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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Monday, June 02, 2008

U.S. Secret Prison Ships Hold Untold Number of Detainees

Posted by Valtin at 3:11 AM |

The UK Guardian is reporting the United States is holding hundreds of detainees from its international wars on at least 17 "floating prisons" in different harbors around the world. The detainees are interrogated, and then many of them sent via extraordinary rendition to other countries for further interrogation and torture.
According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as "floating prisons" since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.

Reprieve will raise particular concerns over the activities of the USS Ashland and the time it spent off Somalia in early 2007 conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture al-Qaida terrorists.

At this time many people were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in a systematic operation involving regular interrogations by individuals believed to be members of the FBI and CIA. Ultimately more than 100 individuals were "disappeared" to prisons in locations including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantánamo Bay.

Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this time.
According to Reprieve's legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, the U.S. admits to holding 26,000 people without trial in various secret prisons, and Smith believes "up to 80,000 have been 'through the system' since 2001."

Smith was interviewed on May 19 by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now, and had more to say about the prison ship program (thanks to ask at Daily Kos).
And we’ve identified thirty-two prison ships, sort of prison hulks you used to read about in Victorian England, which have been converted to hold prisoners, and we’ve got pictures of them in Lisbon Harbor, for example. And these are holding prisoners around the world, as well. And there’s a bunch of proxy prisons -- Morocco, Egypt and Jordan -- where this stuff is going on. And this is a huge concern, because the world focus is on Guantanamo Bay, which really is a diversionary tactic in the whole war of terror or war on terror, whatever you’d like to call it. And actually, most of these people who have been severed from their legal rights are in these other secret prisons around the world. [bold added for emphasis]
While there may be more detainees held in other secret prisons, or Iraqi and Afghani jails and U.S. military and CIA black site prisons, the idea of prisoners held in small holds and cells for an indefinite time, out of sight of land or hope, conjurs memories of tryanny that predate the democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century. Prison ships harken back to the days of the British deportations of convicts to America and Australia, and even earlier, to the slave ships which transported the kidnapped and sold Africans into what was supposed to be eternal servitude.

So, now we will have to add secret prison ships to what Reprieve at their website calls the "global matrix of CIA torture flights and secret prisons scattered from Poland to Afghanistan."

Soon, I will be writing a rather lenghty piece about the history and current U.S. policy of targeted assassination: torture, assassination, aggressive invasion and occupation of other countries, disputed elections, out-of-control war profiteering and an oil industry raping the economy without any governmental restraints. This nation is sliding into a totalitarian nightmare. While the population is diverted by the entertainment of the mainstream election, the worst crimes are taking place, and if the many are ignorant or indolent today, the consequences tomorrow will be unable to escape.

Also posted at Invictus

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