Sadists in black robes

As part of the National Torture Accountability Day Actions today, June 25, 2009, protesters gathered in Pasadena, California in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where Judge Jay Bybee, author of several of the infamous Torture Memos, presides.

Speakers were Mimi Kennedy, PDA Board Chair,  Jodie Evans, CodePink Co-Founder, and Dr. Dennis Loo, National Steering Committee Member of World Can't Wait and Sociology Professor. Most of the crowd, numbering 30-40 people, wore orange. Most of the group were in their fifties or older, but there were also several people in their twenties or younger. Two wore orange jumpsuits and black hoods. One of the young people wearing the detainee uniform said that she thought she should have been able to "retire the outfit" after Obama's election, but "apparently not." 

Code Pink's banner read "Congress (Heart) Torture." Most of the crowd, after being instructed to strip any evidence of political statements from our clothes and persons, were then allowed into the Court House in order to deliver a petition to the Court Clerk calling for Bybee's impeachment for misconduct.

Asked of the LAPD representative at the scene if we'd have had to also take off an American flag lapel pin as a political statement had any of us been wearing it, the officer thought this question impertinent and said that wearing an American flag wasn't a political statement.

A member of Iraq Veterans Against the War attended and spoke to cameras afterwards.

Here is a link to the Pasadena Star-News Story.

This is the text of the talk by Dennis Loo:

In the buildup for today’s national day of protest against torture the federal government told protesters in DC that if they attempted to demonstrate waterboarding that they would be arrested because it’s unsafe.

Unsafe? If it’s not safe, then how come our government has been doing it to detainees? The government can torture and if you have a law degree and you wear black robes like Jay Bybee does, and you justify torture with legalese and make it into official policy, that makes you a respectable citizen? You won’t be arrested. No, in fact, you will be in charge of dispensing the law’s application and “justice.” You will stand in judgment of others. Why exactly aren’t these sadists in black robes under arrest for crimes against humanity?

Those who defend the use of waterboarding say that it is merely simulated drowning. Waterboarding is not simulated anything. It is suffocation by water. It might be simulated intelligence gathering. Let’s accept torturers’ version of waterboarding as simulated drowning for the moment. Apparently, simulated drowning’s ok but simulating a simulation isn’t.

And while those of us here and in many other cities around the country today are putting our bodies where our mouths and consciences are, there are people in Congress, in the White House, and in the Judiciary who are simulating doing the people’s will. They are simulating justice and simulating truth. And we have all too many Americans who are simulating being citizens while Iranians are showing what popular action and popular responsibility means by taking to the streets in the face of beatings, tear gas, water cannon and guns.

This is what the NY Times said about Bybee in an editorial on April 18, 2009 in which they called for Bybee’s impeachment:

“In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.”

Here’s an excerpt from one of Bybee’s memos:

"As we understand it, when the waterboard is used, the subject's body responds as if the subject were drowning - even though the subject may be well aware that he is in fact not drowning.  You have informed us that this procedure does not inflict actual physical harm.  Thus, although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. As we explained in the Section 2340A Memorandum, 'pain and suffering' as used in Section 2340 is best understood as a single concept, not distinct concepts of 'pain' as distinguished from 'suffering.' See Section 2340A Memorandum at 6 n3. The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view inflict 'severe pain or suffering.' Even if one were to parse the statute more finely to attempt to treat 'suffering' as a distinct concept, the waterboard could not be said to inflict severe suffering. The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering.” (Bybee Memo)   


There is now a constituency for torture in the US. Cheney is the high priest of this movement and its flagship is Fox’s show 24.Torture’s proponents and apologists claim that torture works to save American lives and that if it wasn’t used a ticking time bomb somewhere would go off.

This is a flat out lie. Any suspect involved in a terrorist plot who is picked up for questioning would soon be known by their co-conspirators to be in custody because of their failure to stay in regular contact with their cell. Their fellow conspirators would then have to assume that their plot was going to come out under interrogation. What would you do if you were one of them? You’d cancel your plans and disperse immediately. The ticking time bomb scenario is therefore pure fiction.

Even if torture did produce actionable intelligence, if any government is allowed to use it then all other governments should be able to use it because who is to say that a government’s claim that they are dealing with a ticking time bomb is false? You have then opened the door to the ubiquitous use of torture, plunging the whole world back into the dungeons of medieval times.

Torture is premised on the belief that the lives of those for whom torture is allegedly being employed are more valuable than others, including the lives of those who are being tortured. Who says anybody’s life is better and more important than someone else’s? By what moral authority can anyone make such a claim? This is precisely the logic employed by the Nazis when they killed 10 million in WW II in their death camps. Are Americans no better than this?

Torture’s purpose isn’t intel. Torture’s purpose is to intimidate, to terrorize the individual being tortured and to terrorize the population. That is why they have and are as we speak torturing people who they know are innocent because the purpose of torture isn’t information, it’s terror.

Obama, who so many erroneously believed would right things, refuses to release the torture photos and refuses to prosecute crimes against humanity and war crimes. He is in the process of carrying forward these terrible practices of rendition and denying people the right to challenge their detentions, escalating the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and holding detainees indefinitely on the grounds of what they might do rather than what they have done.

We are at a juncture in history. The people of the US must decide whether we are in fact first and foremost supporters of an Empire that will do and is doing whatever it takes to defend and expand that empire, including committing war crimes, or we are first and foremost a people who believe in justice and fairness. Our consciences are being put to the test and the future is being written as we speak. If admitted torturers from President Bush on down are not held to account, if sadists like Bybee aren’t impeached, then America will become irrevocably transformed into a nation that merits the scorn of the world and of history.

What is it going to take to do this? It’s going to take a movement of the people as an independent force that refuses to stop until justice is done because it understands what’s at stake. If Obama’s term is allowed to end without prosecuting torturers then a precedent will have been set allowing any and all future presidents to openly violate the law and carry out atrocities.
Let me close with two quotes. The first is from “Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition” by Anthony Bruno:

 “The first level of torture employed by the Spanish Inquisition was the ‘water cure.’ Water was poured into the accused's open mouth. The linen cloth was washed into the opening of the throat, preventing the accused from spitting the water back out. The overwhelming sensation of drowning forced the accused to swallow the water. The rules of torture as written by Torquemada, a man whom historians have compared to Hitler, stipulated that no more than eight liters of water could be used in a single session.”   

The second quote is from Jay Bybee:

“As you have explained the waterboard procedure to us, it creates in the subject the uncontrollable physiological sensation that the subject is drowning. Although the procedure will be monitored by personnel with medical training and extensive SERE school experience with this procedure who will ensure the subject's mental and physical safety, the subject is not aware of any of these precautions.”
Which people are we? What will allow to be done in our names?