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Tuesday, June 26, 2010

Looking Backwards—The Final Post

George W. Bush did not invent torture.

After more than three years since the release of American Torture it’s the one phrase that has come to my mind, again and again.

Yes—the Bush Administration promoted torture. They expanded its use. Former officials—and Bush himself—still defend torture. But they did not invent it, or introduce it into US foreign policy.

The KUBARK manual and John Mark’s classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, first punctured this myth for me. In American Torture, I used these sources—and many others—to plot US use of torture from SERE schools to secret CIA prisons. My message was simple: Torture is counterproductive. It is inhumane. And it is not new in the American experience.

The more people knew these things, I thought, the more torture would lose its appeal. But torture persists within the legal black hole at Bagram. Guantanamo remains open and indefinite detention—even for the guiltless—continues. Torture photos are blocked. Accountability thwarted. And torture is still codified. Obama has continued the policies of his predecessor. Change has not come.

I must judge the impact of American Torture in more personal ways. My views on torture are still sought. Occasionally, I get an email from someone who has read my book—a student, an artist, or someone in the military—thanking me or asking questions. And in all these years, I’ve gotten only one piece of hate mail.

Yet it pains me to see how often the wider context of US use of torture is lost. At high profile anti-torture and accountability events—like this otherwise memorable one I attended recently in New York City—the wider history of US torture gets passing mention, if at all.

But recognition of our past crimes—all of our past crimes—is the only way to move forward. The torturers and the medical professionals that provided expertise must be held accountable. The administration lawyers and top White House, CIA and Pentagon officials that sanctioned torture must be held accountable as well. But this spans beyond the Bush Administration.

The continuum of US cruelty is deep—stretching though Vietnam, Latin America and beyond. It should be followed to the root. Surviving torturers and members of previous Administrations responsible for torture should be sought along side Bush Administration officials in any Truth Commission or War Crimes Tribunal.

Today is June 26, 2010—International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. It has been exactly 23 years since the UN Convention Against Torture—signed with reservations by the United States—came into force.

We owe victims of torture one thing above all else: justice. We should seek out all perpetrators of torture. We must expose them for who they are, and for what they’ve done. There is no statute of limitations on inhumanity.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low

As published on the website of Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files.

Since the publication last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo (PDF), much has been made of a footnote containing a comment made by Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat Stress Control Team, who, with two colleagues, was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo.

In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. Burney wrote that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

In an article to follow, I’ll look at how Maj. Burney -- almost accidentally -- assumed a pivotal role in the implementation of torture techniques in the “War on Terror,” but for now I’m going to focus on the significance of his comments, which are, of course, profoundly important because they demonstrate that, in contrast to the administration’s oft-repeated claims that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” foiled further terrorist attacks on the United States, much of the program was actually focused on trying to establish links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that would justify the planned invasion of Iraq.

Maj. Burney’s testimony provides the first evidence that coercive and illegal techniques were used widely at Guantánamo in an attempt to secure information linking al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, but it is not the first time that the Bush administration’s attempts to link a real enemy with one that required considerable ingenuity to conjure up have been revealed.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: the tortured lie that underpinned the Iraq war

In case anyone has forgotten, when Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the head of the Khaldan military training camp in Afghanistan, was captured at the end of 2001 and sent to Egypt to be tortured, he made a false confession that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi later recanted his confession, but not until Secretary of State Colin Powell -- to his eternal shame -- had used the story in February 2003 in an attempt to persuade the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.

It’s wise, I believe, to resuscitate al-Libi’s story right now for two particular reasons. The first is because, when he was handed over to US forces by the Pakistanis, he became the first high-profile captive to be fought over in a tug-of-war between the FBI, who wanted to play by the rules, and the CIA -- backed up by the most hawkish figures in the White House and the Pentagon -- who didn’t. In an article published in the New Yorker in February 2005, Jane Mayer spoke to Jack Cloonan, a veteran FBI officer, who worked for the agency from 1972 to 2002, who told her that his intention had been to secure evidence from al-Libi that could be used in the cases of two mentally troubled al-Qaeda operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, a proposed 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and Richard Reid, the British “Shoe Bomber.”

Crucially, Mayer reported, Cloonan advised his colleagues in Afghanistan to interrogate al-Libi with respect, “and handle this like it was being done right here, in my office in New York.” He added, “I remember talking on a secure line to them. I told them, ‘Do yourself a favor, read the guy his rights. It may be old-fashioned, but this will come out if we don’t. It may take ten years, but it will hurt you, and the bureau’s reputation, if you don’t. Have it stand as a shining example of what we feel is right.’”

However, after reading him his rights, and taking turns in interrogating him with agents from the CIA, Cloonan and his colleagues were dismayed when, in spite of developing what they believed was “a good rapport” with him, the CIA decided that tougher tactics were needed, and rendered him to Egypt. According to an FBI officer who spoke to Newsweek in 2004, "At the airport the CIA case officer goes up to him and says, 'You're going to Cairo, you know. Before you get there I'm going to find your mother and I'm going to f*** her.' So we lost that fight.” Speaking to Mayer, Jack Cloonan added, “At least we got information in ways that wouldn’t shock the conscience of the court. And no one will have to seek revenge for what I did.” He added, “We need to show the world that we can lead, and not just by military might.”

In November 2005, the New York Times reported that a Defense Intelligence Agency report had noted in February 2002, long before al-Libi recanted his confession, that his information was not trustworthy. As the Times described it, his claims “lacked specific details about the Iraqis involved, the illicit weapons used and the location where the training was to have taken place.” The report itself stated, “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Had anyone asked Dan Coleman, a colleague of Cloonan’s who also had a long history of successfully interrogating terrorist suspects without resorting to the use of torture, it would have been clear that torturing a confession out of al-Libi was a counter-productive exercise.

As Mayer explained, Coleman was “disgusted” when he heard about the false confession, telling her, “It was ridiculous for interrogators to think Libi would have known anything about Iraq. I could have told them that. He ran a training camp. He wouldn’t have had anything to do with Iraq. Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any. The reason they got bad information is that they beat it out of him. You never get good information from someone that way.”

This, I believe, provides an absolutely critical explanation of why the Bush administration’s torture regime was not only morally repugnant, but also counter-productive, and it’s particularly worth noting Coleman’s comment that “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links, but there weren’t any.” However, I realize that the failure of torture to produce genuine evidence -- as opposed to intelligence that, though false, was at least “actionable” -- was exactly what was required by those, like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, “Scooter” Libby and other Iraq obsessives, who wished to betray America doubly, firstly by endorsing the use of torture in defiance of almost universal disapproval from government agencies and military lawyers, and secondly by using it not to prevent terrorist attacks, but to justify an illegal war.

Where are Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and the other 79 “ghost prisoners”?

In addition, a second reason for revisiting al-Libi’s story emerged two weeks ago, when memos approving the use of torture by the CIA, written by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, were released, because, in one of the memos from 2005, the author, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury, revealed that a total of 94 prisoners had been held in secret CIA custody. As I noted at the time, what was disturbing about this revelation was not the number of prisoners held, because CIA director Michael Hayden admitted in July 2007 that the CIA had detained fewer than 100 people at secret facilities abroad since 2002, but the insight that this exact figure provides into the supremely secretive world of “extraordinary rendition” and secret prisons that exists beyond the cases of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA custody in September 2006.

Al-Libi, of course, is one of the 80 prisoners whose whereabouts are unknown. There are rumors that, after he was fully exploited by the administration’s own torturers (in Poland and, almost certainly, other locations) and by proxy torturers in Egypt, he was sent back to Libya, to be dealt with by Colonel Gaddafi. I have no sympathy for al-Libi, as the emir of a camp that, at least in part, trained operatives for terrorist attacks in their home countries (in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East), but if there is ever to be a proper accounting for what took place in the CIA’s global network of “extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons, and proxy prisons, then al-Libi’s whereabouts, along with those of the other 79 men who constitute “America’s Disappeared” (as well as all the others rendered directly to third countries instead of to the CIA’s secret dungeons), need to be established.

Torturing Abu Zubaydah “to achieve a political objective”

Al-Libi’s story is, of course, disturbing enough as evidence of the utter contempt with which the Bush administration’s warmongers treated both the truth and the American public, but as David Rose explained in an article in Vanity Fair last December, al-Libi was not the only prisoner tortured until he came up with false confessions about links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

According to two senior intelligence analysts who spoke to Rose, Abu Zubaydah, the gatekeeper for the Khaldan camp, made a number of false confessions about connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, above and beyond one particular claim that was subsequently leaked by the administration: a patently ludicrous scenario in which Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq) were working with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. One of the analysts, who worked at the Pentagon, explained, “The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaydah was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.”

However, none of the analysts knew that these confessions had been obtained through torture. The Pentagon analyst told Rose, “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” He added, “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective.”

This is the crucial line, of course, and its significance is made all the more pronounced by the realization that, as one of Bradbury’s torture memos also revealed, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning) 83 times in August 2002. The administration persists in claiming that this hideous ordeal produced information that led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, but we have known for years that KSM was seized after a walk-in informer ratted on him, and those of us who have been paying attention also know that, in the case of Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber,” who spent three and a half years in solitary confinement in a US military brig until he lost his mind, there never was an actual “dirty bomb” plot. This was admitted, before his torture even began, by deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who stated, in June 2002, a month after Padilla was captured, “I don't think there was actually a plot beyond some fairly loose talk.”

All this leaves me with the uncomfortable suspicion that what the excessive waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah actually achieved -- beyond the “30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent,” that was “spent chasing leads that were bullshit,” as an FBI operative explained to David Rose -- were a few more blatant lies to fuel the monstrous deception that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

A single Iraqi anecdote, and a bitter conclusion

It remains to be seen if further details emerge to back up Maj. Burney’s story. From my extensive research into the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners, I recall only that one particular prisoner, an Iraqi named Arkan al-Karim, mentioned being questioned about Iraq. Released in January this year, al-Karim had been imprisoned by the Taliban before being handed over to US forces by Northern Alliance troops, and had been forced to endure the most outrageous barrage of false allegations in Guantánamo, but when he spoke to the review board that finally cleared him for release, he made a point of explaining, “The reason they [the US] brought me to Cuba is not because I did something. They brought me from Taliban prison to get information from me about the Iraqi army before the United States went to Iraq.”

However, even without further proof of specific confessions extracted by the administration in an attempt to justify its actions, the examples provided in the cases of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah should be raised every time that Dick Cheney opens his mouth to mention the valuable intelligence that was extracted through torture, and to remind him that, instead of saving Americans from another terror attack, he and his supporters succeeding only in using lies extracted through torture to send more Americans to their deaths than died on September 11, 2001.

For other recent articles by Andy dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? and CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

For an Unambiguous End to Torture, Israel Offers a Troubling Model

Since the new memos have been released, I've noticed that a number of commentators have started discussing how the US can follow Israel's 1999 Supreme Court ruling that, in their words, completely banned torture in Israel despite the threat of terrorism in that country. For example, an article in the New York Times from last week by Serge Schemann claims that although Israel had used 'moderate physical pressure' before 1999, after the 1999 ruling torture was rejected because it was unjustifiable—even in cases of ticking bomb scenarios—and that democracy meant not giving into the temptation to torture. Recently, Robert Baer, a former CIA officer and author, appeared on the Bill Maher show claiming the same - that Israel had successfully rejected torture and found ways to deal with terrorism without it, and that the US could follow in its footsteps and do the same.

The problem is that according to Israeli human rights organisations and the testimony of Palestinian prisoners, Israel has not refrained from torture or ill-treatment since 1999. Furthermore, the 1999 ruling that is so celebrated was far from an unequivocal ban on torture. In fact, the US has probably already learned from Israel—the notorious 2002 memos discuss in some detail Israel's use of the 'defence of necessity', the caveat applied to the 1999 'ban' on torture that arguably made it ineffective, and permitted torture and ill-treatment to occur without accountability and absolved interrogators of liability for their actions.

Before 1999, Israeli laws regarding interrogation were informed by a report from the Landau Commission, which found that 'moderate physical pressure' (including violent shaking, hooding, stress positions, sleep, and sensory deprivation) were 'regrettable but necessary' during interrogations dealing with 'hostile terrorist activity' in instances where more conventional interrogation methods had failed. This treatment would be subject to a variety of confidential safeguards. By 1998, the UN Committee Against Torture ruled that these methods constituted torture, and that in Israel its use had become routine and systematic. In 1999, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) brought a case alleging torture, and the Supreme Court ruled that the moderate physical pressure was not permissible, and that the prohibition is absolute. An interrogation must only use methods that are 'reasonable and fair'; that is, those that are 'necessarily... free of torture, free of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of the subject and free of any degrading handling whatsoever' (interestingly, the court did not rule that sleep deprivation constituted an act that fell outside of lawful sanctions), The court also noted that torture is incompatible with Israel's Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty.

This is where Baer, Schemann, and others seem to have concluded their analysis; but the ruling does not stop there. The court included a fatal caveat in its grand declaration: the defence of necessity. Under the defence, interrogators who use moderate physical pressure can avoid criminal responsibility for their acts when they believe that circumstances require them. Based on section 34 (II) of the Israeli Penal Code, if an interrogator acts in a way that is 'immediately necessary' for the purpose of saving the life, body, or property of himself or another from serious, imminent harm, and claims that no other means would have achieved the desired result, he can avoid criminal liability. This sounds reasonable in theory: it immediately brings to mind the ticking bomb scenario, or a Hollywood set-piece in which the tough, determined interrogator saves a bus full of innocents at the last minute from a mad terrorist hijacker. In Israel, however—based on reports of human rights organizations—it hasn't played out quite that way.

Firstly, any further development of the defence beyond the paradigm of the ticking bomb scenario was left up to the government and the security services, who would have to lay down any guidelines advising when a situation could be deemed acceptably imminent to necessitate methods that would otherwise constitute an illegal act of torture. Adding to this vague and potentially over-permissive formula, part of the Court’s ruling stated that even a terrorist act that would occur in days or even weeks could be 'imminent'. Ultimately, the Court said, the Attorney-General could decide himself whether a ticking bomb scenario had in fact occurred and the interrogator had acted properly. PCATI claims that the Attorney-General, as a result, grants 'wholesale, with no exception, the necessity defence approval for every single case of torture', and that 'hundreds' of cases have been approved this way—with, up until today, not a single interrogator being held responsible for acts for improper use of 'moderate physical pressure'.

The claims of detainees are even more disturbing. In 2007, a Hamoked and B'Tselem report (you can read it here) claimed that Palestinian detainees had been punched and kicked; hit with objects; thrown against walls; bound painfully with plastic handcuffs (some detainees were left with marks for months); sworn at; subjected to religious and sexual humiliation and degradation; denied basic needs (such as visits to the bathroom, medication or water); left shackled for hours in the sun; held in solitary confinement; held in uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions; subjected to sensory and sleep deprivation; tied in painful stress positions; and subjected to threats and intimidation against the detainee or his family, including threats of sexual violence against family members. Whether tactics amount to torture or 'merely' inhuman and degrading treatment is a matter of academic discussion. All are, at the very least, ill-treatment; and none, arguably, are inherent in ordinary lawful sanctions. Some of these did not occur during the interrogation themselves but during arrest and detention procedures; but surely such treatment as this, even outside of the interrogation room, contributes as much to breaking the detainee down and treats them as inhumanely as it would if it were accompanied by questions. While the incidence of ill-treatment may have decreased since the ruling, it nonetheless occurs with alarming frequency; and surely torture is such an abhorrent act that even a single detainee tortured is one too many, and presents a cause for real concern. In addition, there are claims that the security services have created confidential manuals laying out methods of 'moderate physical pressure' that can be used against detainees and which give interrogators the permission to do so in advance. This suggests that even despite the Court’s ruling, such treatment has again become systemic.

As a result, PCATI initiated further legal action in 2008, having filed a contempt of court motion with the High Court against the Prime Minster and security services, claiming that 'the GSS systematically violates the Court's Judgment. In practice, a variety of sources point to the continued existence of a practice of GSS procedures and authorisations for torturing interrogees.' (See the PCATI website for more info).

So what can the US learn from Israel? Perhaps that when you prohibit torture and ill-treatment, you must do so absolutely for it to have any real effect. The creation of exceptions and defences to be developed, implemented, and monitored at the discretion of the government and security services is clearly going to be ineffective and subject to abuse. What the US needs (in my opinion) is a single, unifying federal statute against torture, one that unequivocally and effectively implements the Convention Against Torture. This is wishful thinking: we haven't even gotten so far as uncovering the full extent of torture and ill-treatment since 2001 quite yet; and the US has a number of declarations, reservations, and understandings applied to the Convention as it is. But while the 1999 Israeli ruling was an important one insofar as it declared, at least in theory, that torture is inconsistent with Israel's guiding democratic principles, it neither rejected nor prohibited torture absolutely. The real lesson is that any concessions to torture—even those that apply exclusively to emergency situations—open the door to further abuse. The Obama Administration has the perfect moment to reaffirm the international legal prohibition of torture outright by strengthening domestic law so that torture is never permitted and those that torture are always held to account; if there is any lesson to be learned from Israel, it is that for any such prohibition to be meaningful and effective, it must be absolute and unequivocal.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Salient Observation

A salient observation made by-- of all people-- Michael Hayden and Michael Mukasey:
[The memos' release] assures that the suspension [of 'enhanced interrogation'] imposed by the president's executive order is effectively permanent. There would be little point in the president authorizing measures whose nature and precise limits have already been disclosed in detail...
This is precisely what Obama intended-- and failing requisite prosecutions-- will remain the chief obstacle to re-authorization of 'enhanced' torture in the future.

Sick Torture Memos Also Lie: A Closer Look at the Bybee Memo

Also posted at AlterNet

Reading the just released August 1, 2002 memo by John Yoo (reportedly ghosting for Jay Bybee, then Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and now an Appeals Court Judge for the Ninth Circuit), to John Rizzo, then Acting General Counsel for the CIA, on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, is a surreal experience. There is so much that is strange and awful in it, it's hard to know where to begin.

But one thing that struck me right off the bat was the similarity of the statistics presented in the early part of the memo with the statement of Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, a psychologist with Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, United States Joint Forces Command, before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on June 17, 2008.

Let's review some of the relevant text.

Yoo/Bybee write, "This letter memorializes our previous oral advice, given on July 24, 2002, and July 26, 2002, that the proposed conduct would not violate this prohibition." The prohibition referred to is the U.S. torture statute, Section 2340A, Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

In his statement, Ogrisseg states that July 24, 2002 was the date of his memorandum “Psychological Effects of Resistance Training.” Dr. Ogrisseg was then still a psychologist working for the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) at the United States Air Force Survival School at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. Only a few days after filing his report with the commander of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, the parent Pentagon organization for all the military SERE programs, on July 29 he became a civilian SERE psychologist, with a number of various duties.

More from Dr. Ogrisseg:
Mr. Chairman, with regards to my July 2002 communications with then Lt Col Dan Baumgartner, the then Chief of Staff of JPRA, my recollection is that Lt Col Baumgartner called me directly, probably on the same day that I generated my 24 July 2002 memorandum that I referenced earlier. He indicated that he was getting asked “from above” about the psychological effects of resistance training. I had no idea who was asking Lt Col Baumgartner “from above” and did not ask him to clarify who was asking. I recall reminding Lt Col Baumgartner in general terms about program evaluation data I’d presented in May of 2002 at the SERE Psychology Conference. These data, which were collected on Air Force survival students at different points of time during training, indicated that training significantly improves students confidence in their ability to adhere to the Code of Conduct.
Why might Bybee, Rizzo, Yoo or others have been interested in Ogrisseg's study of SERE psychological effects? The initial portions of the Aug. 1, 2002 memo are concerned primarily with demonstrating that the techniques migrating into the interrogation arena from SERE training programs were not harmful, physiologically or psychologically, at least not in a way that would violate the law as construed by the OLC attorneys.

Despite the presence of a "SERE training psychologist" from the very beginning of Zubaydah's interrogation. Captured in March 2002, Zubaydah told the ICRC he was tortured from the time of capture. He was allegedly waterboarded by June 2002. Now, unhappy with their intel, CIA was planning to move into an "increased pressure phase" on Zubaydah. OLC notes in the memo that it is relying on information about Zubaydah and Yoo/Bybee warns Rizzo if the "facts in your possession [are] contrary to the facts outlined here", then their "advice would not necessarily apply."

Were they suspicious about the situation as reported by Rizzo? Emptywheel noticed the reticence. The memo states (emphasis added):

According to your reports, Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from your proposed interrogation methods.....
Nowhere else, significantly, does Yoo feel the need to quote so selectively and in such detail about what CIA Acting Counsel John Rizzo had represented to him.

Meanwhile, this is what Dan Coleman--an FBI guy with deep knowledge of al Qaeda--had to say about AZ in Ron Suskind's One Percent Doctrine:
Meanwhile, Dan Coleman and other knowledgeable members of the tribe of al Qaeda hunters at CIA were reading Zubaydah's top secret diary and shaking their heads.

"This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality," Coleman told a top official at FBI after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul.
In any case, the OLC felt it had to make the SERE techniques look as innocuous as possible. The techniques to be approved included the "attention grasp", "walling," facial slaps, "facial hold," cramped confinement, sleep deprivation, "wall standing" (really slamming a prisoner against the wall violently), insects placed in a confinement box, waterboarding, and stress positions.

Bybee/Yoo reeled off a series of statistics to Rizzo:
Through your consultation with various individuals responsible for such [SERE] training, you have learned that these techniques have been used as elements of a course of conduct without any reported incident of prolonged mental harm.
The memo mentions that hardly any complaints re SERE training were made to Congress, that one SERE "official" (name redacted) had trained 10,000 students in over three and a half years with only two dropouts, and "rare" requests for psychological counseling. The memo continues:
You have consulted with [redacted] who has ten years of experience with SERE training [about two lines redacted] He stated that, during those ten years, insofar as he is aware none of the individuals who completed the program suffered any adverse mental health effects.....

Additionally, you received a memorandum from the [redacted, about one line] which you supplied to us. [Redacted] has experience with the use of all these procedures in a course of conduct, with the exception of the insect in the confinement box and the waterboard. This memorandum confirms that the use of these procedures has not resulted in any reported instances of prolonged mental harm, and very few instances of immediate and temporary adverse psychological responses during the training. Of the 26,829 students trained from 1992 through 2001 in the Air Force SERE training, 4.3 percent of those students had contact with psychology services. Of those 4.3 percent, only 3.2 percent were pulled from the program for psychological reasons. Thus, out of the students trained overall, only 0.14 percent were pulled from the program for psychological reasons.
Surely one can do amazing things with statistics, and these last statistics seem very similar to those Dr. Ogrisseg had found in his research, presented the same day as the first oral approval by OLC to CIA in the Zubaydah request.

From Dr. Ogrisseg's statement:
Then, I recall Lt Col Baumgartner asking me if I thought training was harmful to students. This question and my responses to it formed the basis of my 24 July 2002 memorandum to Lt Col Baumgartner, which is the best record of the conversation that we had. In general terms, I indicated that a very small percentage of students (4.3%) had adverse psychological reactions to our training, but we (the survival psychology staff) were able to re-motivate almost all of those having adverse reactions (96.8%) to complete training. Thus, less than .2% of the roughly 14,000 students were unable to complete training due to psychological problems which arose during training.
The numbers aren't an exact match -- except that 4.3 percent figure -- but close enough. Perhaps the original figures from his July 24 paper would fit even better, but then it's likely OLC was playing fast and loose with the figures. They are certainly close enough to assume with strong presumption that it was Ogrisseg's July 24 memorandum that was being quoted in this part of the memo.

Too bad they didn't look farther into what Ogrisseg then said he told Lt. Col. Baumgartner (emphasis added):
Finally, as indicated in my 24 July 2002 memorandum, Lt Col Baumgartner asked me if I’d never seen the waterboard used, and what I thought of it. I told him that I had seen it used while observing Navy training the previous year, and that I would never recommend using it in training. He asked me why and if I thought it was physically dangerous. I responded that I didn’t see anyone getting physically injured when I observed it, and as stated in my memorandum, the Navy was applying it to medically screened trainees with medical personnel immediately available to monitor and intervene if necessary. However, that wasn’t the point, as psychologically the waterboard produced capitulation and compliance with instructor demands 100% of the time. During debriefings following training, students who had experienced the waterboard expressed extreme avoidance attitudes such as a likelihood to further comply with any demands made of them if brought near the waterboard again. I told Lt Col Baumgartner that waterboarding was completely inconsistent with the stress inoculation paradigm of training that we used, and was more indicative of a practice that produces learned helplessness – a training result we tried strenuously to avoid. The final area I recall Lt Col Baumgartner asking me about were my thoughts on using the waterboard against the enemy. I asked [sic] responded by asking, “wouldn’t that be illegal?” He replied that some people were asking from above about the utility of using this technique against the enemy for the same reasons I wouldn’t use it in training. I replied that I wouldn’t go down that path because, aside from being illegal, it was a completely different arena that we in the Survival School didn’t know anything about. When we concluded the talk, Lt Col Baumgartner asked if I would write him a memo reflecting what we’d just discussed regarding the psychological effects of training so he could include it with other materials he was sending up. He also asked if I would comment on both the physical and psychological effects of the waterboard. I replied that I would, and drafted the memo.
Investigators or prosecutors might want to look at Dr. Ogrisseg's July 24 memorandum, because it appears to be prime evidence for OLC cherry-picking of results regarding the effects of the interrogation techniques in question. Yoo or Bybee or Rizzo, or all three, took the statistics that made their case, and ignored anything else.

We also know Bybee saw the July SERE memorandum from his own testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee:
Before drafting the opinions, Mr. Yoo, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the OLC, had met with Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the opinions. In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Yoo refused to say whether or not he ever discussed or received information about SERE techniques as the memos were being drafted. When asked whether he had discussed SERE techniques with Judge Gonzales, Mr. Addington, Mr. Yoo, Mr. Rizzo or other senior administration lawyers, DoD General Counsel Jim Haynes testified that he “did discuss SERE techniques with other people in the administration.” NSC Legal Advisor John Bellinger said that “some of the legal analyses of proposed interrogation techniques that were prepared by the Department of Justice... did refer to the psychological effects of resistance training.”

(U) In fact, Jay Bybee the Assistant Attorney General who signed the two OLC legal opinions said that he saw an assessment of the psychological effects of military resistance training in July 2002 in meetings in his office with John Yoo and two other OLC attorneys. Judge Bybee said that he used that assessment to inform the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion that has yet to be publicly released.
The OLC and CIA also ignored a wealth of other published information about the effects of SERE "stress inoculation," such as the June 2000 article, "Assessment of Humans Experiencing Uncontrollable Stress: The SERE Course," in Special Warfare:

As shown in the charts on page 7, SERE stress caused significant changes in students' hormone levels. Recorded changes in cortisol levels were some of the greatest ever documented in humans. In some cases, the changes noted among the trainees were greater than the changes noted in patients undergoing heart surgery....

Changes in testosterone levels were similarly remarkable: In some cases, testosterone dropped from normal levels to castration levels within eight hours.
Or how about this May 2000 article in Biological Psychiatry, Hormone profiles in humans experiencing military survival training?
Conclusions: The stress of military survival training produced dramatic alterations in cortisol, percent free cortisol, testosterone, and thyroid indices. Different types of stressors had varying effects on the neuroendocrine indices. The degree of neuroendocrine changes observed may have significant implications for subsequent responses to stress.
Looking at more psychological than physiological symptoms, one well-known 2001 study in the August 2001 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at dissociative symptoms, e.g., depersonalization, derealization, psychic or emotional numbing, general cognitive confusion (emphasis added):
The current study was designed to assess the nature and prevalence of dissociative symptoms in healthy humans experiencing acute, uncontrollable stress during U.S. Army survival training. METHOD: In study 1, 94 subjects completed the Clinician-Administered Dissociative States Scale after exposure to the stress of survival training. In study 2, 59 subjects completed the Brief Trauma Questionnaire before acute stress and the dissociative states scale before and after acute stress. A randomly selected group of subjects in study 2 completed a health problems questionnaire after acute stress. RESULTS: In study 1, 96% of subjects reported dissociative symptoms in response to acute stress. Total scores, as well as individual item scores, on the dissociation scale were significantly lower in Special Forces soldiers compared to general infantry troops. In study 2, 42% of subjects reported dissociative symptoms before stress and 96% reported them after acute stress.
96 percent! Well, these statistics are very different from those that appeared to say that less than 2% of SERE subjects had any significant psychological symptoms. It's all in how you frame it in the research world, and apparently in the legal world as well.

In summary, even an initial cursory look at the August 1, 2002 Bybee memo on the "Interrogation of Al Qaeda Operative" shows that the memos were written in bad faith, were meant to deceive, and utilized a memorandum by Jerald Ogrisseg that explicitly warned against using at least some of the techniques (waterboarding) that were approved by OLC.

I'm confident that other researchers will find much more wrong with the recently released OLC memos. Their extremely poor quality and their misrepresentations of medical and psychological information make them very hard to imagine using as the basis of "good faith" representations for those CIA interrogators for whom Attorney General Holder granted immunity, i.e., those "who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice..."

I suppose a lot rides now on how you define "authoritative legal advice."

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Submitting Evidence to the Spanish Court on U.S. Torture Plans

Scott Horton has reported that "Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo." The others targeted are John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Doug Feith and William Haynes.

I wrote a series on the issue of grounds for prosecution not too long ago. Now I'd like to help the Spanish prosecutors by supplying some basic evidence, courtesy of the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on "the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody", released late last year.

The rationale for the prosecution is established international law, the same sort of law that led to Spain charging August Pinochet for war crimes, led by the same Spanish judge that referred the Bush crew for possible prosecution, Baltasar Garzon.

Setting the Stage

As one reads the following, please keep in mind that there are many current controversies concerning memos written by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel that were meant to legitimize "aggressive" interrogation techniques and treatment of "war on terror" prisoners. Tomorrow, in fact, is the deadline set by a U.S. court for the release of some of these memos still kept secret, including one dated August 1, 2002 by Jay Bybee (or ghost-written by John Yoo and/or David Addington) giving legal approval to a host of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, including reportedly waterboarding.

The evidence I supply here predates that portion of the timeline. Whether or not Obama releases these memos, there is plenty of evidence to proceed with prosecutions. Jason Leopold reported at The Public Record last Saturday that the Department of Justice told the judge in the ACLU suit to "release documents related to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the CIA in 2005" that they would only give information on videotapes going back to August 2002. But, as Leopold explains, the FBI Inspector General already documented FBI agent reports of "near torture" interrogations of prisoner Abu Zubaydah as far back as May 2002.

And now, of course, we also have the release of a previously secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting torture by the CIA.

But all that in good time, for now I want to discuss Department of Defense and Defense Intelligence Agency collaboration with the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency in plotting "exploitation" practices to be used by U.S. interrogators that would draw upon the torture training model of JPRA's SERE program. SERE is administratively part of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense.

The timeline for this begins as early as December 2001, before, as the SASC report makes clear, Bush's presidential order, based on an opinion by Alberto Gonzales made as early as January 9, 2002, which "closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees." The pre-January 2002 timeline is crucial, as it stands outside, i.e., is prior to, all governmental attempts to cover their intent to torture, and to break international laws and treaties to which the government was signatory.

I humbly suggest that those with means forward what follows to the Spanish prosecutors, once the final announcement of warrants issued is made. The fact that we are still waiting, and the day has passed in Spain, and no warrants have been issued, speaks to the probable amount of strong political pressure from the U.S. exerted on Spain at this time. (For more details on how the struggle for prosecutions is playing out in the United States, including the role of Democratic Senators Feinstein and Rockefeller insisted that CIA torture suspects like Stephen Kappes, #2 at CIA now, were kept on in the Obama-Panetta reign, the better to stifle possible prosecutions of CIA officials -- such shutdown of prosecutions got a push from CIA Director, former Clinton staffer Leon Panetta last week -- see Glenn Greenwald's recent article.)

In what follows, I concentrate on a period at the very beginning of the Bush torture program's existence, as it came into being.

The Evidence

I have added in bold emphases where I felt appropriate, to guide the reader to the essential points. But I strongly recommend that those interested read not only the full quote herein, but the entire report.
(U) On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. While the President’s order stated that, as “a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

(U) In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

(U) JPRA is the DoD agency that oversees military Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. During the resistance phase of SERE training, U.S. military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures (SERE techniques) designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding.

(U) Typically, those who play the part of interrogators in SERE school neither are trained interrogators nor are they qualified to be. These role players are not trained to obtain reliable intelligence information from detainees. Their job is to train our personnel to resist providing reliable information to our enemies. As the Deputy Commander for the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), JPRA’s higher headquarters, put it: “the expertise of JPRA lies in training personnel how to respond and resist interrogations – not in how to conduct interrogations.” Given JPRA’s role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel’s office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel’s office marked just the beginning of JPRA’s support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.
The Exhibits

The one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task. We only have the fax cover sheet at present. I have been informed that the full document is not available as it concerns a different governmental entity, one that did not sign off on declassification, as yet. Perhaps when the full unredacted SASC report is released, supposedly very soon now, we will be able to add another exhibit.
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
"Mr. Shiffrin refers to Mr. Richard Shiffrin, who worked for William Haynes's in Donald Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office. Mr. Haynes is reportedly one of the officials the Spanish prosecutors intend to indict. Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner was then head of JPRA.

In June 2008, Dan Baumgartner also gave testimony under oath to the Senate committee regarding the Dec. 2001 approach by DoD. From his testimony:
My recollection of my first communication with OGC relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
The theme of JPRA promoting SERE expertise surfaces in Iraq a little less than two years after the first DoD approach. A September 9, 2003 email from Col. Randy Moulton, Commander of JPRA to Col. Mike Okita and a redacted addressee (could this be Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who, coming from his command in Guantanamo, on September 9 was just concluding his evaluation of interrogation procedures in Iraq) again makes the same point about JPRA "expertise".
There is a strong synergy between the fundamentals of both missions (resistance training and interrogation). Both rely heavily on environmental conditions, captivity psychology, and situation dominance and control. While I think this probably lies within DHS responsibility lines, recent history (to include discussions with DHS, USSOCOM, CIA) shows that no DoD entity has a firm grasp on any comprehensive approach to strategic debriefing/interrogation. Our subject matter experts (and certain Service SERE psychologist) have the most knowledge and depth within DoD on the captivity environment and exploitation.
I would remind my readers here that SERE exploitation famously includes the use of physical assault, stress positions, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, and other forms of physical and psychological torture.

Other Evidence: Re John Walker Lindh

Finally, I would like to suggest that there is at least one other piece of evidence related to this early use of torture and/or planning for torture. This concerns the report by Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department attorney in 2001, tasked as a legal ethics advisor in DoJ's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office, with advising on the procedures surrounding the interrogation of the captured American John Walker Lindh in Afghanistan.

Radack wrote in 2007:
According to a secret document I obtained in June 2004, an Army intelligence officer "advised that before interviewing Lindh, instructions came from higher headquarters for him to coordinate with JSOTF [the Joint Special Operations Task Force] JAG officer. He was told . . . he could collect on anything criminal that was volunteered."

But Higher Headquarters told the intelligence office more than that. Rumsfeld's office told him not to handle Lindh with kid gloves. In a stunning revelation, the documents states: "The Admiral told him that the Secretary of Defense's counsel had authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted." These instructions to get tough wth Lindh, contained in the document I have, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.
Unfortunately, Ms. Radack does not supply the date for this document, or to whom it was addressed by the Army Intelligence officer in question. I'm sure that the Spanish court could obtain this document in full, if it so desired.

Concluding Remarks

Truly the evidence is massive for government malfeasance and crimes against humanity in the planning and use of torture and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading procedures against detainees held by both the Department of Defense and the CIA in the past eight years. Moreover, as documented by both myself and the Center for Constitutional Rights, a program that maintains illegal interrogation methods persists within current U.S. procedures, primarily, though not limited to, the use of techniques like isolation, partial sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation, in Appendix M of the current Army Field Manual.

I congratulate the Spanish prosecutors in advance for taking on this crucial litigation, if in fact the warrants are finally issued. The U.S. is also bound by both domestic and international law to take up prosecutions, and it is a serious dereliction of law and duty of the highest order that this has not already occurred.

I hope either Spanish, or other, including U.S. prosecutors, take up the evidence I have presented here as telling documentation of U.S. official plans to subvert the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, if not the U.S. War Crimes Act, and to have done so prior to the issuance of any executive office legal opinions that would have made it supposedly legitimate (an assertion to any legitimacy I also believe to be without merit).

U.S. readers of this should flood the DoJ offices with demands to initiate prosecutions forthwith. The rule of law is at stake. If the highest officials in the land can break the most serious laws with impunity, then there is no rule of law. There is only tyranny.

Also posted at Invictus

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Friday, April 10, 2009

CIA chief issues formal orders to close 'black sites'

Just quickly - here is a little pieces of news tucked away in many newspapers today - the CIA has moved to formally close its 'black sites'. Here's another article from the Guardian.

(A more substantial post, with responses to the comments on my last post, coming soon).

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Torture News Roundup: DoD to Jail Gitmo Attorney?

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).
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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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Introduction and a Question: What's Actually Wrong with Torture?

My name is Fatima Kola and I’m a new blogger here at American Torture, thanks to Mike. A short introduction is necessary before I get to the point of my post: I’m currently a doctoral candidate at the University College London Faculty of Laws, where I’m researching the international prohibition on torture and asking what flaws the law may have (especially when it comes into contact with terrorism) that allow governments to allegedly practice torture despite their international legal obligations not to do so. I’m using the US, the UK and Israel as case studies, and I’m particularly looking at structural flaws in the law (e.g., a weak definition, the ability for states to create exceptions, etc.), as well as deeper philosophical questions (e.g., is it really true that torture is never justified as a response to terrorism?). So I’m really happy to be contributing to this blog, and you can expect, I hope, quite a lot of posts from me on various aspects of torture – particularly its moral and philosophical dimensions and also on more explicitly legal issues, especially in regards to what governments and states legally may do to make space for torture, ‘coercive interrogation’, inhuman & degrading treatment, and so on.

But what I really want to write about today, and ask this blog's readers about, is a very basic question that I think is frequently overlooked in the current security versus rights debate on torture, and one that I am in the difficult process of trying to answer for myself. That is: what’s actually wrong with torture? What are its moral dimensions? Why should it earn the status as a crime against humanity; a war crime in some instances; and alongside genocide and slavery, an act that may never be committed under any circumstances? Why are we (and by ‘we’ I mean those who believe that torture is generally wrong, and I think that even includes its apologists) so troubled by it – either acting in shock or repugnance when its uncovered or going to great lengths to try and cover it up or make elaborate arguments allowing it? Why, when we think of older and more unsophisticated political and legal systems, do we immediately associate these with torture – with the rack, and the iron maiden, and other such grisly instruments that immediately signify cruelty and barbarism? What is it about torture that has such moral power?

This is an important question, especially for defenders of human rights, because if we can’t actually put our finger on what torture’s specific, special moral wrongness is, then it makes it very difficult to say exactly why it should not be practised, and when it should not be practised. An abstract argument of rights doesn’t quite cut it, I think, when faced with the often compelling (at least on the surface) security-based arguments that those who think torture is a necessary moral act bring up (e.g. the infamous ticking bomb scenario, which I hope to discuss in another post). We really need to understand the moral contours of torture if we can hope to convince anyone, and ourselves, that it’s the type of wrong that should never be committed.

At first the answer to what’s wrong with torture seem fairly obvious, but I think that actually there’s very little consensus on the issue. Most attempts to answer this question – particularly David Sussman’s recent and very valuable paper (aptly entitled ‘What’s Wrong With Torture?’) as well as various courts and international tribunals - have primarily focused on the pain that torture inflicts. Elaine Scarry wrote beautifully about this in The Body in Pain. She argued that torture is wrong because it inflicts such great pain that it is world-destroying: it destroys language, memory, thought, and that through pain ‘the torturer uses the prisoner’s sentience to obliterate the objects of the prisoner’s sentience… the torturer uses the prisoner’s aliveness to crush the things that he lives for.’ Courts such as the European Court of Human Rights have similarly focused on the severity of pain involved in acts alleged to be torture, and we all know of the attempt by the Bush administration to argue that torture that does not happen until the ‘pain inflicted… rises to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant bodily function.’

I think that Scarry and Sussman’s accounts of what’s wrong with torture are generally correct, but I suspect that too much emphasis is put on the role of pain. It seems to me that pain is a useful method of achieving torture’s real purpose, and what’s really wrong with it. That is the annihilation of individual agency and autonomy (both difficult terms to define, I know, but what I mean here is simply the ability to act for one’s self, to meaningfully control one’s actions) and the destruction of human dignity. The torturer, in interrogating his or her victim, brings the tortured to the point where he or she ‘breaks’, where he or she can’t do anything but comply with the torturer’s wishes. The victim has no choice in the matter because he or she is acting out of reflexive desire to survive, to put an end to the torment inflicted – and at this point, the victim has no agency or autonomy – they are merely an entity that is aware of nothing but torment and the desire to be released from it. The pain inflicted is really just the most effective and quickest method of achieving this state, but it’s that destruction of the self that constitutes torture's deep moral wrongness.

It may seem a subtle shift, but I think if emphasis is put on dignity, to which pain is really secondary and which is the most useful mechanism by which to destroy dignity – we are getting closer to what is really wrong here, and what really repels us. It may also mean that we have to change our ideas about how to legally define when an act is torture – rather than how much pain is involved or its severity, we may need to focus instead of the loss of control in the victim, and their individual and subjective response to what was inflicted upon them. After all, if someone is deprived of sleep, hooded and beaten, and it drives them out of their mind and they falsely confess – why should this not be torture? Hasn’t it had the same affect as say, waterboarding them might? If we force someone to take a drug that acts painlessly but compels them to comply with whatever the interrogator would like against their own interests and wishes – hasn’t this destroyed their dignity and their agency meaningfully? Surely the destruction of dignity and agency in torture can’t be secondary to pain. After all, human dignity is the seat of our humanity and the place around which our human rights are centred, and what they seek to respect – so there can be no greater crime than to destroy individual dignity. There are any number of acts quite capable of doing this which may not employ objectively severe levels of pain – if it’s even possible to assess that.

I’m aware that there are great difficulties here philosophically. There are, clearly, examples of acts that destroy agency (e.g. lawful killing in self defence) that we do not think of as torture, it brings up issues of intention, and it would also be difficult to say the least to construct a meaningful legal definition around the destruction of human dignity, agency and autonomy. Pain is also clearly important, and it shouldn’t be dismissed. But while the difference between a conception of torture’s moral wrongness that places its emphasis in the destruction of dignity and agency with pain as secondary, and one that places it emphasis on the infliction of pain with the destruction of dignity and agency as the result of it might be a subtle one, I think this is an important question to answer. When we write about torture, or catalogue its practice, or inspect a government’s attempts to secretly use it, it’s often easy to forget the real nature of the act itself or to become detached from it, and a question like this is important if we want to understand what it actually is that we’re concerned with.

As I said, I haven’t come to any definite conclusions on this yet, so I’d be interested to see what readers think – and so I’d love to hear any thoughts that you may have. (Admittedly, there is much thought and detail that's been left out of what I've written here, but this is the general idea, and if a discussion does begin and people are interested, perhaps we can look at certain elements more closely.)

Update: Edwin, thanks for your comment. Your point about justice is a good one - I was extremely negligent and failed to say that I was writing about torture's wrongness just in terms of the act itself - so the elements of the act alone and not any states of affairs it might bring about - but of course when we look at the whole picture, including what torture is used for, the injustice of it becomes a primary concern. In terms of human rights, torture may often actually result in a double violation of human rights - firstly the torture itself, but secondly the tortured evidence/confession being used to deny someone a fair trial or resulting in some other deep miscarriage of justice. And Joni, thanks for reading!

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Torture Weekly "Round-up"

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, 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, March 15, 2009

Leaked! International Red Cross Report on CIA Torture

Mark Danner has scooped the NY Times, the Washington Post and other papers by publishing in the current New York Review of Books an essay quoting long excerpts of a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on "high-value" prisoners held in CIA black site prisons. The interviews took prior to their release in late 2006, and the report itself is dated February 2007, and likely was sent originally to then CIA Acting General Counsel, John Rizzo.

The prisoners interviewed by ICRC personnel included Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, and twelve others, all of whom, the ICRC concluded, were submitted to torture. From the report"s conclusion:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Mark Danner, who obviously has seen the entire 43 page report, calls the report "a document for its time, literally "impossible to put down," from its opening page." He reproduces a portion of its chilling Table of Contents. This is no bedtime reading:
1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.10 Threats
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime....
As one follows the narratives of the various prisoners, Danner notes that one can see the construction of the CIA-Bush torture program unfold in all its brutalizing variety before one's eyes. Even, as caught Emptywheel's eye in her reading of Danner's article, prisoner Abu Zubaydah can notice that the torturers are experimenting on the type and effects of various torture methods upon him. From Zubaydah's narrative (emphasis added):
After the beating I was then placed in the small box. They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds.... I don't know how long I remained in the small box, I think I may have slept or maybe fainted....

A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited. The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless. I thought I was going to die. I lost control of my urine. Since then I still lose control of my urine when under stress.

I was then placed again in the tall box. While I was inside the box loud music was played again and somebody kept banging repeatedly on the box from the outside. I tried to sit down on the floor, but because of the small space the bucket with urine tipped over and spilt over me.... I was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before....

This went on for approximately one week. During this time the whole procedure was repeated five times....

I collapsed and lost consciousness on several occasions. Eventually the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor....

I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.
Indeed, as Danner points out, there were changes to the interrogation-torture procedures. Since all the prisoners were kept isolated and out of contact with each other, the overall similarity of the treatment appears valid, and the differences and changes accurate. Danner reports:
Some techniques are discarded. The coffin-like black boxes, for example, barely large enough to contain a man, one six feet tall and the other scarcely more than three feet, which seem to recall the sensory-deprivation tanks used in early CIA-sponsored experiments, do not reappear. Neither does the "long-time sitting" -— the weeks shackled to a chair—that Abu Zubaydah endured in his first few months.

Nudity, on the other hand, is a constant in the ICRC report, as are permanent shackling, the "cold cell," and the unceasing loud music or noise. Sometimes there is twenty-four-hour light, sometimes constant darkness. Beatings, also, and smashing against the walls seem to be favored procedures; often, the interrogators wear gloves.

In later interrogations new techniques emerge, of which "long-time standing" and the use of cold water are notable....

A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings and "smashings"—though from this basic model one can see the method evolve, from forced sitting to forced standing, for example, and acquire new elements, like immersion in cold water.
Danner makes the connections which I and others have made between these techniques and the study of torture and "brainwashing" undertaken by the CIA and the military over 50 years ago, which culminated in the codification of such procedures in the CIA counterintelligence interrogation KUBARK manual of the early 1960s.

The NY Review article also confirms the ABC news report of approximately a year ago that reported how each variation and application of the torture techniques was vetted by the White House:
Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers "briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council's Principals Committee," including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who "then signed off on the [interrogation] plan." At the time, the spring and summer of 2002, the administration was devising what some referred to as a "golden shield" from the Justice Department -— the legal rationale that was embodied in the infamous "torture memorandum," written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee in August 2002... Still, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet regularly brought directly to the attention of the highest officials of the government specific procedures to be used on specific detainees —- "whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subject to simulated drowning" -- in order to seek reassurance that they were legal. According to the ABC report, the briefings of principals were so detailed and frequent that "some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed." At one such meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, reportedly demanded of his colleagues, "Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."
The Danner article, if one hasn't noticed yet, is must reading. He leaves nary a stone unturned: the complicity of some Congressional Democrats, the disaster which was the cover-up inspired Military Commissions Act of 2006, and the lies told by Bush and other administration officials to hide the truth of what was being done.

But, Danner also notes that, strangely, and for anyone who cared to read, there has been plenty of notice of what was happening in the "dark" crevices of U.S. foreign policy, even back to those dismal early months in 2002, when the torture gulag was fired up. "'Stress and Duress' Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities" reads one headline from a Washington Post article from December 26, 2002.

Danner fails to make mention of the codification of many of these CIA procedures in the current version of the Army Field Manual (isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation), nor is there any discussion of the use of drugs on prisoners, which has surfaced in other prisoners' narratives of their incarceration. But what Danner does capture is the sense of psychic numbing that occurs as one reads over and over of how the CIA's "alternative set of procedures" was used on this prisoner and that prisoner, as one become inured to the brutality.

After a long discussion about the relative intelligence "value" of torture, Danner settles into a discussion about what we must do now. He certainly understands that there is a very important need to educate the public about what must be done. He is a little less certain that prosecutions should or can take place, but can see how hobbled the Obama administration is by this legacy, and how, despite Obama's wish to not look back and move forward, "he and his Department of Justice will be haunted by what his predecessor did."
Many officials of human rights organizations, who have fought long and valiantly to bring attention and law to bear on these issues, strongly reject any proposal that includes widespread grants of immunity. They urge investigations and prosecutions of Bush administration officials. The choices are complicated and painful. From what we know, officials acted with the legal sanction of the US government and under orders from the highest political authority, the elected president of the United States. Political decisions, made by elected officials, led to these crimes. But political opinion, within the government and increasingly, as time passed, without, to some extent allowed those crimes to persist. If there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public's attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.
I am one of those voices who speak loudly for prosecutions. But the more I read and understand, I see that the issue goes much farther than simply torture qua torture, or whether there should be a Truth Commission or prosecutions.

The corruption of government and the inability of the governmental ruling classes to interrupt or terminate the program of state-sanctioned torture, or stop the black propaganda fed, and well-plotted campaign to go to war in Iraq, or take command of an economic bubble and unregulated set of bogus financial schemes until they ballooned out of control and sought to bankrupt the entire country, this corruption and moral-political bankruptcy implicates immensely wide swaths of the government and ruling classes.

We are in a very tight spot, historically speaking. It is true that a significant section of civil society, located primarily among some human rights and civil liberties organizations, but with some links as well even into layers of the military (particularly military attorneys), are seeking some kind of change, some way in which a system of accountability can be secured. But they are laboring under the collective weight of a political system that cannot even look at itself in the mirror. Danner notes Obama and Holder's play to keep some of this information secure under "state secrets privilege" by the Executive Branch. The very leaking of the ICRC document shows what he thinks of that.

I don't have any simple answers. I know that we must only try and move towards the light. Our compass must be the dictates of justice and mercy, and also truth. We wish to build a better world. We know there are those who have... well, different ideas. We must be able to combat ignorance, and be smart ourselves. Learn from the past, prepare for the future. We must not flinch from what we need to do. We cannot go backwards. The world is already slipping backwards at an alarming rate. The ICRC report itself is documentary proof of that.

Let us move forward.

Update, roughly 11 pm, PDT:

The Washington Post has just put up their article covering the story. It has a nice tidbit for those who like to track down thing or speculate about who leaked the ICRC report, and why? (H/T
At least five copies of the report were shared with the CIA and top White House officials in 2007 but barred from public release by ICRC guidelines intended to preserve the humanitarian group's strict policy of neutrality in conflicts. A copy of the report was obtained by Mark Danner, a journalism professor and author who published extensive excerpts in the April 9 edition of the New York Review of Books, released yesterday. He did not say how he obtained the report.
The New York Times has posted a shortened version of the Mark Danner article on their Op-Ed page. (Double H/T to out of left field and to Stephen Soldz)

Speaking of Stephen Soldz, his remarks about the actions of military and CIA psychologists in the torture, made at a listserv for anti-torture psychologists, are worth repeating here (I've added the link within):
We must remember that the techniques detailed in these documents were designed by psychologists. These psychologists were present at the APA-CIA-Rand conference on the Science of Deception. APA [American Psychological Association] has never explained why these torturers were invited or what they said or what was said to them. Nor have the APA leaders who invited and participated with these torturers expressed any remorse that they may have aided their torture. Rather, they tried to hide the attendance at this conference, even claimed to have "misplaced" it. And they have tried to change the subject to whether or not these torturers were "APA members", as if its fine to aid torturers if they aren't members.

Accountability for US torture MUST include accountability for those who aided the torturers, including those in the APA leadership who contributed. Continued silence is not acceptable. The truth must come out. We must pressure any Truth Commission or other accountability process to explore the role of the APA, other psychologists, and other health professionals, in the US torture program.
Well put, Stephen. And many thanks to all those for helping push the Daily Kos version of this blog posting, with its important anti-torture news and commentary to the top of the recommended list there. I won't be happy, though, until the issue is pushed to the top of the nation's agenda, and a history-making review and prosecution of these crimes begins.

Also posted at Invictus

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