December 13, 2014

Torture by any other name

A day before International Human Rights Day, a long-delayed US Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs), or simply put torture, on post-9/11 suspected “terrorists” held in “black sites” or secret detention sites hosted by certain US allies, was finally made public.  But only a 500-page redacted summary was released with 6,000-plus pages of the complete report still classified on the grounds that these could compromise US national security. 

While human rights groups calling for greater transparency and accountability are disappointed, the executive summary already says a mouthful about the extensive but ineffectual use of torture by the CIA during the administration of George W. Bush; how this was politically and legally justified in the context of the so-called War on Terror; and how this criminal conspiracy that constitutes a violation of international law was subsequently covered up at the highest levels.

It has been called a landmark report because of its official authorship, the highly controversial if not taboo subject matter, its revealing findings and the politically explosive consequences for the US. 

The Senate Committee undertook a five and a half year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program conducted between 2002 and 2009. It was initiated in March 2009 based on a bipartisan vote of 14-1 when Committee members incidentally discovered that videos of EIC used on two Al Qaeda suspects were ordered destroyed by CIA officials thereby raising a red flag as to what was being hidden from congressional oversight.

Combing through 6.3 million pages of official documents, the study revealed that after the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, the CIA took charge of at least 119 suspected “terrorist”, some of them mistakenly or without sufficient grounds even by the CIA’s own standards, and then detained them indefinitely in secret sites outside the US.  All were subjected not only to “coercive interrogation techniques” (apparently still legally justifiable) but to “enhanced interrogation techniques” that constituted brutal and unremitting torture. 

These included not only the kinds of torture already revealed in various leaks and lawsuits like waterboarding, staged mock executions and revved power drills near detainees’ heads.  Detainees were sleep deprived for days, forced to strip naked, subjected to beatings while hooded, and made to stay in painful stress positions even though they were already injured.  They were also subjected to extensive periods of sensory deprivation or were constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music. There were several cases of “rectal rehydration” for the purpose of demonstrating absolute control over the detainee.  Aside from death threats, detainees were also told their children would be killed and their wives sexually assaulted. 

The ordeal eventually caused severe and irreparable physical and psychological injuries up to the death of one detainee from hypothermia after he was made to lie on a concrete floor half naked. 

On the basis of the Senate report, Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, declared in a statement, "The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today's report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes."  Moreover he said, "The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to…Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction.”

And yet prospects are not bright for such accountability taking place.  CIA officials with US President Obama’s blessing sought to prevent the report from coming out even as they undertook a campaign to distort and discredit its findings even before it was issued. The CIA has vigorously rejected the report since its release and continues to dispute one of its major findings; i.e. torture did not produce good intelligence.  The information extracted through torture was usually fabricated, not actionable nor could these not have been obtained using non-coercive means.

While much of the information revealed by the Senate report is new to the public, it is inconceivable that Washington was unaware of these.   Attorney General Eric Holder had conducted a detailed torture investigation during President Obama's first term.  Holder had decided not to prosecute anyone for the CIA’s torture because “the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt."

As for Pres. Obama, when asked about investigating CIA torture in 2009, he replied that "it’s important to look forward and not backwards." In fact the only person the Obama administration has prosecuted in connection with the torture program is a man who revealed its existence to the media, former CIA official John Kiriakou.  He was forced to plead guilty when threatened with decades of imprisonment and is now serving a 30-month jail sentence.

The Obama administration stands accused of other egregious violations of the American people’s and world’s people’s human rights with NSA spying revealed, police brutality against African Americans and other people of color, armed drone attacks leading to loss of civilian lives and properties in several countries that the US is not even at war with.

It is relevant to mention here the US’ continued refusal to accede to the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its functions, jurisdiction and structure, opening the doors to the prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and the crime of aggression. This would have made the US government and its notorious security and intelligence forces vulnerable or subject to prosecution by the ICC. 

But what the report doesn’t say is just as important.  According to Prof. Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research, “The terms unethical and immoral are mentioned (in the report). The criminality of those who ordered these actions at the highest levels of government, however, is not acknowledged.”   Furthermore he asserts, “The actions directed against alleged jihadists are categorized as ineffective in the process of revealing intelligence...What of course is not acknowledged is that the alleged terrorists who were tortured were framed by the CIA.”
And the biggest deception of all: “The September 11, 2001 attacks provided the green light to wage a ‘Global War on Terrorism’. While the report acknowledges CIA brutality, it does not question the legitimacy of the ‘Global War on Terrorism’. The acts of torture were all for a good cause.”

The US Senate report can be used to expose the US as the world’s foremost terrorist state or, perversely, to refurbish US credibility as a bastion of democracy and defender of human rights.  The findings must be brought to their logical if unintended conclusion:  to expose and oppose US imperialist wars of aggression and intervention in the guise of “humanitarian wars”; unmask the continuing use of “terrorism” as justification for war crimes and crimes against humanity; rouse the world’s peoples to demand the trial and punishment of the perpetrators of CIA torture and all other gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the US government.  #

Published in Business World
15 December 2014

November 30, 2014

Learning history's lessons

On the 151st birth anniversary of The Great Plebeian, Gat Andres Bonifacio, nationwide protest actions calling for government accountability and genuine societal change were launched, inspired by the revolutionary vision and example of the Supremo of the Katipunan.  

More than historic symbolism and patriotic fervor were on display as the people who marched and demonstrated were spurred by burning issues that have plagued this country since flag independence and despite the trappings of a modern democracy -- institutionalized corruption and plunder of public funds; policies that entrench poverty, backwardness and inequality; injustice that breeds armed conflicts and social unrest; violations of human rights with impunity; and continuing affronts to national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

They consciously partook of the revolutionary spirit embodied by Bonifacio with the tagline “Diwa ni Bonifacio, Tunay na Pagbabago” but capped this with the provocative call “Panagutin si Aquino!”  For indeed, theirs was a call meant to finally unmask the pretentions of a reactionary regime that had decked itself out as the harbinger of change (in a copycat take on US presidential candidate Obama’s campaign slogans revolving around “change we can believe in”).

Hot-button issues that rang out in the protesters’ slogans and speeches included the following:  President Benigno Aquino as pork barrel king and chief purveyor of patronage politics;  “daang matuwid” as empty rhetoric when applied to KKK (kaklase/kamag-anak/kabarilan);  caciqueism epitomized by Hacienda Luisita; high growth rates where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer;  Yolanda and Pablo typhoon victims abandoned and treated with bureaucratic contempt; public infrastructure, utilities and services handed over for private profit-making through so-called public-private partnerships (PPPs); devastating militarization campaigns disguised as “bayanihan” and pursuit of peace;  foreign policy defined as “Kano ang boss ko!” ergo give the US what it wants and more.

There was heightened vexation over Mr. Aquino’s leadership style characterized by a disdain for the masses who he thinks he is able to hoodwink with his populist speechifyng; intolerance for any kind of criticism or opposition and a tendency to retaliate; a laid back manner bordering on incompetence and laziness;  a propensity for credit grabbing and believing in his own propaganda; coddling of the crooked in his inner circles; unabashed pro-Americanism and whose idea of patriotism is belligerent bluster against a resurgent China, admittedly the US’ biggest creditor and trading partner.

Such grievances, exasperation and indignation were enough to bring these protesters to the point of saying “Enough of Aquino!”  But do they mean “We want Binay?”  We can safely hazard their reply, “Of course not.”  Because these politically conscious, new breed of Filipinos have learned their lessons about cosmetic changes that merely bring about a changing of the guards, a mere rigodon of factions of the same exploitative and oppressive ruling elite.  Think EDSA I and II.

They look to bringing about a kind of change that will usher in a real break from the past in terms of a political platform of governance that is truly pro-people and pro-Filipino; of political leaders from the ranks of the masses and the middle class and not the old dynasties of the elite; of true transparency, responsibility and accountability to the people.

The 11-point program of the Pagbabago (People’s Movement for Change), one of the groups at the forefront of Bonifacio Day demonstrations gives us the gist of such a program.

•    Honest leaders chosen in fair and free elections.
•    Good governance:  prioritizing the country’s interests; addressing poverty, providing accessible and      affordable basic services; resolving the problem of onerous public debt and high debt service; responsible utilization of public funds; fearless against organized crime without resort to violations of rights.
•    Land for the peasantry; food self-sufficiency; modern agriculture and rural development;.
•    National industrialization and development of the domestic economy; decent jobs and sources of livelihood.
•    Uphold the people’s democratic rights; end abuse of authority and punish the abusers.
•    Peace based on addressing roots of armed conflicts.
•    Respect the rights and advance the status of women.
•    Culture that serves the interests of the many and teaches the value of service to the people.
•    Protection of the environment and wise utilization of natural resources.
•    Uphold national dignity, territorial integrity and sovereignty; cooperate and seek mutually beneficial relations with all countries.
•    Recognition and respect for the rights of the Moro people and other national minorities.

Because constitutional succession means more of the same, they are open to transitional arrangements where leadership does not fall on the vice president but to a transition council of the most actively involved in booting out the old and bringing in the new.  A collective kind of leadership which is not to be sneezed at since our experience with the current presidential system is absurdly unsatisfactory while parliamentary systems that represent organizations of the people at different levels democratically making and executing decisions are worth a try.

This is until truly democratic elections can take place where lack of resources, political pedigree and clout is not a bar to competent, upright and hardworking citizens running for public office made synonymous to real service to the people.

Now what’s the point of calling for Aquino’s accountability and for him to step down, be impeached or  ousted when time is said to be running out. The 2016 electoral derby is closing in with elite politicians already briskly engaged in the standard mudslinging and obligatory horse trading.  Why not just wait for the end of Aquino’s term and the start of a new regime?

Let us assume that we are facing another national, electoral exercise that will not be a big departure from before; that is, elections still dominated by the reactionary political class and their foreign-backed, moneyed sponsors.  The push for strengthening the national consciousness and the people’s movement that banner these issues, calls and aspirations before the 2016 elections can mean altering the national agenda and terms of reference, boosting the chances of viable, alternative candidates with progressive politics and breaching the erstwhile monopoly of power by the elite.

And yet the people’s movement for change is in for the long haul.  It will take much more awareness building, organizing strong and autonomous people’s organizations and cause-oriented groups and engaging the powers-that-be in myriad arenas of struggle for fundamental changes to take place.

But the writing is on the wall: the old elite social system and the old elite politics are rotten to the core and moribund.  Our visionary forebears led by Gat Andres Bonifacio have shown us the way of revolutionary struggle for revolutionary change.  #

Published in Business World
1 December 2014

November 16, 2014

The festering Hacienda Luisita problem

Ten years is a long time to await justice for the massacre of striking farm and sugar mill workers at the Hacienda Luisita Incorporated (HLI), the sprawling 6,435-hectare sugar plantation owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan, by a combined force of military, police and private security guards. 

Peasant families who have lived and worked for generations at the hacienda and militant peasant organizations and land reform advocates providing unwavering support, marked the tenth year of the brutal, premeditated killings with protest actions in front of Malacanang Palace and at the massacre site itself inside HLI.  Their pained yet defiant cries for “Justice!” and “Land to the tillers!” reverberate together with demands for the ouster of President Benigno S. Aquino III, scion of the powerful and entrenched landlords of Hacienda Luisita.

The search for justice has reached a dead end with the Ombudsman earlier on having thrown out the criminal complaints filed by the victims’ families. Seven strikers and their supporters lie dead and the official line then and now is that the victims attacked the phalanx of well-armed security forces, soldiers and police provoking a defensive reaction on the part of the latter.  How it is that the dead and wounded only came from the ranks of the protesters strains credulity but apparently this fact is immaterial to the state’s spineless investigators.

The land problem in Hacienda Luisita remains unresolved to this day despite the widely decried massacre and scores of related extrajudicial killings of supporters of the farm and mill workers including Iglesia Filipina Independiente Obispo Maximo Alberto Ramento and Tarlac Councilor Abel Ladera.  The  Supreme Court final ruling for the HLI land be distributed to its farmer-beneficiaries has yet to be implemented properly and fairly.

This can only be because President BS Aquino has been able to move Congress to impeach and convict a sitting SC Chief Justice who, while being a Gloria Arroyo hold-over and point man in the SC, also had the temerity to lead the High Court in making decisions favorable to the peasants of HLI versus the Cojuangco-Aquino hacienderos. 

This same president holds sway over the Department of Agrarian Reform that has embarked on means most foul to further dispossess the farmer-beneficiaries, break their unity and weaken their organizations in thinly-veiled collusion with the HLI management. What comes to mind in the light of this brazen display of abuse of one’s position is the famous one- liner by Senate President Jose Avelino, a Liberal Party stalwart of old: “What are we in power for?”

To those who say that agrarian reform has been achieved by the series of land reform programs pre- and post-independence  -- think HLI.  To those who say that the Philippine economy has progressed from the backward agricultural, in fact feudal, mode to that of a modern, manufacture-based one – again, think HLI. 

To those who decry the deep, widespread and multi-generational poverty of our people and all the socio-economic evils that go with it – open your eyes to the abject plight of the HLI peasants and their families. 

To those who sing paeans to democracy in the Philippines – can this mean anything so long as landlordism is alive and well, upheld by the law and protected by the state apparatus of coercion as well as airbrushed as part of the heritage of the “old rich” and therefore not susceptible to charges of graft and corruption unlike the ill-gotten wealth of the “new rich”?

To those who believe the yarn that the New People’s Army (NPA) is the cause of the agrarian and labor unrest and that before the NPA and union organizers became active in HLI there was peace – think the peace of the graveyard and the peace of coopted yellow labor union leaders.

Isn’t is hypocritical that the pro-Aquino/Liberal Party camp and the yellow media make much ado about the alleged 150-hectare Binay hacienda and the Binay dynastic hold on Makati City that paved the way for the institutionalized plunder of Makati coffers while turning a blind eye to the decades-old land problem in the Cojuangco-Aquino hacienda that Cory Aquino’s fake land reform program and its extension up till the administration of her son, BS Aquino, has perpetuated? 

Is it coincidental that only when the ruling regime is not held by the Cojuangco-Aquinos but by their actual or eventual political rivals and with the intensification of the rivalry between them, that there are some legal victories in the farmers’ struggles to retake the land that is historically, morally and legally theirs to begin with?

Hacienda Luisita, with its vast land area equivalent to Makati City and its adjoining two cities, stands out as a national symbol and well as actual stronghold of feudal exploitation and oppression in the 21st century. 

It also showcases the abuse of the highest political office, the Presidency, to circumvent land reform, displace dirt-poor peasant families from their tenuous hold on the land, convert wide swathes of the hacienda for more profitable non-agricultural purposes and quash any and all efforts and struggles of the peasantry to liberate themselves from their shackles.  A president who is of cacique origin and continues to derive substantial wealth and privilege from being heir to his clan’s landholdings can never sympathize with much less uphold the rights and aspirations of the landless peasantry. 

Hacienda Luisita is a microcosm of what ails Philippine society today.  The social, including armed, conflicts that have been spawned by the rank social injustice in Hacienda Luisita is repeated many times over in the rest of the country.  Which is why a radical overhaul of society brought about by the autonomous mass movement of the impoverished, immiserated and disempowered provides the only remaining hope for true social emancipation. #

Published in Business World
17 November 2014