Later On

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Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category

How the EPA and the Pentagon Downplayed a Growing Toxic Threat

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Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

A family of chemicals — known as PFAS and responsible for marvels like Teflon and critical to the safety of American military bases — has now emerged as a far greater menace than previously disclosed.

The chemicals once seemed near magical, able to repel water, oil and stains.

By the 1970s, DuPont and 3M had used them to develop Teflon and Scotchgard, and they slipped into an array of everyday products, from gum wrappers to sofas to frying pans to carpets. Known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, they were a boon to the military, too, which used them in foam that snuffed out explosive oil and fuel fires.

It’s long been known that, in certain concentrations, the compounds could be dangerous if they got into water or if people breathed dust or ate food that contained them. Tests showed they accumulated in the blood of chemical factory workers and residents living nearby, and studies linked some of the chemicals to cancers and birth defects.

Now two new analyses of drinking water data and the science used to analyze it make clear the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense have downplayed the public threat posed by these chemicals. Far more people have likely been exposed to dangerous levels of them than has previously been reported because contamination from them is more widespread than has ever been officially acknowledged.

Moreover, ProPublica has found, the government’s understatement of the threat appears to be no accident.

The EPA and the Department of Defense calibrated water tests to exclude some harmful levels of contamination and only register especially high concentrations of chemicals, according to the vice president of one testing company. Several prominent scientists told ProPublica the DOD chose to use tests that would identify only a handful of chemicals rather than more advanced tests that the agencies’ own scientists had helped develop which could potentially identify the presence of hundreds of additional compounds.

The first analysis, contained in an EPA contractor’s PowerPoint presentation, shows that one chemical — the PFAS most understood to cause harm — is 24 times more prevalent in public drinking water than the EPA has reported. Based on this, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization whose scientists have studied PFAS pollution, has estimated that as many as 110 million Americans are now at risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals.

In the second analysis, ProPublica compared how the military checks for and measures PFAS-related contamination to what’s identified by more advanced tests. We found that the military relied on tests which are not capable of detecting all the PFAS chemicals it believed to be present. Even then, it underreported its results, sharing only a small part if its data. We also found that the military’s own research programs had retested several of those defense sites using more advanced testing technology and identified significantly more pollution than what the military reported to Congress.

Even before the troubling new information about PFAS chemicals emerged, the government had acknowledged problems relating to them were spreading. Past EPA water testing, however incomplete, identified drinking water contamination across 33 states that Harvard researchers estimated affected some 6 million people. The military suspected drinking water at more than 660 U.S. defense sites where firefighting foam was used could be contaminated; earlier this year, it announced it had confirmed contamination in 36 drinking water systems and in 90 groundwater sites on or near its facilities.

The new analyses suggest these findings likely represent just a fraction of the true number of people and drinking water systems affected.

In written responses to questions, the EPA did not directly address whether it had understated contamination from PFAS chemicals. The agency said it had confidence in its current testing procedures and had set detection limits at appropriate levels. It also stated that it is taking steps towards regulating some PFAS compounds and registering them as “hazardous substances,” a classification that triggers additional oversight under waste and pollution laws.

The agency will “take concrete actions to ensure PFAS is thoroughly addressed and all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water,” then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who recently resigned, said in the written statement to ProPublica in May.

The Department of Defense also responded to questions in writing, defending its testing methods as the best available and calling it difficult to fully assess risks from PFAS because the EPA has not regulated these chemicals. A DOD spokeswoman said the Pentagon’s research group has a program underway aimed at enhancing the test methods and detecting more PFAS compounds, but suggested that no alternatives were ready for use. She did not answer questions about why the agency reported contamination levels for only two chemicals to Congress when it would have had data on many more, stating only that the Pentagon “is committed to protecting human health and the environment.”

Environmental experts aren’t convinced.

“Widespread contamination may be harming the health of millions or even tens of millions of Americans and the government is intentionally covering up some of the evidence,” said Erik Olson, a senior director for health, food and agriculture initiatives at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an interview. The EPA and Defense Department “have done all they can to sort of drag their feet and avoid meaningful regulatory action in making significant investment in cleanups.”

In May, a Politico report revealed that . . .

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U.S. Navy Reserve Doctor on Gina Haspel Torture Victim: “One of ghe Most Severely Traumatized Individuals I Have Ever Seen”

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US politics seems to have mislaid the idea of accountability. Jeremy Scahill reports in the Intercept:

AN AMERICAN DOCTOR and Naval reserve officer who has done extensive medical evaluation of a high-profile prisoner who was tortured under the supervision of Gina Haspel privately urged Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to oppose Haspel’s confirmation as CIA director, according to an email obtained by The Intercept.

“I have evaluated Mr. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri, as well as close to 20 other men who were tortured” in U.S. custody, including several who were tortured “as part of the CIA’s RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation] program. I am one of the only health professionals he has ever talked to about his torture, its effects, and his ongoing suffering,” Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote to Warner’s legislative director on Monday. “He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

Nashiri was snatched in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and “rendered” to Afghanistan by the CIA and eventually taken to the Cat’s Eye prison in Thailand that was run by Haspel from October to December 2002. He was suspected of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen. He is currently being held at Guantánamo Bay prison.

Despite Crosby’s pleas, Warner and five other Democratic senators have announced their support for Haspel. Warner backed Haspel after she sent him a carefully crafted letter designed to give the impression that she had changed her position on torture while simultaneously continuing to defend its efficacy. “While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” Haspel wrote. “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Haspel stated that she “would refuse to undertake any proposed activity that was contrary to my moral and ethical values.” But Haspel has refused to renounce torture, her role in its use or to condemn the practice of waterboarding. In fact, under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris during her confirmation hearing, Haspel explicitly refused to say that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” she oversaw at a secret CIA prison in Thailand were immoral. That fact renders her pledge to Warner meaningless.

“It took her 16 years and the eve of a vote on her confirmation to get even this modest statement, and again, she didn’t say she had any regrets other than it offended some people,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Intelligence Committee.

“I urge Senator Warner to oppose Ms. Haspel, who did not have the courage or leadership to oppose the RDI program,” wrote Crosby. She stated that some of the techniques used against Nashiri are still classified. In her letter to Warner, Crosby stated that among the known acts of torture committed against Nashiri while he was in U.S. custody at several U.S. facilities, included:

  • suffocated with water (waterboarding)
  • subjected to mock execution with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded
  • anal rape through rectal feeding
  • threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted
  • lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 5:49 am

Gina Haspel would obey her broken moral compass

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Gina Haspel refused to answer Sen. Kamela Harris’s questions about whether the CIA/Bush torture program was “immoral.” So much for Ms. Haspel’s moral compass: it doesn’t provide her any direction. She also said that she believed that torture produced valuable intelligence (in stark contrast to the Senate investigation and also in contradiction to the findings of effective professional interrogators, who say that torture produces garbage—the person tortured will say anything s/he thinks her torturers want to hear—and the effective way to gain intelligence is through trust. And, of course, she cooperated in destroying the video evidence of the torture, thus obstructing justice.

Karoun Demirjian and Shane Harris report in the Washington Post:

Gina Haspel told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that she “will not restart” a controversial CIA interrogation program if confirmed to lead the agency and that she would obey her moral compass, not President Trump, if she was ever instructed to carry out other questionable activities.
“We’re not getting back into that business,” Haspel said. “I would not restart, under any circumstances, an interrogation program at CIA.”
“My moral compass is strong,” Haspel said as the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), pressed her to define her “moral code.”
“I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it,” Haspel continued. “I believe CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values.”
Haspel resisted efforts by senators to get her to say whether she believed it was morally wrong for her agency to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, including waterboarding, which many have said is a form of torture. [So much for her “moral compass”: it didn’t even provide enough direction to answer the question. And since she apparently doesn’t view the program as morally wrong, she apparently would indeed restart it, despite her protestations. – LG] She said that the techniques had been authorized at the time by the highest legal authorities in the U.S. government and by President George W. Bush. [Her defense in the destruction of video evidence amounted to much the same thing: “I was just following orders.” – LG]
Senators were visibly frustrated at Haspel’s unwillingness to say definitively whether she believed it was wrong at the time to waterboard terrorist suspects. Haspel defended the interrogation sessions.
“We got valuable information from debriefing of al-Qaeda detainees,” she told Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). “I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”
Senators have asked several of Trump’s Cabinet nominees to commit to standing up to the president and informing Congress if he were to pressure them to do anything legally or morally questionable. But the pledge takes on extra significance with Haspel, whose hearing centered around the role she played in the CIA’s interrogation program — something Trump said on the campaign trail he wouldn’t mind bringing back into practice.
Haspel told senators that she doubted the president would ever ask her to waterboard a suspect [Trump has said he would do a lot worse than waterboarding – LG], stressing that experience had shown that the CIA “is not the right place to conduct interrogations,” as it does not have the proper expertise. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2018 at 10:42 am

Haspel, Spies, and Videotapes

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Tim Golden has a lengthy and interesting report in ProPublica:

In November 2005, the CIA’s chief of undercover operations, Jose Rodriguez, turned to his closest aide for help in a crisis. Congress was threatening an investigation into the agency’s secret prisons overseas, and The Washington Post had just published new details of the so-called black sites on its front page. Rodriguez feared that the furor could pry loose videotapes that showed CIA officers brutally interrogating two terror suspects.

Rodriguez’s chief of staff, Gina Haspel, had directed the waterboarding of one suspect herself. Both Rodriguez and Haspel had been lobbying for years for permission to destroy the tapes, only to have the CIA’s requests rejected again and again by senior Bush administration officials.

Now, however, Rodriguez was determined to go ahead anyway. The tapes were locked in a CIA safe halfway across the world, but Rodriguez was not alone in thinking they were a ticking bomb that could threaten some of the interrogators and devastate the agency’s reputation.

“She — like everyone else around me — wanted the tapes destroyed,” Rodriguez said of Haspel in an interview. “It was something where we expected our agency to protect its people and do the right thing.”

As Haspel goes before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday as President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, her role in the tapes affair remains a central focus of controversy in a career that also included her supervision of a terror suspect’s interrogation using methods now widely seen as torture.

Although Rodriguez and Haspel were the primary subjects of a federal investigation into the destruction of the videotapes, prosecutors did not charge them with any crime. A subsequent disciplinary review by the CIA’s then-deputy director, Michael Morell, also found “no fault” with Haspel in the matter, saying she “acted appropriately.”

But a close examination of Haspel’s involvement in the episode, drawn from interviews and declassified documents, raises new questions about her actions and about the account of the episode she provided to federal investigators.

In a statement on Tuesday, the CIA acknowledged that Haspel wrote the cable that Rodriguez had sent ordering the destruction of the tapes. She did so, the agency said, in the mistaken belief that Rodriguez was actually planning to use the draft cable to “raise the issue” of destroying the tapes with Porter Goss, the CIA director. She only learned that Rodriguez had acted unilaterally after the fact, when she asked him whether Goss had approved the action and was told he had not.

In an interview with ProPublica several weeks ago, Rodriguez told the story differently. He said he was propelled into action after coming to the conclusion that neither Goss nor other senior administration officials would ever authorize the tapes’ destruction. He said he told Haspel that he was fed up with what he considered their political cowardice.

Rodriguez said he told Haspel directly that he was going to take matters into his own hands, and that she responded by saying she was worried about the consequences that he might face for such a brash act.

“She was concerned that I was taking this risk on my own — that I was putting myself in this situation,” Rodriguez recalled. “She didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ She may have thought I was going to talk to more people about it before hitting ‘send,’ but I had made up my mind that I was going to follow through.”

To date, no document has surfaced that might resolve the contradiction. Rodriguez was already retired when Morell began his review, which ended with a letter of reprimand for his unilateral action. The review imposed no sanctions on Haspel, accepting what it described as her “claim” that she believed her boss would not release the cable ordering the tapes’ destruction without the approval of Goss.

The many former CIA officials who have championed Haspel’s candidacy describe her as a talented and experienced professional whose loyalty to the agency — and especially to the undercover officers who worked with her in its clandestine service — is paramount.

That loyalty to the institution, some of those former officials said, would make her a careful guardian of the agency under a president who has often suggested that he wants to use the covert powers of the national security apparatus aggressively.

But the protective instincts that guided both Haspel and others in the tapes episode have been sharply questioned by some Senate Democrats, who have sought a fuller account of the saga, including the full report of the special prosecutor who investigated the case.


Compared to Haspel’s still classified activities as an officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, her part in the destruction of the videotapes is almost an open book. But it is a book with substantial redactions.

What has become clearer from interviews and partially declassified agency documents is that Haspel became involved in the issue almost from the start of the long campaign by Rodriguez and others to have the tapes destroyed.

The origins of the taping remain somewhat mysterious. But, as a team of CIA officers prepared to question their first high-value prisoner at a secret prison in Thailand in the summer of 2002, officials of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center — it isn’t clear who — thought it would be wise to create a video record of the prisoner’s treatment.

The detainee, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, known by his nom de guerre, Abu Zubaydah, had been shot in the groin during his capture in Pakistan a few months earlier. CIA officials thought the tapes would be a useful backup to their written record of the interrogations. The video recordings might also insure his captors against any allegations of mistreatment if he died in their custody.

But officials at the CTC, as the center is known, soon had second thoughts.

A senior CIA lawyer, John Rizzo, said that Rodriguez first came to him about destroying the tapes in mid-October of 2002. Zubaydah was still being questioned by CIA officers in Thailand. The “aggressive” phase of his interrogation was over, but among the roughly 100 hours of videotape that had been compiled, about 12 hours showed uncensored scenes of violent treatment.

That treatment included waterboarding, a method of simulated drowning in which, CIA records show, Zubaydah gagged, vomited and became hysterical while the interrogators poured water into his nostrils and throat as he lay strapped down on his back. The agency’s methods also included slapping him in the face and abdomen, slamming him into a plywood wall, depriving him of sleep and locking him into small “confinement boxes” for hours at a time.

The videotapes also showed the faces of some members of the interrogation team, Rodriguez told Rizzo.

“Jose was convinced that someday, somewhere, somehow, the tapes would become public and the identities of the interrogators inevitably ‘outed,’” Rizzo wrote in his 2014 memoir, “Company Man.” “‘“60 Minutes” will do slow-mo, stop-action pictures of their faces,’ Jose emotionally put it to me, ‘and they and their families will become targets for some Al Qaeda crazy wherever they are.’”

A canny lawyer known for his bespoke suits and colorful ties, Rizzo was sympathetic to Rodriguez’s concerns. But Rizzo had also seen his share of agency scandals up close, and he told Rodriguez firmly “not to do anything with those tapes” until he could discuss the issue and clear any action with more senior officials.

“I thought that destroying the tapes was fraught with enormous risk for the agency,” Rizzo wrote. “Someone does something like that when he has something to hide.”

Contacted by ProPublica, Rizzo declined to discuss the episode other than to say that he stood by what he had written about it in his book.

On Oct. 25, just as Haspel was arriving in Thailand to take over the black site as its new “chief of base,” an email from CIA headquarters informed officers there that they should observe a new procedure for videotaping: They were to continue recording to assist in checking their notes, but use the same tape each time so that they erased the previous day’s images.

The cable was emphatic about the reasons for the new policy. Officials had concluded that the CIA was not legally required to preserve the tapes. They represented “a serious security risk for [redacted] officers recorded on them,” and “a danger to all Americans should the tapes be compromised.” The cable promised that someone (their identity is redacted) would be sent to Thailand “at the earliest opportunity” to “assist in destroying the tapes completely.”

Haspel took over as “chief of base” at the Thai prison in late October, after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended. A new high-level prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, arrived on Nov. 15, and was almost immediately subjected to some of the same brutal treatment. How much videotaping was done during Haspel’s tenure at the black site is not clear, but only a few of the surviving tapes would show Nashiri. None of those, officials said, include any video of Haspel.

Nashiri’s interrogation in Thailand lasted a little more than two weeks. Then, the operation was thrown into turmoil when a New York Times journalist began asking the agency about reports that it was holding Qaida prisoners in Thailand. Haspel was ordered to shut down the secret prison immediately.

The two prisoners, Zubaydah and Nashiri, were sent to a new secret CIA prison in Poland on Dec. 4. But even before their departure, a flurry of cables between Thailand and CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, focused on what to do about the tapes.

On Nov. 27, a CIA officer in Thailand ­— possibly Haspel, or perhaps the agency’s station chief in Bangkok — sent a formal cable to headquarters. According to a summary of the message disclosed years later in response to a lawsuit, it sought “approval for the destruction” of the tapes.

Several cables on the subject came back from headquarters. They did not say yes.

The following month, at Rizzo’s urging, a new chief lawyer at the CIA, Scott Muller, presented the question of what to do with the 92 tapes to the agency’s then-director, George Tenet. The agency also sent a career attorney, John McPherson, to Thailand to review the stockpile of tapes and make sure that all the activities recorded on the tapes were also accurately described in the written records. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

I sincerely hope Gina Haspel is not confirmed.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2018 at 8:14 am

A Prisoner in Gina Haspel’s Black Site

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Tim Golden and Stephen Engelberg report in ProPublica:

He was a small man, one interrogator recalled, and so thin that he would slip in his restraints when the masked CIA guards tipped the waterboard upward to let him breathe.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a 37-year-old Saudi, did not deny having been a terrorist operative for Osama bin Laden. He admitted his role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, an attack that killed 17 Navy sailors. Captured two years later in Dubai, he talked openly about planning more attacks.

But any bravado had disappeared well before Nashiri’s CIA captors strapped him naked to a hospital gurney in a windowless white cell and began pouring water into his nose and mouth until he felt he was drowning. He pleaded with them to stop. They continued.

They “were going to get the truth out of him,” the interrogator told Nashiri, according to a previously undisclosed CIA cable. “They were going to do this again, and again, and again until he decided to be truthful.”

More than 15 years after Gina Haspel oversaw the questioning of Nashiri at a secret prison in Thailand, she will go before the Senate on Wednesday to seek confirmation as President Donald Trump’s choice to become the next director of the CIA.

While her nomination has already revived the country’s unresolved debate over interrogation methods that many experts consider torture, nearly everything Haspel has done in her long CIA career has remained secret, blotted out by the black ink that obscures classified information in public records.

But a trove of partially declassified CIA documents, released earlier this year in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and provided to ProPublica, offers a glimpse at one coercive interrogation she is known to have supervised.

Those records describe how Nashiri was slammed repeatedly against a wall, locked up in a tiny “confinement box” and told (inaccurately) that the black-clad security officers guarding him were Navy sailors who would pummel him if he did not divulge his secrets. One interrogator told Nashiri he needed to be “tenderized” like a piece of meat.

As Haspel prepares for confirmation hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the question is not whether her past will haunt her, but whether she can persuasively argue that her experience with harsh interrogations has convinced her not to allow their use again.

“She has told senators in her meetings with them that the CIA will not renew a detention and interrogation program under any circumstances,” a CIA spokesman said.

The Trump administration’s pitch for Haspel has not been straightforward. The president, who campaigned on a promise that he would bring back waterboarding and “a heck of a lot worse,” complained in a tweet on Monday morning that Democrats were opposing Haspel because “she was too tough on Terrorists.”

“Win Gina!” he exhorted her.

The agency itself, which generally prides itself on avoiding politics, has taken an unusually active and open role in lobbying for Haspel’s candidacy. On Monday, the CIA delivered a fuller set of classified records to the Senate, inviting senators to read a detailed history of Haspel’s career in secure rooms on Capitol Hill. But the agency has thus far declassified almost no substantive information about her work as an operations officer or senior official.

“Nominees will say practically anything to get confirmed,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democratic member of the intelligence committee, said in an interview. “I believe the American people have a right to know who this nominee is. I believe there is a significant amount of information about the key period, from 2002 to 2007, which can be declassified without compromising our country’s security.”

To provide a fuller picture, ProPublica interviewed current and former officials and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including some that had not previously been made public. This story focuses on Haspel’s CIA career and her brief experience leading one of the agency’s so-called black sites. A second article will examine her role in the agency’s 2005 destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes that were recorded before and during her time at the secret prison in Thailand.

Agency colleagues cast her role in both the tapes affair and the interrogation program as evidence of her consummate loyalty — not only to her boss, but to CIA officers who served in clandestine prisons around the world. But her personal views on such issues as the morality and effectiveness of brutal interrogation methods have remained opaque.

For several years, former officials said, she was deeply involved in the agency’s fight against al-Qaida, often working closely with the detention program. Later, she held top posts in the Clandestine Service when the agency waged an extraordinary campaign to try to refute a scathing report on the program by the Senate intelligence committee. The vehemence of those challenges led both Democrats and Republicans to question the CIA’s own reckoning with the mistakes it made.

According to one intelligence official, it was Haspel’s bona fides as a front-line veteran of the campaign against al-Qaida that helped win Trump’s admiration early on in his presidency, when he named her the agency’s deputy director. “He likes the idea that she was a risk-taker,” the official said. . .

Continue reading.

She’s willing to commit war crimes and she will follow orders even when the orders are of dubious illegality. She would not be my pick, that’s for sure.

See also in ProPublicaScenes From a Black Site,” by Daniel DeFraia:

Recently declassified CIA documents provide the first detailed look at the interrogation in Thailand of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the al-Qaida prisoner whose detention, officials say, was overseen by Gina Haspel.

Nashiri, a 37-year-old Saudi, was implicated in the bombing of the USS Cole, a Navy destroyer, while it was docked off the coast of Yemen in 2000. He was captured in Dubai in mid-October 2002. Emirati authorities handed him over to the CIA, which “rendered” him first to Afghanistan where he was briefly held at a secret prison called the “Salt Pit.” He was then flown to another secret prison in Thailand codenamed “Cat’s Eye.”

Nashiri arrived in Thailand on Nov. 15, according to a report by the CIA’s inspector general. Newly declassified documents show Nashiri suffered many of the same harsh methods the Justice Department had approved in August for the questioning of Abu Zubaydah.

Many of the declassified documents are dated November or December 2002. The precise dates are redacted, making an exact chronology impossible to determine. But there are clues that show a rough sequence of events. Several documents cite a calendar of Nashiri’s “enhanced interrogation,” which the inspector general’s report and other sources say began as soon as he arrived in Thailand. The documents allude to Nashiri’s transfer to another secret prison in Poland, which took place on Dec. 4. According to the inspector general’s investigation, Nashiri was waterboarded on the 12th day of his detention in Thailand, which would have been around Nov. 27. (A report on CIA interrogations by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said that Nashiri was waterboarded “at least” three times in Thailand.)

1. Date (Redacted): Eyes Only — Application of Enhanced Measures to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

As the CIA prepared to send Nashiri, described as a “longtime major al-Qaida personality and terrorist operations planner,” to the black site in Thailand for interrogation, this cable, apparently from headquarters, formally approved the use of harshly coercive methods “as necessary.”  . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 9:04 am

Trump Isn’t Merely Tolerating Torture — He’s Celebrating It

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Andrew Sullivan writes in New York:

There is a lot we don’t know about Gina Haspel, the nominee to head the CIA, who will soon be facing Senate hearings. As a covert officer, she has spent a long time in the shadows. Many of her colleagues speak very highly of her skills and dedication. And lately, the CIA has been providing selective — and oddly endearing — details about her private life. But there are a few things we do know. We know what the legal definition of torture is and long has been, in domestic and international law. In case you’re curious, this is it, according to federal law: “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.” It includes the threat of imminent death, and “other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.” Under international law, there are absolutely no justifications — no national security threats, no imminent dangers — allowed for committing this war crime.

We also know that Gina Haspel was, from 2003–2005, the chief of staff for Jose Rodriguez, the man tasked with implementing the Bush-Cheney program for “enhanced interrogation” of prisoners. She was in charge of communicating with various black sites around the world, and we know she authored a critical 2002 cable, “Turning Up the Heat in AZ Interrogations,” which initiated the torture of Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner the U.S. subjected to waterboarding. We also know she was present in at least one of the black sites where the torture took place, and that she lobbied very hard to destroy the tapes that recorded the torture sessions, and was responsible for ultimately ensuring that they were. She was, to put it mildly, deeply, intimately embedded in the torture regime.

And we know a lot about what the black sites were like, and what was done to the prisoners held in them. It’s worth speaking in plain English about what she was a part of. One agent described a particular site set up after Haspel’s directive to “turn up the heat.” He thought it was good for interrogations because it was the closest thing he had seen to a dungeon. The dungeon was kept in total darkness at all times, and the guards wore headlamps. The prisoners were in cells, kept completely naked, and were shackled to the walls and sometimes ceilings. They were given buckets for their waste. When they were subjected to sleep deprivation, they were tied to a bar on the ceiling so that they had to stand with their arms above their heads, and would have their limbs painfully pulled out of their sockets if they passed out. One of the prisoners was a diminutive figure who had been picked up as a suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, of which he was alleged to have been the “mastermind.” In fact, CIA agents disagreed about this. He was “an idiot,” one of them said. “He couldn’t read or comprehend a comic book.” Others alleged that he may have had a mental disability. Jose Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that “one of our interrogators described him to me as ‘the dumbest terrorist I have ever met.’” His name is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

He was waterboarded at the black site in Afghanistan, then again at another site in Thailand, where Haspel was physically present. In Afghanistan, this is what that entailed, according to the lawyers assigned to Nashiri’s case at Gitmo: “A rag was placed over his forehead and eyes and water poured into his mouth until he began to choke and aspirate. The rag was then lowered, suffocating him with the water still in his throat, sinuses, and lungs. Eventually the rag was lifted and the water expurgated, allowing him to take three to four breaths before the process was repeated.” Other techniques were used, this time at a black site in Poland: “On at least one occasion, they placed a broomstick behind petitioner’s knees as he knelt and then forced his body backwards, pulling his knee joints apart until he started to scream. On another occasion, agents cinched petitioner’s elbows behind his back and hoisted him to the ceiling, causing onlookers to fear that they dislocated his shoulders. On still other occasions, petitioner was [redacted] and deprived of sleep for days on end.”

There were other methods: “The standing stress position was also employed when agents stored petitioner for days in a coffin in between interrogations. This coffin is often termed ‘the large box’. At other times, agents locked petitioner into the ‘small box’, which is the approximate size of an office safe and [redacted]. When the lid was locked, the interior became completely dark, the air stagnant, and petitioner forced into a squatting fetal position that caused his extremities to swell.” He was kept in the “small box” for days.

Worse: “Nearly every ‘interview’ at several locations involved ‘walling.’ This involved agents rolling a towel around petitioner’s neck with which to swing him into a plywood wall. Walling was used so consistently that ‘the rolled up towel became an object that evoked fear.’ ‘The interrogator would enter the room and slowly and gently run the rolled towel over the … detainee’s head … spending several minutes adjusting it.’ This routine triggered a Pavlovian response wherein the towel became ‘an omen of what might happen next, [thereby] elicit[ing] a conditioned fear response.’” In Poland, the terrors mounted: “‘Mild punishment’ included convincing petitioner, while hooded, naked, and shackled to the ceiling that he was about to be shot. The agent racked a handgun ‘once or twice’ near petitioner’s head, and then removed petitioner’s hood so he could see the handgun pointed at him. When petitioner began to cry, the agent exchanged the handgun for a power drill that was revved to heighten the effect.” Then there was the sexual torture: “For example [redacted] petitioner was subjected to ‘rectal feeding’. [redacted] There is also evidence that petitioner was forcibly sodomized, possibly under the pretext of a cavity search that was done with ‘excessive force’ … He was also repeatedly ‘bathed’ with a stiff brush of the type ‘used in a bath to remove stubborn dirt,” which would be raked across petitioner’s “ass and balls and then his mouth.””

Over years of this staggering brutality, Nashiri was destroyed as a human being. A medical report subsequently discovered that Nashiri “presented with nightmares that involved being chained, naked and waterboarded, and that he continues to suffer from PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder … hyper vigilance, flashbacks, sleep disorders.” He also had persistent and chronic anal-rectal complaints, difficulty defecating, bleeding, hemorrhoids and pain with sitting — all “very common in survivors of sexual assault.” Indeed the torture of Nashiri was so brutal that CIA agents themselves, in early 2003, protested internally that “the wheels had come off” of the torture program and that Nashiri’s torture was a “train wreak [sic] waiting to happen.” The CIA’s chief of interrogations threatened to resign and wrote a cable reporting “serious reservations with the continued use of enhanced techniques with [Nashiri] and its long-term impact on him.”

I’ve cited the example of Nashiri because Haspel directly authorized his torture at a black site in Thailand, where he was waterboarded, kept naked and shackled, threatened with sodomy, and with the arrest and rape of his family. But she was also key in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 12:27 pm

Guatemala shows why the CIA must be held accountable for torture

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person who does bad acts will resist as much as possible facing any accountability for her or his choices and actions. Elizabeth Oglesby reports in The Hill:

Gina Haspel’s nomination for CIA chief has reignited debate over accountability for torture. A bi-partisan group of Senators, including John McCain (R-Ariz.), is demanding greater transparency from the CIA on Haspel’s involvement in waterboarding and other acts of torture at the “black site” she ran in Thailand, as well as her role in destroyingvideotapes of torture sessions.

As discussions around Haspel’s nomination heat up, other contentious legal proceedings — the current genocide trials in Guatemala — remind us that U.S. sanctioning of torture has a long, dark history with which we have yet to reckon.

Guatemala shows us why amnesia is dangerous and why the Senate must reject Haspel’s nomination.

On March 9, just days before Haspel’s nomination, I testified in a courtroom in Guatemala City in the dual genocide trials against the former Guatemalan dictator, General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983), and his intelligence chief, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.

For six hours, I described how the Guatemalan army massacred Mayan communities in the early 1980s, and captured, tortured and “disappeared” survivors during its war against leftist insurgents.

The United States supports Guatemala’s efforts to prosecute human rights violators. At the same time, the trials remind us that CIA involvement in torture is not an anomaly of the immediate post-911 world, but stretches back decades. Declassified U.S. government documents disclose that beginning in the 1960s, the CIA trained the Guatemalan military in covert repressive techniques, including kidnapping, torture, disappearance and executions of suspected communist dissidents.

Fast-forward 30 years, and the repression left 200,000 dead and 40,000 forcibly disappeared, with Guatemala’s 1999 Truth Commission attributing 93 percent of these crimes to government forces.

Mass forced disappearances, what we now call “rendition,” spread to other Latin American countries during the 1970s and 1980s, with the active collaboration of U.S. intelligence agencies in operations such as Operation Condor to target and eliminate dissidents, as declassified U.S. documents show.

Guatemala shows why human rights prosecution is key. It’s not just reckoning with the past. These cases are entwined with the present and future. Many of Guatemala’s notorious human rights violators still hold power, inside and outside the government. Some are reputed leaders of violent crime syndicates that destabilize the country.

No surprise: if human rights criminals aren’t prosecuted, they can continue to corrode the rule of law. Sometimes, they get “laundered” back into respectable, high-level government positions. Some have a similar concern with Haspel.

Finally, Guatemala shows that torturers and other human rights abusers can be prosecuted, even at the highest level.

In addition to the genocide trials, more than a dozen high-ranking former Guatemalan military officers face charges in cases of torture and forced disappearance that occurred during the 1980s.

These officers deploy the same defense as torture architects in the U.S: They claim they did what was necessary to protect the country from an imminent threat. But Guatemala’s courts aren’t buying it.

Like the U.S., Guatemala has debated offering immunity to human rights violators. But unlike the U.S., Guatemalan courts have rejected amnesty as incompatible with national and international law. While the U.S. has backed away from prosecuting torture, Guatemala has appointed special prosecutors and high-risk tribunals to try human rights cases.

The United States has supported these accountability efforts. Between 2008 and 2016, the U.S. gave $36 million to the U.N.-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which is helping the Guatemalan Public Ministry investigate high-risk cases. U.S. Embassy personnel often attend high-profile human rights hearings in Guatemala and tweet their support of human rights cases.

In an October 2017 report, the U.S. Congressional Research Service called Guatemala’s efforts to prosecute high-profile human rights and organized crime cases a “step forward” in the country’s democratic development. Time Magazine named Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana one of its 100 most influential people in 2017.

On March 14, a bipartisan group of 14 congressional leaders, including the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to the State Department affirming that having strong public prosecutors in Central America is an “important policy priority” for the United States, within the framework of a regional stability plan.

Of course, the irony is that many of the senior military officers on trial now in Guatemala are graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. So, in a sense, the U.S. is confronting its own past in Guatemala.

If only we could apply this logic to ourselves. Guatemala and the U.S. are bound by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which bans torture, without exceptions, and requires that torturers be prosecuted.

At least 100 people died from torture inflicted at U.S. detention facilities around the world after 2001, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch. Yet, a 6,000-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, completed in 2014, remains mostly classified.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who led the Senate torture investigation, has called on the CIA to declassify records on Haspel’s involvement in the CIA’s rendition, detention and torture program. McCain asked Haspel to commit to declassifying the 2014 Senate report on torture. These are important steps.

Yet, we know enough about Haspel’s record to conclude that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 9:09 am

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