Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

Are psychologists more open to learning that leads to behavioral change? Because they’re looking at their participation in torture.

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Interesting (if belated) step, reported in The Intercept by Cora Currier:

The top professional organization for psychologists is launching an independent investigation over how it may have sanctioned the brutal interrogation methods used against terror suspects by the Bush administration. The American Psychological Association announced this week that it has tapped an unaffiliated lawyer, David Hoffman, to lead the review. [Good: Not self-policing, which never, ever works. - LG]

In 2002, the American Psychological Association (APA) revised its code of ethics to allow practitioners to follow the “governing legal authority” in situations that seemed at odds with their duties as health professionals. Many argue that the revision, as well as a task force report in 2005 that affirmed that the code allowed psychologists to participate in national security interrogations, gave the Bush administration critical legal cover for torture.

The APA has since removed the just-following-orders excuse from their code, disavowed the 2005 report, and gone to lengths to distance themselves from the controversy.

But it reopened last month, when New York Times reporter James Risen’s book “Pay Any Price” revealed e-mails from the files of a deceased CIA contractor, Scott Gerwehr, showing close contact between the intelligence establishment and leadership at the APA. The emails centered particularly on the 2005 report and suggested that members of the Bush Administration were involved in its conception and drafting.

Nathaniel Raymond, a human rights researcher who also had access to Gerwehr’s emails, told The Intercept in October that he had submitted the emails to the FBI as evidence of criminal racketeering. A law enforcement official confirmed to The Intercept that the FBI in Washington had reviewed Raymond’s materials, but “did not find any criminal violations.” Raymond, who previously directed the Campaign Against Torture at Physicians for Human Rights, called the review a “positive first step” and said that he would share his complaint and any other information with Hoffman. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 November 2014 at 2:42 pm

Former CIA detainees claim US torture investigators never interviewed them

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I think it’s pretty obvious that any investigations that were done by the Executive Branch regarding the various US programs of torture were conducted to cover-up the truth, not reveal it. Obama signaled this at the start of his first term with his declaration that he would not investigate any allegations regarding the previous administration, and indeed he has done all he can to prevent the truth from coming out.

But this story in The Guardian from Spencer Ackerman is still of interest:

As the US government prepares to defend its record on torture before a United Nations panel, five Libyan men once held without charge by the CIA say the main criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse never even interviewed them.

The Libyans’ accusation reopens controversy over the 2012 pre-election decision by the prosecutor in the case not to bring charges against anyone involved in CIA abuse – an episode the US State Department has held up as an example of its diligence in complying with international torture obligations.

On Wednesday, a United Nations committee in Geneva is scheduled to hear a US delegation outline recent measures Washington has taken to combat torture. It will be the first update the US has provided to the committee since 2006, when the CIA still operated its off-the-books “black site” prisons. Human rights campaigners who have seen the Obama administration repeatedly decline to deliver justice for US torture victims consider it a belated chance at ending what they consider to be impunity.

Among the committee’s requested submissions, issued in 2010, is a description of steps the US has taken to ensure torture claims against it are “promptly, impartially and thoroughly investigated”. The committee specifically asked for a status update about the Justice Department’s since-concluded torture inquiry.

That high-profile inquiry, conducted by assistant US attorney John Durham, wrapped in 2012 without bringing criminal charges against anyone involved in the deaths of two detainees in CIA custody. That decision, heralding the end of federal investigations for post-9/11 detainee abuse, was preceded by Durham’s 2011 announcement that he would not proceed past a “preliminary review” for 99 out of 101 cases of suspected CIA torture.

The State Department, in a 2013 written submission to the UN committee, referred to Durham’s team as “experienced professionals” that found the “admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But the Libyans say that neither Durham nor his staff “ever sought or requested our testimony”.

The five – Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed al-Shoroeiya, Khalid al-Sharif, Majid Mokhtar Sasy al-Maghrebi, Saleh Hadiyah Abu Abdullah Di’iki and Mustafa Jawda al-Mehdi – wrote to committee secretary Patrice Gillibert in a 9 November letter urging Gillibert press the US delegation on the investigative omission.

All members of the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi terrorist group with murky ties to al-Qaida, the five spent between eight months and two years in CIA custody before being rendered back to Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons. One of them, Shoroeiya, alleges that the CIA waterboarded him in Afghanistan, although he is not one of the three people on whom the CIA has acknowledged using the controversial mock-drowning technique. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the story:

Durham’s apparent lack of interest in interviewing them “raises serious questions about the thoroughness and adequacy of the Durham investigation, whether other important witnesses were also not interviewed for that inquiry, and whether the US has complied with obligations under article 12” of the UN convention against torture, they wrote.

Through a representative at the US attorney’s office for Connecticut, Durham declined to comment to the Guardian. It is unknown if Durham interviewed any victims of CIA torture at all, but a lawyer for one of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators held at Guantanamo Bay said Durham never interviewed his client.

“It’s an omission from their point of view,” said James Connell, attorney for Ammar al-Baluchi, who added that he was unaware of Dunham interviewing any of al-Baluchi’s co-defendants.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2014 at 12:23 pm

An Innocent Man, Tortured By The U.S., Asks The U.N.: Where’s The Accountability?

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Good question, eh? Well, the security state answers to no one. Dan Froomkin writes at The Intercept:

U.S. officials are in for a serious grilling on Wednesday as they get hauled before the U.N. Committee against Torture and questioned about about a multitude of ways in which the U.S. appears to be failing to comply with the anti-torture treaty it ratified 20 years ago.

As Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Program noted on Monday:

This marks the first U.N. review of the United States’ torture record since President Obama took office in 2009, and much is at stake. The review will test the pledges President Obama made to reverse disastrous Bush-era policies that led to gross violations of human rights, like torture, secret and incommunicado detention, “extraordinary renditions,” unfair trials, and more. It is also likely to examine practices that emerged or became entrenched during Obama’s time in office, such as indefinite detention at Guantánamo, immigration detention and deportations, and the militarization of the police, as witnessed by the world during this summer’s events in Ferguson.

The ACLU’s “shadow report” to the committee is a profoundly grim indictment of the nation’s failure to live up to its principles.

And although Obama claims to oppose torture, the New York Times recently reported that he could well fail another key test of his sincerity by reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the international Convention Against Torture imposes no legal obligation on the U.S. to bar cruelty outside its borders.

Obama has already flouted the convention’s requirement that member states hold torturers accountable. I have long argued that his failure there has been particularly profound.

U.S. non-governmental agencies were allowed to address the U.N. committee today, and Murat Kurnaz (pictured above), who was tortured and detained by the U.S. at Kandahar and then Guantanamo over a period of five years, traveled to Geneva with his attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. He made the following statement:

Good afternoon. My name is Murat Kurnaz. I am a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Bremen, Germany, where I currently live. I spent five years of my life in detention in Kandahar and Guantanamo Bay from 2001-2006.My story is like many others. In 2001, while traveling in Pakistan, I was arrested by Pakistani police and sold to the U.S. military for a $3,000 bounty. In Kandahar, the U.S. military subjected me to electric shocks, stress positions, simulated drowning, and endless beatings. In Guantanamo, there was also psychological torture—I was stripped of my humanity, treated like an animal, isolated from the rest of the world, and did not know if I would ever be released.

Even though my lawyers proved that the U.S. knew of my innocence by 2002, I was not released until 2006. I lost five years of my life in Guantanamo.

Eight years later, I cannot believe that Guantanamo is still open and that there are almost 150 men detained there indefinitely. My time in Guantanamo was a nightmare, but I sometimes consider myself lucky. I know that part of the reason I am free today is because I am from Germany.

Most of the current prisoners remain in Guantanamo because they are from Yemen and the U.S. refuses to send them home. Many are as innocent as I was. But they are enduring the torture of Guantanamo for over 12 years because of their nationality, not because of anything they have done.

I understand that international human rights laws like the Convention Against Torture were created so that the people who commit torture are punished. Isn’t that how we can end torture in the world? So why has no U.S. official been held responsible for brutal practices and torture at Guantanamo or other U.S. prisons?

I will never get five years of my life back, but for me and others, it is important that the Committee confronts the United States about its actions in Guantanamo and other prisons.

Thank you.

The committee’s proceedings are being livestreamed here. The questioning of the U.S. delegation begins as 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Geneva time — 4 a.m. ET.

This story reflects the actuality of the US to much of the world—and it is a story that, apparently, our government, our Congress, and our citizens are mostly comfortable with.

I have blamed President Obama for not observing the legal requirements of the Convention Against Torture, which in fact is now US law. But now I can see that the second government—the security apparatus—probably did not allow him to act. They clearly have kept him on a short leash so far as the security apparatus is concerned, and I imagine he was not given a choice. OTOH, Obama clearly did have a choice in voting for or against telecom immunity for illegal warrantless wiretaps, and he did promise to vote against it—then he voted for it. So he simply cannot be trusted, as shown by his own words and deeds.

In any event, it is a mark of how low we as a nation have sunk.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2014 at 7:18 pm

The Guantánamo Tapes

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The US is continuing to blacken its name at Guantánamo. Joe Nocera writes in the NY Times:

Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab is a Syrian man who has been a detainee at the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since 2002. In 2009, the Guantánamo Review Task Force ruled that he was not a threat to national security and could be released. Yet here we are five years later, and Diyab is still imprisoned at Guantánamo, having never been tried, or even accused of a crime, and with no idea when — or if — he’ll ever get out. Last year, to protest their continued confinement, he and many other detainees began a hunger strike. Most of the detainees have since given up their hunger strikes. Diyab, however, has never completely stopped his.

One reason many detainees abandoned their hunger strikes is because, twice a day, the government used what is called “enteral feeding” to ensure that they were getting nutrients. A more common term is force-feeding. The ordeal begins with something called “forced cell extraction,” which one of Diyab’s lawyers, Jon Eisenberg, described to me as “a highly orchestrated procedure.”

“A five-man riot squad in complete armor pins the guy to the floor, shackles him, and carries him out,” Eisenberg says. Then the detainee is strapped into a restraint chair — which the prisoners have dubbed the “torture chair.” One soldier holds the detainee’s head, while another feeds a tube into his nose and down to his stomach. It is very painful to endure.

Last year, I wrote several columns about force-feeding, asking whether it could be classified as torture. At the time, I didn’t think there would ever be a way to test that premise in an American court. The federal judge who seemed most sympathetic to the detainees’ plight, Gladys Kessler, had concluded that she simply lacked the authority to rule on the conditions of their confinement, based on a 2006 law intended to prevent the prisoners from petitioning the judiciary and challenging their detention.

Lo and behold, Judge Kessler turned out to be wrong. Earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled, 2 to 1, that she did have jurisdiction. There are strict medical protocols for force-feeding hospital patients or prisoners. If the military violated those protocols — especially if detainees were force-fed in an abusive, punitive manner — then she could order them to stop.

Thus began eight months of legal wrangling between Diyab’s lawyers and the government that culminated in a three-day hearing that took place earlier this month. Though no one put it like this, its purpose, at least in part, was . . .

Continue reading.

See also this article by Charlie Savage in the NY Times: Judge Orders Disclosure of Guantánamo Videos

I believe those videos will (or should) shock the conscience, particularly since some of the prisoners were just swept up in a general action and in fact are guilty of nothing.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2014 at 11:23 am

Report To U.N. Calls Bullshit On Obama’s ‘Look Forward, Not Backwards’ Approach To Torture

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I was stunned when President Obama flatly stated that he would ignore the legal requirements to investigate credible allegations of torture—allegations that by the time of his statement we knew to be factual, but without knowledge of how vast the torture program was nor the details of those guilty of participating in the torture system, torture quite clearly being a crime under US (nd international) law. But President Obama did not seem bothered by it because, you see, the crimes had been committed in the past, so that we should not even look into them: “Look forward, not back,” something that must have puzzled law-enforcement agencies, whose total workload and responsibilities are dealing with crimes that took place in the past. However, I am sure it was heartening to criminals everywhere—and in particular those who had tortured people (some of them perfectly innocent of any wrong doing) and transported people to be tortured: The President has said that bad deeds done in the past are perfectly okay.

But now the dereliction of duty is starting to fester. Murtaza Hussein reports at The Intercept:

Months after President Obama frankly admitted that the United States had “tortured some folks” as part of the War on Terror, a new report submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture has been released that excoriates his administration for shielding the officials responsible from prosecution.

The report describes the post-9/11 torture program as “breathtaking in scope”, and indicts both the Bush and Obama administrations for complicity in it – the former through design and implementation, and the latter through its ongoing attempts to obstruct justice. Nothing that the program caused grievous harm to countless individuals and in many cases went as far as murder, the report calls for the United States to “promptly and impartially prosecute senior military and civilian officials responsible for authorizing, acquiescing, or consenting in any way to acts of torture.”

In specifically naming former President George W. Bush, Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo and former CIA contractor James Mitchell, among many others, as individuals sanctioned torture at the highest levels, the report highlights a gaping hole in President Obama’s promise to reassert America’s moral standing during his administration. Not only have the cited individuals not been charged with any crime for their role in the torture program, Obama has repeatedly reiterated his mantra of “looking forward, not backwards” to protect them from accountability.

Needless to say, you shouldn’t try that defense in court if you’re an ordinary American on trial for, say, a drug crime.

It’s also worth remembering that, horrific as it was, the torture regime described in the report was only a tiny part of the wide-ranging human rights abuses the United States committed after 9/11. It doesn’t even account for the network of prisons where hundreds of thousands of people were detained in Iraq and Afghanistan – many of whom suffered beatings, rape and murder at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

The environment that allowed such treatment as again authorized at the highest levels, but just as with the CIA program the only people to receive any legal sanction for these actions have been low-level soldiers who’ve essentially been used as scapegoats for the crimes of their superiors.

By refusing to prosecute Bush-era officials for their culpability in major human rights abuses such as the CIA program and Abu Ghraib, President Obama is not just failing to enforce justice but is essentiallyguaranteeing that such abuses will happen again in the future. His administration has demonstrated that even if government officials perpetrate the most heinous crimes imaginable, they will still be able to rely on their peers to conceal their wrongdoing and protect them from prosecution. This not only erodes the rule of law, it also helps create a culture of impunity that will inevitably give rise to such actions once again. . . .

Continue reading.

And it’s worth noting that Obama appointed John Brennan, deeply implicated in the torture program, to head the CIA, and has had people involved in the torture program trying to whitewash the Senate report on the torture program—while Obama refuses to declassify it.

Obama is quite clearly a willing accessory to the torture program, going to great lengths to protect those who did the torture and to prevent the US public from knowing exactly what happened. This is a dark blot on his record and reveals an aspect of his character worth considering.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2014 at 12:20 pm

Interesting development: Peace Prize Laureates Urge Disclosure on U.S. Torture

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Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

A dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates are urging President Obama to make “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture” by the United States, including the release of a long-delayed Senate report about the C.I.A.’s torture of terrorism suspects after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The laureates told Mr. Obama, who was awarded the Peace Prize himself in 2009, that the report’s prospective release has brought the United States to a “crossroads,” and that he must do more to bring closure to an era when the United States set an example that “will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world.”

“It remains to be seen whether the United States will turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded, and to once again adhere to the international conventions it helped to bring into being,” they wrote.

The joint letter was organized by two of the laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and former President José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, and is part of a broader online petition campaign at TheCommunity.com, whose chairman is Mr. Ramos-Horta. An advance copy was provided to The New York Times.

The appeal comes as the White House continues to wrestle with how much of a 480-page executive summary of the report should be declassified, an issue that pits the C.I.A. against the mostly Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. . .

Continue reading.

In related news Obama is reversing his earlier anti-torture stand—Obama does a lot of reversing of his various stances—as reported earlier in the NY Times by Charlie Savage. I don’t think Obama has any firm principles regarding torture (or much of anything else, so far as I can see). That story begins:

When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.

Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute “acknowledges and confirms existing obligations” under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty [and indeed President Obama has resolutely ignored the provisions of the treaty that legally require the investigation of credible allegations of torture and prosecution of those responsible—Obama, for example, allowed the CIA to destroy all the video records of their torture sessions and has constantly said that we must not “look back” at the crimes committed before he became president, because…. {unclear} – LG]. . .  [N]ow, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity. [No torture in the US, but the US can torture anywhere else in the world---they just have to transport the victim to another country or into international waters, and then (in Obama's view) torture is perfectly legal and acceptable. - LG]

The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty. That presentation will be the first during Mr. Obama’s presidency.

State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation. Doing so would require no policy changes, since Mr. Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture.

But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects. [To be clear courts have thrown out those lawsuits because Obama and Bush should "National security!!" as loud as they can, and the DOJ pleads with the courts to throw out the cases lest the US fall. That's how the US can kidnap innocent people, torture them for months, and there are no repercussions, no investigations, and no lawsuits allowed. The CIA is a Mafia, and the President is the don. - LG]

The internal debate is said to have been catalyzed by a memo that the State Department circulated within an interagency lawyers’ group several weeks ago. On Wednesday, lawyers from the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the National Security Council met at the White House to discuss the matter, but reached no consensus.

Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said Mr. Obama’s opposition to torture and cruel interrogations anywhere in the world was clear, separate from the legal question of whether the United Nations treaty applies to American behavior overseas.

“We are considering that question, and other questions posed by the committee, carefully as we prepare for the presentation in November,” Ms. Meehan said. “But there is no question that torture and cruel treatment in armed conflict are clearly and categorically prohibited in all places.”

In Mr. Obama’s first term, his top State Department lawyer, Harold H. Koh, began a push to reverse official government interpretations that two global rights treaties — the torture convention and a Bill of Rights-style accord — imposed no obligations on American officials abroad.

Both treaties contain phrases that make it ambiguous whether they apply to American-run prisons on foreign territory. For example, the provision barring cruelty that falls short of torture applies to a state’s conduct “in any territory under its jurisdiction.” . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: The first story above, which discusses at some length the prohibitions specified in the Convention Against Torture but is completely silent on the requirements of that law, prompted me to send this letter to the editors:

Charlie Savage’s report, “Peace Prize Laureates Urge Disclosure on U.S. Torture,” discusses the prohibitions of the Convention Against Torture (cruelty, torture), but is oddly silent on what the Convention requires: that credible allegations of torture MUST be investigated, and if evidence is found, those responsible for torture must be prosecuted.

President Obama has ignored this law with his childish “Look forward, not back.” And yet we routinely investigate and prosecute crimes that have already occurred (i.e., all crimes). Why not these? Because powerful people in the US can do whatever they want?

In fact, the Obama Administration does not even allow innocent people the US has kidnapped and tortured to have a day in court. When lawsuits are brought, the Obama Administration cries, “State secrets!” to get the cases thrown out.

This behavior is so contemptible, and so violates the Convention Against Torture, that I found it astonishing that Savage’s article doesn’t even mention it—until the penny dropped.

Of course: this silence is another instance in which the NY Times is obeying a request/demand from the White House, just as the NY Times (as an accessory after the fact) helped the White House conceal the completely illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

So it’s business as usual for you: helping the government hide its criminality, just as before.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2014 at 6:25 pm

When Abu-Ghraib is on the other foot

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I wonder how much of this is driven by well-known US atrocities such as Abu-Ghraib, the sergeant who went on a massacre of Afghan civilians, the total destruction of the two anti-Taliban town councils, the number of civilians (including wedding parties) killed in drone attacks, the well-known examples of torture by the US (183 waterboardings for one prisoner, for example),  the entire Iraq War and aftermath, and on and on. Certainly those do not in any way justify what ISIS is doing, but it perhaps can explain the source (and origin) of some of their anger. It’s not as though actions do not have consequences. The US cannot go around the world, conducting itself in such a fashion, and not expect pushback. That would be, IMO, unrealistic.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 3:45 pm

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