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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pentagon-commissioned Guantánamo study is a joke

Posted by Andy Worthington at 4:35 AM |

As published on the website of Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files.

In a belated attempt to win the PR battle over Guantánamo, a terrorism study center at West Point has produced a Pentagon-commissioned report, which attempts to refute the findings of a report published by the Seton Hall Law School in February 2006. Using the government’s own documents – 517 Unclassified Summaries of Evidence from the Combatant Status Review Tribunals – the team at Seton Hall, led by lawyers Mark and Josh Denbeaux, analyzed the Summaries and concluded that, according to the government’s own assertions, 86 percent of the detainees were not captured on the battlefield by US forces, but were captured by the Northern Alliance or Pakistani forces, 55 percent were not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the US or its allies, and only 8 percent were alleged to have had any kind of affiliation with al-Qaeda. Even these assertions are doubtful. As I demonstrate in The Guantánamo Files (and as is apparent from numerous other sources, including, most recently, the “Guantánamo whistleblower” Stephen Abraham), claims made by the government in the Summaries of Evidence were not necessarily accurate, and the percentage of detainees who actually had any involvement with al-Qaeda or committed any kind of hostile act against the US or its allies is even less than claimed.

Nevertheless, the fine patriots at West Point, while admitting that their report is a propaganda exercise, designed “to affect public attitudes,” and with conclusions that should “enhance our collective understanding of the threats facing the United States, its allies and its interests and how we respond to them,” have looked at the same documents and have produced what the New York Times has unquestioningly described as “a chilling portrait of the Guantánamo detainees,” claiming that 73 percent of them were a “demonstrated threat” to American or coalition forces, and that 95 percent were at least a “potential threat,” and included detainees who had “played a supporting role in terrorist groups or had expressed a commitment to pursuing jihadist violence.”

What nonsense. If this is the case, why have so many of these “threats” been released or cleared for release? In the three years since the 517 Summaries were compiled, 207 of the detainees studied have been released from Guantánamo. Almost all have been freed on their return to their home countries, and almost all have returned to civilian life. In addition, many – as well as reporting credible stories of torture and abuse at the hands of the US authorities in Afghanistan and Guantánamo - have reiterated the stories that they maintained throughout their detention: that they were either innocent men, mostly sold to the US by bounty hunters and unscrupulous allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or Taliban foot soldiers, who had traveled to Afghanistan to fight other Muslims – those of the Northern Alliance – before 9/11, as part of a long-running civil war.

Of the 310 detainees who have not been released, the administration itself admits that it intends to try 80 of these men before Military Commissions, that it intends to hold another 50 because they are too dangerous to be released but not dangerous enough to be tried (which law book did they find that in then?) and that the rest are “eligible for release” because they are “not or no longer a threat.”

Let’s have a look at that again, shall we? On the one hand, the administration commissions its boys to come up with a report stating that 73 percent of the detainees were a “demonstrated threat,” and 95 percent were a “potential threat,” and on the other hand the administration itself has released, or cleared for release, 75 percent of the detainees because they were “not or no longer a threat” (and that’s not counting the 201 detainees who were released before the tribunal process began). How are we supposed to take these clowns seriously?

Monday, July 30, 2007

MI5 Relationship with CIA in Question RE: Torture Flights

Posted by Raj at 6:30 AM |

The Guardian ran an interesting article on Sunday that once again highlighted and called into question the relationship between MI5 and the CIA over torture flights. In this case they interviewed Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi living in the UK who claims he was tortured at Gitmo and at Bagram airforce base. While many of the facts he lays out seem to fit into the broad construct of the rendition program, there are a couple of pieces that are more unusual and that, if true, really could hurt MI5.

First Bisher claims to have been an informer for MI5 and alleges that they betrayed him by telling the CIA he had a timing device for a bomb with him when he was flying to The Gambia. As readers of this blog may have come to anticipate, there was no timer at all. In fact he had a battery charger with him and several years and much pain and suffering later he is free.

Like many freed survivors of the CIA program, he claims to be speaking out to help an innocent friend who is still at Gitmo.....when will it all end?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Gonzales on Torture Order II

Posted by Michael Otterman at 1:30 AM |

This is another gem from Tuesday's Judiciary Committee Hearing. In the below exchange, Alberto Gonzales concedes to Senator Dick Durban that stress positions, threatening detainees with dogs, forced nudity, waterboarding and mock execution-- methods that four senior military JAG lawyers recently opined are violations of Geneva Common Article Three-- are "activities that the CIA may be involved with in the future". It's simply astounding. The full exchange is well worth reading:
DURBIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.

There are many controversial issues that have been raised in this hearing: warrantless wiretapping, the political dismissal of U.S. attorneys and the like. I think that this administration and your tenure as attorney general will be haunted in history by another issue, and that's the issue of torture.

DURBIN: It is the reason I couldn't vote for your confirmation, the role that you played as counsel to the president in saying that we as a nation did not have to follow the torture statute and the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

Now, last Friday, President Bush signed an executive order interpreting Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions for the purposes of CIA secret detention and interrogation techniques.

The executive order rejected your earlier position and acknowledges that the CIA must follow applicable law, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the torture statute and the McCain torture amendment, which I was happy to cosponsor.

Do you now agree that Common Article 3 applies to all detainees held by the United States?

GONZALES: What I can say is is that certainly Common Article 3 applies to all detainees held by the United States in our conflict with Al Qaida.

DURBIN: In -- I'm sorry, what's...

GONZALES: In our conflict with Al Qaida, yes.

DURBIN: Well, I'm worried about the qualification at the end. Are you suggesting that other terrorist conflicts are not covered by Common Article 3 in terms of the treatment of detainees?

GONZALES: Sir, you know, we have to look at the words of Common Article 3.

The Supreme Court rendered a decision about the application of Common Article 3 with respect to our conflict with Al Qaida only. And so -- I believe, if I recall correctly.

If that were the case, if there were a different kind of conflict that on its face isn't covered by Common Article 3, then obviously we would not be legally bound by Common Article 3, although I think the president has said we're going to treat people humanely, nonetheless.

DURBIN: So let me get into a specific here.

Last year, the highest-ranking attorneys in each of the four military services -- Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- the judge advocates general, testified before this committee. And I sent them follow-up questions asking their opinion about specific abusive interrogation techniques that this administration has reportedly authorized.

I received their responses this morning.

And, Mr. Chairman, I ask consent that those responses be made a part of the record.

LEAHY: They will be made part of the record.

DURBIN: Mr. Attorney General, the opinion of the judge advocates general was unanimous. They all agreed that the following interrogation techniques violate Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions -- and there are five -- painful stress positions, threatening detainees with dogs, forced nudity, waterboarding and mock execution.

Do you agree?

GONZALES: Senator, I'm not going to get in a public discussion here about possible techniques that may be used by the CIA to protect our country.

What I can say is the executive order lays out a very careful framework to ensure that those agents working for the CIA trying to get information about the next attack do so in a way that is consistent with our legal obligations.

And so, again, without commenting on specific techniques, we understand what the rules of the road are.

DURBIN: Mr. Attorney General, do you know what you are saying to the world about the United States when you refuse to acknowledge that these techniques are beyond the law, beyond the tradition of America?

DURBIN: These judge advocates general have a responsibility as well. They have been explicit and unanimous. The problem with your statement, Mr. Attorney General, is that you are leaving room for the possibility that you disagree with them.

GONZALES: And, of course, those in the military are subject to the Army Field Manual. It's a standard of conduct that is way above Common Article 3. And so they come at it from a different perspective, quite frankly, Senator.

And, again, I wish I could talk in more detail about specific actions, but I cannot do that in an open setting.

DURBIN: But let me just ask you to consider this for a moment.

Aside from the impact of what you've just said on America's reputation in the world, aside from the fact that we have ample record that you have disagreed with the use of Geneva Convention standards and have pushed the torture issue beyond where the courts and the congress would take it, would it be legal for a foreign government to subject a United States citizen to these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques which I just read?

GONZALES: Would it be legal for the United States government to subject...

DURBIN: No, for a foreign government...

GONZALES: For a foreign government.

DURBIN: ... to subject a United States citizen to the five -- any of the five interrogation techniques which I read to you?

GONZALES: Well, again, Senator, we would take the position if you're talking about an American soldier who fights pursuant to the rules of the Geneva Convention...

DURBIN: No, no, no. That's a different story. That's a uniformed person. I'm talking about a U.S. citizen.

GONZALES: Would it be legal under their laws? Would it be legal under international standards? What do you mean by, "Would it be legal?"

We obviously would demand humane treatment and treatment for our U.S. citizens consistent with international legal obligations.

DURBIN: And would you put...

GONZALES: And that's what this president expects of those of us who work in this government.

DURBIN: And do you believe these techniques which I have read to you would be beyond the laws and the international standards if they were used against an American citizen?

GONZALES: Senator, you're asking me to answer a question which, I think, may provide insight into activities that the CIA may be involved with in the future.

DURBIN: No, I'm asking you a hypothetical question. Any time we get close to a specific issue, an investigation, you recuse yourself.

GONZALES: Every time you...

DURBIN: Now, I'm asking you for a general observation.

Mr. Attorney General, the point I'm making to you is if you cannot be explicit about the standards of conduct and the values of this country when it comes to the use of torture, you create an ambiguity which, unfortunately, reflects badly on America around the world, and invites those who would take American citizens as captives and detainees to also suggest, "Well, there's an ambiguity. We can go a little forth than perhaps international law allows."

GONZALES: Well, what's prohibited would be grave breaches which are set forth...

DURBIN: What about these five specifics?

GONZALES: ... in the Military Commissions Act.

There's also violations of the DTA, which would be violation of the cruel, inhumane, degrading standard, which is tied to our constitutional standards of shocking the conscience.

And then there are prohibited actions which would be covered by the president's executive order. And, again, it would depend on circumstances, quite frankly.

DURBIN: Well, that's the kind of ambiguity which allows many people to conclude that you personally and this administration, whether by signing statements or Bybee memos, are really trying to leave a little opening in a door for the United States to engage in conduct which we condemn around the world.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reaction to Executive Order

Posted by Raj at 8:31 AM |

Today's Washington Post carries an important OP-ED by Gen. P. X. Kelley (commandant of the Marine Corp from 1983-1987) and Robert F. Turner (co-founder of the UVA Center for National Security Law) in which they react to the White House executive order from last Friday in which the President seeks to interpret Common Article 3. It is fair to say they are not convinced - here is the key section:
"In other words, as long as the intent of the abuse is to gather intelligence or to prevent future attacks, and the abuse is not "done for the purpose of humiliating or degrading the individual" -- even if that is an inevitable consequence -- the president has given the CIA carte blanche to engage in "willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse.""
I am glad that these two individuals weighed in and that the Post gave them the space to make their case - it is vitally important to note the rising tide of outrage directed at the Administrations continued bad faith approach to dealing with the issue of torture. We are a long way from ensuring that the United States respects international law in this area.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gonzales on Torture Order

Posted by Michael Otterman at 7:29 PM |

Veracifier has just posted a revealing exchange between Senator Ted Kennedy and Alberto Gonzales. Excluded from the limited list of banned techniques listed in the recent Executive Order, tortures like waterboarding, stress positions, and sensory deprivation are still clearly on the table:

The verdict is in: Executive Order reaffirms US torture

Posted by Michael Otterman at 2:53 AM |

On Saturday, I wrote that the recent Executive Order on CIA interrogation allows the agency to continue to use, among others, techniques like waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation. Over the past several days, many journalists, pundits, and academics have analyzed the contents of the Executive Order as well. The verdict: "enhanced interrogation methods" indistinguishable from torture can continue to be employed by the CIA in secret prisons.

Marty Lederman of Balkinization opined:
The President has finally signed the Executive Order purportedly construing Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, as required by the Military Commissions Act (MCA). It is, in a word, worthless.

[...]

The only truly important section of the E.O. is section 3(b)(i)(C), which defines the category of violence that will be deemed to violate Common Article 3 for purposes of determining whether a CIA interrogation program comports with CA3. In addition to torture as defined by the federal criminal statute, and the forms of violence that remain prohibited under the new WCA, that subsection of the E.O. prohibits only "other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment, as defined in [the War Crimes Act]."

In other words, if a form of violence is not already prohibited by federal criminal law, and is not "comparable" to the forms of violence prohibited by the WCA, the CIA is not prohibited from using it.

Does this prohibit the CIA "enhanced" techniques? Who knows?

Dan Froomkin, of the Washington Post, provided on Monday an astute roundup of Executive Order commentary from the nation's top papers:
Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush set broad legal boundaries for the CIA's harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects yesterday, allowing the intelligence agency to resume a program that was suspended last year after criticism that it violated U.S. and international law. . . .

"Two administration officials said that suspects now in U.S. custody could be moved immediately into the 'enhanced interrogation' program and subjected to techniques that go beyond those allowed by the U.S. military.

"Rights activists criticized Bush's order for failing to spell out which techniques are now approved or prohibited. . . .

"'All the order really does is to have the president say, "Everything in that other document that I'm not showing you is legal -- trust me," ' said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch."

William Douglas and Jonathan S. Landay write for McClatchy Newspapers: "Some experts in human-rights law said Bush's order contains 'loopholes' that would allow the CIA to continue using aggressive interrogation techniques that others would consider torture.

The order "'prohibits willful and outrageous acts of abuse, but only does so where the purpose is to humiliate and degrade an individual. But if an interrogator says these techniques, whether it's water-boarding or stress techniques, are done to elicit information, but not humiliate a detainee, they could argue that that would not run afoul of the executive order,' said Jonathan Hafetz, a lawyer with New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, which has represented detainees held by the United States.

"'The same thing goes for acts to denigrate someone's religion. If you took away someone's Quran not to denigrate, but as an interrogation technique to gain information -- which they've done in the past -- they could argue it was allowed under the order,' he said. . . .

"'Let's not forget that the administration's theory of executive authority is very broad. They reserve the right to interpret laws in ways no one agrees with in emergency situations,' said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit activist group."

And Sifton said that the CIA program under Bush's order remains in violation of international law. "'Put torture to the side for a second. The CIA detention program, even if no mistreatment is occurring, is still illegal under international law because it allows incommunicado, indefinite detention. That is enforced disappearance. That exists entirely outside the rule of law,' he said."

Charlie Savage writes in the Boston Globe that "most of the president's executive order is written in generalities, leaving unanswered whether the CIA will be free to subject prisoners to a range of specific techniques it has reportedly used in the past, including long-term sleep disruption, prolonged shackling in painful stress positions, or 'waterboarding,' a technique that produces the sensation of drowning.

"The administration is separately crafting a list of permitted and forbidden tactics that it said will comply with Bush's executive order, but the list is classified. In a background conference call with reporters yesterday, a senior administration official declined to say whether the new guidelines will permit tactics such as waterboarding.

"'I am not in a position to talk about any specific interrogation practices,' the official said. 'It is impossible for us, consistent with the objectives of such a program, to publicize to the enemy what practices may be on the table and what practices may be off the table. That will only enable Al Qaeda to train against those that are on or off.'"

Mark Mazzetti writes in the New York Times that the order "does not authorize the full set of harsh interrogation methods used by the C.I.A. since the program began in 2002. But government officials said the rules would still allow some techniques more severe than those used in interrogations by military personnel in places like the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

"Several officials said the permitted techniques did not include some of the most controversial past techniques, among them 'waterboarding,' which induces a feeling of drowning, and exposure to extremes of heat and cold. . . .

"Earlier this year, State Department officials rejected a draft of the executive order because they believed that the language was too permissive and could open the Bush administration to challenges from American allies that the White House was legalizing methods that approach torture. Some Bush administration officials, including members of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff, pushed for a more expansive interpretation of Geneva Convention language and for interrogation methods that the C.I.A. had not even requested."

Greg Miller writes in the Los Angeles Times: "The order places no restriction on employing coercive methods -- such as sleep deprivation and the use of so-called stress positions -- that are expressly off-limits for the military and domestic law enforcement agencies. . . .

"Critics called Bush's order frustratingly vague and said its most specific language addressed abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib and other military facilities that were never part of the CIA's interrogation program. . . .

"'It certainly was a positive thing to see express prohibitions on things like sexual humiliation,' said Jumana Musa, advocacy director for Amnesty International in Washington. 'But the places where [the document] is silent speak volumes.'"
Phillip Carter, of Slate, had this to say:
The order does nothing to repudiate earlier interpretations of the Bush administration, which narrowed "torture's" scope to allow coercive interrogation techniques including sleep deprivation, water boarding, and extraordinary rendition, among others. Instead of proscribing torture, it adds yet another layer to the legal regime supporting those earlier policies. And it further opens up new loopholes for creative lawyers in the CIA and Pentagon. The end result is a policy that misses a historic opportunity to correct the excesses of the last six years.
Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, was on Meet the Press on Sunday and answered questions about the Executive Order. He parroted the administration's claim that the "enhanced methods" authorized did not constitute torture-- though conceded they would not be appropriate for use on US citizens:
MR. RUSSERT: How do you fine—define torture?

Admiral McCONNELL: Well, torture is—an attempt to define torture in the, in the executive order, it gives examples: mutilation or murder or rape or physical pain, those kinds of things. Let me just leave it by saying the, the techniques work, it’s not torture. They’re not subjected to heat or cold, but it is effective. And it’s a psychological approach to causing someone to have uncertainty and in a situation where they will feel compelled to talk to you about what you’re asking about.

MR. RUSSERT: And we would find it acceptable if a U.S. citizen experienced the same kind of enhanced interrogation measures?

Admiral McCONNELL: Tim, it’s not torture. I would not want a U.S. citizen to go through the process, but it is not tortures, and there would be no permanent damage to that citizen.
So the question is: are these methods indeed torture? In American Torture, I show that "enhanced techniques" are precisely the same methods used by Soviet Union and Communist China during the Cold War. These methods have been considered torture for decades. A forthcoming report by Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First seconds this view:
Enhanced interrogation “techniques” are likely to cause “severe” or “serious” physical and mental harm to detainees. The report closely examines the MCA and other US law, informed by medical and psychological knowledge, showing that the authorization of these enhanced interrogation techniques, whether practiced alone or in combination, may constitute torture and/or cruel and inhuman treatment and consequently place interrogators at serious legal risk of prosecution for war crimes and other violations.
The Physicians for Human Rights-Human Rights First report cites a recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry titled: "Torture vs Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment: Is the Distinction Real or Apparent?" The authors-- Metin Basoglu, MD, PhD; Maria Livanou, PhD; and Cvetana Crnobaric, MD-- found that "enhanced methods" and torture were one and the same:
Context: After the reports of human rights abuses by the US military in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan, questions have been raised as to whether certain detention and interrogation procedures amount to torture.

Design and Setting: A cross-sectional survey was conducted with a population-based sample of survivors of torture from Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Banja Luka in Republica Srpska, Rijeka in Croatia, and Belgradein Serbia.

Conclusions: Ill treatment during captivity, such as psychological manipulations, humiliating treatment, and forced stress positions, does not seem to be substantially different from physical torture in terms of the severity of mental suffering they cause, the underlying mechanism of traumatic stress, and their long-term psychological outcome. Thus, these procedures do amount to torture, thereby lending support to their prohibition by international law.
Debate over, right?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hicks trial labelled as "Shambolic"

Posted by Tom Moran at 4:19 PM |

An independent report by the Law Council of Australia has labeled the trial and detention of David Hicks on terrorism charges as "farcical." The report goes further and unleashes a scathing criticism of the Bush administration's military commissions system and further slams the Australian government for supporting this policy.


An attorney, Barrister Lex Lasry, QC, attending the trial of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay in March further reports that during the trial the accused was referred to in open dialogue as "the enemy." Clearly, this raises serious concerns about a system that claims to respect and champion the rule of law, while designating a defendant in this manner before a guilty verdict has been passed.


The following extract gives an indication about how military commissions work:


"Mr Lasry said he also witnessed a lack of transparency during the Guantanamo proceedings, whereby legal questions were often dealt with by way of "private conferences between the Judge and the parties".


"His [Mr Lasry's] report also places the blame for the delay in charging and trying Hicks at the feet of the US Government. While the military commission's chief prosecutor Moe Davis blamed delays on defence lawyers' legal challenges, Mr Lasry blamed the Bush Administration's "desire to maintain complete control over the fate of the detainees at Guantanamo".

Monday, July 23, 2007

Loopholes in Torture Ban

Posted by Tom Moran at 11:55 AM |

Check out this op-ed article by David Cole about the executive order signed by President Bush purporting to ensure that interrogation practices meet international legal norms as set out under the Geneva Conventions. The article is telling, highlighting the ambiguities in the language and arguing that this order will make little difference to the treatment of detainees. The following paragraph is worth quoting in full:


"The executive order's most revealing words come at the end. Its final section states that the order creates no rights enforceable by any victim against the United States or its employees, while expressly offering CIA employees a defense against any attempt to hold them liable for abuse. The ultimate purpose of the law, in other words, is to protect the potential perpetrators, not the potential victims."


It will be interesting to see what impacts, if any, this executive order will have on future interrogations and the treatment of so called enemy combatants. Unfortunately though, as Cole points out, the ban may well prove to be unenforceable.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man

Posted by Andy Worthington at 6:42 PM |

As published on the website of Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files.

In March, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the most high-profile al-Qaeda terror suspect in US custody, “confessed” during his tribunal in Guantánamo that he was the architect of 9/11 and had also played a part in 30 other plots (both real and conceptual), there were mixed responses. No one tried to deny Mohammed’s main claim to infamy – the 9/11 attacks – but those who had paid attention to his story knew that there were doubts about the veracity of all his claims, because he was a notorious show-off, and valid complaints were made that, by sidestepping the normal legal channels, the authorities had allowed him to portray himself as a “freedom fighter” – comparing himself to George Washington, who, he said, would have been considered an “enemy combatant” if he had been captured by the British – rather than revealing him for what he actually was: a vile, mass-murdering criminal. Other commentators, who bothered to scrutinize the 26-page transcript of his tribunal, were even more alarmed. In parts of the transcript (some of which was redacted), Mohammed mentioned that he was tortured by the CIA, and added that, as a result, he had made false allegations against other people in US custody:
Tribunal President: What I’m trying to get at is… any statement that you
made was it because of this treatment, to use your word, you claim torture. [Did] you make any statements because of that?
[The discussion then wandered, before returning to the issue].
Tribunal President: People made false statement[s] as a result of this?
Detainee: I did also.
Tribunal President: Uh-huh.
Detainee: I told him, I know him, yes… This I don’t know him, I never met
him at all.
With the administration refusing to declassify the redacted passages from Mohammed’s testimony, it’s impossible to come up with a comprehensive list of those accused by him, and to investigate whether or not there is any truth in allegations made by a man who was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including the reviled torture method known as waterboarding, during the three and a half years that he was held in secret prisons by the CIA before his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006.

Recently, however, I was reminded of these doubts when the human rights group Cageprisoners issued a press release after statements by one of the Guantánamo prisoners ensnared in KSM’s web – the 59-year old Pakistani Saifullah Paracha – were declassified by the US military. The press release made for bleak reading, revealing that the health of Paracha, who has suffered three heart attacks in US custody – two in Bagram, and one in Guantánamo – “has seriously deteriorated and could lead to his premature death if his pre-existing heart, prostatic and diabetic disease are not treated urgently.”

Paracha’s lawyer, Gaillard T Hunt, suggested that “his medical treatment is at best incompetent and at worst negligent,” and painted a distressing picture of his client’s prospects, pointing out that several of his brothers and sisters have died of cardiac problems before reaching the age of 65, and that Paracha himself “has been having fainting spells, so we know the problem is worsening.” Hunt went on to explain, “He couldn't submit to a cardiac catheterization at Guantánamo because the rules require all prisoners in the hospital to be shackled to the four corners of the bed. The cardiologist said this was dangerous for a heart patient, but the prison administration would not compromise. The statements filed in court to assure us that Paracha is getting proper treatment are not signed by the doctors. We have to assume the doctors are as disturbed by the situation as we are. The doctors told Paracha that they were acting as military men first, as doctors second.”

This will come as no surprise to those who regard with skepticism the administration’s claims that the Guantánamo prisoners receive medical attention that is “as good as or better than anything we would offer our own soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines,” as Brigadier General Jay Hood, the commander of the Joint Task Force in Guantánamo, declared in 2005. As ex-detainee Moazzam Begg explained (and my own research has confirmed), “Often, as was the case during my time in US custody, prisoners' level of medical treatment would be dependant upon their level of cooperation with interrogators. Simply put, failure to comply could mean failure to receive treatment.” What’s even more disturbing, however, is a comment by Hunt that could easily be overlooked. “Paracha is not the worst case,” he said. “There are people at GTMO literally dying from lack of treatment.”

Given that the recent suicide of a Saudi detainee, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, received relatively little press coverage – and nothing like the international outrage that greeted the deaths of three prisoners in June 2006 – it may well be that the administration believes that it can weather a few more deaths without having to face a tsunami of criticism, but while this may be possible in terms of PR, morally it would be a disaster. Four men have already died in Guantánamo – their names besmirched in reports issued by the Pentagon after their deaths, even though they had never been tried or convicted of any crime – and the same process of demonization would undoubtedly occur were Saifullah Paracha also to die in Guantánamo.

The authorities would declare that he was an al-Qaeda member, who was captured by American operatives as he flew to Bangkok for a business trip on 5 July 2003, and they would assert – as they already have in his tribunal in Guantánamo – that he met Osama bin Laden, made investments for al-Qaeda members, translated statements for Osama bin Laden, joined in a plot to smuggle explosives into the US and recommended that nuclear weapons be used against US soldiers. They would also mention that the eldest of his four children, Uzair, was convicted by a US court in November 2005 on five charges, including providing material support to al-Qaeda (related to the supposed plot to smuggle explosives into the US, in which his father was also accused), and was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment in July 2006, although they would fail to mention that one of his lawyers, Edward Wilford, told the court that the government's claims stemmed from a false confession Paracha gave after he was “subjected to 72 hours of interrogation without being told that he could consult a lawyer or speak with his parents.”

What they would also fail to mention is that Saifullah Paracha is a philanthropist, who helped refurbish a 300-bed hospital and established secular schools rather than madrassas in Karachi – explaining to his tribunal that “We are emphasizing secular education, because you need a formal education to get a livelihood” – and a staunchly pro-American businessman, who studied at the New York Institute of Technology, lived in the United States in the 1980s and was running a successful clothes exporting business – with clients including K-Mart and Wal-Mart – at the time of his capture, in partnership with a New York-based Jewish entrepreneur. They would not point out that anyone with half a brain would realize that a genuine al-Qaeda member would never, under any circumstances, enter into a business deal with a Jewish entrepreneur.

They would also fail to mention that Paracha accepted that he did indeed met Osama bin Laden – on two occasions, at meetings of businessmen and religious leaders in Pakistan in 1999 and 2000, which had nothing to do with terrorism – and that after one of these meetings, when he made the mistake of thinking that it would be a good idea to ask bin Laden to contribute to a TV program about Islam, he was approached by KSM, and through him met Ammar al-Baluchi and Majid Khan, all of whom introduced themselves as businessmen. Also overlooked would be Paracha’s persistent denials of all the other allegations against him, and the fact that he unequivocally told his tribunal, “I believe in the Koran, that killing one innocent person is equivalent to killing all humanity. I believe in that, and practice that.”

The authorities would possibly acknowledge a chain of arrests that led from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (captured in Rawalpindi on 1 March 2003) to Saifullah Paracha, via Majid Khan, captured in Karachi on 5 March 2003, Iyman Faris, an American of Kashmiri origin, who was detained in Ohio on 15 March 2003, and Uzair Paracha, seized by the FBI in New York on 28 March 2003. No doubts, however, would be raised about the integrity of KSM’s initial tip-off, or the effects of coercion on all those ensnared in the web.

And yet there are, I believe, very real doubts that any of these men – apart from KSM – had any involvement with al-Qaeda or terrorism. In the case of Uzair Paracha, for example, the authorities secured a conviction on the basis that, as the Department of Justice described it, he “agreed with his father, Saifullah Paracha, and two al-Qaeda members, Majid Khan and Ammar al-Baluchi, to provide support to al-Qaeda by, among other things, trying to help Khan obtain a travel document that would have allowed Khan to re-enter the United States to commit a terrorist act.” Paracha did not dispute that, on the advice of his father, he had foolishly attempted to secure an immigration document for Khan, as a favor for a fellow Pakistani, and that as a result he “posed as Khan during telephone calls with the Immigration and Naturalization Service,” and also called Khan’s bank, attempted to gather information about his immigration paperwork via the internet, and agreed to use Khan’s credit card to make it appear that he was in the United States, when he was actually in Pakistan.

Crucially, however, he denied stating, as the DoJ attempted to assert, that he “knew from his father” that Khan and al-Baluchi “were al-Qaeda,” that the two men “wanted to give Paracha and his father between 180,000 and 200,000 United States dollars to invest in their company as a loan,” that he “knew the money was al-Qaeda money and that al-Qaeda wanted to keep the money liquid so they could have it back at a moments notice,” and that he “felt it was implied that he had to perform tasks” for Khan and al-Baluchi “on behalf of al-Qaeda because of the money being loaned to their business.” Although he was not allowed to call Majid Khan or Ammar al-Baluchi as witnesses (both men were, at the time, in secret CIA custody), they were allowed to present statements to the court, in which they both asserted that Paracha had no knowledge of any purported al-Qaeda connections, and before the trial another of his lawyers, Anthony Ricco, was so confident that he said that his client was manipulated into helping Khan and was looking forward to a trial to prove that he had no criminal intent. He described Paracha as “a very bright, but, I say, a very naive young man,” and added that he did not expect to have to contest the allegation that Paracha knew that Khan was in al-Qaeda.

Once Uzair Paracha was convicted – prompting Ricco to note that he had rejected a plea deal that would have led to a lesser sentence because he believed he was innocent, and to complain that it was difficult to clear defendants in terror trials because the US government “was at war with al-Qaeda” – his story was supposed to be forgotten, but the tangled web spun by KSM reappeared in March and April 2007 during the tribunals that were held to determine whether the 14 “high value” prisoners transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006 – including KSM, Majid Khan and Ammar al-Baluchi – had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants” and could be put forward for trial by Military Commission. After KSM’s electrifying testimony, the media largely lost interest in the transcripts that were subsequently released – waking up only when another of the prisoners, Waleed bin Attash, claimed responsibility for the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 – but the story resurfaced in Majid Khan’s tribunal, and, almost incidentally, in the tribunal of Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of KSM who was accused of working with Khan on the explosives plot, but who explained that he was “just a person… introduced through KSM.”

A legal US resident, whose parents live in Maryland, Khan had recently got married and his wife was pregnant at the time of his capture. He was seized in Karachi, just four days after the capture of KSM, at the house of his brother Mohammed, who was also captured, and later released, along with his wife and his baby daughter. In his tribunal, nine allegations were presented, all but one of which – a rather incomprehensible claim that a computer hard drive “seized from a residence where munitions were discovered contained linkages to media seized from the detainee’s residence” – came from the allegations relating to Uzair Paracha (as described above), and statements that were allegedly made by Iyman Faris, and Khan’s own father and brother.

Kashmir-born Faris, who became a US citizen in 1999, and had been living in Columbus, Ohio, where he was working as a trucker, was convicted of providing material support to al-Qaeda for his role in an alleged plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in October 2003. On the surface, his conviction seemed straightforward. With a failed five-year marriage behind him, and an attempt to commit suicide that involved him being counseled by an imam and given psychiatric evaluation, he appeared to be perfect fodder for terrorist recruitment. Arrested on 19 March 2003, by two FBI agents and an anti-terror officer, who reportedly confronted him with testimony from KSM and the results of an intercepted telephone call, it was alleged that he visited Pakistan and Afghanistan from 2000 to 2001, meeting Osama bin Laden at some point, and that, on his return to the US, he learned of a plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, which involved cutting through its cables with blowtorches, and a second plot that involved derailing a train in Washington DC. According to the US government, Faris’ role in the plots went no further than asking a friend where he could purchase welding equipment, and researching the structure of the bridge on the internet. He apparently concluded that the operation was unfeasible, and sent a message to Pakistan to abandon the plots, stating, “The weather is too hot.”

Although Faris pleaded guilty to the charges, on 1 May 2003, it was not revealed until after the trial that, after his arrest, he had actually been recruited by the FBI as a double agent, and had been moved to a safe house in Virginia where he was instructed to stay in touch with his contacts in Pakistan. Another twist came on 25 September, just before Faris was due to be sentenced, when he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that, although he had met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan, he had refused to be recruited as a member of al-Qaeda, and had concluded that Mohammed had fed false information to the US authorities as revenge. The appeal was disallowed, but both of these issues raise uncomfortable questions about the nature of his conviction, and, specifically, about his part in the terror web spun by KSM.

Further doubts about Faris’ case – and that of Majid Khan – came in April 2007, when Faris was called upon by Khan to explain the allegations relating to him in the Summary of Evidence for his tribunal, in which it was alleged that, on a visit to Khan’s family’s home in Maryland, Faris stated that Khan “spoke to him about the fighting and struggle in Afghanistan,” and that on a subsequent visit Khan told him that he had met KSM in Pakistan, and that he referred to him as “uncle.” It was also alleged that Khan told Faris of “his desire to martyr himself against President Musharraf” by “detonating a vest of explosives inside a building.” In response, Faris explained that he had visited the Khans’ house to “invest in the family business,” and categorically denied all the allegations, stating, “There was no discussion other than religious duty and what he likes to do in life, like work in construction and not in his father’s [financial] business,” emphasizing that “there were never any discussions regarding the fight in Afghanistan – ever,” and responding to the allegation about the Musharraf plot by stating, “This is an absolute lie.” When asked, “Were you coerced, tricked or deceived into making any statements about Majid Khan?” Faris delivered his most devastating statement. “Yes,” he said, “by FBI. If I don’t tell them what they wanted to hear, they were going to take me to GITMO [Guantánamo].”

Writing from Guantánamo, Saifullah Paracha also refuted the claims against Majid Khan (and, by extension, against both himself and his son Uzair), confirming that he did not know that either Khan (or Ammar al-Baluchi, who introduced Khan to him in Pakistan) were members of al-Qaeda, insisting that he never discussed a loan with him – “I never discussed any financial matters with Majid Khan” – and reiterating that he only agreed to ask Uzair to help Khan as a favor to a fellow countryman: “I was told he had an issue with US Immigration and wanted to keep his bank account in the USA active, which I asked my son to assist him with as a fellow Pakistani.”

The only other allegations against Khan, as noted above, were reportedly made by one of his brothers, who, according to the US authorities, “stated the detainee was involved with a group that he believed to be al-Qaeda, and as of December 2002 was involved in transporting people across the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and points elsewhere,” and his father, who allegedly “stated the detainee recently began to be influenced by anti-American thoughts and became extremely religious in his behavior.” Although Khan’s brother had not responded by the time of his tribunal, his father Ali mounted a vigorous defence of his son, querying the statements that were supposed to have been made by himself and his son, asking, “Where and when did we make these statements that you claim we made? Who did we make these statements to, exactly? The government has refused to give us this information. Anything we may have said… was simply out of shock because we knew [he] had disappeared and was pure speculation based on what FBI agents in the United States told us and pressured us to say.”

He continued: “If you think that he did something wrong, show me the evidence. Charge him with a crime and give him a fair trial in a real court. This tribunal is not a real court… It is only for show and the outcome has probably already been decided.” Crucially, he added, “Anything that he may have confessed to, or that other prisoners may have said about him, should also be considered with suspicion because these statements were probably tortured or coerced out of them. Under these circumstances, how could anyone believe what the government says about my son?”

In passages, which, remarkably, were not redacted, Ali Khan then described Majid’s torture at the hands of US and Pakistani agents, explaining that “after eight days of interrogation by US and Pakistani agents,” his son Mohammed was allowed to see Majid, who “looked terrible and very, very tired,” and proceeded to explain to his brother that “the Americans tortured him for eight hours at a time, tying him tightly in stressful positions in a small chair until his hands, feet and mind went numb,” that they “re-tied him in the chair every hour, tightening the bonds on his hands and feet each time so that it was more painful,” and that they “beat him repeatedly,” subjected him to sleep deprivation, and, when not being interrogated, held him in a small, mosquito-infested cell, which was “totally dark, and too small for him to lie down in or sit in with his legs stretched out.” In Ali’s testimony, the most devastating statement was the following: “This torture only stopped when Majid agreed to sign a statement that he was not even allowed to read,” although he also noted that the torture resumed when he “was unable to identify certain streets and neighborhoods in Karachi that he did not know,” and critics of US behavior should read the whole of his testimony, as it also includes claims by Mohammed Khan that both he and Majid were held in a prison where two of KSM’s children, “aged about six and eight,” had been held before their father’s capture, where they were “denied food and water,” and had “ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding,” and that “Americans once stripped and beat two Arab boys,” aged 14 and 16, who were then “thrown like garbage onto a plane to Guantánamo” (it’s more likely that they were actually sent to Bagram), and also held women prisoners, including some who were pregnant and “forced to give birth in their cells.”

While this article only scratches the surface of the “tangled web” woven by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in CIA custody, I hope it illuminates the possibility that the plots and networks trumpeted by the US authorities may not be quite what they seem. It’s possible that everything the authorities claim is true, but my interpretation, reading between the lines, is that, through the informal social networks of the various business communities in Pakistan – which, as Saifullah Paracha pointed in Guantánamo, are based on traditional notions of hospitality, even though, in the political chaos of modern-day Pakistan, it is “very difficult for any civilian to determine who is who” – he, his son Uzair and Majid Khan were caught up in the orbit of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and that their subsequent torture, abuse and imprisonment are the result of naïve trust rather than any connection whatsoever with terrorism. Even murkier are the stories of Iyman Faris and Ammar al-Baluchi, and behind them all, towering like a malign colossus, and with fingers reaching into all corners of Pakistani society and its vast diaspora through his successful disguise as a legitimate businessman, is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his many false allegations – made during his torture at the hands of the CIA – that the US administration would rather bury than acknowledge.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

CIA Torture To Continue

Posted by Michael Otterman at 8:34 PM |

Friday's Executive Order has done little to reign in the use of CIA "alternative methods"/tortures. The order makes this clear right from the start. It begins:
On February 7, 2002, I determined for the United States that members of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces are unlawful enemy combatants who are not entitled to the protections that the Third Geneva Convention provides to prisoners of war. I hereby reaffirm that determination.
Thus, the Bush Administration believes-- contrary to the Hamdan decision-- that detainees are not entitled to the protection of Geneva, including the broad guarantees of Common Article Three. The directive continues, noting it merely "interprets the meaning and application of the text of Common Article 3 with respect to certain detentions and interrogations."

The order bans "torture" as defined by the loosely worded 2340, plus treatment amounting to and/or comparable to "cruel and degrading treatment" as defined by 2441. As I argue in American Torture, these laws do not outlaw the use of waterboarding, limited stints of forced standing, hand-slaps, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, hypothermia and humiliation. Coincidentally, these have been at the core of the CIA's "alternative techniques"/tortures.

On a positive note, the Executive Order does state that three tortures are no longer on the table. They are: "forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually", "acts intended to denigrate the religion", and "extremes of heat and cold". The removal of these three tortures-- sexual humiliation, religous abuse, and hypothermia-- are the only palpable changes to current CIA interrogation policy.

Waterboarding, plus the other tortures listed above, are clearly still in play. Fittingly, the Bush Administration still refuses to deny that waterboarding is authorized. As noted on the always incisive Balkinization, one administration official went even further. According to the Washington Post:
Bush's order requires that CIA detainees 'receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.'

[...]

A second senior administration official acknowledged sleep is not among the basic necessities outlined in the order.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bush Alters Interrogation Rules

Posted by Tom Moran at 3:23 PM |

Last Friday President Bush signed an executive order to ensure that CIA interrogation tactics do not violate the Geneva Conventions. CIA Director Michael Hayden said in a statement that:

"The order provides specific requirements that ensure a CIA-run terrorist detention and interrogation program would be in full compliance with U.S. obligations under Common Article 3,"

This certainly appears to be a step in the right direction. That said though, there are still some serious grey areas that have not been addressed. These include the current status of any CIA detention and interrogation program and exactly what measures will be used. The White House has come under repeated fire for the use of waterboarding – simulated drowning – amongst other tactics and it is unclear whether or not this would be discontinued under the new guidelines.

Furthermore, there is still a lot of room for interpretation based on these guidelines, which outlaw the use of:

- Torture or other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation and cruel or inhuman treatment.

- Willful or outrageous acts of personal abuse done to humiliate or degrade someone in a way so serious that any reasonable person would "deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation.

- Acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of an individual.

Certainly promising, but it depends to a great extent on what exactly one defines as torture.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Guantanamo May Close, but Problems Remain

Posted by Michael Otterman at 10:07 PM |

Below is an article I just whipped for Amnesty International Australia. It's essentially a round-up of all the latest efforts that may lead to the closing of GTMO. The piece begins:

While public outrage in Australia over the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay has diminished in the wake of David Hicks’s return, controversy surrounding the base has not abated elsewhere, especially in the United States. This year has been marked by repeated calls for closures of the base, including from high-profile Americans like former Secretary of State Colin Powell and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates. According to the Associated Press, even Laura and Barbara Bush, have told George Jr. that “Guantanamo is a blot on the US record abroad, particularly in the Muslim world and among European allies.”

Despite a small, but growing consensus within the Bush Administration that Guantanamo must be shut down, there are still two defenders that hold the line against closure: Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. These men are base’s chief ideological and legal architects and they hold tremendous sway over presidential decision-making. So far, George W. Bush has offered no plans to close down the base...

Continue reading 'Guantanamo may close, but problems remain'.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

VF Exposes Torture Trainers, New Torture Memo

Posted by Michael Otterman at 9:45 PM |

In the latest in a chain of important exposes revealing the use of SERE to train American torturers, Vanity Fair's Katherine Eban has unearthed even more info about CIA torture trainers James Elmer Mitchell and colleague Bruce Jessen. These men are currently under investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee for their role in reverse engineering SERE tortures like waterboarding, sensory deprivation and sexual humiliation for use in the GWOT. The article dishes up crucial tidbits like this:
In late 2005, as Senator John McCain was pressing the Bush administration to ban torture techniques, one of the nation's top researchers of stress in SERE trainees claims to have received a call from Samantha Ravitch, the deputy assistant for national security in Vice President Dick Cheney's office. She wanted to know if the researcher had found any evidence that uncontrollable stress would make people more likely to talk.
Further, the piece reveals the contents of a December 2002 "JTF GTMO 'SERE' Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure" memo. A declassified discussion about this document is featured in my book and is available here, but the contents, until now, have been a mystery. According to Eban:
The document, which has never before been made public, states, "The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at US military sere schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations" and "can be used to break real detainees."

The document is divided into four categories: "Degradation," "Physical Debilitation," "Isolation and Monopoliztion [sic] of Perception," and "Demonstrated Omnipotence." The tactics include "slaps," "forceful removal of detainees' clothing," "stress positions," "hooding," "manhandling," and "walling," which entails grabbing the detainee by his shirt and hoisting him against a specially constructed wall.

"Note that all tactics are strictly non-lethal," the memo states, adding, "it is critical that interrogators do 'cross the line' when utilizing the tactics." The word "not" was presumably omitted by accident.

[...]

It dictates that the "[insult] slap will be initiated no more than 12–14 inches (or one shoulder width) from the detainee's face … to preclude any tendency to wind up or uppercut." And interrogators are advised that, when stripping off a prisoner's clothes, "tearing motions shall be downward to prevent pulling the detainee off balance." In short, the SERE-inspired interrogations would be violent. And therefore, psychologists were needed to help make these more dangerous interrogations safer.
The VF article is truly fascinating, plus its timing is just right. Next month, the American Psychological Association (APA) will hold its annual conference in San Francisco, where Psychologists for an Ethical APA will be staging a protest against current APA pro-torture policies. This article should add more flames to an already raging fire.

--------

Official Responses to Vanity Fair SERE Story:

Psychologists for an Ethical APA

Physicians for Human Rights

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Whats Goin On

Posted by Michael Otterman at 9:22 AM |

Now that my Australian Amnesty International tour has finished-- I will be directing my attention back on to keeping this blog as up to date as possible. There has been much news and opinion regarding the use of SERE to train interrogators in Soviet torture, the American Psychological Association torture-controversy, chatter about closing Guantanamo, and the tragedy that is the Jose Padilla trial down in Florida.

Today I had an interview with the blog, The Talking Dog, which I think went very well. Also, my interview with JTV Australia was recently posted on Youtube. Check it out:

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

HRW Highlight Torture by Kurdish Security

Posted by Raj at 7:36 AM |

The closest allies of the United States in Iraq are the subject of this report on torture by HRW.