Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
An interesting column at TomDispatch.com by Rebecca Gordon, describing six Americans who resisted the torture program that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney created—not because it was ineffective (not the issue) but because it was immoral and illegal and a war crime. The column begins:
Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else. We honor and revere them.
Back in August 2014, Obama explained the urge of the top figures in the Bush administration to torture “some folks” this way: “I understand why it happened. I think it’s important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were when the twin towers fell.” So naturally, in those panicked days, the people in charge had little choice but to order the waterboarding, wall-slamming, and rectal rehydration of whatever possible terrorists (andinnocents) the CIA got their hands on. That’s what fear drives you to do and don’t forget, at the time even some mainstream liberal columnists werecalling for torture. And whatever you do, don’t forget as well that they were so, so afraid. That’s why, says the president, “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious,” too quick to judge the people in the Bush administration, the CIA, and even the U.S. military who planned, implemented, and justified torture.
The president has vacillated about just how long this period of exculpatory fear was supposed to last. Sometimes he seems to suggest that it’s just the responses in the more or less immediate aftermath of those attacks we shouldn’t feel too sanctimonious about. Sometimes it’s all those “years after 9/11” during which America’s leaders had to face “legitimate fears of further attacks” and therefore kept on torturing people.
Anyone in President George W. Bush’s position would have declared that the Geneva Conventions, which are supposed to protect prisoners of war from mistreatment, don’t cover prisoners taken in the “war on terror.” Anyone would have told the pundits on “Meet the Press,” as Vice President Dick Cheney did less than a week after 9/11, that the attacks meant we would now have to work “the dark side.” Anyone in CIA Director George Tenet’s shoes would have agreed with Cheney when he said that “a lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.”
And any attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel would naturally have written the “torture memos” that John Yoo and Jay Bybeecreated in 2002, in which they sought to provide legal cover for the CIA’s torture practices by redefining torture itself more or less out of existence. For some act to count as “severe physical suffering” and therefore as torture, they wrote, the pain inflicted would have to be of a sort “ordinarily associated with a… serious physical condition, such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions.”
Wouldn’t anyone do what these men did, if they, too, were frightened out of their wits? Actually, no. In fact, the sad, ugly story of the U.S. response to the criminal acts of 9/11 is brightened by a number of people who have displayed genuine courage in saying no to and turning their backs on torture. Their choices prove that Bush, Cheney, & Co. could have said no as well.
Though you’d never know it here, no level of fear in public officials makes acts of torture (or the support of such acts) any less criminal or more defensible before the law. It’s remarkably uncomplicated, actually. Torture violates U.S. and international law, and those responsible deserve to be prosecuted both for what they did and to prevent the same thing from happening the next time people in power are afraid.
Some of those who rejected torture, like CIA official John Kiriakou and an as-yet-unnamed Navy nurse, directly refused to practice it. Some risked reputations and careers to let the people of this country know what their government was doing. Sometimes an entire agency, like the FBI, refused to be involved in torture.
I’d like to introduce you to six of these heroes.
Sergeant Joseph M. Darby: If it hadn’t been for a 24-year-old soldier named Joe Darby, we might never have heard of the tortures and abuses committed at Abu Ghraib, 20 miles outside Baghdad. It had once beenSaddam Hussein’s most notorious prison and when the U.S. military arrived in 2003, they put it to similar use.
Early on, however, the Defense Department was unhappy with the quality of “intelligence” being produced there, so Major General Geoffrey Miller was dispatched from his post as commandant of the jewel in the crown of the Bush administration’s offshore system of injustice, Guantánamo, to Iraq with orders to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib.
Joe Darby was a member of the Military Police assigned to that prison. One day early in 2004, Army Specialist Charles Graner handed him a couple of CDs full of photographs, thinking perhaps that Darby would enjoy them as much as he did.
Graner was one of the people in charge of the Army Reservists responsible for “softening up” prisoners before they were handed over for interrogation to Military Intelligence and the “Other Government Agency” (a euphemism for the CIA and its private contractors). Prisoners being softened up were stacked in pyramids like cordwood, paraded like dogs on leashes, bitten by actual dogs, and in at least one case,raped in the anus “with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.”
When Joe Darby saw the photographs, unlike Graner, he was not amused. He was horrified. He recognized them as evidence of crimes and, after three weeks of internal debate, handed them to Special Agent Tyler Pieron of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, who was working at Abu Ghraib. From there, the photos made their way up the chain of command, via a leak into the hands of New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, and eventually into U.S. living rooms on 60 Minutes II one Tuesday evening at the end of April 2004.
Darby hoped to remain anonymous, but he soon gained international renownfor what he had done. With exposure came threats to him and to his family. In the immediate aftermath of the disclosures, while still stationed at Abu Ghraib, he feared — he told the BBC — that he might be murdered in his sleep. Still, he doesn’t consider what he did anything special. As he said, when accepting the Kennedy Library’s Profiles in Courage award, “It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.” Joe Darby may have felt fear, but he didn’t go along with a torture regime.
Major General Antonio M. Taguba: . . .
It’s important to recognize how severely punished were those who refused to torture, while those who were willing to torture suspects (some of whom were innocent) faced no reprisals and no accountability at all, thanks to President Obama and his Department of “Justice.”
Carol Rosenberg reports for the Miami Herald and McClatchy:
A defense lawyer for an alleged 9/11 plotter said Thursday that his Saudi client had been rectally abused while in CIA custody — and that he continues to bleed now, at least eight years later.
Attorney Walter Ruiz made the disclosure in open court in a bid to get a military judge to intervene in the medical care of Mustafa Hawsawi, 46, accused of helping the Sept. 11 hijackers with travel and money.
Hawsawi, who was captured in March 2003 with alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 49, was subjected to unauthorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” at the CIA’s secret prison, according to the recently released so-called Senate Torture Report. He got to Guantánamo in September 2006.
The 5-foot-4-inch man has sat on a pillow over years of pretrial hearings in the death-penalty trial of five men accused of conspiring in the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. Thursday was the first time that Ruiz was permitted to explain it under a loosening of censorship at the court that lets lawyers talk about the released, redacted524-page portion of the 6,200-page Senate report.
“It started somewhere between 2003 and 2006 by members and agents of our government who violated our laws and tortured. It is our responsibility now to provide the adequate medical care,” said Ruiz. He also added that, although these are death penalty proceedings, the court is obliged to ensure adequate healthcare.
Guantánamo’s prison spokesmen say war-on-terror captives get the same level of care as U.S. service members. . . [Though presumably we do not torture US service members. – LG]
President Obama has gone to some lengths to ensure that those who set up and ran the US torture program, including the torturers themselves, will never face justice. I do not understand his full-hearted defense of those who broke laws and committed war crimes. It will be a part of his legacy of which he should be ashamed.
Of course, the torture at Abu Ghraib pales beside CIA torture and murder, and the perpetrators of those have been protected by President Obama, who has refused to take any action to enforce the law. And I’m sure that the defense attorneys for the contractors will ask why the CIA and those in the White House who worked hard to create a torture regime get a free pass. The editorial begins:
What happened at the Abu Ghraib prison during the early days of the Iraq war is no secret: The whole world has seen the appalling photos.
Detainees under American control were raped, beaten, shocked, stripped, starved of food and sleep, hung by their wrists, threatened with death and, in at least one case, murdered. These are war crimes, punishable under both American and international law. [President Obama, however, disagrees. – LG]
Yet more than a decade after the fact, only a few low-level military personnelhave been held criminally accountable for the abuse and torture that went on there. Meanwhile, the private companies that contracted with the United States military to help “interrogate” detainees are still trying to avoid any accounting at all by civilian courts. They had no problem taking taxpayers’ money, but when it comes to taking responsibility for their role at the prison, they try to hide behind a web of convoluted arguments that would render them legally untouchable.
The hearing is the latest in a long-running civil suit first brought in 2008 by four Iraqi men alleging that they were tortured on the orders of private contractors at Abu Ghraib. All four were eventually released without charge, and their suit may be the last chance to hold anyone to account for the atrocities committed at the prison.
CACI and L-3 have claimed, among other things, that their employees had nothing to do with any torture, and that they are not liable in any case because they were acting under the complete control of the military.
Reports prepared in the wake of the prison scandal say otherwise. Whatever chain of command was written into the terms of the contract, military investigators found that in day-to-day practice, there was “no credible exercise of appropriate oversight” of the contractors. According to one report, the torture and abuse were the work of “morally corrupt” military personnel and the contractors who told them to “soften up” detainees for interrogation. [Mote that those military personnel get off scot-free. – LG]
Last June, a federal appeals court rejected one of the contractors’ latest attempts to avoid the courts, which was based on the fact that the acts occurred outside the United States. But it ordered the trial court to determine whether CACI and L-3 might still avoid liability under the “political question” doctrine. This murky concept, nearly as old as the Supreme Court itself, holds that courts are not authorized or equipped to resolve certain matters — like some military decisions or aspects of foreign relations — and must leave them to the other branches of government.
The doctrine has its place, but it should not be invoked to protect the civilian contractors in this case, who are not subject to the military justice system. Sheltering them from the federal courts as well means they can operate with impunity
That accountability gap becomes a bigger concern as the military relies increasingly on contractors. By 2010, a quarter-million contractor employees were working for American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan — more than the total number of United States troops. And despite the reports’ findings and the Abu Ghraib lawsuit, CACI, which was paid more than $19 million for its work at the prison, continues to collect millions in government contracts. . .
The accountability gap not only covers contractors, but also the military and the CIA and the White House personnel who put together the torture program: NONE have been held accountable.
Cora Currier reports at The Intercept:
The first word of Guantánamo Diary is a black bar.
The book, in which Guantanamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi tells of his odyssey through overseas prisons and his torture and abuse by the US and its counterterrorism allies, is pockmarked with redactions left by military censors.
The diary was finally published last week, more than nine years after Slahi wrote it, and it jumped onto bestseller lists. But the details of how his lawyers fought for its release are still under seal – highlighting the secrecy that still surrounds everything to do with the U.S. military prison and the 122 men who remain there.
“The starting point is that everything that Mohamedou says, like anything that any Guantanamo detainee says, is considered classified and has to be cleared by the government,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, who was involved in the negotiations for the manuscript’s release.
Slahi, a 44-year-old Mauritanian educated in Germany, was rendered by the CIA to prison in Jordan in late 2001, then held by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. The government claimed that Slahi had been an al Qaeda recruiter. He admits that he went to Afghanistan in 1990 to fight against the communist government [a fight, it should be noted, actively supported by the US with weapons and money—that is, he was in effect fighting on behalf of the US. – LG]; his brother-in-law was an adviser to Osama Bin Laden; and he’d met one of the 9/11 plotters in Germany. But Slahi maintains that he’d had nothing to do with al Qaeda since 1992, and the U.S. has never charged him with a crime.
Slahi began to write his memoir in the summer of 2005, soon after he first met with attorneys. But, consistent with its policy of censoring communications from detainees, the government refused to approve it for release: Instead, the manuscript sat in a facility near Washington D.C., off-limits to anyone without the right security clearance. His attorneys, Shamsi said, fought to get it declassified, but that litigation remains under seal. Once they obtained an unclassified version, it could still only be read by Slahi’s legal team. It took further negotiations to get the government to approve it for public release.
By the time the editor Larry Siems got hold of the manuscript in 2012, volumes of information about Slahi’s case had come into the public record. In 2006, the government released transcripts from hearings evaluating prisoners’ detention status, Slahi’s among them. Reports from the Justice Department and the Senate Armed Services Committee detailed his interrogation. Documents from a federal court challenge revealed aspects of the government’s intelligence against him.
Siems was able to cross-reference these materials to establish the chronology of Slahi’s narrative, in which all dates have been redacted.
For instance, Slahi writes:
“He dropped me on the dirty floor. The room was dark as ebony. [Redacted] started playing a track very loudly—I mean very loudly. The song was, “Let the bodies hit the floor.” I might never forget that song. At the same time, [redacted] turned on some colored blinkers that hurt the eyes. “If you fucking fall asleep, I’m gonna hurt you, he said.”
The Senate report recounts a July 8, 2003 session where Slahi was “exposed to variable lighting patterns and rock music, to the tune of Drowning Pool’s ‘Let the Bodies Hit [the] Floor.”
“He’s a remarkably accurate historian of his own experience. His account just lines up with publicly available information,” said Siems.
Some of Slahi’s lawyers have security clearance, and could read the full manuscript, but they are barred from talking about what might be behind the redactions. “These were not conversations that I could have with them,” said Siems. . .
US conduct has been illegal, immoral, and shameful, and saying that terrorists are even worse is scarcely an excuse. Much of the US conduct is strongly reminiscent of the Soviet gulag and torture chambers of the KGB. And none who were responsible, from the hands-on torturers and murders to those in the White House and CIA who ordered the actions, have faced any accountability, a decision solely due to Barack Obama, a man who protects torturers and murders and punishes those who try to reveal what the US has done.
Later in that report:
For Larry Siems, censorship is at the core of Slahi’s story, and while the redactions sometimes impede his narrative, they serve a literary function as well.
“Secrecy was imposed in order for abuse to happen, and then more secrecy was imposed in order to cover it up,” said Siems. “The redactions are like the fingerprints of that longstanding censorship regime.”
The redactions often appear to cover up details of the accusations leveled against Slahi, and the questions asked of him during interrogations. That gives the impression that the book elides the murky parts of his case, Siems says, when in fact, “he’s really open and transparent about the charges against him. It looks like information is being withheld but it’s not him that’s doing it.”
A video interview with transcript at Democracy Now! Their blurb:
After a seven-year legal battle, the diary of a prisoner held at Guantánamo Bay has just been published and has become a surprise best-seller. Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s diary details his experience with rendition, torture and being imprisoned without charge. Slahi has been held at the prison for more than 12 years. He was ordered released in 2010 but is still being held. “The cell — better, the box — was cooled down so that I was shaking most of the time,” he writes. “I was forbidden from seeing the light of the day. Every once in a while they gave me a rec time in the night to keep me from seeing or interacting with any detainees. I was living literally in terror. I don’t remember having slept one night quietly; for the next 70 days to come I wouldn’t know the sweetness of sleeping. Interrogation for 24 hours, three and sometimes four shifts a day. I rarely got a day off.” We air a clip of a Guardian video about Slahi’s case, which features actors Colin Firth and Dominic West reading from his diary. We speak with three guests: Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander; book editor, Larry Siems; and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay, who says Slahi is “no more a terrorist than Forrest Gump.”
The US is a nation that tortures people, some of them totally innocent, all of them merely suspects. The torture system, instituted by the Bush Administration, was quite active, albeit ineffective, and President Obama’s decision that no one who tortured people, whether those victims were innocent or not, should suffer any punishment or indeed any inconvenience pretty much establishes that we’ll be doing this again. Protection of torturers is common in totalitarian regimes, which the US is on the path to becoming.
Spies Among Us: How Community Outreach Programs To Muslims Blur Lines Between Outreach And Intelligence
Very interesting article by Cora Currier in The Intercept:
Last May, after getting a ride to school with his dad, 18-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf absconded to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to board a flight to Turkey. There, FBI agents stopped Yusuf and later charged him with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization—he was allegedly associated with another Minnesota man believed to have gone to fight for the Islamic State in Syria.
To keep other youth from following Yusuf’s path, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger recently said that the federal government would be launching a new initiative to work with Islamic community groups and promote after-school programs and job training–to address the “root causes” of extremist groups’ appeal. “This is not about gathering intelligence, it’s not about expanding surveillance or any of the things that some people want to claim it is,” Luger said.
Luger’s comments spoke to the concerns of civil liberties advocates, who believe that blurring the line between engagement and intelligence gathering could end up with the monitoring of innocent individuals. If past programs in this area are any guide, those concerns are well founded.
Documents obtained by attorneys at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and shared with the Intercept, show that previous community outreach efforts in Minnesota–launched in 2009 in response to the threat of young Americans joining the al-Qaeda-linked militia al-Shabab, in Somalia—were, in fact, conceived to gather intelligence.
A grant proposal from the St. Paul Police Department to the Justice Department, which the Brennan Center obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI, lays out a plan in which Somali-speaking advocates would hold outreach meetings with community groups and direct people toward the Police Athletic League and programs at the YWCA. The proposal says that “the team will also identify radicalized individuals, gang members, and violent offenders who refuse to cooperate with our efforts.”
“It’s startling how explicit it was – ‘You don’t want to join the Police Athletic League? You sound like you might join al-Shabab!’” said Michael Price, an attorney with the Brennan Center. . .
It’s as if in your regular high school some of your teachers were, unbeknownst to any students, undercover cops, looking from that perspective at them and what they do—and of course, keeping a detailed dossier on all activities, with the ability through NSA to get all the digital communications (including telephone) on any student they wanted, without restriction, since they can do this merely on suspicion, and of course they control directly their level of suspicion, even if the “suspect” has yet to do anything. And, of course, suspects can be detained. And tortured. And those who like to torture now know that they can get away with it if they can fit it into a government-sanctioned program.
I would imagine that the CIA these days has a different level of attraction for those morally repelled by torture and those who think it might be interesting—and if the composition of the applicant pool changes, I would imagine it would move the CIA in the torture direction. And why not? There’s no punishment in the US for government officials to torture people. Indeed, you get promoted, as in the case of Alfreda Bikowsky. So you start to see this sort of employee (and here’s another take). And you get people willing to torture someone in order to elicit a false confession to push the US into invading Iraq—a step that was truly catastrophic, whose damage is still playing out. Certainly ISIS is a direct consequence of the the nation-destruction the US wrought. “Nation-building,” my ass. We’ve really destroyed quite a few of the nations we’ve touched, or, if not destroyed, badly damaged. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. Yemen.
And of course the techniques the CIA were using were built on the kind of torture Americans might face by North Koreans or North Vietnamese, torture that was quite deliberately designed to elicit false confessions, and among the purposes of SERE training was helping soldiers resist making a false confession because the impulse to do so would be almost irresistible. So the CIA was (probably deliberately) “interrogating” prisoners (some of whom were totally innocent) by using techniques guaranteed, more or less, to produce false confessions. Does anyone else see that this makes no sense whatsoever?
Andrew Jones writes at The Intercept:
John Kiriakou is the only CIA employee to go to prison in connection with the agency’s torture program. Not because he tortured anyone, but because he revealed information on torture to a reporter.
Kiriakou is the Central Intelligence Agency officer who told ABC News in 2007 that the CIA waterboarded suspected al-Qaeda prisoners after the September 11 attacks, namely Abu Zubaydah, thought to be a key al Qaeda official. Although he felt at the time that waterboarding probably saved lives, Kiriakou nevertheless came to view the practice as torture and later claimed he unwittingly understated how many times Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding.
In January 2012, Kiriakou was charged by the Justice Department for allegedly and repeatedly disclosing classified information to journalists. The Justice Department accused Kiriakou of disclosing the identity of a CIA officer involved in Zubaydah’s capture to a freelance reporter. The reporter did not publicly reveal the official’s name, but his name did appear on a website in October 2012. Kiriakou also allegedly provided New York Timesreporter Scott Shane information on CIA employee Deuce Martinez, who was involved in Zubaydah’s capture and interrogation.
After agreeing to a plea deal in October 2012, Kiriakou was sentenced in January 2013 to 30 months in prison. That sentence made him the second CIA employee ever to be locked up under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which bars the release of the name of a covert agent; the first was Sharon Scranage, who in 1985 pled guilty to disclosing the identities of intelligence agents in Ghana after giving classified information to a Ghanaian, reportedly her lover.
Kiriakou is not without support from former colleagues. His friend and former boss, Bruce Riedel, sent a letter to President Obama, signed by other CIA officers, urging him to commute Kiriakou’s prison sentence. That did not happen.
A father of five children, Kiriakou says the CIA asked his wife to resign from her job at the agency immediately following his arrest, and he is in major debt from his legal fees.
Kiriakou is is scheduled for early transfer out of federal prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania on February 3. In a wide-ranging phone interview with The Intercept, Kiriakou, 50, shared his thoughts on the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA interrogation techniques, on his incarceration, and on his future after prison.
You don’t have access to the internet in prison, so have you been able to see just one page of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report?
Well, my cousin ended up printing the entire thing and sent it to me. Yeah, he sent it to me in five different envelopes.
So was there anything in the report that surprised you? Did you feel even more despair at being the only CIA officer jailed since the program came into existence?
One thing that I think most everybody has missed is, we knew about the waterboarding, we knew about the cold cells, we knew about the loud music and the sleep deprivation. We knew about all the things that have been ‘approved’ by the Justice Department. But what we didn’t know was what individual CIA officers were doing on their own without any authorization. And I would like to know why those officers aren’t being prosecuted when clearly they’ve committed crimes and those crimes were well documented by both the CIA and the Senate Committee of Intelligence.
One thing that certainly was an eye opener, even to close observers of this program, was the brutal treatment of these prisoners. The tragic death of Gul Rahman, an Afghan, comes to mind. . .
The US way: praise and protect those who torture, but punish severely those who reveal US war crimes. This is exactly like a totalitarian regime.