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.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Torture News Roundup: DoD to Jail Gitmo Attorney?

Posted by Valtin at 6:59 PM |

In a week chock-full of important developments in the fight against torture, none stands out as more outrageous than the actions of Robert Gates' Department of Defense, threatening two attorneys for former Guantanamo prisoner and U.S./UK torture victim, Binyam Mohamed, with jail. Their crime? Writing a letter to Barack Obama and following security procedures!

Before we get there, let's summarize the week:
    A federal judge ruled against President Obama and Attorney General Holder's contention that no "war on terror" prisoners held at Bagram prison in Afghanistan had any Constitutional rights.
    Colin Powell told Rachael Maddow at MSNBC that he wasn't sure that waterboarding "would be considered criminal."
    Andy Worthington ran a series explaining how Britain's draconian "control orders" have created a virtual, "second Guantanamo".
    The fight over release of Bush Administration memos countenancing "harsh interrogation techniques" continues inside the Obama White House.
All this and more, in this Sunday's Torture Roundup.

Lawyers from Reprieve face a jail sentence after officials from the US department of defence had the nerve to complain about their 'unprofessional conduct'

On February 11, I posted a well-read diary at Daily Kos that described news reports on how Clive Stafford Smith, acting in his role as an attorney for then-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, sent a letter to Barack Obama [PDF] detailing torture techniques inflicted upon his client. A Pentagon review team then censored all the details of this torture from Smith's letter. (See Breaking: Pentagon Hiding Torture Evidence from Obama.)

Now Mohamed's attorneys face up to six months in jail, accused by Robert Gates' Department of Defense of breaking the rules for Guanatanamo attorneys and of "unprofessional conduct" in the writing of the letter to Obama.

From the Guardian article:
Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve, and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour have been summoned to appear before a Washington court on May 11 after a complaint was made by the privilege review team.

Stafford Smith had written to the president after judges in the UK ruled against the release of US evidence detailing Mohamed's alleged torture at Guantánamo....

He and Gappour submitted the memo to the privilege team for clearance but the memo was redacted to just the title, leaving the president unable to read it. Stafford Smith included the redacted copy of the memo in his letter to illustrate the extent to which it had been censored. He described it as a "bizarre reality"....

The privilege team argue that by releasing the redacted memo Reprieve has breached the rules that govern Guantánamo lawyers and have made a complaint to the court of "unprofessional conduct".

Stafford Smith described their actions as intimidation, saying the complaint "doesn't even specify the rule supposedly breached".
This is totally unacceptable governmental conduct against a whistleblower and attorney working for human rights and against torture. He and his colleagues have broken no law. In fact, they followed the law and are now being punished for it. And this from a government that tried to coerce a pledge of silence from their client as a condition of his release from Guantanamo.

If you're feeling sufficiently outraged, you could write directly to the White House on this.

Meanwhile, Michael Isikoff at Newsweek is reporting that a "fierce internal battle within the White House over the disclosure of internal Justice Department interrogation memos is shaping up as a major test of the Obama administration's commitment to opening up government files about Bush-era counterterrorism policy."
As reported by NEWSWEEK, the White House last month had accepted a recommendation from Attorney General Eric Holder to declassify and publicly release three 2005 memos that graphically describe harsh interrogation techniques approved for the CIA to use against Al Qaeda suspects. But after the story, U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. "Holy hell has broken loose over this," said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities.

Brennan is a former senior CIA official who was once considered by Obama for agency director but withdrew his name late last year after public criticism that he was too close to past officials involved in Bush administration decisions. Brennan, who now oversees intelligence issues at the National Security Council, argued that release of the memos could embarrass foreign intelligence services who cooperated with the CIA, either by participating in overseas "extraordinary renditions" of high-level detainees or housing them in overseas "black site" prisons.
According to Isikoff, Brennan has gotten the backing of CIA Director Leon Panetta, and the "final decision" re release of the controversial memos will be made by President Barack Obama.

The ACLU has agreed to the two-week extension for the government to file their final response in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking release of the memos.

Federal Judge Rules Against Obama's Ban on Habeas at Bagram

Charlie Savage at The New York Times is reporting that a federal judge at the D.C. Federal District Court has ruled that some prisoners at Bagram prison in Afghanistan "have a right to challenge their imprisonment, dealing a blow to government efforts to detain terrorism suspects for extended periods without court oversight."

The ruling only applies to prisoners captured outside Afghanistan, but it deals a blow to the Obama administration's intent to keep Bagram as a site for detention for "terrorism suspects" caught outside Iraq or Afghanistan.

As the NYT puts it (link added):
The administration had sought to preserve Bagram as a haven where it could detain terrorism suspects beyond the reach of American courts, telling Judge Bates in February that it agreed with the Bush administration’s view that courts had no jurisdiction over detainees there.

Judge Bates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001, was not persuaded. He said transferring captured terrorism suspects to the prison inside Afghanistan and claiming they were beyond the jurisdiction of American courts “resurrects the same specter of limitless executive power the Supreme Court sought to guard against” in its 2008 ruling that Guantánamo prisoners have a right to habeas corpus.
Torture Scandal in Great Britain

The UK Guardian is reporting
MPs are to undertake the most far-reaching inquiry into Britain's role in human rights abuses in decades as allegations mount to suggest that officials repeatedly breached international law.

The Commons foreign affairs select committee will examine Britain's involvement in the detention, transfer and interrogation of prisoners held during the so-called war on terror. Among the matters to be examined later in the year are allegations, reported in the Guardian over the past two years, that British intelligence officers colluded in the torture of Britons held in Pakistan and Egypt.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, will give evidence to the inquiry although he and Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, refused, earlier this year, to appear before parliament's joint committee on human rights, which is looking into reports that British officials were complicit in torture.
Journalist Andy Worthington also reports on Parliamentary investigations into British complicity in extraordinary rendition and torture.
On Monday March 30, in a committee room in the House of Commons, Diane Abbott MP chaired a meeting entitled, “Britain’s Guantánamo? The use of secret evidence and evidence based on torture in the UK courts,” to discuss the stories of some of the men held as “terror suspects” on the basis of secret evidence, and to work out how to persuade the government to change its policies. A detailed report of the meeting is available here, and the profiles of five prisoners are available by following this link...
One of the cases Worthington highlights is that of a 39-year-old Algerian national known only as "Detainee Y":
They call me Y. But I am more than a letter. I am a man....

I came to the UK because of its impressive human rights record. Well, that’s what everyone said. I had spoken out against human rights abuses at home and got into trouble for it, so I had to leave. Maybe I should have been like everyone else and not said anything. What would you have done?

Now I have a death sentence waiting for me in Algeria.

I was living in London, as a refugee, rebuilding my life, recovering from torture and finally overcoming the demons it leaves behind.

Things were going well, and then suddenly my life turned upside down. First I was arrested as part of the “ricin plot.” I spent 27 months in Belmarsh. There never was any ricin.

I was acquitted in 2005....

After 7/7 they came for me again. I had nothing to do with it. I was arrested, served with a deportation order to Algeria and taken to Long Lartin prison. No charge. No trial. I was there for 29 months.

And since last July I have been again on bail....

I feel watched all the time. “They” go everywhere I go. I don’t know what they want or what they are looking for....

I survived torture. It was some years ago, back in Algeria. It’s not an easy thing to go through. I wish none of you ever suffer it. But torture, it has to end. What is going on now has no end. This is slow torture.

My father died a few months ago, back home. It was a very hard time. I was all alone with my grief. I felt useless and worthless and hopeless....

Well, what else can I say? I feel so tired. I just want to stop thinking. I want to wake from this nightmare. All I have are dreams and hopes and wishes, but it’s hard to keep hold of these.

I just want to sleep.

I have to stay in the house for 20 hours a day. I wear a tag. It makes me feel like a slave.

I am not allowed outside my boundaries. I can’t go to the town centre, but I can go to two cemeteries if I want....

Why am I living like this? Why did I spend 56 months in prison? Why do they want to deport me to Algeria? Why do they say I’m a threat to national security? I am here like this today because of secret evidence.
Detainee Y is a victim of Britain's notorious "control orders." As explained in this article from the Guardian, control orders, or were introduced as part of Britain's Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. They have created a virtual "Second Guantanamo" inside of Great Britain's borders:
What are control orders?

They enable the home secretary to impose a wide range of restrictions on any person, based on intelligence information, she suspects of involvement in terrorism-related activity, whether a UK national or not, and whether the terrorist activity is domestic or international.

What do these restrictions include?

Virtual house arrest, including specifying where and with whom subjects can live and placing them under curfew for up to 13 hours a day; limiting them to travelling within a specific geographical zone – for example, one mile of their home; controlling their access to telephones and banning access to the internet; dictating who they can meet or communicate with, and what occupation or studies they can undertake; proscribing where they can travel and what places of worship they can attend; electronic tagging; foreign travel bans; and daily reporting to and monitoring by the police.

The home secretary also has the power to add new restrictions or obligations, or vary them, as she sees fit.
Andy Worthington comments on Britain's "control orders" and other antidemocratic "antiterrorism" laws:
In the UK, since December 2001, the British government has, at various times, held around 70 men without charge or trial, refusing to try them as criminal suspects in recognized courts. The policy began with the imprisonment of 17 men in Belmarsh high-security prison, but when, after three years, the Law Lords ruled that their imprisonment was in contravention of the Human Rights Act, the government responded by introducing control orders and deportation bail, both of which involve draconian restrictions that amount to house arrest. Throughout this whole period, the government has justified the men’s detention through the use of secret evidence that the prisoners — known as “detainees” — are not allowed to see.

Another similarity concerns attempts by both the British and American governments to bypass their obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture — which prevents the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture — by reaching diplomatic agreements with various dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East. These purport to guarantee that repatriated prisoners will be treated humanely, but in reality they have proved worthless.
British Rendition and Torture Pre-9/11?
“All you need to know is that there was a ‘before 9/11’ and there was an ‘after9/11.’ After 9/11, the gloves came off.” -- Cofer Black, as Director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center
Britain's partnership with the United States in use of both rendition and torture precedes even the 9/11 crisis, which both governments hypocritically cite as the impetus for their draconian and illegal policies of detention and torture. According to an article at Cageprisoners, looking at increasing evidence that British intelligence agencies were involved in torture:
The Daily Telegraph reported last week that MI5 and MI6 had identified 15 cases where their officers had alerted senior personnel to possible mistreatment but no further action was taken...

Asim Qureshi of Cage Prisoners... told the Daily Telegraph: "At first we thought these were cases of individual abuses but the more we saw and the more testimony we heard, the more we realised there was pattern.

"We were seeing interviews by MI5 and MI6 alongside the use of torture by other countries. This has been very, very systematic and that is what concerns us most. There has been a policy to keep prisoners beyond the reach of law and turn a blind eye to torture.

"We believe that the government is going to pass off the case of Binyam Mohamed as an isolated incident and use witness B [the officer allegedly involved] as a scapegoat but we believe it is important to put this in the context of what has been happening in the last seven or eight years."
The Cageprisoners report, "Fabricating Terrorism II", just released, describes one case of rendition and torture that predates 9/11 (emphasis added).
CASE 1 – FARID HILALI
Nationality: Moroccan/ British Resident
History/Background: Farid was initially detained in 1999 while in UAE. There he was subjected to torture and interrogation on behalf of the British security services and was later sent to Morocco where this treatment continued. On his release he came to the UK and was arrested on immigration offences, but he was re-arrested in June when Spain issued a European arrest warrant to extradite him for alleged terror offences, and in particular involvement in 9/11. The case against Hilali seems to be vague and circumstantial, and entirely reliant on mobile phone communications data and intercept evidence.
And, Back at Guantanamo...

U.S. Navy Lt.-Cmdr. William Kuebler, a military attorney who has represented Omar Khadr, a Guantanmo prisoner who was first arrested as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan and ultimately brought to Gitmo, has been fired from Khadr's defense team and reassigned.
In his two years on the case, Commander Kuebler campaigned for Mr. Khadr’s return to Canada to short-circuit a military tribunal system that he described as unfair. Like all Guantánamo prosecutions, the case is suspended pending a review of policies by the Obama administration.

The chief defense counsel at Guantánamo, Col. Peter Masciola of the Air Force, concluded that Commander Kuebler’s removal was necessary to pursue “a client-centered representation,” according to a statement from his office. Colonel Masciola did not immediately respond to a request for further details....

In February, Commander Kuebler was blocked from traveling to meet Mr. Khadr at Guantánamo amid the internal investigation, which he said was related to his criticism of Colonel Masciola’s management.

He complained about Colonel Masciola’s cooperation with the review of Guantánamo cases that was intended to decide whether the cases should be tried in civilian or military courts or some combination of the two.

“I don’t want to make it easier for the government to prosecute my client,” he said at the time. “I want my client to be released.”
Colin Powell reiterated, in an interview with Rachael Maddow this week, his long-time belief that Guantanamo be closed. But when Maddow pressed Powell on his participation in White House "Prinicpals" meetings that met in 2002-2003 to approve torture of prisoners held by the CIA, Powell got quite defensive. He seemed to forget that new CIA Director Leon Panetta told Congress only a few months ago that the government considered waterboarding to be torture. From the Powell-Maddow interview:
RACHEL: On the issue of intelligence—tainted evidence and those things—were you ever present at meetings at which the interrogation of prisoners, like Abu Zubaida, other prisoners in those early days, where the interrogation was directed? Where specific interrogation techniques were approved. It has been reported on a couple of different sources that there were Principals Meetings, which you would have typically been there, where interrogations were almost play-by-play discussed.

POWELL: They were not play-by-play discussed but there were conversations at a senior level as to what could be done with respect to interrogation. I cannot go further because I don't have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it's going to have to be the written record of those meetings that will determine whether anything improper took place....

MADDOW: If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were saying, were discussing and giving the approval for sleep deprivation, stress positions, water boarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were giving that authorization?

POWELL: You’re asking me a legal question. I mean I don't know that any of these items would be considered criminal. And I will wait for whatever investigations that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.
Both the Powell interview and the firing of Kuebler took place in the context of a flap over whether or not Senator Patrick Leahy has abandoned hope for Truth Commission on torture.

Other Torture News

China to Address Torture of Prisoners
Since January, five cases of young men dying in policy custody have become public. When police in the Southwestern province of Yunnan explained the jail death of Li Qiaomin by saying he had injured himself fatally during a game of hide-and-seek, this explanation triggered a burst of outrage on blogs and online discussion forums, forcing local authorities to launch a propaganda offensive and a new investigation.

Since then, state media have flooded readers with a wave of propaganda that suggested the government was seeking solutions to the problem prisoner abuse.

State media reported that prisoners in detention centres in Beijing would be given cards with contact information of the local prosecutor to allow them to blow the whistle on detention officers if they were mistreated. Representatives of other departments such as the justice ministry proposed to take supervision of the detention facilities away from the police in order to separate investigation powers and direct responsibility for the prisoners.
Seton Hall Law Students Reveal That Generals Knew Guantanamo Detainees Were Tortured
General Schmidt's Investigation Uncovered Numerous Abuses Which Were Omitted from Both His Report and His Congressional Testimony

Today Seton Hall Law delivered a report establishing that military officials at the highest levels were aware of the abusive interrogation techniques employed at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO), and misled Congress during testimony. In addition, FBI personnel reported that the information obtained from inhumane interrogations was unreliable.

Professor Mark Denbeaux, Director of the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research, commented on the findings: "Who knew about the torture at GTMO? Turns out they all did. It's not news that the interrogators were torturing and abusing detainees. We've got FBI reports attesting to this. But now we've discovered that the highest levels knew about the torture and abuse, and covered it up.
Conyers Wants Holder to Appoint a Special Counsel to Probe Bush Crimes
“The Attorney General should appoint a Special Counsel to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush Administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance,” Conyers’s report says. "In this regard, the report firmly rejects the notion that we should move on from these matters"....

However, Conyers has not formally asked the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel as he had last year when he and 55 other House Democrats signed a letter sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey seeking a special prosecutor ....
National Geographic airs a documentary tonight (9 PM both Eastern and Pacific time) , Explorer: Inside Guantanamo. This film is unreviewed by me, but the blurb says:
A symbol of freedom protected or freedom tragically betrayed, the controversies of Guantanamo embody the thorny issues of America’s fight against an enemy that wears no uniform, has no address and will declare no armistice, and an administrations battle to keep prisoners beyond the reach of due process in American courts. The goings-on inside the wire encircling this highly classified camp have been a closely held government secret until now. For the first time, National Geographic exclusively captures day-to-day life in the most famous prison in the world exploring the ongoing daily struggle between the guard force of dedicated young military personnel and the equally dedicated detainees, many of whom are still in legal limbo after being held years.
Second Guantanamo Prisoner to be released by Obama Administration
Ayman Saeed Batarfi, a 38-year old Yemeni doctor will be the second prisoner from Guantanamo to be released. He was first detained in Afghanistan in 2001, where his lawyers had indicated he had been on a humanitarian mission.

Bartafi was initially held at Bagram Airforce Base and then transferred to the infamous Guantanamo Bay Prison....

What is most interesting about Batarfi's release is that we are not being told where he's going. According to an AP report, Department of Justice spokesman Dan Boyd indicated that Batarfi would be transferred to 'an appropriate destination country in a manner that is consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice'.

What exactly does this mean? If this were happening during the Bush administration, one could interpret the above statement as another one of their famous extraordinary renditions....

It also makes one wonder if Batarfi was subjected to the same type of 'exit interview' as his British counterpart, whereby he was asked not to reveal that he was tortured if he were released.
Bizarre Story of the Week:

Miss Universe and Miss USA tour Guantanamo
Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza says the trip was ‘an incredible experience’
Historical Article of the Week:

THE CIA AND THE MEDIA by Carl Bernstein

This 25,000 word landmark article, first published in Rolling Stone magazine in 1977, has been "reprinted" and posted on the Internet in bastardized and censored versions over the years. Bernstein's posting of the full article online is an important event, one that, for reasons evident from reading the article itself, has been ignored by the mainstream media.

What follows are some selections from the piece:
The CIA’s use of the American news media has been much more extensive than Agency officials have acknowledged publicly or in closed sessions with members of Congress. The general outlines of what happened are indisputable; the specifics are harder to come by. CIA sources hint that a particular journalist was trafficking all over Eastern Europe for the Agency; the journalist says no, he just had lunch with the station chief. CIA sources say flatly that a well‑known ABC correspondent worked for the Agency through 1973; they refuse to identify him. A high‑level CIA official with a prodigious memory says that the New York Times provided cover for about ten CIA operatives between 1950 and 1966; he does not know who they were, or who in the newspaper’s management made the arrangements....

During the 1976 investigation of the CIA by the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, the dimensions of the Agency’s involvement with the press became apparent to several members of the panel, as well as to two or three investigators on the staff. But top officials of the CIA, including former directors William Colby and George Bush, persuaded the committee to restrict its inquiry into the matter and to deliberately misrepresent the actual scope of the activities in its final report. The multivolume report contains nine pages in which the use of journalists is discussed in deliberately vague and sometimes misleading terms. It makes no mention of the actual number of journalists who undertook covert tasks for the CIA. Nor does it adequately describe the role played by newspaper and broadcast executives in cooperating with the Agency....

There are perhaps a dozen well known columnists and broadcast commentators whose relationships with the CIA go far beyond those normally maintained between reporters and their sources. They are referred to at the Agency as “known assets” and can be counted on to perform a variety of undercover tasks; they are considered receptive to the Agency’s point of view on various subjects....

DESPITE THE EVIDENCE OF WIDESPREAD CIA USE OF journalists, the Senate Intelligence Committee and its staff decided against questioning any of the reporters, editors, publishers or broadcast executives whose relationships with the Agency are detailed in CIA files.

According to sources in the Senate and the Agency, the use of journalists was one of two areas of inquiry which the CIA went to extraordinary lengths to curtail. The other was the Agency’s continuing and extensive use of academics for recruitment and information gathering purposes.
All photos in the Public Domain. Thanks for this edition of WTR to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse and Andy Worthington.

Also posted at Invictus

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Torture Weekly "Round-up"

Posted by Valtin at 11:10 PM |

Also posted at Daily Kos and Invictus

The Sunday Weekly Torture "Round-up" is intended to be a new regular feature at Daily Kos, capturing stories on the ongoing torture scandal, especially those that might otherwise escape notice. At the same time, we will strive to present an overview of important new developments in the drive to hold the U.S. government responsible for its war crimes, in addition to covering stories concerning torture from other countries, as time and space permit. (Alas, the U.S. has no monopoly on this hideous practice.)

The editors for the WTR are myself, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, and Meteor Blades and we will rotate each week. Interesting or important news or tips concerning torture or civil liberties issues bearing upon it can be emailed to any of these individuals.

There were many new developments this week: the CIA announced it would withhold a list describing 1000s of documents related to the destruction of videotapes depicting torture; an ex-Bush administration official told of administration indifference to evidence of innocence for the great bulk of "enemy combatants"; a major lawsuit against Pentagon contractors accused of torture was allowed to proceed; a "released" Guantanamo hunger striker was refused more humane prison conditions, and more.

Cheney, Wilkerson, Obama and the Fake Scandal over Gitmo Prisoner Releases

Dick Cheney has been running around the country trying to spread his particular style of panic and fear in the wake of reports that released Guantanamo prisoners will swell the ranks of terrorists who will then strike at America. Andy Worthington refutes these lies in "The Stories of Six Prisoners Who Were Released from Guantanamo" and this story at Huffington Post.

As has been covered extensively elsewhere (and at Daily Kos), Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, has revealed that most of the Guantanamo prisoners are innocents, and moreover, shockingly, that the Bush Administration knew this from the get-go, belying Cheney's fabrications about the "worst of the worst." Here's Wilkerson from The Washington Note article earlier this week:
The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.
And yet days after this revelation, we get this kind of crap from the current administration, as reported by Associated Press, via the Miami Herald:
Obama says in a broadcast interview [on 60 Minutes tonight] that some of the people released from the prison camps in southeast in Cuba have rejoined terrorist groups. He also says U.S. officials have not always been effective in determining which prisoners will be a danger once they are let go.
If you think I'm too harsh on Obama, read the Sunday editorial in today's New York Times (H/T Stephen Soldz):
we did not expect that Mr. Obama, who addressed these issues with such clarity during his campaign, would be sending such confused and mixed signals from the White House. Some of what the public has heard from the Obama administration on issues like state secrets and detainees sounds a bit too close for comfort to the Bush team’s benighted ideas.
Meanwhile, today's UK Guardian is reporting that despite Obama's comments above, his administration will change previous U.S. policy and allow some former Guantanamo prisoners to be resettled in the United States:
The White House is set to reverse a key Bush administration policy by allowing some of the 240 remaining Guantánamo Bay inmates to be resettled on American soil.

The US is pushing for Europe to take a share of released inmates, but the Obama administration is reconciled to taking some of them, even though there will be noisy resistance from individual states....

The cases of the 240 inmates are being reviewed by a team of experienced US prosecutors to determine whether there is a basis for criminal charges. It remains unresolved what to do if there is a substantial "third category" of detainees who are deemed to pose a security threat, but against whom there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges either because evidence was obtained under torture or because it is in the form of classified intelligence.

In a 90-minute interview on CBS tonight, Obama struck back at the former vice-president Dick Cheney over his charge that the new Guantánamo policy was putting US security at risk. The president said his predecessor's policy of indefinite detention was unsustainable and had generated anti-US sentiment without making the country safer.
Despite the change in policy, there was this ominous portent for the future:
The Obama administration is still contemplating the option of military courts martial, reconstituting the Bush-era military commissions or even instituting some new form of preventive detention.
The dance being done by current and former administration officials over the abominable crimes conducted at Guantanamo and elsewhere are dizzying in their vertiginous lurchings from mea culpas to lies to attempts at "reform."

Saudi Gitmo Prisoner, Cleared for Release, But Refused Transfer from Maximum Security Detention, Remains on Hunger Strike

Andy Worthington brings the case of Guantanamo hunger striker Ahmed Zuhair to our attention in a posting last Friday. (If this link isn't working, try this one.) Zuhair, a father of ten children, was arrested in Pakistan, and ultimately was sent to Guantanamo, accused of associations with Al Qaeda. He has been accused of being involved with the bombing of the USS Cole, and of the murder of an American in Bosnia in 1994 or 1995, among other supposed crimes or dubious connections (see Wikipedia link).

Yet the U.S. government decided in an Administrative Review Board hearing last December 23 that he was cleared for release from Guantanamo. Worthington notes that "he was not informed until February 10, and his lawyers were not told until February 16," noting:
This rather makes a mockery of the Guantánamo authorities’ complaints about the “threat” he poses, and the allegations, still cited in news reports, that “US authorities allege that he trained with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and was a member of an Islamic fighting group in Bosnia in the mid-1990s,” but above all it confirms — as if any confirmation were required — that, in the isolated world of Guantánamo, what counts against the majority of the prisoners is not the supposed rationale for their detention in the first place, which is often nothing more than a distant memory, but their behavior in detention.
Zuhair has been identified as having "history of disciplinary infractions", no doubt associated with his hunger strike, which began in June 2005. On March 18 of this year, the government refused a deal with Zuhair whereby he would end his years-long hunger strike if he were moved from the high-security Camp 6, where prisoners endure "the isolation of a prison block modeled on a maximum security prison for convicted criminals on the US mainland," to the lesser regimen of Camp 4. The government says it's afraid of the precedent such a move might make. This is in spite of the fact that Zuhair has been cleared for release!

So his hunger strike continues, and the record of the Obama administration releasing any of the many innocent men held at Guantanamo in the two months Obama has been in charge remains at a pitiful... one! (That one release was Binyam Mohamed.) According to his attorney, on his last visit to Mr. Zuhair:
... he weighed no more than 100 pounds, and “also appeared to be ill, vomiting repeatedly during meetings” at the prison. “Mr. Zuhair lifted his orange shirt and showed me his chest,” Kassem explained. “It was skeletal.“ He added, “Mr. Zuhair’s legs looked like bones with skin wrapped tight around them.”
Andy Worthington concludes, "While this reflects badly on the prison authorities, I believe it also reflects badly on the Obama administration."

CACI International Loses Bid to Spike Torture Lawsuit

According to a CNN report:
U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee rejected claims by defense contractor CACI that the company was immune from accountability over claims of physical abuse, war crimes and civil conspiracy.

Reports of torture and humiliation by soldiers and civilian contractors against Iraqi detainees created a political, diplomatic and public relations nightmare for the Bush administration in the months and years after the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Four Iraqi detainees have sued in U.S. federal courts, alleging contract interrogators assigned to the Baghdad Central Prison — known as Abu Ghraib — subjected them to beatings and mental abuse, then destroyed documents and video evidence and later misled officials about what was happening inside the facility.
Center for Constitutional Rights has been following the case and providing part of the legal representation to plaintiffs. From their information page on the case:
The suit, brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and federal question jurisdiction, brings claims arising from violations of U.S. and international law including torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; war crimes; assault and battery; sexual assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring and supervision; and negligent infliction of emotional distress. There are also civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting counts attached to most of these charges. Through this action, Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.
In the case of one prisoner:
Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid was detained from 2003 until 2005, during which he was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib “hard site” for about three months. While detained there, CACI and its co-conspirators tortured Mr. Rashid by placing him in stress positions for extended periods of time, humiliating him, depriving him of oxygen, food, and water, shooting him in the head with a taser gun, and by beating him so severely that he suffered from broken limbs and vision loss. Mr. Rashid was forcibly subjected to sexual acts by a female as he was cuffed and shackled to cell bars. He was also forced to witness the rape of a female prisoner.
Among the heinous acts to which the four Plaintiffs were subjected at the hands of the defendant and certain government co-conspirators were: electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs.

All of the plaintiffs are innocent Iraqis who were ultimately released without ever being charged with a crime. They all continue to suffer from physical and mental injuries caused by the torture and other abuse.

In a related story, TheDay.com is reporting:
Thousands of Iraqis held without charge by the United States on suspicion of links to insurgents or militants are being freed by this summer because of little or no evidence against them.
CIA Withholds List of over 3,000 Torture Tapes Documents from Public Release

Last Friday, the ACLU revealed that it "has a list of roughly 3,000 summaries, transcripts, reconstructions and memoranda relating to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the agency." Only two days earlier, the ACLU had formally asked Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor "to investigate the authorization to use torture at CIA secret prisons," following Mark Danner's article at the New York Review of Books detailing a leaked ICRC report on torture of CIA prisoners.

(The accompanying picture above is an actual sketch by a U.S. MP Reserve Sargeant of how Dilawar was tortured at Bagram prison.)

According to a report on the CIA documents list by Jason Leopold:
The number of documents – but not their contents – was mentioned Friday in a Justice Department letter from Lev Dassin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Dassin told Judge Hellerstein that unredacted versions of the materials would be available for only him to review "in-camera" on March 26. The CIA also refused to provide the ACLU with a list of individuals who watched the videotapes prior to their destruction because that information "is either classified or otherwise protected by statute."

The number of relevant documents – "roughly 3,000," according to the letter – adds weight to the belief that CIA interrogators were in frequent communication with headquarters at Langley, Virginia, and with senior Bush administration officials who were monitoring the harsh techniques used and approving them one by one or even in combination.
And there was this interesting speculation by Emptywheel at Firedoglake:
Take a look at this list of FOIA exemptions, and you'll see why that may be rather interesting. For example, trade secrets might protect the identities of contractors who had viewed or retained the torture tapes. There's the physical safety exemption that they earlier cited in regards to their destruction of the tapes--but if they invoked this exemption, it might reveal that they're worried about the identities of non-CIA employees being released. There are law enforcement exemptions they might invoke if DOJ had reviewed these torture tapes in 2004 in response to a criminal referral by CIA's Inspector General.

Or the truly interesting possibility--that CIA might claim some identities are exempt from FOIA because they are presidential records more generally exempt from FOIA, which would come into play if someone at the White House had watched the torture tapes.
Rise in Torture Allegations Against Mexican Army

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times carried a report on a sharp increase in allegations of human rights abuses by the Mexican Army, as the Mexican government steps up its campaign against drug traffickers throughout the country.
The allegations include illegal searches, arrests without cause, rape, sexual abuse and torture, eight Mexican and international rights groups said in a report prepared for presentation to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington.

In 28 cases, the report said, the alleged violations resulted in death.

The groups said the number of complaints to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission jumped to 1,230 last year, from 182 in 2006. Calderon launched his anti-crime offensive in December 2006, and assigned the army a leading role....

More than 7,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the last 15 months, according to government and media estimates.
Darius Rejali on Long History of CIA Torture Abuse

The winner of the 2007 Human Rights Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association for his massive study, Torture and Democracy, Darius Rejali, has a new article at AlterNet detailing some of the history behind recent revelations of U.S. torture.

All the techniques in the accounts of torture by the International Committee of the Red Cross, as reported Monday, collected from 14 detainees held in CIA custody, fit a long historical pattern of Anglo-Saxon modern. The ICRC report apparently includes details of CIA practices unknown until now, details that point to practices with names, histories, and political influences. In torture, hell is always in the details.
Dejali covers grisly, sadistic techniques now documented in use by the CIA within recent years, including the "ice-water cure," "the cold cell," "water-boarding," "standing cells," "High-cuffing," and more. Here's Dejali on "Sweatboxes and coubarils":
Abu Zubaydah says, "Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow.... The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 feet 6 inches] in height." The large box, which Abu Zubaydah says he was held in for up to two hours, is a classic sweatbox. Sweatboxes are old, and they came into modern torture from traditional Asian penal practices. If you've seen Bridge on the River Kwai, you know the Japanese used them in POW camps in World War II. They are still common in East Asia. The Chinese used them during the Korean War, and Chinese prisoners today relate accounts of squeeze cells (xiaohao, literally "small number"), dark cells (heiwu), and extremely hot or cold cells. In Vietnam, they are dubbed variously "dark cells," "tiger cages," or "connex boxes," which are metal and heat up rapidly in the tropical sun.

Abu Zubaydah was also placed into the smaller box, in which he was forced to crouch for hours, until "the stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful." This smaller type of box was once called a coubaril. Coubarils often bent the body in an uncomfortable position. They were standard in French penal colonies in New Guinea in the 19th century, where some prisoners were held in them for 16 days at a stretch.

Both kinds of boxes entered American prison and military practice in the 19th century. They were a standard part of naval discipline, and the word sweatbox comes from the Civil War era. In the 1970s, prisoners described sweatboxes in South Vietnam, Iran (tabout, or "coffin"), Israel, and Turkey ("tortoise cell"). In the last three decades, prisoners have reported the use of sweatboxes in Brazil (cofrinho), Honduras (cajones), and Paraguay (guardia). And after 2002, Iraqi prisoners held in U.S. detention centers describe "cells so small that they could neither stand nor lie down," as well as a box known as "the coffin" at the U.S. detention center at Qaim near Syria.
Other News

Al-Marri is Held Without Bail Pending Trial

UN Launches Probe of Secret Detention Sites

New pressure in Uighurs’ cases

Islamabad High Court Calls for Repatriation of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and Investigation into Her Missing Children

BREAKING -- Newsweek reports that release is imminent of three of the secret Bush administration OLC memos:
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against “high value” Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the memos were “ugly” and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a “truth commission” on torture.
Note this, from the same article:
"I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program," Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told NEWSWEEK. A U.S. official disputed the charge, claiming that members of Congress received more than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel panels had seen the Red Cross report.
Other Resources

Torture Documents released under Freedom of Information Act

Law professor David Luban's classic essay, "Liberalism, Torture and the Ticking Bomb"

I close this first installment with a quote from the preeminent American poet, Walt Whitman:
Nothing is sinful to us outside of ourselves,
Whatever appears, whatever does not appear,
     we are beautiful or
sinful in ourselves only.

(O Mother--O Sisters dear!
If we are lost, no victor else has destroy'd us,
It is by ourselves we go down to eternal night.)
This week's WTR was put together with the assistance of Patriot Daily News Clearninghouse. Thanks, PDNC!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Torturers Told Binyam: "“We’re going to change your brain"

Posted by Valtin at 11:54 PM |

David Rose at the British paper The Mail got the scoop that was former Guanatanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed's "world exclusive" post-release interview. Entitled "How MI5 colluded in my torture: Binyam Mohamed claims British agents fed Moroccan torturers their questions", the article presents a brief biography of Mr. Mohamed's troubled life, including the experience of racial prejudice in the United States (Binyam is Ethiopian-born), abandonment by his father, and later the adoption of his mother's religion, Islam.

But the article's most sensational sections describe his torture by Pakistani, Moroccan, and U.S. officials, who all the while were in collaboration with British intelligence services, who not only were feeding them questions, but also withholding exculpatory evidence as well. The torture was horrendous:
Documents obtained by this newspaper - which were disclosed to Mohamed through a court case he filed in America - show that months after he was taken to Morocco aboard an illegal 'extraordinary rendition' flight by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, MI5 twice gave the CIA details of questions they wanted his interrogators to put to him, together with dossiers of photographs.

At the time, in November 2002, Mohamed was being subject to intense, regular beatings and sessions in which his chief Moroccan torturer, a man he knew as Marwan, slashed his chest and genitals with a scalpel....

... Mohamed also described how he was interrogated by an MI5 officer in Pakistan in May 2002, before his rendition to Morocco....

He said the officer knew he had already been tortured numerous times after his capture the previous month, with methods that included days of sleep deprivation, a mock execution and being beaten while being hung by his wrists for hours on end.

He said this torture in Pakistan made him confess to a plan that was never more than fantasy - to build a 'dirty' radioactive bomb.
Over and over, the article presents evidence of U.S. and British collaboration in the interrogation and torture of Binyam Mohamed. Telegrams are sent back and forth, lines of inquiry are proposed, a "case conference" is held between U.S. and British intelligence at MI5 HQ in London.

The full extent of the collaboration and the torture are partly obscured by the fact that the British High Court reluctantly (and with public protest) have acceded to the demands of the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to withhold the publication of secret documentation of Mr. Mohamed's torture -- documents already seen by Mohamed's attorneys, but not the public -- because it would supposedly harm U.S.-British intelligence cooperation.

The Mail article states that Miliband lied about whether or not the Obama administration is threatening the British over revealing these secrets, as the Bush administation had. Thus, it is unclear to what extent the Obama administration is cooperating in the British suppression of the documents. The Obama administration is on record as telling BBC that it is grateful that the British are committed to state secrecy. On the other hand, a letter detailing the contents of the redacted documents sent by Mohamed's attorney to President Obama was itself mysteriously redacted. One thing is clear: we don't yet have the full story here.

In the Dark Prison: Brainwashing & Confessions

The worst part of Mohamed's captivity, by his own account, is the five months he spent at the "dark prison" the CIA ran at an undisclosed location near Kabul, Afghanistan. The Obama administration has by executive order closed all CIA prisons except those "used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis." One wonders if five months can be considered "short-term" or "transitory"? Given the torture evidence by Mr. Mohamed, this question is especially apposite.

From Binyam Mohamed's description of the "dark prison":
Kabul's dark prison was just that: a place where inmates spent their days and weeks in total blackness....

'The toilet in the cell was a bucket. Without light, you either find the bucket or you go on your bed,' Mohamed says.

'There were loudspeakers in the cell, pumping out what felt like about 160 watts, a deafening volume, non-stop, 24 hours a day....

'While that was happening, a lot of the time, for hour after hour, they had me shackled....

'The longest was when they chained me for eight days on end, in a position that meant I couldn't stand straight nor sit.

'I couldn't sleep. I had no idea whether it was day or night.

'You got a shower once a week, with your arms chained above you, stripped naked, in the dark, with someone else washing you.

'The water was salty and afterwards you felt dirtier than when you went in. It wasn't a shower for washing: it was for humiliation.'

In Kabul, Mohamed says the food was also contaminated, and he often suffered from sickness and diarrhoea....

'The floor was made of cement dust. Whatever movement you made, the air would be full of cement and I started getting breathing problems.

' My bed was a thin mattress on the floor, surrounded by that dust.'
And what was all this torture for? According to Mr. Mohamed, it was during his stay at the Dark Prison that U.S. interrogators went beyond inducing confessions. They wanted him to finger other individuals, and use him to testify in the military commissions trials they were planning. Later, when Mohamed arrived in Guantanamo in September 2004, interrogators got worried Binyam would testify he only "confessed" or gave information because he was tortured, and tried to conduct "clean" interrogations, so they could say the testimony was uncoerced. They demanded he give his confession "freely". After Obama was elected president and announced Guantanamo would close, Mohamed says his treatment became more brutal.

The entire Mail article goes into much, much more detail, and makes important reading for those trying to understand what kinds of crimes the U.S. and UK governments have committed when they undertook the torturing of individuals in their custody. Andy Worthington has also written an excellent summary and review of Binyam's interview, and furthermore, writes from the standpoint of one who has followed both Mr. Mohamed's case, and that of a myriad of other Guantanamo prisoners for years now.

Andy Worthington's article makes abundantly clear that the torture of prisoners like Binyam Mohamed was not about, or at least not solely about, the collection of information. It was about the manufacture of information, including false confessions and fingering others for prosecution or further torture. In an earlier interview with Binyam Mohamed's attorney, Clive Stafford Smith:
Binyam explained that, between the savage beatings and the razor cuts to his penis, his torturers “would tell me what to say.” He added that even towards the end of his time in Morocco, they were still “training me what to say,” and one of them told him, “We’re going to change your brain.”
This emphasis on brainwashing -- for that is the popular terminology for such an assault on the psyche of a prisoner -- is a key component of the kind of psychological torture that was researched by both the United Kingdom and the United States in the years following World War II. It highlighted the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, fear, stress positions, manipulation of the environment, of food, the use of humiliation and both sensory deprivation and sensory overload upon the prisoner. The idea was to overwhelm the nervous system and make a human being collapse without a blow being made, without scars, without evidence usable in court.

Much to the chagrin of some in the government, I suppose, the Moroccans had some ideas of their own regarding torture, and it included the use of razor blades. According to the Mail account, there are plenty of pictures of Mr. Mohamed's scarred penis in his files. That may be bad news for somebody, if anyone's head is ever going to fall over this monstrosity of a treatment.

Prosecute Those Who Ordered and Operated the Torture Program

But the real criminals sat or still sit in the highest chairs of government. The political will to hold them to account is crippled by the need to save the integrity of the system in the eyes of a scared and cynical populace -- scared by a collapsing economy, and cynical because they too have lost all faith in the integrity of their leaders, and are placing all their hopes now in the charismatic Barack Obama. For his part, Obama has indicated he will be more socially progressive than his predecessor -- he just eliminated the anti-science blockade of funds on stem cell research that Bush had used to hamstring such projects.

But Obama has also indicated that he will go so far on torture and national security reform and no farther. He has no intention of significantly reforming the CIA. He plans to leave a substantial remnant force of up to 50,000 troops or "advisers" in Iraq after a U.S. "withdrawal"... two or more years from now. He is escalating U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and has taken actions to make prisoners in that theater of operations even less available to review of conditions by any U.S. court than were the prisoners in Guantanamo. All the while, he maintains that the Army Field Manual, with its reliance on isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, and fear, along with loose controls on stress positions and drugging of prisoners, is the "gold standard" of U.S. interrogation of "illegal enemy combatants."

The Binyam Mohamed case is one that wakes people up, at least it has in Great Britain. (See Glenn Greenwald's story comparing the U.S. to British coverage of the case.) But damn if I don't know what it will take to unfreeze U.S. society on this topic. Torture remains a little understood and embarrassing subject in U.S. circles. It's dimly recognized that if the lid were totally taken off, much of the establishment leadership in the U.S. would be revealed as culpable, or at least compromised. Hence, mainstream opinion makers are attempting to keep whatever scandals within "reasonable" limits.

Politics can be strange sometimes. The mainstream opinion makers are usually pretty good at what they do, especially the left-wing versions of them. But they don't often have to deal with such incendiary material, and a dedicated coterie of attorneys, bloggers, journalists, and even some politicians and military officers, who don't want to see this issue die before accountability takes place.

Also posted at Invictus

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