Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
I have occasionally remarked that “CIA” stands for “Criminals In Action,” and that certainly seems to be the case in their kidnapping and torture program, which also resulted in some homicides. Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay, and Marisa Taylor have a report at McClatchy of some sections leaked from the Senate report. Well worth reading. The report begins:
A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.
The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”
The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.
Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:
_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.
The 6,300-page report is . . .
Amy Davidson writes at the New Yorker:
Who gets “emotional” about torture—or, rather, what is the proper emotional response to a history of torture and lies? On Fox News, on Sunday morning, Chris Wallace asked Michael Hayden, the former director of the C.I.A., about a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sixty-three hundred pages long, that “says the C.I.A. misled the public about the severity and the success of the enhanced interrogation program.” Hayden’s first response was to talk about the feelings of Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the committee, citing an article by David Ignatius: “He said Senator Feinstein wanted a report so scathing that it would ‘ensure that an un-American brutal program of detention and interrogation would never again be considered or permitted.’ ”
Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.
“Deep emotional feelings,” on the part of a woman like Feinstein, are apparently dizzying, especially when it comes to things like our integrity as a nation. But are Hayden and his former colleagues at the C.I.A., in touch with their own emotions on this one? The Senate voted on Thursday to submit the report for declassification; this process may take a while, because the White House and the C.I.A. will be involved, and the agency has fought the report. It has made its objections known feelingly, in a rebuttal that is also classified, in testimony, and in leaks to reporters about how the Senate just doesn’t understand what it was like—doesn’t get it, doesn’t care about what bad days its agents had. Not that the C.I.A. wants to tell. When John Brennan, the current head of the C.I.A., realized that the Senate investigators had some of the agency’s notes to itself—the so-called Panetta papers, in which, according to Senator Feinstein, the agency conceded points it is now denying—he had a bit of a fit. Feinstein said that the committee got the Panetta papers from the C.I.A. in a document dump; the agency said that even if it did, the committee ought to have known that those notes were private. It apparently searched the Senate’s computers and tried to get a criminal investigation started. Calling the cops is, admittedly, a common fantasy when an teen-ager realizes that his journal has been read, but it’s a bit unworthy of an intelligence agency when dealing with its congressional overseers.
Now, not that there’s anything wrong with wanting a scathing report in torture that will shock the conscience, but it’s probably worth noting that the Ignatius line Hayden cited took a Feinstein quote slightly out of context. (Though the layering of emotionalism is on Hayden.) Ignatius wrote that Feinstein “wanted a report so tough that it would ‘ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted,’ as she put it.” She had actually presented this as the reason to make the report public:
If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.
Emphasis added. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one: whatever her “motivation” was, it didn’t shape the writing of the report, but her feelings about who ought to get to read it. (On Saturday, Trevor Timm, of the Press Freedom Foundation, put out a “general plea” for a leak.)
There are really two issues here.
I truly do not understand why Obama is so eager to protect the torture regime, but he is. Kevin Drum points out some interesting points in a Washington Post story on the report. From Drum’s post (which is worth reading):
So the torture was even worse than we thought; it produced very little in the way of actionable intelligence; and the CIA lied about this in order to preserve their ability to torture prisoners.
Anybody who isn’t sickened by this needs to take very long, very deep look into their souls.
Interesting that Harry Reid is taking some action to get to the bottom of what’s going on, while Obama simply stalls and refuses to release reports. Obama is looking bad in this interaction, and the CIA is looking worse. David Joachim’s report in the NY Times is worth reading. From that report:
. . . In letters sent to Mr. Brennan and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday, Mr. Reid said he had instructed the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to conduct a forensic analysis of the committee’s computers to resolve the question of misbehavior on the part of committee staff members.
“The C.I.A. has produced no evidence to support its claims that Senate committee staff who have no technical training somehow hacked into the C.I.A.’s highly secure classified networks, an allegation that appears on its face to be patently absurd,” Mr. Reid wrote to Mr. Brennan.
In his letter to Mr. Holder, Mr. Reid singled out a former acting general counsel of the C.I.A., Robert Eatinger, for referring the C.I.A.’s claims to the Justice Department even though he was mentioned 1,600 times in the Intelligence Committee’s report on C.I.A. interrogation. Mr. Reid added that the referral “appears to be a transparent attempt to intimidate the committee and undermine its oversight of the agency.”
Democratic senators have claimed that the Panetta review, which is still classified, is broadly consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s voluminous report about the C.I.A.’s now-defunct detention and interrogation program.
According to several people who have read the committee’s report, it concludes that the agency gained little valuable intelligence from its brutal questioning of Qaeda detainees, and that C.I.A. officials repeatedly misled the White House, Congress and the public about the value of the program. . .
Marcy Wheeler writes at The Intercept:
The fight between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Committee’s Torture Report – which Dan Froomkin covered here – has now zeroed in on the White House.
Did the White House order the CIA to withdraw 920 documents from a server made available to Committee staffers, as Senator Dianne Feinstein says the agency claimed in 2010? Were those documents – perhaps thousands of them – pulled in deference to a White House claim of executive privilege, as Senator Mark Udall and then CIA General Counsel Stephen Prestonsuggested last fall? And is the White House continuing to withhold 9,000 pages of documents without invoking privilege, as McClatchy reported yesterday?
We can be sure about one thing: The Obama White House has covered up the Bush presidency’s role in the torture program for years. Specifically, from 2009 to 2012, the administration went to extraordinary lengths to keep a single short phrase, describing President Bush’s authorization of the torture program, secret.
Some time before October 29, 2009, then National Security Advisor Jim Jones filed an ex parte classified declaration with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in response to a FOIA request by the ACLU seeking documents related to the torture program. In it, Jones argued that the CIA should not be forced to disclose the “source of the CIA’s authority,” as referenced in the title of a document providing “Guidelines for Interrogations” and signed by then CIA Director George Tenet. That document was cited in two Justice Department memos at issue in the FOIA. Jones claimed that “source of authority” constituted an intelligence method that needed to be protected.
As other documents and reporting have made clear, the source of authority was a September 17, 2001 Presidential declaration authorizing not just detention and interrogation, but a range of other counterterrorism activities, including targeted killings.Both former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzohave made clear that the torture program began as a covert operation. “A few days after the [9/11] attacks, President Bush signed a top-secret directive to CIA authorizing an unprecedented array of covert actions against Al Qaeda and its leadership.” Rizzo explained in 2011. One of those actions, Rizzo went on, was “the capture, incommunicado detention and aggressive interrogation of senior Al Qaeda operatives.”
As Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, noted in 2009 – shortly after Hayden revealed that torture started as a covert operation – this means there should be a paper trail implicating President Bush in the torture program. “[T]here should be a Presidential ‘finding’ authorizing the program,” he said, “and  such a finding should have been provided to Congressional overseers.”
The National Security Act dictates that every covert operation must be supported by a written declaration finding that the action is necessary and important to the national security. The Congressional Intelligence committees – or at least the Chair and Ranking Member – should receive notice of the finding.
But there is evidence that those Congressional overseers were never told that the finding the president signed on September 17, 2001 authorized torture. For example, a letter from then ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, to the CIA’s General Counsel following her first briefing on torture asked: “Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?” The CIA’s response at the time was simply that “policy as well as legal matters have been addressed within the Executive Branch.”
Nevertheless, the finding does exist. . .
Very interesting article—and I would rate the comments interesting as well. Mark Mazzetti reports in the NY Times:
The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.
The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The committee has spent several years working on a voluminous report about the detention and interrogation program, and according to one official interviewed in recent days, C.I.A. officers went as far as gaining access to computer networks used by the committee to carry out its investigation.
The events have elevated the protracted battle — which began as a fight over who writes the history of the program, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks — into a bitter standoff that in essence is a dispute over the separation of powers and congressional oversight of spy agencies.
The specifics of the inspector general’s investigation are unclear. But several officials interviewed in recent days — all of whom insisted on anonymity, citing a continuing inquiry — said it began after the C.I.A. took what Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, on Tuesday called an “unprecedented action” against the committee.
The action, which Mr. Udall did not describe, took place after C.I.A. officials came to suspect that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation into the detention and interrogation program.
It is not known what the agency’s inspector general, David B. Buckley, has found in the investigation or whether Mr. Buckley has referred any cases to the Justice Department for further investigation. Spokesmen for the agency and the Justice Department declined to comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, gave few details about the dispute on Tuesday as she left a closed committee hearing on the crisis in Ukraine, but she did confirm that the C.I.A. had begun an internal review.
“There is an I.G. investigation,” she said.
Asked about the tension between the committee and the spy agency it oversees, Ms. Feinstein said, “Our oversight role will prevail.”
The episode is a rare moment of public rancor between the intelligence agencies and Ms. Feinstein’s committee, which has been criticized in some quarters for its muscular defense of many controversial intelligence programs — from the surveillance operations exposed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden to the Obama administration’s targeted killing program using armed drones.
The origins of the current dispute date back more than a year, when the committee completed its work on a 6,000-page report about the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program. People who have read the study said it is a withering indictment of the program and details many instances when C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the agency’s brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
The report has yet to be declassified, but last June, John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, responded to the Senate report with a 122-page rebuttal challenging specific facts in the report as well as the investigation’s overarching conclusion — that the agency’s interrogation methods yielded little valuable intelligence.
Then, in December, Mr. Udall revealed that the Intelligence Committee had become aware of an internal C.I.A. study that he said was “consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report” and “conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.”
It appears that Mr. Udall’s revelation is what set off the current fight, with C.I.A. officials accusing the Intelligence Committee of learning about the internal review by gaining unauthorized access to agency databases. . .
Continue reading. And check out those comments. E.g.,
Loved twitter response from Greenwald:
Ironic: Senate Intel Comm – which endorses vast NSA spying on ordinary citizens – gets angry when they’re spied on.
Rebecca Gordon writes at Informed Comment:
Shortly after his first inauguration in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order forbidding torture and closing the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” But the order didn’t end “extraordinary rendition” – the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured. (This is actually illegal under the U.N. Convention against Torture, which the United States signed in 1994.) And it didn’t close the prison at Guantánamo, where to this day, prisoners are held in solitary confinement.
Periodic hunger strikes are met with brutal force feeding. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
The CIA’s black sites may (or may not) have been shut down, but we don’t have any idea what is going on in the detention centers run by the Joint Special Operations Command, especially in parts of Africa. (See Jeremy Scahill’s excellent Dirty Wars for more on this.)
Nor did Obama’s order end torture in another place where it is a daily occurrence, hidden in plain sight: U.S. prisons. It is no accident that the Army reservists responsible for the outrages at Abu Ghraib worked as prison guards in civilian life. As Spec. Charles A. Graner wrote in an email home, about his work at Abu Ghraib, “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, “I love to make a grown man piss himself.”
Solitary confinement and the ever-present threat of rape are just two forms of institutionalized torture so commonly suffered by the people who make up the world’s largest prison population. The most recent Guantánamo hunger strikes just happened to coincide with similar actions by people held in solitary confinement in California’s high security prisons.
2. We still don’t have a full, official accounting.
As yet we have no official government accounting of how the United States has used torture in the “war on terror.” This is partly because so many different agencies, clandestine and otherwise, have been involved in one way or another. The Senate Intelligence Committee has written a 6,000-page report just on the CIA’s involvement, which has never been made public. Nor has the Committee been able to shake loose the CIA’s own report on its interrogation program. Most of what we do know is the result of leaks, and the dogged work of dedicated journalists and human rights lawyers. But we have nothing official, on the level, say, of the 1972 Church Committee.
Frustrated because both Congress and the Obama administration were unwilling to demand a full accounting, a blue-ribbon bipartisan committee produced their own damning report. Members included former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, former FBI chief William Sessions, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering. The report reached two important conclusions: 1) “[I] t is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” and, “[T] he nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture.”
3. . .
The chickens are starting to arrive home. That was the US, doing those things. No getting around it now. War crimes in the cold light of day, once passions have lessened, look very ugly to any reasonable person. (The US, for example, has no difficulty at all in recognizing the heinousness of the war crimes done by other countries, including crimes like murder, kidnapping, torture and the like.)
Another strong NY Times editorial. I think they are seeing President Obama in a new light. I know I am.
A dozen years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it is appalling that official reports about the extent and nature of the rendition, detention and torture that came in their aftermath are still being kept from the American public and even members of Congress charged with overseeing intelligence activities.
The program was abandoned years ago. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s exhaustive 6,000-page report was completed last December. But it has yet to be declassified. Likely the closest to a full accounting the nation is going to get, the report is said to contain unsparing criticism of the program. News reports have said it chronicles the Central Intelligence Agency’s repeated misleading of the White House, Congress and the public about the value of brutal and lawless methods that yielded little valuable intelligence despite the claims of former Vice President Dick Cheney and other defenders of torture.
The C.I.A. wrote a 122-page rebuttal to the Senate’s report, which was delivered by the agency’s current director, John Brennan, in June, four months after the committee’s deadline. It, too, remains under wraps.
The C.I.A. and the committee’s staff have conducted some 60 hours of negotiations on the agency’s proposed changes to the report. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, has expressed frustration with the delay. She has said she aims to have the committee vote in January to begin a formal declassification process at least for those sections of the report. That process could take weeks or it could take many months, depending on how long the C.I.A. drags it out.
The lack of transparency was underlined on Tuesday during a hearing on the nomination of Caroline Krass to be the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, disclosed the existence of an internal study done by the C.I.A. under Mr. Brennan’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, that contradicted the agency’s response to the Senate study. Mr. Udall said he believed it was “consistent with the Intelligence’s Committee’s report.” Mr. Udall said: “This raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago — and never provided to the committee — is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.”
The committee must insist on the Obama administration’s cooperation in making public all three documents — the Senate Intelligence Committee report, the official C.I.A. response to it, and the internal C.I.A. study.
Rendition, illegal detention and torture did not arise on President Obama’s watch. He has repeatedly denounced the use of torture and ended the detention program as one of his first White House acts. But his expansive claims of secrecy have succeeded in blocking victims’ lawsuits and helping to keep details of rendition and torture secret, denying the country a reckoning necessary for the historical record, establishing accountability and avoiding similar human rights violations in the future.
Mr. Obama has a duty to ensure prompt public release of the documents — minimally redacted to protect genuine national security secrets, not to avoid embarrassment.
I believe that Mr. Obama is a substantial part of the problem.
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, , , ,