Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
The US started down a wrong path years back, when it decided that laws no longer applied to it. We are reaping the harvest of many ill-considered decisions to embrace illegal actions. Matthew Schofield reports in McClatchy:
The breach in U.S.-German relations seemed likely to widen Friday after a joint German newspaper and television investigation titled “Secret War” reported that American intelligence and military use this nation for “tapping, code cracking, recruiting informants, observing suspects, kidnapping and abducting foreign enemies.”
What’s more, the reports added: “The Germans have known all that for years.”
The reports come at a time when German-U.S. relations have been taking a beating. In June, documents released by former National Security Agency consultant Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has spied on the electronic communications of tens of millions of Germans. In October, the news broke that the NSA had even been tapping the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for years, even before she became chancellor.
The resulting freefall in American popularity was tracked by a poll by national German public television station ARD. That poll showed that only 35 percent of Germans still see the United States as a good partner, down from 49 percent in July. The poll also found that 61 percent of Germans now see the United States as an untrustworthy partner and that 60 percent of Germans consider Snowden – who has been called a traitor by American officials – to be a hero. President Barack Obama’s star has fallen fast. In April 2010, 88 percent of Germans said they liked his politics; the new poll put that number at 43 percent.
The news organizations – the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and German public television station NDR, two of Germany’s most respected – say that the eight reports they published Friday were just the first of many that will come in the next few weeks.
To appreciate the scope and impact of just those installments, you don’t have to read even a word of the reports, or watch video reports. All you really have to do is take a look at the U.S. Embassy’s rebuttal, which was released within hours of the reports’ first publication.
The statement bluntly dismisses the reports.
“The article in today’s Sueddeutscher (sic) Zeitung, ‘The Secret War: Germany and the Role of America,’ is full of half-truths, speculation and innuendo,” the statement begins.
It goes on to note: “For many decades there have indeed been military facilities in Germany for our mutual security under Status of Forces Agreements, but the fact that they are closed to the public in no way implies that illegal activities are being organized there.”
And the statement goes after several of the stronger allegations in the series.
“Although we do not comment on specifics, as a matter of policy the United States does not engage in kidnapping and torture, and does not condone or support the resort to such illegal activities by any nation. Germany is one of the closest allies and partners of the United States, cooperating in areas ranging from counterterrorism to international economic sustainability. Outrageous claims like those raised in this article are not helpful to the German-American relationship and to our shared global agenda.”
The newspaper was unchastened: “The American Embassy also comments and rejects the reports as innuendo. They are stating the United States ‘are not kidnapping and torturing on principle.’ This is a daring claim. Only seven months ago a commission made up of Democrats and Republicans called it ‘undeniable’ that the United States tortured inmates following the terror attacks of 2001. Even President Barack Obama said in 2009 that the American practice of waterboarding was torture.”
The newspaper said almost 20 journalists had worked on the series, and that it was more than a year in the making.
The English-language version of the series begins:
“Tapping Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone would seem like an outrageous breach of trust – except that there have been so many other, deadlier and lesser-known, breaches of trust wrought by the U.S. in Germany in recent years. . .
A little tip for the American Embassy: Denials work much better if they do not contain (or consist of) falsehoods. The US quite clearly has committed kidnapping and torture, including kidnapping and torture of perfectly innocent people, one of whom is a German citizen (and the US resolutely refuses to allow the victim to seek restitution in US courts, and the same for the Canadian we kidnapped and shipped to another nation to have the torturing done for us: outsourcing torture, though we did a fair amount ourselves (apparently 92 videotapes worth). Indeed, the Italian courts have convicted several CIA employees for kidnapping a person in Italy.
It seems that the US government has decided the best approach is to deny everything, including well-known facts. This is going in a very bad direction when the US demands that other nations collude in illegal behavior. And while I can understand that official Washington may be deeply ashamed of what happened, simply denying that it did happen is a very weak defense indeed, especially when it is quite clear that it did happen.
Brian Feldman at the Atlantic Wire:
A new report from a taskforce of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession has outlined how doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers for the federal government violated their ethical agreements when dealing with terror detainees. As the report outlines, “Military and intelligence-agency physicians and other health professionals, particularly psychologists, became involved in the design and administration of that harsh treatment and torture—in clear conflict with established international and national professional principles and laws.”
The report, based on public record, outlines how the government agencies facilitated medical workers to violate ethical standards, the first and foremost being to do no harm. Among their policies, the Department of Defense classified medical staff members as “safety officers” to avoiding explicitly acknowledging their healthcare role, established policies that necessitated doctors to violate doctor-patient confidentiality so that interrogators could utilize such information, made physicians and nurses force-feed hunger strikers, and failed to implement a system that allowed the reporting of detainee abuses.
The report also says that the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services played an essential role in devising enhanced interrogation techniques and that medical officers were present when torture such as waterboarding did happen.
Gerald Thompson, a member of the task force, told The Guardian, “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”
According to the report, the government “continues to follow policies that undermine standards of professional conduct.” Recently, a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay over the summer resulted in prisoners being force-fed.
Physicians and psychologists are often co-opted for (or voluntarily participate in) torture regimes: the Nazis doctors who experimented on death-camp prisoners are an obvious example, but “healers” also actively supported torture in the Soviet Union, in Argentina, Chile, the US, and other countries. The New England Journal of Medicine has an article for 2004 on the US use of doctors in its own torture programs, and of course Martin Seligman, one-time president of the American Psychological Association, counseled the government on how to break prisoners psychologically, using his knowledge of “learned helplessness.”
And here’s another article on doctors who aid in torture.
The medical and psychological associations, so far as I know, offer no sanctions against members who assist in torturing people.
UPDATE: Hayes Brown at ThinkProgress also has a post on the report:
A new report released Monday claims that the Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency directed doctors and other medical professionals in their employ to ignore their Hippocratic oaths and other ethical codes in order to facilitate the interrogation of detainees.
The new report from the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres — titled “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror’” — doesn’t shy away from bluntly referring to the “advanced interrogation techniques” implemented after 9/11 as torture, castigating the Pentagon and CIA for ordering medical practitioners to ignore their oaths in carrying it out. In both the CIA and DOD, the report alleges, officials “facilitated that involvement in similar ways, including undermining health professionals’ allegiances to established principles of professional ethics and conduct through reinterpretation of those principles.”
When first designing the methods used to extract information from high-value detainees, the report explains, the Defense Department put together what they dubbed Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs), which typically are built around a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a mental health technician. The first BSCT, deployed at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay in 2002, recommended the use of what have become familiar methods, including sleep and sensory deprivation, exposure to extreme noise and temperature variations, and the use of stress positions. While waterboarding was not included in the recommendations, they made their way up the chain of command and were approved for use against detainees.
Despite the continuing presence of these medical officers while torture was being committed, the CIA and military alike adopted language to shield their role, the report alleges. Military members of BSCTs began in 2004 to be referred to as “safety officers,” there to keep the detainees from being too badly injured. Instead, the Task Force writes, the military was at the same time directing BSCT members to “advise interrogators in exploiting detainee vulnerabilities,” a role that they say continues today.
The desire to treat certain medical practitioners as above the rule is strong enough, the reports says, the Pentagon now believes that physicians’ “duty to avoid or minimize harm [...] does not apply to the BSCTs involved in interrogation because they are not involved in clinical treatment.” DOD has gone so far as to classify doctors and psychologists on BSCTs as combatants, the report alleges, who are thus not subject to the rules of their profession even though they are still required to be licensed.
The report also seeks to make clear the troubling blurring of lines between the medical responsibilities these medical officials have sworn to uphold and the standards that DOD and CIA say trump them:
Unlike an interrogator, who may create stress for a detainee so long as he or she acts within legal standards, including those prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,a health professional has an obligation not to participate in acts that deliberately impose pain or suffering on a person. replacing ethical standards with a legal one — that is, only to refrain from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment –eviscerates the ethical standards.
“Putting on a uniform does not and should not abrogate the fundamental principles of medical professionalism,” said Institute on Medicine as a Profession President David Rothman in a statement accompanying the release of the report. “‘Do no harm’ and ‘put patient interest first’ must apply to all physicians regardless of where they practice.” Both the IMP and the Open Society Foundation supported the work of the Task Force in drafting the report.
ThinkProgress spoke with Leonard Rubenstein, of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights, who helped organize the Task Force and took the lead in drafting the final report. Accord to Rubenstein, the panel met with DOD and CIA officials a number of times over the three year investigation, providing them with advance warning about the critiques they were developing in the hopes of having some sort of reform. So far, he says, there hasn’t been much progress towards a change in the rules in place.
“Most of the rules in the beginning have been reaffirmed and others have become more draconian,” Rubenstein told ThinkProgress, specifically pointing to the recent force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo. “We hope that once the public and policymakers and the medical community as a whole gets more engaged in these problems, there’s a chance of restoring ethical practice,” he added.
The six-month long hunger strike was among the worst that the military has seen from the detainees still being held in Guantanamo Bay, years after the promised closure of the installation and while many of those cleared for transfer still remain incarcerated. Medical officials from around the world slammed the Department of Defense for demanding that the strikers be force-fed intranasally, a practice that the American Medical Association condemnedand the United Nations deemed a violation of international law.
Quite interesting article by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker:
Last night, along with the bill reopening the government, the Senate confirmed Stephen W. Preston, the top lawyer at the C.I.A., to move to the Pentagon to serve in the same role there. The vote slipped by unnoticed by most, but on close inspection, it revealed previously unreleased documents that lift the lid on an unusual standoff between Congress and the Obama Administration’s C.I.A. At its core is a bitter disagreement over an apparently devastating, and still secret, report by the Senate Intelligence Committee documenting in detail how the C.I.A.’s brutalization of terror suspects during the Bush years was unnecessary, ineffective, and deceptively sold to Congress, the White House, the Justice Department, and the public. The report threatens to definitively refute former C.I.A. personnel who have defended the program’s integrity. But so far, to the consternation of several members of the Intelligence Committee, the Obama Administration, like Bush’s before it, is keeping the damning details from public view.
Preston’s confirmation became a proxy skirmish in the fight. Obama reportedly hoped to get Preston confirmed before the congressional recess this past summer. Instead, Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, who is a member of both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee, put a “hold” on Preston’s confirmation until he answered a set of additional, and previously undisclosed, questions. A copy of these seven questions, and Preston’s answers, obtained by The New Yorker (below), sheds new light on the conflict.
The questions and answers make clear that Udall, who has pushed vigorously for the report’s release, voted to confirm Preston only after he believed that the general counsel distanced himself from his own intelligence agency’s defiant and defensive stance on the six-thousand-three-hundred page report, which cost forty million dollars to produce. Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, are pushing to declassify and publicly release it. But John Brennan, the agency’s director, a career C.I.A. officer, and an Obama confidant, is apparently resisting disclosure, and challenging many of the report’s conclusions.
On June 27th, the C.I.A. delivered an impassioned rebuttal of the report to the committee. Last month marked the last of numerous meetings between C.I.A. and Intelligence Committee personnel over the disputed report. They did not go well, according to several informed sources. Meanwhile, despite Obama’s calls for increased transparency, the White House has apparently sat on the sidelines, urging the two intransigent sides to work out their differences. Without White House involvement, the standoff is likely to remain a huge battle.
Edward Price, a media spokesman for the C.I.A., said in a statement, “Mr. Preston’s answers are fully consistent with the Agency’s position and its response to the Senate report on the Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program. The C.I.A. response noted that the C.I.A. agreed with a number of the Senate study’s findings and had taken steps to address shortcomings identified by the report, but it also detailed significant errors in the study.” The C.I.A. declined to discuss details, and documents suggest some significant differences between Preston and the agency.
The C.I.A. has defended its record on keeping Congress informed. In contrast, Preston, in his answers to Udall, concedes that, during the Bush years, the C.I.A. “fell well short” of current standards for keeping the congressional oversight committees informed of covert actions, as is required under the 1947 National Security Act.
In fact, Preston admits outright that, contrary to the C.I.A.’s insistence that it did not actively impede congressional oversight of its detention and interrogation program, “briefings to the Committees included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”
The contention that the C.I.A. provided inaccurate information to the congressional oversight committees is apparently extensively documented by the report. Udall notes that . . .
You’ll recall that the CIA earlier destroyed videotaped evidence of its torture sessions. From the article at the link:
. . . As many as 92 tapes of terror war captives being tortured by CIA operatives were allegedly destroyed. Officials suggested these recordings depicted torture sessions with terrorism suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Nashiri.
Along with the tapes, detailed records of the CIA’s so-called “torture flights,” showing the planes, destinations and even the passengers, were also said destroyed.
The destruction of these records was revealed by then-CIA Director Michael Hayden in Dec. 2007, who said the decision was made because the videos posed “a serious security risk” to the agency. [The risk was that the torturers and those who ordered the torture would face prosecution for war crimes. - LG]
The ultimate decision to destroy the torture tapes was made by Jose Rodriguez, the former Director of the National Clandestine Service. The Department of Justice (DoJ) said in Nov. that Rodriguez would not face charges.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in June that after a years-long investigation, the DoJ would probe the deaths of two prisoners who allegedly perished in the CIA’s custody. In doing so, he said that it was also dropping possible further inquiries into allegations of torture by CIA agents.
Sue the victims.
Sarah Lazare writes at Commondreams and this post is via Informed Comment:
‘Defense’ contractor CACI International has taken the shocking step of suing four former Abu Ghraib detainees who are seeking redress in U.S. courts for the company’s role in [allegedly] torturing, humiliating and dehumanizing them, with the U.S. corporation recently requesting that the judge order the plaintiffs—- all of whom are Iraqi—-to pay CACI for legal costs.
CACI is demanding over $15,000 in compensation, mostly for witness fees, travel allowances and deposition transcripts, according to court documents.
“Given the wealth disparities between this multi-billion dollar entity and four torture victims, given what they went through, it’s surprising and appears to be an attempt to intimidate and punish these individuals for asserting their rights to sue in U.S. courts,” Baher Azny, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is working on the case, told Common Dreams.
Just weeks ago, a federal judge dismissed the former Abu Ghraib prisoners’ lawsuit against CACI International on the grounds that because Abu Ghraib is overseas, it is beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
The plaintiffs are appealing the decision, with their lawyers arguing that a U.S. corporation operating in a U.S. military prison should be subject to U.S. law.
The ruling is expected to have far-reaching ramifications for the shadowy networks of private contractors who operate in war-torn Iraq under veils of secrecy and with near-immunity, despite widely documented war crimes.
The plaintiffs charge that CACI was part of a conspiracy to subject the defendants to “electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs.”
All of the Iraqi plaintiffs were released without charges, and they continue to suffer severe physical and psychological effects from their torture.
Their lawyers say they will appeal the dismissal of a case they say is rock-solid.
“Our case is based on reports and investigations by high-level U.S. military investigators, recognizing CACI’s role in conspiracy to torture detainees,” Azny told Common Dreams. “Once we get past legal obstacles and present the case to a jury, we are hopeful justice will come to these Iraqi victims.”
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David Anderson has an interesting op-ed in the NY Times:
THE British do not torture. At least, that is what we in Britain have always liked to think. But not anymore. In a historic decision last week, the British government agreed to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused while detained during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Each claimant will receive around £2,670 (about $4,000).
The money is paltry. But the principle it establishes, and the history it rewrites, are both profound. This is the first historical claim for compensation that the British government has accepted. It has never before admitted to committing torture in any part of its former empire.
In recent years there has been a clamor for official apologies. In 2010, Britain formally apologized for its army’s conduct in the infamous “Bloody Sunday” killings in Northern Ireland in 1972, and earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron visited Amritsar, India, the site of a 1919 massacre, and expressed “regret for the loss of life.”
The Kenyan case has been in process for a decade in London’s High Court. The British fought to avoid paying reparations, so the decision to settle is a significant change of direction. The decision comes months ahead of the 50th anniversary of the British departure from Kenya — once thought of as the “white man’s country” in East Africa.
The Kenya case turned on the evidence of historians, including my own role as an expert witness. I identified a large tranche of documents that the British government smuggled out of Kenya in 1963 and brought back to London. The judge ordered the release of this long-hidden “secret” cache, some 1,500 files.
The evidence of torture revealed in these documents was devastating. In the detention camps of colonial Kenya, a tough regime of physical and mental abuse of suspects was implemented from 1957 onward, as part of a government policy to induce detainees to obey orders or to make confessions.
The documents showed that responsibility for torture went right to the top — sanctioned by Kenya’s governor, Evelyn Baring, and authorized at cabinet level in London by Alan Lennox-Boyd, then secretary of state for the colonies in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.
When told that torture and abuse were routine in colonial prisons, Mr. Lennox-Boyd did not order that such practices be stopped, but instead took steps to place them beyond legal sanction. “Compelling force” was allowed, but defined so loosely as to permit virtually any kind of physical abuse.
Why did the British keep these documents, instead of destroying them? Plenty else was burned, or dumped at sea, as the British left Kenya.
The answer lay in the unease of some British colonial officers. Many did not like what they saw. When the orders to torture came down, some realized the jeopardy they were in. These men worried that it was they, not their commanders, who would carry the can.
They were right to worry. . .
Continue reading. As you read further, see whether any recent US initiatives come to mind.
The Supreme Court does some funny thinking. Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, et al. explicitly signed off on tortures they authorized, yet when subordinates down the line follow those guidelines, those who specified them and required their use are not held responsible. The buck stops way down the line. Yet Rumsfeld pretty clearly spread the idea that he was in charge.
What a disgusting bunch—and I include much of SCOTUS.
Victorria Brittain writes, via Informed Comment:
Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013), has just been published.
A four-month hunger strike, mass force-feedings, and widespread media coverage have at last brought Guantanamo, the notorious offshore prison set up by the Bush administration early in 2002, back into American consciousness. Prominent voices are finally calling on President Obama to close it down and send home scores of prisoners who, years ago, were cleared of wrongdoing.
Still unnoticed and out of the news, however, is a comparable situation in the U.S. itself, involving a pattern of controversial terrorism trials that result in devastating prison sentences involving the harshest forms of solitary confinement. This growing body of prisoners is made up of Muslim men, including some formerly well-known and respected American citizens.
At the heart of these cases is a statute from the time of the Clinton presidency making it a crime to provide “material support” to any foreign organization the government has designated as “terrorist.” This material support provision was broadened in the USA PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress just after the 9/11 attacks, and has been upheld by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. Today, almost any kind of support, including humanitarian aid, training, expert advice, “services” of all sorts, or “political advocacy” undertaken in “coordination” with any group on the State Department’s terrorist list, can lead to such a terror trial. The Court has never defined what “coordination” actually means.
In that Supreme Court ruling, Justice Stephen Breyer was joined in dissent by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Breyer proposed a narrower interpretation of material support: individuals should not be subject to prosecution unless they knowingly provided a service they had reason to believe would be used to further violence. At the time, the position of the dissenting judges was backed by key editorials in major newspapers. In the three years since, however, more material support cases have resulted in long sentences with very little public notice or critical comment.
In the U.S. these days, the very word “terror,” no less the charge of material support for it, invariably shuts down rather than opens any conversation. Nonetheless, a decade of researching a number of serious alleged terrorism cases on both side of the Atlantic, working alongside some extraordinary human rights lawyers, and listening to Muslim women in Great Britain and the U.S. whose lives were transformed by the imprisonment of a husband, father, or brother has given me a different perspective on such cases.
Perhaps most illuminating in them is the repeated use of what’s called “special administrative measures” to create a particularly isolating and punitive atmosphere for many of those charged with such crimes, those convicted of them, and even for their relatives. While these efforts have come fully into their own in the post-9/11 era, they were drawn from a pre-9/11 paradigm. Between the material support statute and those special administrative measures, it has become possible for the government to pre-convict and in many cases pre-punish a small set of Muslim men.
Take the case of Ahmed Abu Ali, a young Palestinian-American who is now serving life in the Administrative Maximum Facility, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and is currently under special administrative measures that restrict his communications with the outside world. A university student in Saudi Arabia, he was arrested in 2003 by the Saudi government and held for 20 months without charges or access to a lawyer. The Washington Postreported that the U.S. government finally asked for his return just as his family filed a lawsuit in Washington.
At the time, it seemed like a victory for the family and the various human rights organizations that had supported them, but on arrival Ahmed was charged with material support for al-Qaeda and plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush. The evidence to convict him came from an anonymous alleged co-conspirator and from taped confessions he made, evidently after being tortured in Saudi Arabia, a common practice there. The evidence of his torture was contested at his trial. The case was described by a staff member of Amnesty International USA as “unusual in the annals of U.S. outsourcing of torture.” An appeal of Ahmed’s 30-year sentence actually resulted in the imposition of an even more severe sentence: life without parole.
In addition, special administrative measures have been applied to him. These were originally established in 1996 to stop communications from prison inmates who could “pose a substantial risk of death or serious risk of injury.” The targets then were gang leaders. Each special administrative measure was theoretically to be designed to fit the precise dangers posed by a specific prisoner. Since 9/11, however, numerous virtually identical measures have been applied to Muslim men, often like Ahmed Abu Ali with no history of violence.
A question to Ahmed’s sister about how her brother is doing is answered only with a quick look. She is not allowed to say anything because special measures also prohibit family members from disclosing their communications with prisoners. They similarly prevent defense lawyers from speaking about their clients. It was for a breach of these special measures in relation to her client, the imprisoned blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, that lawyer Lynne Stewart was tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Bush years.
Although these measures have been contested in court, few have ever been modified, much less thrown out. Those court challenges and evidence provided to the European Court of Human Rights by American lawyers have, however, provided a window into what one of them described as a regime of “draconian and inhumane treatment.”
Under such special administrative measures at the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York City, a prisoner lives with little natural light, no time in communal areas, no radio or TV, and sometimes no books or newspapers either, while mail and phone calls are permitted only with family, and even then are often suspended for minor infractions. Family visits are always no-contact ones conducted through plexiglass.
“The conditions have quite simply wreaked havoc on Mr X’s physical and mental well-being,” one lawyer wrote for the European Court of Human Rights, describing a seven-month period in which a prisoner at the Metropolitan Correction Center was allowed no family phone calls. Another highlighted his client’s lost concentration, which made it impossible to work on his case effectively. “Their world shrinks dramatically,” was the way Joshua Dratel, a lawyer who has represented several men under these measures, described the situation.
In cases where special administrative measures are in place pre-trial, such as the well-documented ordeal of American post-graduate student Syed Fahad Hashmi, lawyers have often been obliged to . . .
John Hickman posts at Informed Comment:
Curious isn’t it how the decision-making of the United States Government is also imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay? In a seemingly escape-proof blame game President Obama insists that the U.S. Congress prevents him from closing the prison while Congressional Republicans insist either that he has failed to offer a workable plan to dispose of the prisoners or that the prison is an irreplaceable asset. The only serious effort to break out of this separation of powers tragedy is coming from the prisoners themselves.
The latest iteration in the rhetorical loop between the executive and legislative branches began with the President Obama’s May 23rd speech at the National Defense University, wherein an impending return to normality following the War on Terror was announced. Dawn is to break after a long and frightening night. The now familiar promise to close Guantanamo was renewed, with the accompanying qualification that the Congress must permit him to act. That same day we heard Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss and Kelly Ayotte respond at a press conference with their reasons why the Guantanamo prisoners must remain right where they are. McCain and Graham’s comments can be ignored because their arguments are ignored by most voters; Chambliss and Ayotte’s comments merit attention because they reflect the nonsense believed by most Republican and many Independent voters.
In the stentorian tones of an Old South hanging judge, Chambliss said that “we’ve got 166 of the meanest, nastiest killers in the world located at Guantanamo Bay today…” A vast exaggeration. Despite diligent efforts to identify dangerous figures among the prisoners, [pdf] the Guantanamo Review Task Force managed to finger only 48 in its January 22, 2010 report.
Clearly, what mattered was not the math but the chance to repeat the ‘worst of the worst’ part of the justification for the original Guantanamo decision. Chambliss’s interest was in protecting the legacy of the Bush administration and not in protecting the safety of the American people.
Ayotte repeated a different part of the original justification when it was her turn at the podium. Obviously nervous, she insisted that Guantanamo must remain open to “maximize intelligence.” The belief is that interrogations conducted at Guantanamo somehow produce better information than interrogations conducted elsewhere. That there is nothing to back up this conviction hardly matters.
What Chambliss and Ayotte recognize is that support for keeping Guantanamo open among Republican and Independent voters is not a matter of facts or reason, but instead of emotion. . .
Joe Nocera writes in the NY Times:
Nearly four months into a hunger strike that has now spread to some two-thirds of the detainees at the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the question in this headline can no longer be avoided.
Fundamentally, hunger strikes are a form of speech for prisoners who have no other way to communicate their concerns. Hunger strikes give them the means to protest their confinement and to send a message about that confinement. During the “troubles” in Ireland, for instance, Irish Republican Army prisoners went on hunger strikes to protest their detention by the British — and some ended up being force-fed.
For decades, the international community, including the International Red Cross, the World Medical Association and the United Nations, have recognized the right of prisoners of sound mind to go on a hunger strike. Force-feeding has been labeled a violation on the ban of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.The World Medical Association holds that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in force-feeding. Put simply, force-feeding violates international law.
Whatever triggered the hunger strike at Guantánamo — the detainees say that the military had begun searching their Korans and instituted a series of harsh new measures, which the military denies — the underlying issue is that the detainees are in despair of ever getting out. Many of them, including 56 men from Yemen, have been cleared to leave the prison by a committee of top national security officials. But thanks to a combination of Congressional actions takenduring the past few years, and the timidity of President Obama, they remain in Guantánamo with no end in sight. The hunger strike has been their way of reminding the world of their continued imprisonment, and it has worked brilliantly. One wonders whether President Obama would have even mentioned Guantánamo in his big national security speech last week if not for the hunger strikers.
The military claims that it is force-feeding the detainees in order to keep them safe and alive. According to The Miami Herald, about one-third of the detainees on strike — at least 35 men, though possibly more — are being force-fed. A handful are in the hospital.
But not long ago, Al Jazeera got ahold of a 30-page document that detailed the standard operating procedures used by the military to force-feed a detainee. The document makes for gruesome reading: the detainee shackled to a special chair (which looks like the electric chair); the head restraints if he resists; the tube pushed painfully down his nose; the half-hour or so of ingestion of nutritional supplements; the transfer of the detainee to a “dry cell,” where, if he vomits, he is strapped back into the chair until the food is digested.
Detainees are also apparently given an anti-nausea drug called Reglan, which has a horrible potential side effect if given for more than three months: a disease called tardive dyskinesia, which causes twitching and other uncontrollable movements. “This drug is very scary,” said Cori Crider, the legal director of Reprieve, a London-based group that represents more than a dozen detainees. “My fear is that it is being administered without their consent,” she added. Although the military refuses to discuss the use of Reglan — or any aspect of force-feeding — that’s a pretty safe bet.
The lawyers representing the detainees would like to file a motion in federal court to stop the force-feeding, but there is a Catch-22. They can’t go to court without the consent of their clients — and thanks to another set of harsh, new protocols, including the genital and anal searches I wrote about last week, most clients are now refusing to talk to their lawyers. . .
Continue reading. Obama—and the US—are doing a shameful thing.
Just a reminder that President Obama has not yet pardoned John Kiriakou, the CIA whistleblower who revealed the agency’s torture practicesKiriakou went to jail on February to serve 30 months.
Obama has also not punished anyone in the US government for extensive torture practices and has allowed evidence to be destroyed.
Andrew O’Hehir points out the depth of Obama’s responsibility for Guantánamo:
Once upon a time, in the long-ago days of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, we may have had the worst and most abusive presidential administration in the history of the United States, but at least there was some moral clarity. You were on their side or you weren’t; you either bought into the idea that the “war on terror” was a special set of circumstances that required an immense expansion of executive power and the indefinite suspension of constitutional norms, or you didn’t. Nothing quite symbolized that division like the military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It was a locked-down and secretive facility in a country that didn’t want us there, where hooded and manacled men – in theory, the most violent and dangerous anti-American militants on the planet – were kept under mysterious conditions, denied the rights we routinely accord to suspected murderers and rapists, and subjected to interrogations we didn’t want to know about.
But as details about the conditions of detainment at Guantánamo began to leak, the place began to look not just abusive and nightmarish but also bureaucratic and buffoonish. Many of those who were being held captive in those egregious circumstances were low-level foot-soldiers, or even bystanders, who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes there was a quality of grim farce about the whole thing, as in Michael Winterbottom’s 2006 film “The Road to Guantánamo,” which tells the true story of a group of British men captured while on their way to a wedding in Pakistan. The men languished in Gitmo for many months, even after it was clear they had no significant connections to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Indeed, of the 779 individuals who have been imprisoned there at one time or another since 2002, more than 600 have been released without ever being charged with anything, still less convicted.
Well, thank goodness for Barack Obama, right? Even if he hasn’t quite managed to get the place closed down, as he loudly and repeatedly promised he would, at least he got all those innocent or insignificant people released! Except that’s not how it happened. The vast majority of the detainee releases – 530 or so – occurred under Bush. Under Bush’s successor, Guantánamo Bay has become something that’s arguably even more disgraceful than a symbol of hyper-patriotic right-wing zealotry. It’s become forgotten, abandoned and swept under the rug. No one goes in and no one comes out. If the remaining 166 detainees at Guantánamo were originally swept up in a paranoid imperial overreach, that reaction was at least somewhat understandable. Today they are prisoners of political paralysis and political cowardice, which are inexcusable.
So it is that Obama, more than four years after signing an executive order to shut down the Guantánamo prison, found himself a few days ago mumbling defensively to the White House press corps that it might be time to “re-engage with Congress” on the issue. “It is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantánamo,” he added. Well, it freakin’ well shouldn’t be, Mr. President. From the moment Obama became a presidential candidate in 2007, he campaigned vigorously against Guantánamo as a pillar of the flawed and failed Bush-Cheney war policy. He won the election and signed that executive order in his third day on the job, and then – once it became clear that House Republicans would be delighted to use the issue to depict him as a crypto-Muslim, terrorist-coddling pantywaist – let the whole thing drop. The rest of us, I’m afraid, mostly assumed that the right guy was in office and the right thing would be done eventually, and moved on.
But decisions made in the name of political expediency have a tendency to come back and bite you in the ass. (If Machiavelli never said that, he should have.) As theEconomist put it this week, , , ,
Marcy Wheeler asks excellent question: “Why is Obama withholding secret torture report from Americans?”
Good question. Of course, Obama is obsessively secretive (“open and transparent” be damned), as is shown by his record-setting vendetta against whistleblowers—in some cases, gratuitously vindictive and vicious.
Marcy Wheeler asked the question in Salon, by writing:
Much of what you’ve been told (or seen in movies) about George W. Bush’s supposedly effective torture program is false and overhyped. At least, that’s one of the conclusions of the 6,000-page review of the program the Senate Intelligence Committee completed last year.
Yet, right now, President Obama is preventing you from learning any of this, by keeping the report classified.
Before the end of the Bush Administration, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)—then the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee—started investigating the torture program. When Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) took over as Chair of the Committee in 2009, she intensified the investigation and negotiated with the CIA to get access to its files. After almost four more years of work and reviewing 6 million pages of documents, the Committee voted out the report in December on a mostly party line vote.
As you may recall from the debate around the film “Zero Dark Thirty debate,” Senators Feinstein, Carl Levin (D-MI), and John McCain (R-AZ) have said the report shows thattorture didn’t produce the intelligence that led us to finding Osama bin Laden. According to reports, it shows that torture didn’t produce much useful information. While discussing the report, Jay Rockefeller described the torture program this way:
[T]he people who ran it were ignorant of the topic, [it was] executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to crucial details, and corrupted by personnel and pecuniary conflicts of interest. It was sold to the policymakers and lawyers of the White House, the Department of Justice, and Congress, with grossly-inflated claims of professionalism and effectiveness, so-called lives saved.
In short, the report rebuts claims that torture worked—and specifically the claim made by torture boosters from Dick Cheney to former Counterterrorism Center head Jose Rodriguez that it helped to find Osama bin Laden.
Accounts of the reports’ findings are not limited to whether torture worked. According to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the it shows “the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress.”
The finding that the CIA lied about its covert activities to everyone tasked with overseeing them ought to raise concerns going forward, whether or not the CIA ever conducts an interrogation again, because it suggests our intelligence oversight system is broken. Yet the report remains classified and torture boosters keep making expansive claims that, Senate Democrats insist, the report rebuts. While Senator Feinstein has always made clear that CIA is not the only agency that will decide whether to release the report, that’s where the focus has been.
Originally, the CIA was due to respond to the report on February 15. John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA in February—and his failure to review the report before the confirmation process—provided an excuse to delay that date.
The delay to allow Brennan to read the report has been extended indefinitely. When Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asked Brennan when the report would be released on April 11, Brennan did not answer; instead, he assured Schakowsky he would thoroughly report to Senators Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) “things that I might think that the — the committee may have — the committee’s report might not accurately represent.” Recently, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) claimed, “Director Brennan and his staff have shown little to no interest in engaging collaboratively and constructively with the Committee on a path forward on the Committee’s Study.”
Rather than when the report would be reviewed, then, Brennan’s stalling has shifted the discussion to what CIA—the same Agency accused of misrepresenting torture to Congress and others—will demand gets changed, and now a lack of engagement on the report generally. And the focus on whether or not Brennan would agree to the torture report’s release really just distracts from the person who really gets to decide whether to release the report or not: the President.
As Vice President Joe Biden hinted last weekend —when agreeing with John McCain the report should be released—this is an issue being debated in the White House, not just Langley. “The internal debate that goes on in the Congress and in the White House is, do we go back and do we expose it? Do we lay out who was responsible and how we got to where we are?”
It may well be, for all the evidence the report apparently presents about CIA providing inaccurate information about the program even to the White House, that the White House is shielding the institutions of the White House and the Presidency.
Consider, for example, how the Bush White House unusually intervened to keep the torture program secret. According to a court document submitted by then CIA Director Leon Panetta in 2009, his predecessor at CIA, George Tenet, wasn’t the person who made the torture program a “Special Access Program” with sharply limited access, which is how it would normally work. Unnamed officials in the National Security Council did:
Officials at the National Security Council, (NSC) determined that in light of the extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital interests of the United States and the sensitivity of the activities contemplated in the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, it was essential to limit access to the information in the program. NSC officials established a special access program governing access to information relating to the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program.
The Bush-era Executive Order governing classification and the current one both require Presidential authorization for someone besides one of several Agency heads—in the case of the torture program, Tenet—to make a special access program. Thus, as the Federation of American Scientist’s Steven Aftergood notes, “if the NSC established a special access program, as Panetta said, then it must have been authorized by the President himself. In effect, the President established the special access program.” The former Director of the office that oversees classified information, Bill Leonard, agrees. “If it wasn’t one of those [Agency heads] who established the SAP in question, there would have to be an authorization from the President authorizing that official to establish a SAP.”
While the CIA appears to be the entity stalling on the torture report, according to Panetta, the White House ultimately created and owns the program.
It’s not just Bush’s NSC that has taken extraordinary measures to keep the torture program secret. While Barack Obama’s Administration has already permitted the declassification of a great deal of information on the torture program, in fall 2009 Obama went to the almost unprecedented step of having his National Security Advisor—at the time, retired General Jim Jones—submit a declaration in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking release of documents pertaining to the torture program. It did so to hide the role of the White House in torture.
The judge in the suit, Alvin Hellerstein, believed that a short phrase describing “the source of CIA’s authority” to conduct torture had been incorrectly redacted by the Administration. Jones’ declaration, which remains sealed and unrecorded on the docket, apparently argued that phrase couldn’t be released. . .
Continue reading. Obama is a serious problem with nice edges.
Christie Thompson reports in ProPublica:
Among the news that ended up being buried in the events last week: A nonpartisan think tank, the Constitution Project, released a scathing, 577-page report on the U.S.’s treatment, and torture, of detainees in the aftermath of 9/11. The investigation began in 2009, after Obama opposed creating a “truth commission.”
With a Senate investigation of detainee treatment still classified, the report from the bipartisan task force is the most comprehensive public review to date. The 11-member panel interviewed more than 100 former military officials, detainees and policymakers.
Among their findings: There is no compelling security reason to keep classified details about the CIA’s now-shuttered black prisons. The task force hopes their report will spur more government transparency on the treatment of detainees, starting with the release of the Senate investigation.
Here’s a rundown of previous claims skewered by the report:
Claim No. 1: The U.S. didn’t use torture.
“Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” the report concludes. The task force says that despite overwhelming evidence of torture, both government officials and many in the media have continued to present the issue as a two-sided debate.
The task force measured confirmed reports on detainee treatment against several international and domestic legal definitions of torture. The U.S.’s tactics unequivocally amount to torture, they found, under definitions the U.S. itself has used to accuse other countries of the same crime.
Former UN ambassador John Bolton rejected the task force’s findings, telling the Associated Press the report is “completely divorced from reality.” Bolton said a team of lawyers scrutinized the policies to ensure interrogation never crossed the line.
Claim No. 2: When torture happened, it was because of a few low-level “bad apples.”
The report details how the decisions to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques were not rogue entry-level soldiers, but rather came from decisions made at the top of the administration. As a former Marine general told the task force, “Any degree of ‘flexibility’ about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone —the rare exception fast becoming the rule.”
Claim No. 3: Only three terror suspects were waterboarded by the CIA.
The task force’s findings support and elaborate on a Human Rights Watch report, which detailed how the CIA tortured at least two Libyans with water and abused several others to “win favor with el-Gaddafi’s regime,” the task force found.
The testimonies of the two Libyans undermine the Bush administration’s repeated claims that the CIA only waterboarded against three people.
Claim No. 4: Torture definitely worked. . .
Continue reading. It is important information.
Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:
In the early afternoon quiet, guards in camouflage fatigues walked the two-tiered cellblocks of Camp Six, where the most cooperative of the 166 terrorism suspects held in the military prison here are housed. From a darkened control room, other guards watched banks of surveillance monitors showing prisoners in white clothing — pacing, sleeping or reading — in their cells.
But the relative calm on display to visiting reporters last week was deceiving. Days earlier, guards had raided Camp Six and locked down protesting prisoners who had blocked security cameras, forbidding them to congregate in a communal area. A hunger strike is now in its third month, with 93 prisoners considered to be participating — more than half the inmates and twice the number before the raid.
“They are not done yet, and they will not be done until there is more than one death,” said a Muslim adviser to the military, identified as “Zak” for security reasons, who fears there may be suicides. Only one thing, he predicted, will satisfy the detainees: if someone is allowed to leave.
The spark for the protest is disputed. Detainees, through their lawyers, say that when guards conducted a search of their cells on Feb. 6, they handled their Korans in a disrespectful way. Prison officials dispute that.
But both military officials and lawyers for the detainees agree about the underlying cause of the turmoil: a growing sense among many prisoners, some of whom have been held without trial for more than 11 years, that they will never go home.
While President Obama made closing the prison a top priority when he entered the White House, he put that effort on the back burner in the face of Congressional opposition to his plan to move the detainees to a Supermax facility inside the United States.
The prisoners “had great optimism that Guantánamo would be closed,” Gen. John F. Kelly, who oversees the prison as head of the United States Southern Command, recently told Congress. “They were devastated when the president backed off — at least their perception — of closing the facility.”
That disappointment was heightened by Mr. Obama’s decision in January 2011 to sign legislation to restrict the transfers of prisoners. More than half the inmates were designated three years ago for transfer to another country if security conditions could be met, but the transfers dried up. And early this year, the Obama administration reassigned, without replacing, the diplomat who had negotiated the transfers.
“President Obama has publicly and privately abandoned his promise to close Guantánamo,” said Carlos Warner, a lawyer who represents one of 17 hunger strikers being kept alive by force-feeding through nasal tubes. “His tragic political decision has caused the men to lose all hope. Thus, many innocent men have chosen death over a life of unjust indefinite detention.”
In interviews with nearly three dozen current and former administration, military and Congressional officials, lawyers for the detainees, and outside policy specialists, a clear consensus emerged on the result of the impasse over Guantánamo’s future: It has become a place where no new prisoners arrive and no one can leave, and it makes little sense.
“The situation is not sustainable,” said Kenneth Wainstein, the top national security official at the Justice Department in the Bush administration. “There are strong, principled arguments on both sides, but all of us across the spectrum have to acknowledge that this is far from an ideal situation and we need an exit strategy.”
Administration defenders blame Congress — especially Republicans who used Mr. Obama’s effort to close the prison as political ammunition — for the quagmire. Still, even if Mr. Obama had sent the inmates to a domestic prison, the problems raised by the perpetual imprisonment of detainees deemed risky but untriable would persist. . .
The law, as you know, requires President Obama to take action regarding the US use of torture, but the law doesn’t mean all that much to Obama. He’d rather persecute the hell out of those who expose government waste. Torturers can go free and even be honored. Juan Cole:
The political reality of the United States in the world is that of blowback. Blowback is a term of art in the intelligence community for what happens when a covert operation goes bad and comes back to bite you on the ass. The US spent the 1980s encouraging Muslim radicals to engage in ‘freedom fighting’ against the leftist government of Afghanistan, and that policy certainly is implicated in the creation of al-Qaeda. We have been suffering with lack of security ever since. And what would have happened if Washington had just left the Communist government in place? Wouldn’t it have gone the same way as the former Communist regime of Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan? Which of you feels threatened by those former Soviet Socialist Republics?
The policy of deliberate deployment of torture by US officials, in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and Bagram (Afghanistan), as well as black sites in Poland and elsewhere, during the past decade, has spawned a whole new wave of blowback.
The US is not responsible for terrorism against it, and the terrorists are horrible human beings. But let’s just say that a more responsible US foreign policy would make less trouble for the rest of us.
A bipartisan panel found, while the attention of the US public was elsewhere, that there is indisputable proof that the highest US officials of the Bush administration are implicated in torture, that torture was deployed systematically, and that there is no evidence that it ever yielded any useful intelligence about terrorist plots against the US. The Panel argues that the Guantanamo prison must be closed (many of the inmates now there have never been charged or tried and many have been cleared for release, but are not being released. Many are on debilitating hunger strikes that the US media barely cover.)
The fact that the US systematically made official use of torture following 9/11 is not exactly a secret: indeed, some of the Bush Administration seem quite proud of the torture they instigated. Still, some still will deny how deeply the US embraced the darkest practices that our country has always opposed. The worst offender is Barack Obama, who had the legal duty to investigate and prosecute as necessary those who had authorized or performed torture, but he lacked the courage and conviction. He wouldn’t even act against the CIA officer who systematically destroyed all the video interrogation tapes—i.e., who deliberately destroyed evidence of the crime.
So this report is important, though it’s conclusions are obvious. Eventually, perhaps, something may be done. But not by Obama, that’s for sure.
Scott Shane writes in the NY Times:
A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.
The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.
Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.
While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.
“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.
The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.
Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.
It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.
But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.
The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.
In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.
Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.
The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees. . .
Continue reading. Thanks to George W. Bush (and Barack Obama) the US now has a legacy of shame and a stain of dishonor.
Ian Urbina describes some US cruelty in an article in the NY Times:
On any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities that make up the sprawling patchwork of holding centers nationwide overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, according to new federal data.
Nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days.
While the records do not indicate why immigrants were put in solitary, an adviser who helped the immigration agency review the numbers estimated that two-thirds of the cases involved disciplinary infractions like breaking rules, talking back to guards or getting into fights. Immigrants were also regularly isolated because they were viewed as a threat to other detainees or personnel or for protective purposes when the immigrant was gay or mentally ill.
The United States has come under sharp criticism at home and abroad for relying on solitary confinement in its prisons more than any other democratic nation in the world. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement places only about 1 percent of its jailed immigrants in solitary, this practice is nonetheless startling because those detainees are being held on civil, not criminal, charges. As such, they are not supposed to be punished; they are simply confined to ensure that they appear for administrative hearings.
After federal immigration authorities caught up with him, Rashed BinRashed, an illegal arrival from Yemen, was sent to a detention center in Juneau, Wis. He was put in solitary confinement, he says, after declining to go to the jail’s eating area and refusing meals because he wanted to fast during Ramadan.
Federal officials confined Delfino Quiroz, a gay immigrant from Mexico, in solitary for four months in 2010, saying it was for his own protection, he recalls. He sank into a deep depression as he overheard three inmates attempt suicide. “Please, God,” he remembers praying, “don’t let me be the same.”
As lawmakers in Washington consider an overhaul of the immigration system, Congress faces thorny questions not just about what status to grant immigrants already in the country, but also about how best to increase enforcement efforts and what rights to ensure illegal immigrants during their detention.
The new federal data highlights how punitive and costly immigration policy has become, since solitary is one of the most expensive forms of detention.
“I.C.E. is clearly using excessive force, since these are civil detentions,” said Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who studies solitary confinement at the Wright Institute, a graduate school in psychology based in Berkeley, Calif. “And that makes this a human rights abuse.” . . .
Continue reading. Again: illegal immigration is a violation of civil, not criminal, statutes. Illegal immigrants are not criminals: they did not commit a crime.
Another interesting post at TomDispatch, with the intro:
There was a scarcely noted but classic moment in the Senate hearings on the nomination of John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism “tsar,” to become the next CIA director. When Senator Carl Levin pressed him repeatedly on whether waterboarding was torture, he ended his reply this way: “I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible and should not be done. And again, I am not a lawyer, senator, and I can’t address that question.”
How modern, how twenty-first-century American! How we’ve evolved since the dark days of Medieval Europe when waterboarding fell into a category known to all as “the water torture”! Brennan even cited Attorney General Eric Holder as one lawyer who had described waterboarding as “torture,” but he himself begged off. According to the man who was deputy executive director of the CIA and director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in the years of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and knew much about them, the only people equipped to recognize torture definitively as “torture” are lawyers. This might be more worrisome, if we weren’t a “nation of lawyers” (though it also means that plummeting law school application rates could, in the future, create a torture-definition crisis).
To look on the positive side, Brennan’s position should be seen as a distinct step forward from that of the Justice Department officials under the Bush administration who wrote the infamous “torture memos” and essentially left the definition of “torture” to the future testimony of the torturer. (“[I]f a defendant [interrogator] has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture.”)
And keep in mind that Brennan has good company for his position. Recently, the Open Society Institute published the most comprehensive investigation yet of the offshore system of injustice that George W. Bush and his top officials set up to kidnap “terror suspects,” imprison them without charges or end, and torture and abuse them, or “render” them to other countries willing to do the same. It turns out that 54 nations (other than the U.S.) took part in setting up, aiding, and maintaining this American global gulag. It’s a roster of dishonor worth noting: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.
Remarkably, according to the Open Society report, just one of those states evidently had a lawyer on hand who could actually recognize torture, even if well after the fact. “Canada,” its authors write, “is the only country to issue an apology to an extraordinary rendition victim, Maher Arar, who was extraordinarily rendered to, and tortured in, Syria.”
Given this, Greg Grandin, TomDispatch regular and author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Lost Jungle City, explores a geographical miracle: of those 54 countries, only two, the U.S. and Canada, came from the Western Hemisphere! Tom
The Latin American Exception
How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth
By Greg Grandin
The map tells the story. To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.
Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.
All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”
No region escapes the stain. Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center. Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Not even social-democratic Scandinavia. Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses. No region, that is, except Latin America.
What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.” Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area. It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”
Two, Three, Many CIAs
How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)? After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.
Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America. As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”
In the region, this meant three things. First, . . .
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Tony Blair took a train from Brighton to London, where he issued a statement that pledged unswerving support for the US. He described terrorism as “the new evil in our world,” perpetrated by people with no regard for the sanctity of human life. There was now to be a battle between the free world and terrorism, he said. “We therefore here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy and we, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world.”
Quietly, Britain pledged logistics support for the rendition program, which resulted in the CIA’s Gulfstream V and other jets becoming frequent visitors to British airports en route to the agency’s secret prisons. Over the next four years, a 26-strong flight of rendition aircraft operated by the CIA used UK airports at least 210 times. Dozens of other private executive jets that the agency chartered were also regular visitors to the UK. Nineteen British airports and RAF bases were used, including Heathrow, Birmingham, Luton, Bournemouth and Belfast. The agency’s favorite destination was Prestwick in Scotland, which it used more than 75 times. One CIA pilot described Prestwick as an ideal refueling stop. “It’s an ‘ask no questions’ type of place, and you don’t need to give them any advance notice you’re coming.”
The US authorities also asked the UK government for permission to build a large prison on Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean that operates as a US military base. A Royal Marines officer made some preliminary plans, before the project was dropped, for logistical rather than legal reasons. Diego Garcia continued to be used as a stopover for rendition flights, however, and senior United Nations officials believe that a number of prisoners were held and interrogated there between 2002 and 2003.
The UK would do more than offer mere logistics support to the rendition program, however. It would “perform,” in Bush’s words, by becoming an enthusiastic participant in the rendition and torture program. As in the summer of 1940, its first victims would be British. But as then and since, Britain would enshroud its use of torture in the greatest possible secrecy.
In October 2001, when the United States and its allies went to war in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime that had harbored al-Qaida, it was inevitable that a small number of those captured on the battlefield would be British.
For more than a decade, MI5 had been aware that British Muslims had been traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive training at camps run by al-Qaida or associated groups. Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, operated some of the camps, and graduates were encouraged to take up arms against Indian forces in Kashmir. Before al-Qaida began targeting the West in the late 1990s, MI5 saw these trips as evidence of little more than exuberant adventurism among a small section of young British Muslim males: a form of jihadi tourism that posed no threat to the UK. All that changed after 9/11, when both MI5 and MI6 became anxious to extract as much information as possible from any British prisoners in order to assess the al-Qaida threat.
It was not long before prisoners were being taken during battles in the north and southeast of Afghanistan. Many more foreign fighters were captured while attempting to slip across the border into Pakistan. Hundreds were handed over to US forces by Afghan and Pakistani bounty hunters, who received large bundles of dollars for every non-Afghan they captured.
Among the handful of British nationals seized in Afghanistan were Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed. These men from the West Midlands, who became known as the Tipton Three, spent around a month in captivity in the north of the country before being flown to an interrogation center at Kandahar airport. By this time, the Red Cross was already complaining to US authorities about the systematic mistreatment prisoners suffered at Kandahar. On arrival all three were severely beaten. According to Iqbal: . . .
Obama, of course, is absolutely determined that torturers will go unpunished.
An excerpt from Ian Cobain’s A Secret History of Torture:
Two days after the 9/11 attacks, during a meeting of Bush’s closest advisers, Cofer Black declared the country’s enemies must be left with ‘flies walking across their eyeballs’. It was an image of death so striking that Black became known among the President’s inner circle as ‘the flies on the eyeballs guy’. Unlike its allies – the UK, France, Spain and Israel – the US had little experience of serious terrorist attacks on its own territory, nor any understanding of the need for a patient response. Bush was impressed by Black. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, could see that the President wanted to kill somebody. The problem, as successive attorneys general had warned one president after another, was that they did not enjoy unfettered powers of life and death over the nation’s enemies. The CIA had been banned from carrying out assassinations since 1976.
The President turned to his Department of Defense and found that it had no cogent, off-the-shelf plan for responding to an attack of this nature on the United States. The CIA, on the other hand, did have something in its arsenal: it had the rendition program.
Since 1987, the CIA had been quietly apprehending terrorists and ‘rendering’ them to the US for prosecution, without any regard for lawful extradition processes. In 1995, President Bill Clinton – apparently with the full encouragement of his vice-president, Al Gore – agreed that a number of terrorists could be taken to a third country, including countries known to use torture, a process that would come to be known as extraordinary rendition.
Mike Scheuer, the CIA officer who started that programme, faced few objections from Clinton’s national security advisers when he began taking prisoners to Egypt, where they could be interrogated under torture. ‘They just didn’t want to know what we were doing,’ he says.
Before 9/11, however, there were limits. In 1998, for example, the CIA had drawn up a plan to kidnap Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and take him to Egypt. A shipping container was installed inside a Hercules aircraft and inside that was bolted a dentist’s chair fitted with restraints. The CIA were all ready to go when, at the last moment, the FBI persuaded Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, that bin Laden’s inevitable death at the hands of the Egyptians would be an act of murder and that US officials would be responsible. Reno vetoed the plan.
By 13 September, with a still-unknown number of Americans dead and the President wanting action, all such legal squeamishness had vanished. President Bush and Dick Cheney both believed al-Qaida had succeeded because government lawyers had been expecting the CIA to do its job with one hand tied behind its back. Bush said as much to his attorney general, John Ashcroft, when he warned him: ‘Don’t ever let this happen again.’ So when the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, went to brief the President a few days after 9/11 and began to talk of the need to gather evidence for future prosecutions, he was promptly silenced by Ashcroft. Prosecutions were beside the point, Ashcroft said. All that mattered was stopping another attack.
That night, Cofer Black locked himself away at his office at Langley and within five days had drawn up plans for the CIA’s response. It would entail a vast expansion of the rendition programme. Hundreds of al-Qaida suspects would be tracked down and abducted from their homes and hiding places in eighty different countries. The agency would decide who was to be killed and who was to be kept alive in a network of secret prisons, outside the US, where they would be systematically tormented until every one of their secrets had been delivered up. The United States had been blindsided by al-Qaida on 9/11 and that situation would not be permitted to occur a second time.
Black’s plan was presented to the President and his war cabinet in a series of meetings during the days after the attacks. On Monday 17 September, Bush signed off the paperwork: with a stroke of his pen the CIA was granted the power of life and death over al-Qaida suspects and could arrange for men to be detained and tortured indefinitely. All this, Bush later said, was to remain invisible.