Torture Tort Terror

Obama uses national security as a cover for violating people's rights.


During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama criticized the Bush administration for its excessive secrecy, noting that it had "invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court." Obama also promised to end "extraordinary rendition," a practice through which "we outsource our torture to other countries."

But last week the Obama administration used the state secrets privilege to block a lawsuit by five former captives who say they were tortured as a result of extraordinary rendition. Although candidate Obama surely would have been outraged, President Obama is for some reason less concerned about abuses of executive power.

"To build a better, freer world," Obama the candidate wrote in a 2007 Foreign Affairs essay, "we must first behave in ways that reflect the decency and aspirations of the American people. This means ending the [practice] of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries."

It turned out Obama meant that he, like his predecessor, would seek assurances that detainees transferred to other countries would not be mistreated. After all, why would governments that routinely torture their prisoners lie about it?

Obama's broken promise sheds light on his determination to suppress a lawsuit by five men who sued the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan over its role in helping the CIA arrange prisoner flights during the Bush administration. The lead plaintiff, Binyam Mohamed, is an Ethiopian citizen and legal U.K. resident who was arrested in Pakistan on immigration charges in 2002. He says he was turned over to the CIA, which flew him to Morocco, where he was held for 18 months and subjected to "severe physical and psychological torture."

Mohamed, who was later imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without trial for five years before being released, says Moroccan security agents beat him, broke his bones, and cut him with a scalpel all over his body, including his genitals, after which they would pour a "hot stinging liquid" into the wounds. His four co-plaintiffs tell similar stories of abuse at the hands of Moroccan, Egyptian, Jordanian, and American officials.

Even if every word these men say is true, the Obama administration argues, they cannot be allowed to pursue their claims because doing so might endanger national security. Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit narrowly accepted this maximalist position, dismissing the lawsuit rather than letting it proceed based on publicly available evidence.

An administration that was truly concerned about excessive secrecy would have waited to see if either side in the lawsuit actually needed privileged information to make its case. Instead Obama, like George W. Bush before him, insisted that the mere possibility was enough to deprive torture victims of a legal remedy.

In May the Obama administration used a similar argument to block a lawsuit by Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer whom U.S. officials erroneously identified as a member of Al Qaeda and sent to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year and repeatedly beaten. Although the details of Arar's case have been public for years, Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal nevertheless urged the Supreme Court not to hear his appeal, citing "significant national security concerns."

Specifically, Katyal worried that addressing Arar's claims would require courts to "review sensitive intergovernmental communications, second-guess whether Syrian officials were credible enough for United States officials to rely on them, and assess the credibility of any information provided by foreign officials concerning petitioner's likely treatment in Syria, as well as the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner could be removed to Syria consistent with [the Convention Against Torture]."

Given President Obama's plans to continue extraordinary rendition under a different name, you can see why he'd rather not delve into questions like these. But candidate Obama told us to be wary of presidents who use national security as a cover for violating people's rights.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2010 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. When they see what we are up against their eyes open, or something like that?

    Good morning reason.

    1. What does President Obama know that Candidate Obama did not?

      1. What I know is that I am a narcissist of the highest order and a pathological liar.

      2. That he can get away with it?

        1. No, he knows this war is real.

            1. The war on the Constitution.

              And dudes with funny names and bombs in their pants.

  2. “This means ending the [practice] of shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries.”

    Let me be clear.

    All my shipping away of prisoners to be tortured in far-off countries has been in the light of day.

  3. OK this makes a lot of sense to me dude.

    1. Ve have vays of makink you, how shall ve say, less anonymous herr anon-bot…

  4. “During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama criticized the Bush administration for ______, But last week the Obama administration ______.”

    It strikes me that the above template could be used for a lot of Obama’s flip flops. Just fill in the blanks for a variety of stances and issues.

    Maybe the administration should claim that Obama the candidate is not the same person as Obama the President, that the latter is an alien clone that replaced him on the day he was sworn in? That’s better than the truth, that he’s reneged on so many campaign stances…

    1. (Singing)

      /You have more waffles/
      /Than a house of pancakes/
      /You offer flip-flops/
      /I offer tax breaks/

  5. Me? I like shipping away American jobs in the dead of night. Why? Because I’m evil. Vote for me, an Evil Republican who wants to ship your jobs overseas and torture them. Thank you.

    1. The domestic, union run torture shops just can’t produce the kind of quality information we need.
      First of all, for a union waterboarding you need eight guys and 100 gallons of distilled water heated to body temperature so that they (the union guys) don’t get cold.
      Inducing fear is hard because instead of yelling at the suspect: “where’s the bomb?”,the supervisor has to be telling the guys : “Lift from the knees!”

      1. Why are you bitching so much? It’s how they do things in France!

    2. I love Christine O’Donnell! She is the political/marketing consultant that nobody listened to. She says “why don’t we tell everyone how great Jesus is?” Well thanks, but we’re agnostic and well I have a college degree from Penn State and at Penn State all the professors say that god is bad. Thanks for your help Christine.

  6. “Obama uses national security as a cover for violating people’s rights.” How is that different than Bush?

    1. Exactly!

      There is no difference.

      You may need to take the rest of the day off, that was a big breakthrough.

      1. You may need to take the rest of the day off, that was a big breakthrough.

        Monitor = coffee splattered.

  7. How is that different than Bush?

    Its not. Wegeie, meet Point. Point, Wegie.

    1. Furthermore, I would also like to point out, additionally, that Obama’s practice of violating people’s rights and using national security to cover it up, is reminiscent of Bush.

      1. Yes, but didn’t Bush do this too? And didn’t candidate Obama campaign against this?

        Dammit! He was so honest in his autobiography and about his parents marching in Selma and shit. I’m so disappointed. I can’t believe it but I think Obama is a politician, or something.

  8. Why do not these torture victims sue the actual torturers in the courts of the countries where the torture took place?

    1. I found that interesting as well. They choose to sue what is essentially the bus company or travel agent instead of the people who captured them or the people who held and tortured them. Nope, we’ll go after the bus driver, ’cause it’s all his fault!

      I would assume that what they are really doing is trying to use this lawsuit to gather information for subsequent suits brought against the governments involved. Or just to gather information about government activities that can be used to shame the governments in question. Maybe I have a complete misunderstanding of the Boeing subsidiary’s role, but I really can’t see how the transportation agent has any role in the tort – or how they could have known anything about what was planned in Morocco.

      1. They choose to sue what is essentially the bus company or travel agent instead of the people who captured them or the people who held and tortured them. Nope, we’ll go after the bus driver, ’cause it’s all his fault!

        If the bus driver had a gun and forced him on the bus, yes.

    2. IANAL, but my guess is that suing the companies performing contract services was an attempt at getting a lawsuit heard in court. A suit against the federal government directly for this sort of thing, in any country, would be shot down immediately I imagine.

      Of course, the end-around didn’t work, cuz Obama said fuck that shit yo.

  9. as well as the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner could be removed to Syria consistent with [the Convention Against Torture]

    Gee, I guess the whole country would just fall apart if we were allowed to question the motives and sincerity of U.S. officials!

    1. You can’t handle the truth!

  10. “National Security”. Bah. What a ridiculous, fucked-up argument. Yeah, if we were to follow the rule of law the terrorists will git us! Aggghhhh they’ll kill us all! Then make us read the Koran! They’ll kill all of our doggies! And just think of what they’ll do to Arnold Ziffel!

    Fuck, it’s just plain embarrassing to think what a pussy country the U.S. has become.

    1. “We can’t tell you we shipped these dudes off to be tortured because then you’d know we knew we were torturing people, and the extremists would try harder to kill us”

    2. Fuck, it’s just plain embarrassing to think what a pussy country the U.S. has become.

      Sadly, this is true.

      Odds are greater that you’ll be struck by lightning than blown up by a terrorist yet no legislation making it illegal to golf in the rain.

  11. This is surely my greatest disappointment with Obama. I fear there will be no justice on this issue.

    1. What would justice on this issue look like? Apart from not wanting our government to have any part in this sort of activity, where is the law on this? We have people who were captured in a foreign country and who were turned over to a different foreign government. All with a wink-wink about what would happen to them after the handover. It sounds really bad, but is there any protection for them under US law? Does it even apply?

      They are not covered by the Geneva convention because they are not uniformed members of a national army – so no go there.

      All of this bizarre wiggle room sounds like reason enough for our government to stay home.

  12. Here are the names of the spineless shill judges who cowardly sided with the Obama Regime and let vagueries trump liberty:

    Alex Kozinski, Mary M. Schroeder, Raymond C. Fisher, Richard C. Tallman, Johnnie B. Rawlinson, Consuelo M. Callahan and Carlos T. Bea

    Here are the names of the judges boldly willing to stand up for our principles of liberty:

    Michael Daly Hawkins, William C. Canby, Sidney R. Thomas and Richard A. Paez.

    1. Lock and load.

    2. Kozinski — Reagan
      Schroeder — Carter
      Fisher — Clinton
      Tallman — Clinton
      Rawlinson — Clinton
      Callahan — W Bush
      Bea — W Bush

      Hawkins — Clinton
      Canby — Carter
      Thomas — Clinton
      Paez — Clinton

  13. Dismissing lawsuits in US Federal Courts, in our already bogged down expensive court system, requesting damages against the United States Government by non-citizens for acts of torture committed by others not on American Soil, regardless of the flawed legal logic, is something I can live with, recognizing that every dollar paid to Mohammod as well as most of the costs of litigation ultimately comes from those of us who pay federal income taxes.

    1. I’m hardly happy to pay income taxes, but I am willing to pay the government to do a limited list of things – upholding the rule of law and protecting liberty and individual rights are among them.
      Imagine if you decided to visit a foreign country, the CIA picked you up and shipped you off for months or years to be tortured in some hellhole. Then, when you’re finally released because they’ve no grounds to hold you, you can’t even seek justice.
      Christ, why do I have to spell this out? Because if you’re like me, white, middle aged and middle class, we assume it’ll never happen to us, there must be some good reason the CIA held these people?
      By the time they come for us…well, you know the quote.

  14. Looks like Obama’s still taking advice from his predecessor. We shouldn’t be surprised by this considering we currently live under a one-party government known as the Demopublicans (also known as Republicrats).

    1. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

  15. O’Bummer is the continuation of Bushed with different means. Better language skills, pretty much the same politics.

  16. It’s funny that this is the same week Iraq agreed to compensate us 400 million$ for any Americans tortured by Saddam

  17. Where is the good ol amped up vitriol from the left, formerly directed at Bush?

  18. Why does “Reason” support terrorism all of a sudden? Of that’s right, it’s excuse to slam the President.

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  21. I think the general public just gets a glimpse of what the government actually does

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