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    American Torture Accountability: New York Times Letter to the Editor

    Sunday, December 21st, 2014

    OPI wrote a letter to the New York Times that was published this week amid renewed debate sparked by the declassified summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture. While the Senate investigation was limited in scope (it did not address who ordered what and only looked at actions by the CIA, not DoD), the release of the 500-page executive summary (of the 6,000 page report) is a positive step in America’s extremely slow reckoning with what went on in the days after the 9/11 attacks in the name of national security.

    I was surprised by one of the torture techniques named (it included hummus, wow) and was impressed with the timeline uncovered on how torture spread from its use on one CIA detainee, to more than 100 (over a quarter of which were innocent bystanders, not like that makes it OK for the others, but just saying). Also surprising was the level faith the agency placed in James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, reflected in, among other things, their $180 million contract. What wasn’t surprising, sadly, was the subsequent public defense (offense?) of torture mounted by Cheney, Bush-era OLC lawyers, and senior-level CIA officials. Their diatribes did the trick: US public approval of torture ostensibly remained steady – about 50% of Americans polled think CIA torture was justified. Thus the most frustrating part about this recent cycle of the torture debate: the lack of accountability, or seemingly any appetite for it.

    Historical distance does sharpen calls for justice. Brazil’s National Truth Commission report, released one day after the summary of the Senate report, looked at human rights abuse committed during the 1964-1985 dictatorship following a US-backed coup. It named 377 perpetrators by name (100 of which are still alive), called for the repeal of a sweeping 1979 amnesty law that has blocked prosecution, and among other achievements, highlighted America’s role in training Brazilian torturers at the School of the Americas. (For a look at the SOA material taught, click here.)

    Time will no doubt yield deeper insights into US use of torture, and broader calls for prosecution. For now, the torturers and those who directed them will continue to walk among us. And I – and many others – will continue to call for justice.

    To the Editor:

    Architects of C.I.A. Interrogation Drew on Psychology to Induce ‘Helplessness’” (news article, Dec. 11) does not mention a critical detail: so-called debility, dependency and dread techniques outlined in Cold War-era C.I.A. interrogation manuals were first used by the agency within the United States.

    Yuri Nosenko was a Soviet defector held by the C.I.A. from 1964 to 1967 — 1,277 days in total. Following strict D.D.D. protocol outlined in the 1963 Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual (a predecessor to the 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual cited in your article), C.I.A. interrogators isolated Mr. Nosenko in a cramped vault. Earphones strapped to his head blasted noise 23 hours a day.

    Mr. Nosenko broke — he experienced terrifying hallucinations — but never admitted to being a double agent. Richard Helms, then the C.I.A.’s assistant deputy director for plans, later testified that the detention was “deplorable, but nevertheless we were doing our best.”

    Sound familiar? A failure to legislate a ban on inhumane and counterproductive D.D.D. torture and prosecute officials who authorize its use ensures that lessons from the past will remain unheeded — and will repeat.


    New York, Dec. 15, 2014

    The writer is the author of “American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond.”

    Men Advocating Real Change – Part III

    Friday, June 21st, 2013

    Now more than one year old, Men Advocating Real Change continues to make headlines. Recent clips include:

    The Huffington Post:

    Somewhere online men are talking about workplace equality. Not snidely or resentfully, but by story-telling and sharing advice in the same way as women do in their networks. Catalyst, the women’s advocacy group, has set up a website to allow this to happen. Participants are 70 per cent male, though women aren’t barred, and the age range is surprisingly diverse.

    Why should men wish to discuss ‘women’s issues’? Because they are now everybody’s issues.

    Today, the main workplace debate is often about ‘work-life’ and family, and these have no gender bias. At a recent gathering of senior businesswomen, one of the main topics of discussion focused on how to engage men in both parental responsibilities and in the promotion of more flexible workplace arrangements. Men need to be part of this conversation.

    “Women Leaders: For Workplace Equality, Engage the Men,” Neela Bettridge, Huffington Post, 6/14/13

    The Broad Experience:

    I realized it had been a while since I’d featured any men on The Broad Experience, and it was time to change that. So I rounded up three guys who spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between the sexes, particularly when it comes to the workplace: organizational behavior professor Martin Davidson, sociology professor and author Michael Kimmel, and Mike Otterman, who runs the Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) initiative at Catalyst.

    The Broad Experience, Episode 20: The Man Show, Ashley Milne-Tyte, 6/10/13

    And Peace X Peace:

    Women earn less and progress more slowly up the corporate ladder than equally skilled men. So how do we close workplace gender gaps?

    Almost a year ago, Catalyst launched MARC—Men Advocating Real Change—a virtual community for men committed to workplace equality and inclusion. We launched MARC because we believe that men have a critical role to play in creating more equal workplaces, yet we learned from our research that men don’t always feel there’s a space for them to engage with each other, and with women, in tackling gender inequalities in the workplace. Very often, and with good intentions, organizations focus solely on women’s experiences—and the result is that gender gaps come to be seen as just a women’s issue, best addressed by women. With MARC we are changing all this: we’ve built a community where members can explore gender from men’s perspectives and be empowered to establish better partnerships both within and across gender lines. With more than 17,000 visits to the site and more than 500 members from around the world, the idea seems to be catching on. So far we’ve published more than 100 blog posts from experts around the world committed to fostering gender equality in the workplace.

    “Why Many Men Don’t Embrace Equality…Yet,” Jeanine Prime & Mike Otterman, Peace X Peace, 2/28/13


    Men Advocating Real Change – Part II

    Friday, April 20th, 2012

    News about Men Advocating Real Change continues. Here’s an article for the Atlantic I wrote with Jeanine Prime:

    Most guys get that equality programs — things like flexible work arrangements, mentoring programs, on-site childcare, and legislative solutions for equal pay — are good for women and men. They support equality, not just because they care about women, but because they recognize it’s in their own interests. […]

    To foster an environment where men can build better relationships, personal fulfillment and financial security, more and more guys are joining initiatives like The Good Men Project and more recently, Men Advocating Real Change or MARC (Full disclosure: Mike Otterman and Jeanine Prime are MARC’s community managers.) These online movements connect and amplify the “good guys” and give men who “get it” greater voice and visibility. Plus, they create a platform for men to stand up to those who call for a return to our Mad Men past.

    Supporting equality does not mean the end of men. It is not a zero-sum game. Scaling back initiatives that foster workplace equality is not only anti-women, but anti-men too.

    And this is a recent radio interview we conducted with Ashley Milne-Tyte:

    And a shout-out in HuffPo from Olympic Ski Medalist (!) Bonnie St. John:

    Catalyst, the 50-year-old premiere nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business, is reaching beyond North America and Europe with a new office in India, increased partnerships with their counterparts in Japan, South Africa and Australia and plans to continue connecting the web of global knowledge and action. Perhaps even more revolutionary is their new organization to involve men: MARC, Men Advocating Real Change. This exciting innovation provides men with a platform talk about how to help with women’s leadership issues, as well as discuss their frustrations and challenges.

    Men Advocating Real Change

    Sunday, April 8th, 2012

    Have a look at some of the recent coverage of Men Advocating Real Change – a new Catalyst initiative to draw men into issues of gender equality. I’ve built this community with Jeanine Prime:

    Globe and Mail, 4/6/12:

    Catalyst, a New York-based, not-for-profit organization promoting women in business, last week launched an online project called Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) to involve men in this conversation. It includes a community of male bloggers from around the world, although it doesn’t have a Canadian contributor yet. A few noteworthy executives have joined, including Michael Dell, founder and chief executive of Dell Inc.

    “It’s a safe space for guys to ask questions without fears of embarrassment or looking like a sexist,” said MARC’s community manager Mike Otterman, who helped conceive of the project with Jeanine Prime, vice-president of research at Catalyst. One reason men may be reluctant to take part in the discourse may be that it challenges traditional perceptions of masculinity.

    Dr. Prime, who has a doctorate in social psychology, suggests that the best way to frame the dialogue is to suggest that men who support gender equality are, by definition, strong men.“By creating a community of men who care about equality, we demonstrate explicitly that gender equality is an issue that real men think and care about,” she said.

    Evolved Employer, 4/4/12:

    Otterman explained how the organization’s research showed that when many men hear the word “gender,” they tune out, thinking it’s a women’s issue or that it’s just not for them. Prime explained, “We need to be working with men in a wider sense.” Not just senior men, she continued – the group wants to work with men at mid and emerging levels as well. “The leaders of tomorrow, we need to be engaging them,” she said.

    In addition to hosting real world events, MARC is an online forum for men to talk about gender issues, share best practices and tools, and talk about how they can get involved in driving gender equity.

    Prime said, “Our research showed that men are really swayed by other men – we really want to engage men to be ready to be advocates.”

    Many men are uncomfortable talking about gender issues with friends and colleagues – but the website will provide conversation starters and the vocabulary that might be helpful for men working toward gender equity in the workplace. She continued, “Men who get it aren’t quite sure how to talk to friends – this way, they can say, ‘look at this.’”

    Otterman explained, “We’re creating a vocabulary and we want to help leverage and amplify the good guys. One of our main messages is that it’s not enough to be a good guy and go about your day.”

    “For some guys, there’s a fear of judgment. We want to make this mainstream.

    The Glass Hammer, 4/3/12:

    Catalyst is launching its new social network for men, MARC (Men Advocating Real Change). Rather than excluding men from the diversity conversation, the organization realized it could get more traction around diversity by engaging men who can be champions of the movement.

    Mike Otterman, Social Media Manager at Catalyst, explained how research showed that when many men hear the word “gender,” they tune out, thinking it’s a women’s issue or that it’s just not for them. Jeanine Prime, PhD, VP of Research at Catalyst, explained, “We need to be working with men in a wider sense.” Not just senior men, she continued – the group wants to work with men at mid and emerging levels as well. “The leaders of tomorrow, we need to be engaging them,” she said.


    Ten Years Later

    Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

    I was recently asked by my US publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, to reflect on the so-called 9/11 decade. My submission is reproduced below:

    The Human Costs

     by Michael Otterman

    In Seida Zeinab, a hardscrabble Damascus suburb that hosts hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, a man approached me with a photograph.

    “My son,” he said, pinching a tattered blue wallet containing a small, frayed headshot of a small boy no more than three-years-old. “He was kidnapped,” he added, hands shaking. “Can you help me?”

    I often think about this Iraqi man. His son disappeared in the darkest days of the post US-invasion chaos, and the man left Iraq soon after. What has become of them? Were they ever reunited? Is his son alive?

    Any honest accounting of the post-9/11 era must consider the human costs of US aggression in Iraq. The 2003 invasion—conceived by Bush Administration officials hours after the attacks on September 11 and a centerpiece of the so-called “Freedom Agenda”—wrought incalculable suffering to a society already hollowed out by a decade of brutal US-led sanctions and the ravages of the first Gulf War.

    Millions of Iraqis are now dead and displaced. Entire religious groups face extinction. Thousands of priceless artifacts from Baghdad Museum are lost. State institutions remain in disarray, political factions split along sectarian divides. Sociocide, the destruction of an entire way of life, is the only apt term to describe this level of decimation.

    And for what?

    “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil,” said Alan Greenspan, long-time head of the US Federal Reserve, succinctly summing up the true motives behind the invasion.

    Yet in the lead-up and initial aftermath of the war, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other top officials made at least 935 demonstrably false statements on 532 separate occasions about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The fact that 69% of Americans falsely believed that Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks—even six months after the invasion took place—shows the power of misinformation to build a consensus for illegal wars of aggression.

    Al Qaeda did not operate in Iraq prior to 2003—but they do now. “We have men who have divorced themselves from life and love death more than you love life, and killing is one of their wishes,” said a spokesman for Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia following a day of spectacular carnage in August 2011 that left 89 people dead across the country. So far, more than 2000 civilians have been killed in 2011 in a country, which at time of writing, still hosts roughly 46,000 US troops and 64,000 private contractors—an occupation that has cost at least $869 billion and 4474 American soldiers’ lives thus far.

    American mainstream media attention of Iraq has dropped to less than 1% of the daily news, yet for Iraqis like the ones I met in Syria, the ravages of the US-led invasion are an ever-present reality.

    What did I tell the man who asked me to find his son?

    As a journalist visiting Syria to research the plight of Iraqi refugees, no, I said, I couldn’t help him directly. But I did pledge to share his story—and that of the destruction of Iraq following 9/11—with the rest of the world.

    Erasing Iraq in Daily Kos and Lanka Gazette

    Saturday, February 19th, 2011

    As the 8th anniversary of the 2003 US invasion looms, outspoken and prolific activist, David Swanson, author of War Is A Lie and Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, discusses Erasing Iraq in Daily Kos. He writes:

    I can’t recommend highly enough a new book called “Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage,” by Michael Otterman and Richard Hill with Paul Wilson, with a foreword by Dahr Jamail. This comprehensive survey of the damage puts the past eight years into the context of other aggressive acts of imperialism and finds Operation Iraqi Liberation (to stick to its original name) a stand-out, in large part because of the Bush-Cheney regime’s attempt to create a neocon corporate economy from scratch in Baghdad, a project that required erasing everything that had been there before. The book’s greatest contribution lies in humanizing the suffering and providing us with the viewpoints — a wide spectrum of viewpoints — of Iraqis, including Iraqi refugees living outside Iraq, the vast majority of whom have not yet returned and many of whom have decided they never will. These are people, 100% of whom — judging by a 2007 UNHCR survey of 754 Iraqis in Syria — had experienced bombings, shootings, interrogations, harassment by militias, and/or torture.

    The authors of “Erasing Iraq” interviewed Iraqis as far afield as Sweden and Australia: “Every Iraqi we spoke with reported similar events: houses bombed, possessions lost, children kidnapped, lives destroyed. ‘Americans — when they hear one shot — even if it’s like 10 kilometers away — they’ll just open fire on everything,’ said Laith as he lit a cigarette with the small red heating coils warming his cramped two-room house in East Amman, Jordan.” […]

    “Erasing Iraq” quotes Iraqi bloggers and interviewed Iraqis, giving personalities to people who have indeed been effectively erased. How many Americans even know that millions of Iraqis have had to flee the hell of their “liberation”? The U.S. media has self-censored almost all reporting on Iraqi suffering that has not been censored by the military, and polls of Americans have found approval for such censorship. Americans, along with Donald Rumsfeld, want to not know, and to not know what they do not know.



    Swanson’s review of Erasing Iraq was referenced days later in the Lanka Gazette.

    Best (Overlooked!) Book of 2010

    Friday, January 14th, 2011

    Just got word that Erasing Iraq ranked among the best overlooked books of 2010 by Inside Story. It was selected by Sara Dowse, who chaired a memorable Sydney Writers Fest event on Erasing Iraq last year. In Inside Story, Dowse wrote:

    Iraq isn’t in the news much now – we’ve been there, done that. And though it’s generally agreed that the invasion was a grievous mistake, there isn’t much interest in the extent of the damage. By 2009-10, according to Michael Otterman, Richard Hil and Paul Wilson’s Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage, over a million Iraqi citizens had been killed, over three million injured, over a million women widowed and five million children orphaned. The destruction of the country’s civil society, its economy and cultural heritage has been incalculable, though it’s been estimated that rebuilding its infrastructure alone could run into the trillions of dollars. Compulsory reading of Erasing Iraq, a thorough investigation of all aspects of its suffering, published by Pluto Press with the help of Australia’s Plumbing Trades Employee Union, just might give governments and their media claqueurs pause before we bloody our hands again. But that’s the optimist in me speaking – Wikileaks has already exposed the military’s doubts about winning the war in Afghanistan. Not to mention the “collateral damage” from our efforts in that country too.