Friday, February 15, 2013

Wassam al-Ourdoni—Stories from the Dark Side

Last week the President declared our war of aggression in Afghanistan to be over, meaning that we are preparing to enter a phase of fighting—in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Mali, Somalia, and elsewhere—those “savage wars of peace” which are so forgettable to the American public and so violent for the people on the receiving end of the abductions, the drone strikes, the sanctions, and the “special operations”. 

These wars, like their more visually spectacular counterparts, involve doing business with ugly people.  After all, when we adopt the tactics of terror—kidnapping, torture, murder, disappearance—we will have to look under some pretty dark rocks to find people willing to collude with us. 

For this reason, in our capital, the same people who were so happy to foment aggressive war with Iraq and are now inciting war against Iran.  They would like, they explain, to see us rid the world of “baddies” by the indiscriminate use of deadly force.  And yet they were all to happy to collaborate with Iran in one of examples of our state terror described in in the report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition”, commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative.  From the report:

“Wesam Abdulrahman Ahmed al-Deemawi (Wassam al-Ourdoni), a Jordanian national, was seized in Iran in December 2001.  He stated in an interview that he was detained in Iran for about a month without being interrogated or told why he was being held.  In early 2002, al-Deemawi was one of ten men transferred in a prisoner exchange by Iranian authorities to Afghan authorities.  Afghan authorities subsequently handed him to the CIA.  
He was first held in the Dark Prison, where he says he spent 77 days in a room that was so dark that it was impossible to distinguish night from day.  At this prison, al-Deemawi further states, the guards were Afghan, but the interrogators were American.  He was then moved to another prison, “prison number 3,” where the food was so bad that his weight dropped considerably.  In the spring of 2003, he was transferred to Bagram, where he was held for 40 days and subjected to sleep deprivation, hung from the ceiling by his arms in the “strappado” position, threatened by dogs, made to watch torture videos, and subjected to sounds of electric sawing accompanied by cries of pain.  
Al-Deemawi was flown to Guantanamo Bay on May 8, 2003.  He was released in March or April 2004” (38).

A definite case of "out of the frying pan into the fire", with being held by U.S. intelligence services looking like a worse option than being under the Iranian regime we are so keen to condemn for its human rights violations at every turn.

A person who has been attentive to the rhetoric of our past Presidents and members of Congress and the armed forces and intelligence services might labour under the impression that our values, our legal system, our ability to function as a democratic society are under threat from without.  Imagine how hollow our rhetoric would ring to al-Ourdoni, a man abducted without being charged, imprisoned without being informed of his crimes, tortured without recourse to a legal system, and then, miraculously, released. 

But as this case and others demonstrate, the real threat comes from within, from the temptation to think that it is possible to wage a war of terror against all-comers while preserving our values, our legal system, and our ability to function as a democratic society. 

There are visible casualties of our war of terror: the children and civilians who are blown apart by “precision” drone strikes based on “profiles” of threatening gatherings; the U.S. soldiers sent into Iraq to overthrow a “rogue state” by a President who flouted international law and lied to the public; the NATO and Afghan soldiers dying in South Asia for U.S. “security”; the citizens of countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan which have been kept poised in endless turmoil because their welfare is secondary, in the minds of American politicians and generals and spies, to the “security” needs of our government (needs, it is important to point out, which have nothing whatever to do with the public interest of U.S. citizens.

And then there are the less visible casualties.  These are the people whose lives are ruined by being “disappeared” in the U.S. system of torture prisons for three years of their lives and released without any recourse to justice.  People who will be unable to find work or acceptance after being released: their bodies, their reputations broken.  They are the people who have been disappeared and who remain invisible to our legal system or any international legal system.

And even harder to identify is the violence we suffer as a society when we countenance, encourage, and vote for such an ugly national security structure which permits—and indeed requires—such violence. 


“We also have to work, through, sort of the dark side, if you will.  We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world.  A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.  That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective”—Dick Cheney

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