to ‘account for its existence’. The government needs reasons to put in place more Draconian laws and monitor, literally, everything you do. It now has it in its new hobgoblins to do so. Chin up, wrap tight in the blanket given to you and swallow the medicine, there’s much more on the way.

[6] Vijay Mehta, The Economics of Killing, p.4

Friday, 22 August 2014

ISIS: The Unresolvable Crisis?

I wrote this article in the memory­­ of journalist Jim Foley, who was murdered in cold blood by ISIS. Lets make one thing clear. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Great Britain reject ISIS, which is savage and grotesque. But it is undeniable, and utterly saddening, to see a significant minority of my fellow Muslims take to the streets of East London, or to social networks, to either explicitly support ISIS, play linguistic gymnastics before condemning them, or self righteously type away as they lay the creation of ISIS at the hands of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA, on the unfound whispers and false hopes that Edward Snowden had released NSA documents showing that, ISIS too, had been a CIA creation like Al Qaeda before it, whom we can comfortably shift the blame onto. There is simply no evidence to this effect. ISIS has its origins as part of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was one arm of the resistance to the American occupation, but grew out of its former shell and matured into its own vile creature. The group which high jacked civilian airliners and flew them into packed skyscrapers has now disowned ISIS for being too extreme.

Yet even with its extreme levels of savagery, their popularity on these shores is alarming when put in perspective. The UK and US have roughly the same number of Muslims. But the number of Muslim Americans fighting for ISIS or other such groups in Syria or Iraq numbers around two dozen, whilst the number of British Muslims fighting for such groups is closer to 700 with some estimates going as high as 2,000. Put another way, there are more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than there are in the British Armed Forces. (The Iraq War, though, undoubtedly explains much of the latter discrepancy). Those individuals who aren’t going to fight directly for ISIS, or handing leaflets in support of ISIS on the streets of Britain, are turning their hate to social media. Facebook is serving as a platform for larger numbers to either defend their new perversion of a Caliphate, or like gymnasts, show how much a human being can flex from one position to another before making a conclusion. Adhering to hardline Saudi Arabian styled Islam, they preform the same sorts of gymnastic exercises on the murder of James Foley that racists in America are using on the situation in Ferguson. ‘I’m not racist, but, there are so many blacks killing one another in Chicago, why are we focusing on Ferguson?’ which has been adopted this side of the Atlantic as ‘I’m not defending ISIS for murdering James Foley, but, there are so many people being killed in Syria/Gaza/Nigeria why are we focusing on James Foley?’ The spread of hard line, black and white Saudi Arabian style Islam in this country (which one mustn’t ever mention lest it upsets the Foreign Office) is certainly a factor in explaining this. But the cause is more complex.

Muslims in the West enjoy the freedoms imbued in Western society. But when they look around them they see superficiality and moral relativism. We’re seeing Muslim women being fined for covering up out of their own volition, whilst pornography remains legal and profitable. Going to fight for ISIS, or even possessing their written materials has rightly been criminalized, yet people are freely going to fight for the Israel Defence Forces as it decimates a refugee population. Halal meat has been demonized, whilst the most lethal drugs known to man, tobacco and alcohol, are rife, advertised and killing en masse. Their corpses can’t be numbered. The churches are empty and religion is looked down upon as tribal, whilst football matches draw tens of thousands of people to chant and sweat together on an opposing field over men chasing a ball. British people are proud a previous generation of Brits went to Spain to fight Franco out of their own will, but Muslims wanting to join the Free Syrian Army - which our own government is backing – and fight a just war against Assad who is barrel bombing his own civilian population, is considered unacceptable. The government can’t even make the distinction between terror organizations like ISIS and political parties like the Muslim Brotherhood[1] who it also wants to ban. We’re all lumped in together. You say political Muslim, I say terrorist.  Abu Nasser Muthanna, the British medical student fighting for ISIS alluded to this disaffection from society in the now famous recruitment video: ‘To all my brothers living in the west, I know how you feel [from] when I used to live there. In the heart you feel depressed…The cure for the depression is jihad …feel the happiness we are feeling.’

This is all occurring in the backdrop of a Muslim world, which from Pakistan in the east to Libya in the west, is imploding. This is all relevant, because you can imagine how a young, disenchanted and bewildered Muslim can mutate against this trend. The promise of a quick fix by a (false) caliphate can be alluring to either go out and fight for, or defend explicitly or implicitly on social networks. ISIS seemingly provides all the solutions to these problems. Strict (fanatical) moral objectivism, a clear goal and meaning sanctioned onto your life - with a comfortable afterlife to match - all wrapped up in religious imagery and symbolism neatly packaged in high class advertising, making the pill easy for the young and disaffected from society to swallow. This view is concurred by terrorism expert Roger Griffin, at Oxford Brookes University who commented ‘what ISIS has done is create a powerful set of images and slogans which crystallises the global jihadist cause in a way which is much more savvy and youth-oriented [at] … deeply disaffected third-generation Muslims living in Britain’.[2]

Compounding all of this is that as a Muslim community, our current crop of religious leaders having immigrated to Britain in decades gone by, are still in the transition phase of being replaced by future leaders born here. They are in other words ill equipped to draw in large numbers of young British Muslims. They come from a different time and are typically unable to speak English. Being able to actually understand a sermon about Islamic history, ethics and theology in a mosque - in English - does wonders. Trust me. I can vouch for it.

I’m not claiming to have solutions to these problems, but I do see a clear cross roads where British foreign policy interests, the holy grail of ‘community cohesion’ and the valve disaffected British Muslims like Nasser Muthanna could have used to fulfil their hopes of meaning in life were perfectly overlapped. Another Middle East war by Britain, but this time if the target had been Assad, could have, I suspect, welded British Muslims en masse into the British army, than groups such as ISIS, due to the fact the overwhelming number of Muslims in the UK see the Syrian uprising as a just war. With so many having gone to fight whilst looked down upon, my suspicions are many more would go if part of a legitimate fighting force aimed at actually bringing Assad to justice than join extremists like ISIS. Crucially, the Syrian population has been calling for such intervention with an increasing voice. With this war now highly unlikely, however, I hope we can meet again at another crossroad.