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.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

High Court Rules Against UK and US in Case of Guantánamo Torture Victim Binyam Mohamed

Posted by Andy Worthington at 5:08 PM |

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

In the lawless world of Guantánamo -- and the United States’ even murkier network of secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA -- it has taken six years and four months for British resident Binyam Mohamed to secure anything resembling justice.

Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco three months later, where he was tortured on behalf of the US for 18 months, in sessions that regularly included having his genitals cut with a razor, and was then held for nine months in Afghanistan, first at the “Dark Prison,” a secret prison run by the CIA, where he was also tortured, and then at Bagram airbase. He has been held at Guantánamo since September 2004.

When justice finally came for Binyam, it was not at Guantánamo, but in London’s High Court, where, last Thursday, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones delivered a stinging rebuke to both the British and the American governments: to the British for the complicity of the UK intelligence services in the US administration’s post-9/11 policies of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, and to the Americans for the lawless conduct of the trials by Military Commission that were established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to deal with “terror suspects” like Binyam (even though the judges professed in their ruling that they “did not consider it necessary to form any view about the overall fairness of the Military Commissions procedure”).

The road to the High Court opened up in May this year, when Binyam’s lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, who represent over 30 Guantánamo prisoners, teamed up with solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. to sue the British government, seeking the release of information relating to British knowledge of Binyam’s rendition and torture, in preparation for his impending trial at Guantánamo.

In the event, this was prescient, as charges were leveled against Binyam on May 28, in connection with the spectral “dirty bomb” plot that was dropped years ago against US citizen Jose Padilla. It was, therefore, imperative that potentially exculpatory evidence -- which the British possessed, and which they had also handed over to the Americans -- was made available to his lawyers so that they could begin preparing a defense, and, preferably, discover evidence of torture, which would back up Binyam’s claims that the charges against him were based solely on confessions obtained through torture, and would, therefore, make the US administration call off his forthcoming trial.

It was an indication of how far removed the Military Commissions are from legal norms that, although Binyam’s lawyers contended that he had been tortured, and had discovered the records of “extraordinary rendition” flights that matched his accounts, the US administration had not only provided no information to enable them to defend him, but had also categorically refused to account for his whereabouts before his arrival at Bagram.

Whatever information they and the British possessed would, it was stated, be made available to Binyam’s military defense lawyer, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, at the discovery stage, should his trial go ahead, but as the trial of Salim Hamdan demonstrated last month, some evidence was withheld from the defense until the last possible moment, and other evidence -- relating, for example, to coercive interrogations of Hamdan conducted by the CIA in Afghanistan -- was ruled off-limits by the military judge presiding over the trial, and was, essentially, regarded as though it didn’t exist at all.

In Binyam’s case, his lawyers sued the British government after an earlier attempt to secure potentially exculpatory evidence from the British government was turned down, when the Treasury Solicitors, acting on behalf of the government, attempted to brush aside British complicity in Binyam’s rendition, torture and false confessions by claiming that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted,” and adding that “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK Government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by his British lawyers.

Last Thursday, following a judicial review in the High Court that was triggered when Binyam’s lawyers sued the government, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones demolished the government’s defense of its actions in a 75-page judgment (PDF), which is also available as a five-page summary (PDF).

The judges made clear that, after Binyam was captured and US agents came to regard him as “a serious potential threat to the security of the United Kingdom,” the British intelligence services had “every reason to seek to obtain as much intelligence from him as was possible in accordance with the rule of law and to cooperate as fully as possible with the United States authorities to that end.” They concluded, however, that the actions of the intelligence services from May 2002, when a British agent visited Binyam in US-supervised Pakistani custody, until February 2003, when the British last received information from the US regarding his interrogations, had placed the British government in a position where it “was involved, however innocently, in the alleged wrongdoing,” which it had helped facilitate.

Regarding Binyam’s time in Pakistan, where the British agent who visited him on May 17, 2002 made it clear that the British government “would not help [him] unless he cooperated fully with the US authorities,” the judges ruled that Binyam’s detention was “unlawful” under Pakistani law, because he “was being detained by the United States incommunicado and without access to a lawyer.” Furthermore, the judges noted that the British intelligence services “provided further information to the United States and further questions to be asked of BM [Binyam]” for nine months after this visit, even though he “was still incommunicado and they must also have appreciated that he was not in a United States facility and that the facility in which he was being detained was that of a foreign government (other than Afghanistan).”

The judges noted that all of the above was particularly significant because the information obtained from Binyam was “sought to be used as a confession in a trial where the charges … are very serious and may carry the death penalty,” and that it is “a long-standing principle of the common law that confessions obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment cannot be used as evidence in any trial.” They therefore ruled that “by seeking to interview BM in the circumstances found and supplying information and questions for his interviews, the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the United States authorities went far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.”

The gravity of this was brought home during the judicial review, when the agent who had interviewed Binyam in Pakistan was cross-examined for several days in closed sessions that were clearly so perilous for the agent, in terms of potential criminal liability for war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act of 2001, that he brought his own legal adviser with him, and, it was revealed in the judgment, initially refused to answer the judges’ questions, fearing self-incrimination. This, of course, is in marked contrast to the position held by the US administration, which has refused to sign up to the International Criminal Court, and which, in addition, maintains that it “does not torture” and continues to do all in its power to deny that it has been responsible for gross human rights abuses.

In the second part of their ruling, the judges took as their starting point an admission by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, which took place “after the commencement of this application but before the hearing,” that he had “identified documents which he considers could be considered exculpatory or might otherwise be relevant in the context of the proceedings before the Military Commission.” After stating that David Miliband had informed Binyam’s lawyers and had “provided these documents to the United States Government,” the judges added, “It is a matter of regret that the documents have not been made available in the proceedings under the Military Commissions Act in confidence to BM’s lawyers, who have security clearance from the United States authorities to at least secret level.”

This was not the judges’ only thinly-veiled criticism of the behavior of the US authorities, but it was for three specific reasons that they proceeded to rule that the Foreign Secretary was “under a duty” to disclose “in confidence” to Binyam’s legal advisers the requested information, which was “not only necessary but essential for his defense”: firstly, because the Foreign Secretary had not made the documents available to Binyam’s lawyers; secondly, because the US authorities had also refused to do so; and thirdly, because the Foreign Secretary had accepted that Binyam had “established an arguable case” that, until his transfer to Guantánamo, “he was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by or on behalf of the United States,” and was also “subject to torture during such detention by or on behalf of the United States.”

Having demolished the cases put forward by both the British and American governments, the judges nevertheless held out a lifeline for the Foreign Secretary, pointing out that they would “make no order for the provision of the information” until he “had an opportunity to consider the interests of national security in the light of these judgments,” and set a date for a second hearing on Wednesday August 27.

On the day, what was initially regarded as a straightforward hearing for the Foreign Secretary to announce his response to the judges’ ruling turned into another long session as the government responded to the security concerns mentioned by the judges by filing a Public Interest Immunity (PII) Certificate seeking to suppress disclosure of the documents on the grounds of national security, and the US State Department attempted to strike a deal through correspondence with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

John Bellinger, the State Department’s Legal Adviser, claimed that public disclosure of the documents was “likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm existing intelligence information-sharing arrangements between our two governments.” His only concession to the judges’ ruling was to note that the Office of the Chief Prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions had agreed to provide the British intelligence documents (44 in total) to the Commissions’ Convening Authority, Susan Crawford, if she requested them, “subject only to the condition that the names of American and British government officials and the locations of intelligence facilities will be redacted from the documents prior to their being provided.” He added that, if Binyam’s trial were to go ahead, the redacted documents would be made available to his military lawyer at the “normal discovery phase” of the process.

In a separate email to the FCO, Stephen Mathias, one of John Bellinger’s deputies, offered a further concession “by way of update,” in which he stated that the Legal Adviser had now decided to present the documents to Susan Crawford, without waiting for her to ask for them. Describing this as “a significant development,” Stephen Mathias proceeded to claim, with a degree of force that appeared rather intimidating, “Ordering the disclosure of US intelligence information now would have only the marginal effects of serious and lasting damage to the US-UK intelligence sharing relationship, and thus the national security of the United Kingdom, and of aggressive and unprecedented intervention in the apparently functioning adjudicatory processes of a longtime ally of the United Kingdom, in contravention of well established principles of international comity.”

As Ben Jaffey (for Binyam) argued in court, neither the State Department’s “carefully calibrated concessions” nor the British government’s claim of Public Interest Immunity were tenable. He pointed out, as the judges did in their ruling, that the case did not involve public disclosure of the documents, but only the confidential disclosure to Binyam’s lawyers, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley and Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, who both have US security clearance. He added that the supposed concessions demonstrated merely that the US government was determined to find any method possible to prevent disclosure, and added that nothing offered by the State Department addressed the “central question” relating to Binyam’s rendition and torture. “Where,” he asked, “was Mr. Mohamed between 2002 and 2004?”

Ben Jaffey was equally dismissive of the British government’s PII claims, noting, in particular, that David Miliband had effectively conceded that the British government was going to hand over the intelligence documents to Binyam’s lawyers until the State Department intervened, and calmly dismissing the government’s national security claims. His composure was in marked contrast to that of the government’s representative, Tim Eicke, who struggled to maintain a coherent argument, despite the best efforts of the many representatives of the government and the intelligence services at the back of the court, who kept slipping him notes suggesting new twists on the spurious national security case.

On Friday, the judges delivered their second judgment on Binyam’s case (PDF). Noting that the correspondence from the US State Department effected a “significant change” in the US position, they nevertheless refused to accept the British government’s position regarding its Public Interest Immunity Certificate. They were, it seemed, convinced in particular by submissions from the Special Advocates who represented Binyam in the various sessions of the court that were closed to the public when confidential material was being discussed. In the opinion of the Special Advocates, the PII Certificate, and other proposals presented in a closed session on Wednesday, “failed to address, in the light of allegations made by BM, the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Adding that this issue was something whose significance had been “accepted on behalf of the Foreign Secretary,” the judges proceeded to note that the Foreign Secretary “nevertheless contended that the issues arising out of BM’s allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were implicitly dealt with in his Certificate,” and in the documentation used in the closed session. “Having carefully considered this matter,” the judges wrote, “we do not consider that the issue arising out of the allegations made by BM is implicitly dealt with in these documents.”

Refusing to push the matter further, the judges commended the Foreign Secretary and the FCO’s Legal Adviser, Daniel Bethlehem QC, for having “gone to very considerable lengths to provide BM with assistance,” noting that it was “evident” that they had “been engaged in lengthy discussions which have led to the important changes” summarized in the second judgment. “This,” they added, “has been time-consuming and burdensome, and has rendered very real assistance to the interests of justice in this case.”

As a result, the judges concluded their second judgment by giving the Foreign Secretary another week to come up with a response to their initial ruling and the developments since. They suggested that this could be in the form of another security certificate, although I hope, of course, that, having been thrown another lifeline, the government might find it preferable, bearing in mind the Special Advocates’ description of “the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” either to give Binyam’s lawyers what they require, or, preferably, to convince the US administration that, in order to keep the door to the torture chambers firmly shut, the only available course of action is to drop the charges against Binyam and return him to the UK.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sign Petition to Help Guantanamo "Child Prisoner" Mohammad Jawad

Posted by Valtin at 10:29 PM |

Last week I publicized the extraordinary appeal campaign for Guantanamo detainee Mohammad Jawad initiated by his military attorneys. Jawad, who was arrested as a teenager in Afghanistan in December 2002, is the first child soldier to be tried as a "war criminal" in modern times. In U.S. custody, he has suffered beatings, threats, physical isolation, sleep deprivation, been subjected to 24-hour bright lights, and more. His attorneys have called for letters to be written to the Convening Authority at Guanatanamo, asking them to withdraw and dismiss the charges against Jawad.

Now, his attorneys have initiated an online petition campaign in his behalf. You can follow this link to go straight to the petition. Please sign it and pass the info on to whomever you can.

The latest news in the Jawad case is that Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority for the Military Tribunals at Guantanamo, has denied Major David Frakt's request for a face-to-face meeting with the defense. It is more important now then ever that we let the powers that be at Guantanamo and in the Pentagon know that we condemn this miscarriage of justice.

From the petition's appeal:
Mohammad Jawad is one of two juveniles captured in the war in Afghanistan to face charges before military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mohammad Jawad is charged with attempted murder stemming from a hand-grenade attack forces in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 17, 2002 in which two U.S. special forces soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were injured. Charges were referred to trial by the Convening Authority (the senior official in the military commissions) in January 2008. Since that time, significant new evidence has come to light casting doubt on Mr. Jawad's involvement in the attack. Additionally, significant evidence has come to light about the torture and abuse Mr. Jawad has suffered during his detention at Bagram Prison and Guantanamo Bay over the last 5 years and 8 months.

The charges against Mr. Jawad are unsupported under international law. Charging a child soldier with war crimes is unprecedented in modern history. The military judge has ordered the Convening Authority to reconsider her decision to refer the charges to trial and has afforded the defense an opportunity to submit written matters to the Convening Authority for her consideration. This petition drive and an associated letter-writing campaign are part of the defense efforts to persuade the Convening Authority to drop the charges. Thank you for your support.
The good folks at Cageprisoners.com have posted a sample letter with talking points on the case. Did you know, for instance...
Significant doubt exists about Mohammad Jawad’s role in the grenade attack of December 17, 2007:
· Afghan Interior Minister Taj Wardak publicly stated in a press conference on December 18, 2008 that three men were arrested, one teenager and two adults, in connection with the attack, and all three men had confessed their role. Only one hand grenade was thrown.

· Contemporaneous press accounts and military incident reports all indicate there were multiple perpetrators involved in the attack, and that more than one person was arrested.

· The adult perpetrators of the attack are not in U.S. custody and have not been brought to justice for their role in the attack.

· According to Mohammad Jawad, he was forcibly drugged for weeks prior to the attack including on the day of the attack. Several officials involved in interrogating Mohammad Jawad after the attack, both Afghani and American, observed that he appeared to be under the influence of drugs or going through withdrawal from drugs.

· The case against Mohammad Jawad relies almost entirely on a “confession” purportedly taken from Mohammad Jawad by Afghan authorities on December 17, 2002. According to Mohammad Jawad, he was subjected to both physical abuse and coerced by threats while in Afghan police custody. The confession itself was not written by Mohammad Jawad, who was functionally illiterate, and bears only his thumbprint. The confession is not even written in Mohammad Jawad’s native language of Pashto. Virtually all of the independently verifiable facts in the so-called confession are demonstrably false....

· Mohammad Jawad has been interrogated approximately 36 times at Guantanamo. In all of these interrogation sessions, he has never admitted throwing the hand grenade and has affirmatively and adamantly denied it, despite the use of illegal “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Mohammad Jawad, the same techniques which have broken hardened terrorists. Some of the interrogators and even the Combatant Status Review Tribunal have expressed doubt as to whether he threw the hand grenade.

· Mohammad Jawad is the only person charged under the MCA who is not even alleged to have any affiliation with al Qaida or the Taliban.

· No one died in the attack allegedly perpetrated by Mohammad Jawad. The injuries sustained by the two Special Forces soldiers in the attack, while painful, were not life-threatening. Both soldiers have been fully rehabilitated. One is back on active duty with the military and the other is a police officer in California. The Afghan interpreter received a humanitarian visa to the United States and has resettled permanently in Virginia.

· Significant doubt exists over whether the commission has jurisdiction over the alleged offense of Mohammad Jawad. Hand grenades are lawful weapons and uniformed soldiers in a combat zone are lawful military targets. Mohammad Jawad’s alleged actions are not a violation of the law of war. Even if we assume that he did throw the hand grenade, and was able to form the specific intent to kill the U.S. soldiers, this constitutes the domestic crime of attempted murder, it does not constitute the offense of attempted murder in violation of the law of war.
Mohammad Jawad is a human being -- on the battlefield, a mere teenager kidnapped and forced to fight for an Afghan militia. He has suffered tremendously. You can do something about it. It only takes a minute to sign a petition. You'll rarely have a chance to make so much difference with one minute of your time. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to email the petition link or this article to someone else.

A young man's life, swept up in the chaos and drama of a conflict half a world away, a man who is no terrorist or killer, stands in the balance. On the other side stands the Bush Administration's jerry-rigged, unfair military tribunal system, and its gulag of prisons, adept in the administration of psychological torture, built to extend the dictatorial reach of the President of the United States over every spot in the world.

Drop the charges and release Mohammad Jawad. Close down Guantanamo and the CIA secret prison system. Stop the torture and abuse of detainees.

Also posted at Invictus

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 18, 2008

Clarification on the Waterboard

Posted by Michael Otterman at 1:43 AM |

Last month, I wrote a small piece for the Guardian on Christopher Hitchens' much ballyhooed waterboard experience for Vanity Fair. While he conceded it was torture and cited the salient views of Malcolm Nance-- he didn't quite repudiate its use either. Hitchens, adopting the view of torture proponents, noted:
When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.
That all said, I was pleasantly impressed with a recent interview Hitchens' conducted on this topic. In it, he drops the viewpoint of torturers and clearly states waterboarding should be discontinued. "If needs must, what wouldn't you justify?", he says. Definitely a step in the right direction.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

APA Bureaucrats Try to Torpedo Anti-Torture Resolution

Posted by Valtin at 10:58 PM |

As Stephen Soldz, one of the supporters of an anti-torture referendum resolution now being mailed out to members of the American Psychological Association, reports:
The APA has launched a strong effort at spin and disinformation regarding the referendum. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues who should support this efforts have also parsed the text in such a way as to perceive a potential threat.
The referendum seems tame enough, stating:
Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.
The Incredible Lightness of Div. 48

A blow to the proponents of the referendum came from Executive Committee of APA's Division 48, the (ironically-named) Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. The statement by Division 48 is being passed around on the various APA listservs, as this is a battle largely being fought via e-mail, out of sight of the general public, and even much of APA membership, who may not pay attention to or even be members of the various listservs (which are generally populated by APA bureaucrats, bureaucrat wanna-bes, and members of the politicized opposition).

The EC at Division 48 states the referendum, whose "spirit" it "very much supports", "lacks clarity," is "unrealistic", and "more aspirational than practical." The meat of their opposition is expressed in a very particular fear:
As written, the petition/referendum also extends beyond psychologists involvement at detention sites for individuals held as "enemy combatants" to all contexts and could result in a prohibition against psychologists work in other environments within the United States (e.g., prisons, hospitals). Could psychologists work at supermax prisons, for example?....

... perhaps more importantly, we have concerns about the treatment of prisoners in U.S. correctional facilities and thus, do not want to take U.S. sites off the table for discussion related to human rights.
The opponents of the referendum have seized upon the apostasy of the Peace division, with APA President-elect James Bray circulating copies of the Division 48 Executive Committee position to other APA divisional listservs. The President of Division 48 has publicly stated that "the referendum in its current form would undermine the vital humanitarian work of many psychologists."

But the defense of supermax prison jobs, and the concern about U.S. prison conditions rings hollow, being a disingenuous attempt to back institutional concerns in alliance with the Department of Defense and the CIA. In political terms, the coalition between so-called peace psychologists and pro-military types within APA represents a classic rotten bloc.

In one example of the right-wing acrimony whipped up by the threats against psychologist jobs -- even jobs attending prisoners held in inhumane long-term isolation and/or indefinite detention -- I came across this case of preposterous mock-heroic posturing, posted to a listserv from the division for media and psychology:
The referenced sponsoring coalition would have us turn the USA into a toothless lion in our defense against the deranged terrorists, which have set a fatwa limit of 10-Million innocent casualties per incident.
Defending the Resolution

Meanwhile, the backers of the referendum have released a statement clarifying the intent of the resolution:
Dear APA members:

As sponsors and supporters of the referendum, we are aware that this is a period given to commentary from those who have introduced the referendum, and that–consistent with APA policy–such commentary will be considered in future policy decisions as valid interpretation of the resolution’s intent. We are also aware that there has been some concern voiced on several listservs that the resolution may have ‘unintended consequences’; namely that it may impact the work of psychologists working in existing U.S. jails, prisons, psychiatric facilities, and hospitals.

While we believe a reading of the full referendum in its context resolves these concerns, we would like to be sure that there are no misunderstandings on this point. We are therefore using this commentary period to reiterate the application of the petition, its meaning, and intent:

This referendum is focused on settings such as Guantánamo Bay and the CIA ‘black sites’ set up by the U.S. as part of its ‘global war on terror’; settings where the persons being detained are denied the protections of either constitutional or international law, settings which have been denounced by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

We are well aware of the harms and legal struggles facing certain prisons and jails inside the domestic U.S. criminal justice system. However, the referendum takes no position on such settings where prisoners have full access to independent counsel and constitutional protections; nor does the referendum take a position on settings that now exist within the domestic mental health system where clients and patients also possess these basic rights.

For Psychologists for an Ethical APA
Dan Aalbers

Ruth Fallenbaum

Brad Olson
As Soldz's piece points out, The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International has issued a statement in support of the referendum, as has former APA-PENS member Jean Marie Arrigo. Former head of APA's Practice Directorate, Bryant Welch, has released a statement in support, as well:
This is the third consecutive annual convention in which APA has presented new reasons for refusing to explicitly state that psychologists are not to participate in detention centers where torture is being used. In 2006 we were told, among many things, that torture was not occurring, and that it was sufficient for APA to reiterate its 1986 resolution “opposing torture.” Last year we were told that psychologists’ presence at the detention centers was actually necessary to prevent the torture whose very existence these same APA officials denied the previous year. Bizarrely, APA outlawed nineteen specific forms of torture, as if in some way the large number of proscribed techniques would cripple torture efforts.

As a result, for the first time in APA history, APA rank and file members have secured the necessary signatures to petition the APA and force APA to submit the torture issue to a referendum by the membership.

Persisting in its support for psychologists’ participation in Bush detention centers and appearing insensitive to the moral concerns of its members, APA leaders are now advising APA members to oppose the referendum because the language of the referendum might be interpreted to preclude psychologists working in certain institutional settings. This argument is based on scenarios that are extremely far fetched and could readily be addressed even were they to occur. To the public, of course, the message would be that psychologists are not willing to stop torture now if there is even a remote risk of losing jobs in the future.

Since the Bush Administration will be out of office by the next time APA meets, this will be the last opportunity psychologists will have to remove this terrible stain from our reputation and our history.

Torture is not a nuanced issue. Vote No to torture. Vote YES on the referendum.
The voting will continue for the next month or so. If you know a psychologist, forward this story to them. Have them visit ethicalapa.com. Tell them about the presidential campaign of Steven Reisner, who aims to implement the policies the referendum represents.

APA and the National Security State

I, of course, am under no illusions that the APA will be reformed any time soon. It will be an immense victory to pass the resolution or elect Dr. Reisner. But the APA policy and organizational apparatus is fully intertwined in the governmental spiderweb of military, intelligence, and private consultation and "scientific" organizations, and academia, under the umbrella of serving the national security state. This wide-ranging set of special interests forms an extremely formidable opposition to those who would fundamentally change the policies and personnel responsible for the institution of a world-wide network of secret prisons and institutionalized torture.

But, as the cliche states, every journey must begin with the first steps. And a necessary first step is supporting the referendum being voted on this month at APA, and helping circulate the defense of that referendum as far and widely as you can.

Also posted at Invictus and Daily Kos

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why the Silence on Real Torture Timeline?

Posted by Valtin at 2:44 PM |

Last month, I examined the testimony from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on interrogations and torture. The hearings concentrated on the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program, and its use of military psychologists hired by the CIA to "reverse-engineer" SERE program elements for use in coercive interrogations by the United States at Guantanamo Bay prison and elsewhere.

The timelines constructed out of this testimony and ancillary documentary evidence showed the Department of Defense turned to SERE for help in interrogating "enemy combatants" in July 2002. At least, that seems the case if you follow the summary given by SASC Committee Chair, Senator Carl Levin, adhered to in subsequent reports by every other journalist (but one).

Except, the timeline was wrong, and that fact is available for anyone to read in black and white. It was also admitted, grudgingly, by Levin himself, in an exchange with me during a "liveblog" session at Firedoglake.

As I wrote in my June 23 article:
While Senator Levin gives a fairly thorough presentation of how SERE techniques migrated to Guantanamo, including discussions and meetings and when they took place, and descriptions (at least in the documents released by the committee) of what kind of techniques were being taught, one date is inexplicably left out which Lt. Col. Baumgarten gave in his testimony. [Baumgarten is former Chief of Staff of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense, and administratively responsible for the SERE program.] Levin concentrates upon the late July 2002 request by Richard Shiffrin, a Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Defense, for information on SERE techniques and their effects upon prisoners.... But Baumgarten's own opening statement gives a more nuanced, different story. From [Lt. Col. Baumgarten's] statement, as published online (bold emphasis added):
My recollection of my first communication with [Department of Defense] OGC [Office of General Counsel] relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
Now something is very strange here, as Levin's own staff appear to have documents indicating DoD was asking about SERE techniques in December 2001, eight months before the July 2002 request everyone else is concentrating on. Why this gap? My guess is that it would take us even closer to the Oval Office than Levin or anyone else wants to go at this point. Where are these documents on the December 2001 request? Why did no one on the committee question Baumgarten about this issue during the hearings?
Senator Levin Responds

Learning that Carl Levin was to participate in a "liveblog" discussion at Firedoglake on July 15, I showed up to ask my questions. What follows are my questions and Sen. Levin's responses.
[Valtin:] Sen. Levin, Your timeline for SERE interjection into U.S. torture training goes to July 2002. But Lt. Col. Baumgarten’s own statement indicates that he was approached by Shiffren (or others?) in December 2001. This is verified, supposedly, by documents your committee staffers showed him.

Why are these documents not released? Why isn’t this Dec. 2001 part of the timeline emphasized? Would not this early of an approach to use SERE for reverse-engineering purposes put some in the Administration in greater legal jeopardy, as the OLC rulings on detainees did not come until early 2002?
[Levin:] Lt. Col. Baumgartner did so testify at our hearing. However information relating to his discussions with Shiffrin remains classified. When our report is finalized we will press the DoD to declassify this matter.
[Valtin:] Thank you for your response, Sen. Levin. I suspected this was the case. Can you comment on the significance of a timeline that begins in December 2001 instead of July 2002, as that would help educate the public as to why such documents should be declassified. DoD could certainly do their usual redactions for security purposes. Or is it not just DoD we are talking about here?

Also, Sen. Levin, why wait until your report is “finalized” to press for declassification? That could be many months from now. Why not ask for declassification… now?
[Levin:] We have many pending requests for declassification, and we’re not waiting for our report to be finalized to ask for declassification of numerous documents. The Yoo memo is an example of where we put maximum pressure on for declassification. There is only one minute left in the roll call, so I have to run. Thanks for joining me today.
I hope the reader notices the care with which Sen. Levin made his remarks. He said nothing about the significance of the Baumgartner revelations. He also answered my complaint about the lassitude in pursuing declassification of the relevant documents with a huffy protestation of how the committee is pursuing the declassification of "numerous documents" -- though not necessarily the ones in their possession showing Pentagon OCG approaches to SERE re "the exploitation process" and the "lessons" of captivity and torture interrogation in December 2001.

The Importance of the Timeline

Why bury the information on the December 2001 portion of the timeline, moving the supposedly relevant first approach to SERE to July 2002? The answer is quite simple: the Administration had not gotten all its legal ducks in a row by December 2001, a time when the first detainees, such as so-called "American Taliban", John Walker Lindh, were being captured and tortured by U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan.
Lindh was found barely alive, shot in the leg, and suffering from dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. Although Lindh was seriously wounded, starving, freezing, and exhausted, U.S. soldiers blindfolded and handcuffed him naked, scrawled “shithead” across the blindfold, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, threatened him with death, and posed with him for pictures. Parts of his ordeal were captured on videotape.
From the very beginning of the U.S. "war on terror", post-9/11, Bush Administration lawyers, led by David Addington (as argued so persuasively in Jane Mayer's new book, The Dark Side), looked for ways to deny U.S. and internationally recognized rights to prisoners caught up in the anti-terrorist dragnet and ongoing military operations.

Ultimately, President George W. Bush denied that even minimal Geneva Conventions protections applied to the "illegal enemy combatants" captured by the U.S. Subsequently, in an infamous set of memos written by Addington, Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, and others, long-standing protections against torture and cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment were taken away from the burgeoning population of prisoners, imprisoned now in ad hoc bases in Afghanistan, held on prison ships, and some subsequently either sent via "extraordinary rendition" to be tortured by foreign "allies", held incommunicado in secret CIA prisons, or shipped to the new U.S. prison constructed at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.

On February 7, 2002, Bush signed an executive order outlining treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban detainees:
Pursuant to my authority as commander in chief and chief executive of the United States, and relying on the opinion of the Department of Justice dated January 22, 2002, and on the legal opinion rendered by the attorney general in his letter of February 1, 2002, I hereby determine as follows:

a. I accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world because, among other reasons, al-Qaida is not a High Contracting Party to Geneva.

b. I accept the legal conclusion of the attorney general and the Department of Justice that I have the authority under the Constitution to suspend Geneva as between the United States and Afghanistan, but I decline to exercise that authority at this time. Accordingly, I determine that the provisions of Geneva will apply to our present conflict with the Taliban. I reserve the right to exercise the authority in this or future conflicts.

c. I also accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al-Qaida or Taliban detainees, because, among other reasons, the relevant conflicts are international in scope and common Article 3 applies only to "armed conflict not of an international character."

d. Based on the facts supplied by the Department of Defense and the recommendation of the Department of Justice, I determine that the Taliban detainees are unlawful combatants and, therefore, do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva. I note that, because Geneva does not apply to our conflict with al-Qaida, al-Qaida detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.
A list of the Bush Administration documents on interrogation can be found at this Washington Post web page, including the January 22, 2002 memo written by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee and addressed to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and the Pentagon's general counsel, William J. Haynes II. Bybee argued that that the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Convention did not apply to al Qaeda prisoners; the August 1, 2002 memo to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales from Jay S. Bybee of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel concluded that techniques used to interrogate al Qaeda operatives would not violate a 1984 international treaty prohibiting torture", and others documents not mentioned here. (Of course, the WP list doesn't include new memos recently declassified, at least in part, as part of the ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the government.)

The crucial point about all these memos and executive orders is that they come after the December 2001 approach by officials of the Department of Defense looking -- against all national and international laws, treaties and covenants then in effect -- how to torture prisoners held by the United States. Keeping the "timeline" safely within the July 2002 parameter provides a veneer of legal cover, as flimsy as it might be (since torture is always illegal, and it's not clear that even the Bybee, Yoo, and other memos will protect administration officials against prosecution for war crimes, at least by international tribunal).

While I am no attorney, I strongly believe the December 2001 origin of the timeline exposes officials in the U.S. government to prosecution for war crimes by both domestic and international bodies. Congressional officials, and first among them the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have not seen fit to seriously address their watchdog role, satisfying themselves with toothless votes of censure, limited hang-out investigations, and a refusal to pursue impeachment against Bush and Cheney.

A Call to Activists, Attorneys, and Journalists

The December 2001 Baumgartner documents are not going to be declassified, at least not in any timely way, unless public pressure is put upon the government to do so. One little blogger is not going to be enough to push back against bureaucratic inaction and/or obstructionism. Why important reporters and/or press or bloggers have not picked up on this is beyond me, but I will withhold judgment on that score for the time being, if only the delay in coverage is remedied soon.

The smoking gun is out there. And even if these documents do not turn out to be the smoking gun I think they are, the need to know our history for the last seven years, to come to terms with how the U.S. became a torturing nation, demands that we know the truth.

Senator Levin, release the documents from December 2001 that discuss any or all approaches by government officials to Lt. Col. Baumgartner, or other SERE or JPRA individuals or bodies regarding the "exploitation" or interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody.
Senator Carl Levin can be reached at 269 Russell Office Building, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510-2202. His email link is here. His telephone number is (202) 224-6221; Fax (202) 224-1388; TTY (202) 224-2816.
Also posted at Invictus

Labels: , , , , , , ,