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, 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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Friday, January 23, 2009

Obscurity Blankets Certain Anti-Torture Moves

Posted by Valtin at 10:24 PM |

Josh Gerstein at Politico has ably described the important shortcomings one finds in President Obama's Executive Orders issued yesterday to close Guantanamo and end torture. While the CIA is disallowed from using waterboarding and other "enhanced" torture techniques, and forced to adhere to the standards (flawed as they are) of the Army Field Manual; and while the CIA is forced now to close their secret black site prisons; and while Guantanamo itself is to be close "promptly... within a year", there are some troublesome problems remaining.

Not least is the problem with the Army Field Manual itself. Some former Bush administration figures and CIA types see the AFM as insufficient to guide their interrogation actions in the field. They want the ability to improvise their techniques to the given interrogation or situation. Many of these same people are implying that Obama's moves to close Guantanamo raises the spectre of the release of horrible terrorists in the homeland itself, who will attack American communities. In a column today, Glenn Greenwald dissects this fear-mongering campaign by the right.

Others, like myself, see the AFM as abusive in and of itself. The inclusion of Appendix M, and other procedures allowed by that document, means that use of techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners is still allowed. These techniques, especially when used in combination, which is what the AFM suggests, certainly amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading behavior (in contradistinction to Geneva rules), if not torture itself.

Josh Gerstein emphasizes a now much-examined aspect of the language of the executive order on interrogations:
[The] order also created an interagency commission which will have six months to examine whether to create “additional or different guidance” for non-military agencies such as the CIA. One group that represents detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, deemed that an “escape hatch” to potentially allow enhanced interrogations in the future.

White House counsel Greg Craig told reporters such fears are misplaced. “This is not an invitation to bring back different techniques than those that are approved inside the Army Field Manual, but an invitation to this task force to make recommendations as to whether or not there should be a separate protocol that's more appropriate to the intelligence community,” he said....

“For now, they’re punting, saying they’ll comply with what’s in the Army manual…but at some point in the future this commission may revert to the executive” to recommend harsher techniques, said [Yale law school lecturer, and attorney for Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Zuhair, Ramzi] Kassem, adding that he was concerned about how transparent the commission’s recommendations would be.
Gerstein has other caveats, as well. For one thing, the man ultimately in charge of Guantanamo in the last few years for Bush, Secretary of State Robert Gates, is also the man now in charge of re-examining whether conditions there meet "humane standards of confinement." His findings will be interesting for yet another reason. As Gerstein points out, Guantanamo prisoners still suffer from isolation and force feeding.
According to detainee lawyers, about two dozen inmates who refuse to eat as a form of protest are currently being force fed, and about 140 are in some form of solitary confinement....

As far as we know, the force feeding and solitary practices continued onto Obama’s watch. Craig dodged a question about the new president’s views on those issues. “I'm not going to get into the details,” Craig said.
As I and others have noted, Obama's executive orders say nothing about other U.S. prisoners held in Baghram (about 600), and the tens of thousands held in Iraq. Nor does the halt in the military commissions mean there won't be a return to some form of ersatz trial body in the near future.
That suggestion exasperates detainee lawyers like Kassem. “That would be a huge mistake, “ he said. “That system [is] set up to launder statements obtained through torture… What’s the point of getting rid of our offshore, improvised, sham, military tribunals in Cuba, only to recreate it here in the United States?”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has called for trying prisoners (who can be charged) in ordinary criminal courts.
The new administration must repatriate those who can be released safely, secure safe haven in the United States and other countries for those who cannot be repatriated safely, and prosecute in federal criminal courts those who should be prosecuted. Only 250 of 779 men remain in the prison camp. Most can be returned to their home countries through vigorous diplomacy. A smaller number need to be offered protection in the United States or third countries, many of whom have already begun to come forward to offer help to the new administration. There is no justification for continued detention without trial or the creation of special courts; such proposals would continue the human rights disaster rather than end it.
A number of political forces are circling around the torture interrogations issue. Senator Dianne Feinstein has apparently decided that Obama's executive order is not secure as policy, and declared she will go forward with legislation to "codify" the change to the Army Field Manual, making it less likely it can be overturned by further executive actions.

While Feinstein may see this as a progressive step, I see it as a danger, in that the abusive techniques left in the Army Field Manual will be perpetuated.

Much struggle still remains in the fight against torture. This next period will see a heightening of that struggle. One thing remains clear: we must not let the discussions and battles over it creep back into backroom corridors and out of public awareness. Hopefully, Obama's wish for greater openness, and his recent efforts to strengthen access to presidential records and government documents in general, through the Freedom of Information Act, will assist us in this effort. But the main tool of change will remain public awareness and public vigilance.

Also posted at Invictus

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's Executive Orders on Guantanamo and the Question of Prosecutions

Posted by Valtin at 12:42 AM |

+++ Update: Here's a link to the draft executive order's text +++

Like attacking a hydra with many heads, the new administration is planning to take its first whacks at the torture regime set up by the Bush Administration. It's most infamous manifestation lies 90 miles off the U.S. coast at Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba.

Today, the government ordered a 120-day suspension of the military tribunal hearings of the Guantanamo detainees, as well as lesser delays in habeas hearings filed by attorneys on behalf of some of the prisoners.

Now, breaking news reported at ABC News, reports that tomorrow we will see three executive orders issued by President Obama aimed at the closure of Guantanamo "within a year", and promising immediate changes in the procedures and policies surrounding interrogation of detainees, and the conditions of their detention.

The ABC article is vague on whether the CIA will be included as regards changes in interrogation policies.
It is unlikely, but possible, that the new administration would in the first week expressly prohibit some interrogation techniques or refer to new legal parameters for the CIA program.
Of late, legislation has been introduced into Congress that would hold all U.S. interrogations, including those held by the CIA, to guidelines established in the Army Field Manual. The recent version of the manual is, despite assurances by former Bush administration, Pentagon, and some human rights officials, seriously flawed, allowing for solitary confinement/isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, and manipulation and creation of fears, among other coercive interrogation techniques. Physicians for Human Rights and The Constitution Project have both called for serious revision to the manual.

The Executive Director for Center for Constitutional Rights, Vincent Warren, was quick to respond to news of the proposed executive order to close Guantanamo. (CCR has been the central organization in organizing the defense of the Guantanamo detainees, gathering over 400 pro bono attorneys from all over the U.S. to help represent them.
"It only took days to put these men in Guantanamo, it shouldn't take a year to get them out.

We are proud that President Obama made addressing Guantanamo one of his first acts in office. Yet we are disappointed that he outlined no concrete steps for closing the base and gave his administration an entire year to sort out its plans - meaning that some men could have been detained indefinitely in terrible conditions for eight full years. Surely he could do better.

President Obama should commit to dismantling the military commissions, not just suspending them, and to prosecuting any cases before federal criminal courts - real courts with real laws."
A lot of the discussion about closing Guantanamo has to do with the disposition of its prisoners, how or where they would be tried, where they would go if released, etc. Outside of these important questions, the existence of these men, many or most of them who have been tortured, held without rights, is an embarrassment and an accusation against the system that kidnapped many of them and then held them incommunicado for years, with no right of redress, without charges, without hope. They were held in abusive conditions that amount to psychological torture. Many of them were tortured under interrogation.

Despite some recent releases, there are over 240 prisoners still languishing at Guantanamo, and over 600 at Baghram Air Base in Afghanistan. A true accounting of the number of prisoners held by the military and CIA is not available.

What do the proposed executive orders from Obama portend? Until we see the final drafts, it may be presumptuous to say. But while they mark a real change from the policies of the Bush administration, it is not clear how far they will really go. Will the CIA be forced to give up their "enhanced interrogation techniques", i.e., their right really to do what they damn well please when they interrogate prisoners, up to and including torture (even if they swear they never torture, that waterboarding, for instance, is not torture, etc.)? What procedures are proposed for the closure of Guantanamo? Will habeas be fully restored? Will isolation as a matter of policy, and other abusive procedures at Guantanamo be ended? What will be the standard for interrogation? Will the military commissions be ended?

The Prosecutions Issue

The story of the unraveling of the torture network built by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the CIA and others, will take place in the light of an ongoing push by many for prosecutions of Bush administration officials for torture. Obama has indicated he is not disposed to pursue such prosecution. It's possible, as the ACLU has proposed, that ongoing investigations left over from the spate of Bush WH scandals will metamorphosize into something bigger, a large scale investigation into wrong-doing by the administration or the Pentagon/CIA.

Hence, according to the New York Times:
Obama is facing even more intense pressure from liberal, human-rights and civil-liberties groups to allow some kind of investigation into the Bush administration's terrorism policies.

Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said it would be a simple matter to start such an inquiry because the Justice Department's special prosecutor, John Durham, is already investigating whether the CIA acted illegally when it destroyed videotapes of its harsh interrogations. Anders said Durham's mandate could be expanded to look into whether the interrogations depicted on the tapes were illegal.
Most recently, according to a Reuters report earlier this month, Durham stated in a court filing that his probe of the CIA destruction of videotapes of the "harsh" interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was nearing an end. "A considerable portion" of the work is now done, but some witnesses still need to be interviewed. (Link to Durham's filing)

Durham made the court filing as part of a FOIA lawsuit by the James Madison Project requesting a release of the documents associated with the tapes destruction. The CIA had asked the court for a delay until February 28, the latest date Durham states his investigation will be finished. According to Secrecy News, a section of the website for Federation of American Scientists:
Key details of the pending criminal investigation have been redacted from Mr. Durham’s affidavit, including the number of witnesses interviewed and the volume of documents examined to date....

Mr. Durham noted that “in many instances,” delays have resulted from witness requests for legal representation and the need to get witness attorneys cleared. In some cases, the government officials involved have retired and have been “read out” of the highly compartmented intelligence programs in question, and it has taken additional time to have their credentials reinstated, he said.
Expanding the Durham investigation seems like a long-shot, but who knows what will be in that FOIA release when it finally comes? The bulk of the Democratic leadership is surely afraid of what an investigation might bring, due to reports of the complicity of some of the Democratic leadership, particularly Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman and Jay Rockerfeller, in the approval of some of the torture program.

The next couple of months -- I never get tired of repeating -- will be key in the struggle to hold the torturers accountable, and to bring real, lasting change to the system that has brought the United States to the status of pariah nation by the use of torture, and by the cover-up of such use.

Also posted at Invictus

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Forgotten Men: New UC Report on "Guantanamo and its Aftermath"

Posted by Valtin at 12:06 AM |

Last summer, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First released Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S. The study looked at medical and psychological evidence of the costs of torture by eleven men who endured such abuse by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay.

Now, University of California, Berkeley's Human Rights Center, in conjunction with the International Human Rights Law Clinic and Center for Constitutional Rights, has released a report on the medical and psychological condition of 62 detainees released over the years from Guantanamo. According to a press release by the university:
The report, "Guantanamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees," based on a two-year study, reveals in graphic detail the cumulative effect of Bush Administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees. Many of the prisoners were sold into captivity and subjected to brutal treatment in U.S. prison camps in Afghanistan. Once in Guantanamo, prisoners were denied access to civilian courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Almost two-thirds of the former detainees interviewed reported having psychological problems since leaving Guantanamo....

Researchers conducted interviews with released detainees in nine countries. The comprehensive study also includes in-depth interviews with key government officials, military experts, former guards, interrogators and other camp personnel.
As the Bush Administration winds down into it ignominious end, President-elect Obama has made clear -- most recently in a 60 Minutes interview last night -- he will very early on use his executive power to close Guantanamo and put an end to torture. It's not clear yet what will happen to the over 200 detainees still held prisoner at Guantanamo, or whether other prisons will be closed, or even whether any executive order will pertain to CIA activities. When Laurence Tribe, an Obama legal advisor and his former law professor argued the other day that perhaps a new federal judiciary system was needed to deal with the Guantanamo prisoners, the idea was quickly scotched (at least for now) by Obama's spokepeople.

"I've Lost My Will"

Almost 800 prisoners have been dragged through the torture chambers of Guantanamo. Reams of words have been written, and scores of legal cases filed in an effort to either end or excuse the mistreatment wrought there. Reporting in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko, describes some of the stories from the HRC report:
"I've lost my property. I've lost my job. I've lost my will," said an Afghan man, one of 62 former inmates in nine countries interviewed anonymously by UC Berkeley researchers for a newly released report.

Another man, jobless and destitute, said his family kicked him out after he returned, and his wife went to live with her relatives. "I have a plastic bag holding my belongings that I carry with me all the time," he said. "And I sleep every night in a different mosque."
UC Berkeley's press release quotes the HRC study as documenting the use at Guantanamo of "being subjected to short shackling, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods -- often simultaneously." Some detainees reported even worse abuse at the U.S. detention center at Baghram, Afghanistan, where prisoners were threatened with dogs, regularly beaten, and suspended by their arms for hours on end.

And yet:
Most detainees interviewed for the study were not vengeful toward America, but simply expressed a desire for justice and an opportunity to clear their names.
The suffering of these detainees is heart-breaking. Their wish to recover a normal life should be at the top of the list for a country with so many broken promises and difficult crises dropped into its lap in the wake of one of the most sinister and criminal administrations to ever rule this or any other ostensibly democratic country.

A Terrible Moral Failure

The role of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists at these torture centers is not left unmentioned. As the report describes it:
... since late 2002, military psychologists and psychiatrists serving on Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) have played an active role in developing and implementing interrogation strategies at Guantánamo....

Interrogation policies and standards at Guantánamo changed over time, but the data demonstrate that some practices remained consistent throughout the period when the study respondents were held there (January 2002 to January 2007). While more needs to be revealed about the specific interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo, it appears that many of the methods which detainees complained about most bitterly -- cold rooms and short shackling, in conjunction with prolonged isolation -- were permitted under the U.S. military’s interrogation guidelines in force from April 2003 to September 2006... These practices contravene the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the United States ratified in 1955....

To date, no independent, comprehensive investigation has been conducted to determine the role that camp personnel as well as officials farther up the civilian and military chains of command played in the design and implementation of interrogation
techniques at Guantánamo. No broad investigation has yet addressed whether or not these officials should be held accountable for any crimes they or their subordinates may have committed.
Elsewhere in the report, the authors describe the function of the BSCT teams:
A principal BSCT function was to engineer the camp experiences of “priority” detainees to make interrogation more productive. BSCT personnel coached interrogators on how to stress, coerce, and offer incentives to secure information from detainees. BSCT personnel “prepared psychological profiles [of detainees] for use by interrogators; they also sat in on some interrogations, observed others from behind one-way mirrors, and offered feedback to interrogators"... Army medical personnel also provided medical information to interrogators... In a confidential report, the International Committee for the Red Cross called the participation of doctors in designing interrogation plans a “flagrant violation of medical ethics"... In 2006, in response to publicity about the clinical participation in coercive interrogations at Guantánamo, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association endorsed more stringent guidelines for military doctors and psychiatrists who are asked to participate in interrogations... In 2008, after several years of often acrimonious debate, members of the American Psychological Association voted to prohibit consultation by its members in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo or so-called “black sites” operated by the CIA overseas.
A Call for Justice

The Human Rights Center and their partners are insistent that the crimes committed by the United States around torture cannot and should not go without further investigation. Hundreds of detainees remains incarcerated without ever being accused of any crime. Evidence of torture and abuse is overwhelming, the deleterious personal, medical and psychological consequences for those caught in this torture web and then released is also strongly convincing. Per Egelko's article:
"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the rug by simply closing the Guantanamo prison camp," said Eric Stover, director of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. "The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable."
The news is so dark every day, with thousands thrown out of their jobs seemingly every day, and millions more fearing they will lose theirs. The wreck that is American society has so many vital issues facing it, that it seems easy to let the sufferings of "only" a few hundred or thousand go unanswered. The latest leaks around Obama's plans to investigate or prosecute Bush officials for war crimes indicate an Obama administration will lean towards some investigation, and steer away from prosecutions. (See recent stories by Mark Benjamin at Salon, and Lara Jakes Jordan at Associate Press.) Meanwhile, Bush is said to be considering a massive blanket pardon for those involved in his interrogation policies. Some argue that such a pardon could facilitate a "truth and reconciliation" investigation.

In the end, no one knows yet what Obama will do, or what Bush will do (although I'm betting he will issue the pardons). What is clear is that among all the other crucial issues facing the U.S. at this point in time, we must solve a huge moral dilemma: what do we do when the government blatantly and recklessly disregards human rights or lives, when it kills or tortures? Do we stand back and let it pass, in the name of political expediency? What shame and moral rot will we have to endure? How can we rise from the muck of this terrible period in our history if we do not both witness and pay out with justice the ineffable suffering of the innocent made in our name, and now forever etched with acid on the soul of the country?

Update: Interested readers will want to read Scott Horton's latest piece at Harper's (subscription required) on the rationale and possibilities around prosecuting Bush Administration figures for torture and war crimes. A nice summary of Horton's article was also made by Compound F at Docudharma (no subscription required).

Also posted at Invictus

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