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.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Abu Ghraib Accountability Evaporates, Again

Posted by Michael Otterman at 12:20 PM |

Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan-- the only Army officer to face court stemming from torture at Abu Ghraib-- has been given a free pass. He was acquitted on Tuesday of "cruelty and maltreatment" of detainees during an incident on 24 November 2003 and for failing to oversee soldiers at the prison. Yesterday, he was issued a reprimand for hampering the investigation into the abuse. No jail time will be served.

Today's New York Times editorial on the acquittal-- plus its wider implications-- is noteworthy and is reproduced, in full, below:
Abu Ghraib Swept Under the Carpet

We would have been hard pressed to think of a more sadly suitable coda to the Bush administration’s mishandling of the Abu Ghraib nightmare than Tuesday’s verdict in the court-martial of the only officer to be tried for the abuse, sexual assault and torture of prisoners that occurred there in 2003.

The verdict was a remix of the denial of reality and avoidance of accountability that the government has used all along to avoid the bitter truth behind Abu Ghraib: The abuses grew out of President Bush’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions and American law in handling prisoners after Sept. 11, 2001.

The man on trial, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, was not a career officer. He was one of a multitude of reservists pressed into Iraq duty, many of them for jobs beyond their experience or abilities. A military jury of nine colonels and a brigadier general decided that he was not to blame for the failure to train or supervise the Abu Ghraib jailers and acquitted him on all charges related to the abuse. He was convicted only of disobeying an order to keep silent about Abu Ghraib. Even that drew only a reprimand, from an organization that Colonel Jordan presumably has no further interest in serving.

Our purpose is not to second-guess the verdict. Rather, we fear that this and the other Abu Ghraib trials have served no larger purpose than punishing 11 low-ranking soldiers who committed despicable acts. Not one officer has been punished beyond a reprimand, and there has been even less accountability at higher levels.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top officials have long claimed that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were the disconnected acts of a small number of sociopaths. It’s clear that is not true.

Abusive interrogations, many of them amounting to torture, were first developed for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after Mr. Bush declared that international and American law did not protect members of Taliban or Al Qaeda, or any other foreigner he chose to designate as an “unlawful enemy combatant.” Once the signal was sent that prisoners in the “war on terror” were not entitled to decent treatment, cynical lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, who was then the White House counsel, conjured up perverse legal arguments to ensure that the jailers’ bosses would not be prosecuted for abusing them. The techniques and attitudes developed in Guantánamo Bay were exported to Afghanistan, and then to Iraq.

Pentagon officials say they have learned the bitter lessons of Abu Ghraib, but their civilian bosses clearly have not. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 did not provide adequate protection to military prisoners, and it gave the Central Intelligence Agency carte blanche to run overseas prisons to which anonymous men are sent for indefinite detention and abuse. In July, Mr. Bush issued an executive order reaffirming his policy of ignoring the Geneva Conventions when he chooses, and approving abusive interrogations at C.I.A. prisons.

The need to be honest about Abu Ghraib and correct the abuses at military and C.I.A. prisons is not only about upholding the law and American values. It is about the safety of American soldiers. Every right the United States denies to its detainees may one day be denied to Americans captured in wartime. Every abuse the United States visits on detainees increases the risk of American soldiers being abused in foreign prisons.

If humanity and law are not reasons enough to end the detainee abuse, then it should be done for the cause that Mr. Bush invokes daily: supporting the troops.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase

Posted by Andy Worthington at 5:09 AM |

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

Such is the turnover of stories in the news that genuinely shocking claims – such as those made by Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes in a dossier released by his family two weeks ago – often become tomorrow’s fish and chip paper without anyone having really paid attention.

As part of an attempt to refute claims by parts of the US administration – and in particular by Sandra Hodgkinson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs – that the five British residents (including Deghayes), whose return to the UK was requested by the British government, were “still considered to be a significant threat,” Deghayes’ family was moved to issue a harrowing dossier of allegations made by Deghayes to one of his lawyers in Guantánamo.

In addition to previously reported claims – that he was “left blinded in one eye after a soldier plunged his finger into it,” that he “had human excrement smeared on his face,” and that he was threatened with being returned to Libya, where Libyan intelligence agents (brought to Guantánamo by the CIA) told him he would be killed – the dossier also contains previously unreported allegations, including claims that he was sexually abused – although he added that he “can not bear to relive the details until he is released,” and explained, “It is very distressing and sad to go through and remember again” – and allegations that he was subjected to electric shocks in Pakistani custody in Lahore, where, he said, “The more I scream they will laugh and do it again... my screams all in vain.”

After being transferred to the US-run prison at Bagram airbase, where he and others were transported “in a torture position,” Deghayes explained that he was chained in a cage with his hands stretched above his head, “causing suffocation,” that he went without food for 45 days, and that he was subjected to water torture: “They hold me naked in the night, freezing cold, and throw buckets of water and fill the bucket and throw [it] again. I shiver and shake badly and try to sit down to gain warmth. They kick and punch and say stand up until I fall to the ground in weakness.”

Following his transfer to Guantánamo, Deghayes said that he was “beaten on his first day,” relived his experiences of the Extreme Reaction Force (ERF) teams who blinded him and “repeatedly beat him up,” and explained that detainees were given “mystery injections.” He also said that an FBI interrogator – who called himself Craig – told him that he would face execution, and that he would not get a proper trial. “Many times,” he said, “one FBI interrogator by the name of Craig said, 'Omar, it is nothing like the law you studied in the UK. There will never be a proper court and lawyers etc. It would be only a military tribunal to determine your future and your life. Your best choice is to cooperate with me.’”

Most shocking of all, however, are Deghayes’ claims that, in Bagram, he saw one prisoner who “was beaten until blood dripped on the cell floor and he was left ‘paralysed and mentally damaged,’” that he also “witnessed a prisoner shot dead after he had gone to the aid of an inmate who was being beaten and kicked by the guards” (“The American,” he explained, “said he tried to take the gun”), and that he was also nearby when another prisoner was beaten to death: “One by the name of Abdaulmalik, Moroccan and Italian, was beaten until I heard no sound of him after the screaming. There was afterwards panic in prison and the guards running about in fear saying to each other the Arab has died. I have not seen this young man again.”

Two murders in Bagram – those of a man named Mullah Habibullah and a taxi driver named Dilawar – are relatively well known and have received a respectable amount of media coverage (Dilawar’s story, for example, was the subject of a recent award-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, by Alex Gibney, whose previous film was “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”). These – and an additional, unreported murder, mentioned by three other British detainees, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar and Jamal Kiyemba – are covered in my book The Guantánamo Files, but the third murder described by Deghayes’ compatriots – of a young Afghan who tried to escape – do not correspond with those described by Deghayes.

Is the world, I wonder, so inured to murders in US custody in Afghanistan that two additional, and previously unreported murders – of a prisoner who remains anonymous to this day, and of a Moroccan who was at least remembered by his first name – are incapable of raising even a ripple of outrage?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

APA Endorses Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment

Posted by Michael Otterman at 2:55 AM |

This past weekend the American Psychological Association (APA) held its annual convention and on Sunday passed a new resolution ostensibly banning psychologist involvement in torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading (CID) treatment. Upon close reading, it is clear that the resolution achieves the opposite: it cunningly allows for continued psychologist involvement in an array of well-documented US tortures, namely isolation, sensory deprivation, over-stimulation and sleep deprivation.

How does an order titled the "Reaffirmation of the American Psychological Association Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States Code as 'Enemy Combatants'" achieve such a feat? In the same way as the Military Commissions Act does largely the same thing: by defining torture and CID treatment in narrow, confusing and loophole-laden terms.

The APA resolution breaks the whole gamut of US torture into three rough categories. The first category lists the most egregious tortures and rightly bans psychologist participation in them, while the second and third categories use legalistic language in such a way to allow for continued involvement in these specified methods. To its credit, the resolution states that it "is by no means limited to" these three categories, but lists them none-the-less.

Let's look at the first category. According to the resolution, there is now:
an absolute prohibition for psychologists against direct or indirect participation in interrogations or in any other detainee-related operations in mock executions, water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation, sexual humiliation, rape, cultural or religious humiliation, exploitation of phobias or psychopathology, [and] induced hypothermia ...
These are the most brutal physical and psychological tortures to have been used (and sometimes photographed) at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and CIA black sites. Banning psych-involvement with these tortures is an important move for the APA to take. But, if the APA was serious about banning all psychologist involvement in torture, it would list all the well-documented American tortures in this first category. Alas, it has not.

Instead, the resolution creates another category. The second category includes a ban on tortures "used for the purpose of eliciting information". This includes "the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances", plus "hooding, forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death".

As Valtin deftly points out, the wording here implies that psychotropic drugs and the assorted tortures above can indeed be used as long as it is not for the distinct purpose of "eliciting information". Therefore, they may be used for the purpose of prolonging capture shock or to soften-up detainees awaiting interrogation.

Finally, there is the third category-- the most loophole laden set. This category bans psych involvement in "isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation and/or sleep deprivation" only if they are A) "used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering" or B) "used in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm".

Condition A is extremely problematic. If these methods only cause slight or moderate pain, psychologists can participate in their use. Condition B is even more troubling. If a "reasonable person" (a murky and undefined term) believes the methods will not "cause lasting harm" then psych participation in these techniques is also permitted. This is crucial because psychological tortures like sensory deprivation and over-stimulation do not leave physical marks and sometimes seem innocuous to outside observers. The fact is-- as Physicians for Human Rights recently pointed out-- they are often more damaging than traditional physical tortures and inflict deeper trauma on victims.

To review: The APA resolution strongly bans psych participation in mock executions, waterboarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation, sexual humiliation, rape, cultural or religious humiliation, exploitation of phobias or psychopathology, and induced hypothermia.

The resolution arguably allows psych participation during "softening up" of detainees using psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances, plus hooding, forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and threats of harm or death.

Finally, the order permits-- arguably at all times-- psych involvement with isolation, sensory deprivation, over-stimulation and sleep deprivation.

Far from banning psychologist participation in torture and CID, the order actually permits it. In this way it follows in the footsteps of such Bush Administration creations as the Military Commission Act, the 2002 torture memos and the recent CIA Executive Order that re-authorized the CIA black site program. The new APA resolution now ranks among these odious documents. This constitutes a new low for the organization-- and a gross disregard for the APA pledge "to do no harm".

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rally Against Pro Torture APA Policy

Posted by Michael Otterman at 11:57 PM |

This Friday, critics of current American Psychological Association guidelines that allow psychologist participation in inhumane interrogation and indefinite detention are staging a rally in San Fransisco. The event-- held on the eve of the annual APA conference-- will feature an array of interesting speakers including Steven Soldz of Psyche, Science, and Society and Neil Altman-- author of the proposed APA moratorium banning psychologist participation in torture. If you are unfamiliar with the unfolding scandal between APA leadership and its members, see this new Salon article by Mark Benjamin or read Valtin's recent round-up. From the Psychologists for an Ethical APA website:
Rally at the APA Convention to End Collaboration by American Psychological Association in Illegal Interrogations and Torture

Friday, August 17, 4pm-5.30pm
at Stone Stage, Yerba Buena Gardens.

(Access to the gardens is on 3rd Street between Mission and Howard, a
couple of minutes walk from the Moscone Convention Center. )

Confirmed speakers
Neil Altman, Ph.D.
Eric Anders, Ph.D.
Ghislaine Boulanger, Ph.D., Steering Committee Withholdapadues.com
Ruth Fallenbaum, Ph.D.
Nancy Hollander, Ph.D.
Uwe Jacobs, Ph.D., Director Survivors International
Brad Olson, Ph.D.
Steven Reisner, Ph.D.
Stephen Soldz, Ph.D.

Performers
Hector Aristizabal

The Rights Fight

Posted by Tom Moran at 2:02 PM |

Check out this interview in the Santa Fe Reporter with Jameel Jaffer. Jaffer is a litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union and director of the ACLU's National Security Program. He gives some informed commentary on the issue of habeas corpus and the secretive nature of many of the Bush administration's policies. This passage sums up to a degree the veil consuming certain current policy choices, and the implications of this as we try and make sense of this historically:

"Right now, I think that it’s a pretty dire time for civil liberties. It’s difficult to compare historically, in part because at this particular juncture we don’t know that much about the Bush administration’s policies. What we do know is extremely troubling, but so many things are still secret. We don’t know, for example, the full scope of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. We don’t know how many prisoners are held in CIA detention centers around the world. We don’t know how many people have been kidnapped by the CIA and flown to other foreign countries that are known and expected to use torture. To sit down and compare how bad things are now to 1945 or 1955 or something, you’d just have to know more. I don’t think any previous president has openly advocated that the CIA should use torture. In fact, I think it’s unprecedented for the head of state in any Western democracy to come out and say, ‘I believe that our intelligence services and military need to be allowed to torture prisoners.’"

Read the full interview here.

The Role of Psychologists in U.S. Sponsored Torture

Posted by Tom Moran at 10:58 AM |

An interesting story published today on Salon.com reports on the position of psychologists in the U.S. vis a vis coercive interrogation strategies in the war on terror. Published in the run up to the American Psychological Association (APA) annual convention in San Francisco this weekend, this is an interesting piece, especially in terms of the complicity of psychologists in CIA interrogations and Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) training, as documented by Mike in "American Torture".


Interestingly, and encouragingly, the APA has become increasingly strict on what it considers ethically acceptable in terms of the application of enhanced interrogation (torture) practices over the last few years. This includes the closure of certain loopholes in the definitions of what is and is not acceptable. For example, this passage is telling:


“The simmering debate over interrogations inside the APA has been increasingly heating to a boil for several years. In 2005, a group of 10 psychologists drafted new APA ethics guidelines that condemned torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment -- but that also noted that psychologists helping interrogators were performing a "valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm." (Salon reported last summer that six of the 10 psychologists who drafted that policy had close ties to the military, including the chief of the Army Special Operations Command's Psychological Directorate, Col. Morgan Banks.)


Then last summer, the APA's council passed a resolution reaffirming a "condemnation of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment wherever it occurs."


But the positions taken by the APA so far -- the ethics principles drafted by those 10 psychologists and the resolution last summer -- contain legal vagaries of the flavor repeatedly exploited by the Bush administration to pursue coercive interrogations in one theater or another. The concern among psychologists is that their profession is being dragged along for the ride. And that is what is driving the resolutions the psychologists are wrestling with now, to specifically outlaw individual interrogation techniques or even ban psychologists from interrogations altogether.”


This passage emphasizes the divided camp within the APA – those who would seek to introduce a moratorium as a rebuttal of current policy, and those who believe that psychologists are needed during interrogations for the express reason of ensuring that detainees are treated humanely.
It seems that this is a predictable divide that will probably endure. The problem is, however, that the CIA may (and the evidence suggests it already has) turn to psychologists who are not members of the APA. Hopefully though, a condemnation of torture from the APA should send a stern message to CIA employed psychologists at this critical stage. Read the full story here.

Lessons of the Arar Commission

Posted by Raj at 7:35 AM |

Dick Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian and rapporteur on secret detention centers for the Council of Europe, has written an interesting piece for the Globe and Mail on the lessons that can be learned from observing the Canadian Arar Commission.

Marty notes that "only Canada has made a real effort to put right the wrong done to the victim — and in a way that does not endanger its legitimate national-security interests." He has come to recognize that European governments and bodies have been too afraid of being accused of harming security to really challenge the executive on rendition policy. Marty believes, with some justification, that Europeans (and I believe Americans) can learn a lot from the Canadian process.

That process, and its benefits, is described in this way by Marty:

"In simplified terms, Judge O'Connor, an experienced jurist, was given access to all the information required. Certain documents, which the government considered secret in the interest of national security, national defence or international relations, were examined in a procedure in which both parties were heard but the material was not reproduced in the public version of the report (although attention was drawn to its absence).

With such carefully weighed transparency, Judge O'Connor was able unequivocally to clear Mr. Arar's name, ensuring justice and clearing the way for the compensation due to him, yet exclude the publication of anything that might, in his judgment, threaten the security of Canadians. The important thing — and here we get to the heart of the question — is that the government is not the sole arbiter of what should be regarded as a state secret: Its claims must be evaluated by an independent body. In the Arar case, that principle remains in place, regardless of this week's readjustment; it was, after all, again a judge who ordered that the new material be made public."

Here is a link to the full piece.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Stunning CSM Padilla Series

Posted by Michael Otterman at 7:58 PM |

I'm recovering this morning from a near lethal dose of reality regarding the ever unfolding case of Jose Padilla-- the American citizen tortured for three years in a US Naval Brig after George Bush classified the Brooklyn-native an enemy combatant. His case easily constitutes the high watermark of post 9/11 Executive arrogance and criminality.

Warren Richey's three-part Christian Science Monitor series are Pulitzer worthy work. Like the recent New Yorker black site story-- these articles are a must read. Be prepared for an infuriating forty-minutes as you make your way through the series, editorial, plus always potent insights by the crew at Balkinization.

Part 1: US terror interrogation went too far, experts say

Part 2: US Gov't broke Padilla through intense isolation, say experts

Part 3: Beyond Padilla terror case, huge legal issues

Editorial: A verdict on Padilla – and the US

Balkin: There's a Reason Why We Call it the Bill of Rights-- Government Isn't Supposed to Violate Them

Lederman: The Rosetta Stone of the Detention/Interrogation Scandal

"Report of the Events Relating to Maher Arar"

Posted by Tom Moran at 3:04 PM |

Last Friday the so called "Arar Commission" declassified certain withheld sections of the Canadian government report concluded last fall into the rendition, torture and subsequent release of Canadian citizen Maher Arar in Syria. Although the findings of the report were enough to secure Arar a full exoneration and substantial compensation from the Canadian government, nevertheless some of the recently declassified findings are rather chilling, although sadly not especially surprising.

The newly released information (pdf) confirms that Arar was linked to al-Qaeda by the confession of another detainee in Syrian custody who claimed to have been tortured. This is clearly a tragic situation which emphasizes the argument that torture leads to unreliable and questionable intelligence, as has been echoed by myriad military and intelligence officials past and present. More to the point, this represents one case, but how many other individuals has this fate befallen?

One particular passage in the article seems unfortunately obvious at this stage but is still worth noting:

"Rendition here appears less as a vital intelligence tool than a method of getting around the need to justify detaining someone in countries with constitutional protections for the accused."

It is also shocking to note that although the FBI had serious reservations about Arar's guilt at the time of his rendering to Syria, the process and subsequent torture continued and to this day, Maher Arar is unable to enter the U.S. and has received no acknowledgment from the Bush administration.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What Bush Knows

Posted by Michael Otterman at 9:53 PM |

Below is a great exchange between Jane Mayer, author of the recent explosive New Yorker CIA black site expose, and Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman about what Bush means when he says his favorite three word mantra: "we don't torture":

AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of [President Bush's] statements, “We do not engage in torture”? Or what do you make of the Presidential Scholars, the high school kids, who went to the White House, met with President Bush, handed him a handwritten note signed by more than a third of them, more than fifty of them, saying not to participate in extraordinary rendition, not to participate in torture -- he looked up at them and said, “We do not torture”?

JANE MAYER: Well, I think he believes that. I mean, it's a matter of definitions here. You know, and the way that his administration defines “torture,” he's arguing that this doesn't meet that standard. Now, it happens that one of the most conservative and credible organizations on human rights in the world, the Red Cross, disagrees with him. But the lawyers in his administration have told him that what they're doing is legal. In some ways, I think you’ve got to fault the lawyers for not telling him such things as that waterboarding was always illegal before they okayed it.

And, you know, it's very hard to know really what level of knowledge he has. I mean, you certainly read in Ron Suskind's book, for instance, that he was following these interrogations closely and asking daily, you know, “What have we got? What are we getting from these guys?” He was saying, according to -- I think it was in Suskind’s book -- that Abu Zubaydah, when he learned that he was put on painkiller, he sort of scoffed and said, you know, “Why did they do that?” And this was after Abu Zubaydah had been shot in the groin and other places.

And, you know, it's hard, I have to say -- I’d like to be really careful. The New Yorker is a very careful news organization, and we try to stick with the facts. And I really do not know exactly what the President knew in this and how closely he was following it. And, you know, again, it's why I really think it would be great for the country if there was a little more transparency in all this and a little more debate.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Isa al-Murbati, the last Bahraini in Guantánamo, returns home (and a former Taliban minister returns to Afghanistan)

Posted by Andy Worthington at 5:59 AM |

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

Hot on the heels of a declassified report from Guantánamo detainee Isa al-Murbati’s lawyer Joshua Colangelo-Bryan about conditions in the prison comes the news that al-Murbati, the last of six Bahraini detainees in Guantánamo, has returned home.

In Gulf Daily News, Geoffrey Bew reports that al-Murbati, a former grocer, who is married with five children, arrived in Bahrain at 10 pm on August 8, and “was whisked straight to the Public Prosecution in Manama for a roughly three-hour debriefing, where he was greeted by family members, including his eldest and youngest sons, MPs, supporters and friends.” His youngest son, seven-year old Ebrahim, who was just a baby when he last saw his father, held a bouquet of flowers for his father, and said, “It is the first time I will to speak to my father. I am very happy.” Al-Murbati’s eldest son, 17-year old Ali, was “trembling with emotion as he declared the family's delight,” and said, “I am so happy. I feel so good. I cannot believe it. We heard he was coming home, but could not believe it.” After the debriefing, al-Murbati returned to his home, where he was reunited with his wife and his two daughters.

Bew also reports that MP Mohammed Khalid, who helped campaign for the release of all the Bahraini detainees, said that it was “a great day,” but added that “the next push would be for compensation.” “I am very happy with today's event,” he said. “This is the last page in the Guantánamo Bay chapter. Now we want compensation for all the Bahrainis who have come home.”

Although al-Murbati’s release certainly does close a chapter of Guantánamo’s history, the story of the Bahrainis reflects, in a microcosm, almost every injustice that has been perpetrated by the US authorities in its pursuit of retaliation for the events of 9/11. All reported harrowing abuse in US detention, both in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, but while the story of joint Saudi-Bahraini national Juma al-Dossari (released last month) received extensive media coverage, rather less has been devoted to the stories told by the other five men. As Isa al-Murbati savors his reunion with his family, I thought that this might be an appropriate occasion to review some of the key events from the five years and eight months that he spent without charge or trial in US custody.

From the moment of his capture, al-Murbati – along with all the other Bahrainis –was treated with appalling brutality. In conversations in Guantánamo with his lawyers, which were later declassified by the US authorities, he explained that, at the US prison in Kandahar airbase, he was “shackled to a pole outside in very cold weather,” and that, “every hour, US military personnel threw cold water on [him] while he was shackled to the pole.” He added that this took place every night for a week, and also explained that on one occasion he was taken to an area away from the other prisoners, because Red Cross representatives were visiting the camp, and the authorities did not want them to see him.

In Guantánamo, he was subjected to random acts of brutality by various guards. On one occasion, his head was forced into a toilet while it was flushed, and on another occasion, after returning from an interrogation, when he put his shackled hands through the slot in the cell door so that the shackles could be removed as they were usually, “the sergeant grabbed the belt that is attached to the shackles and pulled it violently, even putting his foot against the cell door to create greater leverage. This caused his hands and forearms to be pulled through and against the small metal slot, causing significant injury.” When his lawyers met him shortly after this incident, “he was wearing a cast due to the injuries he suffered.”

Al-Murbati was also one of at least a hundred detainees who, during the period from November 2002 to March 2004, when Major General Geoffrey Miller was in charge of the prison, were “softened up” for interrogation by being held in isolation – for days and sometimes for weeks – in cells in which, while shackled in painful “stress positions,” and left alone until they were forced to soil themselves, they were also subjected to extreme temperature manipulation, and to loud music and noise.

Recounting his experiences of this period, al-Murbati reported that he was repeatedly held in a cell in which the air conditioning had been turned off, so that it was almost unbearably hot, and also explained that on several occasions the floor was “treated with a mixture of water and a powerful cleaning agent,” which was then thrown on his face and body, “causing great irritation” and making it difficult to breathe. On other occasions, he was played songs that “had Arabic language lyrics praising Jesus Christ,” and at other times “very loud music and white noise was played through six speakers arranged close to [his] head” for twelve hours, and “multiple flashing strobe lights were used as well,” which were so strong that he “had to keep his eyes closed.” He also reported that, on another occasion, he was “forced to sit shackled in the urine of another detainee,” and that he “had a mop soaked in the urine wiped all over his body and face.”

Even after Miller’s departure from Guantánamo – when he took his Pentagon-sanctioned approach to “setting the conditions” for interrogation to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, with repulsive results that shocked the world when photos were released in April 2004 – al-Murbati’s torment continued. In 2005, he took part in a widespread hunger strike. Force-fed on various occasions from September 2005 to January 2006, his weight (which had been 193 pounds when he arrived from Afghanistan in June 2002) at one point plummeted to just 119 pounds. After being forced off his hunger strike, he was held in Camp 1 – reserved for detainees who were considered to be particularly dangerous, or to have significant intelligence value – and, as Colangelo-Bryan reported, spent his last months in Guantánamo in the isolation of Camp 6, modeled on American Supermax prisons, but with all the frills – such as mixing with other detainees, watching television, or receiving family visits – removed.

As he resumes his life in Bahrain, and tries to put his years of torture and abuse behind him, I can only wish him peace.

***

As well as releasing Isa al-Murbati, the US authorities also released five Afghans. In common with the general fog that surrounds the release of Afghans from Guantánamo (at least since the early days of Guantánamo, when reporters filed regular reports on the released prisoners from Kabul), the identities of four of these men are unknown, although a reliable source informs me that one of them is Abdul Razak Iktiar Mohammed, a former Minister of Commerce in the Taliban government. According to his lawyers, Mohammed “had nothing to do with military affairs or fighting,” “did not oppose the United States or the Afghan forces, and insist[ed] that he would never do so,” and, after the fall of the Taliban, “supported himself by working as a farmer on his land, growing almonds and spices.” He said that he “believed that President Karzai had pardoned former Taliban civilian officials,” and that therefore he “had no reason to leave the country.”

It remains to be seen whether the other Afghans’ names will be revealed, and whether the men will be freed on arrival in Afghanistan, or transferred for continued detention to a newly-refurbished wing of the Pul-i-Charki prison in Kabul, where, apparently, several prisoners from the US authorities’ secretive prison at Bagram airbase have already been moved.

[Note: This article draws on passages from my forthcoming book, The Guantánamo Files].

The Silent Scandal

Posted by Michael Otterman at 12:26 AM |

Sadly, Jane Mayer's blockbuster piece on CIA black sites made only a small ripple in Washington and in mainstream media circles. The best commentary about its shocking revelations came not from the editorial pages of the nation's top papers, but from human rights lawyer Scott Horton. In his blog, No Comment, Horton noted:
In one sense, Mayer is writing the history of the black sites. In another she is giving us the chronicle of the self-immolation of the greatest democracy that mankind has yet brought forth. It makes for painful, but essential reading.
Ok-- there was one high-profile reference to Mayer's article. It came during yesterday's White House press conference when Washington Post reporter Peter Baker asked Bush if he had read the Red Cross report referenced by Mayer. In her article, Mayer wrote "the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes."
Commendable question by Baker. Bush's response: "I haven't seen it. We don't torture."
Case-closed, no follow-up questions, no more questions on the issue. Bush gets a pass-- again. Perhaps he'll have the time to check out the report, or even Mayer's whole article, on his annual August vacation-- his 65th trip to Crawford thusfar during his presidency.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Deals with dictators undermined by British request for return of five Guantánamo detainees

Posted by Andy Worthington at 8:28 AM |

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

In a resounding break with the policies of Tony Blair, the new British government, led by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has announced that it has requested the return of five British residents in Guantánamo: Shaker Aamer, Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi and Abdulnour Sameur. According to a Press Association report, “The Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary are seeking the release of the men who were legally resident in the UK before their detention,” and Foreign Secretary David Miliband “has written to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to formally make the request.”

Declaring that it had “reviewed its approach to the group in the light of its aim to see the closure of the center and recent steps taken by the US government to reduce the numbers of detainees held there,” the Foreign Office announced, in a statement, “The Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary have reviewed the Government's approach to this group of individuals in light of these ongoing developments, our long-held policy aim of securing the closure of Guantánamo Bay, and the need to maintain national security. They have decided to request the release and return of the five detainees who have links to the UK as former residents, having been granted refugee status, indefinite leave or exceptional leave to remain prior to their detention.”

Although the Foreign Office “cautioned that the release and return of the men may take some time,” this is extraordinary news, and reflects a genuine break with the militant refusal of Tony Blair’s administration to fulfil its obligations to act on behalf of the British residents in Guantánamo. As Jamil El-Banna’s solicitor, Irene Nembhard, noted in June, the rights of refugees recognized by the UK are not negotiable, and all have “a legal entitlement to return to the UK.”

The struggle for the rights of the British residents in Guantánamo has a long and turbulent history. Having secured the return of nine British nationals in 2004 and 2005, the Blair government then pointedly refused to act on behalf of the British residents, arguing that it had no obligation to do so. This was in spite of evidence – which emerged through grass-roots campaigns and, eventually, through declassified reports from lawyers representing the detainees – that they were innocent men, who had suffered egregious human rights abuses in American custody, and who had either been sold to the Americans for bounty payments, or, more shockingly, had been betrayed to the Americans on the basis of patently false intelligence material supplied by the British intelligence services.

Briefly, the men’s stories are as follows:

Shaker Aamer

38-year old Shaker Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia, had been a British resident since 1996, and is married with five children, the youngest of whom was born after his capture. In 2001, he traveled with his family from his home in south London to Afghanistan, where he shared a house in Kabul with released British national Moazzam Begg and his family, and worked to establish a girls’ school. After 9/11 and the US-led invasion, he arranged for his family to flee Afghanistan, but was captured in Jalalabad and sold to the Northern Alliance, who in turn sold him to the Americans. Held in the notorious, CIA-run “Dark Prison” near Kabul, he was eventually transferred to Guantánamo, where his charisma, his mastery of English and his relentless campaigning on behalf of his fellow detainees led the US authorities to conclude, erroneously, that he was a major player in al-Qaeda. Since leading a short-lived “Prisoners’ Council” in the summer of 2005, which was first encouraged and then suppressed by the authorities, he has been held in solitary confinement, and has been on a hunger strike since December 2006.

Omar Deghayes

37-year old Omar Deghayes, born in Libya, arrived in the UK with his family as a teenager in 1986, after his father, a prominent trade union activist, had been tortured and murdered by Colonel Gaddafi. A law student at Wolverhampton University, he took a break from his studies in 2000 to travel to Afghanistan, where he married an Afghan woman and had a child, but was captured after crossing into Pakistan after the US-led invasion began. Blinded in one eye during an assault by armed guards in Guantánamo, he has also been threatened by Libyan intelligence agents (who flew to Guantánamo on a CIA-chartered plane), and the justification for his continued imprisonment relies on claims that he was identified on a videotape as a Chechen militant, even though his lawyers in the UK, with the help of journalists from the BBC’s Newsnight, proved in 2005 that it was a case of mistaken identity.

Jamil El-Banna

45-year old Jamil El-Banna, born in Jordan, arrived in the UK in 1994, and was granted asylum in 2000. Like Shaker Aamer, he is married with five children, and his youngest child was born after his capture. With Bisher al-Rawi, a British resident from Iraq, El-Banna was seized in November 2002 by US agents in the Gambia, where the two men had traveled to establish a mobile peanut-processing plant with al-Rawi’s brother Wahab. Shockingly, they were captured after the British intelligence services provided false information to their American counterparts, claiming that both men were involved in terrorism (which they were not), neglecting to mention that al-Rawi was working for MI5 as an informer, keeping tabs on the radical cleric Abu Qatada, and ignoring the fact that both men had been informed, before their departure, that they were not under suspicion. “Rendered” to Afghanistan, and held, like Shaker Aamer, in the “Dark Prison,” they were transferred to Guantánamo in March 2003.

Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi

29-year old Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi, a refugee from Ethiopia who arrived in the UK with his father in 1995, was a janitor at a mosque in west London. Captured in Pakistan in April 2002, he was then handed over to the US authorities, who, in one of the most devastatingly inept failures of intelligence in the whole of the “War on Terror,” decided that he was a major al-Qaeda terrorist, and “rendered” him first to Morocco, where he was tortured for 18 months, and repeatedly had his penis cut by razor blades, and then to their own “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan. Scheduled to face a Military Commission, his case was dropped in June 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled that the Commissions were illegal, and has not been reinstated.

Abdulnour Sameur

34-year old Abdulnour Sameur, an Algerian refugee, was granted asylum in April 2000, after deserting from the Algerian army, because, he said, he was “made to go in the streets and shoot innocent people.” Accused of having advance knowledge of 9/11, he explained in Guantánamo that he made this up in the US prison in Kandahar airbase, when the interrogators threatened to withhold medical treatment. “I told them this in Kandahar during the interrogations because the interrogators were dogs,” he said. “I had an injury in my leg. I had metal sticking out of my leg and they would not clean the wound; they would not give me treatment ... I just told them anything, whatever they wanted to hear because I wanted them to treat my leg. I saw other people whose legs had to be cut off. I did not want my leg to be cut off... If you were in my place, if you were in Kandahar you would have done the same thing. Just like a small child.”

In tracing the history of the British government’s refusal to help its residents in Guantánamo, and the shifting patterns of its relationship with the US authorities, the first major insight occurred in October 2006, when, in an article in the Guardian, Ian Cobain and Vikram Dodd revealed that, after months of secret negotiations, the US administration had offered to return “nearly all” the British residents in the summer of 2006, but the British government had refused the offer. Cobain and Dodd pointed out that senior officials not only maintained that the residents had “no legal right to return,” but also dismissed the US authorities’ demands that the prisoners be “kept under 24-hour surveillance if set free” as “unnecessary and unworkable.”

The documents on which the Guardian article was based were witness statements from David Richmond, director general of defence and intelligence at the Foreign Office, and William Nye, director of counter-terrorism and intelligence at the Home Office. Cobain and Dodd reported that, on June 27, 2006, after a meeting between UK officials and representatives of the US State Department, the Department of Defense and the National Security Council, David Richmond wrote, “The US administration would only be willing to engage with the UK government if it sought the release and return of all the detainees who had formally resided in the UK (i.e. regardless of the quality of their links with the UK), rather than just a subset of the detainees falling in that category.” William Nye added, “The US administration envisages measures such that the returnees cannot legally leave the UK, engage with known extremists or engage in support, promote, plan or advocate extremist or violent activity, and further have the effect of ensuring that the British authorities would be certain to know immediately of any attempt to engage in any such activity.”

Nye also declared, “I am not satisfied it would be proportionate to impose … the kind of obligations which might be necessary to satisfy the US administration.” He explained that the measures demanded by the Americans would have to be enforced by MI5 and would divert vital resources away from countering more dangerous terrorist suspects. “The use of such resources … could not be justified and would damage the protection of the UK's national security,” he wrote, adding, crucially, that the Guantánamo prisoners “do not pose a sufficient threat to justify the devotion of the high level of resources” the US would require.

Refusing the American offer, the British officials explained that they were only interested in the return of one resident, Bisher al-Rawi. Clinging to their story that he was “now known to have helped MI5 keep watch on Abu Qatada” – and refusing to acknowledge, as documents released by his lawyers in March 2006 revealed, that both he and Jamil El-Banna had actually been betrayed to the Americans by British intelligence – they remained true to their word, and al-Rawi returned safely to the UK on 30 March 2007, to be reunited with his family.

In the meantime, however, the status of three of the British residents had changed since the summer of 2006, when Washington’s “all-or-nothing” offer was turned down. In February, lawyers for Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan who had been working as a chef in London for 16 years, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian ex-footballer who had been working at a hotel in the seaside resort of Bournemouth, were informed that they had been cleared for release from Guantánamo, “after diplomatic arrangements for their departure had been made,” because a review board had determined that they no longer represented a threat to the US or its allies and no longer had any “intelligence value.” Callously, however, the British government refused to accept the men back, maintaining that, “Because they are not British citizens, we're not providing any consular or diplomatic assistance.” On May 25, lawyers for Jamil El-Banna were informed that he too had been cleared for release. As with Errachidi and Belbacha, however, the British government refused to take him back.

It was at this point that the plight of the British residents in Guantánamo coincided with the stories of those held in Britain’s own “mini-Guantánamo”: the 17 foreign prisoners – some arrested as early as November 2001 – who were held without charge or trial in a maximum security prison in Belmarsh, in south London, until December 2004, when the Law Lords ruled that their imprisonment was in breach of human rights law. While this immediately prompted a constitutional crisis, and right-wing commentators ranted about the need to ditch European human rights legislation, more astute observers revealed how chaotic and arbitrary the whole process had been. They noted that six of the 17 – who included Abu Qatada and Abu Rideh, a Palestinian refugee, but who were otherwise anonymous and dehumanized, known only by initials, such as Detainee “A” – had already been released.

In April 2004, one of these men, a Libyan known only as “D,” who was allowed to stay with his wife in Britain after judges ruled that there was no evidence that he was a terrorist, explained to the Guardian that most of the Belmarsh prisoners had become deranged and suicidal. He was speaking on the same day that another prisoner, a disabled Algerian known as “G,” was returned to his home, under strict bail conditions, because he was “too mentally ill to stay in prison.” Two others took advantage of a provision that allowed them to leave Britain. One went to Morocco, and the other to France, although the Home Office refused to explain why, if they were such a threat, neither was arrested after leaving the UK.

In response to the Law Lords’ ruling, the government refused to free the eleven men who remained in Belmarsh at the start of 2005, instead concocting a series of draconian control orders, which involved releasing them from Belmarsh but keeping them under what was essentially house arrest, with conditions that included being electronically tagged at all times, being forced to stay at home from 7 pm to 7 am, and having their passports taken away and their phone lines cut. Those who were forced to live under the orders soon complained that they were routinely woken in the middle of the night by unannounced visits from police and the security services, that they had inadequate access to mental healthcare, and that the lives of their families were ruined.

Although the control orders were widely condemned, they have, in the last two years, been extended to another 21 prisoners, including at least seven British citizens, even though six were nullified in the High Court in June 2006, when a judge ruled that they were incompatible with laws established by the European Court of Human Rights, and even though they have also proved almost impossible to enforce; at least seven suspects have absconded since August 2006, providing acres of scare-mongering fodder for the tabloid newspapers. What’s most disturbing about the control orders, however, is not that they were designed to imprison men who had never been charged in coffin-like isolation in their own homes, but that they actually had a darker purpose, which dove-tailed horrendously with the plight of dozens of prisoners in Guantánamo – including the British residents – and was clearly conceived in conjunction with the US administration.

This darker purpose, whereby the control orders were designed to override international treaties preventing the return of prisoners to countries where they face torture or even death – laws that the British government, like that of the US, regards as failing to take into account the unprecedented terrors of the post-9/11 world – was implemented by the British government in two ways. The first was to torment some control order suspects to such an extent that they would volunteer to return to their countries of origin, even though they feared appalling treatment on their return, but the second was even more direct. In August 2005, the government rearrested Abu Qatada and eight other control order suspects (mostly Algerians), announcing that they were to be repatriated to their home countries. The figleaf for this latest abrogation from international law was a series of “memoranda of understanding,” signed with countries including Jordan and Libya, which apparently guaranteed that, “If arrested, detained or imprisoned following his return, a returned person will be afforded adequate accommodation, nourishment and medical treatment, and will be treated in a humane and proper manner, in accordance with internationally accepted standards.” What the memoranda did not make clear, however, was whether these “standards” would be those of the pre-9/11 world, or those that the Americans and the British had debased in the years since, in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Belmarsh. In any case, as human rights lawyers immediately contended, agreements with dictators were not worth the paper on which they were printed.

Where this new policy coincided with the wishes of the Americans was in Guantánamo. Since 2004, when the US authorities had first cleared some prisoners for release, but had concluded that they could not be sent back to their countries of origin because of fears that they would be tortured or killed, they had struggled to find a solution to this problem of their own making. At first this was a relatively principled process. Although the Americans refused to accept any of the cleared (i.e. innocent) prisoners as their own responsibility, allowing them to settle in the US, and all their major allies also refused to accept them, one country – Albania – was bribed sufficiently to accept five Chinese Uyghurs (persecuted Muslims from the Xinxiang province) in May 2006, and three other innocent but problematical men – an Algerian doctor, an Egyptian cleric and an ethnic Uzbek from the former Soviet Union – followed in November.

Unfortunately for the Americans, however, they discovered that they were holding dozens more innocent men in Guantánamo who had legitimate fears about being returned to their countries of birth, and, whether through a reticence on the part of Albania, or a desire – as in the UK – to smash international safeguards preventing the return of prisoners to such allies in the “War on Terror” as Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi (a formerly implacable enemy who was rehabilitated in 2004), Tunisia’s dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the regimes in Algeria and Jordan – all of whom have notorious secret services and torture prisons – they decided that they, like the British, would try to break this deadlock through phony “memoranda of understanding.”

In Guantánamo, these decisions impacted directly on Ahmed Errachidi, Ahmed Belbacha and Jamil El-Banna. With the British government refusing to accept them back, the Americans decided to return them to their countries of birth instead. A month after Bisher al-Rawi returned to the UK, Ahmed Errachidi was stealthily returned to Morocco, where he was arrested on terrorism charges, which were only dropped after representations by Moroccan lawyers acting on information provided by his lawyers in the UK. Belbacha and El-Banna, however, remained in Guantánamo, with El-Banna fearing that he would be returned to Jordan, which he had fled 13 years before because of religious persecution, and Belbacha fearing that he would be returned to Algeria, which he had fled to avoid reprisals from Islamist militants, while he was working for a government-run oil company, and where, according to his lawyers, the Algerian intelligence services stated that they could not ensure that he would be safe from their own personnel.

Sarah Teather, the feisty Liberal Democrat MP who is El-Banna’s representative in parliament, and who has campaigned tirelessly for his release, delivered a damning verdict on the government’s position, saying, “Jamil's wife, Sabah, is very happy that he has been cleared for release, but at the same time exceedingly worried that he will be sent back to Jordan … This country gave Jamil refugee status because we accepted that he had been tortured in Jordan and that his life would be in danger were he to be returned there. What kind of process of moral decrepitude has gripped this Government that it now sees fit to risk his life by sending him to Jordan, rather than returning him to his five British children?”

Sarah Teather’s fears were well-grounded. In June, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York – and Edward Markey, a member of the House of Representatives – sought to prevent the US authorities from returning a cleared Libyan prisoner in Guantánamo, Abdul Rauf al-Qassim, to his home country, because he was afraid that he would be imprisoned “for no reason” (he is still in Guantánamo at the time of writing), and his case is clearly related to attempts by the British government to do the same with two Libyans who were held without charge or trial in the UK. In the case of these men, a glimmer of hope was provided on April 27, when the members of the UK’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) delivered a stern rebuke to the callous new policies of the US and UK governments, revealing their contempt for the supposed validity of the “memorandum of understanding” with Libya by ruling that the two men could not be returned to their home country because they were at risk of torture. And just last week, in a move that may have impacted directly on the new administration’s decision to act on behalf of the remaining British residents, appeal court judges in London delivered another blow to the government, ruling that three Algerians could not be returned to their home country because they too were at risk of torture.

Elsewhere, however, fears that the “memoranda of understanding” were irredeemably flawed, and that prisoners would face horrendous ill-treatment on their return to their home countries, were brutally confirmed in the case of Abdullah bin Omar, a Tunisian prisoner who, like Abdul Rauf al-Qassim, was cleared for release from Guantánamo but was unwilling to return home. Bin Omar, who had been living in Pakistan for 13 years, was forcibly returned to his home country on June 17, despite fears that, because he had been sentenced in absentia to 23 years in prison for belonging to a moderate Islamist political party, he would be tortured on his return. What has come to light since has confirmed what Zachary Katznelson, one of his lawyers, noted at the time of his transfer; that bin Omar was “a guinea pig in a potentially deadly diplomatic experiment.” Another of his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith, recently explained that the US authorities had prevented him from meeting bin Omar before he was repatriated, to warn him of the sentence he had received in absentia, and reported that Tunisian human rights observers had revealed that, on his return, bin Omar was immediately imprisoned and tortured by the Tunisian authorities, who told him that if he did not agree to make false confessions about non-existent crimes, his wife and daughters would be raped.

The case of Abdullah bin Omar reveals, tragically, that the new arrangements negotiated by the British and the Americans are neither morally defensible (as his torture confirms) nor legally sound (as revealed by the verdicts of SIAC and the UK appeals court), and confirms that the fate of two groups of men – those who are completely innocent of any wrong-doing, who have already been imprisoned in horrendous conditions in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, and others who have been imprisoned in the UK without ever being told the charges against them – should not be the subject of such an unprincipled high-stakes lottery; one in which, literally, the outcome could either be life or death.

With the British government belatedly acknowledging its responsibilities to the British residents in Guantánamo, it seems that Jamil El-Banna will finally be liberated from the threat to send him to Jordan, that Omar Deghayes and Abdulnour Sameur will not have to face the prospect of being returned to Libya or Algeria, and that the long and brutal persecution of Binyam al-Habashi and Shaker Aamer is coming to an end. I congratulate the government on rediscovering its principles, but still fear for the many other cleared detainees in Guantánamo – including Abdul Rauf al-Qassim and Ahmed Belbacha, whose lawyers are currently pursuing his case with the US Supreme Court – and the control order suspects in the UK, who still have valid concerns about being returned to torture in their home countries.

Benamar Benatta: domestic victim of US injustice in the “War on Terror”

Posted by Andy Worthington at 7:45 AM |

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

As it seems almost impossible to keep up with the many, hydra-like fronts of the US administration’s “War on Terror,” I was unaware of the story of Benamar Benatta until he wrote to me in response to an article I had written about the Algerian Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Belbacha.

An Algerian air force lieutenant, Benatta came to the United States with other Algerian soldiers to receive military training in December 2000, but later explained that he had no intention of returning, telling a Washington Post reporter in 2003, “I had a problem with the terrorists who wanted to kill me and with the military, which was beating and torturing people. My parents knew I did not intend to come back.” After moving to New York, where he worked as a busboy, he overstayed his visa, and, with desperately unfortunate timing, sought political asylum in Canada just six days before 9/11. Detained by the Canadian authorities, he was then handed over to the US after 9/11, and was held for four years and ten months in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), a much-criticized “War on Terror” jail in Brooklyn, even though the FBI concluded, in November 2001, that he had no connection whatsoever with terrorism.

Because he had trained as an aeronautical engineer, Benatta was regarded with extreme suspicion by the authorities in charge of the MDC. According to a report on his website, “They wrote ‘WTC’ [World Trade Center] on the door of his cell. He was beaten. He was abused. He was held in conditions that the United Nations described as torture. He was forgotten.” In the Washington Post interview in 2003, he described being held in circumstances that resembled other “War on Terror” prisons, including Guantánamo. He explained that he was “placed in a solitary cell – known by prisoners as ‘the box,’” which was “illuminated 24 hours a day,” and added that for several weeks the guards “would knock loudly on the door every half-hour to wake him up.” Deprived of access to a lawyer, to books or a television, he only ever left his cell “when FBI agents arrived to interrogate him about his job, ethnicity and religious beliefs,” and also explained that he was “forced to strip while guards mocked him.” On other occasions, he said that “guards knocked his head against the elevator wall while he was in manacles and one time pulled his waist chain so tight he had trouble breathing.“ Conditions at the MDC, which was “later criticized by the US Justice Department for its abuse of prisoners,” were also exposed in a video, from which an image can be found on Benatta's website.

When Benatta’s case was finally reviewed in a US court, in September 2003, Federal Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. concluded that not only was Benatta was “undeniably deprived of his liberty” in what he called a “sham,” but that the explanations offered for the sham “bordered on ridiculousness.” As the Washington Post described it, “Schroeder found ‘damning evidence’ that INS [immigration] lawyers improperly ‘colluded’ with the FBI and federal prosecutors to use immigration procedures as a ‘subterfuge’ to ‘spirit’ Benatta to New York City.” He condemned the government for not releasing Benatta despite the fact that he was officially cleared by the FBI of any connection to terrorism, and concluded, “To keep Benatta imprisoned would be taking part in the ‘charade that has been perpetrated’ against him.”

Despite Schroeder’s condemnation of Benatta’s treatment, it took another 33 months for him to be released. As one of the few newspapers to take an interest in his story, the Washington Post reported, after he was freed in July 2006, “He was among more than 1,200 mainly Muslim men who were arrested after the [9/11] attacks and held under tight security while authorities scoured their backgrounds for links to terrorist groups. It is believed that Benatta was the last to be released, though it is difficult to be certain because of the secrecy that surrounded some of the cases.”

Now seeking asylum in Canada, Benatta, as described on his website, “is seeking a judicial review regarding the legality of his transfer to the United States by the Canadian Authorities, and requesting that a judicial system be implemented to protect the human rights provisions of this country’s citizens and of foreigners entitled to the protection under the constitution of Canada and under international law.”

Visit his website for more. If, like me, you haven’t had much time to look at the stories of the “1,200 mainly Muslim men” rounded up in the United States after 9/11, it’s just the tip of an uncomfortably large iceberg.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

PM Brown DIstancing Himself from President Bush?

Posted by Raj at 6:45 AM |

Possibly....

What is clear however is that the British government is seeking the release of five Guantanamo prisoners who have links to the UK. Interestingly, none of the five are British citizens but all have secured either refugee status or the right to stay in the UK. The new British Foreign Secretary David Miliband recently wrote to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to request their release.
My suspicion is that we will see the five released in the next few months....

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Jane Mayer on Black Sites, War Crimes

Posted by Michael Otterman at 9:35 AM |

Jane Mayer is the leading US journalist covering torture. Period. Her articles have lead the way in uncovering the dark details of US use of torture, whether it involves CIA-impunity to murder, the kidnapping and delivery of prisoners to states that torture, the CIA's torture travel agent, use of SERE officials to train interrogators in torture, the man behind pro-torture TV show 24 or legal underpinnings behind current US torture policy. Now Mayer provides a new piece to the puzzle: CIA Black Sites.

Mayer's new piece, easily Pulitzer material, unmasks the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Along the way, she delivers up new details about the 2002 SERE Standard Operating Procedures Memo. She writes:
A secret government document, dated December 10, 2002, detailing “SERE Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure,” outlines the advantages of stripping detainees. “In addition to degradation of the detainee, stripping can be used to demonstrate the omnipotence of the captor or to debilitate the detainee.” The document advises interrogators to “tear clothing from detainees by firmly pulling downward against buttoned buttons and seams. Tearing motions shall be downward to prevent pulling the detainee off balance.” The memo also advocates the “Shoulder Slap,” “Stomach Slap,” “Hooding,” “Manhandling,” “Walling,” and a variety of “Stress Positions,” including one called “Worship the Gods.”
Mayer's strength lies in the ability to get insiders to comment on top secret US torture programs. Here's one shocking revelation: CIA officers used the Vietnam-era Phoenix Program-- an official US "murder program" that claimed the lives of up to 60,000 Vietnamese civilians-- as a basis for post 9/11 black site detention operations:
The former officer said that the pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense: “They were pushing us: ‘Get information! Do not let us get hit again!’ ” In the scramble, he said, he searched the C.I.A.’s archives, to see what interrogation techniques had worked in the past. He was particularly impressed with the Phoenix Program, from the Vietnam War. Critics, including military historians, have described it as a program of state-sanctioned torture and murder. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance. But, after September 11th, some C.I.A. officials viewed the program as a useful model.
Mayer also meticulously recounts KSM's torture:
According to sources, Mohammed said that, while in C.I.A. custody, he was placed in his own cell, where he remained naked for several days. He was questioned by an unusual number of female handlers, perhaps as an additional humiliation. He has alleged that he was attached to a dog leash, and yanked in such a way that he was propelled into the walls of his cell. Sources say that he also claimed to have been suspended from the ceiling by his arms, his toes barely touching the ground. The pressure on his wrists evidently became exceedingly painful.

[...]

Mohammed was kept in a prolonged state of sensory deprivation, during which every point of reference was erased. The Council on Europe’s report describes a four-month isolation regime as typical. The prisoners had no exposure to natural light, making it impossible for them to tell if it was night or day. They interacted only with masked, silent guards. (A detainee held at what was most likely an Eastern European black site, Mohammed al-Asad, told me that white noise was piped in constantly, although during electrical outages he could hear people crying.) According to a source familiar with the Red Cross report, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed claimed that he was shackled and kept naked, except for a pair of goggles and earmuffs. (Some prisoners were kept naked for as long as forty days.) He had no idea where he was, although, at one point, he apparently glimpsed Polish writing on a water bottle.
The torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was so brutal that even his interrogators still suffer today. Mayer writes:
During interrogations, the former agency official said, officers worked in teams, watching each other behind two-way mirrors. Even with this group support, the friend said, Mohammed’s interrogator “has horrible nightmares.” He went on, “When you cross over that line of darkness, it’s hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but it’s well outside the norm. You can’t go to that dark a place without it changing you.” He said of his friend, “He’s a good guy. It really haunts him. You are inflicting something really evil and horrible on somebody.”
Overall, the black site torture program represents a new low for the Bush Administration, and the rule of law in the United States. War Crimes-- there are no other words for it-- have been committed. As Mayer discovered:
The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. “It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,” an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. “At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.”

Friday, August 03, 2007

Report says U.S.-sanctioned tortured methods are illegal

Posted by Tom Moran at 4:12 PM |

A new report on torture – principally written by Dr. Scott Allen, clinical assistant professor at Brown University and member of Physicians for Human Rights – has concluded that all personnel engaged in the CIA “enhanced interrogation” program are at serious risk of violating U.S. law. This means that there is a potential they could risk criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act.


This report is an important step forward. Not only does it introduce an objective reading of the law in conjunction with undisputed medical evidence into the debate, it is a pragmatic attempt to warn interrogators on the front line that the methods they have been authorized to use are illegal, ultimately making them criminally liable. In the report, entitled “Leave No Marks, ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality,” Dr Allen clarifies that the sanctioned techniques leave indelible psychological marks - the long terms effects being things like post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, substance abuse, and suicide.


It focuses on 10 suspected torture methods - stress positions; beating; water-boarding (mock drowning); exposure to extreme cold or heat; threat of humiliation to self, family or friends; sleep deprivation; sensory bombardment; violent shaking, sexual humiliation, and prolonged isolation. It then goes on to make some key recommendations to the administration, such as prohibit the “enhanced” interrogation techniques; instruct all U.S. interrogators in effective, legal, non-harmful interrogation methods; and declassify and release all documents from all relevant U.S. agencies “which contain information on U.S. interrogation policy and practice, including but not limited to the ‘enhanced’ interrogation methods.”


It will be interesting to see what the response is to this report. The administration has continually defended the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program – the details of which are still highly classified – in the name of national security, even while key military and past and present CIA officials have been increasingly critical of such strategies and their effectiveness in garnering reliable information.


With an objective focus and strong scientific methodology, the Bush administration would do well to take note of a report of this nature, despite its application of Common Article 3. So too would the interrogators themselves.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Justice Delayed, Denied?

Posted by Michael Otterman at 1:59 AM |

While the most infamous acts of murder and torture at Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base occured over four years ago-- a time when torture was officially sanctioned by top Department of Justice, White House and Pentagon officials-- investigations are still ongoing. This week the Washington Post reported that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the second highest ranking MI officer at Abu Ghraib at the time of the abuses, will soon stand trial for failing to supervise soldiers, misleading investigators, and for mistreating detainees. The last charge stems from events from 24 November 2003, when Iraqi Police were rounded up in search of contraband.

According to the Pentagon's Fay-Jones report:
The IP Roundup was, by all accounts chaotic. The Iraqi Police, hence the name “IP,” became detainees and were subjected to strip searching by the MPs in the hallway, with female Soldiers and at least one female interpreter present. The IP were kept in various stages of dress, including nakedness, for prolonged periods as they were interrogated. This constitutes humiliation, which is detainee abuse. Military working dogs were being used not only to search the cells, but also to intimidate the IPs during interrogation without authorization.

[...]

LTC Jordan is responsible for allowing the chaotic situation, the unauthorized nakedness and resultant humiliation, and the military working dog abuses that occurred that night.
Jordan is the first and only Army officer to face a court-martial for involvement in torture at Abu Ghraib. He remains defiant:
"I'm not guilty of anything to do with Abu Ghraib, and I'm tired of it," Jordan said in a lengthy interview last week. The interview was his first public comment since the abuse investigations began in early 2004. He said he is being scapegoated because, as a reservist, officials view him as expendable. "I'm saddened by the whole event, and I feel like I've been singled out for it."
Meanwhile, another abuse case is building steam. According to the Associated Press, "a civilian grand jury is investigating the deaths of two detainees at a U.S. jail in Afghanistan nearly 5 years ago, according to current and former service members who said they've testified."

The detainees in question are Habibullah and Dilawar-- two Afghans that were murdered at Bagram in 2002. Dilawar was the subject of the gripping Taxi To the Darkside, which I was lucky enough to see at this years Tribeca Film Fest. A 2005 NYT story by Tim Golden outlines the circumstances of the two deaths:

Habibullah
When Sgt. James P. Boland saw Mr. Habibullah on Dec. 3, he was in one of the isolation cells, tethered to the ceiling by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body was slumped forward, held up by the chains.

Sergeant Boland told the investigators he had entered the cell with two other guards, Specialists Anthony M. Morden and Brian E. Cammack. (All three have been charged with assault and other crimes.) One of them pulled off the prisoner's black hood. His head was slumped to one side, his tongue sticking out. Specialist Cammack said he had put some bread on Mr. Habibullah's tongue. Another soldier put an apple in the prisoner's hand; it fell to the floor.

When Specialist Cammack turned back toward the prisoner, he said in one statement, Mr. Habibullah's spit hit his chest. Later, Specialist Cammack acknowledged, "I'm not sure if he spit at me." But at the time, he exploded, yelling, "Don't ever spit on me again!" and kneeing the prisoner sharply in the thigh, "maybe a couple" of times. Mr. Habibullah's limp body swayed back and forth in the chains.

When Sergeant Boland returned to the cell some 20 minutes later, he said, Mr. Habibullah was not moving and had no pulse. Finally, the prisoner was unchained and laid out on the floor of his cell.
Dilawar

Mr. Dilawar was a frail man, standing only 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 122 pounds. But at Bagram, he was quickly labeled one of the "noncompliant" ones.

When one of the First Platoon M.P.'s, Specialist Corey E. Jones, was sent to Mr. Dilawar's cell to give him some water, he said the prisoner spit in his face and started kicking him. Specialist Jones responded, he said, with a couple of knee strikes to the leg of the shackled man.

"He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his god," Specialist Jones said to investigators. "Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny."

Other Third Platoon M.P.'s later came by the detention center and stopped at the isolation cells to see for themselves, Specialist Jones said.

It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out 'Allah,' " he said. "It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes."

[...]

One of the coroners later translated the assessment at a pre-trial hearing for Specialist Brand, saying the tissue in the young man's legs "had basically been pulpified."

"I've seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus," added Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the coroner, and a major at that time.
The military had already investigated these two deaths. While 15 soldiers were court martialed-- all avoided jail. Now civilian courts are looking into the murders. Perhaps they could deliver much delayed justice.