Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On 'totalitarian jurisprudence'

James Petras writes that:

The Financial Times (FT), once the liberal, enlightened voice of the
financial elite (in contrast to the aggressively neo-conservative
Wall Street Journal) has yielded to the totalitarian-militarist
temptation. The feature article of the weekend supplement of August
16/17, 2008 – “The Face of 9/11” – embraces the forced confession of
a 9/11 suspect elicited through 5 years of hideous torture in the
confines of secret prisons. To make their case, the FT published a
half-page blow-up photo first circulated by former CIA director
George Tenet, which presents a bound, disheveled, dazed, hairy
ape-like prisoner. The text of the writer, one Demetri Sevastopulo,
admits as much: The FT owns up to being a propaganda vehicle for a
CIA program to discredit the suspect while he stands trial based on
confessions obtained through torture.

From beginning to end, the article categorically states that the
principle defendant, Khalet Sheikh Mohammed, is the “self-confessed
mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the US.” The first half of
the article is full of trivia, designed to provide a human-interest
feel to the courtroom and the proceedings – a bizarre mixture
discussing Khaled’s nose to the size of the courtroom.

The central point of departure for the FT’s conviction of the suspect
is Khaled’s confession, his ‘desire for martyrdom’, his assumption of
his own defense and his reciting the Koran. The crucial piece of the
Government’s case is Khaled’s confession. All the other ‘evidence’
was circumstantial, hearsay and based on inferences derived from
Khaled’s attendance at overseas meetings.

The FT’s principle source of information, an anonymous informant
“familiar with the CIA interrogation program” states categorically
two crucial facts: 1. How little the CIA had known about him before
his arrest (my emphasis) and (2) that Khaled held out longer than the

In other words, the CIA’s only real evidence was extracted by torture
(the CIA admitted to ‘water boarding’ – an infamous torture technique
inducing near death from drowning). The fact that Khaled repeatedly
denied the accusations and that he only confessed after 5 years of
torture in secret prisons renders the entire prosecution a case study
in totalitarian jurisprudence.

KSM spent six months in Guantanamo and the rest of the time in various locations hitherto undisclosed. The US deliberately made a song and dance about its internment camp in Guantanamo, where its procedures were slightly less filthy than on the offshore prison ships. He was tortured and, when he confessed, he decided to confess to everything: his confession was false, in other words, which is almost invariably true of confessions obtained by torture. Nevertheless, the assertion that KSM is a "self-confessed" mastermind of 9/11 is quite popular. Forget what you think about KSM for a second. The issue is exactly what Petras says it is: not whether KSM may be a bad man, or whether he committed other crimes, or whether he may be found guilty of this one by some other means, but whether we should adopt the increasingly fashionable practise of deeming someone guilty by virtue of their having confessed under obvious duress. Because once we do that, we do it for everyone - the tricky thing about law is precisely its universalising dimension.

And we might add that, whatever you think about Slobodan Milosevic, the same applies to his trials. A show trial is a show trial, regardless of his evident (amateur) gangsterism. And when Radovan Karadzic testifies before an ICTY court, it will still be preposterous even if you assume that he is guilty of everything they say he is. Even if they extract the full evidence of his having ordered and directed the planned extermination of Bosnian Muslims, cut short only by belated Western intervention, it will still have been a farce. All that said, and I think it an obvious spiel, you would be doing well to find more than 0.01% of the media coverage that will say anything remotely like it. The regnant assumptions are indeed the 'totalitarian' ones that Petras refers to: if the Fuhrer wants it, two and two make five. All they desire is the confession, to expiate their misdeeds, prove their virtue, keep the vassals playing ball, and ultimately show who is boss.