Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Conspiracy Practice

From the Washington Post:

"The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda [sic] captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement. The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents. The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism [sic]. It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions. The existence and locations of the facilities -- referred to as "black sites" in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents -- are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country."


"The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation."


  1. It's strange that it seems obvious that historians would manufacture certain histories, annhilate people from existence retroactively--a genocidal nostalgia?--like Barbara Tuchman's From Time Immemorial, all for the interests of ruling elites. This isn't merely a prejudice, it's acting in affinity with certain goals. This is not conspiracy. It's proper study is called historiography, like the work of Norman Finkelstein.

    But to imagine other elites doing the same in the present, that they would act according to their interests, that they would not sit passively as capital swooned at their feet, but sought to gather it in sneaky ways, must be labelled conspiracy theory. The study of these present practices--at least until they safely become history, sanitized, herded from edited archive to become bovine cud-chewing--this is conspiracy.

  2. For all the horror of Guantanamo, it turns out that its the public showcase of a network of secret Gulags, "without restrictions imposed by the U.S. legal system or even by the military tribunals established for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay."

    That's capitalism for you. Taking the best of everything.

    I find this piece of the article most interesting:

    "The issue of detaining and interrogating people was never, ever discussed," said a former senior intelligence officer who worked in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, or CTC, during that period. "It was against the culture and they believed information was best gleaned by other means."

    "On the day of the attacks, the CIA already had a list of what it called High-Value Targets from the al Qaeda structure, and as the World Trade Center and Pentagon attack plots were unraveled, more names were added to the list. The question of what to do with these people surfaced quickly."

  3. SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: I was tortured with a frightening dog and also rats. And they were always filming – filming parts of the torture that occurred, parts of the torture that I was forced to participate in.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: So why did they film you, Sister?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: They were laughing while they were filming these horrible things and threatening that later they would show them to my friends and family or even publish them.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And what were your feelings about that?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: It was unbearable. No matter what you tell yourself rationally, those threats haunt you for a lifetime. It's part of the psychological torture of making you feel that it's all somehow your fault, that you are to blame for it all, also that they can still find you and hurt you later on.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: Is there more that you can tell us about?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: There were other people in the clandestine cell, the clandestine prison, as well, and I could hear terrible screams. Many were killed. I saw some bodies. There were children, as well.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: Who else was in the room while you were being tortured, besides the Guatemalan torturers?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: After a while, there was – an American walked in.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: Why do you think it was an American? Can you describe him for us?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: He was taller than the Guatemalans. He was light-skinned and European looking. He wore an obvious curly brown wig and big sunglasses and had a light colored beard. And when he walked into the room and saw what was going on, he used a common word: ‘s—t.’ When he spoke in Spanish to the torturers, he had an obvious American accent.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: Do you remember what was said?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: Yes. It was evident that he was upset. He ordered the men to stop the torture, telling them that I was a North American nun, and that my disappearance had become public, and it was because -- my disappearance was beginning to cause an uproar.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And how did they respond?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: They followed his orders, and they didn't rape me again, and they left the room. I asked him if he was an American, and his answer was evasive. “Why do you want to know?” he asked me. I told him that he had used a word that was common in the United States. He, Alejandro, tried to help me put my clothes back on and eventually led me out of the building.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And then what happened?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: The American, Alejandro, put me into his jeep and drove off, and during the ride he told me to forgive my torturers, telling me that they were all just trying to fight communism; if I didn't, that there would be consequences. He reminded me that my torturers had made videotapes and had taken photographs of the part of the torture that I was most ashamed of. In perfect American English, Alejandro told me that if I didn't forgive my torturers, he would have no other choice than to release the videotapes and the photos to the press. He also told me he was going to take me to see a friend at the U.S. Embassy. And at this point, the jeep stopped in traffic, and I jumped out and ran.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: Is there anything else?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: I tried speaking in English to him, and it was evident that he understood me, and after a while, he answered and spoke in English.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And then what happened?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: I was certain that he was going to take me to be executed, so I jumped out of the jeep, as I mentioned earlier, and a woman recognized me from the news broadcast and took me in until I could call the sisters for help.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And at that point, did you leave Guatemala?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: First, I went to the Maryknoll House in Guatemala City and then I was taken to the Vatican Embassy, and there I provided the authorities with a brief statement, never mentioning, in this document, the American, because that was the advice an Embassy official had given to one of the sisters and the advice that the lawyers who were assisting me had given me, as well. And it wasn't until I came back to the U.S. that I began to speak publicly about the American, and in response, the U.S. government intensified a smear campaign against me. The Guatemalan government cooperated in this campaign, as well. I was labeled a liar, a crazy woman, even that I was a political strategist who was trying to influence Congress to cut off U.S. aid to the Guatemalan military.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: Sister Dianna, can we go back to Guatemala for a moment? Are the locations of the torture cells known publicly?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: No. The relatives of the disappeared, of course, search everywhere for their loved ones and have done so for many years now. We hear that certain places, like the Politécnica, have secret cells, but these are secret. The courts, the police, the families, they are never told and have no access.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And yet, this man with American accent and American features, he knew where to find you within mere hours of the news of your kidnapping?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: Yes, he did. He did.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And he was able to walk in and walk around where you were being tortured?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: Yes, he was.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And he and the Guatemalan torturers knew each other?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: Yes. In fact, they called him Alejandro, though I do not know if this was his real name or not.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: And he seemed to be giving orders?

    SISTER DIANNA ORTIZ: Yes, and the torturers obeyed him.

    MARGARET MONTOYA: They called him boss?


  4. Perhaps this coverage, which boasts of its deference to and shared patriotic goals of the US regime - and which associates secret torture locations with 'al Qaeda' to the point of implying a false chronology and that the practise is a 'reaction' to 'terrorism' - is a belated seizing of an opportunity to retroactively justify the long established practise of secret torture (and execution) of overwhelmingly non-'al Qaeda' affiliated victims.

  5. LCC,that's a chilling, necessary transcript. I agree with your skepticism on the 'ad hoc' nature of these camps of invisibility.

    Concomitant to the liberal gesture you've challenged, that these adminstrators of profit and violence are idiots (which plays into a very old, small 'r', republican discourse of the state's benevolent constitution and its corruption), is a lazy critical one:

    there seems the assumption that elites are shaped by the institutions and/or discourses in which they operate ever so passively, and that these individuals are robotically responding to circumstance, predictable or no, in an ad hoc fashion. This is I think, also a useful myth of the state, perhaps fostered through a displacement of how many academics and journalists are fashioned to see their own world, at least until they themselves become administrators.

    Because of the poverty of the historical record, in which we rely on intentionally misleading minutes (as all minutes are), edited transcripts, crafted diaries, etc... to fill in the real personal relationships these people in power have, it's so convenient to ignore the threads that contradict, the evidence of where the money's going in spite of the obvious explanations, the convergence of so many coincidences. All this sounds like 'conspiracy theory'. It is. It's also a recognition of the limits of what can be deciphered with Ockham's razor.

    There are stupid hypotheses, there are racist fantasy conspiracies, but to accept nonsense like a CIA agent averring that torture,

    "was against the culture [shades of the chicago school as alibi?] and they believed information was best gleaned by other means..."

    or that these networks of the invisibles' detention is, and always has been, ad hoc, never thought of before, an aberation in the smooth running of capital...

    that this is seriously believed is, I think, due in part to the pressures placed upon academics and journalists, bred and fattened to imagine the stall in which they graze is some sort of panopticon, who are, as good atoms, more interested in getting grants or promotions or publications, than looking at the machine running under their feet. And they thus imagine administrators, even at their own institutions, their own colleagues, to be the same. That there is no conspiracy of lobby groups of university adminstrators seeking to privatize publicly-funded universities, or crush unions at the press, or on campus, etc... And even if this were true, that could not apply to politicians. There are checks and balances, aren't there?

    These manufactured experts of knowledge in turn teach the elite in their classrooms or in the papers, the art of disavowal: "see, you are not involved in a conspiracy..."