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America’s embrace of war crimes (if done by the US)

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Tom Englehardt writes at

Let’s take a moment to think about the ultimate strangeness of our American world.  In recent months, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have offered a range of hair-raising suggestions: as president, one or the other of them might order the U.S. military and the CIA to commit acts that would include the waterboarding of terror suspects (or “a hell of a lot worse”), thekilling of the relatives of terrorists, and the carpet bombing of parts of Syria.  All of these would, legally speaking, be war crimes.  This has caused shock among many Americans in quite established quarters who have decried the possibility of such a president, suggesting that the two of them are calling for outright illegal acts, actual “war crimes,” and that the U.S. military and others would be justified in rejecting such orders.  In this context, for instance, CIA Director John Brennan recently made it clear that no Agency operative under his command would ever waterboard a suspect in response to orders of such a nature from a future president.  (“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure.”)

These acts, in other words, are considered beyond the pale when Donald Trump suggests them, but here’s the strangeness of it all: what The Donald is only mouthing off about, a perfectly real American president (and vice president and secretary of defense, and so on) actually did.  Among other things, under the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they ordered the CIA to use classic torture practices including waterboarding (which, in blunter times, had been known as “the water torture”).  They also let the U.S. military loose to torture and abuse prisoners in their custody.  They green-lighted the CIA tokidnap terror suspects (who sometimes turned out to be perfectly innocent people) off the streets of cities around the world, as well as from the backlands of the planet, and transported them to the prisons of some of the worst torture regimes or to secret detention centers (“black sites”) the CIA was allowed to set up in compliant countries.  In other words, a perfectly real administration ordered and oversaw perfectly real crimes.  (Its top officials even reportedly had torture techniques demonstrated to them in the White House.)

At the time, the CIA fulfilled its orders to a T and without complaint. A lone CIA officer spoke out publicly in opposition to such a program and was jailed for disclosing classified information to a journalist.  (He would be the only CIA official to go to jail for the Agency’s acts of torture.)  At places like Abu Ghraib, the military similarly carried out its orders without significant complaint or resistance.  The mainstream media generally adopted the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “harsh techniques” in its reporting — no “torture” or “war crimes” for them then.  And back in the post-2001 years, John Brennan, then deputy executive director of the CIA, didn’t offer a peep of protest about what he surely knew was going on in his own agency. In 2014, in fact, as its director he actually defendedsuch torture practices for producing “intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.”  In addition, none of those who ordered or oversaw torture and other criminal behavior (a number of whom would sell their memoirs for millions of dollars) suffered in the slightest for the acts that were performed on their watch and at their behest.

To sum up: when Donald Trump says such things it’s a future nightmare to be called by its rightful name and denounced, as well as rejected and resisted by military and intelligence officials.  When an American president and his top officials actually did such things, however, it was another story entirely. Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon catches the nightmarish quality of those years, now largely buried, in the grim case of a single mistreated human being. It should make Americans shudder. She has also just published a new book, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, that couldn’t be more relevant.  It’s a must-read for a country conveniently without a memory. Tom

The Al-Qaeda Leader Who Wasn’t
The Shameful Ordeal of Abu Zubaydah
By Rebecca Gordon

The allegations against the man were serious indeed.

* Donald Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda.

* The Central Intelligence Agency informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications.”

* CIA Director Michael Hayden would tell the press in 2008 that 25% of all the information his agency had gathered about al-Qaeda from human sources “originated” with one other detainee and him.

* George W. Bush would use his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by U.S. military forces.

None of it was true.

And even if it had been true, what the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah — with the knowledge and approval of the highest government officials — is a prime example of the kind of still-unpunished crimes that officials like Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld committed in the so-called Global War on Terror.

So who was this infamous figure, and where is he now? His name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, but he is better known by his Arabic nickname, Abu Zubaydah. And as far as we know, he is still in solitary detention in Guantánamo.

A Saudi national, in the 1980s Zubaydah helped run the Khaldan camp, a mujahedeen training facility set up in Afghanistan with CIA help during the Soviet occupation of that country. In other words, Zubaydah was then an American ally in the fight against the Soviets, one of President Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters.”  (But then again, so in effect was Osama bin Laden.)

Zubaydah’s later fate in the hands of the CIA was of a far grimmer nature.  He had the dubious luck to be the subject of a number of CIA “firsts”: the first post-9/11 prisoner to be waterboarded; the first to be experimented on by psychologists working as CIA contractors; one of the first of the Agency’s “ghost prisoners” (detainees hidden from the world, including the International Committee of the Red Cross which, under the Geneva Conventions, must be allowed access to every prisoner of war); and one of the first prisoners to be cited in a memo written by Jay Bybee for the Bush administration on what the CIA could “legally” do to a detainee without supposedly violating U.S. federal laws against torture.

Zubaydah’s story is — or at least should be — the iconic tale of the illegalextremes to which the Bush administration and the CIA went in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. And yet former officials, from CIA head Michael Hayden to Vice President Dick Cheney to George W. Bush himself, have presented it as a glowing example of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract desperately needed information from the “evildoers” of that time.

Zubaydah was an early experiment in post-9/11 CIA practices and here’s the remarkable thing (though it has yet to become part of the mainstream media accounts of his case): it was all a big lie. Zubaydah wasn’t involved with al-Qaeda; he was the ringleader of nothing; he never took part in planning for the 9/11 attacks. He was brutally mistreated and, in another kind of world, would be exhibit one in the war crimes trials of America’s top leaders and its major intelligence agency.

Yet notorious as he once was, he’s been forgotten by all but his lawyers and a few tenacious reporters.  He shouldn’t have been.  He was the test case for the kind of torture that Donald Trump now wants the U.S. government to bring back, presumably because it “worked” so well the first time. With Republican presidential hopefuls promising future war crimes, it’s worth reconsidering his case and thinking about how to prevent it from happening again. After all, it’s only because no one has been held to account for the years of Bush administration torture practices that Trump and others feel free to promise even more and “yuger” war crimes in the future.

Experiments in Torture

In August 2002, a group of FBI agents, CIA agents, and Pakistani forces captured Zubaydah (along with about 50 other men) in Faisalabad, Pakistan. In the process, he was severely injured — shot in the thigh, testicle, and stomach. He might well have died, had the CIA not flown in an American surgeon to patch him up. The Agency’s interest in his health was, however, anything but humanitarian. Its officials wanted to interrogate him and, even after he had recovered sufficiently to be questioned, his captors occasionally withheld pain medication as a means of torture.

When he “lost” his left eye under mysterious circumstances while in CIA custody, the agency’s concern again was not for his health. The December 2014 torture report produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (despite CIA opposition that included hacking into the committee’s computers) described the situation this way: with his left eye gone, “[i]n October 2002, DETENTION SITE GREEN [now known to be Thailand] recommended that the vision in his right eye be tested, noting that ‘[w]e have a lot riding upon his ability to see, read, and write.’ DETENTION SITE GREEN stressed that ‘this request is driven by our intelligence needs [not] humanitarian concern for AZ.’”

The CIA then set to work interrogating Zubaydah with the help of two contractors, thepsychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell. Zubaydah would be the first human subject on whom those two, who were former instructors at the Air Force’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training center, could test their theories about using torture to induce what they called “learned helplessness,” meant to reduce a suspect’s resistance to interrogation. Their price? Only $81 million.

CIA records show that, using a plan drawn up by Jessen and Mitchell, Abu Zubaydah’s interrogators would waterboard him an almost unimaginable 83 times in the course of a single month; that is, they would strap him to a wooden board, place a cloth over his entire face, and gradually pour water through the cloth until he began to drown. At one point during this endlessly repeated ordeal, the Senate committee reported that Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Each of those 83 uses of what was called “the watering cycle” consisted of four steps:

1) demands for information interspersed with the application of the water just short of blocking his airway 2) escalation of the amount of water applied until it blocked his airway and he started to have involuntary spasms 3) raising the water-board to clear subject’s airway 4) lowering of the water-board and return to demands for information.

The CIA videotaped Zubaydah undergoing each of these “cycles,” only to destroy those tapes in 2005 when news of their existence surfaced and the embarrassment (and possible future culpability) of the Agency seemed increasingly to be at stake. CIA Director Michael Hayden would later assureCNN that the tapes had been destroyed only because “they no longer had ‘intelligence value’ and they posed a security risk.” Whose “security” was at risk if the tapes became public? Most likely, that of the Agency’s operatives and contractors who were breaking multiple national and international laws against torture, along with the high CIA and Bush administration officials who had directly approved their actions.

In addition to the waterboarding, . . .

Continue reading.

Of course, the CIA torturers have been protected by Obama’s refusal to follow the law specified in the Convention Against Torture, which as a treaty signed and confirmed by the US, is the law of the land.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2016 at 3:18 pm

Judge Grants Torture Victims Their First Chance to Pursue Justice

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Jenna McLaughlin offers some good news in The Intercept:

A civil suit against the architects of the CIA’s torture program, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, will be allowed to proceed, a federal judge in Spokane decided on Friday.

District Judge Justin Quackenbush denied the pair’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit launched against them on behalf of three victims, one dead, of the brutal tactics they designed.

“This is amazing, this is unprecedented,” Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the plaintiffs told The Intercept  after the hearing. “This is the first step towards accountability.”

What’s so unprecedented is that this is the first time opponents of the program will have the chance to seek discovery evidence in the case unimpeded by the government. In every other past torture accountability lawsuit, the government has invoked its special state-secrets privileges to purportedly protect national security.

But since the extraordinarily detailed and revealing executive summary of the Senate’s torture report was published in 2014, after years of investigation, the government now says almost everything is declassified already.

The three plaintiffs are Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, and the estate of Gul Rahman, who died at a CIA black site known as the “Salt Pit.” Each was kidnapped and subject to extreme physical and psychological torture and experimentation, though none was ever charged with a crime.

The two living plaintiffs were not at the hearing, but Watt said he was thrilled to text his client Abdullah Salim, now living in Tanzania, the good news. “When I first met with him, I told him the likelihood we’d get as far as we have so far was highly unlikely. To tell him that we won today—you know, it’s historic.”

Mitchell and Jessen’s proposed framework for “enhanced interrogation” involved trying to drive detainees to a point of “learned helplessness” through unbearable suffering, to the point they would be willing to totally comply. The theories behind the tactics were drawn from the psychologists’ experiments on dogs decades prior. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2016 at 1:30 pm

ACLU Sues Bureau of Prisons Over Missing Torture Documents

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A very interesting report in The Intercept by Alex Emmons:

The ACLU sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on Thursday for documentsrelated to its inspection of a CIA black site in 2002. According to the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, which was declassified in 2014, officers from the BOP conducted a detailed assessment of the infamous detention center known as “COBALT,” or the “salt pit,” near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

After the ACLU filed a request for those documents in 2014, the bureau twice denied having any. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the government cannot deny the existence of documents it holds outright; instead, the government must notify the requester that it is withholding documents, and reference specific “exemptions,” like national security.

The ACLU lawsuit alleges that either the bureau conducted an inadequate search, or is illegally denying the existence of documents.

According to the summary of the torture report, the CIA consulted the Bureau of Prisons in 2002 because of its “lack of experience running detention facilities” and its need for people with “specialized expertise to assist the CIA in operating the facilities.”

According to the report, several BOP officers toured COBALT in November 2002 and conducted a detailed assessment. CIA interrogators quoted in the Senate report described the facility as “a dungeon,” where detainees “cowered” as interrogators opened the door and “looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

Some of the CIA’s worst abuses happened at COBALT, including rectal exams that were conducted with “excessive force.”

Even as the BOP officers toured the facility, one CIA detainee was tortured to death. After being dragged outside his cell, stripped naked, beaten, and immersed in cold water, Gul Rahman was put in an isolation cell overnight, where he died of hypothermia.

According to a CIA officer who was quoted but not named in the Senate report, BOP personnel were “WOW’ed” by the prison, having “never been in a facility where individuals are so sensory deprived” with “everyone in the dark.”

Despite observing that “there is nothing like this in the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” the inspectors concluded that the “salt pit” was “sanitary” and “not inhumane,” and that the CIA “did not mistreat the detainees.” . . .

Continue reading.

I imagine that the Obama administration will fight the disclosure tooth and nail, Obama being determined to protect American torturers at all costs, plus having demonstrated a distaste for transparency.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2016 at 1:43 pm

The Assad Files: Documenting war crimes and torture

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I’m reminded of how the military regime in Brazil (1964-85), in its authoritarian, methodical madness, kept detailed and accurate records of everything they did, including detailed accounts of each torture session. These records could be viewed by certain lawyers, but certainly could not be copied and could be checked out only overnight and must be returned the following morning.

So the lawyers would check out some cases, taken them to a secret location with copy machines, and volunteers would copy the records. This went on for (as I recall) three years, at which point the group realized that they had copied the entire contents of the archive of records. So what to do next?

What they did was to arrange secretly with an European company to publish the records in a multi-volume set that was they sent to bookstores all over Brazil: the books simply appeared for sale one morning, and by the time the government realized what was afoot, thousands of copies had been purchased and were in private hands. And people learned the names of the torturers and realized that some of their neighbors had tortured people.

It’s a fascinating story, and here’s a review of the published account, an account that I think was first published in the New Yorker in two parts: Part I and Part II. (One thing I recall is how they made men into torturers: they would find a loyal soldier who would be told to stand guard at the outside doors of the torture site. Over time, the soldier would get a pretty good idea of what was happening. He would be posted after a while at the entrance to the torture chambers, where he would hear certain sounds. Then he would be assigned to act as a guard in the torture chamber itself, then as an assistant in the torture, and finally he would be made a torturer. The process of desensitization was gradual and deliberately managed, and it worked. I’m sure there were tacit if not explicit appeals to patriotism and loyalty along with dehumanizing appellations for the tortured, to make them seem not quite human—cf. the nicknames used to dehumanize enemies in warfare.)

It’s a stunning story, and it’s happened again, in effect, this time in Syria. Ben Taub reports in the New Yorker:

The investigator in Syria had made the drive perhaps a hundred times, always in the same battered truck, never with any cargo. It was forty miles to the border, through eleven rebel checkpoints, where the soldiers had come to think of him as a local, a lawyer whose wartime misfortunes included a commute on their section of the road. Sometimes he brought them snacks or water, and he made sure to thank them for protecting civilians like himself. Now, on a summer afternoon, he loaded the truck with more than a hundred thousand captured Syrian government documents, which had been buried in pits and hidden in caves and abandoned homes.

He set out at sunset. To the fighters manning the checkpoints, it was as if he were invisible. Three reconnaissance vehicles had driven ahead, and one confirmed by radio what the investigator hoped to hear: no new checkpoints. Typically, the border was sealed, but soldiers from the neighboring country waved him through. He drove until he reached a Western embassy, where he dropped off the cargo for secure transfer to Chris Engels, an American lawyer. Engels expected the papers to include evidence linking high-level Syrian officials to mass atrocities. After a decade spent training international criminal-justice practitioners in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Cambodia, Engels now leads the regime-crimes unit of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an independent investigative body founded in 2012, in response to the Syrian war.

In the past four years, people working for the organization have smuggled more than six hundred thousand government documents out of Syria, many of them from top-secret intelligence facilities. The documents are brought to the group’s headquarters, in a nondescript office building in Western Europe, sometimes under diplomatic cover. There, each page is scanned, assigned a bar code and a number, and stored underground. A dehumidifier hums inside the evidence room; just outside, a small box dispenses rat poison.

Upstairs, in a room secured by a metal door, detailed maps of Syrian villages cover the walls, and the roles of various suspects in the Syrian government are listed on a whiteboard. Witness statements and translated documents fill dozens of binders, which are locked in a fireproof safe at night. Engels, who is forty-one, bald and athletic, with a precise, discreet manner, oversees the operation; analysts and translators report directly to him.

The commission’s work recently culminated in a four-hundred-page legal brief that links the systematic torture and murder of tens of thousands of Syrians to a written policy approved by President Bashar al-Assad, coördinated among his security-intelligence agencies, and implemented by regime operatives, who reported the successes of their campaign to their superiors in Damascus. The brief narrates daily events in Syria through the eyes of Assad and his associates and their victims, and offers a record of state-sponsored torture that is almost unimaginable in its scope and its cruelty. Such acts had been reported by survivors in Syria before, but they had never been traced back to signed orders. Stephen Rapp, who led prosecution teams at the international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone before serving for six years as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, told me that the CIJA’s documentation “is much richer than anything I’ve seen, and anything I’ve prosecuted in this area.”

The case is the first international war-crimes investigation completed by an independent agency like the CIJA, funded by governments but without a court mandate. The organization’s founder, Bill Wiley, a Canadian war-crimes investigator who has worked on several high-profile international tribunals, had grown frustrated with the geopolitical red tape that often shapes the pursuit of justice. Because the process of collecting evidence and organizing it into cases is purely operational, he reasoned that it could be done before the political will exists to prosecute the case.

Only the U.N. Security Council can refer the crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court; in May, 2014, Russia and China blocked a draft resolution that would have granted the court jurisdiction over war crimes committed by all sides of the conflict. Nevertheless, Wiley told me, the commission has also identified a number of “quite serious perpetrators, drawn from the security-intelligence services,” who have entered Europe. “The CIJA is very much committed to assisting domestic authorities with prosecutions.”
Counting Syria’s dead has become nearly impossible—the U.N. stopped trying more than two years ago—but groups monitoring the conflict have estimated the number to be almost half a million, with the pace of killing accelerating each year. The war has emptied out the country, with some five million Syrians escaping to neighboring countries and to Europe, straining the capacities of even those countries which are willing to provide asylum and humanitarian aid. The chaos has also played a fundamental role in the rise of ISIS, the bloodiest of the jihadi groups that have used Syria as a staging ground to expand the reach of terrorism.
Last fall, Wiley invited me to examine the commission’s case at its headquarters, on the condition that I not reveal the office’s location, the governments assisting with document extraction, or, with few exceptions, the names of his staff. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2016 at 5:20 pm

A first memoir from a US torturer

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Michiko Kakutani reviews a memoir in the NY Times:

The infamous photos of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that became public in the spring of 2004 — a pyramid of naked prisoners, a hooded man forced to stand in a crucifixionlike pose, a cowering man on a dog leash — were evidence not of just a “few bad apples” among the prison guards but, as an Army investigation found, documentation of a systemic problem: Military personnel had perpetrated “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.” The abuses had roots in decisions made at the highest levels of the Bush administration, which asserted that the United States need not abide by the Geneva Conventions in its war on terror.

Powerful and damning accounts of the Bush administration’s determination to work what Vice President Dick Cheney called “the dark side” and its elaborate efforts to legalize torture (including arduous attempts to narrowly define torture as leading to “serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage” is likely to result) can be found in two essential books, “The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib,” edited by Karen J. Greenbergand Joshua L. Dratel, and “Standard Operating Procedure,” by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris. An important personal perspective is now provided by Eric Fair’s candid and chilling new book, “Consequence,” which is at once an agonized confession of his own complicity as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib and an indictment of the system that enabled and tried to justify torture.

Mr. Fair, who worked for CACI, a private contractor that provided interrogation services at the prison, participated in or witnessed physical abuse, sleep deprivation and the use of what he calls “the Palestinian chair” (a monstrous contraption that forces a prisoner to assume an excruciating “stress position”). He sees naked men handcuffed to chairs, stripped of their dignity and their clothes. He and his colleagues “fill out forms and use words like ‘exposure,’ ‘sound,” ‘light,’ ‘cold,’ ‘food’ and ‘isolation’” — ordinary words that become shorthand for methods of inflicting fear and pain. He rips a chair out from underneath a boy and shoves an old man, head first, into a wall.

Of the Abu Ghraib torture photos broadcast by “60 Minutes” in April 2004, Mr. Fair writes: “Some of the activities in the photographs are familiar to me. Others are not. But I am not shocked. Neither is anyone else who served at Abu Ghraib. Instead, we are shocked by the performance of the men who stand behind microphones and say things like ‘bad apples’ and ‘Animal House’ on night shift.’”

In 2007, Mr. Fair says, he confessed everything to a lawyer from the Department of Justice and two agents from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, providing pictures, letters, names, firsthand accounts, locations and techniques. He was not prosecuted. “We tortured people the right way,” he writes, “following the right procedures, and used the approved techniques.”

Mr. Fair, however, became increasingly racked by guilt. He begins having nightmares. Nightmares in which “someone I know begins to shrink,” becoming so small “they slip through my fingers and disappear onto the floor.” Nightmares in which “there’s a large pool of blood on the floor” that moves as if it’s alive, nipping at his feet.

His marriage starts to unravel. He drinks heavily despite a heart condition that threatens his health. When his best friend from Iraq, Ferdinand Ibabao, is killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad, Mr. Fair thinks that maybe he, too, deserves to die there. He returns to Iraq for another tour — this time, in a job with the National Security Agency.

Mr. Fair recounts all this in understated, staccato prose. He tells us about the important role the church played in his childhood in Bethlehem, Pa. He tells us about his dreams of becoming a police officer, or maybe a pastor. And he tells us about the odd twists and turns that took him to Iraq as an interrogator.

Continue reading the main story

Having come from “a long line of Presbyterians who valued their faith and marched off to war,” Mr. Fair enlisted in the Army in 1995, stumbled into one of its language programs and became an Arabic linguist. The diagnosis of a heart condition in 2002 would mean he could not continue in his postmilitary career as a police officer or re-enlist in the Army when the invasion of Iraq began in early 2003. Working for CACI, which requested no medical exam, was a way for him to ensure that he didn’t miss out on the war.

Mr. Fair draws an alarming portrait of CACI as “disorganized and unprofessional” in its deployment of civilians, not to mention “dangerous and irresponsible”: “as former soldiers and marines, none of us were comfortable with the lack of planning, lack of support and lack of proper supplies,” he writes. “No weapons, no communications equipment, no maps and nothing for first aid. We all expect something to go wrong very soon.”

Things are chaotic at Abu Ghraib, where Mr. Fair is assigned to a team tasked with debriefing former associates of Saddam Hussein. He writes that it is “never entirely clear how the Army determines whether any of us have the proper security clearance,” and the shortage of interrogators means “there are thousands of detainees who will never be processed.”

Those detainees “are given no information about their status,” he observes, “and they have no way of knowing when or if they will see their families again. Some of them are guilty; some of them are not. All of them are jailed under intolerable circumstances.” Military intelligence officers would tell the Red Cross that an estimated 70 percent to 90 percent of the detainees had been arrested by mistake.

Some of Mr. Fair’s descriptions of Abu Ghraib and the National Security Agency facilities at Camp Victory recall the absurdities of “Catch-22” and “Animal Farm,” but here the sense of the absurd is infused with real horror and injustice. He writes that he and his colleagues were encouraged by supervisors to be “creative,” that they often struggled to understand what detainees were saying because of dialect problems, and that they learned to justify “the use of different forms of torture by calling them enhanced techniques and filling out the appropriate paperwork.” . . .

Continue reading.

It will be interesting to see whether the torturers within the CIA, who sometimes tortured their victims to death, will be publishing memoirs. Indeed, it would be interesting if the Senate’s report on US torture was ever to be released. Too much of what our government does is kept secret from the citizens in whose name the deeds are done. And President Obama has done everything he can to increase the level of secrecy and discontinue disclosure and open government—and to protect the torturers.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2016 at 1:22 pm

Declassifying the sordid and brutal history of US support of Argentina’s right-wing dictatorship

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Graciela Mochkofsky reports in the New Yorker:

Earlier this year, when President Barack Obama’s first visit to Buenos Aires was announced, human-rights organizations in Argentina threatened to fill the streets in protest when he arrived. The visit was scheduled for March 24th, coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the country’s last coup d’état and the beginning of a brutal dictatorship. During the junta’s seven-year reign, military hit squads disappeared tens of thousands of people, torturing and killing most of them and abducting hundreds of their children. As with other military interventions throughout South and Central America in the Cold War era, the Argentine coup and its consequent crimes were made partly possible by the support of the United States. For the relatives of the disappeared and sympathizers with their cause, American imperialism is as much to blame for their loss as the military itself.

After further consideration, though, the activists decided that Obama’s visit was not so much an insult as an opportunity. On February 23rd, they met for the first time with Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, to request an extensive declassification of U.S. intelligence and military records on American involvement with the dictatorship. Macri, a pro-business, right-wing leader, had previously shown little sympathy toward the activists’ cause. In fact, since he took office, in December, there have been rumors that his Administration might attempt to abort the ongoing trials against the military for their crimes under the junta, or even grant some officers a pardon. To Macri, then, Obama’s visit afforded the perfect occasion to prove otherwise, and he immediately forwarded the declassification request to the American government. Last week, on the eve of a historic trip to Cuba, Obama granted the request, in a gesture widely read in the region as a salve for the wounds of the Cold War. As a result, when Obama walks on Thursday into the Parque de la Memoria, a monument to the disappeared on the banks of the Río de la Plata, the river into which thousands were thrown to their deaths from military planes, he will face no mass protests from the groups that originally threatened them.
There is a sense of déjà vu in all of this. Sixteen years ago, another outgoing Democratic President, Bill Clinton, announced the first-ever declassification of diplomatic records relating to the Argentine dictatorship. It was the last in a series of such releases during his Administration. Documents from a wide range of government bodies—the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the N.S.A., the Department of Justice, the National Security Council, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon, and the State Department—had already revealed shocking levels of complicity between the American government and the military regimes in Chile, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Argentina benefited too late from this declassified diplomacy, and received only a small batch of records. According to Carlos Osorio, an analyst with the National Security Archive, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., the documents were ready to be delivered by early September of 2001, but then 9/11 happened. A second attempt was frustrated by the economic and political meltdown in Argentina at the end of that year. Ultimately, only forty-seven hundred State Department documents were handed over, in August of 2002.
Even this limited release, which did not include records from U.S. intelligence or military agencies, proved revealing. “During 1976, the records show the State Department received daily and detailed information from their Buenos Aires embassy about the illegal state-sponsored repression in Argentina,” Daniel Gutman, the author of a book on the documents, told me. “In spite of that, Henry Kissinger and other State Department officers were friendly with the dictatorship. They kept asking the junta how long they planned to use those repressive methods and recommended to get it done quickly, because public opinion in the U.S. was starting to turn against them.” One such conversation, dated two days after the coup, has a member of Kissinger’s staff telling him “to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina.” Kissinger replies with concern for the junta. “Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement,” he says. “Because I do want to encourage them. I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.”
The records provided human-rights groups, judges, and prosecutors concrete evidence to mount criminal cases. After the amnesties and pardon laws of the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties were declared unconstitutional, around ten years ago, investigations of violations during the dictatorship were reopened, and thousands of former military and police officers were brought to trial. Ever since then, such groups as the Asociación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, composed of grandmothers looking for their stolen grandchildren, and the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) have unsuccessfully requested the release of records that were left out of the 2002 declassification. Obama’s visit presented them with the chance to make a renewed push. The Argentine government will now work on drafting a detailed list of the files that it wants declassified, though most of the work has already been done by human-rights groups. Osorio told me that the process usually takes “between eight months and a year,” and he believes that the Obama Administration aims to release the files before the next President takes over. . .

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I wonder whether the US will ever investigate and punish its own torturers and instructors in torture. Probably too much to expect.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2016 at 7:15 pm

The U.S. Government Is Still Fighting to Bury the Senate Torture Report

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Our government seems increasingly desperate and determined to keep its citizens from knowing what it’s doing. This is a very bad sign. Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:

Government lawyers on Thursday continued their fight to bury the Senate Torture Report, arguing before the D.C. District Court of Appeals that the 6,700-page text could not be released on procedural grounds.

When the 500-page executive summary of the report was released more than a year ago, it prompted international outcry and renewed calls for prosecution. The summary describes not only the CIA’s rape and torture of detainees, but also how the agency consistently misrepresented the brutality and effectiveness of the torture program.

But many of the most graphic details are in Volume III of the full report, which former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein hassaid contains “excruciating” details on “each of the 119 known individuals who were held in CIA custody.”

The ACLU filed for the release of the full report under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Thursday’s hearing centered on the question of whether the report is an “agency record,” and thus subject to FOIA. Alternatively, if the report is a “congressional record,” its disclosure cannot be requested under the statute.

On the same day the executive summary was released, the Intelligence Committee sent copies of the full report to executive branch agencies, with instructions from then-chair Feinstein that they be used “as broadly as appropriate to make sure that this experience is never repeated.”

Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told the panel of judges “there was no clear assertion of [congressional] control. To the contrary, that control was transferred, with broad language.”

The government argued that sending copies was the work of Feinstein alone, not the entire committee. “The views of a single senator may be less reliable,” said Thomas Pulham, an attorney with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

In rebuttal, Shamsi stated that in December 2014, “there was no objection by any member with respect to [the report’s] transfer by the committee.”

The Republican-controlled committee is now trying to rescind the report. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2016 at 4:20 pm


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