Torture revelations provoke controversy in US

Daniel MacArthur-Seal
21 April 2009

Dick Cheney today entered the political fray over the US use of torture, demanding the CIA release classified information proving the "success" of interrogation techniques, which, he claimed, yielded "good" intelligence. These demands follow President Barack Obama's declassification of memos proving Bush administration approval of several methods, including waterboarding, which it did not classify as illegal torture because it was not "cruel, inhuman or degrading", a release Cheney has condemned as partial and "disturbing". Recent revelations have unearthed that one suspect, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to waterboarding 183 times and another, Abu Zubayadah, 83 times.

The toD verdict: Obama attempted to minimise controversy and put the American debate on the use of torture behind him, offering concessions such as granting amnesty to CIA operatives and refusing moves to prosecute members of the previous administration, but these efforts now seem certain to fail. Obama wanted to "acknowledge" mistakes and then "move forward", he reassured the CIA during a visit yesterday.

Republicans meanwhile seem likely to continue playing the patriot card. The claim that Democrats and other left-leaning Americans are unpatriotic and do not stand behind the country's armed forces and intelligence services is age-old. Cheney continued the tradition, calling on Obama "to stand up and aggressively defend America's interests". They may find further ammunition should the release of information lead to foreign moves to prosecute US nationals or bring further intelligence to light on the issue, a development which would seemingly set in opposition US interests and outside pressure, which Obama may be accused of kick-starting. 

The White House clearly foresaw the potential of a Republican backlash, but its measures to allay the fears of the American right, such as the call for "reflection, not retribution", have provoked accusations of a whitewash from many of the president's supporters on the left. Thankfully, however, it seems that no matter what the future intensity of the debate in the US, the country will discontinue the abhorrent practice of torture.

Dozens killed as vigilantes tackle Kenyan mafia

Vigilante groups armed with machetes, stones, axes and clubs killed over 24 people in pursuit of the Mungiki religious sect across central Kenya last night. The Mungiki, a religious turned criminal organisation, was banned in 2002 for extortion and its own brand of rough justice; a series of beheadings that prompted a police crackdown now taken into public hands. The night of violence follows days of vigilante action in the region during which one hundred alleged Mungiki members have been publically lynched. Three students and an 83-year-old man were among the victims of the man-hunt which vigilantes claim is endorsed by local police.   

South and North unite for Korean talks

South Korean envoys arrived in North Korea today for the first formal talks after President Lee Myung-bak took office over a year ago with the promise of a hard-line stance against North Korea. Since then, the situation in the region has deteriorated considerably, particularly with the internationally-condemned launch of a test missile by North Korea on 5 April. The two delegations were due to meet at Gaeseong industrial plant, a rare cooperative project between North and South and one threatened by worsening relations. The delegates, however, were forced to postpone negotiations following a dispute over where to convene the meeting, an indication of the far greater uneasiness these talks intend to allay.

Victory for Turkish nationalists threatens Cypriot reunification

The victory of the hard-line National Unity Party in Northern Cyprus polls on Sunday has upset recent progress towards the reunification of the divided island. The party's leader Dervis Eroglu, said that a unified Cyprus should not be the North's only goal. Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan today warned the new government against breaking off or changing the terms of the ongoing reunification talks, which were in turn precipitated by the victory of the Communist Greek Cypriot president Demetris Christofias last year.

Russia threatens walkout of NATO talks

Russia's relations with the west are again under strain over Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The Russian-backed South Ossetian authority today detained two of the twenty OSCE monitors patrolling the Georgian side of the border for a "provocative" and illegal incursion into South Ossetian territory, it claimed. After several hours the pair were released. A similar incident occurred last February during which two monitors were also captured and later released.

The tensions parallel developments on the international stage where Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday condemned NATO's "dangerous decision" to hold military exercises in Georgia next month. Russia escalated their protests yesterday threatening to call off a forthcoming summit of senior military figures if NATO did not adequately respond to Russia's objections.

China revives gunboat diplomacy

The Chinese Navy's deputy in command, Vice Adm. Ding Yiping, promised to reveal the nation's latest sea-borne military hardware on Thursday as part of the fleet's 60th anniversary celebrations. The newly unveiled vessels will include its latest generation of nuclear submarines, so far hidden from public view, and possibly newly acquired aircraft carriers, all of which are feared to be part of a Chinese bid for technical parity with the US and Russia. China disputes the control of several islands, not least Taiwan, in neighbouring waters and has clashed on the issue with the Philipinnes, Vietnam and Japan. The admiralty and Chinese state media have, however, stressed international cooperation as China's goal, highlighting its recent contribution to policing the Somali coast.

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