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, September 20, 2007

Tour Continues in Cali, Thoughts of Santa Fe

Posted by Michael Otterman at 10:38 AM |

The American Torture tour, sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions and Amnesty International, has now rolled into San Diego, where I will talk today at the San Diego Public Library. Santa Fe was a definite highlight so far. Crisp blue skies, red crumbling Adobe, and a strong activist population deeply concerned about the troubled path this country has taken in the name of 'national security'. In the morning of our visit, I was interviewed on KSFR in the funky Sante Fe Baking Company. We then had two great events-- one at the College of Santa Fe and the other at the excellent Collected Works Bookstore. The daughter of Allen Dulles-- the CIA director that initiated the bulk of 1950's era CIA mind control research-- came to my talk at Collected Works and we chatted afterwards. She's wonderfully down-to-earth, in her 70s now, and said that she is trying to understand her father and hopes that my book could help her. I hope it will too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Raising the Issue in Santa Fe

Posted by Raj at 10:00 AM |

We have arrived in Santa Fe for a series of meetings and public talks based on AT. Our first port of call was the Santa Fe Bakery and Cafe which is also the home for KSFR Public radio. Mike just finished up a 40 minute interview with the fabulous Mary Charlotte Domandi and we are currently chatting to some of the patrons about AT and the issue in general.

We should have Mike's podcast up later on.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

McCain does not get it

Posted by Raj at 10:39 PM |

In response to ABC reports that the CIA stopped using water boarding last year, Senator John McCain stated:
"Water-boarding is a form of torture. And I'm convinced that this will not only help us in our interrogation techniques, but it will also be helpful for our image in the world."

Unfortunately the Senator, who has done some very important work to stop the use of torture by the United States, does not fully comprehend what needs to be done to"make things right" across the globe. The United States is not trusted in these matters and positive changes of policy need to be stated clearly by those in positions of real power in the Administration. To restore the American image in the world we need to do the right thing and be seen to do the right thing.
The American public understands this and I suspect that as Tom and I continue working with Mike (we are currently in New Mexico) we will continue to see that the American public understands the need for a clear change in direction.

More from the tour to come - tomorrow we are at Webster University (1.30pm) and University of New Mexico (6pm) - if you are in NM come and join us.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Jose Padilla: More Sinned Against Than Sinning

Posted by Andy Worthington at 11:50 AM |

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

News that Jose Padilla’s lawyers are seeking to hold former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 59 other US officials responsible for “abusive and unconstitutional tactics used against Mr. Padilla while he was held in military custody as an enemy combatant from 2002 to 2006” has temporarily revived the story of the Chicago-born former gang member and Islamic convert. Padilla’s conviction on August 16, in a court room in Miami, for “conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim people in a foreign country, conspiracy to provide material support for terrorists, and providing material support for terrorists,” was announced to whoops of joy from an administration ravenous for all crumbs of comfort, but to a generally muted response in the US media.

An American citizen once regarded as one of the most dangerous terrorists ever apprehended on American soil, Padilla – whose arrest in May 2002 was trumpeted by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as that of a “known terrorist,” who was “exploring a plan” to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city – is due to be sentenced in December (if the verdict does not unravel on appeal). He faces the prospect of spending between 15 years and the rest of his life in jail, even though his profile has shrunk so considerably, that, after once being regarded as a potential mass murderer on a unprecedented scale, he was, in the end, not actually accused of lifting a finger to harm even a single US citizen.

Many of the media outlets that bothered to report the verdict stuck to a narrowly defined script, neglecting to mention Padilla’s long detention without charge or trial, and hailing it, as ABC News did, as a triumphant example of a legal victory in the “War on Terror.” This in itself was doubtful. Since the prosecution was allowed to show, on a huge screen, a seven-minute video of a speech by Osama bin Laden that was completely unrelated to the case, and lead prosecutor Brian Frazier mentioned al-Qaeda around a hundred times in his opening comments, and another hundred times in his closing remarks, the few outspoken critics of the trial were justified in concluding that this was an arrant display of propaganda masquerading as evidence. They were also justified in highlighting the weakness of the actual evidence against Padilla: his fingerprints and personal details on an application form for an “al-Qaeda” training camp in Afghanistan, which he apparently filled out in July 2000, and just seven intercepted phone messages, out of the thousands recorded between 1993 and 2001 featuring Padilla’s co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, in which he purportedly demonstrated his commitment to “violent jihad.” It’s also noticeable that, whereas his co-defendants were accused of repeatedly speaking in code, this allegation was not applied to the seven calls featuring Padilla.

Even overlooking the fact that this was, at best, just one notch up from a “thought crime” – and that there may be something wrong with a system in which, as Brian Frazier told the jury, “you can find that the defendants are guilty even if they never killed or harmed anyone – under the law it is the illegal agreement that is the crime” – the brandishing of the application form was enough to convince the jurors of Padilla’s guilt. After a three-month trial, they took only eleven hours to reach a verdict. Noting that this meant that the jurors spent less than one hour of deliberations for each week of trial testimony, whereas “the rule of thumb, [as] any trial attorney will tell you, is that one week of trial testimony usually tracks one day of deliberations,” CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen wrote that both lawyers and reporters were “shocked by the speed of the verdict.” According to the New York Times’ account, one juror said that she “had ‘all but made up her mind’ about the defendants' guilt before deliberations began.”

What makes the verdict particularly distressing for those concerned with justice in the United States, however, is not just the manipulation of the trial by the prosecution and the slimness of the evidence against the once-alleged “dirty bomber.” The elephant in the room in Padilla’s case – his detention, in brutal isolation, as an “enemy combatant” for 43 months in a military brig, and its effect on his mental health – was swept aside as though it had never existed, not only during the trial itself, in which the judge, Marcia G. Cooke, explicitly barred both the prosecution and the defense from speaking about it, but also in much of the mainstream media coverage of the verdict.

This is shocking beyond belief. In a country in which far too many people have expressed their utter indifference to the fate of non-Americans detained by their government in the “War on Terror,” the treatment of Padilla should at least have set alarm bells ringing. Unlike foreigners, who, according to the President, can be picked up anywhere in the world, imprisoned, tortured and held forever without charge or trial, American citizens are supposed to be protected against this kind of treatment. Padilla’s case emphatically proves that this is no longer true.

There was, I must admit, a certain amount of uproar and hand-wringing in the US in December 2006, when photos of Padilla, shackled and restrained, and kitted out in black-out goggles and sound-muffling headphones for nothing more dangerous than a walk from his cell to a dental appointment, were published in the New York Times. Momentarily electrified, the media responded with a rush of indignation (perhaps proving, as with the Abu Ghraib scandal, that photos speak louder than words), and articles poured forth describing what had happened to Padilla during the four years and eight months he had then spent in US custody.

Padilla, a former Chicago gang member, who had moved to Florida and converted to Islam in 1994, was arrested on May 8, 2002, at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, after several years abroad in Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was held for a month as a material witness and interrogated by the FBI, and was then designated as an “enemy combatant” and transferred to a military brig in Charleston, South Carolina, where, for 43 months, as described by Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor, he was “held not only in solitary confinement but as the sole detainee in a high-security wing of the prison. Fifteen other cells sat empty around him.” Stuart Grassian, a Boston psychiatrist and “an expert on the debilitating effects of solitary confinement,” who conducted a detailed examination of Padilla for his lawyers, said that it was “clear that the intent of this isolation was to break Padilla for the purpose of the interrogations that were to follow.”

Richey continued: “Padilla's cell measured nine feet by seven feet. The windows were covered over. There was a toilet and sink. The steel bunk was missing its mattress. He had no pillow. No sheet. No clock. No calendar. No radio. No television. No telephone calls. No visitors. Even Padilla's lawyer was prevented from seeing him for nearly two years. For significant periods of time the Muslim convert was denied any reading material, including the Koran. The mirror on the wall was confiscated. Meals were slid through a slot in the door. The light in his cell was always on.” In addition, as Naomi Klein noted, it was reported that his interrogators – the only people with whom he was allowed any contact – “punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds,” and Padilla also stated that he was “injected with a ‘truth serum,’ a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.”

As Richey went on to note, “Those who haven't experienced solitary confinement can imagine that life locked in a small space would be inconvenient and boring. But according to a broad range of experts who have studied the issue, isolation can be psychologically devastating. Extreme isolation, in concert with other coercive techniques, can literally drive a person insane, [which] makes it a potential instrument of torture.” When approved by Donald Rumsfeld for use at Guantánamo, Defense Department lawyers warned that isolation was “not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days,” echoing the CIA’s findings, in its declassified 1963 handbook, when the agency warned of the “profound moral objection” of applying “duress past the point of irreversible psychological damage.”

According to Stuart Grassian, however, it was “clear from examining Mr. Padilla that that limit was surpassed.” After studying the daily activity logs relating to his incarceration, particularly during the period from November 2002 to April 2003, which Padilla himself described as the “terrible time,” Grassian discovered that it was “not unusual for Mr. Padilla to go four, five, or six days without even brief [visual checks] by the brig staff, who were, in any event, under instruction not to converse with him.” Richey added, “Other than the brief checks by brig guards, Padilla went through stretches of 34 days, 17 days and 15 days without any human contact,” and Grassian concluded that “when he did have such contact, it was inevitably with an interrogator.”

As a result, Grassian declared, “Given the extensive research on this issue, much of it funded by the United States government, it follows necessarily that the United States government was well aware of the likely consequences of its conduct in regard to Mr. Padilla.” Grassian explicitly condemned a statement made by Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in which he revealed a portion of the government's interrogation strategy in an affidavit in 2003. Refuting Jacoby’s claim that “The Defense Intelligence Agency's approach to interrogation is largely dependent upon creating an atmosphere of dependency and trust between the subject and interrogator,” in which “Anything that threatens the perceived dependency and trust between the subject and interrogator directly threatens the value of interrogation as an intelligence-gathering tool,” Grassian stated, bluntly, “What the government is attempting to do is create an atmosphere of dependency and terror.”

Quite what rubbish was spouted by Padilla during these years of “dependency and terror” – prior to losing his mind to such an extent that his warders described him as “so docile and inactive that he could be mistaken for ‘a piece of furniture’” – is unknown. His own desperate confessions – and where they led – have yet to be revealed. What is clear, however, is that other confessions, themselves produced under duress by “high-value” detainees held in secret CIA prisons, formed the basis of the “dirty bomb” allegation. According to the government, Padilla approached training camp facilitator Abu Zubaydah (captured in Pakistan five weeks before him) and 9/11 kingpin Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (captured in 2003) with plans for the bomb, and was apprehended after Zubaydah identified him to the FBI. Less vigorously reported were admissions by the government itself that both Zubaydah and KSM were “skeptical” about the plot. Other insider comments indicated that Zubaydah actually dismissed Padilla as “a maladroit extremist,” telling his interrogators that he was so “ignorant” that he believed he could “separate plutonium” from other nuclear materials by “rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material.”

It’s also clear that another man who was picked out by Zubaydah in relation to the same dubious plot – Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi, an Ethiopian-born British resident who was captured in Pakistan a week after Zubaydah – suffered even more severely than Padilla. Rendered by the CIA to Morocco, where he was tortured for 18 months and had his penis repeatedly cut by razors, and then transferred to Guantánamo via the CIA’s own “Dark Prison” near Kabul – a medieval torture prison with the addition of 24-hour amplified music and noise – Mohammed admitted to being a part of the whole Zubaydah-KSM-Padilla “dirty bomb” plot, but later explained that he had confessed to whatever his US-directed Moroccan torturers told him to, and had never even met Padilla.

While Binyam Mohammed remains in Guantánamo – unsure if the authorities will release him (as requested by the British government) or will attempt to reinstate the charges against him in a Military Commission (following their collapse in June 2006, when the Supreme Court judged them illegal, and their reintroduction via last fall’s Military Commissions Act) – the “dirty bomb” allegation against Padilla was dropped in November 2005, just days before the Supreme Court was due to look at the legality of his detention. Apparently, the administration was unwilling to allow Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to testify, in case they revealed that they had been tortured.

Unlike in Guantánamo’s “enemy combatant” tribunals – and in the Military Commissions, which the administration is still trying to revive, after further setbacks in June – evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in US courts, because it is illegal, immoral and unreliable. And however much the administration may try to deny it, the “dirty bomb” allegation is a perfect demonstration of the hole into which the administration has dug itself: a “plot,” whose existence was only ever announced through torture – whether of Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Jose Padilla or Binyam Mohammed – that lives only in this world of tortured confessions, and has no independent existence that can be verified in the real world.

Once Padilla’s “enemy combatant” status was dropped, along with the “dirty bomb” story (and in marked contrast to Binyam Mohammed, whose alleged involvement in the plot limped on until the Supreme Court struck down the Military Commissions eight months later), he was charged with the vague, motive-based crimes for which he was eventually convicted, and moved to a legally-recognized detention facility, which is where he was located when the photos of the world’s most high-security dental visit were revealed in the New York Times.

As a result of the revelations about Padilla’s mental state in the Times article, it looked, for a while, as though the trial might not even go ahead. In February 2007, Naomi Klein, in an optimistic report for the Nation, suggested, “Something remarkable is going on in a Miami courtroom. The cruel methods US interrogators have used since September 11 to ‘break’ prisoners are finally being put on trial.” In the end, however, as noted above, District Judge Marcia G. Cooke pulled the plug on the dissenters, and six months later, as Padilla’s trial came to an end, it was as if most of the country had succumbed to a collective memory loss.

In the week before the verdict was announced, one journalist at least avoided having his mind wiped clean. Warren Richey’s three-part series on Padilla, which I quoted from above (and which was praised by Michael Otterman here), revisited, in horrific detail, the systematic mental destruction of Padilla that took place during the 43 months that he was illegally imprisoned without trial and tortured by his own government. As also noted above, however, Richey’s was a rare voice in the mainstream media.

Most of the dissenting voices – the ones who realized, with an appalling clarity, that the US government was getting away with torturing its own citizens, and that, in theory, no US citizen whatsoever was protected from similar treatment – peppered the blogosphere. In a shining example of a concerned citizen jolted into a state of near-insomnia by the ramifications, the author of the Talking Dog blog, who has long maintained that the Padilla case is “the most important case of our lifetimes,” fulminated that the sweeping aside of an issue that involved “not just our entire Bill of Rights, but the Magna Carta” was effected by a “complicit commercial media [that] won't even tell us what happened.”

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, and the majority of the American people are happy to know that, like the worthless foreigners who can be seized, tortured and imprisoned without charge or trial at the whim of their President, they too can be seized, tortured and held in a military brig for 43 months, but I strongly suspect that this is not the case. The corollary – as a non-US citizen like myself is all too aware – is that, unless the issue of Padilla’s treatment is resuscitated and thrust at the administration whenever Bush or his dwindling coterie of cronies declares that America “does not torture,” then a viciously dismissive set of double standards is at work.

What the case of Jose Padilla should demonstrate most of all, to any American who recalls the barriers to tyranny erected in the Constitution and recognizes that the current administration has swept them away, is that not only should American citizens be protected from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, but those safeguards should also apply to foreigners, including the 359 men still detained in Guantánamo, the tens of thousands imprisoned in Iraq, and the hundreds of others held in secret CIA-run prisons or transferred to torture prisons in third countries.

The Talking Dog is right; it really is that important, and it is for this reason that Padilla’s lawyers are to be commended for filing their lawsuit challenging the President's power as commander-in-chief to dismiss the constitutional rights of US citizens designated as “enemy combatants” by asking US District Judge Henry Floyd to declare that Padilla's treatment in the brig was “unlawful and in violation of the Constitution.” As Jonathan Freiman, one of Padilla's lawyers, said when the lawsuit was announced, “This is the American people's last chance to know what happened behind the closed doors in Charleston, and the last chance for a court to determine if what happened is consistent with our Constitution and values.”

Monday, September 03, 2007

“We would rather be back in Guantánamo,” say Tunisians Abdullah bin Omar and Lofti Lagha, returned in June

Posted by Andy Worthington at 10:46 AM |

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

In the Washington Post, Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch provides gruelling updates on the stories of Abdullah bin Omar and Lofti Lagha, the Tunisian Guantánamo detainees who were returned to the country of their birth in June. Having recently travelled to Tunisia, Daskal reports that, although she was unable to gain access to bin Omar (referred to as Abdullah al-Hajji) and Lagha (and was tailed by plain clothes police throughout her visit), she met local activists, lawyers, government officials and family members who had met them, and who explained to her that they had been “telling visitors that things are so bad they would rather be back at Guantánamo Bay.”

According to Daskal, Hajji, whose story I reported here and here, “told his local lawyer that the Tunisian government's first act of welcome was to replace their blindfolds, which are used in transporting detainees, with hoods.” She adds that what happened shortly after his return “tracks closely with widely known practices of the Tunisian police,” and explains that he “endured two long days of interrogations at the Ministry of Interior, where he was “slapped,” “shaken awake every time he started to sleep,” and, as previously reported, threatened with the rape of his wife and daughters. At the end of this ordeal, Daskal reports that “the threats to Hajji's family were more than he could take: He told his lawyer that he signed the paper that officials thrust at him, even though his eyes had deteriorated so badly and his glasses were so old that he had no idea what it said.”

He was then taken before a Tunisian military court, which had “tried him in absentia and sentenced him to 10 years in 1995 on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist organization operating abroad,” even though the case against him “relied primarily” on a statement made by one of his 19 co-defendants, in which he claimed that Hajji had been associated with the Tunisian Islamic Front in Pakistan. Daskal notes that Hajji’s lawyer explained that the statement “was probably given after torture and abuse,” and also reports that Hajji himself said that “neither the Tunisians nor the Americans ever told him about this conviction before sending him home,” adding that, “had he known about it, he never would have wanted to return.” This confirms what one of his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith, explained in a New Statesman article shortly after his release:

“As I flew in to Guantánamo Bay on a small commercial plane recently, I squinted out of the window. A grey aircraft crouched at the end of the runway. Given the Bush administration's maverick rendition policy, I wondered whether the plane had been used for one of those forcible, extralegal transfers of prisoners to a torture chamber.

I had intended to visit a prisoner from Tunisia called Abdullah bin Omar. The administration once pretended that bin Omar was among the worst of the worst terrorists on earth. More recently, a military tribunal cleared him for release, finding that he was no threat to anyone. To be sure, such Guantánamo tribunals are themselves a travesty, relying on coerced and secret evidence, but at least bin Omar was allowed to be present to argue his innocence.

I had planned to advise bin Omar on his right to asylum. Tunisia has a far longer pedigree than Guantánamo's when it comes to denial of due process. Two colleagues recently travelled to Tunisia on his behalf and found that he had been sentenced in absentia to 23 years in prison. It was clear that he would be better off serving his sentence in absentia. He was almost certain to face torture on his return. All of this we had communicated to the US government – only bin Omar did not know the full extent of his peril in Tunisia.

I never got to see my client. The day after I arrived, as evening drew in, that grey plane took off. Having stalled me for a week, the US government then sent us an email saying that bin Omar had been a passenger on it.”

After his appearance before the military court, Daskal reports that, for the next six weeks, Hajji was “held in solitary confinement in a windowless, unventilated cell that he called his ‘tomb,’” and was allowed no contact with any other prisoners. She adds, “He was allowed just 15 minutes of recreation per day, in another windowless room, [and] told visitors that he never knew what time it was – not even when to pray.” Speaking of his treatment, his lawyer declared bluntly, “It’s illegal!” pointing out that the Tunisian government “had disavowed such solitary confinement in 2005 as cruel and outmoded,” brandishing “a tattered copy of the Tunisian Criminal Code and pointing excitedly to the provision that permits solitary confinement only for punitive purposes and not for more than 10 days.”

Lagha, whose release was first mentioned in an article I wrote here, has spoken briefly about his ill-treatment in US custody, but has so far mentioned little about his treatment since his return to the country of his birth. Daskal reports, however, that his lawyer explained that he “has been facing charges of participating in a terrorist organization abroad,” and that he was only moved out of solitary confinement two days before he first met him on August 9. Two of Lagha’s brothers, who “made the long trip from the family home in southern Tunisia to the capital to see him” while Daskal was there, explained that they thought that their brother was dead, and didn’t even know that he was being held at Guantánamo until they learned of his release on al-Arabiya TV.

As shocking as it is to realize that Lagha, who did not have legal representation in Guantánamo, spent five a half years in US custody without his family even knowing that he was alive, what is even more disturbing about this latest report on the fate of the two returned Tunisians is that it highlights, in stark and unarguable terms, that the “diplomatic assurances” made to the US government by the government of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – which purport to “negotiate away the risk of torture by getting promises of humane treatment from the receiving country” – are actually worthless.

Daskal reports that she asked Robert F. Godec, the US ambassador to Tunisia, to explain “what the Bush administration is doing to track the two men's cases,” and that Godec replied that “he had ‘specific and credible’ assurances from the Tunisian government that they would not be abused,” adding that “we follow up on these assurances.” But Daskal was concerned that he “would not say whether the treatment of Hajji and Lagha had lived up to Tunisia's pledges; nor would he say whether any US official had met with the two since their return home.” “This,” she concludes, “is disturbing: All we have are promises from a notoriously abusive regime, yet US officials will not even say whether they are following up on those assurances by talking to the detainees themselves.”

Sadly, this is also typical. Daskal, pointing out that “the United States is expressly prohibited under international law – in the form of the 1984 Convention Against Torture – from forcibly sending anyone back to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing they would be tortured,” notes that “Haphazardly shipping detainees such as Hajji and Lagha to countries with widely known records of torture is hardly the way to go about closing Guantánamo Bay.” In two other cases, however, the US administration is seeking to return other cleared detainees – the Algerian Abdul Rauf al-Qassim and the Algerian-born British resident Ahmed Belbacha – from Guantánamo to the country of their birth, even though both men fear that they will be tortured on their return, and has been joined by the British government in this plot to undermine international safeguards preventing torture.

As I reported here, the British government – which has refused to accept the return of Belbacha, even though he was granted leave to remain in the UK – has entered into agreements regarding the “humane treatment” of returned prisoners with the governments of Jordan, Libya and Algeria that are as worthless as the Americans’ “diplomatic assurances” from Tunisia. The motives vary: the Americans, for example, want to sweep out some inconvenient individuals from Guantánamo who should never have been detained in the first place, and the British want rid of prisoners held without charge or trial because, unlike most other countries in the West, they are stubbornly refusing to accept that intercept evidence can be used in trials without compromising intelligence sources (although the suspicion remains that, in many cases, they are unwilling to proceed with trials because their “intelligence” is shockingly poor). The end result, however, is the same: innocent men held for years without trial – or men whose guilt has never been demonstrated in a court of law, and who in many cases have never even been told what they are supposed to have done – are being returned to countries where they face the very real risk of torture.