We are reminded again: Torture is torture. Period.

The U.S. Senate’s torture report is out, and that was a good day for America. But it underlined  once again that America “lost its way”during those dark years after 9/11, as Eric Lichtau wrote in his book Bush’s Law – The Remaking of American Justice.

“This is not how Americans should behave. Ever,” says today’s main editorial in the Washington Post.

So, to talk about whether these “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked or not is completely irrelevant.

“Torture is wrong, whether or not it has ever ‘worked,'”  the Post adds. Exactly.

“Only fools” discuss whether illegal actions “work,” wrote Slate Magazine’s legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick some time ago. Exactly, again.

But, as Lithwick also wrote, they “got away with it:” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and his staff member Jose Rodriguez, who destroyed video tapes of the torture sessions.

Now, what? Probably nothing, unfortunately.

Congress, controlled by the Republicans after the new year, will not touch this. And President Obama, who started out so well and in his first weeks as president in 2009 shut down CIA’s secret prisons, prohibited the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and he promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, also said no to all investigations, no prosecutions and no indictments, no truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa after apartheid, no to a commission report like the one after 9/11. Nothing.

Was he wishing it would all go away? It hasn’t. The prison in Guantanamo Bay is still open and now the torture debate is back with a vengeance.

It was a “horrible decision” by Obama to close the books on this chapter of of our history, writes the New York Times today, describing the whole report as a “portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” And, it “raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these crimes.”

Exactly, yet again.


It’s high time to close Guantanamo Bay

The terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open, in spite of what president Obama has declared and in spite of the many demands to close it.

As recently as last week, President Obama said that he continues to believe that Guantanamo should be closed.

“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive.  It is inefficient.  It hurts us in terms of our international standing.  It lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts.  It is a recruitment tool for extremists… And I’m going to reengage with Congress to try to make the case that this is not something that’s in the best interest of the American people.  And it’s not sustainable.”  

Karen Greenberg, head of the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School, is an expert on the Guantanamo prison. In an interview with me for my book America — Land of Dreams she said that Obama might have succeeded in closing Guantanamo immediately after he won the election in 2008, but he didn’t act fast enough, and he failed. And because Guantanamo is still open, we still have a system of “indefinite detention” and that, for me, she said, is “unacceptable.”

An article by Greenberg in the Washington Post last Sunday, called “Five Myths about Guantanamo Bay,” lays out the situation at Guantanamo today for the remaining 166 prisoners, of whom 100 are hunger-striking. Four of them have been hospitalized and 23 are force-fed.  Read it!

It’s high time to close Guantanamo.

So that we never forget…

I saw this sign, “Torture is always wrong,” outside a Presbyterian church in Columbus, Indiana during my recent visit there. It can serve us well as a reminder that it is ten years ago this week since lawyers in the Bush Administration issued the “torture memos” justifying torture.

“Torture is always illegal,” writes Morris Davis, law professor and retired Air Force Col. and former chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in today’s Los Angeles Times. “And we should mark the 10th anniversary of the effort by the Bush administration to justify torture, remembering that as a nation founded on religious and moral values, we must work to ensure that U.S. government-sponsored torture never occurs again.”

Was it a “justifiable killing?”

The war against terror is seen by many observers as a foreign policy success for President Obama. But was it legal to kill the Yemeni al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki and his companion Samir Khan, both American citizens?

A Washington Post editorial today calls the killing “justifiable” and a news story in the paper quotes an Obama Administration official saying that “what constitutes due process in this case is a due process in war.”

Andrew Sullivan on his blog, The Dish, is of a similar view:

“My own position is that we are at war, and that avowed enemies and traitors in active warfare against the U.S. cannot suddenly invoke legal protections from a society they have decided to help destroy.”

I tend to agree, but the issue is not simple, it’s not black and white.

And many are concerned, like Glenn Greenwald at the web site Salon, who condemns the killing. It now appears, he writes, that American citizens can be killed without due process of the law.

Yale law Professor Stephen L. Carter writes on the Daily Beast that the attack raises important ethical questions.

“Obama should tell us, clearly and simply, what the goal of the drone war is; what ethical rules guide him in deciding whom to target; and how we will know when the war is won.”

“Another Obama Foreign Policy Success”

That’s the headline on Taegan Goddard’s blog Political Wire in the aftermath of the reports that the al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, has been killed in a drone attack, and Goddard cites two other blogs, MSNBC’s First Read and ABC TV’s Jake Tapper.

Tapper lists the many names of suspected terrorist leaders killed during Obama’s now almost three years in the White House. If this is defense, I wonder what offense looks like, writes Tapper, referring to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s statement that an Obama presidency would mean that the U.S. would play defense rather than offense in the war against terrorism.

But First Read says that Obama does not get much credit for this success.

A morning in lower Manhattan always remembered

Today, as 9/11 and its nearly three thousand victims are remembered, lower Manhattan has changed but much also remains the same. Where the twin towers used to stand is still a huge construction site and will continue to be for years.  But the view out over the water with the Statue of Liberty in the distance is as stunning as always. The marina over in Battery Park City is full of sailing boats, kids are playing, and people are enjoying the sun set. The dark and narrow streets around Wall Street are full of people as lower Manhattan today has many new residents.

That morning, ten years ago, our world at 80 John Street, where we then lived three blocks from what would become known as Ground Zero, came crashing down.

The morning had begun so brilliantly beautiful as my wife, our daughter and I were preparing us for an ordinary day in New York. Suddenly there was a big explosion, much larger than the usual noise on lower Manhattan. I rushed down and out on the street where people had gathered and stood and looked up at the sky up to the north twin tower that stood in the fire. A plane had run straight into the North Tower. How could it happen?

Chaos, confusion. Then another big explosion when the south tower was hit. This was no accident. Then, the unthinkable – the gigantic south tower simply fell, like a deck of cards, straight from the top down in a roar. A huge, dark mass of debris and smoke and dust rushed towards me like a dark wall on our narrow street. It got pitch-black . Coughing and shocked people filled our foyer. We couldn’t see and we could hardly breathe.

It did brighten somewhat before the north tower – again in an incredibly, almost simple way. We were swept back into the dust and smoke and complete darkness. Out on the street more and more people appeared. They came out of the smoke and dust and darkness from Ground Zero as from another world. Employees from the shops and residents provided protective masks and water bottles. Many had no idea where they were and how they could get away. Go north, north, we said and pointed.

By now, we had no electricity, no telephone. We started to pack the essentials and headed out on the street, covered with many inches dust and debris, away from Ground Zero and walked north. Soon we were out in the sun and the clear blue sky, but behind us, where the twin towers once stood, there was now emptiness.

It took over a week before we could return home. Life on John Street in lower Manhattan had changed. Several months after September 11, we walked around nervously, watching intently aircraft that flew over the town a little too low, flinching with any loud noise. A foul odor from the smoldering hole at Ground Zero followed us constantly.

In June, we moved up to the West Side of Manhattan, near the greenery of Central Park. It was no easy decision, but we needed to get away from the daily reminders of Ground Zero and a neighborhood that was going to be a gigantic construction site for years to come.

It’s been said that after 9/11, life will never be the same again. For us, that is certainly true.

“Torture apologists” and Osama bin Laden’s death

As I pointed out yesterday, with every hour we learn more about how Osama bin Laden was tracked down and killed.

Front-page articles in today’s New York Times and Washington Post are, of course, a must to read, but I would also point to The New Yorker’s website, and its blog News Desk, where invaluable reading can be found in a number of articles by the staff, in particular Jane Mayer’s piece on the new torture debate in the “Bin Laden Dead: Torture Debate Lives On.”

In comments about bin Laden’s death, leading Republicans like Dick Cheney have praised President Obama, but many of the comments have been stingy and some have completely avoided giving Obama any credit, as Sarah Palin did not do in a speech yesterday in Colorado. In many of the Republican comments Obama’s success is really the result of the foundation laid by President George W. Bush, including the harsh interrogation methods – – torture, plain and simple — against al Qaeda members in secret prisons and at Guantanamo.

Jane Mayer writes:

Well, that didn’t take long. It may have taken nearly a decade to find and kill Osama bin Laden, but it took less than twenty-four hours for torture apologists to claim credit for his downfall.

Mayer refers to the organization “Keep America Safe”, where Cheney’s daughter Liz and Bill Kristol published a “victory statement” that praised the Bush administration’s interrogation methods, without mentioning President Obama at all.

Also Slate’s legal columnist Dahlia Lithwick writes about “torture apologists” in her comments, “Closing Pandora’s Box”.

She writes: we can never prove or disprove, that the Bush administration’s interrogation practices led to bin Laden’s death. All we can say with certainty is that we tortured. And we must now decide if we want to continue to live like that.

With Bin Laden’s death, let’s simply agree that the objectives of the Bush administration’s massive anti-terror campaign have finally been achieved, and that the time for extra-legal, extra-judicial government programs—from torture, to illegal surveillance, to indefinite detention, to secret trials, to non-trials, to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay—has now passed. There will be no better marker for the end of this era. There will be no better time to inform the world that our flirtation with a system of shadow-laws was merely situational and that the situation now is over.

Conclusion: a better America!

Secret elite force killed Osama bin Laden

With almost every hour, we learn a bit more about the American attack on Osama bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad in Pakistan. An article on National Journal’s website today is interesting reading about how the U.S. tracked bin Laden and how the attack was executed by a top secret team, the SEAL Team Six, whose official name is Naval Special Warfare Development Group, which in turn belongs to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) .

Since 11 September 2001, JSOC has become the U.S. government’s most efficient and deadliest weapon in the fight against international terrorism. JSOC has about 4,000 civilians and soldiers and costs the U.S. government a billion dollars a year. But few details are known about JSOC.

Yesterday’s attack on bin Laden took place in cooperation with the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, based on data from the National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

In all 22 people were killed or captured in the attack. Bin Laden shot twice in the face when attempting to fight back. His body was taken away in one of the helicopters from the Ghazi air base in Pakistan that brought the force to bin Laden’s home. Then, bin Laden’s body was first transported to Afghanistan and later buried at sea.

Cheers and joy, but also dark memories

All of America is cheering President Obama’s dramatic statement last night that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Obama’s statement that “justice now been done” reflects well the satisfaction and relief around the country.

Osama bin Laden had by now almost been forgotten, and most Americans had given up hope that the United States would ever catch him. This fact contributed to the total surprise of the news.

The relief and satisfaction were particularly felt among relatives of the nearly 3,000 Americans who were killed in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington ten years ago. The face behind the biggest terrorist attack ever on American soil, Osama bin Laden, was dead. This was big and the news evoked strong emotions, but also nervousness and, maybe, a little fear for the future.

For many, the news also brought old and dark memories, also for me personally. On September 11, 2001, I lived with my family on John Street, just three blocks from Ground Zero. Memories of the terrible events that beautiful September morning, when the World Trade Center’s two huge towers came crashing down and everything suddenly turned pitch black around us, are unforgettable. Like for many Americans, bin Laden’s death was for us the end of a long and dark chapter but with many new concerns and questions about the future. Alert levels have been raised around the U.S. as well as on military bases and U.S. embassies around the world.

Bin Laden’s death is seen as a major step forward in the fight against al Qaeda, a milestone, but officials have also underlined the need for continued vigilance. His death is also seen as a great personal achievement for President Obama, who won praise across the political spectrum. Republican congressman Peter King from New York, with hundreds of casualties among the residents of his constituency and who has often been critical of Obama, congratulated him on the success.

It was a new lead in August last year on bin Laden’s whereabouts that signaled the beginning of the end for bin Laden. According to press reports, the president ordered the attack last Friday and the Pakistani government was not informed or involved. See the article on the New York Times website on the detective work that led to bin Laden’s death.

President Obama: Osama bin Laden has been killed

Osama bin Laden is dead, President Barack Obama announced in a special television address to the nation from the White House just before midnight tonight, nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001.

“Justice has been done,” Obama said in his speech.

Bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and the man behind the attacks in New York and Washington which claimed nearly 3000 lives, died after U.S. Special Forces found him and his family in a house deep in Pakistan, in the town of Abbottabad near the capital Islamabad, and after a brief fire exchange shot him to death. His body is now in U.S. possession. No U.S. soldier was injured in the attack.

Obama said that U.S. intelligence sources received a lead on bin Laden’s whereabouts in August last year and special troops have been closing in on him ever since. According to press reports tonight, the president ordered the attack last Friday.

Obama also said that this is not the end of the fight against terrorism. He said we must continue to be on our guard, stressing that this is not a war against Islam, but a war against al Qaeda which has killed many Muslims.

The news was greeted with great joy, satisfaction, and relief not only in the White House but across America. Outside the White House here in Washington a crowd gathered around midnight, waving American flags and singing the national anthem.

Bin Laden’s death ends a chapter in the war against terrorism,a war that led to the U.S. attacks on Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and then to the invasion of Iraq. It now remains to be seen what repercussions bin Laden’s death could have on the overall fight against terrorism. The state of alert has been raised around the country and on military bases and U.S. embassies around the world.