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, May 28, 2009

Unreleased Abu Ghraib pictures show rape and sexual abuse

Posted by Fatima Kola at 8:44 AM |

From the Telegraph today, a particularly sickening revelation that confirms earlier suspicions - the pictures from Abu Ghraib that Obama decided not to release show rape and sexual assault, including that of a young teenage boy.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

A Brief History of Recent Failures to Uphold the Constitution

Posted by The Baggage Handler at 9:25 AM |

When it comes to the many issues surrounding the US war crime of torture, one of the main political questions for me is who among American politicians should be investigated, prosecuted and, if found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, sentenced according to the law (impeachment, jail time, disbarring, censure, etc.).

It has been rather clear to me that Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Rice, Rumsfeld and several of their minions (Addington, Feith, Yoo, Bybee, etc.) should have been investigated back in 2004/2005 after Abu Ghraib broke--that is, after it became more and more clear that the Bush administration had authorized, rationalized and ordered crimes such as extraordinary rendition and torture.

Since then it has become clear that prosecution has been in order for years, especially after Obama's recent release of the so-called torture memos and the recent release of the Red Cross report. It has also become clear that many in congress and elsewhere, Democrats and Republicans, are now guilty of failing to uphold the constitution and should also be investigated and potentially prosecuted.

Condoleezza Rice's recent comment that "by definition if it was authorized by the President" any controversial interrogation technique is therefore legal suggests why Bush and his cronies should be in more trouble than they are currently in: they believed that they were above the law simply by Presidential decree. Dana Milbank reported on the Bush administration's post-Watergate move to return power to the President, but his report buys into Bush administration rationalizations that there is actually a constitutional theory that supports giving the power to the President to suspend the constitution. Milbank calls this theory a strong version of the "unitary executive theory," but even this executive-biased theory has to be stretched beyond all recognition to match Rice's imperial legal theory (irony: she will be teaching political theory at Stanford).

In 2005 it became clear that Bush and Co. had broken the Watergate-inspired FISA law by wiretapping US citizens without warrants. By early 2006, the focus of those interested in bringing the Bush administration to justice switched from lying us into war, war crimes and torture to warrantless wiretapping, which at the time seemed like a much clearer violation of the law since Bush and Co., in all their arrogance, admitted they were accountable. There was also an under-reported majority of Americans who supported impeachment for warrantless wiretapping. In January, 2006, Al Gore said on ABC News that warrentless wiretapping could constitute an impeachable offense.

To many, these areas of "high crimes" were all, by themselves, deserving of investigation, prosecution and even impeachment years ago. But from Abu Ghraib in 2004 to the mid-term election in late 2006, the Bush administration had nothing to fear because a Republican-led congress had no problem violating the law by ignoring calls for independent investigations. They felt no need to uphold the constitution, and the citizenry did not hold them accountable to their sworn oaths to do so. These violations of the law themselves deserve investigation: legislatures should not have a choice with respect to upholding the constitution. It is their legal obligation. This is also true for Democratic legislatures, including Pelosi, and our current Executive, who both share an "off the table" policy with regard to even investigation of these high crimes.

My argument has always been that deciding not to investigate, let alone prosecute, these obvious high crimes is itself a high crime. The oath that all of these politicians take when they begin their service to us citizens starts with the idea of upholding the constitution. It's very basic, very American. Of course, the idea is to have a system of checks and balances between three equally weighted branches of government, in a way that supports the rule of law (in order to avoid the rule of people and parties, dictators, kings and oligarchies). During 2004-2006, a GOP dominated executive, legislative and judiciary did not provide any hope for such checks and balances, but it did provide fertile ground for the executive's abuse of power in the form of assuming king-like powers to be above the law. GOP leaders even employed the anachronistic idea "sovereign immunity"--and our supposedly liberal President has followed suit and even gone further than the Bushies in some ways.

In November, 2006, there was cause for hope regarding investigations of GOP high crimes when a new, Democratic-led congress was elected. This hope was quickly dashed by the new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, when she declared soon after assuming power, in contrast to the campaign promises of many in her party, that impeachment processes, including any investigations to see if prosecution would be warranted, were "off the table."

A little over a year later, in December, 2007, a reason came to light for Pelosi's "off the table" policy, an obvious betrayal of her duty to uphold the constitution. Pelosi had been briefed on "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" in September, 2002. As John Nichols recently points out, this was known in late 2007, but it has only recently become big news after the release of the pertinent CIA briefings notes, which do not explicitly mention waterboarding. Everyone is focused on waterboarding and whether Pelosi was briefed on them in September, 2002, because it is seen as an obvious form of torture, and even more obviously when used 83 times, as it was against Abu Zubaydah. The problem with this focus on waterboarding, according to the Physicians for Human Rights, is that all of the EITs are potentially torture:

The unprecedented analysis by Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights combines medical and legal expertise to comprehensively examine ten techniques widely reported to have been authorized for use in the CIA's secret interrogation program, including sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, stress positions, beating, and induced hypothermia. The Report —"Leave No Marks: 'Enhanced' Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality"— demonstrates the mental and physical consequences of the use of these techniques, and its title refers to the techniques' intended design, which is to inflict psychological trauma and pain without leaving physical scars. U.S. law requires an assessment of the physical and mental impact of an interrogation method to determine its legality. The report concludes that each of the ten tactics is likely to violate U.S. laws, including the War Crimes Act, the U.S. Torture Act, and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.


Pelosi insistence that she was not briefed on waterboarding in September, 2002, is basically a claim that she was not briefed on techniques that would constitute torture, therefore she had no obligation at the time to report or investigate possible war crimes. The CIA claims Pelosi knew about waterboarding in 2002, but Pelosi claims she didn't know until 2003 and that the CIA lied to her then, saying it would be used, not that it had been in use for a long time. All of these complexities are moot: if Pelosi was briefed on EITs, she was briefed on possible war crimes, with or without waterboarding, and whether it was briefed as being done at the time or as a plan for the future. She was legally obligated to have done something in 2002 and should be investigated.

GOP leaders have recently called for investigations of Pelosi's role in approving torture, and have even gone so far as to say she was one of the authors of this policy. I agree with Robert Scheer when he argues that calling Pelosi an "author" of the policy is nonsense, but I go farther than calling her simply an enabler:

"She was neither the author of a systematic policy of torture nor has she been, like Cheney and most top Republicans in Congress, an enduring apologist for its practice. It is a nonsensical distraction to place her failure to speak out courageously as a critic of the Bush policies on the same level as those who engineered one of the most shameful debacles in U.S. history. But what she, and anyone else who went along with this evil, as lackadaisically as she now claims, should be confronted with are the serious implications of their passive acquiescence."
Pelosi silence after the 2002 briefing and her "off the table" policy certainly enabled the Bush administration to both continue torturing and avoiding prosecution. But "enable" seems too weak here. I would go with "accomplice" and suggest that she should be investigated and prosecuted if it is found that she failed in her duty to uphold the constitution."


Pelosi is also embroiled in the wiretapping crime. She admitted that she was briefed "a few years ago" on Bush administration illegal wiretaps of Representative Jane Harman and, again, chose to do nothing about it. Take a second and consider this: the Bush administration confesses to wiretapping (Watergate!) a leading Democrat (Watergate!), and they confess this to another leading Democrat, and she then decides not to do anything about it. Regardless if she was protecting herself or Harmon, how could she rationalize that it was okay not to do anything about this obvious high crime of subverting our democracy, one that is so much like the Nixon administration's bugging of the Democratic headquarters? It is important to ask if Harmon break the law with regard to AIPAC, but it is much more important to investigate the Bush administration for these crimes, and anyone who enabled them to get away with it, including Pelosi and Harman, who has now changed her tune on warrantless wiretapping.

These two examples of Pelosi enabling the Bush administration's criminal actions--wiretapping and torture--make Pelosi's "off the table" policy understandable: she was protecting herself from investigation and possible prosecution. This also makes Obama's decision to adopt the "off the table" policy more understandable: in addition to trying to create an environment better suited to passing the legislation he wants passed, he was probably also protecting the second highest ranking Democrat: Nancy Pelosi. Regardless of his reasons, his DECISION not to uphold the constitution seems to me be a high crime itself.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Cheney Show

Posted by Michael Otterman at 8:44 PM |

I was recently interviewed by the Netherlands' Nova news program about Dick Cheney's seemingly endless media carousel ride. It pains me to say it-- but with Obama's about face on the torture photos and strong public support of torture, it appears Dick may be successfully pushing the debate into the dark side. At least this was cathartic: Cheney's FOIA request was denied due to secrecy laws he put into place. Nova clip below:

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Even In Cheney's Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low

Posted by Andy Worthington at 6:52 PM |

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

Since the publication last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo (PDF), much has been made of a footnote containing a comment made by Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat Stress Control Team, who, with two colleagues, was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo.

In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. Burney wrote that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

In an article to follow, I’ll look at how Maj. Burney -- almost accidentally -- assumed a pivotal role in the implementation of torture techniques in the “War on Terror,” but for now I’m going to focus on the significance of his comments, which are, of course, profoundly important because they demonstrate that, in contrast to the administration’s oft-repeated claims that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” foiled further terrorist attacks on the United States, much of the program was actually focused on trying to establish links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that would justify the planned invasion of Iraq.

Maj. Burney’s testimony provides the first evidence that coercive and illegal techniques were used widely at Guantánamo in an attempt to secure information linking al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, but it is not the first time that the Bush administration’s attempts to link a real enemy with one that required considerable ingenuity to conjure up have been revealed.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: the tortured lie that underpinned the Iraq war

In case anyone has forgotten, when Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military training camp in Afghanistan, was captured at the end of 2001 and sent to Egypt to be tortured, he made a false confession that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi later recanted his confession, but not until Secretary of State Colin Powell -- to his eternal shame -- had used the story in February 2003 in an attempt to persuade the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.

It’s wise, I believe, to resuscitate al-Libi’s story right now for two particular reasons. The first is because, when he was handed over to US forces by the Pakistanis, he became the first high-profile captive to be fought over in a tug-of-war between the FBI, who wanted to play by the rules, and the CIA -- backed up by the most hawkish figures in the White House and the Pentagon -- who didn’t. In an article published in the New Yorker in February 2005, Jane Mayer spoke to Jack Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer, who worked for the agency from 1972 to 2002, who told her that his intention had been to secure evidence from al-Libi that could be used in the cases of two mentally troubled al-Qaeda operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, a proposed 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and Richard Reid, the British “Shoe Bomber.”

Crucially, Mayer reported, Cloonan advised his colleagues in Afghanistan to interrogate al-Libi with respect, “and handle this like it was being done right here, in my office in New York.” He added, “I remember talking on a secure line to them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a shining example of what we feel is right.’”

However, after reading him his rights, and taking turns in interrogating him with agents from the CIA, Cloonan and his colleagues were dismayed when, in spite of developing what they believed was “a good rapport” with him, the CIA decided that tougher tactics were needed, and rendered him to Egypt. According to an FBI officer who spoke to Newsweek in 2004, "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f*** her.' So we lost that fight.” Speaking to Mayer, Jack Cloonan added, “At least we got information in ways that wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” He added, “We need to show the world that we can lead, and not just by military might.”

In November 2005, the New York Times reported that a Defense Intelligence Agency report had noted in February 2002, long before al-Libi recanted his confession, that his information was not trustworthy. As the Times described it, his claims “lacked specific details about the Iraqis involved, the illicit weapons used and the location where the training was to have taken place.” The report itself stated, “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Had anyone asked Dan Coleman, a colleague of Cloonan’s who also had a long history of successfully interrogating terrorist suspects without resorting to the use of torture, it would have been clear that torturing a confession out of al-Libi was a counter-productive exercise.

As Mayer explained, Coleman was “disgusted” when he heard about the false confession, telling her, “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq. I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”

This, I believe, provides an absolutely critical explanation of why the Bush administration’s torture regime was not only morally repugnant, but also counter-productive, and it’s particularly worth noting Coleman’s comment that “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any.” However, I realize that the failure of torture to produce genuine evidence -- as opposed to intelligence that, though false, was at least “actionable” -- was exactly what was required by those, like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, “Scooter” Libby and other Iraq obsessives, who wished to betray America doubly, firstly by endorsing the use of torture in defiance of almost universal disapproval from government agencies and military lawyers, and secondly by using it not to prevent terrorist attacks, but to justify an illegal war.

Where are Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and the other 79 “ghost prisoners”?

In addition, a second reason for revisiting al-Libi’s story emerged two weeks ago, when memos approving the use of torture by the CIA, written by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, were released, because, in one of the memos from 2005, the author, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury, revealed that a total of 94 prisoners had been held in secret CIA custody. As I noted at the time, what was disturbing about this revelation was not the number of prisoners held, because CIA director Michael Hayden admitted in July 2007 that the CIA had detained fewer than 100 people at secret facilities abroad since 2002, but the insight that this exact figure provides into the supremely secretive world of “extraordinary rendition” and secret prisons that exists beyond the cases of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA custody in September 2006.

Al-Libi, of course, is one of the 80 prisoners whose whereabouts are unknown. There are rumors that, after he was fully exploited by the administration’s own torturers (in Poland and, almost certainly, other locations) and by proxy torturers in Egypt, he was sent back to Libya, to be dealt with by Colonel Gaddafi. I have no sympathy for al-Libi, as the emir of a camp that, at least in part, trained operatives for terrorist attacks in their home countries (in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East), but if there is ever to be a proper accounting for what took place in the CIA’s global network of “extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons, and proxy prisons, then al-Libi’s whereabouts, along with those of the other 79 men who constitute “America’s Disappeared” (as well as all the others rendered directly to third countries instead of to the CIA’s secret dungeons), need to be established.

Torturing Abu Zubaydah “to achieve a political objective”

Al-Libi’s story is, of course, disturbing enough as evidence of the utter contempt with which the Bush administration’s warmongers treated both the truth and the American public, but as David Rose explained in an article in Vanity Fair last December, al-Libi was not the only prisoner tortured until he came up with false confessions about links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

According to two senior intelligence analysts who spoke to Rose, Abu Zubaydah, the gatekeeper for the Khaldan camp, made a number of false confessions about connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, above and beyond one particular claim that was subsequently leaked by the administration: a patently ludicrous scenario in which Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq) were working with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. One of the analysts, who worked at the Pentagon, explained, “The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaydah was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.”

However, none of the analysts knew that these confessions had been obtained through torture. The Pentagon analyst told Rose, “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” He added, “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective.”

This is the crucial line, of course, and its significance is made all the more pronounced by the realization that, as one of Bradbury’s torture memos also revealed, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning) 83 times in August 2002. The administration persists in claiming that this hideous ordeal produced information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, but we have known for years that KSM was seized after a walk-in informer ratted on him, and those of us who have been paying attention also know that, in the case of Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber,” who spent three and a half years in solitary confinement in a US military brig until he lost his mind, there never was an actual “dirty bomb” plot. This was admitted, before his torture even began, by deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who stated, in June 2002, a month after Padilla was captured, “I don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk.”

All this leaves me with the uncomfortable suspicion that what the excessive waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah actually achieved -- beyond the “30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent,” that was “spent chasing leads that were bullshit,” as an FBI operative explained to David Rose -- were a few more blatant lies to fuel the monstrous deception that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

A single Iraqi anecdote, and a bitter conclusion

It remains to be seen if further details emerge to back up Maj. Burney’s story. From my extensive research into the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners, I recall only that one particular prisoner, an Iraqi named Arkan al-Karim, mentioned being questioned about Iraq. Released in January this year, al-Karim had been imprisoned by the Taliban before being handed over to US forces by Northern Alliance troops, and had been forced to endure the most outrageous barrage of false allegations in Guantánamo, but when he spoke to the review board that finally cleared him for release, he made a point of explaining, “The reason they [the US] brought me to Cuba is not because I did something. They brought me from Taliban prison to get information from me about the Iraqi army before the United States went to Iraq.”

However, even without further proof of specific confessions extracted by the administration in an attempt to justify its actions, the examples provided in the cases of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah should be raised every time that Dick Cheney opens his mouth to mention the valuable intelligence that was extracted through torture, and to remind him that, instead of saving Americans from another terror attack, he and his supporters succeeding only in using lies extracted through torture to send more Americans to their deaths than died on September 11, 2001.

For other recent articles by Andy dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? and CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

For an Unambiguous End to Torture, Israel Offers a Troubling Model

Posted by Fatima Kola at 5:22 PM |


Since the new memos have been released, I've noticed that a number of commentators have started discussing how the US can follow Israel's 1999 Supreme Court ruling that, in their words, completely banned torture in Israel despite the threat of terrorism in that country. For example, an article in the New York Times from last week by Serge Schemann claims that although Israel had used 'moderate physical pressure' before 1999, after the 1999 ruling torture was rejected because it was unjustifiable—even in cases of ticking bomb scenarios—and that democracy meant not giving into the temptation to torture. Recently, Robert Baer, a former CIA officer and author, appeared on the Bill Maher show claiming the same - that Israel had successfully rejected torture and found ways to deal with terrorism without it, and that the US could follow in its footsteps and do the same.

The problem is that according to Israeli human rights organisations and the testimony of Palestinian prisoners, Israel has not refrained from torture or ill-treatment since 1999. Furthermore, the 1999 ruling that is so celebrated was far from an unequivocal ban on torture. In fact, the US has probably already learned from Israel—the notorious 2002 memos discuss in some detail Israel's use of the 'defence of necessity', the caveat applied to the 1999 'ban' on torture that arguably made it ineffective, and permitted torture and ill-treatment to occur without accountability and absolved interrogators of liability for their actions.

Before 1999, Israeli laws regarding interrogation were informed by a report from the Landau Commission, which found that 'moderate physical pressure' (including violent shaking, hooding, stress positions, sleep, and sensory deprivation) were 'regrettable but necessary' during interrogations dealing with 'hostile terrorist activity' in instances where more conventional interrogation methods had failed. This treatment would be subject to a variety of confidential safeguards. By 1998, the UN Committee Against Torture ruled that these methods constituted torture, and that in Israel its use had become routine and systematic. In 1999, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) brought a case alleging torture, and the Supreme Court ruled that the moderate physical pressure was not permissible, and that the prohibition is absolute. An interrogation must only use methods that are 'reasonable and fair'; that is, those that are 'necessarily... free of torture, free of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of the subject and free of any degrading handling whatsoever' (interestingly, the court did not rule that sleep deprivation constituted an act that fell outside of lawful sanctions), The court also noted that torture is incompatible with Israel's Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty.

This is where Baer, Schemann, and others seem to have concluded their analysis; but the ruling does not stop there. The court included a fatal caveat in its grand declaration: the defence of necessity. Under the defence, interrogators who use moderate physical pressure can avoid criminal responsibility for their acts when they believe that circumstances require them. Based on section 34 (II) of the Israeli Penal Code, if an interrogator acts in a way that is 'immediately necessary' for the purpose of saving the life, body, or property of himself or another from serious, imminent harm, and claims that no other means would have achieved the desired result, he can avoid criminal liability. This sounds reasonable in theory: it immediately brings to mind the ticking bomb scenario, or a Hollywood set-piece in which the tough, determined interrogator saves a bus full of innocents at the last minute from a mad terrorist hijacker. In Israel, however—based on reports of human rights organizations—it hasn't played out quite that way.

Firstly, any further development of the defence beyond the paradigm of the ticking bomb scenario was left up to the government and the security services, who would have to lay down any guidelines advising when a situation could be deemed acceptably imminent to necessitate methods that would otherwise constitute an illegal act of torture. Adding to this vague and potentially over-permissive formula, part of the Court’s ruling stated that even a terrorist act that would occur in days or even weeks could be 'imminent'. Ultimately, the Court said, the Attorney-General could decide himself whether a ticking bomb scenario had in fact occurred and the interrogator had acted properly. PCATI claims that the Attorney-General, as a result, grants 'wholesale, with no exception, the necessity defence approval for every single case of torture', and that 'hundreds' of cases have been approved this way—with, up until today, not a single interrogator being held responsible for acts for improper use of 'moderate physical pressure'.

The claims of detainees are even more disturbing. In 2007, a Hamoked and B'Tselem report (you can read it here) claimed that Palestinian detainees had been punched and kicked; hit with objects; thrown against walls; bound painfully with plastic handcuffs (some detainees were left with marks for months); sworn at; subjected to religious and sexual humiliation and degradation; denied basic needs (such as visits to the bathroom, medication or water); left shackled for hours in the sun; held in solitary confinement; held in uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions; subjected to sensory and sleep deprivation; tied in painful stress positions; and subjected to threats and intimidation against the detainee or his family, including threats of sexual violence against family members. Whether tactics amount to torture or 'merely' inhuman and degrading treatment is a matter of academic discussion. All are, at the very least, ill-treatment; and none, arguably, are inherent in ordinary lawful sanctions. Some of these did not occur during the interrogation themselves but during arrest and detention procedures; but surely such treatment as this, even outside of the interrogation room, contributes as much to breaking the detainee down and treats them as inhumanely as it would if it were accompanied by questions. While the incidence of ill-treatment may have decreased since the ruling, it nonetheless occurs with alarming frequency; and surely torture is such an abhorrent act that even a single detainee tortured is one too many, and presents a cause for real concern. In addition, there are claims that the security services have created confidential manuals laying out methods of 'moderate physical pressure' that can be used against detainees and which give interrogators the permission to do so in advance. This suggests that even despite the Court’s ruling, such treatment has again become systemic.

As a result, PCATI initiated further legal action in 2008, having filed a contempt of court motion with the High Court against the Prime Minster and security services, claiming that 'the GSS systematically violates the Court's Judgment. In practice, a variety of sources point to the continued existence of a practice of GSS procedures and authorisations for torturing interrogees.' (See the PCATI website for more info).

So what can the US learn from Israel? Perhaps that when you prohibit torture and ill-treatment, you must do so absolutely for it to have any real effect. The creation of exceptions and defences to be developed, implemented, and monitored at the discretion of the government and security services is clearly going to be ineffective and subject to abuse. What the US needs (in my opinion) is a single, unifying federal statute against torture, one that unequivocally and effectively implements the Convention Against Torture. This is wishful thinking: we haven't even gotten so far as uncovering the full extent of torture and ill-treatment since 2001 quite yet; and the US has a number of declarations, reservations, and understandings applied to the Convention as it is. But while the 1999 Israeli ruling was an important one insofar as it declared, at least in theory, that torture is inconsistent with Israel's guiding democratic principles, it neither rejected nor prohibited torture absolutely. The real lesson is that any concessions to torture—even those that apply exclusively to emergency situations—open the door to further abuse. The Obama Administration has the perfect moment to reaffirm the international legal prohibition of torture outright by strengthening domestic law so that torture is never permitted and those that torture are always held to account; if there is any lesson to be learned from Israel, it is that for any such prohibition to be meaningful and effective, it must be absolute and unequivocal.

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