Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

with one comment

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

leave a comment »

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?

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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?

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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”

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

Karoun Demirjian and Shane Harris report in the Washington Post:

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

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2018 at 10:42 am

A Prisoner in Gina Haspel’s Black Site

leave a comment »

Tim Golden and Stephen Engelberg report in ProPublica:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Win Gina!” he exhorted her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 9:04 am

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

leave a comment »

Andrew Sullivan writes in New York:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2018 at 12:27 pm

Guatemala shows why the CIA must be held accountable for torture

leave a comment »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2018 at 9:09 am

“I went to prison for disclosing the CIA’s torture. Gina Haspel helped cover it up.”

leave a comment »

John Kiriakou, a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes in the Washington Post:

I was inside the CIA’s Langley, Va., headquarters on Sept. 11, 2001. Like all Americans, I was traumatized, and I volunteered to go overseas to help bring al-Qaeda’s leaders to justice. I headed counterterrorism operations in Pakistan from January to May 2002. My team captured dozens of al-Qaeda fighters, including senior training-camp commanders. One of the fighters whom I played an integral role in capturing was Abu Zubaida, mistakenly thought at the time to be the third-ranking person in the militant group.

By that May, the CIA had decided to torture him. When I returned to CIA headquarters that month, a senior officer in the Counterterrorism Center asked me if I wanted to be “trained in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.” I had never heard the term, so I asked what it meant. After a brief explanation, I declined. I said that I had a moral and ethical problem with torture and that — the judgment of the Justice Department notwithstanding — I thought it was illegal.

Unfortunately, there were plenty of people in the U.S. government who were all too willing to allow the practice to go on. One of them was Gina Haspel, whom President Trump nominated Tuesday as the CIA’s next director.

Putting Haspel in charge of the CIA would undo attempts by the agency — and the nation — to repudiate torture. The message this sends to the CIA workforce is simple: Engage in war crimes, in crimes against humanity, and you’ll get promoted. Don’t worry about the law. Don’t worry about ethics. Don’t worry about morality or the fact that torture doesn’t even work. Go ahead and do it anyway. We’ll cover for you. And you can destroy the evidence, too.

Described in the media as a “seasoned intelligence veteran,” Haspel has been at the CIA for 33 years, both at headquarters and in senior positions overseas. Now the deputy director, she has tried hard to stay out of the public eye. Mike Pompeo, the outgoing CIA director and secretary of state designee, has lauded her “uncanny ability to get things done and inspire those around her.”

I’m sure that’s true for some. But many of the rest of us who knew and worked with Haspel at the CIA called her “Bloody Gina.”

The CIA will not let me repeat her résumé or the widely reported specifics of how her work fit into the agency’s torture program, calling such details “currently and properly classified.” But I can say that Haspel was a protege of and chief of staff for Jose Rodriguez, the CIA’s notorious former deputy director for operations and former director of the Counterterrorism Center. And that Rodriguez eventually assigned Haspel to order the destruction of videotaped evidence of the torture of Abu Zubaida. The Justice Department investigated, but no one was ever charged in connection with the incident.

CIA officers and psychologists under contract to the agency began torturing Abu Zubaida on Aug. 1, 2002. The techniques were supposed to be incremental, starting with an open-palmed slap to the belly or the face. But the operatives where he was held decided to start with the toughest method. They waterboarded Abu Zubaida 83 times. They later subjected him to sleep deprivation; they kept him locked in a large dog cage for weeks at a time; they locked him in a coffin-size box and, knowing that he had an irrational fear of insects, put bugs in it with him.

Rodriguez would later tell reporters that the torture worked and that Abu Zubaida provided actionable intelligence that disrupted attacks and saved American lives. We know, thanks to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture and the personal testimony of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan , that this was false.

I knew what was happening to Abu Zubaida because of my position in CIA operations at the time. I kept my mouth shut about it, even after I left the CIA in 2004. But by 2007, I had had enough.

President George W. Bush had steadfastly denied to the American people that there was a torture program. I knew that was a lie. I knew torture didn’t work. And I knew it was illegal. So in December 2007, I granted an interview to ABC News in which I said that the CIA was torturing its prisoners, that torture was official U.S. government policy and that the policy had been personally approved by the president. The FBI began investigating me immediately. . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it’s significant.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2018 at 9:48 pm

Today and tomorrow: Free digital download of the Senate report on the US program of torture

leave a comment »

The description of the book:

This is the complete official summary report of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Central Intelligence Agency interrogation and detention programs launched in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Based on over six million internal CIA documents, the report details secret prisons, prisoner deaths, interrogation practices, and cooperation with other foreign and domestic agencies. It also examines charges that the CIA deceived elected officials and governmental overseers about the extent and legality of its operations.

Over five years in the making, and withheld from public view since its declassification in April, 2014, this is the full summary report—fully searchable in digital format—as finally released by the United States government on December 9th, 2014.

It’s particularly relevant now that one of those who administered the program of torture will be considered for head of the CIA.

Download the book here.

Torture is, of course, illegal under both US law and international law (including treaties the US has signed). The “Nuremberg defense” (“I was just following orders”), which the US rejected at the Nuremberg trials as an invalid defense if the orders themselves were illegal, has be brought forward now to defend our own war criminals: Gina Haspel was “just following orders.” Like an automaton. Do we want an automaton heading the CIA?

Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, writes in the Guardian:

We’re on the brink of a full-throttled return to officially sanctioned US torture. Our impulsive president has said he wants to bring back waterboarding “and a hell of a lot worse” and has now named Gina Haspel as the new CIA chief. Haspel personally oversaw torture at a CIA black site in Thailand, and she even seemed to relish the role.

Haspel also oversaw George W Bush’s rendition to torture program and, unsurprisingly, many in the intelligence community that are connected to the US torture program are now leaping to her defense, saying that she shouldn’t be penalized now for just following orders back then.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who supported rendition to torture and famously said, “we do have to take the gloves off in some areas,” this week vouched for Haspel’s “integrity” and told an interviewer, “don’t forget that the detention-interrogation program was authorized by the president of the United States and deemed lawful by the Department of Justice.”

Former CIA chief General Michael Hayden said in defense of Haspel, that she did “simply everything that the agency, the agency’s directors and the nation asked her to do.”

While it is certainly not unusual for people who’ve overseen and participated in crimes against humanity like torture and genocide to be recast by their supporters as dutiful public servants, there are, in addition, two deeply disturbing trends – one old, one new – embedded both in the naming of Haspel to the position and her defenders’ characterizations of her.

Torture is illegal under US and international law in all circumstances, and human rights organizations like mine have been strongly pushing for those who ordered or committed torture after 9/11 – including the president – to be held accountable in US and international courts.

Yet Haspel’s defenders are loathe to admit that the practice she participated in was concerning, much less illegal. So defending Haspel as a duty-bound functionary when it comes to torture but a vibrant leader with great integrity when it comes to everything else seeks to erase the illegality and the depravity of the practice of torture as well as the well-deserved disgrace that must always travel with those who have practiced it.

But beyond that, there is another, more current problem, and that is the president himself. Trump, who is lining up with authoritarian rulers and tin-pot dictators around the world, has no use for the rule of law. He is impulsive, reckless, and astonishingly self-focused. A very healthy subset of high-level White House staff have been running for the exits when he’s not looking, precisely because they recognize that he demands fealty to whim rather than to the national good.

He is known for firing people because they contradict his social media exhortations. Given that our nation is being run by Donald J Trump, at least for the time being, the very last thing we need is a CIA chief who dutifully implements everything that this president authorizes. In fact, we need the exact opposite. Someone who opposes torture, doesn’t have running a torture program on their resume, and who will say no to the president when, as seems to be the case daily, he gets an urge to make his mark on the news cycle.

It is true that people who say no to Donald Trump don’t stay in their jobs for long regardless of whether they’re seen as enablers or stabilizing forces in his administration. But when it comes to dutiful public servants in the Trump administration, history will look kindly upon those who said no and were fired and those who said no and left under their own steam.

The unsung heroes of the age will be those who said no to a Trump administration job offer in the first place. But Gina Haspel will not be in that number because of her horrific record. The Center for Constitutional Rights recently submitted a filing with the International Criminal Court that brought Haspel to their attention. We wanted to highlight her impunity for torture and the heightened risk for a return to torture given her position as deputy CIA director.

Impunity breeds repetition. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2018 at 8:40 am

Prosecutors Reviewing Request to Issue Arrest Warrant for Trump’s New CIA Director

leave a comment »

Colin Kalmbacher reports at MSN.com:

Federal prosecutors in Munich are currently reviewing a request to issue an arrest warrant for Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump‘s recently named director of the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”).

Haspel currently serves as the deputy director for the CIA and her nomination to head the agency must be approved by the U.S. Senate. Prior to her appointment as CIA deputy director, Haspel controversially ran a secret CIA prison in Thailand used to house, question, and allegedly torture detainees during the second Bush administration’s War on Terror.

Haspel’s tenure as “Chief of Base” at the prison–and what she did while serving in that role–is the subject of the arrest warrant request.

On June 6, 2017, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (“ECCHR”) initiated a request for legal action against Haspel by filing an intervention with the German Federal Public Prosecutor, the foremost law enforcement authority in the Federal Republic of Germany. This office is led by Attorney General Peter Frank.

ECCHR’s legal intervention was made by way of a 6-page document titled, “CIA Torture: Submission on Gina Haspel to German Federal Prosecutor.” Immediately after ECCHR submitted their request, Frank’s office confirmed that this request was received and was being formally reviewed.

According to Deutsche Welle, the German equivalent of PBS, the investigation into Haspel is presently ongoing and Frank’s office has yet to rule on ECCHR’s request. ECCHR reiterated their request in February 2017–when Haspel was named deputy director of the CIA. ECCHR’s request was once again reiterated on Tuesday–after news broke regarding Haspel’s potential promotion.

ECCHR’s request is based on an alleged violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ Article 3. This article prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” There are no recognized exceptions or limitations on the right not to be subject to torture under this section.

In a statement, ECCHR’s General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck said:

Those who commit, order or allow torture should be brought before a court – this is especially true for senior officials from powerful nations. The prosecutor must, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, open investigations, secure evidence and seek an arrest warrant. If the deputy director travels to Germany or Europe, she must be arrested.

The CIA’s torture program has been admitted to by former President Barack Obama, in official U.S. government reportsvarious high-level officialswhistleblowers and participants. Initially denied, the torture program’s existence and Haspel’s role in said program are now a matter of public record.

From 2002 to 2005, Haspel was an active participant in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. The term “extraordinary rendition” is a soft euphemism for the CIA’s illegal kidnapping and torture program administered at so-called CIA “black sites”—a series of off-the-books prisons where CIA agents and assets regularly allegedly tortured detainees over the course of several years.

Haspel’s identity and role in the CIA’s torture program was previously concealed by its classification regime. However, when Haspel was designated deputy director of the agency in February 2017, her role in the program became more clear.

Specifically, Haspel was in charge of . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the report:

Torture is illegal under various international pacts and treaties to which the U.S. is bound as a state party. Torture is also illegal under U.S. domestic law. On April 16, 2009, then-president Barack Obama announced blanket immunity for any and all U.S. officials engaged in the Bush administration’s torture program.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2018 at 11:43 am

A disheartening report: New CIA Director Gina Haspel Oversaw Torture at a Black Site Then Lost Evidence of It

with 3 comments

Matthew Gault writes in Motherboard:

In another shake up in Washington, Rex Tillerson is out as the Secretary of State and President Trump said he will promote CIA Chief Mike Pompeo to the position. Trump has nominated Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as head of the CIA. Haspel famously ran the CIA’s first black site prison in Thailand during the early days of the War on Terror.

Haspel has tortured people, overseen the torture of people, and destroyed the evidence of said torture. A quick reminder—torture isn’t an effective method of intelligence gathering.

We know this because of cables the CIA declassified describing the torture. In August 2002, the CIA captured Abu Zubaydah—former manager of a training camp in Afghanistan—and began to torture him at a black site in Thailand while Haspel was running it. The Senate’s infamous torture report also details the torture of Zubaydah while he was in Haspel’s custody.

“Subject began crying as he was told that we wanted information to stop operations against the U.S,” the cables read. “Subject was told he could stop the process at any time. Subject continued with his appeal that he has told all that he has and muttered ‘help me.’ Between 1250 and 1315 the waterboard technique was applied numerous times. Subject was put into a large box at 1317.”

To get a sense of Zubaydah’s treatment, the Senate report mentions his name 1,343 times in 712 pages.

On another day, “subject was led to the small box and shut in at 1349 hours…at 1412 hours, subject could be heard sobbing, which continued for some time.” When the CIA captured Zubaydah, he had two eyes. Now he has one. He was waterboarded a total of 83 times.

According to the Senate’s torture report, “CIA Headquarters formally proposed that [Zubaydah] be kept in an all-white room that was lit 24 hours a day, that [Zubaydah] not be provided any amenities, that his sleep be disrupted, that loud noise be constantly fed into his cell, and that only a small number of people interact with him. CIA records indicate that these proposals were based on the idea that such conditions would lead [Zubaydah] to develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness.’”

Haspel was the head of the Thailand site during Zubaydah’s torture, a position referred to in the documents as the “chief of base.” Repeatedly in the cables, the chief of base or COB takes a direct role in the torture. “On July 15, 2002, a cable providing details on the proposed interrogation phase stated that only the DETENTION SITE GREEN chief of Base would be allowed to interrupt or stop an interrogation in process, and that the chief of Base would be the final decision-making authority as to whether the CIA’s interrogation techniques applied to [Zubaydah] would be discontinued,” the Senate torture report explained.

At one point, the chief of base congratulated Zubaydah on a fine acting job and accused him of faking a mental breakdown under torture, according to CIA psychologist and torture architect James Mitchell. “Good job,” Mitchell wrote in his book, quoting the COB. “I like the way you’re drooling, it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.” Several former associates put her in the room at the time of Zubaydah’s torture. She signed many of the reports sent from Thailand to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

One cable detailed in the Senate report attributed to Detention Site Green’s chief of base read notes some opposition to the techniques: . . .

Continue reading.

A willingness to torture people is to my mind a sign of bad character, as is a willingness to torture animals.

Trump has declared that he wants the US to resume its practice of torture. He has also called for the entire family of any terrorist to be murdered (i.e., no due process). The US seems to be circling the moral drain.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 March 2018 at 11:19 am

The USA PATRIOT Act: What You Need to Know

leave a comment »

Fergus O’Sullivan has a nice rundown of the USA PATRIOT Act:

Here at Cloudwards.net we’re big fans of privacy and even bigger fans of people protecting it. We’ve done an article on 99 free privacy tools and we’ve reported on the U.S. Congress allowing American ISPs to spy on their customers. In this article we’re going to take a look at the grandaddy of modern privacy-breaching legislation, the USA PATRIOT Act.

What Is the Patriot Act?

The Patriot Act, to give it its common name, was passed shortly after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, but was not, as most people think, directly related to that. In fact, it’s passage through the houses of parliament was spurred on by the anthrax attacks of late 2001, when celebrities, politicians and plenty of others received suspicious packages of white powder in the mail.

This bit of mail-based nastiness was the perfect fuel on a fire already burning bright and on October 25, 2001, The U.S. Senate passed the, and it’s a mouthful, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The Patriot Act passed both houses almost unanimously, with only 66 Representatives and a single Senator voting against this rather scary piece of legislation.

Now, ever since Edward Snowden came out and spilled the beans on PRISM, SOMALGET and all the other off-the-books programs organized by the NSA, CIA and whatever other alphabet agencies, we all have gotten used to that the government might be listening. Back in 2001, however, all this was new and many people could be forgiven for thinking that it would all blow over.

It didn’t. Many of the surveillance in place now on both Americans as well as other parts of the world was directly inspired by the programs that came out of the passing of the Patriot Act. It’s tempting to think that it was because legislators the world over saw the ease with which the U.S. was able to put a massive surveillance apparatus in place with approval from most of its people, but it’s hard to say exactly.

What’s In the Patriot Act?

Though it’s difficult to give a full overview of what the Patriot Act made possible, even a summary reads like some tinpot dictator’s wish list. The Act,

  • Allowed civilian authorities to request aid from the military to keep order in certain cases
  • Expanded the scope of the spying allowed on both U.S. citizens as well as foreigners in the name of “removing obstacles to investigating terrorism”
  • Introduced several new kinds of warrants, some of which could be served on the flimsiest of pretexts (including “sneak-and-peek” warrants)
  • Weakened banking secrecy regulations to prevent money laundering
  • Gave more authority to the various U.S. border protection agencies to refuse entry to people they didn’t like (if you’ve ever been yelled at at the U.S. border for wanting to go on holiday, now you know why)
  • Changed a whole bunch of legal terminology to make prosecuting suspected terrorists easier (so now pipe bombs are weapons of mass destruction)

For a full overview, Wikipedia has a great breakdown of the Patriot Act, though we recommend the usual grain of salt while reading this open-source encyclopedia.

For those wondering, the Patriot Act did not allow for extraordinary rendition (the fun practice where the U.S. would fly people out to sunny vacation spots to be tortured), it just made it easier to implement it. The basis for rendition was actually laid by Bill Clinton.

Effects of the Patriot Act . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 November 2017 at 1:22 pm

%d bloggers like this: