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.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Torture Confirmed at Guantanamo; Army Field Manual Codified Abuse

Posted by Valtin at 10:21 PM |

Originally posted at Firedoglake

Recently, it occurred to me that, with all the debate or controversy over the Obama administration's policies on torture, no one had asked the military, and in particular those running America's "terror" prisons, if they had been using the Army Field Manual's Appendix M. So, I called Guantanamo's Public Affairs Officer, Lt. Commander Brook DeWalt, and asked him if Appendix M interrogations had taken place at Guantanamo.

This question may have more than intrinsic interest, as the administration has now announced that it is pursuing moving over a hundred Guantanamo "detainees" to a prison in Illinois. (The actions of Umar Abdulmutallab on an American Airliners jet on Christmas Day may have thrown a monkey-wrench into the "closing" of Guantanamo, but, most likely, Obama's plans will move forward.)

Lt. Commander DeWalt took a few days to get confirmation, but when he spoke to me on December 11, he confirmed that while "not routine," Appendix M interrogations are conducted at Guantanamo "as authorized," "in accordance with DOD directives and U.S. law." He would not go into operational specifics. Officer-In-Charge of the 4th Public Affairs Detachment (Guantanamo Forward), Lt. Col. James Crabtree, whom was also contacted, declined to be more forthcoming about dates when asked for more specific dates of operational usage.

Appendix M is the portion of the 2006 revised Army Field Manual that covers "unlawful enemy combatants" who don't meet the U.S. government's criteria for Geneva treatment as prisoners of war. Obama doesn't want to call them illegal combatants anymore, so the government doesn't call them anything, except people with lesser rights.

Famously, President Obama has proclaimed, as did his predecessor, that he was against torture, and was banning it in his administration. As a result, the Obama administration closed down the CIA secret black site prisons, though not, as it turns out, all secret black site prisons.

Obama also rescinded the torture memos of Bybee/Yoo/Bradbury/Addington/Levin, and replaced them with an interrogation policy oriented around the Bush-era Army Field Manual (AFM), whose latest incarnation was the brainchild of Donald Rumsfeld's assistant, Stephen Cambone. At first, the new AFM was supposed to have a secret annex, so the "worst of the worst" could be grilled in U.S. military prisons, and not have any bleeding hearts or Al Qaeda types getting wind of what was going on.

But, brilliantly, one has to admit, they hit on the idea of simply laying the document openly among the people, and when there was no protest, and the politicians dutifully saluted, the new torture policy was ready to go. First, they had to line up some right-wingers to protest the new AFM was "too soft," especially for use by the CIA. Then, they had to conduct a PR campaign that sold the AFM to the public, as humane, Geneva-compliant, and the negation of former Bush torture policies. Hence hoary old Senator Feinstein was rolled out to give the stamp of approval from "pragmatic liberal" types. No one else around the Beltway would peep boo from the left.

Appendix M was certainly not the old "enhanced interrogation techniques," but they weren't exactly not them either. The new AFM was supposed to be better than the old one, like any new product, but in fact, old prohibitions against abusive interrogation techniques were removed, and in some cases, the techniques formally reintroduced. An example of the latter is sleep deprivation, which used to be explicitly proscribed, but is now part of Appendix M procedure. "Fear Up" procedures are strengthened. Modes of sensory deprivation are introduced. The ban against drugs that cause serious derangement of the senses or temporary psychosis is replaced by a ban against drugs that cause "permanent damage." Stress positions are, notably, not explicitly banned.

Also posted at Invictus

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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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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Minutes from a Torturers' Meeting at Guantanamo

Posted by Valtin at 1:22 PM |

What follows below was transcribed from a PDF of the original document (or a copy of same), posted on the website of Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It, along with a wealth of other documentation, was used in preparing the SASC's highly critical report late last year on interrogations and detainee treatment, which concluded that high officials bore responsibility for the mistreatment and torture of prisoners under U.S. control.

The document below constitutes the minutes from a meeting held at Guantanamo in early autumn, 2002. It is presented with minimal editorial comment, as I believe it speaks for itself. So far as I know, no other transcription of this document, minus certain excerpts, has ever been published or posted before. It is done so here as a public service, to promote the position that prosecution of the government's torture crimes is of paramount importance.

Cast of characters:
Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo; Lt. Col. Jerald Phifer, who sent a memo to Maj. Gen. Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more "severe interrogation techniques" (Dunleavy told a superior that Phifer was his "point of contact" on interrogation matters); Major John Leso, a military psychologist, who was present at the torture interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani(Leso, like Major Burney in the minutes, were members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team [BSCT] -- Burney is reportedly a psychiatrist -- last month, the Convening Authority of Military Commissions at Guantanamo dropped the charges against al-Qahtani, concluding his treatment amounted to torture); Dave Becker, representing the Defense Intelligence Agency; and John Fredman, then chief counsel to the CIA's counter-terrorism center.

I'd like to make only two observations that I think are relevant at this point. One, it is clear that coercive interrogations amounting to torture had already begun at Guantanamo prior to this October 2002 meeting. In the document itself, the participants have a general discussion recalling how prisoner "063", Mohammed al-Qahtani, "has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors," indicating, perhaps, that al-Qahtani was some kind of experimental test case. (H/T to Trudy Bond, who noted this fact in an article published at Counterpunch earlier this year.)

Secondly, it struck me when transcribing these minutes the degree to which John Fredman, the CIA legal counsel and rep to this meeting, dominated the discussion. All the participants seem to bow to his authority, especially on legal issues, with Lt. Col. Beaver chiming in as well. While the BSCT members -- who are the medical professionals present -- appear to criticize "fear-based" interrogations techniques at the beginning of the meeting, in favor of rapport-building, as well as abusive environmental "approaches," as the discussion veers more and more to propositions regarding blatant torture, like the "wet towel" (waterboarding) technique, nary a protest is heard from these individuals, who have by their actions disavowed the ethics of their medical and/or psychological professions.

One final note: the acronym LEA refers to Law Enforcement Agency, and basically refers to the FBI. The acronym SERE, which appears throughout, refers to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program found in the various military branches. Meant to inoculate U.S. servicemen against the rigors of enemy capture and torture, Sen. Levin's investigation documented the various ways in which SERE methods were reverse-engineered to provide torture techniques for use by the military and CIA on prisoners held under U.S. control. So far as we know, the first approach by the Defense Department (specifically, by DoD Chief Counsel William J. Haynes, II) to the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, parent department for SERE, regarding information on SERE techniques, was in December 2001, well before any legal memo by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel allowing (illegally) for abusive treatment of detainees. There can be no alibi that DoD was following legal advice or protected by presidential order at that point in time.

Re transcription: I have tried to follow as much as possible the layout, spelling, punctuation, and font emphasis of the original. Bullets have been changed to asterisks, arrows to long dashes. All brackets and parentheses are as in original, unless otherwise indicated.
Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes

Persons in Attendance:

COL Cummings, LTC Phifer, CDR Bridges, LTC Beaver, MAJ Burney, MAJ Leso, Dave Becker, John Fredman, 1LT Seek, SPC Pimentel

The following notes were taken during the aforementioned meeting at 1340 on October 2, 2002. All questions and comments have been paraphrased:

BSCT Description of SERE Psych Training (MAJ Burney and MAJ Leso)

* Identify trained resisters
      * Al Qaeda Training

* Methods to overcome resistance
      * Rapport building (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Friendly approach (approach proven to yield positive results)
      * Fear Based Approaches are unreliable, ineffective in almost all cases

* What's more effective than fear based strategies are camp-wide environmental stratetgies designed to disrupt cohesion and communication among detainees
      * Environment should foster dependence and compliance

LTC Phifer: Harsh techniques used on our service members have worked and will work on some, what about those?

MAJ Leso: Force is risky, and may be ineffective due to the detainees' frame of reference. They are used to seeing much more barbaric treatment.

Becker: Agreed.

-- At this point a discussion about ISN 63 [Mohammed al-Qahtani] ensued, recalling how he has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors. After short discussion the BSCT continued to address the overall manipulation of the detainees' environment.

BSCT continued:

* Psychological stressors are extremely effective (ie, sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time)

COL Cummings: We can't do sleep deprivation

LTC Beaver: Yes, we can -- with approval.

* Disrupting the normal camp operations is vital. We need to create an environment of "controlled chaos"

LTC Beaver: We may need to curb the harsher operations while ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross -- added by transcriber] is around. It is better not to expose them to any controversial techniques. We must have the support of the DOD.

Becker: We have had many reports from Bagram about sleep deprivation being used.

LTC Beaver: True, but officially it is not happening. It is not being reported officially. The ICRC is a serious concern. They will be in and out, scrutinizing our operations, unless they are displeased and decide to protest and leave. This would draw a lot of negative attention.

COL Cummings: The new PSYOP plan has been passed up the chain

LTC Beaver: It's at J3 at SOUTHCOM.

Fredman: The DOJ has provided much guidance on this issue. The CIA is not held to the same rules as the military. In the past when the ICRC has made a big deal about certain detainees, the DOD has "moved" them away from the attention of the ICRC. Upon questioning from the ICRC about their whereabouts, the DOD's response has repeatedly been that the detainee merited no status under the Geneva Convention. The CIA has employed aggressive techniques on less than a handful of suspects since 9/11.

Under the Torture Convention, torture has been prohibited by international law, but the language of the statutes is written vaguely. Severe mental and physical pain is prohibited. The mental part is explained as poorly as the physical. Severe physical pain described as anything causing permanent damage to major organs or body parts. Mental torture described as anything leading to permanent, profound damage to the senses or personality. It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you're doing it wrong. So far, the techniques we have addressed have not proven to produce these types of results, which in a way challenges what the BSCT paper says about not being able to prove whether these techniques will lead to permanent damage. Everything on the BSCT white paper is legal from a civilian standpoint. [Any questions of severe weather or temperature conditions should be deferred to medical staff.] Any of the techniques that lie on the harshest end of the spectrum must be performed by a highly trained individual. Medical personnel should be present to treat any possible accidents. The CIA operates without military intervention. When the CIA has wanted to use more aggressive techniques in the past, the FBI has pulled their personnel from theatre. In those rare instances, aggressive techniques have proven very helpful.

LTC Beaver: We will need documentation to protect us

Fredman: Yes, if someone dies while aggressive techniques are being used, regardless of cause of death, the backlash of attention would be extremely detrimental. Everything must be approved and documented.

Becker: LEA personnel will not participate in harsh techniques

LTC Beaver: There is no legal reason why LEA personnel cannot participate in these operations

-- At this point a discussion about whether or not to video tape the aggressive sessions, or interrogations at all ensued.

Becker: Videotapes are subject to too much scrutiny in court. We don't want the LEA people in aggressive sessions anyway.

LTC Beaver: LEA choice not to participate in these types of interrogations is more ethical and moral as opposed to legal.

Fredman: The videotaping of even totally legal techniques will look "ugly".

Becker: (Agreed)

Fredman: The Torture Convention prohibits torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. The US did not sign up on the second part, because of the 8th amendment (cruel and unusual punishment), but we did sign the part about torture. This gives us more license to use more controversial techniques.

LTC Beaver: Does SERE employ the "wet towel" technique?

Fredman: If a well-trained individual is used to perform [sic] this technique it can feel like you're drowning. The lymphatic system will react as if you're suffocating, but your body will not cease to function. It is very effective to identify phobias and use them (ie, insects, snakes, claustrophobia). The level of resistance is directly related to person's experience.

MAJ Burney: Whether or not significant stress occurs lies in the eye of the beholder. The burden of proof is the big issue. It is very difficult to disprove someone else's PTSD.

Fredman: These techniques need involvement from interrogators, psych, medical, legal, etc.

Becker: Would we blanket approval or would it be case by case?

Fredman: The CIA makes the call internally on most of the types of techniques found in the BSCT paper, and this discussion. Significantly harsh techniques are approved through the DOJ.

LTC Phifer: Who approves ours? The CG? SOUTHCOM CG?

Fredman: Does the Geneva Convention apply? The CIA rallied for it not to.

LTC Phifer: Can we get DOJ opinion about these topics on paper?

LTC Beaver: Will it go from DOJ to DOD?

LTC Phifer: Can we get to see a CIA request to use advanced aggressive techniques?

Fredman: Yes, but we can't provide you with a copy. You will probably be able to look at it.
An example of a different perspective on torture is Turkey. In Turkey they say that interrogation at all, or anything you do to that results in the subject betraying his comrades is torture.

LTC Beaver: In the BSCT paper it says something about "imminent threat of death",...

Fredman The threat of death is also subject to scrutiny, and should be handled on a case by case basis. Mock executions don't work as well as friendly approaches, like letting someone write a letter home, or providing them with an extra book.

Becker: I like the part about ambient noise.

-- At this point a discussion about the ways to manipulate the environment ensued, and the following ideas were offered:

* Medical visits should be scheduled randomly, rather than on a set system
* Let detainee rest just long enough to fall asleep and wake him up about every thirty minutes and tell him it's time to pray again
* More meals per day induce loss of time
* Truth serum; even though it may not actually work, it does have a placebo effect.

Meeting ended at 1450.

***********
The Immediate Aftermath

It is worth noting some of the administrative responses to this meeting. On October 11, a week after the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting, LTC Jerald Phifer wrote a request to Major General Michael B. Dunleavy, Commander at Guantanamo, requesting use of Counter-Resistance Strategy techniques. He divided them into three categories of intensity.

Category I included direct approach and rapport building techniques, but also false identification of national identity of the interrogator, yelling at the detainee, and "techniques of deception." Category II techniques included use of stress position, isolation up to 30 days, light/auditory deprivation, 20 hour interrogations, nudity, hooding, and use of phobias "to induce stress." Category III techniques included the "wet towel" (waterboarding) treatment, threats of death to the prisoner or his family, and exposure to cold.

On the same day, the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo, LTC Diane E. Beaver, wrote a legal brief that concluded "the proposed strategies do not violate federal law." She did suggest, though, that Category II and III techniques undergo further legal review "prior to their commencement." Still on the same day, Maj. Gen. Dunleavy wrote a memo to the Commander of U.S. Southern Command asking for approval of the techniques. He concluded, without exception, that "these techniques do not violate U.S. or international laws.

On October 25, 2002, General James T. Hill, Commander at SOUTHCOM, forwarded the request to use the techniques to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While he worried about the legality of some of th Category III techniques, particularly the death threats, he urged them to consider that he wanted "to have as many options as possible at my disposal."

A few days after that, on October 28, 2002, Mark Fallon, Deputy Commander at Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) sent a memo to a colleague. He was uneasy about what he had read in the Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting Minutes. He told his colleague the comments of Beaver and others "looks like the kinds of stuff Congressional hearings are made of." The techniques "seem to stretch beyond the bounds of legal propriety."
Quotes from LTC Beaver regarding things that are not being reported give the appearance of impropriety.... Talk of "wet towel treatments" which results in the lymphatic gland reacting as if you are suffocating, would in my opinion; shock the conscience of any legal body looking at using the results of the interrogations or possibly even the interrogators. Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.
If you wish to repost this essay you can download a .txt file of the html here (right click and save). Permission granted.

Also posted at Invictus and Progressive Historians

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

US/UK Cover-up on Torture, While Conditions Worsen at Guantanamo

Posted by Valtin at 3:10 PM |

Controversy continues to mount over the suppression of key evidence of U.S. torture in the case of Ethiopian national, Binyam Mohamed, at the suspected behest of the Obama administration. UK High Court judges in the case wanted to release the evidence, but Foreign Secretary David Miliband prevented this, saying it would harm UK intelligence cooperation with the United States. The U.S. reputedly threatened a break in cooperation with British intelligence services if the torture evidence, which is part of a CIA file, was released. (Update: The Age has now published documentary evidence of the U.S. threat -- see below. H/T to Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse.)

Whatever threats were made, after the suppression of the evidence, and in the face of the protest by the UK judges, the Obama administration told BBC News it was grateful for the cooperation, i.e., the cover-up.
In a statement, the White House said it "thanked the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information".

It added that this would "preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens".
The UK ruling on the torture evidence was made in response to a legal challenge to the secrecy made by Associated Press, the Guardian, BBC and The New York Times, among other news organizations.

The controversy has made headlines in the UK, but U.S. media has remained compliantly mute, and that includes much of the blogging community. I could find almost no references to the Obama administrations response to BBC, except at Raw Story, and inside a blistering protest statement made ACLU's Anthony Romero. And among top name bloggers, only Chris Floyd and Glenn Greenwald noted the heavy-handed U.S. attempt. Floyd rightly assailed the supposedly liberal Democratic administration for acting "to preserve the presidential 'prerogatives' that Bush asserted to justify torture, eavesdropping and aggression."

But the story won't die, and today's Sunday Telegraph reports that, as suspected by some, the British were only too happy to suppress torture evidence because it clearly reveals the cooperation of British intelligence officers in the torture interrogation.
Material in a CIA dossier on Mr Mohamed that was blacked out by High Court judges contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to his captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

Intelligence sources have revealed that spy chiefs put pressure on Mr Miliband to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution, or to jeopardise relations with the CIA, which is passing them "top notch" information on British terrorist suspects from its own informers in Britain....

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said.
Update

The British newspaper The Age has published excerpts from copies of letters from the U.S. State Department to the British Foreign Service. The letters were apparently obtained by Britain's Channel 4.

"I write with respect to proceedings … regarding Mr Binyam Mohamed," the letter said. "We note the classified documents identified in your letters of June 16 and August 1, 2008, to the acting general counsel of the Department of Defence … the public disclosure of these documents or of the information contained therein is likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm … intelligence information sharing arrangements between our two governments."

Channel 4 revealed that a week later the State Department wrote again to the Foreign Office to make clear the consequences if British courts released the paperwork detailing allegations of torture by US and British intelligence services.

"To the extent the UK proceedings are currently aimed at ensuring that the documents at issue will be before the convening authority before she makes her referral decision, this development further demonstrates the relief sought through these proceedings has been otherwise accomplished and no further action by the court is required," the letter said.
The Democratic Party backers of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had better ponder the meaning of these words, and ponder carefully. Do you really want to sell out torture victims and justice for good feelings and a handful of favorite programs?

Worsening Brutality at Guantánamo

Meanwhile, the UK Guardian is reporting that conditions are worsening for inmates at Guantanamo in the first weeks of Obama's administration.
[U.S. military attorney Lieutenant-Colonel Yvonne] Bradley, a US military attorney for 20 years, will reveal [in court on Monday] that Mohamed, 31, is dying in his Guantánamo cell and that conditions inside the Cuban prison camp have deteriorated badly since Barack Obama took office. Fifty of its 260 detainees are on hunger strike and, say witnesses, are being strapped to chairs and force-fed, with those who resist being beaten. At least 20 are described as being so unhealthy they are on a "critical list", according to Bradley....

"The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantánamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on," [Bradley said].

"Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. Swat teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantánamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening.
Even more, the Guardian reports suspicions that some in the U.S. intelligence community would prefer to see Binyam die, so he can not testify to what he has seen and endured, and to prevent a lawsuit against U.S. and British authorities. One wonders if, like the Nazis who turned even more savagely against concentration camp prisoners as Allied armies bore down upon the fascist forces, JTF at Guantanamo isn't becoming more brutal in anticipation of its own less fiery, more juridical form of Götterdämmerung.

U.S. anti-torture and human rights activists, and progressives of all kinds, must demand the immediate closure of Guantanamo. Prisoners who have been imprisoned for years must be released, lacking any evidence of their danger, which can be reviewed promptly by a U.S. judge. Those for whom there may be evidence of crimes can be turned over to the U.S. justice system for timely and swift trial under the laws of the country's standing courts.

The Difficulty of Eradicating Torture

Torture is more than just the destruction of a human being's body or psyche. It destroys whole nations and cultures. The Bush administration accelerated trends in U.S. use of torture and coercion that go back over fifty years, from the CIA MK-ULTRA program to the joint U.S./South Vietnamese torture-assassination Phoenix Program in Vietnam that killed tens of thousands and tortured tens of thousands more, to the training of foreign torturers by the U.S. military.

Whatever the intentions of Barack Obama, there is an entrenched culture now within the military and in the intelligence agencies of the United States, and also of some its allies, that relies on coercion and terror to enforce their rule and their power. The fight over this must be taken into the open, with demands to declassify all but the most current and sensitive documents that relate to interrogations and torture. If there is no imminent danger to the United States then there is no reason to hold any such documention secret. Names, if necessary, can always be blacked out.

All too often the news about torture takes on an unreal air, as the dark irrationalities behind it are obscured by legalistic arguments and political infighting. Hence, I want to close with an up-close look at the man whose name is most in the news about torture right now, Binyam Mohamed. The biography that follows is from the the British human rights group Reprieve, who has provided legal representation for Mr. Mohamed in the United Kingdom. While a horrifying story, it can also be read as tale of remarkable survival against barbaric treatment and torture by the United States and their rendition proxies. Currently Mr. Mohamed, still a prisoner at Guantanamo, is on a hunger strike. It is expected by many that he will be released from Guantanamo next week... if he doesn't die first.
Binyam Mohamed was born in Ethiopia and came to Britain in 1994, where he lived for seven years, sought political asylum and was given leave to remain while his case was resolved.

While travelling in Pakistan, Binyam was arrested on a visa violation and turned over to the US authorities. When they refused to let him go, he asked what crime he had committed, and insisted on having a lawyer if he was going to be interrogated. The FBI told him, ‘The rules have changed. You don’t get a lawyer.’

Binyam refused to speak to them. British agents then confirmed his identity to the US authorities and he was warned that he would be taken to a Middle Eastern country for harsh treatment.

On 21 July 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco on a CIA plane. He was held there for 18 months in appalling conditions. To ensure his confession, his Moroccan captors tortured him, stripping him naked and cutting him with a scalpel on his chest and penis. Despite this, Binyam said that his lowest point came when his interrogators asked him questions about his life in London, which he realized could only have been provided by the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been betrayed by the country in which he had sought asylum.

Binyam’s ordeal in Morocco continued for about 18 months until January 2004, when he was transferred to the ‘Dark Prison’ near Kabul, Afghanistan, a secret prison run by the CIA, which resembled a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud 24-hour music and noise.

Speaking of his time in the ‘Dark Prison’, Binyam said:

“It was pitch black, no lights on in the rooms for most of the time. They hung me up for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb. There was loud music, Slim Shady [by Eminem] and Dr. Dre for 20 days. Then they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. At one point, I was chained to the rails for a fortnight. The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night. Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.”

From there he was taken to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, and finally, in September 2004, to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains.

In June 2008, the US Department of Defense put Binyam forward for trial by military commission, a novel legal system, conceived in November 2001, which was described by Lord Steyn, a British law lord, as a “kangaroo court.”

In the same month, lawyers at Reprieve, working with colleagues at Leigh Day & Co., sued the British government, demanding that they turn over evidence that could help prove both his innocence and the extent of his torture.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, said:

“I visited Binyam in Guantanamo just a week ago and he is in a very bad state. Surely the least the British government can do is insist that no British resident be charged in a kangaroo court based on evidence tortured out of him with a razor blade. If Binyam’s trial by military commission proceeds, all it will produce is evidence not of terrorism, but of torture, which will embarrass both the British and the American governments.”

A judicial review of Binyam’s case took place in the high court at the end of July 2008. The result, which will determine whether or not the British government is obliged to hand over evidence relating to Binyam’s rendition and torture, is expected in mid-August.

Letters to Binyam should be sent to:
Binyam Mohamed
ISN 1458
Camp Delta
US Naval Base Guantánamo Bay
Washington, DC 20355
USA

Late additions to this posting: A video interview with Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty (formerly the British National Council for Civil Liberties), talking on the Binyam Mohamed case (see embed), and an editorial from the L.A. Times blasting the government on rendition and the "state secrets" privilege. Thanks to buhdydharma for these links!

Also posted at Invictus

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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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