30+ torture memos remain sealed while thousands of torture photos will eventually be released. Be prepared: Learn the deep history of US torture in SERE, Vietnam, Latin America, GMTO, Black Sites and beyond in American Torture.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Human Rights Watch Release Major New CIA Prisons Report

Posted by Raj at 8:12 AM |

Our friends at Human Rights Watch have just released a major new report on the CIA Black Prison Complex titled: Ghost Prisoner: Two Years in Secret CIA Detention
Their key recommendations are very important and well worth noting:

The US government should:

  • Repudiate the use of secret detention and coercive interrogation as counterterrorism tactics and permanently discontinue the CIA’s detention and interrogation program;
  • Disclose the identities, fate and whereabouts of all detainees previously held at facilities operated or controlled by the CIA since 2001.

Other governments should:

  • Refuse to assist or cooperate in any way with CIA detention, interrogation and rendition operations, and disclose any information that they may have about such operations.
The Washington Post covered the story and report on the front page today - once again showing that momentum is building on the torture/detention issues.

Monday, February 26, 2007

News Dump I

Posted by Michael Otterman at 6:59 PM |

In the spirit of the great, but ever-dwindling postings down at Russ Kicks' memoryblog, I'm happy to post americantorture's first News Dump. Admittingly, I have been overwhelmed by the surge of torture news on all fronts: Jose Padilla's insanity, David Hicks' federal court challenge, and general Guantanamo/torture news. Compounding things, I am in the process of writing a few Op-Eds for the Australian media and am preparing for my Australian tour. If you are reading this, and would like to help out at americantorture please contact me. Without further ado, below is a round-up of news/criticism from the past few days:

America tortures (yawn):

"In just a few years we've grown disturbingly comfortable with the fact that the U.S. practices torture."

Cleared men, harsh facility:

"I recently returned from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and was among the first lawyers to visit the newly opened Camp 6 and observe the way in which it is being operated. It is a far cry from the 'more comfortable' facility it is billed to be."

The US psychological torture system is finally on trial:

"America has deliberately driven hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prisoners insane. Now it is being held to account in a Miami court."

Psychiatrist says US terror suspect has Stockholm syndrome:

"A psychiatrist told a court in Miami US terror suspect Jose Padilla is unable to assist in his defense as he identifies with the military captors who held him for more than three years."

Hicks lawyers launch Federal Court action:

"Lawyers for Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks will launch action in the Federal Court this morning to bring the terror suspect home. Led by constitutional expert Bret Walker SC, the team of lawyers will argue the Howard Government has breached its protective duty by failing to call for a fair trial for Hicks."

No obligation to help Hicks: Government:

"A Sydney courtroom packed with supporters of terrorist suspect David Hicks has been told the Australian Government has no legal obligation to help the Guantanamo Bay inmate. The Government might have a moral obligation to assist Australian people abroad, but there was no legal basis for a Federal Court challenge to Hicks's incarceration by United States authorities, the Federal Court was today told."

Taking on Guantánamo:

"Assigned to defend a Guantánamo detainee, jag lawyer Charles Swift joined up with legal scholar Neal Katyal and sued the president and secretary of defense over the new military-tribunal system. With their 2006 Supreme Court victory overridden by the Republican Congress, and Swift's navy career at an end, they are fighting on."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Daily Update: Indefinite Detention Banned in Canada

Posted by Michael Otterman at 1:39 AM |

From today's New York Times:
Canada's highest court on Friday unanimously struck down a law that allows the Canadian government to detain foreign-born terrorism suspects indefinitely using secret evidence and without charges while their deportations are being reviewed.

“The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the ruling.

The decision reflected striking differences from the current legal climate in the United States. In the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Congress stripped the federal courts of authority to hear challenges, through petitions for writs of habeas corpus, to the open-ended confinement of foreign terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

VP Torture: "Insufficient Evidence to Prove/Disprove"

Posted by Michael Otterman at 1:14 AM |

As I speculated here, the Army inquiry into the alleged torture of Former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan has been stymied. According to Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Christopher Grey: 'We did conduct an investigation into the allegations made by Taha Yassin Ramadan... The investigation is closed. There was insufficient evidence to either prove/disprove the allegation.'

In an email to Jurist: Paper Chase, Ramadan's defense lawyer, Giovanni di Stefano, responded:
The US military have conceded, quite correctly, that an investigation was held into allegations of torture by Taha Ramadan. The year was 2003 and we have seen already what the US military did to Iraqi prisoners that year.

There was photographic evidence from Abu Gharib Prison. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no such evidence in the case of Taha Ramadan. What is shocking however, is that the US military, again quite properly, can neither confirm 'or deny' the acts of torture complained of by Taha Ramadan.

This is of some serious concern. Not only must Taha Ramadan now face the inevitable act of being murdered by the State of Iraq after having received life imprisonment but the foundation to the trial were potential acts of torture committed by the US military who are unable to deny that such acts were committed. If ever an accused requires (even if guilty) an act of clemency it is Taha Ramadan. I have referred this matter to Louise Arbour, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, but there is little that she can do. The only body that are lawfully able to intervene are the US military with or without political command. No military are compelled to obey orders from political bodies that may constitute crimes. Handing over Taha Ramadan to the Iraqi Government may well be a criminal act since it is common ground he has not received a fair trial. In her amicus brief Louise Arbour states clearly that Taha Ramadan et al has not received a fair trial. It follows thus that any of the US military who do hand him over for the purpose of execution are capable of indictment for conspiracy. I urge the US military commander in Iraq to wilfully refuse any order from political sources failing which he and any who participate may be indicted. For the sake of justice Taha Ramadan should be spared.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Daily Update: Nasr Alleges Torture - Asks to go before Italian Court

Posted by Raj at 8:13 AM |

Yesterday saw an important development linked to the CIA-Italy rendition trial. The Egyptian cleric - Nasr - spoke to reporters and pleaded for the chance to return to Italy to clear his name. He said that he could not bear any more torture at the hands of the Egyptian authorities. Nasr stated:

"I want to go back to Italy, but I'm banned from leaving Egypt. I want to go back and stand in front of the Italian judiciary and prove my innocence."

A strange turn of events when an alleged terrorist asks for a chance to be tried in an Italian court to clear his name and avoid torture in Egypt, while at the same time the Italian executive protects his alleged CIA kidnappers by rebuffing extradition requests from Milanese prosecutor's.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Is Europe Becoming a No-Go area for CIA Operatives?

Posted by Raj at 7:55 AM |

I do not know the answer to that question but did read this article with interest. The key graft is the following:
"At CIA headquarters, a former CIA operation officer involved in the Italian case, speaking anonymously because the case is classified, said he and his colleagues were increasingly nervous about traveling in Europe for fear of getting swept up in the inquiries. He said he checked with a contact at the Italian intelligence service for reassurance he would not be arrested."
How bad have things become when CIA operatives cannot move comfortably through Europe?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Dissenting View on Torture

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:22 PM |

Today's 2-1 DC circuit appeals court ruling to strip habeas from all pending Guantanamo detainee cases is unfortunate and wrong. As usual, Balkinization's Marty Lederman provides the most cohesive and impassioned critique of the ruling.

Although there's been a lot of chatter in the media about the case-- one important element of the decision has been overlooked. In her dissent, Judith W. Rogers stressed that Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) are not adequate substitutes for habeas because they allow evidence drawn from torture. As such, CSRTs are not "capable of assessing whether a detainee was unlawfully held and entitled to be released." Rogers explains that:
Continued detention may be justified by a CSRT on the basis of evidence resulting from torture. Testimony procured by coercion is notoriously unreliable and unspeakably inhumane. This basic point has long been recognized by the common law, which “has regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for over 500 years.” [citing, among others, Lord Bingham, the former UK Lord Chief Justice. For full citations, see page 23 of the ruling.] The [Detainee Treatment Act] implicitly endorses holding detainees on the basis of such evidence by including an anti-torture provision that applies only to future CSRTs. Even for these future proceedings, however, the Secretary of Defense is required only to develop procedures to assess whether evidence obtained by torture is probative, not to require its exclusion.
Let us hope the US Supreme Court will recognize this fact when they consider the case later this year.

Counter-Terror Coordinator Believes EU More At Risk Due to Human Rights Violations

Posted by Raj at 8:16 AM |

In an FT interview the outgoing Counter-Terror Coordinator for the EU, Gijs de Vries, stated clearly that he believes that torture and other human rights violations committed by the U.S. and supported by its allies have made Europe less safe:
"Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, military commissions and CIA renditions have undermined the credibility of the U.S. and its partners" he said.
Gijs de Vries also noted that: "We have to stop today's terrorists and we must also prevent tomorrow's terrorists being radicalised."
He urged the U.S. to return to the human rights mainstream - at least in part - because of the security ramifications.

Monday, February 19, 2007

VP Torture: The Work of 6-26?

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:10 PM |

Former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan has alleged that he was subjected to an array of tortures during the 22 days he was held by US forces at the Baghdad International Airport. Ramadan-- recently sentenced to death for his role in the 1982 Dujail massacre-- said in a sworn statement that after his arrest on 17 August 2003 he was taken to Baghdad International Airport and was led to a compound near the runway. After taken inside:
I was immediately asked to kneel down and I was asked again immediately `Where is he, Saddam Hussein? Where can we find him?'' as soon as I said I don't know, I was kicked to the floor. When I said I was tired, they began kicking me on my body, my shoulders, I was hit by the aluminum rod and forced to crawl and this went on. And when I asked for water to drink, they put the bottle in my mouth but I found it was hot. When I pleaded with them for cold water, they poured ice water on my body and my head, they said `This is how you will drink the water as you requested,' and that went on for two hours.

Then my elbows and knees started bleeding on the floor from crawling. Then they asked me to stand up, they tied my hands, they put the black bag on my head after they blindfolded me and they led me to a nearby place. I felt it was a wooden room. They asked me not to sit down and to keep walking back and forth inside the room non-stop, saying we will return in a few hours. We want you to think hard of our question and they left. They told the guards not to let me stop. After, I asked the guards to go to the restroom and an hour after my request they led me to the iron box (portable toilet). They led me in, took the bag off my head so I can see and they closed the door, without untying my hands. I said `How can I use the bathroom without untying my hands,' but they didn't answer.

Five minutes later I was led back to the room without having relieved myself. I resumed my walking back and forth and as a result of exhaustion and after 12 hours from my arrest, and some dizziness and numbness, some urine spilled on my body and on the floor. When the guards noticed they came and kicked me on the floor and took me by the neck and dragged me where the urine was and I was almost unconscious for five minutes.
Based on this description, plus the dates of the alleged torture, it is likely that Ramadan was interrogated by Task Force 6-26. This shadowy task force was the subject of two investigations last year, one by Human Rights Watch and the other by the New York Times. The unit was based until 2005 at Camp Nama, a former Baathist torture chamber on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport. The unit was comprised, at least in part, of Pentagon Special Access Program (SAP) members. Pentagon SAPs are top-secret operations shielded from normal budgetary oversight. They've been linked to torture at other locales, including Abu Ghraib. At Nama, few rules, if any, governed their conduct. Posted throughout Camp Nama was a sign that reminded interrogators: ‘NO BLOOD, NO FOUL’.

According to one detainee held by the task force at Nama:
The interpreter told me to take off my clothes … So I took off all my clothes. Then he put the bag back over my head. I was taken to another room that had black walls and an air conditioner. Water was poured on the bag, my neck and shoulders, the air conditioner was turned very cold and I was made to stand in front of it. The only light in the room was a flashlight. There was a stereo in the room. They made me listen to a bad movie in English language, then some American music, then sounds of children crying. A box was put over my head and something wet on my neck. I was told to walk from wall to wall. I could not see and walked into the walls, which would press the box into my chest. This caused me pain which lasted a couple of weeks.

The interrogator asked if I would now tell the truth. I told him I had said everything I know. He asked me if I was tough enough to continue. I told him no. He put me in front of the air conditioner and poured more cold water on me, keeping me wet. Then he put an MRE [Meals Ready to Eat, the military’s pre-packaged food] in each of my hands and made me push them towards the ceiling. I held them up for a while then my arms began to drop. Someone punch me in my spine, below my shoulder blades with a fist. I passed out …
If Ramadan was tortured by Task Force 6-26 at Camp Nama, it is unlikely that an inquiry into his allegations of torture will provide any answers. An Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) inquiry into the ex-Nama detainee’s allegations above was hampered on several fronts. As I discuss in American Torture, one CID unit stated that they were ‘unable to thoroughly investigate … due to the suspects’ and witnesses’ involvement in Special Access Program’s (SAP) and/or the security classification of the unit they were assigned to during the offense under investigation’. Another noted that ‘6-26 had a major computer malfunction which resulted in them losing 70 percent of their files; therefore they can’t find the cases we need to review’. Still another agent found that it was impossible to investigate people known only by pseudonyms-- common practice for all 6-26 interrogators.

Due to a lack of evidence, the former detainee’s allegations were judged to have been ‘unfounded’ and the investigation was closed. According to one frustrated CID official: ‘This investigation meets the necessary requirements and does not need to be reopened. Hell, even if we reopened it we wouldn’t get anymore information than we already have.’

Will European Scandals Mark the Beginning of the End of American Torture Policy?

Posted by Raj at 11:08 AM |

Analysts here in the United States are starting to suggest that the end of the Bush Administration's torture policy may be triggered by the morphing of the European part of this story. With the Italians looking to put 25 CIA agents on trial imminently and Europe still roiling from the European Parliament report on rendition, it may be that political earthquakes in the capitals of our closest allies may force the U.S. Congress and then the Bush Administration to rethink their current stance.

I do believe that before the U.S. torture story runs its course, we will see it bring down at least one government allied to the Bush Administration.....a good bet at the moment is the Blair government

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tortured Sane

Posted by Michael Otterman at 8:54 AM |

Jose Padilla-- the US citizen held for three and a half years without charge as an 'enemy combatant' now facing federal terrorism charges-- is currently undergoing a psychological review. His defense team claims he is unfit to stand trial after he was subjected to blinding light, extreme cold, sleep deprivation, forced-standing, total isolation, and injections of LSD and PCP at the hands of his military captors. "In an effort to gain Mr. Padilla's 'dependency and trust,' he was tortured for nearly the entire three years and eight months of his unlawful detention. The torture took myriad forms, each designed to cause pain, anguish, depression and, ultimately, the loss of will to live," they said.

Federal prosecutors argued that the psychological review currently underway should be focused only on Padilla's current mental state, not on its causes. In fact, according to the Washington Post, "prosecutors argue that by relating his claims of torture to his attorneys, Padilla has shown his psychological competence to assist in his own defense." In other words, if you're well enough to recount the torture-- you're sane enough to stand trial.

(Photo: TSG)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Introducing: Raj Purohit

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:00 PM |

I am thrilled introduce Raj Purohit (left), of Citizens for Global Solutions, to americantorture.com. Raj has an impressive background standing up for human rights and currently administers the important anti-torture campaign site: endtorture.net.

Raj started at Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) as a Senior Fellow in Summer 2005. He runs the International Law & Justice Program at CGS and also heads the Foreign Policy for the 21st Century Initiative. Most recently, Raj was Legislative Director for Human Rights First, where he was responsible for leading the organization's advocacy efforts at the Congressional and Executive levels, with a focus on international relations, judiciary and security issues. Raj helped develop and implement new legislative initiatives and lobbying strategies. He also represented Human Rights First in a range of coalitions, including the Washington Working Group on the International Criminal Court, and was a media spokesperson.

Before joining Human Rights First, Raj served as Legislative Director for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has also served as Director of Legal Services at the Center on Conscience and War. Raj received his Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Sussex University (1995) and his LL.M. in International Legal Studies from American University, Washington College of Law (1997), where he also teaches.

Raj will be adding his own commentary to news relating to the torture issue and will help americantorture.com keep up to date with the day's top stories. Check out his postings below, many more to follow!

Daily Update: EU Parliament Endorses Report on CIA/Rendition

Posted by Raj at 7:49 AM |

The EU Parliament strongly condemned the actions of member states that supported/ colluded with the U.S. to render individuals to third countries to be tortured. "This is a report that doesn't allow anyone to look the other way. We must be vigilant that what has been happening in the past five years may never happen again" said Italian MEP, and report drafter, Giovanni Fava.

The report defines extraordinary renditions as: "an individual suspected of involvement in terrorism is illegally abducted, arrested and/or transferred into the custody of US officials and/or transported to another country for interrogation which, in the majority of cases involves incommunicado detention and torture".

The EU Parliament also encouraged the formation of an Independent Commission to look into the rendition issue.

C-Posted from www.endtorture.net (A Citizens for Global Solutions Resource Center)

Missing the Forest for the Trees?

Posted by Raj at 7:20 AM |

Various news reports have noted that senior military officials have met with producers of the hit series 24 to urge them to stop creating scenes where torture is seen to be effective. The military feels that the hit TV show encourages soldiers to use the techniques depicted to secure intelligence information. These news reports have sparked a bit of debate as to the real significance of TV shows on military behaviour.

Look, I am not a fan of 24 and other shows that depict how effective torture is....however my biggest problem with these shows is that they shape public opinion using inaccurate information.

I think it is a little too easy to have the military and others pile on and seek to draw a line from Hollywood to Abu Gharib. Does 24 etc. impact soldiers? Possibly....although I think we have bigger things to worry about if a TV show can override core military training.

I think that the biggest challenge we have to convince the Administration to stop using/encouraging torture or outsourcing torture - that is where I'd like to see anti-torture campaigners focus their attention.

C-Posted from www.endtorture.net (A Citizens for Global Solutions Resource Center)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Legislative Litmus

Posted by Michael Otterman at 10:05 PM |

Today, presidential hopeful Chris Dodd unveiled the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. Dodd, a US Senator from Connecticut and self described dark horse candidate, authored the new law as "a response", he said, to the patently unconstitutional Military Commissions Act (MCA). In addition to restoring habeas to aliens detained by the United States, the proposed legislation strikes down one of the most vile elements of the MCA-- the right to prosecute unlawful enemy combatants using coerced evidence.

According to the current military commissions manual: "Statements 'in which the degree of coercion is disputed' may be admitted if reliable, probative, and the admission would best serve the interests of justice." Dodd's legislation-- co-sponsored by Leahy, Feingold, and Menendez-- includes the following provision: "EXCLUSION OF STATEMENTS OBTAINED BY COERCION - A statement obtained by use of coercion shall not be admissible in a military commission under this chapter, except against a person accused of coercion as evidence that the statement was made."

The new legislation, available here, is a bold step in the right direction-- I hope it gains wide support. Debate surrounding the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 will no doubt act as a revealing litmus test. It will be interesting to observe who actively supports the legislation, who keeps quiet about it, and who will use it to accuse opponents of being "soft on terror".

Monday, February 12, 2007

From the Shadows

Posted by Michael Otterman at 8:54 PM |

Last Friday's chilling Washington Post op-ed by former interrogator, Eric Fair, is still resonating within me. In the piece, Fair describes the lasting torment from coercive interrogations he was ordered to perform while serving at a Coalition prison in Falluja in early 2004. He writes:
I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division... The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.


I watched as detainees were forced to stand naked all night, shivering in their cold cells and pleading with their captors for help. Others were subjected to long periods of isolation in pitch-black rooms. Food and sleep deprivation were common, along with a variety of physical abuse, including punching and kicking. Aggressive, and in many ways abusive, techniques were used daily in Iraq, all in the name of acquiring the intelligence necessary to bring an end to the insurgency. The violence raging there today is evidence that those tactics never worked. My memories are evidence that those tactics were terribly wrong.
Fair's wrenching piece includes an observation: "We have failed to properly address the abuse of Iraqi detainees. Men like me have refused to tell our stories..." By-and-large this statement is true. Military culture punishes whistleblowers-- it does not reward them. Despite this, there have been several other brave soldiers that have stepped forward in high-profile ways.

For instance, Fair's article reminded me of another cathartic op-ed written by a former interrogator. Anthony Lagouranis served in the Army from 2001-2005. His article, published in the New York Times in February 2006 amid the trials of two Army dog handlers-- later found guilty of mistreating detainees. Lagouranis wrote:
I have never met [dog handlers] Sgt. Santos Cardona or Sgt. Michael Smith, but we share similar experiences. In late 2003 and early 2004, both men used their dogs to intimidate Iraqi prisoners during interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison. They maintain that they were following legal orders. Now they both face impending court-martial.

From January 2004 to January 2005, I served in various places in Iraq (including Abu Ghraib) as an Army interrogator. Following orders that I believed were legal, I used military working dogs during interrogations. I terrified my interrogation subjects, but I never got intelligence (mostly because 90 percent of them were probably innocent, but that's another story). Perhaps, I have thought for a long time, I also deserve to be prosecuted. But if that is the case, culpability goes much farther up the chain of command than the Army and the Bush administration have so far been willing to admit.

Likewise, three soldiers of the 82nd Airborne-- Eric Fair's division-- turned to Human Rights Watch to share what they observed while serving in Iraq. Their raw accounts are markedly different from the polished New York Times and Washington Post op-eds. One soldier, identified only as "Sergeant A", had this to say:
The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay. They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine. It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy goes before he passes out or just collapses on you. From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever. Deprive them of food water, whatever.

To “Fuck a PUC” [Person Under Control] means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then
make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.
"Sergeant B" added that after Persons Under Control were captured:
We would immediately put these guys in stress positions. PUCs would be holding hands behind their backs and be cuff tied and we would lean their forehead against a wall to support them. As far as abuse goes I saw hard hitting. I heard a lot of stories, but if it ain’t me I wouldn’t care. I was busy leading my men. I did hear about [a sergeant] breaking PUC bones... I also saw smoking. They would get the PUCs to physically exert themselves to the limit.
Finally, "Officer C" told Human Rights Watch:
When we were at [Forward Operating Base Mercury, 10 miles east of Falluja] we had prisoners that were stacked in pyramids, not naked but they were stacked in pyramids. We had prisoners that were forced to do extremely stressful exercises for at least two hours at a time which personally I am in good shape and I would not be able to do that type of exercises for two hours.… There was a case where a prisoner had cold water dumped on him and then he was left outside in the night. Again, exposure to elements. There was a case where a soldier took a baseball bat and struck a detainee on the leg hard.


[At FOB Mercury] they said that they had pictures that were similar to what happened at Abu Ghraib, and because they were so similar to what happened at Abu Ghraib, the soldiers destroyed the pictures. They burned them. The exact quote was, “They [the soldiers at Abu Ghraib] were getting in trouble for the same things we were told to do, so we destroyed the pictures.”
This is only the tip of the iceberg. In the years and months ahead, I am confident that more soldiers will come forward with similar accounts. For Eric Fair, and perhaps the others, the ghosts of their past leave them no choice.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Let Them Read Orwell

Posted by Michael Otterman at 9:19 PM |

I just came across the "creative protest" launched by a group called the Ministry of Love. Their goal is to collect, then mail out, 315 copies of Orwell's 1984-- one for each member of Congress who voted for the Military Commissions Act. Check out their short documentary above and send in a book-- perhaps yours will be the lucky edition sent to habeas turn-coat Arlen Specter.

If I may, I'd advise members of Congress to turn directly to page 253 of the 1990 Penguin edition (Ok!-- just skim around for it if you've received a different version). Here Orwell describes the early stages of Winston Smith's detention. At first, Smith is beaten by violent inquisitors. Over time, these ‘ruffians in black’ are replaced by men in spectacles. According to Orwell:

These other questioners saw to it that he was in constant slight pain, but it was not chiefly pain they relied on. They slapped his face, wrung his ears, pulled his hair, made him stand on one leg, refused him leave to urinate, shone glaring lights in his face until his eyes ran with water; but the aim of this was simply to humiliate him and destroy his power of arguing and reasoning.

The Military Commissions Act (MCA)-- in addition to it's habeas stripping provisions-- legalizes these coercive techniques. Prior to October 2006, the War Crimes Act outlawed cruel or inhuman acts including ‘outrages upon personal dignity’ and ‘humiliating and degrading treatment’. Today, for a physical act to be considered cruel or inhuman it must inflict a "bodily injury" and involve either "(a) substantial risk of death; (b) extreme physical pain; (c) a burn or disfigurement of a serious nature (other than cuts, abrasions, or bruises); or (d) significant loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty". Post-MCA tortures that inflict "constant slight pain" are now arguably legal.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Justice at Guantanamo

Posted by Michael Otterman at 10:32 PM |

Imagine the police are called in to investigate an alleged beating, but interview only the suspects and don't speak to the alleged victim. Then imagine detectives close the investigation after all the suspects have made statements insisting they are innocent. This is not an imagined scenario: this is how justice is administered at Guantanamo Bay.
Last October, Sgt. Heather Cerveny, a Pentagon paralegal assisting in the case US v Omar Khadr, had a few drinks at the Windjammers Club at Guantanamo. Cerveny spent about an hour chatting with guards-- what she heard was shocking. According to a sworn statement made by Cerveny:

"[A guard named] Bo told the other guards and me about him beating different detainees held being held in the prison. One such story Bo told involved him taking a detainee by the head and hitting the the detainee's head into the cell door. Bo said his actions were known by others. ... [Another guard named Steven] stated that he used to work in Camp 5 but now works in Camp 6. He works on one of the 'blocks' as a guard. He told me that even when a detainee is being good, they will take their personal items away. He said they do this to anger the detainees so that they can punish them when they object or complain. I asked Steven why he treats the detainees this way. He said it is because he hates the detainees and that they are bad people. ... In addition to the above incidents, about 5 others in the group admitted hitting detainees, to including 'punching in the face.' From the whole conversation, I understood that striking detainees was a common practice."

The US Southern Command deemed the statement "credible" and tasked Army Col. Richard Basset to investigate. The result, according the AP, was that "Basset told Cerveny the guards denied her account of their conversation in a Guantanamo bar — and the investigator accused her of having made a false statement."
Basset's final report was released this week. He recommended no disciplinary action be taken against the guards named by Cerveny. According to Jose Ruiz, Southern Command spokesperson: "He talked to all the parties he felt he needed to get information about the allegations that were made." Basset conducted 20 interviews with "suspects and witnesses"-- but did not speak with any of the alleged victims. The case is now closed.

Moral Compass, Disappeared

Posted by Michael Otterman at 12:33 AM |

On Tuesday, nearly 60 nations signed The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances-- a treaty banning government-sponsored secret detention. Below are the first five Articles of the treaty:

Article 1
1. No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.

Article 2
For the purposes of this Convention, enforced disappearance is considered to be the
arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

Article 3
Each State Party shall take appropriate measures to investigate acts defined in article 2 committed by persons or groups of persons acting without the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State and to bring those responsible to justice.

Article 4
Each State Party shall take the necessary measures to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offence under its criminal law.

Article 5
The widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and shall attract the consequences provided for under such applicable international law.

Human rights treaties are effective moral barometers-- they reveal as much about the states that sign them as they do about the ones that do not. The United States-- along with former rendition partners Great Britain and Italy-- did not sign the treaty. The US, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, expressed "reservations". U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack added that the text "did not meet our expectations."

More here and here. Full treaty draft here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Flomax-- treatment or torture?

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:19 PM |

Yesterday's rally in Canberra for David Hicks went smoothly-- unspoiled by violence or arrests. (I've posted my photos from the event here. My friend's photos are here). The rally was well attended (300+) and featured some solid political protest satire-- a caged, mock John Howard was offered to American embassy officials as a trade for Hicks (US officials declined). In addition to an array of outspoken politicians, ex-detainee Mamdouh Habib took to the podium and spoke about his torture at the hands of US and Egyptian interrogators. In particular, he spoke about "human experimentation" at Guantanamo by researchers given access to the facility. At one point, he took out a bottle of the drug Tamsulosin (Flomax) and recounted how he was forced to take this medicine against his will to treat non-existent prostate cancer. (The prescription sticker on the bottle appeared genuine and was clearly marked "NAVAL HOSPITAL GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA PH: 72190"). Afterwards, Habib told a reporter with the Canberra Times that inmates were injected with HIV-AIDS. Habib has made similar allegations elsewhere, including in my book American Torture. Other ex-detainees, like the Tipton Three from the UK, have also alleged human experimentation at Guantanamo (minus reference to HIV-AIDS). But are these claims true?

At their core, reports of "human experimentation" at Gitmo do have some merit. (Though the claims about AIDS appear unfounded). Given the prevalence of forced-feeding, forced-drugging at the base is likely. Habib may simply suffer from an enlarged prostrate and was prescribed Tamsulosin-- a prostate shrinking medicine with mild side effects. When he refused, he was told it was to treat "cancer" as an incentive. When he still refused, he was then force-fed the medication.

There is though another explanation for the reports about "human experimentation": the existence of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs). These teams are similar to those present in military SERE schools and are comprised of a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist and a mental health specialist. According to the BSCT Standard Operating Procedures (available on-site here), their job is to "consult on interrogation approach techniques" and "describe the implications of medical diagnosis and treatment for the interrogation process". In other words, BSCTs study the physical, psychological and medical weaknesses of detainees, then advise interrogators on how to better exploit them. In particular, it has been reported that some BSCT staff advised interrogators how to capitalize on a detainee's fear of the dark, another upon his longing for his mother. (More here and here). Ultimately, it is the BSCT's job to make detainees feel worse, not better. Then, they provide incentives--pegged to cooperation with interrogators--to alleviate the stress. This tinkering with a detainee's mental and physical health to induce acquiescence is akin to human experimentation.

In the case of Habib, he may have revealed to a BSCT member a fear of dying of a cancer. In turn, the BSCT told him directly-- or via interrogators or medical staff-- that he indeed was doomed, his only saviour being tablets of Tamsulosin. Then, only if he cooperated with interrogators would he receive his "much needed" medicine. Selective use of medicine as an incentive has been reported in Guantanamo and in CIA black sites. In the case of Habib, it is not out of the question.

Whatever the case may be, as I discuss in my book, Habib is psychologically scarred from his time at Guantanamo. After five years-- one may only imagine the damage wrought on David Hicks.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Hicks is Charged (Again)

Posted by Michael Otterman at 10:44 PM |

Tomorrow, I will be in the ACT to cover the 'Canberra Convergence for David Hicks' rally at the Parliament. Last Friday, the Pentagon announced new charges against Hicks. They are "providing material support for terrorism" and "attempted murder in violation of the law of war". At first glance, it seems like a conviction is likely only the first charge-- a retroactive law created in October 2006 under the Military Commissions Act.

The second part of the charge is untenable. I will elaborate my view on a later post, but let me say now there is no firm evidence that Hicks "attempted murder" on the battlefield in Afghanistan where he was captured. As Major Michael Mori, Hick's Pentagon appointed lawyer, told the Sydney Morning Herald: "The old charge of attempted murder has reappeared even after the chief prosecutor has admitted to the ABC that there is no evidence that David shot at anyone in Afghanistan".

The problem for Hicks lies in the first charge: "providing material support for terrorism." A full description of this charge can be found in the new Pentagon military commissions manual:


a. Text.
“Any person subject to this chapter who provides material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, an act of terrorism (as set forth in paragraph (24)), or who intentionally provides material support or resources to an international terrorist organization engaged in hostilities against the United States, knowing that such organization has engaged or engages in terrorism (as so set forth), shall be punished as a military commission under this chapter may direct.”

b. Elements.
The elements of this offense can be met either by meeting (i) all of the elements in A, or (ii) all of the elements in B, or (iii) all of the elements in both A and B: A.
(1) The accused provided material support or resources to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, an act of terrorism (as set forth in paragraph (24));
(2) The accused knew or intended that the material support or resources were to be used
for those purposes; and
(3) The conduct took place in the context of and was associated with an armed conflict.


B. (1) The accused provided material support or resources to an international terrorist
organization engaged in hostilities against the United States;
(2) The accused intended to provide such material support or resources to such an
international terrorist organization;
(3) The accused knew that such organization has engaged or engages in terrorism; and
(4) The conduct took place in the context of and was associated with an armed conflict.

c. Definition. “Material support or resources” means any property, tangible or intangible, or
service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services,
lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification,
communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (one or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or
religious materials.

d. Maximum Punishment. Confinement for life.

Conviction on this charge is more likely. After 15 months of detention at Guantanamo, Hicks signed the following statement: "I believe that al-Qaeda camps provided a great opportunity for Muslims like myself from all over the world to train for military operations and jihad. I knew after six months that I was receiving training from al-Qaeda, who had declared war on numerous countries and peoples." Although this confession was drawn by coercive means at Guantanamo, the new rules for military commissions allows statements made under coercion. Hicks, by his own account, crossed over to Afghanistan after 9/11. According to Hicks (as told to Australian Federal Police at Guantanamo): "I was there for about a week. We were under Taliban, basically. Everyone there, including al-Qaeda people themselves, were under Taliban... Our job was just to watch the tank. I didn't see myself as assisting them, the al-Qaeda. Basically, I was stuck where I was." (Source here)

These statements-- and perhaps others like them that remain classified-- will be at the heart of the US government's case against Hicks. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has come out in favor of the new charges-- even though one is retrospective. Howard said yesterday while "we do not believe the passage of retrospective criminal law in this country is appropriate ... once somebody goes overseas they lose the protection of Australian law".

Thursday, February 01, 2007

When it rains...

Posted by Michael Otterman at 8:03 PM |

Wow-- over the past few days a torrent of torture-related news has flooded the airwaves, internet and newspapers across Australia, America and the globe. Below are some important stories I've been keeping an eye on.

Dear Mrs. Pelosi...
Democrats, Labor and Greens MPs in Canberra have penned a letter to US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi demanding action on the fate of Hicks. "As members of the Australian Parliament, we ask that members of the US Congress take steps to bring about to the return to Australia of Australian citizen David Hicks - a detainee held at Guantanamo Bay for more than five years - for prosecution here," the letter says. More here.

You call it torture, we call it "intellectual stimulation"
Large photographs featuring Saddam Hussein's execution have been posted throughout Guantanamo. Arabic text under the images read: "Because Saddam chose not to co-operate and not tell the truth, because he thought by lying he would get released, for that reason he was executed." Pentagon officials insisted the images did not constitute mental torture but were merely part of "news articles, intended to provide intellectual stimulation..." More here and here.

Habib Runs For Office
Australian Mamdouh Habib has announced his candidacy in next month's NSW election for the seat of Auburn. Habib, who was released from Guantanamo in early 2005, said he will campaign for "the right of freedom of expression and in opposition to the anti-terrorist laws, state and federal. The right to fight racism, the end of scapegoating of Aborigines, Muslims and migrants." More here.

Warrants issued in German rendition case
German prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA officers involved in the rendition/torture of Khaled el-Masri. This follows only one month after Italian prosecutors issued warrants for 22 CIA agents involved in rendition of Muslim cleric Osama Mustafa Hassan. It appears the CIA's rendition program is coming apart at the seams. More here and here.

Vindication, in Canada at least.
Maher Arar was awarded CN$10.5 million by the Canadian government for its role in his CIA rendition to Syria. The US still includes his name on a terrorist 'no fly list.' US-Canadian diplomatic relations are apparently now at an all time low. More here and here.

Our Man in Baghdad
Oddly enough, the CIA's new Baghdad CIA station chief is the former director of the CIA's rendition program. In addition to the renditions above, this agent personally directed the transfer of Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi to Egypt. Al Libi is a suspected al Qaeda official who provided under torture bunk information linking Osama to Saddam. Many of his bogus "confessions" were used by Bush and Powell to drum up support for the Iraqi invasion. More here and here.

Military Commissions Act, in action
The Military Commissions Act (MCA)-- the 2006 monstrosity that redefined torture to exclude waterboarding, sensory deprivation and sexual humiliation-- is beginning to effect pending habeas petitions in federal court. The MCA also strips habeas corpus, the 17th century right to challenge one's grounds for detention, from non-US nationals. Last Wednesday, sixteen lawsuits by Guantanamo inmates were suspended. More here. Some background here.