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Archive for April 21st, 2009

Plans to torture made before Senate approval

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A story in the Washington Post:

Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods — and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded.

Previously secret memos and interviews show CIA and Pentagon officials exploring ways to break Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods, investigators found.

The findings are contained in a Senate Armed Services Committee report scheduled for release today that also documents multiple warnings — from legal and trained interrogation experts — that the techniques could backfire and might violate U.S. and international law.

One Army lieutenant colonel who reviewed the program warned in 2002 that coercion "usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain," according to the Senate report. A second official, briefed on plans to use aggressive techniques on detainees, was quoted the same year as asking: "Wouldn’t that be illegal?"
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Once they were accepted, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations not only in CIA secret prisons, but also in Defense Department internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said…

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2009 at 8:19 pm

More details spilling out

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Two stories just posted in the NY Times:

In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Past Use:

The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said…

Continue reading. And there’s also this story:

Report Gives New Detail on Approval of Brutal Techniques:

A newly declassified Congressional report released Tuesday outlined the most detailed evidence yet that the military’s use of harsh interrogation methods on terrorism suspects was approved at high levels of the Bush administration.

The report focused solely on interrogations carried out by the military, not those conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency at its secret prisons overseas. It rejected claims by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others that Pentagon policies played no role in harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or other military facilities.

The 232-page report, the product of an 18-month inquiry, was approved on Nov. 20 by the Senate Armed Services Committee, but has since been under Pentagon review for declassification. Some of the findings were made public in a Dec. 12 article in The New York Times; a spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed the report at the time as “unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation.”

The Senate report documented how some of the techniques used by the military at prisons in Afghanistan and at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as in Iraq — stripping detainees, placing them in “stress positions” or depriving them of sleep — originated in a military program known as Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape, or SERE, intended to train American troops to resist abusive enemy interrogations.

According to the Senate investigation, a military behavioral scientist and a colleague who had witnessed SERE training proposed its use at Guantánamo in October 2002, as pressure was rising “to get ‘tougher’ with detainee interrogations.” Officers there sought authorization, and Mr. Rumsfeld approved 15 interrogation techniques.

The report showed that Mr. Rumsfeld’s authorization was  …

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2009 at 8:00 pm

Why I want Dianne Feinstein out of the Senate

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And, if possible, out of politics altogether. The Associated Press:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., offered to help the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. secure federal funds last year, just days before the agency awarded a contract to Feinstein’s husband’s firm in the housing foreclosure crisis.

Under FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair, the contract went to CB Richard Ellis Group, the biggest commercial real estate services company in the world. The Washington Times first reported details of the deal Tuesday…

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2009 at 6:17 pm

EPA proposes cuts in mercury emissions from cement plants

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This is definitely a step in the right direction. Already our marine food supply is heavily contaminated with mercury. Renee Schoof reports for McClatchy:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday called for the nation’s first limits on mercury emissions from the more than 100 cement factories across the U.S.

The proposed new rule would require cement kilns to add pollution controls that would reduce mercury emissions by 81 percent by 2013. The rule also would reduce emissions of soot, hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid and sulfur dioxide from the production of cement.

Mercury is contained in the raw material used in kilns and in the coal used for power. Once released into the air, mercury travels over wide distances and settles in soil and water. People are exposed to mercury mainly from eating contaminated fish.

The toxin can damage the brain and nervous system and is especially dangerous to fetuses and small children.

Environmental groups sued the EPA over a decade ago to try to force it to impose the emissions controls. The agency agreed to set new standards in court documents last year. It announced the new regulations late Tuesday.

A report by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, which was involved in the cases, said that the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. is in Midlothian, Texas. Other plants are scattered around the country.

The EPA said in a statement that cement kilns were the fourth largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. In addition to setting the first limits on mercury from existing kilns, the new rules also would tighten the limits for new kilns, it said.

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2009 at 6:11 pm

Interesting development in Dept of Agriculture

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Eddie Gehman Kohan notes in Obama Foodorama:

The USDA has tragically and historically had a series of racially discriminatory policies in place, which the President and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have pledged to address. Black farmers in particular have endured decades of economic discrimination from USDA policies, and have entered into a series of lawsuits and class action suits to address financial inequities. The most high-profile of these, known as the Pigford lawsuit, was settled in 1999, and the government paid out close to $1 billion in damages on 16,000 claims. But lawyers, activist groups, and farmers have worked for years to reopen the case, because many black and small farmers missed the deadline for filing; the deadline was swift, and many weren’t even aware that they could file. Dr. John W. Boyd, Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, has been leading the charge to reopen Pigford.

In August of 2007, he scored an important ally: Then-candidate Obama, while still an Illinois Senator, introduced Pigford legislation, which was incorporated into the 2008 Farm Bill. The costs were potentially huge: With an estimated 65,000 further claims pending, ultimate USDA payouts could be as much as $2 or 3 billion. (Photo above: Dr. Boyd meeting with then-candidate Obama, in May of 2008)

But of course, further payouts have been mired in the current budget considerations and, well, politics. Now that Mr. Obama is President, and working hard to re-boot the economy, the landscape for economic reparations has changed. Secretary Vilsack has said he’ll work with the Department of Justice to redress the economic issue, and today, White House budget spokesman Kenneth Baer went on the record with the AP to send out reassurances on the issue: "The president has been a leader on this issue since his days as a U.S. senator and is deeply committed to closing this painful chapter in our history."

The National Black Farmers Association isn’t waiting any longer, however. On March 28, they’re holding a rally at USDA headquarters on the National Mall, to call on President Obama and Secretary Vilsack to help rapidly seed change by paying out USDA funds. Dr. Boyd will speak, and a big turn out is expected.

Discrimination, Civil Rights And USDA: Some Background

It’s worth noting that many of the discriminatory issues endured by black farmers go all the way back to the Civil War era. Since then, policies towards black farmers …

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2009 at 6:04 pm

Is Inhofe the stupidest Senator alive?

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Possibly “yes.” ThinkProgress:

Yesterday on the Senate floor, Sen. James Inhofe announced that he intended to filibuster Obama’s nomination of U.S. District Judge David Hamilton to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Inhofe’s announcement comes nearly three weeks after the Republican membership of the Senate Judiciary Committee boycotted Hamilton’s hearing claiming that “they had not been given sufficient time to prepare for the hearing.” Inhofe’s filibuster is surprising given the fact that Hamilton is generally viewed as representing “some of [Indiana’s] traditionally moderate strain.”

Inhofe does not appear to have explained his decision to filibuster in front of his colleagues on the floor of the Senate. But in statements that he entered into the Congressional Record, Inhofe cited a 2005 ruling in Hinrichs v. Bosman in which Hamilton found that the Indiana House of Representatives may open proceedings with “non-sectarian prayers” only. Inhofe called it “insane” that the ruling would allow payers to invoke the name of “Allah” but not “Jesus”:

INHOFE: Further, ruling on a postjudgment motion, Hamilton stated that invoking the name of “Allah” would not advance a particular religion or disparage another. So, praying to Allah would be perfectly acceptable. […]

I find this line of reasoning to be insane. Who in this body would not identify the name of “Allah” with the religion of Islam any less than they would identify the name of Jesus with Christianity?

But as Overruled notes, Hamilton’s ruling was not particularly novel. Rather, Hamilton was upholding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Marsh v. Chambers, which “held that legislatures can open their session with a non-sectarian prayer, and that such a prayer could invoke ‘God,'” as long as the prayer was not meant to “proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.”

Hamilton found that “sectarian content of the substantial majority of official prayers took the prayers outside the safe harbor the Supreme Court recognized for inclusive, non-sectarian legislative prayers in Marsh v. Chambers.” As Hamilton explained in a post-judgment ruling, “‘Allah’ is used for ‘God’ in Arabic” and as such should be permitted:

The Arabic word “Allah” is used for “God” in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures. If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.

If and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court.

Additionally, Inhofe’s vow to filibuster is surprising given his previous insistence that filibustering judicial nominees is “not only an illegitimate use of a senator’s power, but is also literally unconstitutional.” As Steve Benen notes, in 2003, “Inhofe went so far as to say any senator who would dare filibuster a judicial nominee would necessarily be violating their oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution.'”

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2009 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government, Law

Waterboarding is torture

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I have a commenter who asserts (without backing it up in any way) that waterboarding is not torture. I referred him to a column by Evan Wallach, a judge at the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York, who teaches the law of war as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School and New York Law School. The column includes:

he United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government — whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community — has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.

After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: "I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure." He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. "Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning," he replied, "just gasping between life and death."

Nielsen’s experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.

In this case from the tribunal’s records, the victim was a prisoner in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies:

A towel was fixed under the chin and down over the face. Then many buckets of water were poured into the towel so that the water gradually reached the mouth and rising further eventually also the nostrils, which resulted in his becoming unconscious and collapsing like a person drowned. This procedure was sometimes repeated 5-6 times in succession.

The United States (like Britain, Australia and other Allies) pursued lower-ranking Japanese war criminals in trials before their own tribunals. As a general rule, the testimony was similar to Nielsen’s. Consider this account from a Filipino waterboarding victim:

Q: Was it painful?

A: Not so painful, but one becomes unconscious. Like drowning in the water.

Q: Like you were drowning?

A: Drowning — you could hardly breathe.

Here’s the testimony of two Americans imprisoned by the Japanese:

They would lash me to a stretcher then prop me up against a table with my head down. They would then pour about two gallons of water from a pitcher into my nose and mouth until I lost consciousness.

And from the second prisoner: They laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. . . . They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was almost impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water.

As a result of such accounts, a number of Japanese prison-camp officers and guards were convicted of torture that clearly violated the laws of war. They were not the only defendants convicted in such cases. As far back as the U.S. occupation of the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for using the "water cure" to question Filipino guerrillas.

More recently, waterboarding cases have appeared in U.S. district courts. One was a civil action brought by several Filipinos seeking damages against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. The plaintiffs claimed they had been subjected to torture, including water torture. The court awarded $766 million in damages, noting in its findings that "the plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to . . . the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation."

In 1983, federal prosecutors charged a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies with violating prisoners’ civil rights by forcing confessions. The complaint alleged that the officers conspired to "subject prisoners to a suffocating water torture ordeal in order to coerce confessions. This generally included the placement of a towel over the nose and mouth of the prisoner and the pouring of water in the towel until the prisoner began to move, jerk, or otherwise indicate that he was suffocating and/or drowning."

The four defendants were convicted, and the sheriff was sentenced to 10 years in prison…

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2009 at 3:44 pm

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