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The Definitive Guantanamo January 5, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
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01.05.10 – 12:02 PM  www.truthout.org

by Abby Zimet

The intrepid Andy Worthington has published an update on his four-year project to record the stories of all 779 prisoners ever held at Guantanamo – at least 93 percent of whom, he notes, were completely innocent, seized as a result of dubious intelligence, or part of an inter-Muslim civil war unrelated to terrorism. Especially in the wake of the Christmas plane bomb scare and the resulting scaremongering, he adds, his goal is the same: to close Gitmo.

It is my hope that this project will provide an invaluable research tool for those seeking to understand how it came to pass that the government of the United States turned its back on domestic and international law, establishing torture as official US policy, and holding men without charge or trial neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trial in a federal court, but as “illegal enemy combatants.”

Release of the ‘Holy Grail’ of Torture Reports Delayed Again July 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Published on Thursday, July 2, 2009 by Huffington Post by Andy Worthington

Today was supposed to be the day that the Justice Department — after two delays — released an unclassified version of the CIA Inspector General’s 2004 Report into the interrogations of “high-value detainees” in the “War on Terror,” which Democrat Congressional staffers described as the “holy grail,” according to Greg Sargent of the Plum Line, writing in May, “because it is expected to detail torture in unprecedented detail and to cast doubt on the claim that torture works.”

Sargent was following up on an article in the Washington Post, “Hill Panel Reviewing CIA Tactics,” which described how Senate Intelligence Committee investigators were interviewing those involved in the interrogations, “examining hundreds of CIA e-mails and reviewing a classified 2005 study by the agency’s lawyers of dozens of interrogation videotapes” (which were later destroyed), and also examining the CIA Inspector General’s Report.

The Post explained that “government officials familiar with the CIA’s early interrogations” said that the “top secret” CIA report, “based on more than 100 interviews, a review of the videotapes and 38,000 pages of documents,” contained “the most powerful evidence of apparent excesses,” and added that the officials indicated that, although the report remained “closely held,” White House officials had told political allies that they intended to “declassify it for public release when the debate quiets over last month’s release of the Justice Department’s interrogation memos.” These four memos, issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, and released in April, provided a companion piece to the notorious “torture memo” of August 2002 (leaked in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal), and, notoriously, involved lawyers in one of the DoJ’s most prestigious departments — charged with interpreting the law as it applies to the Executive branch — seeking to rewrite the rules on torture so that it could be used in the CIA’s “high-value detainee” program.

According to the Post, officials familiar with the contents of the report said that it “concluded that some of the techniques appeared to violate the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the United States in 1994.” The Post also added that, according to excerpts included in the OLC memos, the report “concluded that interrogators initially used harsh techniques against some detainees who were not withholding information.”

This was a fair précis of the “excerpts” from the report that were included as footnotes in the three memos from May 2005, written by the OLC’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Steven G. Bradbury, but as I explained in an article at the time, when analyzed in the context of the memos, the “excerpts” were even more alarming.

To establish the context, the footnotes followed Bradbury’s lame attempts to explain why it was “necessary to use the waterboard ‘at least 83 times during August 2002,'” on Abu Zubaydah, and “183 times during March 2003″ on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This apparently involved an appraisal that “other … methods are unlikely to elicit this information within the perceived time limit for preventing [an] attack” (in other words, the fictional ticking time-bomb scenario), but I was obliged to conclude that these “mind-boggling figures” seemed to reveal “not that each horrific round of near-drowning and panic, repeated over and over again, defused a single ticking time-bomb, but, instead, that it became a macabre compulsion on the part of the torturers, which led only to the countless false alarms reported by CIA and FBI officials who spoke to David Rose for Vanity Fair last December.”

What amazed me, however, was that, while filling his memos with largely implausible justifications for the use of torture, Bradbury cited from the Inspector General’s Report, even though it was so clearly critical of the manner in which interrogations had been conducted. These are the key passages from my article at the time:

One sign that this was indeed the case [in other words, that the CIA overreacted] comes in a disturbing footnote, in which Bradbury noted, “This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information … on at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information [passage redacted]. At the direction of CIA headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah [passage redacted].”

Furthermore, as another revealing footnote makes clear, the IG Report also noted that, “in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated,” and also that it was “used in a different manner” than the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in SERE training [the torture techniques taught in US military schools to enable US personnel to resist interrogation, which were reverse engineered for use in the "War on Terror"]. As the report explained, “The difference was in the manner in which the detainees’ breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator … applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychiatrist / interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is more poignant and convincing.”

In addition, the IG Report noted that the OMS, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, contended that “the experience of the SERE psychologist / interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant.” Chillingly, the report continued, “Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.”

I’m not surprised that the release of the report — delayed for a week from June 19, at the CIA’s request, and again from June 26 to July 1 — has been delayed again, as it clearly contains information that is vital to those of who believe that President Obama cannot “restore America’s moral stature in the world” (as he pledged in November) without holding to account those who authorized the use of torture by US personnel. However, every delay only increases the fear that, on arrival, the report will be barely less comprehensively redacted than the laughably censored version that was released to the ACLU in May 2008 (PDF).

In order to keep the debate about torture alive, I therefore recommend a visit to the ACLU’s “Accountability for Torture” project, which has been running for the last few weeks, and which states, “We can’t sweep the abuses of the last eight years under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative.” I also recommend a number of articles from the last few days, as part of what blogger and psychologist Jeff Kaye has described as “a mini-blog storm on behalf of the ACLU’s Accountability Project,” looking at how the Bush administration’s torture program was not just reserved for the waterboarding of three “high-value detainees” in the custody of the CIA, but was a poisonous virus that also infected the US military, and that led to over a hundred deaths in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First up is Glenn Greenwald’s article for his blog at Salon, “The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture,” in which he states, “Those arguing against investigations and prosecutions — that we “Look to the Future, not the Past” — are literally advocating that numerous people get away with murder.” Then there are articles by Marcy Wheeler, bmaz and Jeff Kaye at Firedoglake, by Digby, and by drational and mcjoan at Daily Kos, and there’s also my article, “When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan,” which draws largely on passages in my book The Guantánamo Files, but also on testimony by former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, and researcher John Sifton, and which, I believe, exposes three murders at the US prison at Bagram airbase that have never been investigated.

© 2009 Huffington Post

Andy Worthington is a journalist and historian, based in London. He is the author of The Guantánamo Files, the first book to tell the stories of all the detainees in America’s illegal prison. For more information, visit his blog here.

Obama Returns to Bush Era on Guantánamo May 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Andy Worthington

Two distressing pieces of news emerged last week regarding the Obama administration’s plans to close Guantánamo, and both were delivered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Discussing what would happen to the remaining 241 prisoners, Gates announced that the question was “still open” as to what the government should do with “the 50 to 100 – probably in that ballpark – who we cannot release and cannot try.” He also announced that the much-criticized military commission trial system, suspended for four months by Barack Obama on his first day in office, was “still very much on the table.”

Both admissions indicate that when it comes to Guantánamo, it is beginning to appear that the much-vaunted change promised by Barack Obama on the campaign trail has actually involved nothing more than imposing a closing date on Guantánamo while maintaining the Bush administration’s approach to the men still held there.

Back in Bush’s day, for example, those “who we cannot release and cannot try” were sometimes referred to as those who were “too dangerous to release but not guilty enough to prosecute” – essentially because the supposed evidence against them was the fruit of torture or other abuse.

As someone who has studied the story of Guantánamo and its prisoners in detail over the last three years, I’m aware that much of the information compiled by the Bush administration for use against the prisoners at Guantánamo was obtained through torture or coercion and is, therefore, unreliable, and that other, equally unreliable information was secured through the bribery of other prisoners.

As a National Journal investigation revealed in 2006, one prisoner, described by the FBI as a notorious liar, made false allegations against 60 prisoners in Guantánamo in exchange for more favorable treatment, and in February this year the Washington Post published the sobering tale of another informant, whose copious confessions should have set alarm bells ringing. In both cases, however, there is no indication that the officials responsible for compiling the information examined by the president’s review team have acknowledged that a substantial number of allegations against the prisoners are actually worthless.

Moreover, the defense secretary’s talk of 50 to 100 suspicious prisoners (above and beyond those regarded as demonstrably dangerous) is at odds with repeated intelligence assessments reported over the years, which have indicated that the total number of prisoners with any meaningful connection to international terrorism is between 35 and 50. To this should be added the recent revelation by Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, that “no more than a dozen or two of the detainees” held in Guantánamo ever had any worthwhile intelligence.

In addition, the defense secretary’s talk of reviving the military commissions is a distressing development for the many critics of the novel trial system invented by Dick Cheney and David Addington, who hoped that the administration would resist all calls to reinstate them, and would, instead, move the relatively few prisoners regarded as genuinely dangerous to the mainland to face trials in federal court.

However, on Saturday, after speaking to Obama administration officials, the New York Times reported that, despite declaring that, as president, he would “reject the Military Commissions Act,” and stating that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” President Obama was indeed considering reviving the commissions.

As the Times described it,

Administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.

As a result, they said, decision-makers were considering whether to tinker with the rules regarding the use of coercive interrogations and hearsay, in what the Times described as “walk[ing] a tightrope of granting the suspects more rights yet stopping short of affording them the rights available to defendants in American courts.”

The “tightrope” analogy, though apt, is also something of an understatement. Almost universally derided in their seven-year history, the commissions demonstrated, above all, that inventing a legal system from scratch was a poor substitute for respecting the laws which have served the Republic well for over 200 years.

Nor can it be claimed that the federal court system is incapable of dealing with terrorism cases. As was explained in a 2008 report by Human Rights First, “In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts” (PDF), over 100 terrorism cases have been prosecuted successfully in the federal courts in the last 15 years.

Moreover, last Thursday, as Robert Gates was telling the Senate that the military commissions were still “on the table,” the Justice Department was taking a very different line in the case of Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident who was held in extreme isolation for nearly six years without charge or trial as an “enemy combatant” in a U.S. naval brig, until he was returned to the federal justice system by the Obama administration.

As al-Marri accepted a plea agreement and admitted that he had been sent to the United States as an al-Qaeda “sleeper agent,” Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the result “reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which this nation was founded and the rule of law.”

To remove the stain that Guantánamo has left on the reputation of the United States as a nation founded on the rule of law, Mr. Holder’s words should be repeated to him every time that the administration attempts to turn back the clock to the days of George W. Bush, with its dangerous talk of finding new ways to justify holding prisoners without charge or trial and its willingness to revive a trial system despised as nothing more than a “kangaroo court.”

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