Later On

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Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

A Saudi official’s harrowing account of torture reveals the regime’s brutality

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David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post:

Held captive by Saudi agents, Salem Almuzaini, once an official of the regime, was beaten repeatedly on the soles of his feet, his back and his genitals, according to a harrowing account of his torture and captivity filed in a Canadian court. He says he was whipped, starved, battered with iron bars and electrocuted; he also describes being ordered to crawl on all fours and bark like a dog. Accompanying his report are graphic photos of Almuzaini’s extensive scars from injuries he said were inflicted by operatives of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As set out in the court papers, Almuzaini was first seized in Dubai on Sept. 26, 2017, by United Arab Emirates security officials and sent to the kingdom; he vanished on Aug. 24, 2020, after visiting a senior Saudi state security official, and has not been seen since. His description of his treatment in the intervening years — at two Saudi prisons, and at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel, where suspected opponents of the regime were detained in 2017 — offers a horrifying view of the lengths to which the regime under the crown prince, known as MBS, has gone to punish its perceived enemies.

His narrative, translated from Arabic and filed in June in an Ontario court, was sent via text message to the cellphone of his wife, Hissah, in September 2019, according to her family, with instructions that she release it if he were to disappear again. The chilling description, reminiscent of memoirs of suffering by political prisoners in Iran, Chile, South Africa and the Soviet Union, offers the most extensive personal account to date of the alleged brutal conduct of the Saudi regime.

“The days passed, and I continued to fear hearing the keys and the door opening,” Almuzaini writes at one point. “I didn’t know what was in store for me, whether torture or elimination.” He describes how one interrogator ordered him to kiss his shoe, then struck his head. “The sad irony is that there was no other agency I had helped more than the Mabahith and Special Affairs, and now I was under their arrest and subject to their torture,” Almuzaini writes of the Saudi secret police.

The degree of psychological torture and attempted dehumanization that Almuzaini describes is as horrifying as the physical abuse. At one point, his interrogator told him to reach into a box and choose a whip for his next beating; when he hesitated, the interrogator chose one and used it to lash Almuzaini while urinating. Almuzaini was instructed not to say his name, and instead refer to himself as “9,” At another point, he was ordered to eat his dinner off the floor, like a dog.

“I was beset with worry on all sides,” Almuzaini recounts. “I worried for my mother, wife, children, sisters, uncle, companies, employees, my future, the pain in my body, the humiliation, and the fear. In reality, feelings cannot describe it. All I’ll say is that the injustice and repression of mankind were intense. I felt weak and powerless.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington, informed about the allegations of torture by Almuzaini and his wife, declined to comment, as did the embassy of the UAE.

Almuzaini, a graduate of the Saudi police academy, joined the Interior Ministry and supervised airline projects for Mohammed bin Nayef, who was then in charge of the ministry’s counterterrorism projects and later interior minister and crown prince. According to Almuzaini’s account, when MBN decided to create a private airline company called Alpha Star Aviation Services, he asked Almuzaini to run it. Later, when MBN formed his own commercial private airline company, Sky Prime Aviation, he asked Almuzaini to oversee it in Dubai.

Lawyers for Saad Aljabri, a former Saudi intelligence official, have argued in legal documents that these air operations were initially created to shield Saudi and U.S. covert intelligence operations against terrorist groups.

Almuzaini’s alleged crime, judging from the questions he says he was asked by his torturers, was that he aided in a plot to skim money from the two airlines — something he says he denied throughout the torture sessions. Aljabri has similarly denied any involvement in misusing funds. Companies controlled by the Saudi government have sued Aljabri in Canada, where he now lives, to recover money they claim he stole.

But Almuzaini’s real offense, as outlined in the court documents, may have been that he married Hissah, the daughter of Aljabri. MBS, a rival of MBN, has been pursuing Aljabri since 2017, when he deposed MBN as crown prince and Aljabri fled the kingdom. MBS has been trying to force him to return to the kingdom since then.

Almuzaini’s wife described one gruesome moment that her husband had confided. “He said that once, before he was struck a hundred times without pause, he was told ‘this is on behalf of Saad Aljabri,’ and ‘this is what you get for marrying his daughter,’” she wrote. “Sometimes, the interrogators told Salem while beating him that ‘we are adding extra lashes and beatings because your father-in-law is not here, so you can take his portion.’”

The Almuzaini affidavit was filed to support Aljabri’s claim that, as his lawyers argue in a recent court filing, MBS has “sought to consolidate his power by persecuting his perceived rivals under the guise of an ‘anti-corruption’ campaign” and that payments to Aljabri “were fully authorized and approved” by MBN and other Saudi authorities.

The alleged treatment of Almuzaini is just one example of MBS’s seeming obsession with Aljabri’s family. The crown prince blocked two of Aljabri’s then-teenage children, Omar and Sarah, from leaving the country in 2017, when he began his internal putsch to consolidate power and has used them as seeming hostages to try to force their father to return to the kingdom. Omar and Sarah are now imprisoned. I described their plight in The Post in June 2020, and it was featured in a recent report by Human Rights Watch. Aljabri’s friends, relatives and business associates have also been detained.

After Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul in October 2018 on what the CIA says were the orders of MBS, Almuzaini had a flash of recognition. He told his wife that the people who were interrogating him included Maher Mutreb, publicly identified as the leader of the Istanbul hit team, and seven of its other members, according to his wife’s affidavit. Among those present during his torture was MBS’s close assistant, Saud al-Qahtani, the affidavit alleges.

In a bizarre irony, two planes owned by Sky Prime, the airline Almuzaini helped run for MBN, were used to transport to Istanbul the hit team that killed Khashoggi, after MBS had appropriated the company, according to court documents filed by Aljabri’s lawyers.

When Almuzaini was held at the Ritz-Carlton for about six weeks starting in late 2017, the torture stopped, according to his wife’s affidavit. The shakedown was now about getting money — as was the case with about 400 other prominent Saudis, including princes and global financiers, who were rounded up at the Ritz-Carlton in November 2017 and forced by MBS’s operatives to hand over assets.

“We’re going to take all of your money,” Almuzaini writes that he was told at the Ritz-Carlton. “We don’t recognize the contracts or any of your nonsense. We’re going to return the money to the state.” He eventually agreed to sign over 400 million Saudi riyals, about $106 million at current exchange rates.

Almuzaini wrote . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2021 at 3:59 pm

Liz Cheney and Big Lies (including lies of omission)

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Maureen Dowd has a good column in the NY Times:

I miss torturing Liz Cheney.

But it must be said that the petite blonde from Wyoming suddenly seems like a Valkyrie amid halflings.

She is willing to sacrifice her leadership post — and risk her political career — to continue calling out Donald Trump’s Big Lie. She has decided that, if the price of her job is being as unctuous to Trump as Kevin McCarthy is, it isn’t worth it, because McCarthy is totally disgracing himself.

It has been a dizzying fall for the scion of one of the most powerful political families in the land, a conservative chip off the old block who was once talked about as a comer, someone who could be the first woman president.

How naïve I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.

I thought the Donald would evaporate in a poof of orange smoke, ending a supremely screwed-up period of history. But the loudest mouth is not shutting up. And Republicans continue to listen, clinging to the idea that the dinosaur is the future. “We can’t grow without him,” Lindsey Graham said.

Denied Twitter, Trump is focusing on his other favorite blood sport: hunting down dynasties. “Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee,” David Siders wrote in Politico.

Yet an unbowed Liz Cheney didn’t mince words when, in a Washington Post op-ed a few days ago, she implored the stooges in her caucus to “steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

That trademark Cheney bluntness made Liz the toast of MSNBC and CNN, where chatterers praised her as an avatar of the venerable “fact-based” Republican Party decimated by Trump.

But if Liz Cheney wants to be in the business of speaking truth to power, she’s going to have to dig a little deeper.

Let’s acknowledge who created the template for Trump’s Big Lie.

It was her father, Dick Cheney, whose Big Lie about the Iraq war led to the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Liz, who was the captain of her high school cheerleading team and titled her college thesis “The Evolution of Presidential War Powers,” cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.

From her patronage perch in the State Department during the Bush-Cheney years, she bolstered her father’s trumped-up case for an invasion of Iraq. Even after no W.M.D.s were found, she continued to believe the invasion was the right thing to do.

“She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” a State Department official who worked with Liz told Joe Hagan for a 2010 New York magazine profile of the younger Cheney on her way up.

She was a staunch defender of the torture program. “Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument,” she instructed Norah O’Donnell in 2009, looking on the bright side of waterboarding.

She backed the futile, 20-year occupation of the feudal Afghanistan. (Even Bob Gates thinks we should have left in 2002.) Last month, when President Biden announced plans to pull out, Liz Cheney — who wrote a book with her father that accused Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq and making America weaker — slapped back: “We know that this kind of pullback is reckless. It’s dangerous.”

For many years, she had no trouble swimming in Fox News bile. Given the chance to denounce the Obama birther conspiracy, she demurred, interpreting it live on air as people being “uncomfortable with having for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”

Thanks to that kind of reasoning, we ended up with a president who fomented an attack on the nation at home.

In her Post piece, Cheney wrote that her party is at a “turning point” and that Republicans “must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Sage prose from someone who was a lieutenant to her father when he assaulted checks and balances, shredding America’s Constitution even as he imposed one on Iraq.

Because of 9/11, Dick Cheney thought he could suspend the Constitution, attack nations preemptively and trample civil liberties in the name of the war on terror. (And for his own political survival.)

Keeping Americans afraid was a small price to pay for engorging executive power, which the former Nixon and Ford aide thought had been watered down too much after Watergate.

By his second term,

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 May 2021 at 11:24 am

“Dominion”: A full-length film about the relationship between human and non-human animals

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Watch this film to see the degree to which it reflects your own values and outlook.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2021 at 9:51 am

Stranded sailor allowed to leave abandoned ship after four years

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As I read this BBC report by Paul Adams, I was thinking of the Indian crew of the Evergreen cargo ship that got stuck in the Suez canal and wondered how long they would be forced to remain on that ship. The report begins:

Mohammed Aisha joined his “cursed” ship, the MV Aman, on 5 May 2017.

Today, after spending almost four years on board stranded off the Egyptian coast, he was freed and flown home to Syria. So how does he feel?

His text, from the aircraft on the tarmac at Cairo airport, was brief.

“Relief. Joy.”

And then came a voice message.

“How do I feel? Like I finally got out of prison. I’m finally going to be rejoined with my family. I’m going to see them again.”

It marks the end of an ordeal which has taken its toll on Mohammed’s physical and mental health. He was, after all, condemned to a life without power, sanitation or company.

It began in July 2017, when the MV Aman was detained at the Egyptian port of Adabiya. The cargo ship was held because it had expired safety equipment and classification certificates.

It should have been easy enough to resolve, but the ship’s Lebanese contractors failed to pay for fuel and the MV Aman’s owners in Bahrain were in financial difficulty.

With the ship’s Egyptian captain ashore, a local court declared Mohammed, the ship’s chief officer, the MV Aman’s legal guardian.

Mohammed, who was born in the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus, says he wasn’t told what the order meant and only found out months later, as the ship’s other crew members started to leave.

For four years, life – and death – passed Mohammed by. He watched as ships sailed past, in and out of the nearby Suez Canal.

During the recent blockage caused by the giant container ship Ever Given, he counted dozens of ships waiting for the traffic jam to ease.

He has even seen his brother, a fellow seafarer, sail past more than once. The brothers spoke on the phone but were too far apart even to wave.

In August 2018, he learned that his mother, a teacher responsible for his excellent English, had died. That was Mohammed’s low point.

“I seriously considered ending my life,” he told me.

By August 2019, Mohammed was alone but for the occasional guard and trapped on a vessel with no diesel and, consequently, no power. He was legally obliged to stay aboard and was unpaid, demoralised and feeling increasingly unwell.

He said the ship was like a grave at night.

“You can’t see anything. You can’t hear anything,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a coffin.”

In March 2020, a storm blew the Aman off its anchorage. The ship drifted five miles (8km), eventually running aground a few hundred metres from the shoreline.

It was terrifying at the time, but Mohammed thought it was an act of God. Now he was able to swim ashore every few days, buy food and recharge his phone.

Astonishing as Mohammed’s story is, his experience is not unique. In fact, seafarer abandonment is on the rise. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including a discussion of the Evergreen ship and the (enormous) scope of the problem.

Written by Leisureguy

23 April 2021 at 3:55 pm

“I Survived 18 Years in Solitary Confinement”

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Ian Manuel was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole when he was 14 years old. He spent 18 years in solitary confinement. His forthcoming memoir, My Time Will Come, describes his experience. His essay in the NY Times is presumably extracted from that book. It begins:

Imagine living alone in a room the size of a freight elevator for almost two decades.

As a 15-year-old, I was condemned to long-term solitary confinement in the Florida prison system, which ultimately lasted for 18 consecutive years. From 1992 to 2010. From age 15 to 33. From the end of the George H.W. Bush administration to the beginnings of the Obama era.

For 18 years I didn’t have a window in my room to distract myself from the intensity of my confinement. I wasn’t permitted to talk to my fellow prisoners or even to myself. I didn’t have healthy, nutritious food; I was given just enough to not die.

These circumstances made me think about how I ended up in solitary confinement.

In the summer of 1990, shortly after finishing seventh grade, I was directed by a few older kids to commit a robbery. During the botched attempt, I shot a woman. She suffered serious injuries to her jaw and mouth but survived. It was reckless and foolish on my part, the act of a 13-year-old in crisis, and I’m simply grateful no one died.

For this I was arrested and charged as an adult with armed robbery and attempted murder.

My court-appointed lawyer advised me to plead guilty, telling me that the maximum sentence would be 15 years. So I did. But my sentence wasn’t 15 years — it was life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

I was thrown into solitary confinement the day I arrived at the Reception and Medical Center, a state prison in Lake Butler, Fla., because of my young age. Three weeks in, I was transferred to the general population of a different prison. But a year and a half later, at age 15, I was put back into solitary confinement after being written up for a few minor infractions.

I had no idea that I would be in isolation for the next 18 years.

Florida has different levels of solitary confinement; I spent the majority of that time in one of the most restrictive. Nearly two decades caged in a roughly 7-by-10-foot room passed before I was rotated between the general population area and solitary for six more years. I was finally released from prison in 2016 thanks to my lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

Researchers have long concluded that solitary confinement causes post-traumatic stress disorder and impairs prisoners’ ability to adjust to society long after they leave their cell. United Nations standards on the treatment of prisoners prohibits solitary confinement for more than 15 days, declaring it “cruel, inhuman or degrading.”

Yet the practice, even for minors, is still common in the United States, and efforts to end it have been spotty: In 2016, the Obama administration banned juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons, and a handful of states have advanced similar reforms for both children and adults.

More aggressive change is needed in state prison systems. Today, dozens of states still have little to no legislation prohibiting juvenile solitary confinement. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

At one point in the essay, he writes:

It is difficult to know the exact number of children in solitary confinement today. The Liman Center at Yale Law School estimated that 61,000 Americans (adults and children) were in solitary confinement in the fall of 2017. A 2010 report from the Department of Justice notes that 24 percent of the country’s children detained at the time were subjected to solitary confinement.

More generally, according to a 2015 Department of Justice report, about 20 percent of the adult prison population has spent some time in solitary, with 4.4 percent of the population in solitary on any given day in 2011-12. And in Florida, where I was incarcerated, approximately 10,000 people — more than 10 percent of its prison population — are in solitary confinement each day.

No matter the count, I witnessed too many people lose their minds while isolated. They’d involuntarily cross a line and simply never return to sanity. Perhaps they didn’t want to. Staying in their mind was the better, safer, more humane option.

After spending nearly two years in solitary confinement as a teenager at Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime, Kalief Browder died by suicide at 22 years old. Others, like Carina Montes, 29, died by suicide during solitary — even while she was on suicide watch.

Solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, something prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, yet prisons continue to practice it.

The US has much work to do to achieve its ideals.

Written by Leisureguy

26 March 2021 at 6:58 am

Enhanced interrogation in practice: This Soldier’s Witness to the Iraq War Lie

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Torturing people who are merely suspects is something done by totalitarian governments — and also the US under George W. Bush. We know, even though the CIA deliberately destroyed the video recordings of the torture.

Frederic Wehrey writes in the NY Review of Books:

A few weeks before I deployed to Iraq as a young US military officer, in the spring of 2003, my French-born father implored me to watch The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo’s dramatic reenactment of the 1950s Algerian insurgency against French colonial rule. There are many political and aesthetic reasons to see this masterpiece of cinéma vérité, not least of which is its portrayal of the Algerian capital’s evocative old city, or Casbah. One winter morning in 2014, more than a decade after I first saw the film, I took a stroll down the Casbah’s rain-washed alleys and into the newer French-built city. Scenes from the black-and-white movie—like the landmark Milk Bar café where a female Algerian guerrilla sets off a bomb that kills French civilians—jumped to life. The ensuing French military response, memorably depicted in the film, included arbitrary arrests, torture, and “false flag” bombings that only inflamed the Algerian insurrection.

It was these moral perils of counterinsurgency that my father hinted at. “Keep your eyes open,” he told me. This was a prescient warning, one that served as the backdrop for my deployment, even if the Algerian analogy was imperfect and would become overused. As American soldiers soon faced a guerrilla and civil war in Iraq for which they were woefully ill-equipped, intellectually and militarily, The Battle of Algiers would be screened and discussed at the Pentagon. To this day, it is taught to West Point cadets as a cautionary tale.

Still, the full weight of the film’s lessons was not apparent to me in Iraq until one morning in the summer of 2003, when I received an urgent phone call about a captured Iraqi intelligence officer. My commander wanted me to go interview him at the Baghdad hospital where he was being treated for unspecified wounds.

I donned my Kevlar vest and grabbed my carbine for the trip to the so-called Green Zone in the city center, which was becoming increasingly dangerous because of bomb attacks and ambushes by a growing insurgency.

My own experience with this militancy was mostly of a distant nature—though my encounters were anything but impersonal. As an intelligence officer, I debriefed Iraqi sources and informants on insurgent groups and foreign fighters, which sometimes yielded detailed information that US soldiers would use to conduct raids, looking for weapons, explosives, insurgents, or wanted ex-regime figures. Since I read the after-action reports of these operations, I learned the names and ages of those who were captured. Sometimes, I even saw photographs of their faces. This established a sort of intimacy, a chain of causality between my actions and their fates.

In collecting the intelligence that drove these raids, I tried to vet and verify what I heard. Ninety percent of the information I discarded after rounds of questions. Much of it was outright fabrication by Iraqis seeking financial reward or favors from the US military. Others were trying lure American soldiers into helping them settle personal scores or eliminating their political, commercial, or sectarian rivals. The remainder of the information sometimes proved valid. And the resulting seizure of militants, weapons, or bomb-making materials did save lives.

On occasion, though, we did not sufficiently corroborate the information before an assault, or we got the location wrong. In the aftermath of such misdirected predawn raids on innocent Iraqi civilians, I remembered Pontecorvo’s film and would ask myself: “How many new insurgents did we just create?”

All of this was a departure from the original focus of my deployment, which was to interview former Iraqi officials about Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But once the insurgency started attacking American soldiers, Iraqis, and international organizations, US military commanders demanded that more intelligence resources be devoted to penetrating the insurgents’ networks—especially since the hunt for Saddam’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons was going nowhere.

Even so, I continued to chase down any leads I got on WMD. And that was what I assumed this call about the detained Iraqi spy was about. Instead, when I got to the hospital room in the Green Zone, I found myself seated across from a man who had been at the center of one of the biggest lies behind the US decision to invade Iraq.

When Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani was posted to the Iraqi embassy in Prague in the late 1990s under diplomatic cover, he quickly came under surveillance by the Czech security service. One morning in early April of 2001, an Arab informant working for the Czechs reported seeing al-Ani meeting with an Arab student at the Iraqi embassy. This student was identified, according to the report, as an Egyptian named Mohamed Atta—the man who, not long after, became the ringleader of the hijackers who carried out al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

The CIA and FBI later punched holes in this story; the Czech president himself subsequently repudiated it. To begin with, the informant had identified Atta as the man from the April 2001 meeting only upon seeing his photo published in the news after September 11. The FBI’s records of Atta put him in Virginia and Florida immediately before and after the supposed Prague meeting, and the agency uncovered no evidence of international travel. But none of this stopped the Iraq war hawks in the Bush administration from seizing on the so-called Prague Connection as proof of Saddam Hussein’s supposed complicity in terrorist attacks on American soil—and using it as a casus belli for the 2003 invasion.

There at the Baghdad hospital, I joined an FBI agent in questioning the bedridden al-Ani about his time in the Czech Republic. A diminutive man with a grizzled face creased by bouts of pain, he epitomized the type of drab regime functionary I’d come to know in Iraq all too well. He answered our questions straightforwardly. In the end, the hours-long session provided no evidence about the Prague meeting to contradict the debunking that had already appeared in the press. Al-Ani had never met Mohamed Atta or even heard of him until he saw news reports after September 11. Nor was he himself even in Prague on the day of the alleged encounter; he was out of town, seventy miles away.

Even more disturbing than this non-revelation, though, was his account of his capture that summer by US special operations forces and the reason for his hospitalization. Snatching him from his Baghdad home at night, US soldiers had bound his wrists, covered his head, and forced him to lie on the floor of a Humvee for the long trip to a detention facility. Within fifteen minutes of his confinement in the vehicle, he felt an unbearable burning sensation. A Humvee’s engine is located in the front and conducts heat to the rear bed, where al-Ani was lying facedown on the bare metal. He twisted and writhed from the pain, but his American guards thought he was resisting. One of the soldiers stepped harder on his back with his boot. “Jesus, Jesus, please,” he’d cried, he told me, hoping that this invocation in English would get them to relent.

In front of us in the hospital, he lifted his gown to show us the results: severe burns, in dark-hued patches, covered his stomach, thighs, feet, and palms. As a consequence, al-Ani would endure three months of hospitalization, which involved multiple skin grafts, as well as the amputation of his thumb and the loss of movement of a finger.

After the meeting, I relayed his account of these injuries to my commanding general, who later reported the matter to a Senate inquiry into detainee abuses. The US Department of Justice also included the FBI’s account of this same interview in the inspector general’s 2008 report on detainee interrogations. And, over several years, the US Army investigated the incident, concluding that al-Ani’s injuries were consistent with his story and that “the offences of Assault and Cruelty and Maltreatment was [sic] substantiated.” Despite that finding, the Army dropped the case.

To my knowledge, nobody was ever disciplined or punished for al-Ani’s mistreatment.

*

It is a cruel irony that this Iraqi man was first used as a prop for an American invasion and then subjected to disfiguring violence by soldiers who had carried out that invasion. But his story weighs on me in other ways. The abuses we’ve seen in US policing have deep, homegrown roots, but I am convinced that they are also partly a result of the militarization of law enforcement born of the Iraq War and America’s other overseas interventions. The Iraq disaster has rippled across virtually every facet of American life, deepening the inequalities that divide us, stirring a popular contempt for “expertise” that has opened the door to demagoguery, and contributing to the hollowing-out of our infrastructure and institutions in ways that have left the country dangerously exposed to future shocks.

The Iraq debacle is what the journalist Robert Draper, in his engrossing recent book on the decision to oust Saddam, To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq, correctly calls . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2020 at 4:59 pm

Operation Condor: the cold war conspiracy that terrorised South America

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The US has much to answer for if it ever truly faces its transgressions (e.g., torturing suspects, sometimes to death, under George W. Bush as an official and systematic program — and then deliberately destroying the video evidence). Giles Tremlett describes another example in the Guardian:

During the 1970s and 80s, eight US-backed military dictatorships jointly plotted the cross-border kidnap, torture, rape and murder of hundreds of their political opponents. Now some of the perpetrators are finally facing justice.

The last time Anatole Larrabeiti saw his parents, he was four years old. It was 26 September 1976, the day after his birthday. He remembers the shootout, the bright flashes of gunfire and the sight of his father lying on the ground, mortally wounded, outside their home in a suburb of Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his mother lying beside him. Then Larrabeiti remembers being taken away by armed police, along with his 18-month-old sister, Victoria Eva.

The two children became prisoners. At first, they were held in a grimy car repair garage that had been turned into a clandestine torture centre. That was in another part of Buenos Aires, the city that their parents had moved to in June 1973, joining thousands of leftwing militants and former guerrillas fleeing a military coup in their native Uruguay. The following month, in October 1976, Anatole and Victoria Eva were taken to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and held at the military intelligence headquarters. A few days before Christmas, they were flown to a third country, Chile, in a small aircraft that climbed high above the Andes. Larrabeiti remembers looking down on snowy peaks from the plane.

Young children do not usually make epic journeys through three countries in as many months without parents or relatives. The closest thing they had to family was a jailer known as Aunt Mónica. It was probably Aunt Mónica who abandoned them in a large square, the Plaza O’Higgins, in the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, on 22 December 1976. Witnesses recall two young, well-dressed children stepping out of a black car with tinted windows. Larrabeiti wandered around the square, hand-in-hand with his sister, until the owner of a merry-go-round ride spotted them. He invited them to sit on the ride, expecting some panicked parents to appear, looking for their lost children. But nobody came, so he called the local police.

No one could understand how the two children, whose accents marked them as foreign, had got here. It was as if they had dropped from the sky. Anatole was too young to make sense of what had happened. How does a four-year-old who finds himself in Chile explain that he does not know where he is, that he lives in Argentina, but is really Uruguayan? All he knew was that he was in a strange place, where people spoke his language in a different way.

The next day, the children were taken to an orphanage, and from there they were sent on to separate foster homes. After a few months, they had a stroke of luck. A dental surgeon and his wife wanted to adopt, and when the magistrate in charge of the children asked the surgeon which sibling he wanted, he said both. “He said that we had to come together, because we were brother and sister,” Larrabeiti told me when we met earlier this year in Chile’s capital, Santiago.

Today, he is a trim, smartly suited 47-year-old public prosecutor with hazel eyes and a shaven head. “I have decided to live without hate,” he said. “But I want people to know.”

What Larrabeiti wants people to know is that his family were victims of one of the 20th century’s most sinister international state terror networks. It was called Operation Condor, after the broad-winged vulture that soars above the Andes, and it joined eight South American military dictatorships – Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador – into a single network that covered four-fifths of the continent.

It has taken decades to fully expose this system, which enabled governments to send death squads on to each other’s territory to kidnap, murder and torture enemies – real or suspected – among their emigrant and exile communities. Condor effectively integrated and expanded the state terror unleashed across South America during the cold war, after successive rightwing military coups, often encouraged by the US, erased democracy across the continent. Condor was the most complex and sophisticated element of a broad phenomenon in which tens of thousands of people across South America were murdered or disappeared by military governments in the 1970s and 80s.

Most Condor victims disappeared for ever. Hundreds were secretly disposed of – some of them tossed into the sea from planes or helicopters after being tied up, shackled to concrete blocks or drugged so that they could barely move. Larrabeiti’s mother, Victoria, who was last seen in an Argentinian torture centre in 1976, is one of them. His father, Mario, who was a leftwing militant, probably died in the shootout when they were snatched by the police. Enough victims have survived, however, to tell stories that, when matched against a growing volume of declassified documents, amount to a single, ghastly tale.

In the past two decades, Larrabeiti’s story has been told and retold in half a dozen courts and tribunals around the world. In the absence of a fully formed global criminal justice system, the perpetrators of Condor are being taken to court through a piecemeal process. “The trouble with borders is that it is easier to cross them to kill someone than it is to pursue a crime,” says Carlos Castresana, a prosecutor who has pursued Condor cases and the dictators behind them in Spain. Those seeking justice have had to rely on a judicial spider’s web of national laws, international treaties and rulings by human rights tribunals. The individuals they pursue are often decrepit and unrepentant old men, but a tenacious network of survivors, lawyers, investigators and academics, rather like the postwar Nazi-hunters, has taken up the challenge of ensuring that such international state terror does not go untried.

The process is painfully slow. The first major criminal investigation focusing on Condor – with victims and defendants from seven countries – began in Rome more than 20 years ago. It still has not ended. On a sweltering day in July 2019, a judge in the Rome case handed life sentences to a former president of Peru, a Uruguayan foreign minister, a Chilean military intelligence chief and 21 others for their role in a coordinated campaign of extermination and torture. The defendants are appealing, and a final verdict is due within a year.

Much of what we now know about Condor has been unearthed or pieced together in Rome, Buenos Aires and in dozens of court cases – large and small – in other countries. Further evidence comes from US intelligence papers dealing with Argentina that were declassified on the orders of Barack Obama. In 2019, the US completed its handover of 47,000 pages to Argentina. These documents show how much the US and European governments knew about what was happening across South America, and how little they cared.


When he was seven, Anatole Larrabeiti discovered his true identity, thanks to his tenacious paternal grandmother, Angélica, who tracked the siblings down. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. America’s intense love of and admiration for military dictatorships is puzzling, given the dissonance with America’s own ideals. Is it like those infatuations that good girls have for bad boys? I dunno.

Written by Leisureguy

5 September 2020 at 10:38 am

The US puts imprisons a much higher proportion of its citizens than any other country. Here’s what their life is like.

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In September 2013, the incarceration rate of the United States of America was the highest in the world at 716 per 100,000 of the national population. While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. – Wikipedia

Country Prison
population
Population
per 100,000
US 2,193,798 737
China 1,548,498 118
Russia 874,161 615
Brazil 371,482 193

Following is a list from Wikipedia of  the worst countries in the world based on the proportion of their citizens they imprison. The US is comfortably in the lead. The list is much longer — these are just the worst. Canada is #142, at 107/100K. Some others:

Japan #207 (39/100K)
Finland #195 (53/100K)
Norway #190 (60/100K)
Sweden & Netherlands (tie) #189 (61/100K)
Germany #171 (77/100K)
United Kingdom: Scotland #106 (149/100K)
United Kingdom: England & Wales #111 (140/100K)
Australia #98 (170/100K)

United States: We’re No. 1!! 655/100K

Written by Leisureguy

13 March 2020 at 4:30 pm

The US criminal-justice system: Flawed and dangerous to citizens

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Pamela Colloff and Katie Zavadski report in ProPublica:

Imagine being arrested for a crime you did not commit.

You are taken to jail, where you wait to stand trial.

You eventually get your day in court, but before you can present your case, prosecutors call a witness who has a damning story to tell.

It’s a fellow inmate from the jail who claims he heard you confess to committing the crime.

Each man featured here was wrongly convicted, in part, on the word of a jailhouse informant. Each served years, even decades in prison. And in each case, the information the snitch gave eventually proved false.

Nine of the men pictured here were condemned to what amounted to a life sentence. One man was sentenced to death.

Their cases afford a rare opportunity not only to see the human cost of jailhouse informant testimony that is false or concocted, but to see how widespread prosecutors’ reliance on these witnesses is. These exonerees hail from all across the country: from California to Kentucky, Illinois to Pennsylvania. They come from big cities and small towns. They are black, white and Latino. Their cases span four decades — dating back as far as 1982, and ending in an exoneration as recently as last year.

Despite these cases, and a spate of other wrongful convictions that have come to light in recent years, jailhouse informant testimony remains an entrenched part of criminal prosecutions around the country and one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

“Jailhouse informants comprise the most deceitful and deceptive group of witnesses known to frequent the courts,” concluded a high-profile 2001 judicial inquiry into the wrongful conviction of a Canadian man named Thomas Sophonow. “Usually their presence as witnesses signals the end of any hope of providing a fair trial.”

Their unreliability is rooted in a curious fact of the criminal justice system: The state is allowed to offer extraordinary benefits to people behind bars if they offer testimony that is favorable to the state’s case. These rewards may include reduced sentences, the dismissal of charges and even cash payments. Or the rewards may be far more modest. In one case featured below, a jailhouse snitch said he received just $25 and a pack of cigarettes for offering false information.

Because benefits are often conferred after a case goes to trial, prosecutors can assure jurors that no promises have been made. As ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine reported in December, Florida prosecutors repeatedly used a prolific jailhouse informant to help secure convictions, and even death sentences. Prosecutors told jurors they had not promised him anything in return, then gave him break after break after he testified, allowing him to be released from jail and to do more harm.

Rarely is anyone held to account when a jailhouse informant’s testimony later proves to be false. In Orange County, California, where an ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal has implicated top prosecutors and law ​enforcement officials — and tainted at least 140 cases, according to a pending lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union — no one has yet been prosecuted or disciplined for misconduct.

I spoke to the exonerees below about the experience of having their lives destroyed by a system that incentivizes jailhouse informants to lie. Many of these wrongfully convicted men lay the blame not on the informants themselves, but on the prosecutors and detectives who continue to rely on snitch testimony to make their cases, sending potentially innocent men and women to prison. . .

Continue reading for the exonerees’ experience.

Written by Leisureguy

11 March 2020 at 12:54 pm

Alabama: A state to avoid

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Elizabeth Flock writes in the New Yorker:

In the January 20, 2020, issue of The New Yorker, I wrote about Brittany Smith, a woman from Stevenson, Alabama, who, in January, 2018, shot and killed a man who she said had raped her, threatened her life in her home, and then attacked her brother after he arrived to help. The man, Todd Smith, who had recently sold Brittany a puppy, had been drinking, and had taken large amounts of methamphetamine. Yet within forty-eight hours of the shooting, Brittany was charged with murder. She went on to spend about four months in jail and six months in a mental institution, despite early attention to her case from the criminal-justice publication the Appeal. On January 14th and 15th, after my piece was published, Brittany finally had a Stand Your Ground hearing. Stand Your Ground is a statute that makes it legal to use lethal force to defend oneself against threats or perceived threats, with no duty to retreat. If Brittany won the hearing, she’d receive immunity from further prosecution. On Monday, she lost that hearing. She faces life in prison.

In a nineteen-page ruling, Judge Jenifer Holt wrote that Brittany’s use of deadly force was not demonstrably justified because she doubted that Brittany had reason to believe that Todd was about to use deadly physical force, assault, burglary, rape, or sodomy when she shot him. The judge wrote this despite the fact that Todd had already assaulted Brittany—a rape-kit evaluation found thirty-three wounds on her body—and despite the fact that Brittany said Todd had been choking her brother when she fired the gun.

Speaking from her home, in Stevenson, on Monday, Brittany told me that she was distressed but trying to remain hopeful. “I was prepared for a no, but I just feel like I’m not gonna get a fair trial here,” she said, and began to cry. “She saw the pictures of me; he almost beat me to death, he did rape me, and he tried to kill my brother, so how can she say this?”

The Stand Your Ground hearing, which was held in the Jackson County Courthouse in Scottsboro, Alabama—a county with more than double the state average of aggravated assaults per capita—began with testimony from Jeanine Suermann, a sexual-assault nurse examiner who saw Brittany the morning after the shooting. Suermann testified that Brittany’s wounds were consistent with having been bitten, strangled with two hands around her neck, and assaulted with “a lot of force.” The nurse listed bruises to Brittany’s neck, breasts, arms, legs, and head, and spoke repeatedly about the petechiae—discolored patches that can indicate the use of extreme pressure—that dotted Brittany’s hairline and neck. “She was probably hit multiple times and held down,” Suermann said. She testified that, during the examination, Brittany had described waking up “with no clothes in a puddle of urine” after having tried to fight back. “Scratched him everywhere I could,” Brittany told Suermann. “He was going to kill me.” At the conclusion of Suermann’s testimony, which lasted for more than two hours and included dozens of photographs of Brittany’s injuries, Jeff Poe, Todd’s cousin, left the courthouse with tears in his eyes. Poe had told me that, after Todd’s death, he’d considered having Brittany killed. But, after listening to the nurse’s testimony, Poe messaged me asking me to convey his apologies to Brittany and her family “for all this mess they have been through.” “It put me in a sick state of mind listening to all that today,” he wrote. “I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart.”

Yet Jason Pierce, the Jackson County District Attorney, attempted throughout the two-day hearing to cast doubt on whether Brittany had actually been raped, because there was no definitive sample of Todd’s semen, which the nurse examiner said is common in sexual-assault cases. The judge cited this detail in her decision, saying that she did not believe the evidence was consistent with a sexual assault. She also cited a 911 call in which Brittany said that she had not been raped; Brittany told me that she had been ashamed to admit it. In the hearing, Pierce questioned whether Brittany had truly feared for her life. At one point, the District Attorney noted that Todd had not had a gun or a knife on him. “But he had his hands. His penis. His mouth,” Brittany replied at the hearing, with controlled frustration. “You saw the thirty-three wounds on my body.”

Brittany and her brother, Chris McCallie, originally told police that McCallie had shot Todd; both believed that a woman would not get a fair trial in Jackson County, a place where advocates say that women’s complaints of violence are often ignored by police. In her ruling, the judge wrote that her decision was influenced by the fact that Brittany had given “inconsistent accounts of the events surrounding Todd’s death.” But Chris argued that, if law enforcement had known that it was Brittany who fired the gun, she would not have been taken for a rape-kit examination until it was too late. Even in court, with the exam’s findings and the photos of Brittany’s injuries splashed across a TV screen, it was clear that documentation of the violence wasn’t enough.

The court also had the opportunity to see a note that Brittany had frantically slipped to a gas-station worker the night of the assault. The employee testified that Brittany came in “very nervous and edgy,” with a reddened neck and a broken nail, wrote down the name “Todd Smith,” and said that he’d raped and beaten her and was holding her hostage. In her ruling, the judge argued that Brittany had had multiple opportunities to call law enforcement for help. But the employee said that Brittany was afraid to call the police, because Todd had said that he would retaliate if she did. McCallie arrived at Brittany’s house not long after, with his .22-calibre revolver. He said that Todd got him in a headlock and would not let go. Brittany said that Todd threatened to kill them both, and so she fired three shots at him. She said that she kept shooting after the first shot because “nothing happened.” A scientist at the Alabama Department of Forensic Services gave credence to this account, testifying that Todd had been on an “extremely high” amount of methamphetamine, which could cause someone to appear unaffected by blows or strikes.

Throughout the hearing, Brittany often sat silently with her eyes closed. She wore her hair tied in a single side braid, “like Katniss,” she told me, referring to the spiky protagonist of “The Hunger Games.” Before entering the courtroom on the second day, January 15th, Brittany read aloud to me from a book of daily wisdom inspired by collected Bible verses. “You are surrounded by a sea of problems,” the entry for that day read. “The future is a phantom, seeking to spook you.” She vowed not to be spooked. On the stand that day, Brittany tried to tell the court that if she did not remember every detail it was in part because she had learned that memory loss was a symptom of P.T.S.D. The nurse had testified that the trauma of sexual assault could last “for years.” But, when Brittany attempted to explain its effects on her, Pierce interrupted, objecting to her comments as “offhand.”

Brittany’s defense also attempted to call witnesses to testify about Todd’s violent history, which included some eighty arrests, at least half a dozen of which were for domestic violence, against multiple women. (Todd’s ex-wife, Paige Parker, told a radio host in 2019 that she was “beaten and raped and sodomized for years” by Todd in the early two-thousands, before she got an order of protection.) But this, too, was unsuccessful. One of the witnesses, a woman who had worked as a dispatcher for the Stevenson Police Department, testified that, in 2009, Todd had shoved her against a desk in her office and tried to tear off her shirt. “If someone hadn’t come in, I believe it would have gotten pretty bad,” she said. A second witness, a man who grew up with Todd, began to tell the court of the bruises he’d seen on women he believed Todd had hit, before Pierce, the D.A., cut him off. When it was Pierce’s turn to question him, he asked the man, “What’s your necklace?” The man replied, “I’m into witchcraft,” and then paused, flustered. “I don’t see how that’s relevant, my religion.” The D.A. had no further questions. Both testimonies were ultimately thrown out, after Pierce argued that bad-character evidence was not admissible.

In his closing argument, Brittany’s lawyer, Ron Smith, asserted that Brittany’s actions were clear self-defense. “She believed Todd Smith was going to cause serious injury to herself or her brother,” her lawyer said. “He was told to leave. He did not leave. He unlawfully remained.” In Alabama, he contended, unlawfully remaining is the very definition of burglary. If sexual assault would not convince the judge that Todd had been a threat, it seemed, perhaps an argument of burglary would. It did not.

With Brittany’s Stand Your Ground hearing denied, her lawyers will file what is called a writ of mandamus to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, a long-shot request to the court to order the judge to reverse her decision. If they lose that, they can request the same order from the Alabama Supreme Court. If she loses both, Brittany will go to trial, likely back in Jackson County, before the same judge. Only a handful of women in Alabama have ever won Stand Your Ground immunity, and women with convincing self-defense claims continue to lose. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 February 2020 at 6:45 pm

Institutionalized torture in the US: Solitary confinement

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Michael Barajas writes in Texas Observer:

I.
“I find myself every day searching for things I’ve lost.”
Roger Uvalle, held in solitary confinement for the past 26 years by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Three years ago, guards came to Roger Uvalle’s cell to tell him he was “catching chain”—being shackled and transferred to another prison. As the guards escorted him to the chain bus with about 60 other inmates, Uvalle began trembling, overcome by anxiety. He turned so pale another prisoner told him he looked like a ghost. He didn’t relax until guards put him in his new solitary confinement cell, a 6-by-10-foot space where he’d spend 22 to 24 hours each day, alone, just as he had every day for the past two-plus decades.

Years of almost no human contact have warped Uvalle’s sense of time. Weeks, months, even years blend together. He says his memory has degraded to the point where he now struggles to keep track of the few personal items he’s allowed to have. He sometimes spends hours turning over his cell looking for stamps, letters, art supplies.

His recollection of the time before 1992, when he went to prison for two armed robberies, is hazy. He knows he spent time in state hospitals; that his family struggled to find him mental health care growing up in San Antonio; and that as a teenager, he once tried to kill himself by swallowing a bottle of Valium. He knows that he was self-medicating on a cocktail of booze and whatever drugs he could find at the time. He knows that when he first went to prison, he was housed with the rest of the general inmate population and received mental health treatment, which he says helped.

And he knows that about 12 months into his 40-year sentence, guards sent him to solitary confinement after they accused him of being involved in back-to-back fights and hiding a makeshift knife in his cell. Two years later, while he was still in isolation, guards accused him of being affiliated with the Mexican Mafia prison gang, a scarlet letter officials use to justify keeping people in solitary.

About five years in, Uvalle says, he stopped getting medication for his mental illness, started hallucinating, and then struggled to keep himself and his cell clean. “I couldn’t care for myself and didn’t care about much and was experiencing psychotic behavior on a regular basis,” he wrote in a letter to me. When I visited him in prison recently, he talked about his most recent hunger strike, his third in the past two years. He had refused food for seven days before giving up this time. “Most of the time, they don’t acknowledge your hunger strike if you don’t have outside help,” Uvalle says. “They’ll let you die right there. They don’t care.” It reminds me of a line from one of the letters he sent me before our visit, when he described how some inmates set fires in protest. “There’s fires literally every day,” he wrote. “Never been in a place where there are fires every day.”

During our conversation, Uvalle seems shaken to be speaking with a stranger. His slow, soft speech hardly carries through the buzzy closed-circuit phone that connects us through the cracked plexiglass pane. He tells me he’s worried he’s getting worse. He’s struggling again to keep himself and his cell clean. He cries randomly sometimes, but doesn’t know why.

Uvalle went into solitary confinement in 1993, when he was 21 years old. Now, at 47, he’s been in solitary for 26 years—more than half his life.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has one of the country’s largest inmate populations in solitary confinement. This is due, in part, to the sheer size of the Texas prison system, the largest of any state. At last count, TDCJ held more than 4,400 of its 145,000 prisoners in “restrictive housing,” a euphemism for solitary, where inmates live isolated in a small cell for at least 22 hours every day.

Texas also holds more prisoners in long-term solitary confinement than every other state and the federal prison system combined, according to a report by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale University. At last count, according to TDCJ, about 1,300 Texas prisoners had been in isolation for six years or longer. More than 680 had been in solitary between six and 10 years, 450 between 10 and 20 years, and 129 between 20 and 30 years. Eighteen Texas prisoners have been in solitary for more than 30 years—living in isolation since at least 1990, when George H.W. Bush was still president.

Activists, families of inmates, and formerly incarcerated people call solitary one of the most damaging and dehumanizing practices that has endured in an opaque prison system. For years, they have pointed to the effects of solitary—delusional thinking, violent outbursts, hallucinations, and, in some cases, suicide—when asking state lawmakers to create an independent body to monitor the state’s prisons. They say independent oversight, a solution implemented when Texas’ juvenile lockups came under scrutiny more than a decade ago, could help administrators, politicians, and the public flag problems before they mushroom into tragedies.

Despite several months of requests, TDCJ did not let the Observer view any of its isolation units or provide any photographs of its cells. Aaron Striz, a prisoner who has spent nearly two decades in solitary confinement in Texas prisons, mailed several sketches documenting the conditions inside. AARON STRIZ

Long-term solitary continues because of the courts’ hands-off approach to prisons, with judges and inmates hamstrung by a 1996 law that makes it more difficult to challenge conditions in lockup. Reforms have proved difficult at the state level, in part because the Legislature seems unaware of what’s really happening behind bars. At a 2019 legislative committee hearing, an expert testified about the effects of long-term solitary confinement and said prisoners are sometimes held for decades in isolation; lawmakers were floored at her statement and questioned whether Texas inmates really spend that long in solitary.

Jeremy Desel, a spokesperson for TDCJ, calls Texas a “leader” when it comes to reducing solitary. According to the agency, the total number of prisoners in isolation has dropped from more than 9,000 about a decade ago to around 4,400 this year.

Over the past decade, TDCJ has implemented several programs aimed at moving people out of isolation, part of a national shift away from solitary. The change is driven by a growing consensus among mental health experts and corrections officials that solitary is not only expensive ($61.63 a day per person versus $42.46 in the general prison population), but also harmful for inmates, staff, and the communities that people damaged by isolation return to. But as the Texas Tribune reported last year, some of TDCJ’s new programs may actually mask the extent to which the state has reformed its solitary confinement practices. Inmates moved out of solitary and into a mental health diversion program still live in conditions that seem indistinguishable from solitary; prisoners continue to be confined in small spaces and have limited time outside their cells. Regardless of these similarities, Texas doesn’t count its participants as being in isolated housing. (Desel didn’t respond to a long list of questions about the agency’s use of solitary confinement.)

TDCJ also tracks very little about the effects of this extreme practice. After recent reports of isolated prisoners killing themselves or being killed by guards, I asked the agency how often inmates in solitary attempt suicide or get beaten and tear-gassed by officers. The agency could not provide those numbers.

For months, I’ve exchanged letters with more than a dozen prisoners in long-term isolation, trying to understand the effects of this controversial punishment that a growing consensus of medical and mental health professionals equates to torture. Many of these prisoners aren’t sure how—or, in some cases, if—they will ever get out of solitary.

They wrote about paltry to nonexistent mental health care in an environment proven to cause psychological distress. They told me that sick, elderly, or otherwise vulnerable inmates often languish in isolation. Their letters detailed hallucinations and delusional thoughts that test their grip on reality. Sometimes they get lucky and wind up next to people who look out for one another. Sometimes they’re housed next to inmates who throw feces, mutilate themselves, or get gassed by guards. They all say the noise is inescapable. “You hear others talking 24/7,” wrote Dennis Hope, 51, who’s been kept in solitary for more than two decades. “Sometimes they are hollering, arguing, singing, or screaming like they are on fire.”

II.
“They’ve known that ad seg drives people crazy since the 1800s. I can tell you all kinds of stories of those I’ve seen come back here normal and slowly go crazy.”
—Pedro Hernandez, held in solitary for nine years

Solitary confinement is a uniquely American form of punishment.

It began as a misguided attempt at rehabilitation. America’s first prisons, built in the 1800s, housed inmates in near total isolation based on a Quaker belief that solitude fostered penitence and reformation—hence the word “penitentiary.” In reality, foreign attachés dispatched to study American prisons in 1831 were horrified after witnessing a degree of isolation “beyond the strength of man.” Charles Dickens was revolted by what he saw while touring an American penitentiary in 1842, writing, “I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.” In 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a prisoner who challenged his placement in solitary for 45 days, stating that inmates subjected to even brief isolation tended to slip into a “semi-fatuous condition” or became violently and irreversibly insane.

By the turn of the century, solitary had mostly gone out of style as a core correctional model in America. But in Texas, as convict leasing and prison farms replaced slavery as the primary tool for black oppression after the Civil War, solitary was still reserved as a severe punishment. Inmates on Texas’ prison plantations were locked in pitch-dark boxes, sometimes for so long or in such great numbers that they suffocated to death. In 1947, Oscar Byron Ellis, who had operated a money-making penal farm in Tennessee, took over the Texas prison system and built a new “segregation unit” in Huntsville to quarantine “hopeless cases.” Under Ellis, the authoritarian control Texas exerted over its prisoners became the model other states tried to emulate. Penologists drooled over what they called the “Texas Control Model.”

Texas’ approach to maintaining order inside its prisons at the time also relied on another method of control. As Texas’ inmate count grew throughout the century, the state squeezed profits out of its prison farms by empowering certain inmate enforcers to keep order rather than hiring more guards. Dubbed “building tenders,” these prisoners became part of a secret but brutal system of extortion, violence, and rape that lawmakers ignored for decades. The violence at the heart of the system came into full view in 1972 due to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” – Mahatma Gandhi

What’s the true measure of the US?

Written by Leisureguy

23 January 2020 at 5:46 pm

Inside a Texas Building Where the U.S. Government Is Holding Immigrant Children

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Isaac Chotiner reports in the New Yorker:

Hundreds of immigrant children who have been separated from their parents or family members are being held in dirty, neglectful, and dangerous conditions at Border Patrol facilities in Texas. This week, a team of lawyers interviewed more than fifty children at one of those facilities, in Clint, Texas, in order to monitor government compliance with the Flores settlement, which mandates that children must be held in safe and sanitary conditions and moved out of Border Patrol custody without unnecessary delays. The conditions the lawyers found were shocking: flu and lice outbreaks were going untreated, and children were filthy, sleeping on cold floors, and taking care of one another because of the lack of attention from guards. Some of them had been in the facility for weeks.

To discuss what the attorneys saw and heard, I spoke by phone with one of them, Warren Binford, a law professor at Willamette University and the director of its clinical-law program. She told me that, although Flores is an active court case, some of the lawyers were so disturbed by what they saw that they decided to talk to the media. We discussed the daily lives of the children in custody, the role that the guards are playing at the facility, and what should be done to unite many of the kids with their parents. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How many lawyers were in your party? And can you describe what happened when you arrived?

We had approximately ten lawyers, doctors, and interpreters in El Paso this past week. We did not plan to go to the Clint Facility, because it’s not a facility that historically receives children. It wasn’t even on our radar. It was at a facility that historically only had a maximum occupancy of a hundred and four, and it was an adult facility. So we were not expecting to go there, and then we saw the report, last week, that it appeared that children were being sent to Clint, so we decided to put four teams over there. The teams are one to two attorneys, or an attorney and an interpreter. The idea is that we would be interviewing one child at a time or one sibling group at a time.

How many interviews do you do in a day?We do a screening interview first to see if the child’s most basic needs are being met. Is it warm enough? Do they have a place to sleep? How long have they been there? Are they being fed? And if it sounds like the basic needs are being met, then we don’t need to interview them longer. If, when we start to interview the child, they start to tell us things like they’re sleeping on the floor, they’re sick, nobody’s taking care of them, they’re hungry, then we do a more in-depth interview. And those interviews can take two hours or even longer. So it depends on what the children tell us. So I’d say, with a team of four attorneys, if you’re interviewing several groups, which we sometimes try to do, or if you interview older children who are trying to take care of younger children, then you are interviewing, let’s say, anywhere from ten to twenty children per day.

How many kids are at the facility right now, and do you have some sense of a breakdown of where they’re from?

When we arrived, on Monday, there were approximately three hundred and fifty children there. They were constantly receiving children, and they’re constantly picking up children and transferring them over to an O.R.R. [Office of Refugee Resettlement] site. So the number is fluid. We were so shocked by the number of children who were there, because it’s a facility that only has capacity for a hundred and four. And we were told that they had recently expanded the facility, but they did not give us a tour of it, and we legally don’t have the right to tour the facility.

We drove around afterward, and we discovered that there was a giant warehouse that they had put on the site. And it appears that that one warehouse has allegedly increased their capacity by an additional five hundred kids. When we talked to Border Patrol agents later that week, they confirmed that is the alleged expansion, and when we talked to children, one of the children described as many as three hundred children being in that room, in that warehouse, basically, at one point when he first arrived. There were no windows.

And so what we did then was we looked at the ages of the children, and we were shocked by just how many young children there were. There were over a hundred young children when we first arrived. And there were child-mothers who were also there, and so we started to pull the child-mothers and their babies, we started to make sure their needs were being met. We started to pull the youngest children to see who was taking care of them.

And then we started to pull the children who had been there the longest to find out just how long children are being kept there. Children described to us that they’ve been there for three weeks or longer. And so, immediately from that population that we were trying to triage, they were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

So, in any event, the children told us that nobody’s taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, “Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take of this little girl?” and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.

Many of the children reported sleeping on the concrete floor. They are being given army blankets, those wool-type blankets that are really harsh. Most of the children said they’re being given two blankets, one to put beneath them on the floor. Some of the children are describing just being given one blanket and having to decide whether to put it under them or over them, because there is air-conditioning at this facility. And so they’re having to make a choice about, Do I try to protect myself from the cement, or do I try to keep warm?

We weren’t originally planning to be there on Thursday, but one of the reasons why we came back for a fourth day is that some of the children, on Wednesday, told us that there was a lice infestation, as well as an influenza outbreak, at that facility, and so a number of the children are being taken into isolation rooms, quarantine areas where there’s nobody with them except for other sick children.

There was one child-mother who took her baby in there, because the baby got the flu. And then the mother, because she was in there caring for the child, got the flu as well. And so then she was there for a week, and they took the baby out and gave the baby to an unrelated child to try to take care of the child-mother’s baby. Sorry, I was trying to remember where I was going with that.

It’s fine.

Oh, I know what I wanted to tell you. This is important. So, on Wednesday, we received reports from children of a lice outbreak in one of the cells where there were about twenty-five children, and what they told us is that six of the children were found to have lice. And so they were given a lice shampoo, and the other children were given two combs and told to share those two combs, two lice combs, and brush their hair with the same combs, which is something you never do with a lice outbreak. And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb. So you had a whole cell full of kids who had beds and mats at one point, not for everybody but for most of them, who were forced to sleep on the cement.

Where are these kids from, and where are most of their parents in most cases?

Almost every child that we interviewed had a parent or relative in the United States. Many of them had parents in the United States and were coming here to be with their parents. Some of the children that we interviewed had been separated from their parents. Most of them were separated from other adult relatives. Almost all the children came across with an adult family member and were separated from them by the Border Patrol. Some of them were separated from their parents themselves; other times it was a grandmother or aunt or an older sibling. We don’t know where the parents are being kept.

They are primarily from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There are a few from Ecuador, one from Peru.

What is the attitude of the guards to your team?

They are on our side. Multiple guards told us while we were there that they are on our side and they want us to be successful, because the children don’t belong there, and the children need to be picked up and put in appropriate places for children. They want us to be successful.

So things like the comb and the punishment, that’s a rare story? Most of the guards care about the welfare of the kids to some extent?

I’m not going to say that most of the guards care about the kids, because we didn’t talk to most of the guards, but I do believe in the inherent goodness of people. And when I’ve talked to guards, they seemed caring, and they had guards who, when the children were there for these very lengthy interviews, would bring the children lunches in the conference room. They’re terrible lunches. That’s how some of the guards are, but the fact is that some of the guards are bad people, and there’s no question about it.

There are some other stories that we’ve heard from the children, such as . . .

Continue reading.

Gratuitous cruelty to children—that’s the US government today.

Written by Leisureguy

25 June 2019 at 1:33 pm

The opposite of whole foods: Who wants proper food when you can survive on powder?

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Jonathan Beckman writes in the Economist’s 1843:

It is rare these days to find yourself in a face-off with your lunch. There is probably still the occasional adventure-seeker who, ten days deep into the Amazon, finds himself in hand-to-paw combat with a capybara. But it’s impossible to walk through the centre of any major city at midday without being proffered kimchi doughnuts or sambal scotch eggs or dozens of equally irresistible dining options. Yet there I was in my kitchen, looking at a flask of Huel, and wondering whether I could bring myself to drink it. In one light, it looked like slurry from a limestone quarry; in another, it resembled an attempt to make a smoothie out of sawdust. It stared back at me with the implacable greyness of a dissatisfied bureaucrat. I looked longingly at the fridge, even though I knew it only contained a parmesan rind, some wilting spring onions and six types of mustard.

Huel is a meal-replacement powder, compounded of pea protein, oats, flax seeds and millenarian fervour. Five hundred grams, mixed into a shake with water, provides you with all the fat, carbs and protein the average human needs, along with a dizzying complement of vitamins and minerals. Never again will you endure riboflavin deficiencies! Pantothenic acid deprivation is a thing of the past! (Watch out, though, for a molybdenum overdose, since each daily portion contains 473% of the recommended amount.)

These food substitutes are wildly popular among time-pressed millennials who regard food as fuel and their guts as offally combustion engines. You might think it incongruous that the very same people who swig meal replacements also swoon on Instagram over pictures of quintuple fried chicken and burgers sweating molten cheese. Appreciation for food is shallower than it seems, as evidenced by the improbable apotheosis of the avocado. Texturally, it combines the qualities of floor polish and baby food; its sole virtue appears to be a photogenic greenness. Most telling of all, it’s impossible to cook.

There has always been a chasm between what people want to eat and what they’re capable of preparing themselves. Meal replacements allow you to mask incompetence with virtue. One person I met drank Huel each day for lunch in order to save the environment. The slaughter of his first-born would probably help the environment too. Every muscular twitch ultimately contributes to the entropic catastrophe of the universe. In the end, we’ve all got to live a little. At least part of the reason that the planet is worth saving is so we can enjoy ourselves on it.

Having tried Huel’s vanilla flavour, I would rather the Earth were smothered in barbeque smoke than be forced to march on that powder. It was the single most noxious thing I’ve ever tasted. My mouth subjected to a saccharine outrage. It was as though Rodgers and Hammerstein had decided to liquidise their favourite things rather than set them to music, if only the raindrops were syrup, the warm woollen mittens had been spun out of candy floss and the brown paper package contained half a pound of Tate & Lyle’s finest. I was incapable of drinking more than one sip at a time and the only way to consume a reasonable quantity was to dilute it in gallons of water to almost homeopathic levels. A similar approach is required with Ambronite, which combines an awful sweetness with undertones of sodden kelp. “Choose to become a savage in a world of weakness,” exhorts the package. I’d back myself with a knife and fork anytime. [“Huel” must be a play on “Hurl.” – LG]

The original meal replacement is Soylent. Its name 

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 June 2019 at 7:32 pm

A close look at Donald Trump’s buddy MBS: It Wasn’t Just Khashoggi: A Saudi Prince’s Brutal Drive to Crush Dissent

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Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard report in the NY Times:

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia authorized a secret campaign to silence dissenters — which included the surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens — more than a year before the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign.

At least some of the clandestine missions were carried out by members of the same team that killed and dismembered Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul in October, suggesting that his killing was a particularly egregious part of a wider campaign to silence Saudi dissidents, according to the officials and associates of some of the Saudi victims.

Members of the team that killed Mr. Khashoggi, which American officials called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group, were involved in at least a dozen operations starting in 2017, the officials said.

Some of the operations involved forcibly repatriating Saudis from other Arab countries and detaining and abusing prisoners in palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman, the officials and associates said.

One of the Saudis detained by the group, a university lecturer in linguistics who wrote a blog about women in Saudi Arabia, tried to kill herself last year after being subjected to psychological torture, according to American intelligence reports and others briefed on her situation.

The rapid intervention team had been so busy that last June its leader asked a top adviser to Prince Mohammed whether the crown prince would give the team bonuses for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, according to American officials familiar with the intelligence reports.

Details about the operations come from American officials who have read classified intelligence assessments about the Saudi campaign, as well as from Saudis with direct knowledge of some of the operations. They spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from disclosing classified information or, in the case of the Saudis, from angering the Saudi government.

A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the kingdom “takes any allegations of ill treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously.”

Saudi laws prohibit torture and hold accountable those involved in such abuses of power, the spokesman said, and judges cannot accept confessions obtained under duress. The kingdom’s public prosecutor and the Saudi Human Rights Commission are investigating “recent allegations,” he said.

The Saudi government insists that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi — a dissident journalist living in the United States who wrote for The Washington Post — was not an assassination ordered from Riyadh. The decision to kill him was made by the team on the spot, government officials say, and those responsible are being prosecuted. Turkey and American intelligence agencies say the killing was premeditated.

The kingdom says that 11 Saudis are facing criminal charges for the killing and that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five of them, but officials have not publicly identified the accused.

After the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, Saudi officials acknowledged that the Saudi intelligence service had a standing order to bring dissidents home. What they did not acknowledge was that a specific team had been built to do it.

Saudi officials declined to confirm or deny that such a team existed, or answer questions about its work.

Saudi Arabia has a history of going after dissidents and other Saudi citizens abroad, but the crackdown escalated sharply after Prince Mohammed was elevated to crown prince in 2017, a period when he was moving quickly to consolidate power. He pushed aside Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who oversaw the security services, giving the young prince sway over the intelligence agencies.

Since then, Saudi security forces have detained dozens of clerics, intellectuals and activists who were perceived to pose a threat, as well as people who had posted critical or sarcastic comments about the government on Twitter.

“We’ve never seen it on a scale like this,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst now with the Brookings Institution. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 March 2019 at 3:31 pm

Did CIA Director Gina Haspel run a black site at Guantánamo?

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I certainly would not be surprised. She seems totally comfortable with torturing suspects (aka extreme interrogation techniques). Carol Rosenberg reports for McClatchy:

An attorney for the accused architect of the Sept. 11 attacks told a judge in a secret session last year that CIA Director Gina Haspel ran a secret agency outpost at Guantánamo, an apparent reference to a post-9/11 black site, according to a recently declassified transcript.

The claim by Rita Radostitz, a lawyer for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, appears in one paragraph of a partially redacted transcript of a secret hearing held at Guantánamo on Nov. 16. Defense lawyers were arguing, in a motion that ultimately failed, that Haspel’s role at the prison precludes the possibility of a fair trial for the men accused of orchestrating the 9/11 attacks who were also held for years in covert CIA prisons.

Neither the public nor the accused was allowed to attend the hearing but, following an intelligence review, the Pentagon released portions of its transcript on a war court website.

Haspel reportedly ran a CIA black site in Thailand where two terror suspects were waterboarded, probably before her arrival there. The unverified statement that she had a similar assignment at the terror-detention center at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would reveal a never-before disclosed chapter of the spy chief’s clandestine career.

The CIA declined to comment on the claim.

But in the transcript of a discussion about CIA torture and restrictions on the lawyers for the alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Radostitz notes that prosecutors claim they are “not trying to cover up the torture … But the one thing that they’re not willing to talk about is the names of the people involved in the torture.” Then, after a large censored section, she says, “it makes it impossible for people at Guantánamo, who may have seen her when she was here as chief of base, to identify her and talk about it.”

Chief of base is a CIA term for the officer in charge of a secret foreign outpost. A 2014 Senate study of the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons, called black sites, said the CIA had two such secret prisons at Guantánamo in 2003 and 2004 — apart from the Pentagon’s Guantánamo prison known as Camp Delta. While the military prison commanders’ names were disclosed, those who served as CIA chief of base were not.

The CIA sent the alleged 9/11 conspirators and other “high-value detainees” to military detention at Guantánamo in September 2006 after the captives spent three or four years in secret spy agency custody. But at least one 9/11 defendant, Ramzi bin al Shibh, was earlier held at Guantánamo, according to the public portion of the 6,200-page Senate Intelligence Committee study of the CIA’s overseas prison program, known as the torture report.

It says the agency operated two black sites there — code named Maroon and Indigo — from September 2003 to April 2004 then spirited them away for fear their captives might be entitled to attorneys.

Former CIA counterterrorism officer John Kiriakou told McClatchy that he was offered theGuantánamo chief of base position in late 2002 or early 2003 — and declined. “Nobody wanted the job,” he said. So they resorted to sending people on temporary duty assignments ranging from six weeks to nine months, he said.

“If it was during one of those periods when they couldn’t find somebody to fill the billet it would’ve made sense that she would’ve been there a short period of time,” Kiriakou said, describing a Gitmo stint as essentially a ticket punch for some agents associated with the black site program. “So when I read it, although I was surprised by it, I kind of believed it.”

Former CIA analyst Gail Helt, now a professor of Security and Intelligence Studies at King University in Tennessee, said there’s been “a lot of shadiness” with the way the spy agency has spoken about Haspel’s agency career.

An official CIA timeline of Haspel’s 33-year career notes that the agency won’t disclose 30 short-term, temporary duty assignments she held over the course of her career, suggesting they were covert. “Was one of those at Guantánamo for a couple of months?,” said Helt. “I don’t have personal knowledge of that, and couldn’t discuss it if I did. But it doesn’t surprise me.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

8 January 2019 at 6:54 pm

This set of headlines reads like the elevator pitch for the fall of the US

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This is an email I just got from The Hill. Just read the headlines from the point of view of a producer—a big-budget producer—of action/adventure, political thriller, edgy and (of course) dystopian (going for Oscar) blockbuster movies. With that mindset, read the headlines below, in that sequence, and picture the scenes, movie-wise.

The Memo: Bomb attacks expose festering divisions
Partisan enmity, incendiary rhetoric and polarization were under a more intense spotlight than ever this week after crude explosive devices were sent to several leading Democrats and to CNN, Niall Stanage writes.

Hollywood donors flood Dems with midterm cash
Hollywood Democrats are pouring money into the midterm elections, infusing races with cash in a last-ditch push to flip control of Congress, Judy Kurtz reports.

Racial animus moves to the forefront in midterm battle
Race has moved to the forefront of this year’s midterm elections to an extent unprecedented in recent decades, Reid Wilson writes.

Dems lower expectations for ‘blue wave’
Democrats are tamping down expectations for a “blue wave” just days before the midterm elections as key races in the House tighten and winning back the Senate majority looks increasingly out of reach, Lisa Hagen and Max Greenwood report.

Experts say latest Russia case exposes US election vulnerabilities
The indictment of a Russian national accused of trying to interfere in U.S. elections shows that not enough has been done to stop the country from launching a multimillion-dollar effort to influence American voters, Jacqueline Thomsen reports.

YouTube winning race to clamp down on misinformation
YouTube is outpacing its social media rivals when it comes to curbing the spread of misinformation during breaking news events, Ali Breland writes.

Trump faces litmus test in Florida
President Trump faces a crucial test of his political influence in the Sunshine State, where several key races could serve as early referenda on his political brand in a major swing state, Max Greenwood reports.

Dems hold active discussions on 2020 debates
The Democratic National Committee is undergoing a series of internal and external discussions on how to handle primary debates during the 2020 presidential election, Amie Parnes reports

Sessions seeks to expand power on immigration cases
Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be exploring a rule that would expand his judicial power, and that some say would allow him to drastically reshape federal immigration policy, Lydia Wheeler reports.

Corker’s imminent departure puts Saudi sanctions in doubt
Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-Tenn.) departure as Foreign Relations Committee chairman could make it more difficult for him to press the Trump administration on its Saudi Arabia policy, which is under increased scrutiny following the death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Alexander Bolton writes.

Update within minutes:

And, this just in: “11 killed and six wounded by gunman at Pittsburgh synagogue, city official confirms” – Washington Post email

You can see the direction this movie is going. “Dystopia” ain’t in it.

Update: I wonder what a novel John Dos Passos could have made from those headlines if he wrote a new USA Trilogy.

No sitting on the floor, no hugging your siblings, and it’s best not to cry: Migrant children describe life in detention

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Dan Barry, Miriam Jordan, Annie Correal, and Manny Fernandez report in the NY Times:

Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case.

Lights out by 9 p.m. and lights on at dawn, after which make your bed according to the step-by-step instructions posted on the wall. Wash and mop the bathroom, scrubbing the sinks and toilets. Then it is time to form a line for the walk to breakfast.

“You had to get in line for everything,” recalled Leticia, a girl from Guatemala.

Small, slight and with long black hair, Leticia was separated from her mother after they illegally crossed the border in late May. She was sent to a shelter in South Texas — one of more than 100 government-contracted detention facilities for migrant children around the country that are a rough blend of boarding school, day care center and medium security lockup. They are reserved for the likes of Leticia, 12, and her brother, Walter, 10.

The facility’s list of no-no’s also included this: Do not touch another child, even if that child is your hermanito or hermanita — your little brother or sister.

Leticia had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But “they told me I couldn’t touch him,” she recalled.

In response to an international outcry, President Trump recently issued an executive order to end his administration’s practice, first widely put into effect in May, of forcibly removing children from migrant parents who had entered the country illegally. Under that “zero-tolerance” policy for border enforcement, thousands of children were sent to holding facilities, sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles from where their parents were being held for criminal prosecution.

Last week, in trying to comply with a court order, the government returned slightly more than half of the 103 children under the age of 5 to their migrant parents.

But more than 2,800 children — some of them separated from their parents, some of them classified at the border as “unaccompanied minors” — remain in these facilities, where the environments range from impersonally austere to nearly bucolic, save for the fact that the children are formidably discouraged from leaving and their parents or guardians are nowhere in sight.

Depending on several variables, including happenstance, a child might be sent to a 33-acre youth shelter in Yonkers that features picnic tables, sports fields and even an outdoor pool. “Like summer camp,” said Representative Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat of New York who recently visited the campus.

Or that child could wind up at a converted motel along a tired Tucson strip of discount stores, gas stations and budget motels. Recreation takes place in a grassless compound, and the old motel’s damaged swimming pool is covered up.

Still, some elements of these detention centers seem universally shared, whether they are in northern Illinois or South Texas. The multiple rules. The wake-up calls and the lights-out calls. The several hours of schooling every day, which might include a civics class in American history and laws, though not necessarily the ones that led to their incarceration.

Most of all, these facilities are united by a collective sense of aching uncertainty — scores of children gathered under a roof who have no idea when they will see their parents again.

Leticia wrote letters from the shelter in South Texas to her mother, who was being held in Arizona, to tell her how much she missed her. She would quickly write these notes after she had finished her math worksheets, she said, so as not to violate yet another rule: No writing in your dorm room. No mail.

She kept the letters safe in a folder for the day when she and her mother would be reunited, though that still hasn’t happened. “I have a stack of them,” she said.

Another child asked her lawyer to post a letter to her detained mother, since she had not heard from her in the three weeks since they had been separated.

“Mommy, I love you and adore you and miss you so much,” the girl wrote in curvy block letters. And then she implored: “Please, Mom, communicate. Please, Mom. I hope that you’re OK and remember, you are the best thing in my life.”

The complicated matters of immigration reform and border enforcement have vexed American presidents for at least two generations. The Trump administration entered the White House in 2017 with a pledge to end the problems, and for several months, it chose one of the harshest deterrents ever employed by a modern president: the separation of migrant children from their parents.

This is what a few of those children will remember.

No Touching, No Running

Diego Magalhães, a Brazilian boy with a mop of curly brown hair, spent 43 days in a Chicago facility after being separated from his mother, Sirley Paixao, when they crossed the border in late May. He did not cry, just as he had promised her when they parted. He was proud of this. He is 10.

He spent the first night on the floor of a processing center with other children, then boarded an airplane the next day. “I thought they were taking me to see my mother,” he said. He was wrong.

Once in Chicago, he was handed new clothes that he likened to a uniform: shirts, two pairs of shorts, a sweatsuit, boxers and some items for hygiene. He was then assigned to a room with three other boys, including Diogo, 9, and Leonardo, 10, both from Brazil.

The three became fast friends, going to class together, playing lots of soccer and earning “big brother” status for being good role models for younger children. They were rewarded the privilege of playing video games.

There were rules. You couldn’t touch others. You couldn’t run. You had to wake up at 6:30 on weekdays, with the staff making banging noises until you got out of bed.

“You had to clean the bathroom,” Diego said. “I scrubbed the bathroom. We had to remove the trash bag full of dirty toilet paper. Everyone had to do it.”

Diego and the 15 other boys in their unit ate together. They had rice and beans, salami, some vegetables, the occasional pizza, and sometimes cake and ice cream. The burritos, he said, were bad.

Apart from worrying about when he would see his mother again, Diego said that he was not afraid, because he always behaved. He knew to watch for a staff member “who was not a good guy.” He had seen what happened to Adonias, a small boy from Guatemala who had fits and threw things around.

“They applied injections because he was very agitated,” Diego said. “He would destroy things.” . . .

Continue reading.

One of many inhumane, cruel, and brutal aspects of the forced family separations is that DHS had no plan at all to reunite the families.

Written by Leisureguy

14 July 2018 at 10:04 am

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. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

9 May 2018 at 10:42 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. . .

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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

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