Later On

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Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

Donald Trump is Brock Turner writ large: Power and abuse

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An unfortunate pattern can be seen in how having the power to act with impunity leads to the abuse of that power, using it in ways that are immoral, unethical, and/or illegal, with the expectation that there will be no accountability for the action. (Lord Acton’s dictum: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.) Some examples of this pattern in recent reports:

  • Law enforcement actions against hostages in Atticus uprising and against John F. Edland, reported here.

Each of the above exemplifies the idea that might makes right; additional examples are easy to find when you look at the actions of the powerful.


Written by LeisureGuy

13 October 2016 at 2:40 am

Why haven’t the US torture team been held accountable? Another victim’s story

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And note that he was held without charges, tortured, and then released because he was not a terrorist and posed no threat. The US has a lot to learn about winning hearts and minds. James Risen reports in the NY Times:

At first, the Americans seemed confused about Suleiman Abdullah Salim. They apparently had been expecting a light-skinned Arab, and instead at a small airport outside Mogadishu that day in March 2003, they had been handed a dark-skinned African.

“They said, ‘You changed your face,’” Mr. Salim, a Tanzanian, recalled the American men telling him when he arrived. “They said: ‘You are Yemeni. You changed your face.’”

That was the beginning of Mr. Salim’s strange ordeal in United States custody. It has been 13 years since he was tortured in a secret prison in Afghanistan run by the Central Intelligence Agency, a place he calls “The Darkness.” It has been eight years since he was released — no charges, no explanations — back into the world.

Even after so much time, Mr. Salim, 45, is struggling to move on. Suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress, according to a medical assessment, he is withdrawn and wary. He cannot talk about his experiences with his wife, who he says worries that the Americans will come back to snatch him. He is fearful of drawing too much attention at home in Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania, concerned that his neighbors will think he is an American spy.

When he speaks, not in his native Swahili but in the English he learned from his jailers, Mr. Salim nearly whispers. “Many times now I feel like I have something heavy inside my body,” he said in an interview. “Sometimes I walk, and I walk, and I forget, I forget everything, I forget prison, The Darkness, everything. But it is always there. The Darkness comes.”

Mr. Salim was one of 39 men subjected to some of the C.I.A.’s most brutal techniques — beatings, hanging in chains, sleep deprivation and water dousing, which creates a sensation of drowning, even though interrogators had been denied permission to use that last tactic on him, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the agency’s classified interrogation program.

In a series of recent interviews in Dubai, Mr. Salim described his incarceration by the C.I.A. and the United States military as a terrorism suspect. His account closely parallels those provided by other detainees, witnesses and court documents, and confirms details in the Senate report about his treatment.

Today, back in Stone Town, Mr. Salim is trying to support his family, though some of his attempts at jobs have not worked out. He now breeds pigeons, raising them for a local market. They are both his livelihood and his solace.

They help him, Mr. Salim said. They quiet his mind.

Exactly why Mr. Salim fell into American hands remains murky; leaks to the press at the time of his capture suggested that intelligence officials suspected he had links to Al Qaeda, but the C.I.A. has never publicly disclosed the reasons. An agency spokesman declined to comment for this article.

Mr. Salim had been drifting into a nomadic life in one of the world’s poorest regions, where the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had promised allies cash rewards for terrorism suspects. Governments and warlords turned over hundreds of men to the United States, in many cases with little evidence of wrongdoing.

Mr. Salim grew up on Africa’s eastern edges, but from boy to man never quite found himself. One of eight children in a family in Stone Town, a historic district of Zanzibar City, he apprenticed on the local fishing piers, then joined the crews going out for kingfish and barracuda in the Indian Ocean.

He dropped out of school after ninth or 10th grade and headed for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, where he worked in a clothing shop. He moved a few years later to Mombasa, on Kenya’s coast, where he ferried cargos of dried fish, rice and oil with a crew of two. . .

Continue reading.

What was done to this man is against the law and is fact a war crime. The Convention Against Torture was signed and ratified by the US, and it is the law of the land, but both the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration simply ignore the law. The torturers are not held accountable in any way, and those who ordered torture are not held accountable. The innocent victims will not be given an apology, and they will not be allowed their day in court. The US actions look bad, but there will be nothing done. Nothing.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2016 at 10:20 am

How U.S. Torture Left Legacy of Damaged Minds

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In the NY Times Matt Apuzzo, Sheri Fink, and James Risen report on the effects of US government torture of prisoners, some of whom had no connection to terrorism or attacks on the US.

Before the United States permitted a terrifying way of interrogating prisoners, government lawyers and intelligence officials assured themselves of one crucial outcome. They knew that the methods inflicted on terrorism suspects would be painful, shocking and far beyond what the country had ever accepted. But none of it, they concluded, would cause long lasting psychological harm.

Fifteen years later, it is clear they were wrong.

Today in Slovakia, Hussein al-Marfadi describes permanent headaches and disturbed sleep, plagued by memories of dogs inside a blackened jail. In Kazakhstan, Lutfi bin Ali is haunted by nightmares of suffocating at the bottom of a well. In Libya, the radio from a passing car spurs rage in Majid Mokhtar Sasy al-Maghrebi, reminding him of the C.I.A. prison where earsplitting music was just one assault to his senses.

And then there is the despair of men who say they are no longer themselves. “I am living this kind of depression,” said Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan, who fears going outside because he sees faces in crowds as Guantánamo Bay guards. “I’m not normal anymore.”

Those subjected to the tactics included victims of mistaken identity or flimsy evidence that the United States later disavowed. Others were foot soldiers for the Taliban or Al Qaeda who were later deemed to pose little threat. Some were hardened terrorists, including those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks or the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole. In several cases, their mental status has complicated the nation’s long effort to bring them to justice.

Americans have long debated the legacy of post-Sept. 11 interrogation methods, asking whether they amounted to torture or succeeded in extracting intelligence. But even as President Obama continues transferring people from Guantánamo and Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, promises to bring back techniques, now banned, such as waterboarding, the human toll has gone largely uncalculated.

At least half of the 39 people who went through the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation” program, which included depriving them of sleep, dousing them with ice water, slamming them into walls and locking them in coffin-like boxes, have since shown psychiatric problems, The New York Times found. Some have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, depression or psychosis.

Hundreds more detainees moved through C.I.A. “black sites” or Guantánamo, where the military inflicted sensory deprivation, isolation, menacing with dogs and other tactics on men who now show serious damage. Nearly all have been released.

“There is no question that these tactics were entirely inconsistent with our values as Americans, and their consequences present lasting challenges for us as a country and for the individuals involved,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser.

The United States government has never studied the long-term psychological effects of the extraordinary interrogation practices it embraced. A Defense Department spokeswoman, asked about long-term mental harm, responded that prisoners were treated humanely and had access to excellent care. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

This article is based on a broad sampling of cases and an examination of hundreds of documents, including court records, military commission transcripts and medical assessments. The Times interviewed more than 100 people, including former detainees in a dozen countries. A full accounting is all but impossible because many former prisoners never had access to outside doctors or lawyers, and any records about their interrogation treatment and health status remain classified.

Researchers caution that it can be difficult to determine cause and effect with mental illness. Some prisoners of the C.I.A. and the military had underlying psychological problems that may have made them more susceptible to long-term difficulties; others appeared to have been remarkably resilient. Incarceration, particularly the indefinite detention without charges that the United States devised, is inherently stressful. Still, outside medical consultants and former government officials said they saw a pattern connecting the harsh practices to psychiatric issues.

Those treating prisoners at Guantánamo for mental health issues typically did not ask their patients what had happened during their questioning. Some physicians, though, saw evidence of mental harm almost immediately.

“My staff was dealing with the consequences of the interrogations without knowing what was going on,” said Albert J. Shimkus, a retired Navy captain who served as the commanding officer of the Guantánamo hospital in the prison’s early years. Back then, still reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks, the government was desperate to stave off more.

But Captain Shimkus now regrets not making more inquiries. “There was a conflict,” he said, “between our medical duty to our patients and our duty to the mission, as soldiers.”

After prisoners were released from American custody, some found neither help nor relief. Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a businessman in Tanzania, and others were snatched, interrogated and imprisoned, then sent home without explanation. They returned to their families deeply scarred from interrogations, isolation and the shame of sexual taunts, forced nudity, aggressive body cavity searches and being kept in diapers.

Mr. Asad, who died in May, was held for more than a year in several secret C.I.A. prisons. “Sometimes, between husband and wife, he would admit to how awful he felt,” his widow, Zahra Mohamed, wrote in a statement prepared for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “He was humiliated, and that feeling never went away.”

‘A Human Mop’

In a cold room once used for interrogations at Guantánamo, Stephen N. Xenakis, a former military psychiatrist, faced a onetime Qaeda child soldier, Omar Khadr. It was December 2008, and this evaluation had been two years in the making.

The doctor, a retired brigadier general who had overseen several military hospitals, had not sought the assignment. The son of an Air Force combat veteran, he debated even accepting it. “I’m still a soldier,” General Xenakis recalls thinking. Was this good for the country? When he finally agreed, he told Mr. Khadr’s lawyers that they were paying for an independent medical opinion, not a hired gun.

Mr. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, had been wounded and captured in a firefight at age 15 at a suspected terrorist compound in Afghanistan, where he said he had been sent to translate for foreign fighters by his father, a Qaeda member. Years later, he would plead guilty to war crimes, including throwing a grenade that killed an Army medic. At the time, though, he was the youngest prisoner at Guantánamo.

He told his lawyers that the American soldiers had kept him from sleeping, spit in his face and threatened him with rape. In one meeting with the psychiatrist, Mr. Khadr, then 22, began to sweat and fan himself, despite the air-conditioned chill. He tugged his shirt off, and General Xenakis realized that he was witnessing an anxiety attack.

When it happened again, Mr. Khadr explained that he had once urinated during an interrogation and soldiers had dragged him through the mess. “This is the room where they used me as a human mop,” he said.

General Xenakis had seen such anxiety before, decades earlier, as a young psychiatrist at Letterman Army Medical Center in California. It was often the first stop for American prisoners of war after they left Vietnam. The doctor recalled the men, who had endured horrific abuses, suffering panic attacks, headaches and psychotic episodes.

That session with Mr. Khadr was the beginning of General Xenakis’s immersion into the treatment of detainees. He has reviewed medical and interrogation records of about 50 current and former prisoners and examined about 15 of the detainees, more than any other outside psychiatrist, colleagues say.

General Xenakis found that Mr. Khadr had post-traumatic stress disorder, a conclusion the military contested. Many of General Xenakis’s diagnoses in other cases remain classified or sealed by court order, but he said he consistently found links between harsh American interrogation methods and psychiatric disorders.

Back home in Virginia, General Xenakis delved into research on the effects of abusive practices. He found decades of papers on the issue — science that had not been considered when the government began crafting new interrogation policies after Sept. 11.

At the end of the Vietnam War, military doctors noticed that former prisoners of war developed psychiatric disorders far more often than other soldiers, an observation also made of former P.O.W.s from World War II and the Korean War. The data could not be explained by imprisonment alone, researchers found. Former soldiers who suffered torture or mistreatment were more likely than others to develop long-term problems.

By the mid-1980s, the Veterans Administration had linked such treatment to memory loss, an exaggerated startle reflex, horrific nightmares, headaches and an inability to concentrate. Studies noted similar symptoms among torture survivors in South Africa, Turkey and Chile. Such research helped lay the groundwork for how American doctors now treat combat veterans.

“In hindsight, that should have come to the fore” in the post-Sept. 11 interrogation debate, said John Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer at the time. “I don’t think the long-term effects were ever explored in any real depth.”

Instead, the government relied on data from a training program to resist enemy interrogators, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. The military concluded there was little evidence that disrupted sleep, near-starvation, nudity and extreme temperatures harmed military trainees in controlled scenarios.

Two veteran SERE psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, worked with the C.I.A. and the Pentagon to help develop interrogation tactics. They based their strategies in part on the theory of “learned helplessness,” a phrase coined by the American psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman in the late 1960s. He gave electric shocks to dogs and discovered that they stopped resisting once they learned they could not stop the shocks. If the United States could make men helpless, the thinking went, they would give up their secrets.

In the end, Justice Department lawyers concluded that the methods did not constitute torture, which is illegal under American and international law. In a series of memos, they wrote that no evidence existed that “significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years” would result.

With fear of another terrorist attack, there was little incentive or time to find contrary evidence, Mr. Rizzo said. “The government wanted a solution,” he recalled. “It wanted a path to get these guys to talk.”

The question of what ultimately happened to Dr. Seligman’s dogs never arose in the legal debate. They were strays, and once the studies were over, they were euthanized. . .

Continue reading.

I doubt that the US will ever apologize for its actions, not even against those who quite clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism (such as Khalid El-Masri).

Even now, the US is expressing anger and outrage that another nation (Russia, in this case) is attempting to influence the outcome of US elections, an anger and outrage that contrast with the US’s own record of overthrowing democratically elected governments (Chile, Iran) and supporting terrorist (death squads) who work against democratically elected governments (El Salvador, Honduras, and others).

Regarding the fate of those who ordered torture and those who tortured, the US has taken a benign view and has held no one accountable. This decision, to hold no one accountable, was made by President Obama. (“Look forward, not back,” and let the torturers go.)

UPDATE: See also The ‘guinea pig’ for U.S. torture is languishing at Guantanamo, by Amanda Jacobsen and Joseph Margulies. It begins:

The poster child of the American torture program sits in a Guantanamo Bay prison cell, where many U.S. officials hope he will simply be forgotten. But blood always leaves a stain, and the mark on our conscience and law will remain until we reckon with the case of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, known to the world as Abu Zubaydah.

Zubaydah was the “guinea pig” of the CIA torture program. He was the first prisoner sent to a secret CIA “black site,” the first to have hisinterrogation “enhanced ” and the only prisoner subjected to all of the CIA’s approved techniques, as well as many that were not authorized. He is the man for whom the George W. Bush administration wrote the infamous torture memo in the summer of 2002.

The United States pressed Zubaydah into this indecent role because the Bush administration believed he was a senior member of al-Qaeda. Senior officials thought he had been personally involved in every major al-Qaeda operation, including 9/11. Today, the United States acknowledges that assessment was, to put it graciously, overblown. As much to the point, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, his extended torture provided no actionable intelligence about al-Qaeda’s plans.

The chasm between myth and reality explains much about what has happened since his arrest in March 2002. The United States has cast him into limbo. He has never been charged with a violation of U.S. law, military or civilian, and apparently never will be formally charged. Instead, he languishes at Guantanamo. After years in secret prisons around the world, he remains incommunicado, with no prospect of trial.

We have been representing Zubaydah for nine years and have gotten to know him through numerous face-to-face meetings. Recently, the public got a brief glimpse of Zubaydah. For the first time since his arrest, he appeared for a few minutes on a video broadcast from Guantanamo. A dozen journalists and human rights advocates huddled in the District to watch as he appeared silently on the screen; no recording devices were permitted. The ostensible purpose of the appearance was a “hearing” to consider whether Zubaydah might finally be released. But this proceeding was mere political theater.

To begin with, Zubaydah had no counsel at the hearing. Although he has a team of lawyers who have volunteered to represent him, for free, the United States authorized only one of his counsel, Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, to appear on his behalf. Just before the hearing, Denbeaux had to cancel his flight, when he was informed that his wife of 51 years, Marcia, needed emergency surgery. No other attorney could substitute because Denbeaux alone had been authorized by the government to fly to the base.

Although Denbeaux made clear to the government that his wife was on her deathbed, the government refused to delay the proceeding, even for a few days. After imprisoning Zubaydah for years with no legal process, it was suddenly imperative that the hearing take place without delay, and therefore without counsel. Marcia Denbeaux died four days after the hearing.

Unable to appear on his behalf, his legal team asked the Periodic Review Board, composed of a cross-section of national security officials, to consider a summary of the report on the torture program prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee. That summary, based on a review of more than 6 million pages from inside the CIA, provides the most detailed account of Zubaydah’s torture and the mistakes and misrepresentations made about him. The Review Board refused to read it. They said it was too long.

At the public portion of this hearing, Zubaydah was not merely silent, but silenced. The public did not hear Zubaydah speak because the government would not allow him to respond publicly to the allegations against him. Instead, Zubaydah was permitted to speak only in the closed session, and a government representative, who had met him only briefly a few weeks before the hearing, was assigned to read a half-page statement, which was prepared for Zubaydah and pre-approved by the government for the public session. . .

Continue reading.



Written by LeisureGuy

8 October 2016 at 7:26 pm

‘Terror’ and Everybody’s Rights

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In the NY Review of Books Jed Rakoff reviews an important book by Owen Fiss:

A War Like No Other: The Constitution in a Time of Terror
by Owen Fiss, edited and with a foreword by Trevor Sutton<
New Press, 330 pp., $27.95

Say the word “war” and the rule of law often implodes, with courts frequently employing sophistry to avoid any interference with governmental conduct. To take an obvious example, during World War II the Roosevelt administration interned thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent solely on the basis of their ancestry, and the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Hugo Black, upheld this patently unconstitutional confinement by simply repeating the mantra that, in time of war, total deference (unchecked and unbalanced) is due the military.

During the same war, the US troops fighting Nazi racism were, without judicial interference, segregated by color. Even the 1940 draft law, which stated that “in the selection and training of men under this Act,…there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color,” was held by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals not to prohibit separate draft quotas for whites and blacks, since “the Army executives are to decide the Army’s needs.”

The so-called “war on terror” declared by President George W. Bush soon after September 11, 2001, has already lasted more than three times as long as American involvement in World War II, with no end in sight. By its shapeless and secretive nature, it tends to generate amorphous fears and shrouded responses that compromise our freedoms in ways we may only dimly recognize but that create troubling precedents for the future. And so far, the federal courts have done precious little to challenge these incursions.

One of the voices decrying this judicial failure is that of Owen Fiss, a very distinguished Yale law professor, who over the past dozen years has written one essay after another analyzing, or one might say exposing, the shallowness of the judicial response to executive excesses committed in the name of national security. That Fiss would undertake this task was by no means inevitable. Now in his late seventies, he had focused much of his academic career (which had made him one of the most-cited legal scholars in the country) on such subjects as civil procedure, freedom of speech, and equal protection of the law. But his palpable disagreement with the way federal courts were, in the name of an uncertain and shifting war, largely avoiding judicial scrutiny of everything from manifest torture to far-reaching surveillance led him, beginning in 2003, to write the ten essays now collected by his former student Trevor Sutton in A War Like No Other.

A few of the most prominent examples that Fiss discusses will illustrate his concern. First, there is the CIA’s use of torture following September 11. One may assume for the sake of argument that torture may sometimes be effective in extracting information that cannot be obtained by ordinary interrogation—although most studies suggest that its main effect is to force the victim to tell his torturer what he believes the torturer wants to hear. Indeed, historically, one of torture’s most prominent uses has been to coerce false confessions, as in the “show trials” of the Stalinist period.

In any case, torture, regardless of any perceived benefits, has been condemned from the earliest days of the American republic. Most scholars agree that it was revulsion at the English kings’ use of torture that led to enactment of the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against compelled self-incrimination and also played a part in the enactment of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Evidence of Americans’ continuing abhorrence of torture can also be found in numerous current statutes: for example, torturing a victim before murdering him is one of the “aggravating factors” that, under current federal law, warrants the death penalty.

Most directly applicable, in 1988 the United States signed and in 1994 ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which thereby became a binding part of our law. Article 1 of the convention defines torture to encompass, among other things, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” Article 2 requires each signatory state to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction” (emphasis added). Article 2 also provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Although the language in Article 2 italicized above might seem to permit a government agent operating abroad to make use of torture, in 1994, Congress, as part of the legislation implementing the convention, enacted section 2340A of the Federal Criminal Code, which, among other things, prohibits any US agent operating even “outside the United States” from inflicting torture on any person within his custody or physical control. Yet following September 11, CIA agents working abroad subjected suspected terrorists to waterboarding—a technique derived from the Spanish Inquisition in which water is forced into the nose and mouth of the subject so as to induce the perception of suffocating or drowning.

Waterboarding would thus clearly appear to be torture. Nonetheless, legal memoranda prepared by senior Justice Department officials shortly after September 11 purported to justify its use by arguing that the convention’s definition of torture covered only “the worst forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” and that “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” As for mental suffering, it must, according to the memoranda, be of a kind that leads to psychological harm lasting “for months or even years” to constitute torture.

Since, however, it is up to the judiciary to make the final determination of what a law means, one might have imagined that once the CIA’s waterboarding was made public, a court would then have decided whether or not it constituted torture under section 2340A. But this did not occur, in part because the government also took the position that the CIA’s waterboarding, as an instrument in the war on terror, was exempt from judicial review.

After some uncertainty, this exemption from judicial review of any decision to waterboard became the Bush administration’s position at the highest levels and was effectively reiterated in 2005, after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which, among other things, provided that “no person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense” shall be subjected to certain specified “technique[s] of interrogation” that included waterboarding. In addition to maintaining that the legislation did not apply to the CIA, President Bush, in signing the bill, asserted his power to interpret it “consistent with the constitutional limitations on judicial power”—a clear suggestion that his interpretations were exempt from judicial review. In effect he was saying, “if we decide to waterboard, no court can say us nay.”

As it happened, this supposed exemption was never put to the test as far as CIAwaterboarding was concerned. Rather, the issue was resolved politically. Specifically, President Obama, soon after taking office in 2009, banned the use of waterboarding even by the CIA, and Congress effectively codified this order in 2015. (Donald Trump has however announced his support for waterboarding.) Despite rumors, moreover, there have been no verified reports of CIA waterboarding since 2003. So at the moment, at least, there is nothing for a court to decide when it comes to waterboarding by US agents.

Regretfully, however, President Obama’s ban on waterboarding did not put an end to US involvement in the use of torture as part of the war on terror. Instead, within the past decade the US has repeatedly made use of the device known as extraordinary rendition, by which suspected terrorists detained by the US are turned over to police authorities in other countries that regularly employ torture as an interrogation technique.

Fiss, who views this practice, along with waterboarding, as “one of the most egregious of all abuses associated with the War on Terror,” gives as an example the case of Maher Arar, a dual citizen of Canada and Syria, who was thought by US authorities to be a supporter of al-Qaeda. While returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia, Arar had to change planes at JFK in New York. He was immediately taken into custody by US agents, who held him for twelve days and then, after their interrogation apparently did not lead to the desired results, shipped him to Syria, where (he alleges) they knew he would be tortured—as he was.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in a full court decision filed in late 2009, held, by a vote of 7–4, that these facts did not constitute a legitimate legal claim. Similarly, in a case involving five former detainees who alleged that the CIA arranged for them to be flown to other countries so that they could be interrogated by torture, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in 2010, by a vote of 6–5, that the detainees’ lawsuit was barred by prohibitions against exposing state secrets.

Although the split votes in these cases suggest that judicial opinion is not uniform about whether extraordinary rendition is beyond judicial scrutiny, for the time being it remains a device by which US officials can effectively use the torture techniques of other countries to interrogate those suspected of aiding the war on terror. The majority view of the judiciary is not to interfere.

If the judiciary’s response to extraordinary rendition is an example of its hands-off approach to dubious practices associated with the war on terror, a different kind of judicial response, which might be described as “words without deeds,” is presented by another of Fiss’s examples, namely, detention without trial of persons alleged to be enemy combatants. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 10:22 am

How many terrorists does the U.S. itself create? ISIS leader was held in Abu Ghraib prison

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When the U.S. uses a drone-fired missile to kill an entire wedding party, how do you think the surviving family members feel? I suppose in part the answer depends on how you feel about your own family members and how you would feel if a foreign power fired a missile into a group of them. But I think many would take it hard.

And how would feel about being imprisoned and tortured by soldiers from a foreign nation, and being humiliated in your own country? Or what would you feel if that happened to a relative or friend? Again, you might accept that such things happen, but I can easily imagine that some might carry a serious grudge.

Joshua Eaton reports in The Intercept:

In February 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The prison was about to become international news, but the prisoner would remain largely unknown for the next decade.

At the time the man was brought in, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was finalizing his report on allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib’s Hard Site — a prison building used to house detainees singled out for their alleged violence or their perceived intelligence value. Just weeks later, the first pictures of detainee abuse were published on CBS News and in the New Yorker.

Today, detainee US9IZ-157911CI is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. His presence at Abu Ghraib, a fact not previously made public, provides yet another possible key to the enigmatic leader’s biography and may shed new light on the role U.S. detention facilities played in the rise of the Islamic State.

Experts have long known that Baghdadi spent time in U.S. custody during the occupation of Iraq. Previous reports suggested he was at Camp Bucca, a sprawling detention facility in southern Iraq. But the U.S. Army confirmed toThe Intercept that Baghdadi spent most of his time in U.S. custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib.

Baghdadi’s detainee records don’t mention Abu Ghraib by name. But the internment serial number that U.S. forces issued when they processed him came from the infamous prison, according to Army spokesperson Troy A. Rolan Sr.

“Former detainee al-Baghdadi’s internment serial number sequence number begins with ‘157,’” Rolan said, describing the first three digits of the second half of Baghdadi’s serial number. “This number range was assigned at the Abu Ghraib theater internment facility.”

The details of Baghdadi’s biography have always been murky, and his time in U.S. custody is no exception. In June 2014, the Daily Beast reported that the United States held Baghdadi at Camp Bucca from 2005 to 2009, citing Army Col. Kenneth King, the camp’s former commanding officer. However, King backtracked after U.S. officials told ABC News that Baghdadi was out of U.S. custody by 2006.

Days later, the Pentagon confirmed that Baghdadi was only in U.S. custody for 10 months, from February to December 2004. The Department of Defense told the fact-checking website PunditFact in a statement that Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca. “A Combined Review and Release Board recommended ‘unconditional release’ of this detainee and he was released from U.S. custody shortly thereafter. We have no record of him being held at any other time.”

In February 2015, the Army released Baghdadi’s detainee records to Business Insider, in response to a records request. They showed that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more worth reading.

Later in the article:

. . . In the occupation’s first few years, U.S. facilities like Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca developed a reputation as “jihadi universities” where hard-line extremists indoctrinated and recruited less radical inmates. Analysts have long suspected that Baghdadi took full advantage of his time at Bucca to link up with the jihadis and former Iraqi military officials who would later fill out the Islamic State’s leadership.

In November 2014, the Soufan Group, a private intelligence firm, published a list of nine Islamic State leaders it said had been detained at Camp Bucca. The list included Baghdadi and Hajji Bakr, a former Iraqi military official who became head of the Islamic State’s military council and is widely reported to have spent time in Bucca. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 2:43 pm

Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire

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Nations, like any organization, can make horrible errors and do great wrong, and (like any organization) the most common response is to cover up the misdeeds and attack those who expose them. We see that playing out now, as described by Marc Parry in the Guardian:

Help us sue the British government for torture. That was the request Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, received in 2008. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Risky because investigating those misdeeds had already earned Elkins heaps of abuse.

Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages. It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups.

It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Her prose seethed with outrage. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. But the book polarised scholars. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies.

By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. Her case for tenure, once on the fast track, had been delayed in response to criticism of her work. To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mauwork.

That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. She looked at the file boxes around her. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”

She said yes. She wanted to rectify injustice. And she stood behind her work. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I knew I was right.”

What she didn’t know was that the lawsuit would expose a secret: a vast colonial archive that had been hidden for half a century. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy.

Nothing about Caroline Elkins suggests her as an obvious candidate for the role of Mau Mau avenger. Now 47, she grew up a lower-middle-class kid in New Jersey. Her mother was a schoolteacher; her father, a computer-supplies salesman. In high school, she worked at a pizza shop that was run by what she calls “low-level mob”. You still hear this background when she speaks. Foul-mouthed, fast-talking and hyperbolic, Elkins can sound more Central Jersey than Harvard Yard. She classifies fellow scholars as friends or enemies.

After high school, Princeton University recruited her to play soccer, and she considered a career in the sport. But an African history class put her on a different path. For her senior thesis, Elkins visited archives in London and Nairobi to study the shifting roles of women from Kenya’s largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu. She stumbled on to files about an all-female Mau Mau detention camp called Kamiti, kindling her curiosity.

The Mau Mau uprising had long fascinated scholars. It was an . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2016 at 9:20 am

Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart

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The NY Times has published a lengthy piece on the catastrophe of the conflicts that are tearing apart the Arab world. A convenient starting point is the disastrous decision by the U.S. to invade Iraq (because of the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush Administration assured us were there, despite much evidence to the contrary—the attitude seemed to be, “Let’s invade anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?”, and then we found out. This is quite directly the responsibility of George W. Bush and his key administration figures: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and others. They suffer no accountability for what they did, but the destruction they unleashed was vast and is still on-going.

The Times notes:

This is a story unlike any we have previously published. It is much longer than the typical New York Times Magazine feature story; in print, it occupies an entire issue. The product of some 18 months of reporting, it tells the story of the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis. The geography of this catastrophe is broad and its causes are many, but its consequences — war and uncertainty throughout the world — are familiar to us all. Scott Anderson’s story gives the reader a visceral sense of how it all unfolded, through the eyes of six characters in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Accompanying Anderson’s text are 10 portfolios by the photographer Paolo Pellegrin, drawn from his extensive travels across the region over the last 14 years, as well as a landmark virtual-reality experience that embeds the viewer with the Iraqi fighting forces during the battle to retake Falluja.

It is unprecedented for us to focus so much energy and attention on a single story, and to ask our readers to do the same. We would not do so were we not convinced that what follows is one of the most clear-eyed, powerful and human explanations of what has gone wrong in this region that you will ever read.

– Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief

It’s worth reading. Although the Arab world has long held internal tensions, it was the US invasion that released them and has resulted in so many deaths and so much destruction. And those who perpetrated the outrage: no accountability.


Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2016 at 1:43 pm

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