Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
Guantánamo Diary author cleared for release after 14 years of imprisonment with no charges ever filed
Just a guy who had bad luck. The US government will not, of course, offer any compensation or apologies for torturing him and imprisoning him for 14 years. The US believes that it can do that sort of thing with impunity, though of course the US would mightily object if some country did that to US citizens—or maybe not. The US seems to care less and less about its citizens: look at how the US runs VA, at how many unarmed people are shot to death by police, at how citizens are no longer protected by the 4th Amendment against unreasonable searches and seizures (e.g., civil asset forfeiture).
Cora Currier reports in The Intercept:
An interagency review board has determined that Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi poses no threat to the United States and has recommended that he be released, setting the bestselling author on the path to be reunited with his family.
Slahi was arrested in his native Mauritania in 2001, and was held and tortured in secret prisons in Afghanistan and Jordan before being secreted to Guantánamo, an odyssey he recounted in a memoir, Guantánamo Diary, which became a bestseller last year. He has been imprisoned for over 14 years without being charged with a crime.
In early June, Slahi made his case to the Periodic Review Board as part of a sort of parole process instituted by the Obama administration to evaluate the cases of the remaining men at Guantánamo to determine if they might be safely transferred to another country.
At that hearing, Slahi’s advocates, including his lawyer and two representatives from the military, described his plans to continue writing and to start a small business, and noted the strong network of family and other supporters who could help him. They spoke to his unusual language skills and warm relationship with his lawyers and even the guards assigned to him. The military representatives described him as “an advocate for peace” and stated they were “certain that Mohamedou’s intentions after Guantánamo are genuine, and that he possesses sound judgment, and that he is good for his word.” One former guard submitted a letter attesting that he “would be pleased to welcome [Slahi] into my home.” (In keeping with the general secrecy of proceedings at Guantánamo, Slahi was not allowed speak during the open portion of the review, and he declined to have his own statement from the closed session made public.)
In a document dated July 14 but released today, the board members noted Slahi’s “highly compliant behavior in detention,” “candid responses to the Board’s questions,” and “clear indications of a change in the detainee’s mindset.” They had also taken into consideration his “robust and realistic plan for the future.”
Slahi has admitted to traveling to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to fight with the mujahideen against the Soviet-backed government, and the government claims he helped recruit and facilitate the travel of al Qaeda fighters. In 2010, a federal judge found that he was not a member of al Qaeda when the U.S. picked him up; the judge ordered his release, but that casestalled on appeal.
The board’s recommendation on a detainee is just a first step. The secretary of defense must arrange for a country to receive him and notify Congress of the transfer. In Slahi’s case, the government of Mauritania has already indicated that it would be willing to take him back.
One of Slahi’s lawyers, Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union, said they were pressing the Pentagon to arrange for his actual release as soon as possible, but the exact timing is uncertain.
“We will now work toward his quick release and return to the waiting arms of his loving family,” said Nancy Hollander, another of his lawyers, in a statement. “This is long overdue.”
There are currently 76 men still held in Guantánamo. Including Slahi, 31 of them have been approved for release. . .
Presumably he’s being released because he paid his debt to society? But that’s not it: he never did anything wrong.
I’m sure the CIA would indeed comply: there’s no punishment at all for torturing people when the president orders it. That’s been well established under George W. Bush (the president who ordered that people be tortured) and Barack Obama (the succeeding president who made the decision that the torturers and those who ordered the torture would not be punished or even charged—indeed, quite a few received promotions, as did the CIA official who destroyed all the video evidence). I don’t see that there’s any “might” about it.
Here’s the article by Alex Emmons in The Intercept:
It is, of course, against the law for members of the government to torture people, and it’s quite explicit (as in the Convention Against Torture treaty that the US signed and ratified). That makes no difference. The precedent is that the US government can torture people and can block any legal action from the victims. That’s the takeaway, and that’s the direction the US has elected to go. And the GOP candidate for president has promised explicitly that he will inaugurate much more brutal torture programs, and his supporters seem to like it.
I think government torture is definitely a part of the US identity now.
I recall once some decades ago, I was in a somewhat emotional discussion, and my brain was in overdrive, trying to logically reason it out. It really felt odd, like getting no traction or finding no solution, when my co-discussant said, “No. Wrong direction.” That stopped me cold, which was exactly right, and I tried looking in other directions, like emotion. It wasn’t a logical problem, it was an emotional problem and the answer would be in that area.
I am watching a hyper-militaristic movie, Clear and Present Danger, one of the Harrison Ford movies based on Tom Clancy’s novels of the same stripe. (I just watched a long sequence on launching a fighter jet from an aircraft, shown with great detail, no dialogue (but background music), and I realized that this sequence, which had zero to do with plot, was simply a quid pro quo for the cooperation of the Navy: they get to insert recruiting sequences. (At least that’s how it looks.)
And as I watched all the variety of armed response—the RPG-wielding drug dealers, the US Navy, the CIA: they all try to find the answer through the sort of violence known as “armed conflict”—in essence, a microwar. That’s the wrong direction, it seems, based on evidence to date.
There is, of course, another direction, which seems to be admired. Maybe we should try that direction.
Interesting: that thought was from reading the article at the link, and seeing the movie, along with that memory, triggered it.
TL/DR: Culturally, we’re going in the wrong direction, a direction we know does not end well. Why?
UPDATE: I realize that this is not a novel insight. What is novel for me is how glaringly obvious it is if you just look. The Iraq War did not, in fact, bring peace and prosperity to the Middle East, but that’s sure what was promised. Maybe the military “solution” is not the right solution. Have you noticed the pickup in terrorism? That’s certainly the wrong direction. We can see it very easily in the other culture but seem oblivious to it in our own—that is, we cannot recognize that the military response has been counter-productive, which suggests that it is the wrong direction to take.
UPDATE 2: Hah! I just read this David Brooks column after writing the above. The thought seems to be in the air.
UPDATE 3: I got to thinking about the cycle that we kicked off when, in the course of the Cold War, we armed the Afghani mujardeem and taught them guerilla warfare (a CIA operation, told well in the bok Charlie Wilson’s War and much less well in the movie of the same name). We gave them weaponry and taught them how to figut the Soviets, who had superior technology. And, as we know, they learned well.
Let’s see: Osama bin Laden was mainly angry about US military bases in Saudi Arabia. He obviously embraced violence as a good direction (overall, in the long term) and supported various terrorist acts incuding 9/11, which of course triggered a strong reaction that was dealt with by going to war (of course! only possible response!), First with the war in Afghanistan (we’re still there and it’s spilling over into Pakistan more and more) and then in Iraq, which resulted in melting down the middle east.
Back and forth, each side responding with a way that has proven, over and over, not to be a good strategy, long term. And yeah, I know about Ghengis Khan. But 9 times out of 10? Makes it worse, not better. Hell, the British are still suffering various after effects of their policies in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and so on across the world. And the US is still suffering from the aftereffects of building a slave-based economy. (I feel certain that there are other choices and options, though probably not many that would be so profitable for the plantation owners.)
History has a lot of echoes: cultural waves breaking against each other and combining in various ways. (I do like William H. McNeill and recommend his History of Western Civilization. Or another favorite, read with the same point of view of cultural waves clashing and creating echoes, is David Anthony’s
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Basically, it’s meme evolution. (Another (frequent) recommendation: Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.)
As Richard Dawkins demonstrates in Chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene, memes by necessity must evolve, since they are replicators that allow occasional variation, and thus variations that help survival and reproduction get passed along. Genes are the basis of lifeform evolution, memes the basis of cultural evolution.
So memes gotta struggle. Surving demands it. But that struggle need not and should not harm the meme’s host (the animal homo sapiens, evolved to support memes). Better if we could find how to resolve meme struggles without harming the hosts.
Raymond Bonner reports in ProPublica:
I would be strapped to a board by my arms and legs and by my waist (which was very painful because of my wound.)
Guards with black costumes, masks and black goggles strapped me in. My mouth and nose and eyes were covered by a cloth.
The board — and my body — were placed horizontally. My head was immobilized by a board. Someone poured over the cloth, which entered my mouth and nose. I could hear one water bottle empty out by the gurgling noise it made; I hoped that would end the process, then I heard another bottle start to pour.
Water would enter my lungs. I felt like my whole body was filled with water; even my eyes felt like they were drowning. I experienced the panicked sensation of death and my body convulsed in terror and resistance.
“I thought ‘I will die. I will die.’ I lost control of my functions and urinated on myself. At the last possible moment, I instantly vomited water violently but at the same time was still panicked and desperate for air.”
In 2009, Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers interviewed their client and prepared a handwritten, first-person account of the torture their client suffered at the hands of the U.S. government.
The document, quoted above, recounts the terrifying experience of a man repeatedly waterboarded in the mistaken belief that he was al-Qaida’s No. 3 official. It was filed in federal court as part of his lawsuit seeking release from Guantanamo, and like nearly all the documents in the case, was sealed at the government’s request.
Now, seven years later, Zubaydah’s statement, which he signed under oath, has been released, and it provides the most detailed, personal description yet made public of his “enhanced interrogation” at a Central Intelligence Agency “black site” in Thailand.
The United States waterboarded Zubaydah 83 times. According to his statement, he was also hung from hooks, “shackled to a chair naked in freezing temperatures,” and bombarded with loud noises that kept him awake for days.
While shackled and being screamed at, he was forced to stand naked in front of a woman. “When I refused to talk with a woman present, [name blacked out] beat my head against the wall repeatedly.”
In between waterboarding sessions, he was placed in what he called a “dog box,” a wooden container that was about 2 ½ feet long, 2 ½ feet wide and 2 ½ feet high.
“The pain in the small box was unbearable,” he said in his declaration. “I was hunched over in a contorted way and my back and knees were in excruciating pain. I began slamming my body and shackled arms against the inside and screaming for help and tried to break the door. The wound in my stomach and leg opened up and I started bleeding; yet I didn’t care: I would do anything to stretch my leg and back for 1 minute.”
At night, he was placed in a slightly larger, coffin-like box.
His interrogators screamed questions and at times he pleaded: “tell me what you want me to say, I will say it! “ At other times, “I just said things that were false and that I had no basis to know or believe simply to get relief from the pain.”
Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. Senior government officials, including President George W. Bush, immediately boasted that they had seized “one of the top three leaders of al-Qaida.”
Years later, the government admitted it had been mistaken about Zubaydah. In a court filing, it said Zubaydah had no involvement or advance knowledge of 9/11, knew nothing about future plots against America, and was not even a member of al-Qaida or the Taliban. He nonetheless remains imprisoned at Guantanamo as an “enemy combatant.”
The case of Abu Zubaydah is part of a contentious political debate about the morality and tactical value of waterboarding. . .
Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Zubaydah did get an apology from one person. The article concludes:
. . . In spite of all the admissions and informal apologies, Abu Zubaydah remains a prisoner at Guantanamo. In July 2008, he filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking his release.For eight years, the case languished, assigned to Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts, who declined to rule on virtually every motion filed by the defense. Roberts stepped down earlier this year — amid sexual assault allegations. The case has been assigned to Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.
In reading the above, think about your lack of knowledge of the specifics of terror plots and how you would be treated by the US government if it even suspected you—and suspicion was all they had on Zubaydah. But that, apparently, was enough to torture him for months. Some suspects were tortured to death by the CIA and American military. That’s the direction the US has taken.
And it’s particularly important to note that those responsible for the torture have faced no accountability whatsoever and enjoy the protection of the current president (who refuses even to acknowledge the kidnapping and torture of an innocent German civilian and will not allow him to go to court to seek recompense—and of course the US will never apologize to him).
Matthew Schofield reports for McClatchy about the incident:
By January of 2004, when German citizen Khaleed al Masri arrived at the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prison in Afghanistan, agency officials were pretty sure he wasn’t a terrorist. They also knew he didn’t know any terrorists, or much about anything in the world of international terror.
In short, they suspected they’d nabbed the wrong man.
Still, the agency continued to imprison and interrogate him, according to a recently released internal CIA report on Masri’s arrest. The report claims that Masri suffered no physical abuse during his wrongful imprisonment, though it acknowledges that for months he was kept in a “small cell with some clothing, bedding and a bucket for his waste.” Masri says he was tortured, specifically that a medical examination against his will constituted sodomy.
The embarrassing, and horrifying, case of Masri is hardly new. It has been known for a decade as a colossal example of CIA error in the agency’s pursuit of terrorists during the administration of President George W. Bush.
But the recently released internal report makes it clear that the CIA’s failures in the Masri case were even more outrageous than previous accounts have suggested.
The report is heavily redacted – whole pages are blank – and the names of those involved have been removed. But enough is there to give a good understanding of what happened and what went wrong.
Adding to the sense of injustice: Even though the agency realized early on that Masri was the wrong man, it couldn’t figure out how to release him without having to acknowledge its mistake. [And, apparently, acknowledging that it made a mistake is one of the many things the agency cannot do. – LG] The agency eventually dumped him unceremoniously in Albania and essentially pretended his arrest and detention had never happened.
The release of the report, which is 90 pages long and was written in July 2007, came in June after a Freedom of Information Act suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Masri in his decade-long attempt to get an official apology from the United States.
Officials most responsible were promoted
Assembled by the CIA’s inspector general, the report provides the clearest official view to date into the dark, murky world of the Bush administration’s anti-terror rendition program. Beyond snatching an innocent man and holding him for five months, the report highlights a shocking lack of professionalism at America’s top spy agency. The Hollywood cliché of deeply devoted patriots doing their best to protect the United States appears, in this case, to have been replaced by a classic bureaucratic mess and individuals most intent on protecting their own careers.
The report notes that Masri was “questioned in English, which he spoke only poorly.”
None of the Americans involved in Masri’s detention has been held to account, notes Masri’s attorney, Jamil Dakwar, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program. Indeed, the two men most responsible for the errors were promoted [so they could continue to fuck things up. – LG]. Meanwhile, Dakwar said, Masri is haunted to this day by the psychological torture inflicted by his detention in the CIA’s secret Afghan holding center and by the stigma of having been snatched in a CIA anti-terror investigation.
The tale has important lessons for the country, where one of the two leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump, has promised to reinstate the use of torture against terrorism suspects and the Obama administration has declined to punish anyone for the excesses of the Bush-era rendition program.
“When you start a program shrouded in secrecy that pushes the line on human rights, nobody should be surprised that we see this result,” Dakwar said. He added that the presidential authority given for the program under which Masri was nabbed required the CIA “to satisfy a very low bar of proof. In this case, they admit they knew at the time that they didn’t reach even that bar.”
Detention due to ‘a series of breakdowns’
In the case of Masri, the inspector general’s report is sweeping in its condemnation of the failures that took place throughout the agency’s hierarchy, blaming the mishandling of his arrest and detention on “a series of breakdowns in tradecraft, process, management and oversight.”
The report lists the failures: “The lack of rigor in justifying action against an individual suspected of terrorist connections; the lack of understanding of the legal requirements of detention and rendition; the lack of guidance provided to officers making critical operations decisions with significant international implications; and the lack of management oversight.”
It offered a particularly harsh judgment of Alec Station, the CIA unit charged with tracking down Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
“ALEC Station exaggerated the nature of the data it possessed linking al Masri to terrorism. After the decision had been made to repatriate al Masri, implementation was marked by delay and bureaucratic infighting,” the report says.
The report notes that all agency attorneys interviewed agreed that Masri did not meet the legal standard for rendition and detention, which required that a suspect be deemed a threat. In Masri’s case, it was thought only that he “knows key information that could assist in the capture of other al Qaida operatives.”
Despite the fact that the CIA was unable to find any evidence tying Masri to an al Qaida operative in Sudan, which had been the initial suspicion, two agents “justified their commitment to his continued detention, despite the diminishing rationale, by insisting that they knew he was ‘bad.’ ” . . .
It seems hard to have much respect for the CIA, particularly their ethics and morality, but also their competency.
Not to worry, though: the Obama Administration has been successful in denying Khaleed al Masri legal recourse (“state secrets” gets his case thrown out of court) and of course offers no apology for compensation. We’re the U.S.A. and we can do what we want!
This country has lost its way.
Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:
The CIA will give the Senate intelligence oversight committee a closed briefing on how employees were held accountable and punished for their involvement with torture, the agency’s director told lawmakers in a hearing Thursday.
“The agency over the course of the last several years took actions to address shortcomings,” CIA Director John Brennan said during a rare appearance at a public Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday. He told the panel that “individual accountability” was a part of that.
Brennan’s promise comes just two days after the CIA released dozens of new documents to the American Civil Liberties Union — which sued the agency for access to the records after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s notorious December 2014 “torture report” detailing the agency’s failed “enhanced interrogation” regime.
Brennan’s remarks were in response to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who asked him whether anyone, after two years, had been held accountable for torture, as promised.
President Barack Obama reportedly dismantled the CIA’s detention and interrogation program in which hundreds of detainees were subject to brutal conditions, primarily in Afghanistan. Few people, however, have been reprimanded in any formal way for building and fostering the system.
In addition to owing answers about accountability for torture, Brennan also promised to provide Wyden details about the CIA’s policies on the use of NSA foreign intelligence — specifically intercepted communications under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Though the database is supposed to be restricted to foreign internet communications, some American messages end up there as well.
Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., have offered an amendment to the House Defense Appropriations Bill currently being considered in Congress that would force a warrant requirement to search the massive database for American communications.
“The CIA routinely conducts warrantless searches for the emails of Americans” on the NSA database, Wyden pointed out. “My question is, . . .