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May 22, 2009 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Meet the IRF A Thug Squad is still Brutalizing Prisoners at Guantanamo.
posted by adamvasco (40 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by chunking express at 9:11 AM on May 22, 2009


If you don't read the dates it might not occur to you that an article entitled "Obama Thug Squad Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo" is primarily, and though not entirely, about the Bush era.
posted by found missing at 9:18 AM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's unfair to compare them to thugs.

Thuggee cultists tended to operate with some kind of plan in mind. These guys just seem like assholes.
posted by quin at 9:19 AM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Obama Thug Squad is the new name of my bowling team.
posted by found missing at 9:22 AM on May 22, 2009


Things have supposedly gotten worse since Obama took office, but one of the prisoners called Al-Jazeera from Gitmo. Huh?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:34 AM on May 22, 2009


Yay! Change!™
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 9:38 AM on May 22, 2009


found missing: "If you don't read the dates it might not occur to you that an article entitled "Obama Thug Squad Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo" is primarily, and though not entirely, about the Bush era."

A distinction without a difference.

An overseer of a torture chamber and director of death squads, Stanley McChrystal, has now been put in charge of the "good war" in Afghanistan and its inexorable spread into Pakistan. - Chris Floyd

“[Obama] was almost ruminating over the need for statutory change to the laws so that we can deal with individuals who we can’t charge and detain,” one participant said. “We’ve known this is on the horizon for many years, but we were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning.” - The New York Times

Human Rights Watch--which was represented at the big White House national security meeting yesterday--thinks the Obama speech was a bunch of window dressing. ... "... allowing detention without trial creates a dangerous loophole in our justice system that mimics the Bush administration's abusive approach to fighting terrorism." That's strikingly similar to language used by the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who, after yesterday's meeting, declared, "I don't see meaningful differences between these detention policies and those erected by President Bush." - TPM
posted by Joe Beese at 9:42 AM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just a little speculation- I can see it being very difficult for the new administration to get an accurate picture of what has been- and is going on at GITMO and other facilities. The military and the CIA are without a doubt working very hard to protect their own right now, and it seems like they did a pretty thorough job of making sure very little evidence to the extent of their wrongdoings will ever come to light.
posted by ryaninoakland at 9:50 AM on May 22, 2009


Obama-Franco. A distinction without a difference.
posted by found missing at 9:51 AM on May 22, 2009


I was watching the movie Yamato (previously) again last night. If you don't know the story, it's based on an actual historic event. The Japanese empire, towards the end of the Second World War, was one step closer to doom with each passing day. The battleship Yamato - at the time the largest in the world - was given orders to sail to Okinawa with only enough fuel to get there, unload their arsenal, and perish.

Towards the final, climatic scene of the movie, the boat is just about to leave the harbor for what amounts to a suicide mission. Some of the officers are arguing with each other about the mission. Why are we going on this mission when Japan is as good as defeated anyway? some said. What good is our defeat going to do? One senior officer addresses the men, and said something that hit me like a bolt of lightning, and in a flash, everything about America's future made sense to me:
Nippon has neglected the idea of progress. Spirituality has been valued above anything else. Without progress nothing prospers. History shows us. The Satsuma and the Choshu clans were defeated by modern weapons. So they dropped isolationism bought guns and beat the Shogunate. Defeat brings understanding. That's the only way Japan can be helped. Achieve understanding today and Japan will be saved. We are pioneers in the rebirth of our nation.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:05 AM on May 22, 2009 [6 favorites]


You may be right, Marisa. The U.S. has been wrong, but we have yet to be humbled, and maybe we need that.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:14 AM on May 22, 2009


Despite President Barack Obama’s publicized pledge to close the prison camp and end torture – and analysis from human rights lawyers who call these forces’ actions illegal – IRFs remain very much active at Guantánamo.

I like how this "little-known group" that allegedly "remains active" is characterized as "Obama's Thug Squad," even though all the specific allegations of abuse made in the Spanish courts and elsewhere about the group relate to abuses alleged to have taken place under the old administration.

Okay, let's unpack this overstuffed bag.

So the group is "still active." But what does that mean? It means GITMO like any other prison facility in existence has a small dedicated guard unit whose function is to respond to extraordinary security situations involving detainees, like detainee riots or violence.

The fact that this small guard unit was engaged in abuses back when abuse was endemic throughout the military command structure under Bush shouldn't be surprising; it doesn't demonstrate that their behaviors haven't since been reigned in. And I don't see any actual evidence of ongoing abuse, nor even a definitive claim that the abuse is still ongoing. All I see here is a vague claim that the group still exists and remains on duty.

Well, duh. Prisons have to have emergency response guard units. If they had replaced all the former personnel (which I can't even tell if they did or not from these crappy accounts) and had changed the name of the guard unit, they'd probably now stand accused of whitewashing the fact that the thug squad still exists according to kind of flexible logic being used here to gin this up into a scandal.

From the second link:
According to Gen. Miller's memo: "The physical security of U.S. forces and detainees in U.S. care is paramount. Use the minimum force necessary for mission accomplishment and force protection ... Use of the IRF team and levels of force are not to be used as a method of punishment."

But human rights lawyers, former prisoners and former IRF team members with extensive experience at Guantánamo paint a very different picture of the role these teams played.
Nowhere in any of these articles are any solid charges made of continuing abuses by this guard unit. Nor is there any evidence of Obama having established or approved of the guard unit. And yet, it's labeled "Obama's Thug Squad."

But where is the real story here? Convince me this is not just part of the right's current full-throttle smear-campaign intended to undermine President Obama's moral high-ground and thwart his push against the previous administration's torture policies? Surely, you can't think it's coincidence that all these stories are coming to light just in time to coincide with Cheney's defense of torture and the Republican congress' push to discredit congressional dems on torture?

Guess what? The entire army carried out serious abuses in the past, and it still exists and remains active, too.

Show me any reason to see this as "Obama's Thug Squad" or any real evidence that the abuses by the guard unit are ongoing. And evidence doesn't include people speculating or commenting on how it's very likely. Evidence means actual direct evidence of current abuses.

Until I see that, I have no choice but to lump this in with all the other CATO institute propaganda and all the rest of the current flood of obstructionist disinformation that some well-intentioned but politically unsophisticated human rights crusaders are swallowing hook-line-and-sinker, unwittingly working to obstruct progress on their own causes.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on May 22, 2009 [12 favorites]


Agree with saulgoodman--this is the last defense of the Bushies: the other guys are dirty, too. See also: Nancy Pelosi and waterboarding, Clinton and 9/11.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:28 AM on May 22, 2009


Evidence means actual direct evidence of current abuses.

Yeah keep waiting for that irrefutable evidence. Obama's already got a great record for letting that stuff out.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 10:33 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just for reference this is what a cell extraction (graphic) looks like in a mainland state prison while cameras are running, so even if this is just a "cell extraction team" you can imagine what is going on behind the closed doors of gitmo. In fact here's an IRF training video.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:34 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


You fools. The lack of evidence is irrefutable evidence in itself.
posted by found missing at 10:35 AM on May 22, 2009


Okay, I see that I missed some of the more recent claims about IRF abuses shortly after President Obama's inauguration toward the end of the second article. But its notable that those claims chiefly come from defense attorneys representing clients currently in custody, and that even the article acknowledges, the president's executive order unambiguously:

"[requires] 'humane standards of confinement' in accordance with the Geneva Conventions."

If there are still cases in which the military are failing to comply with the letter and intent of the executive order, then that's a problem with a breakdown in discipline or the command structure of the military, not the president's policy. It should be investigated, if there's any substance to the charges, but that still doesn't make whatever ongoing abuses are occurring in any sense part of a deliberate policy of the current administration as the hyping of this group as "Obama's Thug Squad" is clearly meant to do.

You know, I can see how some of you probably thinks it okay to skew the facts this way to unfairly misrepresent the extent of the presidents approval or complicity in these kinds of abuses, in order to "hold his feet to the fire" or whatever, but in fact, all you're really doing is making it harder for the president to successfully achieve the policy reforms you mean to be pushing for, because it undermines the credibility of current and future efforts the president undertakes to address these problems as new information comes out. That's why Cheney's been shooting off his mouth recently about Obama secretly wanting to preserve the right to torture: Not because he really believes it, but because he's savvy enough to know that if there's a perception it's true, more people will receive the president's efforts to right these wrongs with skepticism and the president will find himself unable to build the political momentum needed to push any substantive actions through.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:52 AM on May 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


damn. "it's notable." i'm so glad i'm leaving on vacation soon.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:08 AM on May 22, 2009


I can see it being very difficult for the new administration to get an accurate picture of what has been- and is going on at GITMO and other facilities. The military and the CIA are without a doubt working very hard to protect their own right now, and it seems like they did a pretty thorough job of making sure very little evidence to the extent of their wrongdoings will ever come to light.

Oh, terrific. It's not that President Obama is involved in any of this, it's just that he isn't able to figure out or get a grip on what his own people are doing!

I can see why that's a much more appealing line of thought.
posted by lullaby at 11:09 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why would president obama "be involved" with the day-to-day actions of a five or six member guard unit in any case? It just doesn't make sense to see a connection of any kind to the president in particular.

Now, if you want to argue that some of the personnel who've served in the guard unit should be investigated for abuses, then fine, that probably makes sense. But the military isn't going to simply do away with a standard practice of utilizing this kind of emergency response guard unit just because particular personnel within the unit committed abuses in the past--even if they were committing them as recently as just prior to President Obama's executive order. It's not like President Obama established or specifically endorses this particular standard military policy. The military does have independent authority to run its operations as it sees fit.

The whole business of how this is being framed is just bizarre.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:23 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]



You may be right, Marisa. The U.S. has been wrong, but we have yet to be humbled, and maybe we need that.


Would that shame and humility led to real introspection and change in this countries deep civic and political cuture - I'm not refering to the figurehead, who's at least talking the talk.

I fear that all humiliation will lead to is more knee jerk responses.
posted by lalochezia at 11:24 AM on May 22, 2009


I fear that all humiliation will lead to is more knee jerk responses.

Germany got "humbled" once. The outcome was not so good.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:26 AM on May 22, 2009


Well, there's humbling someone, and then there's grinding their faces into a bucket of broken glass. Powers that overstep their boundaries, repeatedly, sow the seeds of their own downfall through sheer hubris. We could very well change our attitude and dial it down, make friends, try not to push everyone around so much. There are signs that might be happening. But historically, global powers seldom humble themselves on their own accord.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:31 AM on May 22, 2009


“I like how this "little-known group" that allegedly "remains active" is characterized as "Obama's Thug Squad," even though all the specific allegations of abuse made in the Spanish courts and elsewhere about the group relate to abuses alleged to have taken place under the old administration.”

Well, people would be more forgiving if the coming Obama presidency hadn’t dragged the country into a recession in the six years preceding.

“Oh, terrific. It's not that President Obama is involved in any of this, it's just that he isn't able to figure out or get a grip on what his own people are doing! I can see why that's a much more appealing line of thought”

Yeah, just because they lied to congress, why would they try to conceal anything from the Obama administration.
What, you think these power blocs are just automatons that turn on a dime to the new order? That there aren’t competing interests within the government? Even quasi government organizations? With perhaps their own agendas?
Yeah, that Dick Cheney – no power or influence at all. He’d so much rather be fly fishing, but he just somehow stumbles on to t.v. Lord knows why they let him on there. Can't be any real tangible reason like he's got some juice or something.

How many times to I have to say this? The fight didn’t stop when Obama got elected -only thing that happened was the old administration is out of the way and this guy doesn’t have a set in stone system of influence to obstruct us from getting some real work done. And he’s dependant on grassroots fundraising. The participatory part of democracy is a feature, not a bug. Obama’s win was just the beginning. Just means now all the sweat is maybe worth something as opposed to just fighting Bushco.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:38 AM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


What, you think these power blocs are just automatons that turn on a dime to the new order?

Anyone else remember when Clinton got elected and some military leaders showed their sour grapes by implying that Clinton might not have the same level of security while touring a military base that other Commanders-in-Chief had enjoyed?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:51 AM on May 22, 2009


Sorry, bad memory, it wasn't military leaders it was Jesse Helms.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:53 AM on May 22, 2009


the last defense of the Bushies: the other guys are dirty, too.

I pitched this before, and I'll pitch it again - open hearing to find out who's done what with who's help, when they did it and why. Then with the mountain of evidence - laws and regulation can be passed to prevent the abuse in the future.

Offer up full amnesty for the confessors, full punishment for the named in the confessions. Such a circus would smother all talk about the economy.

The hearing over Nixon brought in the sunshine laws. A hearing over the dirt of both parties ought to have some great laws as a reaction.
posted by rough ashlar at 12:10 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why would president obama "be involved" with the day-to-day actions of a five or six member guard unit in any case?

It's not like I'm talking about knowing what they ate for breakfast. IF abuses are continuing (and I agree with you above that this is an 'if'), then I don't find the thought of "maybe Obama doesn't know anything that's going on at Guantanamo because the CIA/military are covering it up" to be at all comforting.
posted by lullaby at 12:15 PM on May 22, 2009


then I don't find the thought of "maybe Obama doesn't know anything that's going on at Guantanamo because the CIA/military are covering it up" to be at all comforting.

You're right. It's not. In fact, the extent to which the CIA and military have been seemingly unwilling to play square with the civilian political leadership over the last couple of decades really is a little scary.

But I don't think this is one of those kinds of issues. The existence of this unit is nothing special or controversial. As pointed out up-thread, ordinary civilian prisons have exactly the same kind of emergency response guard units, too.

It's a little more like this: An emergency response guard unit in a California state maximum security prison is accused of abusing inmates, largely on the basis of abuses that certain guard personnel committed while governor Gray Davis was in office.

Only now, a report comes out in which some attorneys representing prisoners at the facility claim that these abuses are still ongoing.

Does it make any sense whatsoever to dub that prison guard unit "Schwarzenegger's Thug Squad"? Or to think that Schwarzenegger should have a better handle on his people? Not to me.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:51 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Saul, I'm getting your point that maybe Amy and Democracy Now could be being set up and this is another reason why some openness and transparency is so desperately required. I don't agree with the headlines - that's just journalistic shrillness to get eyes on the page. I can believe though that the rogue element is working with unstated approval. I am still vaguely hopeful for some kind of Truth commission but I see it will be difficult especially as Cheney left at least one "stay behind". Obama is being held responsible because what is happening now is happening on his watch in spite of it also being an inherited problem.
posted by adamvasco at 12:59 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obama Thug Squad
I stopped reading there. anyone writing that about obama at this point is clearly just hoping to do an anne coulter on us.

prickish, assholisch, shoddy writing.
posted by krautland at 1:22 PM on May 22, 2009


adamvasco: And it's reasonable and legitimate to push for these alleged abuses to get more scrutiny--and even to pressure the president himself to exert more influence toward that end. But doing so in a way that simultaneously undermines the president's credibility and moral authority on these issues IMO actually makes it harder for him to exert the kind of political pressure that's needed (and his support is definitely needed because, whatever his shortcomings, he's still the strongest ally the human rights side has got in Washington, in light of congress' demonstrated reluctance to throw full support behind even the most carefully measured steps to address these kinds of issues).
posted by saulgoodman at 1:25 PM on May 22, 2009


The terminology is a little confusing here. An Immediate Reaction Force is a temporary role (not a unit) in the US military. If you have a sizable post of any kind in foreign territory, you have an IRF. You take a squad or platoon and keep them suited up, weapons at hand, and ready to respond to any threats. It may be that IRF became a specialized unit at Guantanamo, but ordinarily soldiers rotate through shifts on the IRF, like you would for guard duty.

At Guantanamo, you can see how you'd call in your IRF to handle prisoner unruliness, but that's not why you have an IRF in the first place.

Prisoner abuse is inhuman and contrary to America's ideals. However, this sloppy reporting implies that brownshirt units were setup to beat up prisoners, and the evidence doesn't support that conclusion.
posted by Nahum Tate at 1:36 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the further clarification Nahum Tate.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:41 PM on May 22, 2009


saulgoodman Germany got "humbled" once. The outcome was not so good.

It seems to have worked the second time.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:44 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


A little more about the IRF or ‘Extreme Repression Force’. The IRF team would rush in to a cell and slam the detainee to the ground, at which point, in the majority of cases, the soldiers would also strike or kick the detainee. I witnessed this happen several times. See also Still in Violation of the Law (pdf 23 Feb 2009) I don't think this IRF is quite your usual rapid reaction force as portrayed upthread. Guantanamo and the military behaviour there is a cancer on your society. Forget the shitty reporting, ignore the republican flimflam and concentrate on the cancer at the core; anything else is appeasement. To me as an outsider it seems incredible that the US cannot and will not see what has / is happening. Don't you all find it rather strange that the main investigation so far is coming from a different country?
posted by adamvasco at 2:17 PM on May 22, 2009


I think we're being humbled. You don't need to be handed a military defeat to get a wake up call.
In fact, in the case of the U.S., it’s probably preferable. Vietnam was a cold splash of reality, but no one took any really lasting lessons from that (the military did, but you have civilian control of the military – which is an absolute necessity – but this excursion in Iraq is the same sort of shit in a different decade so what good is it if you know better, but have to do it anyway?).
Being outfought isn’t much of an option. And I suspect we would use nuclear weapons before we’d stand to be invaded on our own soil. And who bells the cat? Now, and in the forseeable future -no one can afford that or can bring that kind of power to bear. Hell, we couldn't afford to fight ourselves (which is essentially what's happening on the broad scale).

With what’s happening with the economy, and the shunning we took over our foreign policy the last 8 years, I think that’s starting to shake people up.

Remains to be seen if we maintain the trend. God I hope so. We can’t afford these crazed excursions into radical naval gazing foreign policy backed by economic bull in a china shop (riff int’d) social engineering. Reality isn’t cut to fit. We’ve had the luxury to ignore that for a looong time. That part? Yeah, it’s over.
Maybe less a need for humility per se, more a need to grow out of adolescent fantasy. We are a young country after all. Been acting like teenagers for a while.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:21 PM on May 22, 2009


adamvasco: " Don't you all find it rather strange that the main investigation so far is coming from a different country?"

I find it strange that Obama wants to "construct a legitimate legal framework" for prosecuting American torturees.

Cause, you know, we already have one.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:27 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I fear that all humiliation will lead to is more knee jerk responses.
Germany got "humbled" once. The outcome was not so good.

'struth: they then engaged in a second World War. And, hey, wasn't that Prescott Bush guy involved with the perps? How many of the Bush-Cheney Administration and etc have connections back to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party? Just Bush, or are there others?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:39 PM on May 22, 2009




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