30+ torture memos remain sealed while thousands of torture photos will eventually be released. Be prepared: Learn the deep history of US torture in SERE, Vietnam, Latin America, GMTO, Black Sites and beyond in American Torture.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Birth of a Whitewash: Who Testified at Leahy Commission Torture Hearings?

Posted by Valtin at 12:21 AM |

There has been plenty of controversy on the issue of conducting a Congressional or independent investigation into the interrogations policy and torture activities of the Bush administration over the last seven or eight years.

One of the primary worries by those who oppose a "truth and reconciliation"-style investigation is that it would preempt possible prosecutions, or at worst, be a cover-up of some of the worst crimes involved. Those who favor such an investigation believe that is only with a broad investigation will all the information really be unearthed.

The hearing today by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- "Getting to the Truth Through a Nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry" -- chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), was called to explore options for investigating past torture and counter-terrorism policy. The committee called six witnesses, some for, some against such an investigation. But a close look at the backgrounds and affiliations of even most of the pro-investigation witnesses should give us deep pause, and ask what kind of commission are we being set up for?

The witnesses included some out and out conservatives, or individuals dubious about the investigatory process -- men like David B. Rivkin, Jr., who opposes the investigation, and supported most of Bush's program, such as suspension of Geneva rights for "enemy combatants", and Jeremy Rabkin, who wrote, After Guantanamo: The War Over the Geneva Convention" in a collection of essays edited by cold warrior ex-CIA chief R. James Woolsey.

The other four witnesses were a mixed bag. They appeared to believe the Bush administration had gone way overboard after 9/11, at least when it came to treatment of prisoners. Three of the four witnesses have background that make them dubious reporters, and argue, as well, that they may have another agenda they wish to advance. These three -- Thomas Pickering, Vice Admiral Lee Gunn (Ret.), and John J. Farmer, Jr. -- all have either gone on the record with far-right views on the "war on terror", or have associations with actions by the government that themselves are associated with torture.

Let me provide what evidence I have collected in a relatively short period of time. It is not definitive, but I think enough to give serious pause to consider just how this most important discussion is proceeding at the congressional level.

Our Man in El Salvador: Death Squads, Rigged Elections, and Iran/Contra

Thomas Pickering has a history as a reliable agent for murderous U.S. foreign policy. This is from an op-ed at the Council of Foreign Relations (all emphases in this posting are added, unless otherwise noted):
Thomas Pickering, who was ambassador to El Salvador from 1983 to 1985, says that, while it was U.S. policy to publicly denounce the death squads, their “kind of tactics [were] tacitly supported by the U.S. government, even though [they] were freelance.” Other analysts are more blunt. “We did back the guys who went after the bad guys,” says Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense from 1981 to 1985. “And [we] defined ‘bad guys’ pretty broadly.” According to William Leo Grande, a professor at American University and the author of a major study of the conflict, Washington knew that the intelligence it passed to the Salvadoran government eventually made its way to the paramilitaries. “We did support the guys who organized them,” he says, “so it’s a little precious to deny that we supported the death squads themselves.”
Pickering also got caught up in a dispute between mob political cliques in the U.S. and El Salvador, when Sen. Jesse Helms, who was aligned with his protege the torturer Roberto D’Aubuisson and his ARENA party, spilled the means on a CIA election manipulation to put their man, Jose Napoleon Duarte in as president, during a raging civil war with tens of thousands targeted by death squads and torturers.
As a result, enraged D’Aubuisson supporters plotted to kill U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering. Mr. Helms sent a letter to these partisans that said:
Ambassador Pickering has been the leader of the death squads against democracy. Mr. Pickering has used his diplomatic capacity to strangle liberty during the night.
Senator Helms was censured by the Senate for conducting his own foreign policy. Luckily, Ambassador Pickering escaped murder.
Thomas Pickering started his career working in the intelligence field. “Between 1959 and 1961, Ambassador Pickering served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department…” (State Dept bio)

Note that in a 1988 New York Times article, Pickering was fingered as one of the Iran-Contra enablers, passing along appeals for weapons from the Contras to Oliver North, and never reporting it, despite the fact such assistance was supposedly illegal at the time. Pickering was then ambassador to El Salvador, and up to his ears in death squads, CIA electoral manipulations, and a counter-insurgency bombing campaign that killed thousands and made refugees of many thousands more.

Pickering and his ilk are not men to be trusted. They are brought in here for one reason only: they are “fixers”, like the guys the mob brings in to clean up the mess after the hit’s been done. Nell, whose initial comment at Emptywheel's live blogging diary at Firedoglake spurred this entry of mine, put it this way:
Leahy has lined up respected establishment operatives (aka reliable tools of imperial foreign policy) to push for a commission of inquiry. I actually agree with most of Pickering’s testimony, especially about leaving the door open for prosecution and therefore being very sparing with grants of limited immunity.

But Pickering’s presence, particularly as he appeared today to represent the outermost limit of opinion among this crop of witnesses, signals to me as strongly as anything can that this commission will play the same role as “plucky reformer” Napoleon Duarte’s “fragile democracy” played in El Salvador during Amb. Pickering’s stint there: a crowd-pleasing facade created to hide the continuation of the same poisonous policy.
More of the Usual Suspects: Gunn

Vice Admiral (ret.) Lee Gunn is presented to the committee as President of the American Security Project. He also is president of their Institute of Public Research at CNA Corporation, a federally funded research and development center in Washington, D.C. [CNA stands for Center for Naval Analyses, as I discovered elsewhere; it doesn't say so at their website.] IPR-CNA works on nice and reform-like programs, though a large part of IPR's work is consultation on "homeland security operations and strategic policy development." That would include papers done under Gunn's division, such as "SMART Policing":
As part of the recent paradigm shift towards counter-terrorism, police are adopting intelligence led policing strategies (sometimes referred to as “information-led policing”) which have sought to use information analysis and intelligence more strategically to guide leadership decision making and law enforcement operations. And more recently, police departments in the higher risk urban areas have also begun to make more extensive use of electronic surveillance....

Many jurisdictions are already employing some SMART policing approaches, such as the use of new technologies for more efficient data collection and display, information sharing, and data analysis. SMART policing programs can be grown in law enforcement agencies across the country through a comprehensive, federally-driven, national technical assistance program.
This kind of "policing", highlighted by pervasive use of cameras, ethnic profiling, data mining, attacks upon the Fourth Amendment, and "Electronic surveillance technologies that employ software capable of identifying behavioral anomalies," among other police state techniques.

But Gunn's association with CNA bespeaks even more troubling associations.
Down the hall from IPR, so to speak, at CNA’s Stability and Development Program, part of CNA Strategic Studies, we find some interesting connections with major counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr. Carter Malkasian, formerly assigned to the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) as an advisor on counterinsurgency, directs the Stability and Development Program, which focuses on counterinsurgency, irregular warfare, and post-conflict reconstruction. The team provides objective, analytic perspectives—grounded in an understanding of actual operations—to support decision-makers charged with planning and conducting security and development operations.

The range of issues includes: insurgency and counterinsurgency, ethnic conflict, development of indigenous forces, economic development of war-torn states, “Phase IV” reconstruction efforts, and the establishment of political institutions.

The team most recently spent time on the ground in Afghanistan advising Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).
What are PRTs?
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are “non-kinetic” operations carried out jointly by small number of lightly armed military personnel and civilian staff from the diplomatic community and development agencies to promote governance, security and reconstruction throughout the post-9.11 Afghanistan and Iraq. PRTs can be characterized in two ways: one as a miniature of multidimensional peacekeeping operations or “peacekeeping-lite,”and the other as an extended civil-military operation center (CMOC) or “super-CMOC.”
And the PRTs have some questionable activities, beyond humanitarian work:
The PRTs have critics in the international aid community. A recent analysis from the think tank Overseas Development Institute, said “In Afghanistan, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) were perceived as blurring the lines between humanitarian and military action.”
Amnesty International ran across some shady operations conducted by some of the PRTs that involved torture:
Amnesty International is concerned that ISAF troops from New Zealand operating in Afghanistan and particularly the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) could be involved in transferring detainees to Afghan security forces.

While New Zealand was not one of those countries surveyed in the AI report, NZ is a participant in the ISAF and has a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan.... “The NZ PRT (107 personnel as of October 2007) Bamyan is tasked with maintaining security in Bamyan Province. It does this by conducting frequent presence patrols throughout the province.”, [sic] may apprehend and transfer detainees,” says Amnesty International Spokesperson Gary Reese.

In March this year, Amnesty International raised our concerns to Hon Phil Goff, Minister of Defence, that the 50-70 detainees handed over to U.S. forces by the NZ SAS could be subject to torture at Guantanamo Bay or other secret detention centres in a third country (through the US practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’).
What happens to those transferred from PRTs operating in Afghanistan to Afghan security forces? They are almost certainly tortured.
Scores of NDS detainees, some arrested arbitrarily and detained incommunicado, that is without access to defence lawyers, families, courts or other outside bodies, have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including being whipped, exposed to extreme cold, deprived of food and shocked with electrical probes.
Saying all this does not mean that Vice Adm. Gunn is somehow personally involved in torture. But his connection with an agency that is directly involved in activities advising military activities that themselves have been associated with torture makes him a dubious witness, to be sure. At least someone on the Judiciary Committee should have asked him about such links. No one did.

In any case, what we are witnessing is a corralling of all establishment criticism of the interrogations torture, and other crimes of the Bush administration by individuals highly invested in maintaining the legitimacy of U.S. military policy as a whole, including its pacification operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is precisely these operations that involved the mass round-up of prisoners, thousands of whom were and many still remain imprisoned, and an untold number tortured.

More of the Usual Suspects: Farmer

The last of today's witnesses to be examined here is John Farmer, Jr.

Why is this guy testifying? Because he knew how to keep criticism of Giuliani toned down at the 9/11 commission? What’s his view on imprisoning “terrorists”? Does anyone remember his op-ed in the New York Times last year? In the name of reform of how “terrorists” have been treated by the criminal courts, and understanding how the Bushistas twisted criminal law into something unlawful, Farmer doesn’t propose an end to that only. No, he wants to create a new system of preventive detention!
A closer look at the Padilla case and other terrorism prosecutions reveals, to the contrary, that the continued reliance on our criminal justice system as the main domestic weapon in the struggle against terrorism fails on two counts: it threatens not only to leave our nation unprotected but also to corrupt the foundations of the criminal law itself.

The use of the criminal law in terrorist cases has never been an easy fit. After all, the primary purpose of counterterrorism is the prevention of future acts, while the criminal law has developed primarily to punish conduct that has already occurred. The question raised by the Padilla trial is whether a case about an attack that never actually happened can be tried in the criminal courts without transforming the nature of that system itself.

The answer is no. In order to make the criminal justice system an effective weapon, we have already started extending the reach of criminal statutes to conduct that has never before been punishable as a crime….

It is time to stop pretending that the criminal justice system is a viable primary option for preventing terrorism. The Bush administration should propose and Congress should pass legislation allowing for preventive detention in future terrorism cases like that of Mr. Padilla. It is the best way to ensure both the integrity of our criminal law and the safety of our nation.
Rivkin, Rabkin, Pickering, Nunn, and Frederick A.O. Schwarz, Jr. Besides Schwarz, who works with the distinguished legal civil liberties-oriented Brennan Center for Justice, this was a stacked list of witnesses, with the majority supporters of the "war on terror" and "homeland security" schemes that are anti-democratic. In the case of Pickering, we have some implicated in collaboration with those who committed exactly the same types of crimes the commission is supposed to address. What a farce! I cannot think of words of base calumny strong enough.

If this is the direction this commission is headed, then it should be boycotted. While I can support the direction an organization like Physicians for Human Rights wants to take such a torture investigation (see their letter to Sen. Leahy, PDF, from earlier today), I think that establishment human rights organization and liberals in general underestimate the entrenched nature of the powers who allowed torture to take place, and have great investment in maintaining the inviolability of the right of the state to use coercive force.

My case study for this -- and it's starting to look less like a cause, than now, sadly, a case study -- is the indifference with which the political elite treated the exposure of the Army Field Manualas riddled with abusive interrogation techniques, amounting to torture. Outside of a handful of blogs and commentators, and a few human rights organizations, including PHR and Center for Constitutional Rights, the issue has gone dead in the water. No one in Congress seems interested. They'd much rather listen to Thomas Pickering, or even David Rivkin.

I recommend my readers to go CCR's webpage on Prosecutions and Accountability and follow the action steps there. They include a letter that can be signed to Sen. Leahy:
We are also calling upon Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is holding a hearing on March 4 of the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss a “truth commission” to investigate the crimes of the Bush administration, to support prosecutions for those government officials who violated the law. Sign a letter to Sen. Leahy and the Judiciary Committee calling for them to support prosecutions, and to oppose any immunity for the architects of these torture programs.
Also posted at Invictus

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Insurgent Psychologists Win Key Anti-Torture Vote

Posted by Valtin at 12:50 AM |

The Election Committee of the American Psychological Association announced today that the referendum of APA members, in regards to prohibiting psychologist participation in settings where human rights violations take place, has passed with almost 60% of the vote. The total vote, which took place by mail ballot and closed officially on September 15, exceeded the total number of votes cast in the 2005 and 2007 APA presidential elections, and recent by-law votes. The vote turnout clearly indicates a great deal of interest in the interrogations issue by the membership.

The vote for the referendum represents an important victory for anti-torture, civil liberties forces, both inside and outside the APA. Dan Aalbers, one of the authors of the referendum text, and who along with psychologists Ruth Fallenbaum, Brad Olson, and Ghislaine Boulanger, was one of the members of Psychologists for an Ethical APA who worked hard to secure the measure's passage, in a phone interview called the vote "a decisive victory.... Now we have to work to ensure that APA bows to the will of its members."

The election also included a ballot for APA president. Steven Reisner was running a candidacy that uniquely targeted the APA position on allowing psychologists to act in support of military and national security interrogations. There is currently no word on the results of the presidential race.

Meanwhile, the APA Office of Public Affairs has released a statement, "APA Members Approve Petition Resolution on Detainee Settings." (A link is not yet available.) In their press release, APA's leadership, who had largely opposed the resolution, noted the results and then reminded everyone they would move forward on this member-initiated policy change with all deliberate slowness:
Per the Association's Rules and Bylaws, the resolution will become official APA policy as of the Association's next annual meeting, which will take place in August 2009. At that time, the APA Council of Representatives will also determine what further action may be necessary to implement the policy.
The Art of Spinning

Per their press release on the matter, the APA recognizes the new resolution represents "a significant change in APA's policy regarding the involvement of psychologists in interrogations." At the same time, an attempt is made to link this new policy to APA's previous flawed anti-torture resolutions. Again, per APA's press release (emphasis added):
This new petition resolution expands on the 2007 APA resolution, which called on the U.S. government to ban at least 19 specific abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that are regarded as torture by international standards. The 2007 resolution also recognized that "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can result not only from the behavior of individuals, but also from the conditions of confinement," and expressed "grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights."
"Grave concern"? Not enough to pull psychologists out of such settings where the U.S. government still practices psychological torture techniques, including isolation, manipulation of environment, threats, sensory manipulation, sleep deprivation, and rendition to countries that torture.

The APA leadership should consider this: their membership has decisively voted to end the policy of bogus "concern" and implement a policy of withdrawal and prohibition. Not to act on such a clear statement by the membership -- especially on a matter concerning basic human rights and the suffering of individuals -- places the leadership in a moral and possibly legal morass from which the membership may yet choose to extract them, and sooner rather than later.

At the very least, we should now see statements from Stephen Behnke, Ethics Director at APA, promoting the new policy of APA. According to a Q&A to members about the petition resolution made last July, here's what's supposed to happen when/if the resolution passed:
Q: If adopted, would this resolution become APA policy?

Yes, if adopted the resolution would become official APA policy.

Q: If adopted would the petition amend the APA Ethics Code?

The petition as written has been interpreted as an attempt to set forth new APA policy but not amend the Ethics Code....

Q: If adopted would the petition be enforceable by APA?

As explained above, the petition would not become part of the APA Ethics Code nor be enforceable as are prohibitions set forth in the Ethics Code. Such amendments to the Ethics Code require a more deliberative process and by rule must include review by the full APA governance and a public comment period. However, the resolution would become APA policy. APA communicates its policy statements broadly to media, legislators and the public. Policy statements can be considered by the Ethics Committee in adjudicating cases. They may also be considered by third parties in their engagement of, interaction with or employment of psychologists.
Upon initial examination, it seems the APA is spinning the the referendum as somehow a logical extension of previous APA policy (when in fact it opposed it), while attempting to shelve the new policy as long as it can. They say the resolution cannot be submitted to APA Council for consideration until the next "annual meeting," i.e., next August. But the Council of Representatives always has a meeting in February (see this APA Governance webpage).

Of course, APA leadership will try to convince the unwitting that it is too late to get this matter on the February meeting agenda. But then, the APA bureaucracy is expert in delay tactics and obfuscation and double-talk. As it is, their current position now gives APA and military/CIA lawyers another 11 months to try and figure out how to minimize or distort this new APA policy the best they can. APA members should not allow this to happen.

What Happens Now?

To understand what the vote means, let us revisit the language of its text. Here is the key section:
Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.
A footnote to this section adds, "It is understood that military clinical psychologists would still be available to provide treatment for military personnel."

One thing the resolution does not mean is an immediate pullout of psychologists from sites where human rights violations take place. Psychologists like U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer, a former but now resigned APA member, still staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Lt. Col. Zierhoffer exercised her Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions about her participation in the interrogation of controversial "child soldier" Guantanamo prisoner Mohammad Jawad. Her refusal to answer questions about her actions -- Zierhoffer is accused of signing off on keeping Jawad in solitary confinement, despite his mental deterioration -- was widely noted and condemned,
The psychologist’s testimony would have marked the first time that a member of the secretive Behavioral Science Consultation Team (known as BSCT or “biscuits”) had been called to testify in a detainee hearing. The BSCT program has been highly controversial among psychologists and other health professionals....

“The fact that the BSCT Psychologist now apparently recognizes that her conduct was criminal in nature is very significant,” said Maj. Frakt. “We have alleged, based on classified government records that the BSCT psychologist's recommendation led directly to the illegal abuse and inhumane treatment of Mohammad Jawad. This invocation of the right to remain silent seems to confirm that.”
If the resolution won't get Zierhoffer and her cohorts out of the BSCTs, or kicked out of CIA secret prison sites, or pulled from operational interrogation roles with U.S. Special Operation teams, what will it do?

The resolution is aimed at changing the official policy of the American Psychological Association when it comes to supporting the presence of psychologists at U.S. detention sites in the "war on terror." APA leadership has long maintained that the presence of psychologists at sites like Guantanamo help make prisoners safer, less prone to abuse. In their official statement in support of the petition, the referendum authors defended the need for change in APA policy.
Psychologists, as “consultants”, have been active in interrogations that have brought about extreme forms of torture. In at least one of these cases, the psychologist advocated for an escalation to even more extreme 'enhanced interrogation techniques.'

Psychologists have also played a critical role in this administration's legal defense of torture. Justice Department lawyers have argued that torture can only take place if the perpetrator intends to cause 'prolonged mental harm' which, in turn, is measured by a subsequent diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychologists instead routinely provide diagnoses other than posttraumatic stress disorder, thus giving the illusion of safety and legal cover in otherwise objective instances of “torture”. Moreover, psychologists play a role in maintaining the conditions of detention, for instance, by removing “comfort items” such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and soap.

In settings that fail to meet basic standards of international law, it is unrealistic to rely on psychologists to challenge their superiors, report on violations, and protect abused detainees. We know, from decades of psychological research, that good people do bad things in bad situations. Psychologists are no less vulnerable to “behavioral drift” than others, particularly when subject to the chain of command in the closed environment of a geographically isolated detention center.
It is now incumbent upon APA as an organization to implement the policy voted upon by a notable majority of their membership via free election. The APA must notify all relevant parties -- the Pentagon, the President, the CIA -- that it is now the position of the APA that psychologists not be utilized at settings where detainees are not allowed rights such as habeas corpus, and where abusive conditions of detention and coercive interrogation are well documented.

More, the APA should communicate the new policy statement broadly to media, legislators and the public. This APA has previously promised to do. They must not be allowed to bury the will of the APA membership. Members who have been withholding their dues in protest of APA policy should wait to see if APA has any real intention of implementing this new policy.

I suspect that APA will continue to procrastinate, as they have done with the so-called ethics casebook called for multiple times over the years (last at the 2007 APA convention). (The deadline for submissions of suggestions for such an ethics casebook was recently extended until the end of 2008.)

The reason for all the delays? The APA is deeply enmeshed in the governmental apparatus of military and intelligence organizations, while also serving varied private consultation and "scientific" organizations, and academia, all under the auspices of serving the national security state. Hence, APA belongs to a wide-ranging set of special interests, which forms an extremely formidable opposition to those who would fundamentally change the policies and personnel responsible for the institution of a world-wide network of secret prisons and institutionalized torture.

My congratulations on the referendum vote extends beyond those activists who wrote and campaigned for it to APA members, who showed themselves, in their majority, ready and willing to oppose the unethical and pro-military stance of their organizational leadership, and call for an end to the cooperation of the medical and psychological professions with Bush's illegal and inhumane interrogation program.

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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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ben Griffin Silenced by High Court on Secret Renditions

Posted by Valtin at 4:02 PM |

Ben Griffin, the British ex-Special Air Service (SAS) soldier who resigned over the illegalities involved in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program, and who has spoken out publicly on British troop collaboration with U.S. forces in these activities, was served with a UK high court gag order. According to yesterday's Guardian:
Ben Griffin could be jailed if he makes further disclosures about how people seized by special forces were allegedly mistreated and ended up in secret prisons in breach of the Geneva conventions and international law.
At least hundreds of Afghans and Iraqis have been swept up in the program run with British and American special forces, and sent to prisons in countries often thousands of miles away to face torture and indefinite detention. Other European countries, including most recently Romania and Poland, have been implicated in the rendition program.

At a press conference February 25, before the court banned his free speech, Griffin spoke out more specifically about how the joint U.S.-UK operation worked (emphasis added):
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 this joint US/UK task force appeared. Its primary mission was to kill or capture high value targets. Individuals detained by this Task Force often included non-combatants caught up in the search for high value targets. The use of secret detention centres within Iraq has negated the need to use Guantanamo Bay whilst allowing similar practice to go unnoticed.

As UK soldiers within this Task Force a policy that we would detain individuals but not arrest them was continually enforced. Since it was commonly assumed by my colleagues that anyone we detained would subsequently be tortured this policy of detention and not arrest was regarded as a clumsy legal tool used to distance British soldiers from the whole process.

During the many operations conducted to apprehend high value targets numerous non-combatants were detained and interrogated in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of civilians in occupied territories. I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured.
Griffin joins U.S. whistleblower Sibel Edmonds in being gagged from speaking about what they know about illegal activities by their governments or their agents. It's clear that the U.S. and their allies are ratcheting up the machinery of governmental repression against those who would oppose their criminal policies. This story has failed to make a stir in either the U.S. mainstream or alternative press or blogosphere. In the world of American Empire, those who would speak out against blatant transgressions of justice and human decency are silenced. It is only a matter of time until they become non-people, a process already begun with the implementation of the off-the-books "ghost prisoners" the CIA ran at Abu Ghraib, and the hundreds or thousands more who have been sent without hope of appeal to foreign dungeons around the world.

I can only hope that this story, and others like it, are picked up by those who still have the freedom to voice their opinions. Without at least that, the brave men and women who speak for justice and freedom, and against torture, have -- no matter what Obama says -- no hope.

Also posted at Invictus.

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