America Is Committing Brutal Acts of Torture Right Now December 12, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Imperialism, Torture.
Tags: army field manual, bagram, CIA torture, counter terrorism, Guantanamo, history, nafeez ahmed, rendition, roger hollander, senate intelligence, sere training, terrorism, torture, torture ban
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Roger’s note: the United States was founded on the genocide of the First Nations peoples, the brutal slavery of Africans, and — in later times — aggressive wars and imperial exploitation of its Latino neighbors. Given the bleak and degenerated state of Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos in the United States, it is difficult not to look back, as Barack Obama (a war criminal himself) wants us to do when it comes to the American torture program. Most want to believe that past atrocities are behind us. That is a cruel illusion. It is time to face the Truth.
Torture has been an integral and systematic intelligence practice since WWII.
The grisly details of CIA torture have finally been at least partly aired through the release this Tuesday of the executive summary to a landmark Senate intelligence committee report. The extent of the torture has been covered extensively across the media, and is horrifying. But much of the media coverage of this issue is missing the crucial bigger picture: the deliberate rehabilitation of torture under the Obama administration, and its systematic use to manufacture false intelligence to justify endless war.
Torture victims, who had been detained by the US national security apparatus entirely outside any sort of recognizable functioning system of due process, endured a litany of extreme abuses normally associated with foreign dictatorships: 180-hour sleep deprivation, forced “rectal feeding,” rectal “exams” using “excessive force,” standing for dozens of hours on broken limbs, waterboarding, being submerged in iced baths, and on and on.
Yet for the most part, it has been assumed that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program” originated under the Bush administration after 9/11 and was a major “aberration” from normal CIA practice, as one US former military prosecutor put it in the Guardian. On BBC Newsnight yesterday, presenter Emily Maitlis asked Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser under Carter, about the problem of “rogue elements in the CIA,” and whether this was inevitable due to the need for secrecy in intelligence.
Media coverage of the Senate report has largely whitewashed the extent to which torture has always been an integral and systematic intelligence practice since the second World War, continuing even today under the careful recalibration of Obama and his senior military intelligence officials. The key function of torture, largely overlooked by the pundits, is its role in manufacturing nebulous threats that legitimize the existence and expansion of the national security apparatus.
The CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was formally approved at the highest levels of the civilian administration. We have known for years that torture was officially sanctioned by at least President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Yet the focus on the Bush administration serves a useful purpose. While the UN has called for prosecutions of Bush officials, Obama himself is excused on the pretext that he banned domestic torture in 2009, and reiterated the ban abroad this November.
Even Dan Froomklin of the Intercept congratulated the November move as a “win” for the “good guys.” Indeed, with the release of the Senate report, Obama’s declaration that he has ended “the CIA’s detention and interrogation program” has been largely uncritically reported by both mainstream and progressive media, reinforcing this narrative.
Rehabilitating the torture regime
Yet Obama did not ban torture in 2009, and has not rescinded it now. He instead rehabilitated torture with a carefully crafted Executive Order that has received little scrutiny. He demanded, for instance, that interrogation techniques be made to fit the US Army Field Manual, which complies with the Geneva Convention and has prohibited torture since 1956.
But in 2006, revisions were made to the Army Field Manual, in particular through ‘Appendix M’, which contained interrogation techniques that went far beyond the original Geneva-inspired restrictions of the original version of the manual. This includes 19 methods of interrogation and the practice of extraordinary rendition. As pointed out by US psychologist Jeff Kaye who has worked extensively with torture victims, a new UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) review of the manual shows that a wide-range of torture techniques continue to be deployed by the US government, including isolation, sensory deprivation, stress positions, chemically-induced psychosis, adjustments of environmental and dietary rules, among others.
Indeed, the revelations contained in the Senate report are a mere fraction of the totality of torture techniques deployed by the CIA and other agencies. Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany who was detained in Guantanomo for five years, has charged that he had been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement, repeated beatings, water-dunking, electric shock treatment, and suspension by his arms, by US forces.
On Jan. 22, 2009, retired Admiral Dennis Blair, then Obama’s director of national intelligence, told the Senate intelligence committee that the Army Field Manual would be amended to allow new forms of harsh interrogation, but that these changes would remain classified:
“We have large amounts of unclassified doctrine for our troops to use, but we don’t put anything in there that our enemies can use against us. And we’ll figure it out for this manual… there will be some sort of document that’s widely available in an unclassified form, but the specific techniques that can provide training value to adversaries, we will handle much more carefully.”
Obama’s supposed banning of the CIA’s secret rendition programs was also a misnomer. While White House officials insisted that from now on, detainees would not be rendered to “any country that engages in torture,” rendered detainees were already being sent to countries in the EU that purportedly do not sanction torture, where they were then tortured by the CIA.
Obama did not really ban the CIA’s use of secret prisons either, permitting indefinite detention of people without due process “on a short-term transitory basis.”
Half a century of torture as a system
What we are seeing now is not the Obama administration putting an end to torture, but rather putting an end to the open acknowledgement of the use of torture as a routine intelligence practice.
But the ways of old illustrate that we should not be shocked by the latest revelations. Declassified CIA training manuals from the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, prove that the CIA has consistently practiced torture long before the Bush administration attempted to legitimize the practice publicly.
In his seminal study of the subject, A Question of Torture, US history professor Alfred W. McCoy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison proves using official documents and interviews with intelligence sources that the use of torture has been a systematic practice of US and British intelligence agencies, sanctioned at the highest levels, over “the past half century.” Since the second World War, he writes, a “distinctive US covert-warfare doctrine… in which psychological torture has emerged as a central if clandestine facet of American foreign policy.”
The psychological paradigm deployed the CIA fused two methods in particular, “sensory disorientation” and so-called “self-inflicted pain.” These methods were based on intensive “behavioural research that made psychological torture NATO’s secret weapon against communism and cognitive science the handmaiden of state security.”
“From 1950 to 1962,” McCoy found, “the CIA became involved in torture through a massive mind-control effort, with psychological warfare and secret research into human consciousness that reached a cost of a billion dollars annually.”
The pinnacle of this effort was the CIA’s Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation handbook finalized in 1963, which determined the agency’s interrogation methods around the world. In the ensuing decade, the agency trained over a million police officers across 47 countries in torture. A later incarnation of the CIA torture training doctrine emerged under Freedom of Information in the form of the 1983 Human Resources Training Exploitation Manual.
Power… and propaganda
One of the critical findings of the Senate report is that torture simply doesn’t work, and consistently fails to produce meaningful intelligence. So why insist on its use? For McCoy, the addiction to torture itself is a symptom of a deep-seated psychological disorder, rather than a rational imperative: “In sum, the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.”
He is right, but in the post-9/11 era, there is more to the national security apparatus’ chronic torture addiction than this. It is not a mere accident that torture generates vacuous intelligence, yet continues to be used and justified for intelligence purposes. For instance, the CIA claimed that its torture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) led to the discovery and thwarting of a plot to hijack civilian planes at Heathrow and crash them into the airport and buildings in Canary Wharf. The entire plot, however, was an invention provoked by torture that included waterboarding, “facial and abdominal slaps, the facial grab, stress positions, standing sleep deprivation” and “rectal rehydration.”
As one former senior CIA official who had read all KSM’s interrogation reports told Vanity Fair, “90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit.” Another ex-Pentagon analyst said that torturing KSM had produced “no actionable intelligence.”
Torture also played a key role in the much-hyped London ricin plot. Algerian security services alerted British intelligence in January 2003 to the so-called plot after interrogating and torturing a “terrorist suspect,” former British resident Mohammed Meguerba. We now know there was no plot. Four of the defendants were acquitted of terrorism and four others had the cases against them abandoned. Only Kamal Bourgass was convicted after he murdered Special Branch Detective Constable Stephen Oake during a raid. Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has also blown the whistle on how the CIA would render “terror suspects” to the country to be tortured by Uzbek secret police, including being boiled alive. The confessions generated would be sent to the CIA and MI6 to be fed into “intelligence” reports. Murray described the reports as “bollocks,” replete with false information not worth the “bloodstained paper” they were written on.
Many are unaware that the 9/11 Commission report is exactly such a document. Nearly a third of the report’s footnotes reference information obtained from detainees subject to “enhanced” interrogation by the CIA. In 2004, the commission demanded that the CIA conduct “new rounds of interrogations” to get answers to its questions. As investigative reporter Philip Shennon pointed out in Newsweek, this has “troubling implications for the credibility of the commission’s final report” and “its account of the 9/11 plot and al-Qaeda’s history.” Which is why lawyers for the chief 9/11 mastermind suspects now say after the release of the Senate report that the case for prosecution may well unravel.
That torture generates false information has long been known to the intelligence community. Much of the CIA’s techniques are derived from reverse-engineering Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, where US troops are briefly exposed in controlled settings to abusive interrogation techniques used by enemy forces, so that they can better resist treatment they might face if they are captured. SERE training, however, adopted tactics used by Chinese Communists against American soldiers during the Korean War for the purpose of eliciting false confessions for propaganda purposes, according to a Senate Armed Services Committee report in 2009.
Torture: core mechanism to legitimize threat projection
By deploying the same techniques, the intelligence community was not seeking to identify real threats; it was seeking to manufacture threats for the purpose of justifying war. As David Rose found after interviewing “numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic,” their unanimous verdict was that “coercive methods” had squandered massive resources to manufacture “false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts.” Far from exposing any deadly plots, torture led only to “more torture” of supposed accomplices of terror suspects “while also providing some misleading ‘information’ that boosted the administration’s argument for invading Iraq.” But the Iraq War was not about responding to terrorism. According to declassified British Foreign Office files, it was about securing control over Persian Gulf oil and gas resources, and opening them up to global markets to avert a portended energy crisis.
In other words, torture plays a pivotal role in the Pentagon’s posture of permanent global war: generating spurious overblown intelligence that can be fed-in to official security narratives of imminent terrorist threats everywhere, in turn requiring evermore empowerment of the security agencies, and legitimizing military expansionism in strategic regions.
The Obama administration is now exploiting the new Senate report to convince the world that the intelligence community’s systematic embroilment in torture was merely a Bush-era aberration that is now safely in the past.
Do not be fooled. Obama has rehabilitated and recalibrated the covert torture apparatus, and is attempting to leverage the torture report’s damning findings to claim moral high ground his administration doesn’t have. The torture regime is alive and well, but it has been put back in the box of classified secrecy to continue without public scrutiny.
Take Action: Share Fahd’s Story December 11, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: documentary, fahd, fahd ghazy, free fahd, Guantanamo, obama administration, roger hollander, torture, waiting for fahd
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Roger’s note: On the very day of his inauguration in 2009, Obama promised to shut down the Guantánamo Gulag. Since then he has murdered thousands with his drone missiles, including United States citizens, bombed several Muslim countries, including Libya, Iraq and Pakistan, escalated the invasion in Afghanistan, returned to warfare in Iraq, allowed windfall payouts to corrupt financial institutions, kept his head in the sand about torture in Bagram and torturous forced feeding in Guantánamo, passed a health reform plan that is a windfall to private HMOs and other insurance companies, gone after whistle blowers with a vengeance, developed the doctrine of indefinite detention, deported more undocumented immigrants than all the presidents before him combined, etc. etc. etc. But over a hundred remain in the rotting confines of Guantánamo. He claims he lacks the power to close it.
This is known as “hope you can believe in.”
After months of planning, filming, and production, we are excited to launch our short documentary “Waiting for Fahd: One Family’s Hope for Life Beyond Guantánamo,” which tells the story of CCR client Fahd Ghazy. Last night, we debuted the film at an event in New York City and people were moved to tears. Now we turn to you: please help us SHARE FAHD’s STORY.
Fahd has been illegally detained at Guantánamo since he was 17. He is now 30 years old. Through moving interviews with his family in Yemen, the film paints a vivid portrait of the life that awaits a man who, despite being twice cleared for release, continues to needlessly languish at Guantánamo because of his nationality. A heartbreaking tale of a dream deferred, “Waiting for Fahd” is also a story about the durability of hope.
Over Thanksgiving, I met with Fahd in Guantánamo. He was moved to know that so many of you will now know more about his plight. On his behalf, I ask you to help us tell Fahd’s remarkable story! Please share the film through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter (hashtag #FreeFahd). Stand in solidarity with Fahd by taking a photograph of yourself holding a #FreeFahd sign and uploading it to our Tumblr page.
Raising public awareness around Fahd’s story and the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo is critical to moving decision-makers in the Obama Administration to release Fahd and the scores of other men now approaching their thirteenth year without charge or trial at Guantánamo, including CCR clients Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Tariq Ba Odah, and Mohammed Al-Hamiri.
I asked Fahd what he would say to someone who had seen his film. “Now that you have heard my story and seen my dreams, you cannot turn away… Be a voice for the voiceless – for another human being who is suffering,” he answered.
Be that voice. SHARE FAHD’s STORY. Help us share this film and send a clear message to those who have power over his fate that now is the time to free him so that he can be reunited with his family. Together we can work towards ending indefinite detention at Guantánamo once and for all.
Thank you for your support,
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The Torture Architects December 8, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Alberto Gonzales, bagram, CIA torture, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, donald rumsfeld, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, International law, nuremberg, roger hollander, senate torture, torture, torture architects, us constitutiion, War Crimes
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Roger’s note: The Senate Committee’s torture report is about to be released, possibly tomorrow. Bush and the CIA already are waging a campaign to discredit it, so we can assume it will speak at least a degree of truth to the brutal Bush/Cheney torture regime. What we can also, unfortunately, assume is that those responsible for those legal and moral crimes against humanity, will not soon if ever be brought to justice.
If you click on this link immediately below, you will see the complete Interactive Infographic that identifies all the major criminals, beginning with then President Bush, and by clicking on each one you can read the part they played in this infamy. Please note that President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, both sworn to uphold the Constitution, are as well legally and morally complicit in these crimes for their failure to do their sworn duty, that is, to prosecute the criminals.
Louisiana AG ‘committed’ to keeping Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox imprisoned despite court ruling November 24, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Racism, Torture.
Tags: albert woodfox, Angola 3, black panthers, emily lane, herman wallace, Louisiana State Penitentiary, racism, robert king, roger hollander, solitary confinement, torture
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Roger’s note: Albert Woodfox, unfairly tried and convicted, has served nearly all of his 42 imprisoned years in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year in a closet sized cell with no windows and a bare minimum of human contact. During this time he has been subjected to multiple daily strip and cavity searches. What this amounts to is state vengeance for his Black Panther political organization and human rights activities. Multiply this by the thousands of American prisoners suffering the TORTURE of solitary confinement, and we see that we give the ISIS/ISIl and our allied Saudis a run for the money when it comes to outright barbarism.
Email the author | Follow on Twitter, November 22, 2014 at 11:33 AM, updated November 23, 2014 at 3:27 PM
After four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana prisons for a murder he and his supporters maintain he did not commit, Angola 3 member Albert Woodfox got news this week his release might soon be possible. A federal appeals court issued a ruling Thursday (Nov. 20) in which they agreed Woodfox’s conviction for the 1972 murder of a prison guard should be vacated.
But on Friday (Nov. 21), Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell suggested in a statement that the state plans to persist in its decades-long effort to keep Woodfox imprisoned for a previously ordered life sentence.
“We respectfully disagree with the Court’s ruling, and remain committed to seeing that the trial jury’s judgment finding Albert Woodfox guilty of murdering Officer Brent Miller is upheld,” Caldwell said.
Woodfox and another prisoner in the early 1970s at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Herman Wallace, who died last year days after his release from prison, were both implicated in Miller’s murder. Supporters of the Angola 3, though, say there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime. A bloody fingerprint at the scene matched neither of the men, according to International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. And supporters say the case’s only witness, a now-dead inmate, was promised favor in his case in exchange for his testimony against the men.
In 2008, Miller’s widow Leontine Verrett — a teenager at the time of her late husband’s murder — told The Los Angeles Times: “If I were on that jury, I don’t think I would have convicted them.”
Caldwell also said in his statement that “no court decision, including this one, has ever made a finding which disputes the fact that Albert Woodfox murdered Brent Miller at Angola in 1972. Those facts will always remain true.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision this week to uphold a District Court judge’s ruling to overturn Woodfox’s conviction was the third time a court has ruled to do so. The case was re-tried in 1998, and a jury again found Woodfox guilty after testimony of the deceased witness was read in court. It’s the 1998 conviction that the three-judge panel this week agreed should be vacated on the basis that Woodfox didn’t receive a fair trial because of racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury foreperson.
Amnesty International, a major human rights organization, has called for Woodfox’s release since the ruling.
If the state moves on its commitment to try to uphold the conviction, it could be months or even years before the case is resolved.
Woodfox’s lawyer George Kendall said in an email, “It’s time for the case to come to an end.”
“This decision is fully consistent with decades of Supreme Court law,” he said of the ruling. “It is also consistent with our view that, because he is innocent, the only way for Louisiana to get that conviction was to violate the safeguards of a fair trial.”
At 67, Woodfox has spent nearly 43 years in prison for the conviction, “nearly all of it in solitary confinement, despite an overwhelmingly positive conduct record.”
His designation as a member of the Angola 3 stems from what Angola 3 supporters believe are wrongful convictions for prison murders in which Woodfox and two other prisoners were implicated for the purpose of silencing their activism. The International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 asserts the men essentially became political prisoners for organizing an official Black Panther Party chapter inside the prison, which led hunger strikes and other demonstrations opposing inhumane conditions inside the prison at Angola. Those conditions in the early 1970s at Angola included continued segregation, corruption and “systematic prison rape,” coalition manager Tory Pegram said.
Woodfox, who has moved facilities a number of times, remains incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center in Homer. He is also seeking a restraining order against the state for daily strip and cavity searches by guards at the facility.
Wallace was released in October of last year, two days before his death from complications of liver cancer. He maintained his innocence in the murder until his death.
Robert King, the third member of the Angola 3 who was convicted of killing a fellow inmate, was exonerated and released from prison in 2001 after 29 years in solitary. King remains active in the campaign to release Woodfox from prison as well as ending the practice of solitary confinement, which is the subject of a civil suit involving the Angola 3.
King, who now lives in New Orleans and gives talks about his prison system experience, said despite the uncertainty of the action the state will take in response to the ruling, it’s an important, overdue step in a long process to secure Woodfox’s release.
“It’s been an uphill battle… but with this ruling, I think we have the wind at our back,” King said.
King said he was able to maintain his sanity, for the most part, while in solitary for all of those years by coming to understand — with the help of Wallace and Woodfox — that their struggle was “part of a bigger picture.” That bigger picture, he said, is painted by the country’s history with racism and injustice in the penal system.
“It kept me afloat — understanding why things were (as they were) with me and people who look like me,” King said.
King said he likes to think that Wallace, upon learning of the court’s recent ruling, would be smiling.
“We are just that much closer to Albert being released from prison,” King said. “One giant step toward that freedom.”
Woodfox, of New Orleans, was originally sentenced to prison at Angola on charges of armed robbery. That sentence would have expired decades ago, Pegram said. Woodfox was at Angola only a few years before he was implicated, along with Wallace, in Miller’s murder.
“At 67, Mr. Woodfox should be able to live of whatever life he has on this earth in peace,” Kendall, his attorney, said.
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Members of Intelligence Committee say White House is stalling release of torture report as high-level disagreement over what American people can know about abuses by CIA reaches boiling point; Transparency advocates tell lawmakers with access to report, ‘Just read it into the record.’
“The public has to know about it. They don’t want the public to know about it.”
That’s what Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) told the Huffington Post on Thursday night regarding continued White House stalling over release of a report that catalogs the internal investigation of CIA torture during the Bush years. The comments followed a close-door meeting between Senate Democrats and Obama administration officials that took place just hours before the president gave a much-anticipated speech on another subject, immigration reform.
Rockefeller said the torture report is “being slow-walked to death” by the administration and told the HuffPost, “They’re doing everything they can not to release it.”
“[The report] makes a lot of people who did really bad things look really bad,” Rockefeller continued, “which is the only way not to repeat those mistakes in the future.”
Though the report has been completed for many months, the members of the Senate Intelligence committee have been fighting with the White House, which allowed CIA officials to review its findings, over the scope of redactions to the report’s summary before it’s made public. Though the full report is not expected to be released to publicly, human rights and transparency advocates have urged members to simply enter the report into the public record, something they have legal authority to do, as a way to inform the American people, and the world, of the full scope of the tactics used by U.S. government agents during the earlier years of the so-called ‘war on terror.’
The New York Times reports:
During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, the senators said that the White House was siding with the C.I.A. and trying to thwart negotiations over the report’s release. The negotiations have dragged on for months because of a dispute over the C.I.A.’s demand that pseudonyms of agency officers be deleted from the report.
The C.I.A., supported by the White House, has argued that even without using the real names of the officers, their identities could still be revealed.
According to several people in attendance, the meeting was civil, but neither side gave ground, and it ended without resolution. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent five years working on the 6,000-page report, which is said to provide grim details about the torture of detainees in C.I.A. prisons during the Bush administration, and describe a persistent effort by C.I.A. officials to mislead the White House and Congress about the efficacy of its interrogation techniques. The committee voted this year to declassify the report’s executive summary, numbering several hundred pages, but the fight over redactions has delayed the release.
Earlier this week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), also member of the committee, characterized the CIA’s arguments for leaving the report heavily redacted “ludicrous.” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said the version under discussion would leave all but 15 percent of the report blacked-out. “Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out—” Heinrich said. “It can’t be done properly.”
Chair of the Intelligence Comittee Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) has let her frustrations be known but has not made clear what she intends to do in order to move the White House towards greater transparency on the report.
As the HuffPost reports:
Feinstein declined to discuss the meeting with reporters Thursday. “I ain’t talkin’,” she said.
Rockefeller said the administration’s unwillingness to use aliases reflects a broader contempt for congressional oversight.
“The White House doesn’t want to release this. They don’t have to. And all we do is oversight, and they’ve never taken our oversight seriously,” he said. (He then added that he did allow for one exception, the Church Committee.) “Under Bush there was no oversight at all. Remember the phrase, ‘Congress has been briefed’? What that meant was that I and our chairman […] and two comparable people in the House had met with [former Vice President Dick] Cheney in his office for 45 minutes and given a little whirley birdie and a couple charts.”
“They had a specialty for being unforthcoming in our efforts at oversight,” he added, “and therefore there is no incentive for them to change their behavior.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of advocacy groups—including RootsAction, Demand Progress, Win Without War, CodePink, USAction, and others—argue the senators on the Intelligence Committe have another path if they truly want to give the public a look at the scope of the abuses perpetrated by the CIA. And, according to the groups, the senators have no obligation to wait for permission from the White House to act. As the coalition points out in a statement, “Members of Congress have an absolute right to free speech, and a member could enter the report into the Congressional Record in its entirety—just as the Pentagon Papers were by Senator Mike Gravel in 1971—without fear of prosecution.”
A online petition sponsored by the coalition, which they intend to deliver to members of the committee, reads in part:
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s “torture report” is expected to detail shocking abuse of prisoners at the hands of the CIA during the Bush administration, and even possible CIA lying to Congress.
But seven months after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted overwhelmingly to release the report to the American people, the White House is stonewalling Congress and demanding “redactions”—blacked-out sections and information—before making its contents public.
The group has put particular focus on outgoing Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to step forward and release the report. Udall lost his re-election bid earlier this month and will be leaving the Senate in January. Signers of the petition say that if Udall, or other members in a position to do so, take the “heroic and courageous act” of releasing the full report, “we and countless others will support you.”
Tags: addington, alberto gonzalex, bybee, CIA torture, condoleeza rice, constitutiion, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George Bush, human rights, International law, john yoo, jon queally, nuremberg, obama torture, roger hollander, rumsfeld, senate intelligence, torture, waterboarding
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Roger’s note: The United States government and military violate international law on a daily basis; the Bush/Cheney torture regime, which Obama has outsourced to Bagram and god knows where else, is one of its most blatant manifestations. Obama’s “we need to look forward not backward” excuse for violating his oath to defend the constitution does credit to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka. The next time you are before a judge accused of a crime, please remind her that it is time to look forward and not backward. Your charges are sure to be dropped.
According to sources who spoke with McClatchy, five-year inquiry into agency’s torture regime ignores key role played by Bush administration officials who authorized the abuse
According to new reporting by McClatchy, the five-year investigation led by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the torture program conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 will largely ignore the role played by high-level Bush administration officials, including those on the White House legal team who penned memos that ultimately paved the way for the torture’s authorization.
Though President Obama has repeatedly been criticized for not conducting or allowing a full review of the torture that occured during his predecessor’s tenure, the Senate report—which has been completed, but not released—has repeatedly been cited by lawmakers and the White House as the definitive examination of those policies and practices. According to those with knowledge of the report who spoke with McClatchy, however, the review has quite definite limitations.
The report, one person who was not authorized to discuss it told McClatchy, “does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.” Instead, the focus is on the actions and inations of the CIA and whether or not they fully informed Congress about those activities. “It’s not about the president,” the person said. “It’s not about criminal liability.”
Responding to comment on the reporting, legal experts and critics of the Bush torture program expressed disappointment that high-level officials in the administration were not part of the review. In addition to the president himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, others considered part of what it sometimes referred to as the “Torture Team,” include: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the specific legal memos authorizing specific forms of abuse.
“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said to McClatchy. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”
And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that limiting the report to just the actions of the CIA doesn’t make much sense from a legal or investigative standpoint. “It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction. It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”
As Mclatchy‘s Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report:
The narrow parameters of the inquiry apparently were structured to secure the support of the committee’s minority Republicans. But the Republicans withdrew only months into the inquiry, and several experts said that the parameters were sufficiently flexible to have allowed an examination of the roles Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials played in a top-secret program that could only have been ordered by the president.
“It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”
It’s not as if there wasn’t evidence that Bush and his top national security lieutenants were directly involved in the program’s creation and operation.
The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a 2008 report on detainee mistreatment by the Defense Department that Bush opened the way in February 2002 by denying al Qaida and Taliban detainees the protection of an international ban against torture.
White House officials also participated in discussions and reviewed specific CIA interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003, the public version of the Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded.
Several unofficial accounts published as far back as 2008 offered greater detail.
Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relentlessly pressured interrogators to subject detainees to harsh interrogation methods in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, McClatchy reported in April 2009. Such evidence, which was non-existent, would have substantiated one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003.
Other accounts described how Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Secretary of State Colin Powell approved specific harsh interrogation techniques. George Tenet, then the CIA director, also reportedly updated them on the results.
“Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft said after one of dozens of meetings on the program, ABC News reported in April 2008 in a story about the White House’s direct oversight of interrogations.
News reports also chronicled the involvement of top White House and Justice Department officials in fashioning a legal rationale giving Bush the authority to override U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. They also helped craft opinions that effectively legalized the CIA’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and sleep deprivation.
Though President Obama casually admitted earlier this, “We tortured some folks.” — what most critics and human rights experts have requested is an open and unbiased review of the full spectrum of the U.S. torture program under President Bush. And though increasingly unlikely, calls remain for those responsible for authorizing and conducting the abuse to be held accountable with indictments, trials, and if guilty, jail sentences. In addition, as a letter earlier this year signed by ten victims of the extrajudicial rendition under the Bush administration stated, the concept of full disclosure and accountability is key to restoring the credibility of the nation when it comes to human rights abuses:
Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.
These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.
As McClatchy notes, a redacted version of the report’s summary—the only part of it expected to be released to the public—continues to be under review. Its release date remains unclear.
Tags: cia interrogation, CIA rendition, CIA torture, isis, islamic state, james foley, jon queally, rendition, roger hollander, torture, water boarding, waterboarding
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Sources quoted by the Washinton Post say ISIS “knew exactly how it was done” as it employed brutal techniques also approved by Bush administration
The Washington Post reports on Thursday that at least four individuals taken captive by the Islamic State were tortured and that the group—also known as ISIS—appeared to be modeling the CIA’s use of torture as it employed waterboarding as one of the painful techniques they used.
Worldwide condemnation followed revelations that in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration approved the CIA to torture suspected terrorists during interoggations conducted at secret ‘Black Sites’ – or clandestine holding facilities.
Among those subjected to the brutal treatment by ISIS, according to sources quoted in thePost‘s reporting, was American journalist James Foley who was subsequently executed by the group.
From the Post:
“They knew exactly how it was done,” said a person with direct knowledge of what happened to the hostages. The person, who would only discuss the hostages’ experience on condition of anonymity, said the captives, including Foley, were held in Raqqah, a city in the north-central region of Syria.
James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State last week in apparent retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq where the militant group has seized large swaths of territory. The group, which also controls parts of Syria, has threatened to kill another American, journalist Steven J. Sotloff. He was seen at the end of a video showing Foley’s killing that was released by the militant group. Two other Americans are also held by Islamic State.
A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding.
“Yes, that is part of the information that bubbled up and Jim was subject to it,” the person said. “I believe he suffered a lot of physical abuse.”
Foley’s mother, Diane, said in a brief phone interview Thursday that she didn’t know her son had been waterboarded.
The FBI, which is investigating Foley’s death and the abduction of Americans in Syria, declined to comment. The CIA had no official comment.
As the Huffington Post‘s Jack Mirkinson points out:
Waterboarding became perhaps the most notorious method of torture practiced by American interrogators in the years after September 11th.
Interestingly, while the Post has, like most mainstream outlets, typically been reluctant to call methods such as waterboarding “torture” when it was practiced by Americans, the paper had no apparent problem calling what ISIS did to Foley “torture.”
“A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding,” the Post wrote.
Still, the paper has not followed the New York Times in vowing to use the word “torture” more firmly in its articles.
One unnamed “U.S. official” quoted by the Post scoffed at the idea that there could be any comparison between the torture conducted by ISIS and the torture conducted by U.S. military or intelligence agents.
“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” the unnamed official said. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”
But early reactions on Twitter were not niave to the implications of the news relative to the consistent and continued defense of torture by U.S. officials—and members of the U.S. media—when it was conducted by the CIA against their perceived enemies:
Rendition Victims Urge Obama to Declassify Senate Torture Report
‘You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.’
As officials continue to delay the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on post-9/11 CIA interrogation techniques, 10 victims of CIA rendition and torture have signed an open letter (pdf) to President Obama asking him to declassify the heavily redacted report.
The 500-page summary of the report, which includes details about secret overseas prisons, waterboarding of suspected enemy combatants, and rendition — the practice of sending a terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a foreign country — was so extensively redacted as to render it “impossible to understand,” as one critic put it. The report was expected to be released in August, but has been delayed and is currently thought to be sitting on President Obama’s desk while negotiations over declassification continue.
The signatories to the letter want these blackouts removed, in order to force a public reckoning with and official acknowledgement of their experiences.
“Despite living thousands of miles apart and leading different lives today, a shared experience unites us: the CIA abducted each of us in the past and flew us to secret prisons for torture,” reads the letter, which was coordinated by the international human rights group Reprieve. “Some of us were kidnapped with our pregnant wives or children. All of us were later released without charge, redress or apology from the US. We now want the American public to read that story, in full, and without redactions… You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.”
The letter, which details prolonged confinement in small boxes and dark spaces, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and “bombardment with noise and weapons,” continues:
Torture, we thought, was something only dictators did. Colonel Gaddafi’s thugs were infamous for maiming and killing political opponents in Libya. In Egypt activists often disappeared. Moroccan interrogation techniques include “bottle torture,” where bottles are used to violate prisoners. We understood the Syrian regime’s brutality well before it murdered thousands of its citizens.
Before our abductions, though, none of us imagined the torturers standing over us one day would come from the United States.
Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.
These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.
In advance of an August 29 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing deadline, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has reportedly asked for an additional one-month delay due to “ongoing negotiations” between the Committee, the Obama administration, and the CIA regarding declassification.
Earlier this week, the ACLU filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding the CIA release all three reports about “its post-9/11 program of rendition, secret detention, and torture of detainees” — the 6,000-page Senate Select Committee Intelligence Committee report; the CIA’s report in response, defending the agency’s actions; and a report commissioned by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, which is reportedly consistent with the Committee’s investigative report findings, but contradicts the CIA’s response to the SSCI.
The Guardian reports:
While Feinstein and the CIA have reached the nadir of their relationship — the CIA intends to attack her report’s credibility — there are concerns that the CIA has weighed the scale in favor of secrecy. Obama allowed it to lead the declassification review, despite its interest in keeping the report secret. McClatchy reported this week that the main declassification interlocutor with Feinstein, top intelligence lawyer Robert Litt, represented CIA clients in private practice in undisclosed lawsuits.
“We believe the public should know the full story of what took place in the CIA’s secret prisons and that all of these documents – the Senate report, the CIA response, and the Panetta review should be released to the public,” said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, which filed the freedom-of-information case.
“It’s disappointing that the government is seeking further delay, but, given Senator Feinstein’s assurances, we’re hopeful that all of the documents will be released with very limited redactions in September.”
Tags: barak obama, eric holder, forced feeding, George Bush, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, hunger strike, indefinite detention, john laforge, religious freedom, roger hollander, torture, War Crimes
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Roger’s note: Congratulations. Barak Obama and Eric Holder, with the essential contribution of George Bush, have managed to score a trifecta: a policy and implementation at Guantanamo Bay that is all three, Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Lewis Carroll at the same time. Torture, indefinite detention, and people who are not persons. “Execution first, then the trial” shouted the Queen.
And by the way, the three fifths of a person of African slaves that was in the original constitution is even worse than it appears at face value. Slaves would have been better off if not considered as persons at all. The southern states lobbied for three fifths so that their slaves would be counted in the census, which in turn determined their level of representation in the House of Representative. More slaves on the roll via the three fifths gave the southern state more political clout with which to defend slavery. Thus, being counted as less than fully human was a double whammy against the slaves. Kafka would have loved it.
Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans — whom the US Constitution once called “3/5 of a person” — it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be “non-persons.” The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.
Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder’s Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren’t entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo’s prisoners “are ‘persons’ to whom RFRA applies.”
Holder calls the men “unprivileged enemy belligerents detained overseas during a period of ongoing hostilities.” Calling them prisoners of war would require respecting their human rights.
Cori Crider, an attorney with the legal charity Reprieve who represents some of the men, said in a statement, “I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court. If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people — most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”
According to AG Holder, US Appeals Court rulings mean Guantánamo’s POWs — whom he calls “nonresident aliens outside the US sovereign territory” — are “not protected ‘person[s].’” In the infamous Hobby Lobby case Holder argues, the Supreme Court refused to say that the word “‘person’ as used in RFRA includes a nonresident alien outside sovereign United States territory.”
Even if RFRA applied to the POWs, Holder claims, the law “cannot overcome the judicial presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.” Translation: US Law doesn’t apply at Gitmo, or, the reason the US isolates non-persons at an off-shore military penal colony in the first place is so we can ignore or violate “statutes” with impunity. And if we convince ourselves that “unprivileged enemy belligerents” are not people, we should be able to sleep even if we violate the US torture statute (18 USC, Sec. 1, Ch. 113C), the Convention Against Torture and the US War Crimes Act (18 USC, Sec. 2441) ¾ for years on end.
America’s indefinite imprisonment without charges, hunger strikers and force-feeding
My own jail and prison time, all for political protests, has always come with a clear sentence: six days, 90 days, 180 days; 54 months in all. Anybody who’s been on the inside knows that a release date gives you something fast to hold on to, even if you’re called by a number, fed through a slot, handcuffed for court. But imagine 156 months in a nihilistic “extraterritorial” military prison, with no charges, no trial, no sentence, no visits, phone calls or mail, and no hope.
This is what the USA imposes at Guantánamo, a torturous psychological vice of legal oblivion and manufactured futurelessness. Add to this appalling construction the fact that 72 of 149 remaining inmates were approved for release more than four years ago — but are chained up anyway. Scores of Gitmo’s inmates have looked into this man-made oblivion and decided to die. They are using the only power they have left, the dreadful hunger-strike, both as a protest against their endless detention without trial and their only means of eventually ending it.
The US military has chosen to force-feed hunger strikers, gruesomely plunging plastic tubes up the non-persons’ noses. This abuse violates laws against torture, and the force-feeding schedule is the original basis for the religious rights petition so vigorously opposed by Obama and Holder. The ghastly traumatic stress resulting from enduring force-feeding and the regime of its application make Ramadan’s prayerful group reflection impossible. US District Judge Gladys Kessler has, according to Charlie Savage in the New York Times, publicly condemned the abuse for causing “agony.” For PR purposes the Pentagon and Justice Department call the abuse “enteral feeding.”
Mr. Holder has called “not credible” the prisoners’ complaints about “alleged aspects of enteral feeding” and “allegations that detainees who were being enterally fed were not permitted to pray communally during Ramadan in 2013.” But after the number of hunger strikers reached 106 last year, the military halted its public reporting of the strike.
Significantly, a Navy medical officer at Guantánamo has become the first prison official known to refuse force-feeding duty. The unidentified nurse’s refusal was acknowledged by the Pentagon July 15.
If Holder wins his frightening argument denying the humanity of the men at Guantánamo, even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could object. The ASPCA says its vision is that “the US is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”
Obama Did Not End Torture May 26, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
Tags: bagram, eric holder, force feeding, Guantanamo, hunger strike, jeannie khouri, jeff bachman, Obama, roger hollander, torture
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Roger’s note: If you have ever voluntarily had a tube pushed through your nose and down your throat into your stomach, as I have had as a diagnostic procedure, you will know that having it done daily and non-voluntarily, clearly constitutes torture. As for Obama outsourcing his torture to the Afghani authorities at Bagram, “see no evil, hear no evil …” And for Obama, who has just announced that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan will continue beyond this year, “speak no evil” does not apply.
On January 9, 2009, then President-elect Barack Obama announced, in what was to be a departure from Bush administration era “war-on-terror” tactics: “I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture.” In April 2014, Senator Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Bush administration era torture programs “a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again.” Attorney General Eric Holder also weighed in, arguing that declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee report would ensure that “no administration contemplates such a program in the future.”
While it is essential that the truth be revealed regarding the systematic torture of detainees under the Bush administration, it is equally essential that we recognize the claim that President Obama ended torture as the myth that it is. Under President Obama, the United States continued to imprison individuals in Afghan detention facilities fully aware of the systematic torture that takes place. The continued practice of transferring detainees to Afghan detention facilities despite full knowledge of the systematic torture being perpetrated therein is an unequivocal violation of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Obama has also directly authorized and publicly defended the force-feeding of Guantanamo Bay hunger strikers. Despite Obama’s claim that force-feeding is “performed in a humane fashion, with concern for petitioners’ well-being,” his administration is doing everything in its power to hide or destroy evidence that documents what we already know—that the force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees, many of whom have been cleared for years to be transferred out of the prison, is a clear violation of U.S. obligations under the Torture Convention.
On May 16, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a temporary order that required the Obama administration to abstain from forcibly removing Abu Wa’el Dhiab from his cell and from force-feeding him until yesterday’s hearing. Kessler also ordered the Obama administration to “preserve and maintain all relevant videotapes” of Dhiab’s forcible removal from his cell and enteral feeding. According to Kessler, “Videotapes of Petitioner’s FCEs and/or force-feedings are likely to demonstrate that Petitioner’s detention is unlawful to the extent they amount to unlawful conditions of confinement.” The Court continued, “Petitioner’s full medical records are likely to support his allegations of abuse.” During yesterday’s hearing, Kessler ordered the Obama administration to produce 34 videotapes and Dhiab’s medical records.
In July 2013, in response to a previous emergency motion aimed at stopping the force-feeding, Judge Kessler stated, “It is perfectly clear from the statements of detainees, as well as the statements from the organizations just cited, that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process.” And at a Senate Judiciary hearing, also in July, retired Brigadier General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D., testified that force-feeding amounted to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” and violated “medical ethics and international and U.S. law.”
The number of detainees being force-fed peaked at 45 detainees during Ramadan in 2013. At the moment, it is unclear how many detainees remain on hunger strike and how many continue to be force-fed, because the U.S. military will “no longer publicly issue the number of detainees who choose not to eat as a matter of protest.” However, in a letter published by Al Jazeera on March 13th, Guantanamo Bay detainee Moath al-Alwi describes himself as one of sixteen prisoners who are still being force-fed:
“I, too, am strapped down and force-fed for over an hour every single day. During the session, I am constantly vomiting the feeding solution into my lap. As I am carried back to my cell, I cannot help but vomit on the guards carrying me. They put a Plexiglas face mask on my head to protect their clothes from my vomit. They tighten the facemask and press down on it, pushing it into my face. I almost suffocate because I am vomiting inside the facemask and am unable to breathe.”
In an earlier piece written by Mr. al-Alwi for Al-Jazeera, he describes the chairs used to restrain prisoners as they are being force-fed as “torture chairs.” I guess no one has clued him in yet that President Obama ended torture.
Inside the Brutality of Egypt’s New Regime: 2,500 Killed, 16,000 Political Prisoners, Torture Allegations Are Widespread April 23, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Torture, Women.
Tags: civilian casualties, codepink, egypt, egypt coup, egypt dictatorship, egypt massacres, egyptian junta, human rights, kate chandley, kerry, medea benjamin, morsi, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: just to document one more time that the United States doesn’t give a shit about democracy as long as a government is in alliance with its geopolitical objectives. Emperor Obama declared the Egyptian coup not to be a coup, and that is that. Egypt’s military government, led by a US trained general, probably as much or more brutal than the overthrown Mubarak regime, continues to support Israel and the isolation of Gaza in accord with US wishes. And “we wonder why they hate us.”
After a recent CODEPINK delegation to Egypt ended up in deportations and assault, we have become acutely aware of some of the horrors Egyptians are facing in the aftermath of the July 3 coup that toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Over 2,500 civilians have been killed in protests and clashes. Over 16,000 are in prison for their political beliefs and allegations of torture are widespread. Millions of people who voted for Morsi in elections that foreign monitors declared free and fair are now living in terror, as are secular opponents of the military regime, and the level of violence is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. With former Defense Minister Abdel Fatah al-Sisi set to become the next president in sham elections scheduled for May 26-27, the Egyptian military is trampling on the last vestiges of the grassroots uprising that won the hearts of the world community during the Arab Spring.
The most publicized case is the trial of the three Al Jazeera journalists and their co-defendants, charged with falsifying news and working with the Muslim Brotherhood. On April 10, there was a ludicrous update in the trial, when the prosecution came to courtpresenting a video that was supposed to be the basis of their case but consisted of family photos, trotting horses, and Somali refugees in Kenya. The judge dismissed the “evidence” but not the charges.
The high-profile case is just a taste of wide-ranging assault on free expression. The government has closed down numerous TV and print media affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist currents. The Committee to Protect Journalists named Egypt the third deadliest countries for journalists in 2013, just behind Syria and Iraq.
An incident that shows how the judicial branch is now working hand-in-glove with the military is the horrific March 24 sentencing of 529 Morsi supporters to death in one mass trial. The entire group was charged with killing one police officer. The trial consisted of two sessions, each one lasting less than one hour. Secretary of State Kerry said that the sentence “defies logic” and Amnesty International called the ruling “grotesque.”
And if you think that a US passport entitles a prisoner to due process, look at the tragic case of 26-year-old Ohio State University graduate Mohamed Soltan. Soltan served as a citizen journalist, assisting English-speaking media in their coverage of the anti-coup sit-in at Rabaa Square that was violently raided by police and resulted in the death of over 1,000 people. In jail for over 7 months, Soltan has been on a hunger strike since January 26 and is now so weak he can’t walk. His situation in prison has been horrifying. When he was arrested, he had a wound from being shot that had not yet healed. Prison officials refused to treat him, so a fellow prisoner who was a doctor performed surgery with pliers on a dirty prison floor, with no anesthesia. His trial has been postponed several times, and there is no update on when it might actually take place. (Activists in the US are mobilizing on his behalf.)
Female activists also face dehumanizing experiences. In February, four women who were arrested for taking part in anti-military protests say they were subjected to virginity testswhile in custody–a practice that coup leader Abdel al-Sisi has supported. In addition to the horror of virginity tests, Amnesty International has also reported that women in prison in Egypt face harsh conditions, including being forced to sleep on the floor and not being allowed to use the bathroom for 10 hours from 10pm to 8am every day. Egyptian Women Against the Coup and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights has reported beatings and sexual harassment of female prisoners.
The internal crackdown may be getting worse, not better. New counter-terrorism legislationset to be approved by Egypt’s president would give the government increased powers to muzzle freedom of expression and imprison opponents. Two new draft laws violate the right to free expression, including penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment for verbally insulting a public employee or member of the security forces. They broaden the existing definition of terrorism to include actions aimed at damaging national unity, natural resources, monuments, communication systems, the national economy, or hindering the work of judicial bodies and diplomatic missions in Egypt. “The problem with these vaguely worded ‘terrorist offenses’ is that they potentially allow the authorities to bring a terrorism case against virtually any peaceful activist,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty International.
The draft legislation also widens the scope for use of the death penalty to include “managing or administering a terrorist group.” The Muslim Brotherhood was labelled a terrorist group by the Egyptian authorities in December (though no factual evidence was provided that it is engaged in terrorist attacks).
The US government refuses to call Morsi’s overthrow a coup, and has continued to give Egypt $250 million in economic support, as well as funds for narcotics controls, law enforcement and military training. But the bulk of the foreign military funding of $1.3 billion has been suspended.
On March 12, Secretary of State Kerry indicated that he wanted to resume the aid and would decide “in the days ahead.” Egypt has long been one of the top recipients of US aid because of its peace treaty with Israel, its control over the Suez Canal and the close ties between the US and Egyptian militaries. To renew the funding, Kerry must certify that Egypt is meeting its commitment to a democratic transition and taking steps to govern democratically. The constitutional referendum was held January 14-15, but opponents werearrested for campaigning for a “no” vote. The May presidential election, taking place under such repressive conditions with the main opposition group banned, will certainly not be free and fair. The same can be said for the parliamentary elections that are expected to occur before the end of July.
“The question is no longer whether Egypt is on the road to democratic transition, but how much of its brute repression the US will paper over,” said Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson. “An accurate appraisal of Egypt’s record since the military-backed overthrow of President Morsi would conclude that, far from developing basic freedoms, the Egyptian authorities are doing the opposite.”
The Obama Administration should insist that political dissidents be released, laws restricting public assembly be lifted, the Muslim Brotherhood be declassified as a terrorist organization and allowed to participate in all aspects of public life, and criminal investigations be launched into the unlawful use of lethal force and abuse of detainees by security officials. Only when the Egyptian junta lifts its iron curtain should the US consider resuming military aid.