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28 July 2008

I watched two interesting programs, back to back, tonight.  First was 60 Minutes which had a lead story (originally broadcast in January) on John Martorano, the chief executioner of Boston's Winter Hill Gang, a loose confederation of Irish and Italian-American gangsters.  Now a government informant, Martorano has admitted to killing over 20 people and says the number may be higher (he never kept track).

Martorano, who has a curiously detached demeanor as he speaks of the people he murdered, excuses the taking of another's life as being a question of honor.  The first man he killed was about to implicate Martorano's brother in a murder.

"I saved my brother’s life, somebody got hurt, that had to be," he says.

And so it went.  They were all murders of honor.  He calls it "conflict resolution." 

"I never enjoyed it.," he says. "I don't enjoy risking my life but if the cause was right I would."

The man's a thug.  A convicted murderer who was sent to prison for his crimes, but released after twelve years when he agreed to give information to help the government solve other crimes.

After watching 60 Minutes, I played Bill Moyers' Journal, recorded earlier this week (I'm not sure when it was originally aired).  The topic was torture and the Congressional hearings related to torture.  Moyers starts the program with this statement:

As I watched those Congressional hearings on torture last week, I thought of John McCain and the five and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He was tortured severely, tied and beaten so badly he tried to kill himself. After four days of this brutality, he gave in and agreed to make a false confession, telling lies to end the unbearable pain. Years later, he wrote, "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine."

Before Vietnam, there was the war in Korea, where the communist Chinese used similar techniques on American prisoners of war, forcing them to confess to things they didn't do, including germ warfare. In 1957, an American sociologist studied the Chinese methods and their effects. He made this chart. It reappeared in 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, where it was used in a course to teach our military interrogators, quote, "coercive management techniques." In other words, we had adopted the inhumane tactics of our enemies, tactics we once were quick to call torture.

There followed a number of clips from the Congressional Hearings, congressmen appalled at our use of torture, and congressmen appalled that we would even consider "helping the enemy" by denying the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques which were said to be applied "humanely."

Deborah Pearlstein, a constitutional scholar and human rights lawyer who has spent time monitoring conditions at Guantanamo said that there are at least 100 "detainees" at Guantanamo have died in captivity, and 34 of those are listed as homicides, and that at least eight of these, by her definition, were "tortured to death."

"A remarkable recent study by the British Parliament found that U.S. detainee treatment practices led the U.K. to withdraw from previously planned covert operations with the CIA because the U.S. failed to offer adequate assurances against inhumane treatment," she said.

It goes on and on.  If you haven't seen it, you can read the transcript here.

Moyers' guest is Jane Mayer, author of "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror turned into a War on American Ideals." 

If I thought the congressional hearings were bad, Mayer's revelations from her years of following this story were even more appalling.  So appalling, the FBI, up the ranks to the top, refused to participate in what it called "borderline torture." 

This is an exchange which occurred after Moyers asked Mayer who she considered some of the "heroes" in the fight against torture:

JANE MAYER: A lot of them are lawyers. And they were people inside the Justice Department who, one of whom, and I can't name this one in particular, said when he looked around at some of the White House meetings - he was in where they were authorizing the President, literally, to torture people - if he thought that was necessary, he said, "I can't, I could not believe these lunatics had taken over the country." And I am not talking about someone who is a liberal Democrat. I'm talking about a very conservative member of this Administration. And there was a-

BILL MOYERS: Your source?

JANE MAYER: My source.

BILL MOYERS:And, yet, when these conservatives - as you write in your book - when these conservatives spoke up, Cheney and company retaliated against their own men.

JANE MAYER: People told me, "You can't imagine what it was like inside the White House during this period." There was such an atmosphere of intimidation. And when the lawyers, some of these lawyers tried to stand up to this later, they felt so endangered in some ways that, at one point, two of the top lawyers from the Justice Department developed this system of talking in codes to each other because they thought they might be being wiretapped. And they even felt-

BILL MOYERS: By their own government.

JANE MAYER: By their own government. They felt like they might be kind of weirdly in physical danger. They were actually scared to stand up to Vice President Cheney.

It's a book I want to read.  The scary thing is that when you watch the Congressional hearings it all sounds so ... I don't know .... dispassionate.   Like John Martorano talking about the murders he has committed. 

Somewhere in the interview with Mayer, she says something like the more you give in on something like this, the easier it is to give in a little bit more.

I hate what has happened to this country and how our values have been washed down the toilet by this administration.  And for what?

JANE MAYER: ...the reason that people don't torture is not just because it's a moral issue. It's because when we moved to a system of law that was on the principles of the enlightenment, the effort was to get at the truth. And you don't torture because people say anything under torture. And, according to a very top CIA officer I spoke to who was very close with GeorgeTenet, the former director of the CIA, he said 90 percent of what we got was crap. And he said and that was true of every method we used: Torture, non-torture.

The depressing, demoralizing thing for people like you and me, who have no voice is exactly that:  we have no voice.  Terrible, terrible things are being done in our name and it does us not one bit of good to protest.  And most of the things we will never even hear about because of the cloak of secrecy that surrounds everything in this White House.

When a local television station starts running public service announcements, as ours has recently, just reminding citizens that it is our right to know what our government is doing, that tells you how far we have fallen. 

I honestly don't know if Obama can run this country but we only have two choices and he's the only person I see who gives lip service for restoring the dignity and the principles that this country has lost over the past eight years.  And I want to give him that chance. 

He certainly can't do any worse than what we've endured the past eight years.

I don't want us to look bored when someone reveals atrocities conducted in my name because ho-hum, we've heard it all before.  I want us to get mad as hell and not take it any more, because we are good people.  But our leaders are making bad decisions in our name and I want the world to know that I do not agree and am powerless to stop it.


interrogation.jpg (23458 bytes)

I did a Google search on "enhanced interrogation."
Not torture?  You decide.



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