Thursday, May 21, 2009

Camus, Obama & Torture: That Right There is Hell Breakin' Loose


8 June 1972: Kim Phúc, center left, running down a road near Trang Bang
after a South Vietnamese Air Force napalm attack.

Last week, I couldn't figure out why the issue of torture

was consistently being presented in the media
. I have
been busy, writing about
other things, and preparing to
go to graduate school.

I turned to my colleague, Matthew Birkhold and was like

"Dude, why are they tripping of the torture documents
and the pictures, I don't recall
torture being
made illegal. Is it in the Constitution?"

He then turned to me, and stared for a minute.

Then I said, "Oh, snap, the Geneva Conventions!"

You see, none of the articles I read mentioned
The Geneva
Convention, so I was unsure as
to scope of the implications
of a charge of torture. In
the article
What is a War Crime?, Tarik Kafala describes
the history and historical context of War Crimes. He writes,
The concept of war crimes is a recent one. Before World War II, it was generally accepted that the horrors of war were in the nature of war.

But during World War II the murder of several million people - mainly Jews- by Nazi Germany, and the mistreatment of both civilians and prisoners of war by the Japanese, prompted the Allied powers to prosecute the people they believed to be the perpetrators of these crimes.

The Nuremberg trials in 1945 and 1946 led to 12 Nazi leaders being executed.

A similar process started in Tokyo in 1948. Seven Japanese commanders were hanged, though the Allies decided not to put Emperor Hirohito in the dock.

These trials were essentially the precedents for the cases that the modern-day tribunal in The Hague hears.

In addition, individual governments, feeling that justice has not been done, have acted on their own initiative.

...Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as: "Wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including... wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial, ...taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."
To cover his behind, President Bush provided retroactive
for himself and his entire administration for
war crimes. What an amazing move in light of the information
that is being revealed.

I then began to put the pieces to together.
The alleged terrorist have to be housed outside
of American
soil, less they be granted due process and a
a trial within the
United States court system. So long as they are housed in
unknown prisons around the world, they will not be charged
and there is no incentive to proceed with due process and give
them their day in court.

President Obama made a campaign promise to close
Guantanamo, however, Congress is saying, no can do,
unless he has a plan.

While writing this, the just reported that President Obama

has decided to transfer
Ahmed Ghailani to New York and
try him in civil court.
The main issue is that some members
of the Senate don't want
alleged terrorist's housed in
American prisons.
The fear seems to be rational and I
am unsure as to why.

Andrew Sullivan (aka Mr. Cantankerous and awesome) of
has eloquently summed up President
Obama's reversal on releasing the
torture photos. Sullivan writes,
Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predcessors'
war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to prosecute
them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing
evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and
the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt
his successor.

The rationale for the suppression is fatuous:
"their release would endanger the troops."

You mean releasing evidence of war crimes would
render US soldiers more vulnerable to attack? How?

This IS a Democracy. There is due process.

I was sort of excited to write this piece, not because of
the topic,
but because so many elements that I have been
thinking about
this year have coalesced in this issue.

For instance, back in December,
Thaddeus Clark sent
an Esquire article, The Falling Man, by Tom Junod,
photos of taken of folks who jumped out of the
World Trade
Center. Thaddeus and I started having a
conversation on
Twitter about Camus, whom I was
reading a lot
of at the time.

Camus was notoriously anti-death penalty. In his era, folks
decapitated using a guillotine.
Camus's rationale was
that in order for the death penalty to
be exemplary and
actually discourage other people
committing crimes, then the
heads of the the decapitated
folks should be displayed for the
entire town to see.

Yes. Displayed. Camus was no joke. He was a big believer

in the transparency of death, if the purpose of the death was
deter folks from committing future crimes or vicious acts.

In the essay, Reflections on the Guillotine, Camus
writes about the death penalty and watching his
father return home and
throwing up, after witnessing
a public execution. He writes,

When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen, it is suppose to
how can anyone mistaken that it is likely, as it
out to be, to bring
peace and order into the community.

....People write about capital punishment as if they are a whisper...
But when silence or tricks of language contributes to the maintaining abuse that must be reformed or a suffering that can be relieved, then there is no solution but to speak out and show the obscenity hidden under the verbal cloak

In the article, Falling Man, Tom Junod discusses a
left on the website, Here is New York, which
speaks to the discomfort
that we have with death and
photos of dead bodies. Junod writes,

.....on the Here Is New York Website, a visitor offers this commentary: "This image is what made me glad for censuring [sic] in the endless pursuant media coverage." More and more, the jumpers -- and their images -- were relegated to the Internet underbelly, where they became the provenance of the shock sites that also traffic in the autopsy photos of Nicole Brown Simpson and the videotape of Daniel Pearl's execution, and where it is impossible to look at them without attendant feelings of shame and guilt. In a nation of voyeurs, the desire to face the most disturbing aspects of our most disturbing day was somehow ascribed to voyeurism, as though the jumpers' experience, instead of being central to the horror, was tangential to it, a sideshow best forgotten.
American's are interesting. We enjoy death as entertainment
but are incapable of being a witness to the actual death's in
Iraq and Afghanistan wars, death committed in our name.

If those photographs are released, the entire tone and scope
and conversation around the Iraq and Afghanistan war's will change.

The men and woman (are their any women in Guantanamo)
who are being held in Guantanamo will be seen as both
human beings and as alleged terrorists. If they are tried
and found guilty of these awful acts, then they need to be

The American men and women, the American troops, who
have died will go from being abstract entities, in the minds
of the mainstream public, to human beings who have
died in our name.

We are all human beings.

We all have a mother.

We have all been children.

Someone changed all of our diapers.

The same way the photos of the My Lai Massacre
and of Kim Phuc significantly changed public opinion on
the Vietman war, the release of the torture photos will
change how we feel and hopefully inform our choices
around the Iraq and Afghanistan

It is time to release the photos.

Should the president release the photo's?

What kind of country has one set of rules for its
and another for its prisoners?

Did President Bush plan on keeping the detainees
forever? It seems like it, as there was no plan
to deal with them via release?

What kind of Democracy holds alleged criminals


the prisoner's wife said...

quite honestly, i don't think releasing the photos will somehow make the detainees seem more human. we saw the images @ Abu Ghraib and that did little to stem the tide of the alleged "war on terror." i think the previous administration has gone out of their way to make foreigners/muslims/people who are different in any way, seem abstract & too scary to relate to in any sort of way. and most America has fallen for it.

it's interesting that you pose these questions. i posted last night about similar issues, but not really chastising Bush, but rather Obama. i am disheartened that his administration is looking for a way to support tyranny (undue severity or harshness) in his proposal to have detainees held indefinitely, even if it IS within the US. i mean, as someone who's love one is incarcerated, i understand the longing/missing/the lack of preceived fairness that occurs when someone is held FOR A YEAR, while awating trial, before any verdicts have come down and while the accused is assumed innocent. to be held indefnitely simply because you are afraid you'd lose is court seems to vacat any sort of moral standing President Obama is trying to repair. this is a sticky situation for sure and there are going to be some big losers.

Dame is ILLAIM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dame is ILLAIM said...

I really don’t know how I feel about the torture debate….. well thats a lie.. I do… its kinda two pronged….

During the start of this millennium is was easy for those who wanted to connect the dots, read certain documents and listen to particular interviews that our country was torturing people. By the time 2005/6 hit it was well known who was implementing the torture (contractors/CIA/ some soldiers) and that the orders were coming from up high.

Yeah we were caught up in a semantic battle of “Water Boarding” as if that was the only or even the worst technique we as a country we’re utilizing.

Given that that as a nation we were basically living out the movie “The Siege” for a good part of this decade, nobody cared that we where torturing other human beings, because a lot of us didn’t even look at them as human. World view be damed…”24” is popular and what about the ticking timebomb?

Given that I lived through all of that in a angry aggregated type state…now….as this story finialy has picked up tremendous steam…… I care about it on principle ..but as a practical matter I’m not stressing it at all.

One of the greatest points that I ever learned reading Chomsky was that “The system never must incriminate himself” think Watergate..and verdict after the trails that ensued…..

It’s hard to promote “American Exceptionalism” when you are airing “Americas Dirty Laundry” as Dr. Cosby would say….

I knew all along that we weren’t going to try to prosecute those responsible for our torture and kidnapping of individuals across the globe. When people started getting real in 06 I knew it would never happen.

It’s not politically faceable..

Which means its our fault.

““American's are interesting. We enjoy death as entertainment
but are incapable of being a witness to the actual death's in
the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, death committed in our name.””


I think that’s a great point…but I also feel that there are a lot of people who in there sickend state would like to see that (ie the blackwater video on the highway) or we never get the chance because our media insulates us…. If we saw the footage that those who watch Al Jazzera witness…our empathy and humanity might start kicking in…making it hard to wage war against our “enemies”

I think we should release the photo’s…..

I would say a “normal” country sets one set of rules for its citizens and another for its prisoners …not saying that normal is a good thing

I think that Bush felt that he could keep the prisoners at Gitmo there until the end of their natural lives…. Think about how the general public looks at its own domestic felons and how easy it is to abuse them… think about the public perception of those held in Cuba say…2003/4


Model Minority said...



The first step to treating a human like a an object is calling them something OTHER than a woman.

Much easier to treat me like shit, if Im a bitch, ho or trick.
Much easier to kill Chinks...rather than a Chinese Person.
Much easier to kill a Kike...rather than a Jewish person.
Much easier to kill a Vietkong than than a Vietnamese person.

I feel you on your beloved. When I wrote this...I hadn't even tripped off that. Feel me?

Thank you for your honesty and your comment. Gimmie a link to your blog..Imma put it in my reader.

You been to bk magic? Its looking real pretty:)

Model Minority said...


Given that that as a nation we were basically living out the movie “The Siege” for a good part of this decade, nobody cared that we where torturing other human beings, because a lot of us didn’t even look at them as human. World view be damed…”24” is popular and what about the ticking timebomb?
Real Spit. I didn't put all the pieces
together until Thursday.

Then I tried to read the Geneva convention and was like THE hell that tawkin bout. LOLS.

The long term implications of that ish is bugged,
because the fear is that they COULD form like Voltron in US prisons. But shit...Who is to say that it would or WOULDN'T happen. Its purely speculative.

Interesting in the AMOUNT of hand ringing thats happening over this, but Little to known on the tens of thousands of juvenile and adult non violent drug offenders.

the prisoner's wife said...

"The first step to treating a human like an object is calling them something other than WOMAN"

why does "bitches ain't shit" come to mind? you're right. i don't think i woulda been sining that song as hard if the lyrics were "women ain't shit but hoes & tricks"...hmmm.

the link:

Brother OMi said...

1. It bothers me that when I joined the Navy, I took an oath to follow the Geneva Conventions. I had to know that stuff. Yet the Bush Administration never committed themselves to that law but expected the service people to.

2. we have always tortured people. Look at our Prison industrial complex... folks told Obama about it and he stayed quiet about it.

3. NIMBY -- the concept that will kill us all. We have to approach crime and punishment differently. we always want to mete out severe punishment BUT NEVER want to look at the cause of crime.

Model Minority said...

Brother OMI,

SAY WORD. You took and OATH? WORD? Thats fascinating. I guess there is a differnece between he Oaths we take and the oaths that are inenforced. Sorta like civil rights laws.

I know we have always tortured people.

We Look at the cause. When its teenage white boys doing the killing. "WE" are impressive in our ability to find the cause.

Peep Columbine.

Brother OMi said...

I never said that torture was right. it's just that we (meaning even the people) seem to pick and choose what is torture. People are tortured in our own prisons EVERY day... but since they are "criminals" and "sub human" who cares.

we can't expect ANYONE to look at Iraqi's and Afghans as people if we are not looking at our own people as human either. that's why it's so easy.

Our foreign policy is a direct reflection of our domestic policy.

hungeryjack said...

Nice post - nicole brown simpson autopsy pictures ..Keep Posting

nicole brown simpson autopsy pictures

Post a Comment

eXTReMe Tracker