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.
US War Has Littered Afghanistan with World’s Deadly Garbage April 10, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Children, Imperialism, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: afghan children, Afghanistan, afghanistan children casualties, Afghanistan War, bagram, children casualties, collateral damage, jon, land mines, queally, roger hollander, toxic materials, undetonated granades, unexploded bombs
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Roger’s note: I recall the ubiquitous chant from the days of Vietnam anti-war protests: “Hey, Hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Viet Nam still hasn’t recovered from Agent Orange and other toxins, but at least they didn’t have to face plutonium bullets, and they will recover much sooner than America’s more recent victims in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. The killing of children goes on, in the name of democracy and financed with U.S. citizens’ tax dollars.
Afghan children and poorest citizens most vulnerable to unexploded bombs and toxic materials of thirteen-year war
As in the abandoned battle fields and scarred countrysides of southeast Asia a generation ago, the U.S. military’s footprint in Afghanistan is leaving a deadly legacy of unexploded ordinances and toxic materials that will continue to kill and permanently harm the nation’s children and others for years to come.
According to the Washington Post on Thursday:
As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.
The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.
Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.
“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” asked Sayed Sadeq, whose teenage son and his friend were both killed when one of them stepped on an unexploded grenade near a U.S. firing range in Ghazni province.
Spokespeople for the U.S. military confess that cleaning up the garbage of the U.S. military occupation has not been a priority.
“Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’” Maj. Michael Fuller, the head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, told the Post.
According to the UN, too little has been done to address the problem even as the statistics soar.
The Post reporting continues:
Even before the U.S. military arrived in 2001, Afghanistan was the most heavily mined country in the world. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989 after a 10-year occupation, they left about 20 million pieces of unexploded ordnance scattered nationwide. The munitions have killed and wounded thousands of children. The U.S. government has helped fund efforts to clear those devices, a massive project expected to be completed in 2023.
The firing ranges aren’t the only places where U.S. military explosives may be lying undetonated. There are 331 known sites of battles against the Taliban where some American ordnance probably remains, especially from airstrikes. U.S. officials say they will not attempt to clear those sites.
“We’re probably never going to be able to find those [munitions], because who knows where they landed,” said another U.S. official who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The United Nations says a more robust effort to clear those sites is necessary.
“The battles happened in areas where people live, work and attempt to earn their livelihoods. The contamination needs to be addressed,” said [one UN official].
In response to reports of civilian casualties, the U.S. military has posted additional barricades around some firing ranges. But American officials have refused to construct fencing, which they said would be prohibitively expensive and probably ineffective.
Contrary to Obama’s Promises, the US Military Still Permits Torture January 27, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: army field manual, bagram, detainees, Guantanamo, human rights, jeffrey kaye, obama administration, roger hollander, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, torture
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Roger’s note: we live in two different worlds, the world of illusionary rhetoric (from presidents and other political prostitutes, the mass media, etc.) and the world of reality. Most of us who are middle class and/or live in a first world industrial nation live in the former fantasy world. The vast majority of the rest of the world (third world non elites, victims of American military activities including drone missiles and corporate tyranny, etc.) live in reality. Obama says torture is no more and the vast majority of Americans believe this lie; the thousands who continue to suffer under the continued regime of torture know better, they know the reality. We live with the illusion that the United States is a civilized nation living according to Christian principles. The reality is that that kindly articulate former community organizer, with his elegant wife and pleasant well-dressed children, oversees a nation whose barbarity more and more knows no limits.
The Obama administration has replaced the use of brutal torture techniques with those that emphasize psychological torture
The United States Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogation (pdf) has been sold to the American public and the world as a replacement for the brutal torture tactics used by the CIA and the Department of Defense during the Bush/Cheney administration.
(Photo: Futureatlas.com/ cc via Flickr)
On 22 January 2009, President Obama released an executive orderstating that any individual held by any US government agency “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3.”
But a close reading of Department of Defense documents and investigations by numerous human rights agencies have shown that the current Army Field Manual itself uses techniques that are abusive and can even amount to torture.
Disturbingly, the latest version of the AFM mimicked the Bush administration in separating out “war on terror” prisoners as not subject to the same protections and rights as regular prisoners of war. Military authorities then added an appendix to the AFM that included techniques that could only be used on such “detainees”, ie, prisoners without POW status.
Labeled Appendix M, and propounding an additional, special “technique” called “Separation”,human rights and legal group have recognized that Appendix M includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.
According to Appendix M, sleep can be limited to four hours per day for up to 30 days, and even more with approval. The same is true for use of isolation. Theoretically, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement could be extended indefinitely.
According to a 2003 US Southern Command instruction (pdf) to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, sleep deprivation was defined “as keeping a detainee awake for more than 16 hours”. Only three years later, when a new version of the AFM was introduced, detainees were expected to stay awake for 20 hours. Meanwhile, language in the previous AFM forbidding both sleep deprivation and use of stress positions was quietly removed from the current manual.
The use of isolation as a torture technique has a long history. According to a classic psychiatric paper (pdf) on the psychological effects of isolation (aka solitary confinement), such treatment on prisoners can “cause severe psychiatric harm”, producing “an agitated confusional state which, in more severe cases, had the characteristics of a florid delirium, characterized by severe confusional, paranoid, and hallucinatory features, and also by intense agitation and random, impulsive, often self-directed violence.”
The application of the Appendix M techniques – which are considered risky enough to require the presence of a physician – are supposed to be combined with other “approaches” culled from the main text of the field manual, including techniques such as “Fear Up” and “Emotional Ego Down”. In fact, at the end of Appendix M, a combined use of its techniques with other approaches, specifically “Futility”, “Incentive”, and “Fear Up”, is suggested.
While “Fear Up” and “Incentive” approaches act somewhat like what they sound – using fear and promises to gain the “cooperation” of a prisoner under interrogation – “Futility” has a vague goal of imparting to a prisoner, according to the AFM, the notion that “resistance to questioning is futile”.
According to the manual:
This engenders a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness on the part of the source.
A review of documents released under FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act) shows that use of the “Futility” approach in the AFM was the rationale behind the use of loud music, strobe lights, and sexualized assaults and embarrassment on prisoners. The “Futility” technique pre-dates the introduction of the current Army Field Manual, which is numbered 2-22.3 and introduced in September 2006. In fact, the earlier AFM, labeled 35-52 (pdf), was the basis of numerous accusations of documented abuse.
In the executive summary of the 2005 Department of Defense’s Schimdt-Furlow investigation into alleged abuse of Guantanamo prisoners, the use of loud music and strobe lights on prisoners was labeled “music futility”, and considered an “allowed technique”. Defense Department investigators looked at accusation of misuse of such techniques, but never banned them.
Military investigators wrote,
Placement of a detainee in the interrogation booth and subjecting him to loud music and strobe lights should be limited and conducted within clearly prescribed limits.
Those limits were not specified.
Additionally, the Schmidt-Furlow investigators looked at instances where female interrogators had fondled prisoners, or pretended to splash menstrual blood upon them. According to military authorities, these were a form of “gender coercion”, and identified as a “futility technique”.
President Obama’s January 2009 executive order would seem to have halted the use of what the Defense Department called “gender coercion”, but not “music futility”. But we don’t know because of pervasive secrecy exactly what military or other interrogators do or don’t do when they employ the “Futility” technique.
Numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and Open Society Foundations have called for the elimination of Appendix M and/or the rewriting of the entire Army Field Manual itself.
What has been lacking is a widespread public discourse that recognizes that swapping waterboarding and the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” torture with the Army Field Manual as an instrument of humane interrogation only replaced the use of brutal torture techniques with those that emphasize psychological torture.
Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco. He has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, and writes regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter. He has published previously at Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record.
US Court: Military’s Prisoners in Afghanistan Have No Rights December 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
Tags: afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, bagram, bagram prison, Guantanamo, roger hollander, sarah lazare, torture, unlawful detention, us contstitution
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Roger’s note: this article, of course, contradicts the myth that under Obama torture and illegal detention has stopped.
In Christmas Eve ruling, judges say U.S. Constitution does not apply to notorious Bagram prison
In a Christmas Eve ruling that passed with little fanfare, three U.S. Appeals Court Judges gave their legal stamp of approval to indefinite detentions without trial for prisoners of the U.S. military in occupied Afghanistan.
In a 44-page decision, penned by George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Karen Henderson, the habeas corpus petitions filed by five captives at Afghanistan’s infamous Bagram military prison—known to some as the “Other Guantanamo“—were rejected.
The petitions were invoking the men’s rights to challenge unlawful detention—rights recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court for Guantanamo Bay inmates (though not fully implemented in practice).
The ruling claimed there are “significant differences between Bagram and Guantanamo” because “our forces at Bagram… are actively engaged in a war with a determined enemy.”
Yet, as Michael Doyle writing for McClatchy notes, “[O]ne might wonder whether a ‘war’ has changed into an ‘occupation,’ and whether that affects the legal analysis.”
The court statement expressed concern that “orders issued by judges thousands of miles away would undercut the commanders’ authority” and “granting the habeas corpus petitions would distract “from the military offensive abroad to the legal defensive at home.”
The report claimed there are many “practical obstacles” to honoring these inmates’ constitutional rights.
The decision followed in the path of a 2010 similar ruling, which involved three of the five appellants who report having been captured outside of Afghanistan—in Thailand, Iraq and Pakistan.
The U.S. maintains control over the prison’s non-Afghan inmates, many of whom were captured in other countries then transported to this prison, giving the U.S. military broad latitude to violate their rights and hold them indefinitely.
Tags: Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, afghanistan withdrawal, bagram, human rights, roger hollander, sarah lazare, torture
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Roger’s note: there is a popular misconception that under the Obama administration torture has been discontinued. Read on.
Prisoners languishing in US-run Afghan prison will have no hope as officials admit there is no plan to shut it down
The US military has no plan to close the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan—often referred to as the “other Guantanamo“—despite claims it is winding down the US-led war in Afghanistan.
“Is there a plan [to close the prison]? No,” Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, told the Washington Post in a report published Monday.
Top officials admitted a few weeks ago that there is no end in sight to the prison. “Our impression is that Bagram will remain open even after U.S. combat operations cease in December 2014,” Pentagon spokesperson Todd Breasseale told Rolling Stone in late July.
In March, approximately 3,000 Afghan inmates were handed over to the Afghan authorities, who in exchange gave the US permission to continue running the prison for “third party nationals.”
Despite widely publicized claims that the US handed over control of the prison to Afghan authorities, the US in fact maintains a powerful role at the prison and complete control over the 67 non-Afghan prisoners, two thirds of them Pakistani, with many captured in other countries and transported to the prison.
Now, US officials are saying that the “best solution” is to maintain US oversight of the prison for decades, even though the green light has not been given by the Afghan government. As the Washington Post reports:
The best solution, [officials] say, is to keep the facility open under U.S. oversight, possibly for decades. It is not at all clear, though, that the Afghans will permit that.
As at Guantanamo, U.S. officials have deemed a portion of the Bagram prisoners too much of a threat to send home to countries that can’t or won’t keep them locked up. Officials worry that it might not be possible to convict the men in U.S. courts, because evidence could be classified or seen as weak.
And like those held at Guantanamo, Bagram prison inmates are held in hellish limbo due to that fact that no admissible evidence exists to convict them, including confessions obtained through torture or details of their alleged crimes lost in the fog of war.
The few who have been cleared for release by a review board are still behind bars, and many have languished for over a decade in a prison notorious for torture and abuse, including sleep deprivation, beatings, sexual assault, rape, and humiliation.
“Like Guantanamo, Bagram keeps people out of the reach of the law,” Shayana Kadidal—senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights—told Common Dreams. People are held at Bagram so that they can be hidden from the courts by arguing that they are in a war zone and law does not apply.
The US refusal to shut down the prison comes as the Obama administration balks on the supposed 2014 date of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Yet critics charge that, even if that pullout date is honored, the human rights abuses against Bagram prisoners—whose numbers continue to increase—will continue.
“For the past decade, the U.S. has been able to hide Bagram behind the shield of ongoing military conflict in Afghanistan,” Tina M. Foster, director of the International Justice Network, told the Washington Post. “What’s happening now is that the shield is disappearing and what’s left is the legacy of the second Guantanamo, which is going to last beyond the Afghan war.”
Tags: bagram, ben emmerson, desmond tutu, enemy combatant, england, Guantanamo, human rights, Moazzam Begg, muslim, racism, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, victoria brittain, war on terror, women
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Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 by TomDispatch.com
Once, as a reporter, I covered wars, conflicts, civil wars, and even a genocide in places like Vietnam, Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping away from official briefings and listening to the people who were living the war. In the years since the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, I’ve done the same thing without ever leaving home.
In the last decade, I didn’t travel to distant refugee camps in Pakistan or destroyed villages in Afghanistan, nor did I spend time in besieged cities like Iraq’s Fallujah or Libya’s Misrata. I stayed in Great Britain. There, my government, in close conjunction with Washington, was pursuing its own version of what, whether anyone cared to say it or not, was essentially a war against Islam. Somehow, by a series of chance events, I found myself inside it, spending time with families transformed into enemies.
I hadn’t planned to write about the war on terror, but driven by curiosity about lives most of us never see and a few lucky coincidences, I stumbled into a world of Muslim women in London, Manchester, and Birmingham. Some of them were British, others from Arab and African countries, but their husbands or sons had been swept up in Washington’s war. Some were in Guantanamo, some were among the dozen Muslim foreigners who did not know each other, and who were surprised to find themselves imprisoned together in Britain on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. Later, some of these families would find themselves under house arrest.
In the process, I came to know women and children who were living in almost complete isolation and with the stigma of a supposed link to terrorism. They had few friends, and were cut off from the wider world. Those with a husband under house arrest were allowed no visitors who had not been vetted for “security,” nor could they have computers, even for their children to do their homework. Other lonely women had husbands or sons who had sometimes spent a decade or more in prison without charges in the United Kingdom, and were fighting deportation or extradition.
Gradually, they came to accept me into their isolated lives and talked to me about their children, their mothers, their childhoods — but seldom, at first, about the grim situations of their husbands, which seemed too intimate, too raw, too frightening, too unknowable to be put into words.
In the early years, it was a steep learning curve for me, spending time in homes where faith was the primary reality, Allah was constantly invoked, English was a second language, and privacy and reticence were givens. Facebook culture had not come to most of these families. The reticence faded over the years, especially when the children were not there, or in the face of the kind of desolation that came from a failed court appeal to lift the restrictions on their lives, an unexpected police raid on the house, a husband’s suicide attempt, or the coming of a new torture report from Washington’s then-expanding global gulag of black sites and, of course, Guantanamo.
In these years, I met some of their husbands and sons as well. The first was a British man from Birmingham, Moazzam Begg. He had been held for three years in Washington’s notorious offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to be released without charges. When he came home, through his lawyer, he asked me to help write his memoir, the first to come out of Guantanamo. We worked long months on Enemy Combatant. It was hard for him to relive his nightmare days and nights in American custody in Kandahar and in the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then those limbo years in Cuba. It was even harder for him to visit the women whose absent husbands he had known in prison and who, unlike him, were still there.
Was My Husband Tortured?
In these homes he visited, there was always one great unspoken question: Was my husband or son tortured? It was the single question no one could bear to ask a survivor of that nightmare, even for reassurance. When working on his book, I deliberately left the chapter on his experiences in American hands in Bagram prison for last, as I sensed how difficult it would be for both of us to speak about the worst of the torture I knew he had experienced.
Through Moazzam, I met other men who had been swept up in the post-9/11 dragnet for Muslims in Great Britain, refugees who sought him out as an Arabic speaker and a British citizen to help them negotiate Britain’s newly hostile atmosphere in the post-9/11 years. Soon, I began to visit some of their wives, too.
In time, I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death unless he was given refugee documents to leave Britain, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.
I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.
I was halfway through working on Moazzam’s book when London was struck by our 9/11, which we call 7/7. The July 7, 2005, suicide bombings, in three parts of the London underground and a bus, killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700. The four bombers were all young British men between 18 and 30, two of them married with children, and one of them a mentor at a primary school. In video statements left behind they described themselves as “soldiers” whose aim was to force the British government to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just three weeks later, there were four more coordinated bomb attacks on the London subway system. (All failed to detonate.) The four men responsible, longterm British residents originally from the Horn of Africa, were captured, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In this way, the whole country was traumatised in 2005, and that particularly includes the various strands of the Muslim community in Great Britain.
The British security services quickly returned to a post-9/11 stance on overdrive. The same MI5 intelligence agents who had interrogated Moazzam while he was in U.S. custody asked to meet him again to get his thoughts on who might be behind the attacks. However, three years in U.S. custody and five months at home occupied with his family and his book had not made him a likely source of information on current strains of thought in the British Muslim community.
At the same time, the dozen foreign Muslim refugees detained in the aftermath of 9/11 and held without trial for two years before being released on the orders of the House of Lords were rearrested. In the summer of 2005, the government prepared to deport them to countries they had originally fled as refugees.
All of them had been made anonymous by court order and in legal documents were referred to as Mr. G, Mr. U, and so on. This was no doubt intended to safeguard their privacy, but in a sense it also condemned them. It made them faceless, inhuman, and their families experienced it just that way. “They even took my husband’s name away, why?” one wife asked me.
The women I was meeting in these years were mostly from this small group, as well as the relatives of a handful of British residents — Arabs — who were not initially returned from Guantanamo with the nine British citizens that the Americans finally released without charges in 2004 and 2005.
Perhaps no one in the country was, in the end, more terrorised than them, thanks to the various terror plots by British nationals that followed. And they were right to be fearful. The pressure on them was overwhelming. Some of them simply gave up and went home voluntarily because they could not bear house arrest, though they risked being sent to prison in their native lands; others went through years of house arrest and court appeals against deportation, all of which continues to this day.
Among the plots that unnerved them were one in 2006 against transatlantic aircraft, for which a total of 12 Britons were jailed for life in 2009, and the 2007 attempt to blow up a London nightclub and Glasgow International Airport, in which one bomber died and the second was jailed for 32 years. In the post-9/11 decade, 237 people were convicted of terror-related offences in Britain.
Though all of this was going on, much of it remained remote from the world of the refugee women I came to know who, in the larger world, were mainly preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, with Palestinian developments, filled their TV screens tuned only to Arabic stations.
These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares, but for anyone in their company there was no mistaking them: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another, with several small children, turned back from a prison visit, despite a long journey, because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.
These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another turned back from a prison visit because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.
Here was the texture of a hidden war of continual harassment against a largely helpless population. This was how some of the most vulnerable people in British society — often already traumatised refugees and torture survivors — were made permanent scapegoats for our post-9/11, and then post-7/7 fears.
So powerful is the stigma of “terrorism” today that, in the name of “our security,” whether in Great Britain or the United States, just about anything now goes, and ever fewer people ask questions about what that “anything” might actually be. Here in London, repeated attempts to get influential religious or political figures simply to visit one of these officially locked-down families and see these lives for themselves have failed. In the present political climate, such a personal, fact-finding visit proved to be anything but a priority for such people.
A Legal System of Secret Evidence, House Arrest, and Financial Sanctions
Against this captive population, in such an anything-goes atmosphere, all sorts of experimental perversions of the legal system were tried out. As a result, the British system of post-9/11 justice contains many features which should frighten us all but are completely unfamiliar to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom.
Key aspects for the families I have been concerned with include the use of secret evidence in cases involving deportation, bail conditions, and imprisonment without trial. In addition, most of their cases have been heard in a special court known as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission or SIAC, which is housed in an anonymous basement set of rooms in central London.
One of SIAC’s innovative features is the use of “special advocates,” senior barristers who have security clearance to see secret evidence on behalf of their clients, but without being allowed to disclose it or discuss it, even with the client or his or her own lawyer. The resignation on principle of a highly respected barrister, Ian Macdonald, as a special advocate in November 2004 exposed this process to the public for the first time — but almost no one took any interest.
And a sense of the injustice in this arcane system was never sufficiently sparked by such voices, which found little echo in the media. Nor was there a wide audience for reports from ateam of top psychiatrists about the devastating psychological impact on the men and their families of indefinite detention without trial, and of a house-arrest system framed by “control orders” that allow the government to place restrictions of almost any sort on the lives of those it designates.
An even less noted aspect of the anti-terror legal system brought into existence after 9/11 was the financial sanctions that could freeze the assets of designated individuals. First ordered by the United Nations, the financial-sanctions regime was consolidated here through a European Union list of designated people. The few lawyers who specialized in this area were scathing about the draconian measures involved and the utter lack of transparency when it came to which governments had put which names on which list.
The effect on the listed families was draconian. Marriages collapsed under the strain. The listed men were barred from working and only allowed £10 a week for personal expenses. Their wives — often from conservative cultures where all dealings with the outside world had been left to husbands — suddenly were the families’ faces to the world, responsible for everything from shopping to accounting monthly to the government’s Home Office for every item the family purchased, right down to a bottle of milk or a pencil for a child. It was humiliating for the men, who lost their family role overnight, and exhausting and frustrating for the women, while in some cases the rest of their families shunned them because of the taint of alleged terrorism. Almost no one except specialist lawyers even knew that such financial sanctions existed in Britain.
In the country’s High Court, the first judicial challenge to the financial-sanctions regime was brought in 2008 by five British Muslim men known only as G, K, A, M, and Q. In response, Justice Andrew Collins said he found it “totally unacceptable” that, to take an especially absurd example, a man should have to get a license for legal advice about the sanctions from the very body that was imposing them. The man in question had waited three months for a “basic expense” license permitting funds for food and rent, and six months for a license to obtain legal advice about the situation he found himself in.
In a related case before the judicial committee of the House of Lords, Justice Leonard Hoffman expressed incredulity at the “meanness and squalor” of a regime that “monitored who had what for lunch.” More recently, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court endorsed the comments of Lord Justice Stephen Sedley who described those subject to the regime as being akin to “prisoners of the state.”
Among senior lawyers concerned about this hidden world of punishment was Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. He devoted one of his official U.N. reports to the financial sanctions issue. His recommendations included significantly more transparency from governments who put people on such a list, the explicit exclusion of evidence obtained by torture, and the obligation of governments to give reasons when they refuse to remove individuals from the list. Of course, no one who mattered was paying the slightest attention.
Against ideological governments obsessed by terrorism on both sides of the Atlantic and a culture numbed by violent anti-terrorist tales like “24” and Zero Dark Thirty, such complicated and technical initiatives on behalf of individuals who have been given the tag, implicitly if not explicitly, of “terrorist” stand little chance of getting attention.
“Each Time It’s Worse”
Nearly a decade ago, at the New York opening night of Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, the play Gillian Slovo and I wrote using only the words of the relatives of prisoners in that jail, their lawyers, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, an elderly man approached Moazzam Begg’s father and me. He introduced himself as a former foreign policy adviser to President John Kennedy. “It could never have happened in our time,” he said.
When the Global War on Terror was still relatively new, it was common for audiences to react similarly and with shock to a play in which fathers and brothers describe their bewilderment over the way their relation had disappeared into the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay. In the years since, we have become numb to the destruction of lives, livelihoods, futures, childhoods, legal systems, and trust by Washington’s and London’s never-ending war on terror.
In that time, I have seen children grow from toddlers to teenagers locked inside this particular war machine. What they say today should startle us out of such numbness. Here, for instance, are the words of two teenagers, a girl and a boy whose fathers had been imprisoned or under house arrest in Britain for 10 years and whose lives in those same years were filled with indignities and humiliations:
“People seem to think that we get used to things being how they are for us, so we don’t feel the injustices so much now. They are quite wrong: it was painful the first time, more painful the second, even more so the third. In fact, each time it’s worse, if you can believe that. There isn’t a limit on how much pain you can feel.”
The boy added this:
“There is never one day when I feel safe. It can be the authorities, it can be ordinary people, they can do something bad for us. Only like now when we are all in the house together can I stop worrying about my mum and my sisters, and even me, what might happen to us. On the tube [subway], in class at university, people look at my beard. I see them looking and I know they are thinking bad things about me. I would like to be a normal guy who no one looks at. You know, other boys, some of my friends, they cut corners, things like driving without a current license, everyone does it. But I can’t, I can’t ever, ever, take even a small risk. I have to always be cautious, be responsible… for my family.”
These children have been brought up by women who, against all odds, have often preserved their dignity and kept at least a modicum of joy in their families’ lives, and so, however despised, however unnoticed, however locked away, made themselves an inspiration to others. They are not victims to be pitied, but women our societies should embrace.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s response to recent proposals that Washington establish a secret court to oversee the targeting of terrorist suspects for death-by-drone and President Obama’s expanding executive power to kill, speak for the world beyond the West. They offer a different perspective on the war on terror that Washington and Great Britain continue to pursue with no end in sight:
“Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the nineteenth century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it. I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.”
Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) has just been published.
How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth February 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Chile, Latin America, Torture, War on Terror.
Tags: 9/11, bagram, cia prisons, counterterrorism, donald rumsfeld, globalizing torture, greg grandin, Guantanamo, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, mahar arar, operation condor, pinochet, rendition, roger hollander, torture, war on terror, wikileaks
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The Latin American Exception
(Max Fisher — The Washington Post)
The map tells the story. To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.
Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set. It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.
All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria. The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture. Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”
No region escapes the stain. Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center. Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Not even social-democratic Scandinavia. Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses. No region, that is, except Latin America.
What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.” Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area. It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”
Two, Three, Many CIAs
How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)? After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.
Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America. As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”
In the region, this meant three things. First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it. Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces — the police, military, and paramilitary squads — to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.
Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense. They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere. Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.
The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale. In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome. The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support. Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag. Three of the region’s current presidents — Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — were victims of this reign of terror.
When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques — and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks. In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces. Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage. Then 9/11 happened.
“Oh My Goodness”
In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers. “Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important.” Indeed.
This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got. Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point? After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.
There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” — an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.
“Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.” Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere. Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”
“These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”
A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers. On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused.
Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit. As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”
Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains. Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.” His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”
Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.
Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment… caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”
Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets. Rahma froze to death.
And so the Open Society report goes… on and on and on.
Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments. Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command. As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.
But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side. His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history. It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model — think of it as Reaganism on steroids — that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years. Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been.
Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela. Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S. In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another. In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.
In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region. Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war.
Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.
A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.
“[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said. It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law. “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”
In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act. It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.
Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.” The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.
One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” — that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties — “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.” In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many. One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list.
Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse.
In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez. Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.” But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”
There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place! It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington. The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez.
Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War
Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched. It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico. The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years. Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom — the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America — can operate more or less at will. A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights.
Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations. U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic. The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.
But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine. Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture.
Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book, Fordlandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.
US Military Detains More Than 200 Afghan Teens as ‘Enemy Combatants’ December 9, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: afghan teenagers, Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, bagram, childrens rights, enemy combatant, International law, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: the United States invades a country on the other side of the world that poses no threat to its security, throwing down death and destruction. Cowardly unmanned missiles rain down on civilian targets, and here we learn that children are captured and thrown into the hell hole dungeon know as the Bagram prison. God Bless America. It knows how to treat its “enemies” regardless of age.
Published on Saturday, December 8, 2012 by Common Dreams
‘Children as young as 11 or 12′ detained at Bagram
More than 200 Afghan teenagers have been captured and detained by the US military, the United States told the United Nations in a very troubling report distributed this week.
(Photo: Cpl. Reece Lodder / Marine Corps)
In recent years, the US has received criticism from a number of human rights organizations for failing to meet commitments to protect children in war zones.
The report was written in response to questions raised earlier this year by the United Nations committee charged with implementing the international treaty on the rights of children in armed conflict, formally known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC).
According to the report, the State Department detained the children for up to a year at a time at a military prison next to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Characterized as “enemy combatants,” the purpose of detention was “not punitive but preventative: to prevent a combatant from returning to the battlefield,” the report said.
Though the US military estimates that most of the juvenile Afghan detainees were about 16 years old, their age was not usually determined until after capture.
“I’ve represented children as young as 11 or 12 who have been at Bagram,” said Tina M Foster, executive director of the International Justice Network, which represents adult and juvenile detainees.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights program, added that it was “highly likely that some children were as young as 14 or 13 years old when they were detained by US forces.”
In regards to the inexplicably long detention, Dakwar added, “This is an extraordinarily unacceptably long period of time that exposes children in detention to greater risk of physical and mental abuse, especially if they are denied access to the protections guaranteed to them under international law.”
Allison Frankel of the ACLU human rights program wrote Saturday that there were significant and troubling lapses in information in the report:
The U.S. still has not provided any specific information about where these children were transferred to, or what forms of rehabilitation and reintegration assistance has been made available to them. Although this support is mandated under OPAC, evidence suggests that the U.S. has thus far failed to provide such assistance, let alone remedies for wrongful detention and abuse in U.S. custody.
According to the Associated Press, the State Department filed a similar report in 2008, providing a “snapshot” of the “US military’s effort in the endgame of the Bush presidency”:
In 2008, the US said it held about 500 juveniles in Iraqi detention centers and then had only about 10 at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. A total of some 2,500 youths had been detained, almost all in Iraq, from 2002 through 2008 under the Bush administration.
Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency in 2008 in part on winding down active US involvement in the Iraq war, and shifting the military focus to Afghanistan. The latest figures on under-18 detainees reflect the redeployment of US efforts to Afghanistan.
The report was issued within the same week as an objectionable article in Military Times entitled “Some Afghan Kids Aren’t Bystanders,” quoted a senior officer who said that the military isn’t just out to bomb “military age males,” anymore, but kids, too:
“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Army Lt. Col. Marion “Ced” Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”
Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah specializing in counter-terrorism, said Carrington’s remarks reflected the shifting definitions of legitimate military targets within the Obama administration, the Guardian reports.
He is articulating a deeply troubling policy adopted by the Obama administration.
The decision about who you consider a legitimate target is less defined by your conduct than the conduct of the people or category of people which you are assigned to belong to … That is beyond troubling. It is also illegal and immoral.
The U.S. will undergo formal review by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 2013.
The Obama GITMO myth July 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: bagram, Barack Obama, bernie sanders, constitution, gitmo, Guantanamo, Guantanamo detainees, habeas corpus, human rights, indefinite detention, military commissions, national security, roger hollander, russ feingold, terrorism, torture
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New vindictive restrictions on detainees highlights the falsity of Obama defenders regarding closing the camp
Most of the 168 detainees at Guantanamo have been imprisoned by the U.S. Government for close to a decade without charges and with no end in sight to their captivity. Some now die at Guantanamo, thousands of miles away from their homes and families, without ever having had the chance to contest accusations of guilt. During the Bush years, the plight of these detainees was a major source of political controversy, but under Obama, it is now almost entirely forgotten. On those rare occasions when it is raised, Obama defenders invoke a blatant myth to shield the President from blame: he wanted and tried so very hard to end all of this, but Congress would not let him. Especially now that we’re in an Election Year, and in light of very recent developments, it’s long overdue to document clearly how misleading that excuse is.
Last week, the Obama administration imposed new arbitrary rules for Guantanamo detainees who have lost their first habeas corpus challenge. Those new rules eliminate the right of lawyers to visit their clients at the detention facility; the old rules establishing that right were in place since 2004, and were bolstered by the Supreme Court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling that detainees were entitled to a “meaningful” opportunity to contest the legality of their detention. The DOJ recently informed a lawyer for a Yemeni detainee, Yasein Khasem Mohammad Esmail, that he would be barred from visiting his client unless he agreed to a new regime of restrictive rules, including acknowledging that such visits are within the sole discretion of the camp’s military commander. Moreover, as SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston explains:
Besides putting control over legal contacts entirely under a military commander’s control, the “memorandum of understanding” does not allow attorneys to share with other detainee lawyers what they learn, and does not appear to allow them to use any such information to help prepare their own client for a system of periodic review at Guantanamo of whether continued detention is justified, and may even forbid the use of such information to help prepare a defense to formal terrorism criminal charges against their client.
The New York Times Editorial Page today denounced these new rules as “spiteful,” cited it as “the Obama administration’s latest overuse of executive authority,” and said “the administration looks as if it is imperiously punishing detainees for their temerity in bringing legal challenges to their detention and losing.” Detainee lawyers are refusing to submit to these new rules and are asking a federal court to rule that they violate the detainees’ right to legal counsel.
But every time the issue of ongoing injustices at Guantanamo is raised, one hears the same apologia from the President’s defenders: the President wanted and tried to end all of this, but Congress — including even liberals such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — overwhelming voted to deny him the funds to close Guantanamo. While those claims, standing alone, are true, they omit crucial facts and thus paint a wildly misleading picture about what Obama actually did and did not seek to do.
What made Guantanamo controversial was not its physical location: that it was located in the Caribbean Sea rather than on American soil (that’s especially true since the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that U.S. courts have jurisdiction over the camp). What made Guantanamo such a travesty — and what still makes it such — is that it is a system of indefinite detention whereby human beings are put in cages for years and years without ever being charged with a crime. President Obama’s so-called “plan to close Guantanamo” — even if it had been approved in full by Congress — did not seek to end that core injustice. It sought to do the opposite: Obama’s plan would have continued the system of indefinite detention, but simply re-located it from Guantanamo Bay onto American soil.
Long before, and fully independent of, anything Congress did, President Obama made clear that he was going to preserve the indefinite detention system at Guantanamo even once he closed the camp. President Obama fully embraced indefinite detention — the defining injustice of Guantanamo — as his own policy.
In February, 2009, the Obama DOJ told an appellate court it was embracing the Bush DOJ’s theory that Bagram detainees have no legal rights whatsoever, an announcement that shocked the judges on the panel hearing the case. In May, 2009, President Obama delivered a speech at the National Archives — in front of the U.S. Constitution — and, as his plan for closing Guantanamo, proposed a system of preventative “prolonged detention” without trial inside the U.S.; The New York Times – in an article headlined “President’s Detention Plan Tests American Legal Tradition” – said Obama’s plan “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of the government either face criminal charges or walk free.” In January, 2010, the Obama administration announced it would continue to imprison several dozen Guantanamo detainees without any charges or trials of any kind, including even a military commission, on the ground that they were “too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.” That was all Obama’s doing, completely independent of anything Congress did.
When the President finally unveiled his plan for “closing Guantanamo,” it became clear that it wasn’t a plan to “close” the camp as much as it was a plan simply to re-locate it — import it — onto American soil, at a newly purchased federal prison in Thompson, Illinois. William Lynn, Obama’s Deputy Defense Secretary, sent a letter to inquiring Senators that expressly stated that the Obama administration intended to continue indefinitely to imprison some of the detainees with no charges of any kind. The plan was classic Obama: a pretty, feel-good, empty symbolic gesture (get rid of the symbolic face of Bush War on Terror excesses) while preserving the core abuses (the powers of indefinite detention ), even strengthening and expanding those abuses by bringing them into the U.S.
Recall that the ACLU immediately condemned what it called the President’s plan to create “GITMO North.” About the President’s so-called “plan to close Guantanamo,” Executive Director Anthony Romero said:
The creation of a “Gitmo North” in Illinois is hardly a meaningful step forward. Shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore.
Alarmingly, all indications are that the administration plans to continue its predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location. Such a policy is completely at odds with our democratic commitment to due process and human rights whether it’s occurring in Cuba or in Illinois.
In fact, while the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies. It is unimaginable that the Obama administration is using the same justification as the Bush administration used to undercut centuries of legal jurisprudence and the principle of innocent until proven guilty and the right to confront one’s accusers. . . . .The Obama administration’s announcement today contradicts everything the president has said about the need for America to return to leading with its values.
In fact, Obama’s “close GITMO” plan — if it had been adopted by Congress — would have done something worse than merely continue the camp’s defining injustice of indefinite detention. It would likely have expanded those powers by importing them into the U.S. The day after President Obama’s speech proposing a system of “prolonged detention” on U.S. soil, the ACLU’s Ben Wizner told me in an interview:
It may to serve to enshrine into law the very departures from the law that the Bush administration led us on, and that we all criticized so much. And I’ll elaborate on that. But that’s really my initial reaction to it; that what President Obama was talking about yesterday is making permanent some of the worst features of the Guantanamo regime. He may be shutting down the prison on that camp, but what’s worse is he may be importing some of those legal principles into our own legal system, where they’ll do great harm for a long time.
So even if Congress had fully supported and funded Obama’s plan to “close Guantanamo,” the core injustices that made the camp such a travesty would remain. In fact, they’d not only remain, but would be in full force within the U.S. That’s what makes the prime excuse offered for Obama — he tried to end all of this but couldn’t – so misleading. He only wanted to change the locale of these injustices, but sought fully to preserve them.
Indeed, as part of that excuse, one frequently hears that even liberal civil liberties stalwarts in the Senate — such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — voted to deny funding for the closing of Guantanamo: as though it is they who are to blame for these enduring travesties, rather than Obama. But this, too, is misleading in the extreme.
The reason these Democratic Senators voted to deny funds for closing Guantanamo is not because they lacked the courage to close Guantanamo. It’s because they did not want to fund a plan to close the camp without knowing exactly what Obama planned to do with the detainees there — because people like Feingold and Sanders did not want to fund the importation of a system of indefinite detention onto U.S. soil. Here’s what actually happened when the Senate, including most Democrats, refused to fund the closing of Guantanamo:
[White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs] added Obama has not yet decided where some of the detainees will be sent. A presidential commission is studying the issue. . . .
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, favors closing Guantanamo, and the legislation his panel originally sent to the floor provided money for that purpose once the administration submitted a plan for the shutdown.
In changing course and seeking to delete the funds, he said, “The fact that the administration has not offered a workable plan at this point made that decision rather easy.”
Can that be any clearer? They would have voted to fund the closing of Guantanamo, but only once they knew what Obama’s plan was for the detainees there. Feingold — whose vote against funding the closing of Guantanamo is invariably cited by Obama defenders — wrote a letter to the President specifically to object to any plan to import the system of indefinite detention onto U.S. soil:
My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.
While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security.
Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.
Feingold was not going to vote for a plan to close Guantanamo if it meant that its core injustice — indefinite detention — was going simply to be re-located onto American soil, where it would be entrenched rather than dismantled. That, as all of this evidence makes clear, is why so many Democratic Senators voted to deny funding for the closing of Guantanamo: not because they favored the continuation of indefinite detention, but precisely because they did not want to fund its continuation on American soil, as Obama clearly intended.
Now, here we are, almost four years after the vow to close Guantanamo was enshrined in an Executive Order, and the rights of detainees — including the basic right to legal counsel — are being constricted further, in plainly vindictive ways. Conditions at Guantanamo are undoubtedly better than they were in 2003, and some of the deficiencies in military commissions (for the few who appear before them) have been redressed. But the real stain of Guantanamo — keeping people locked up in cages for years with no charges — endures. And contrary to the blatant myth propagated by Obama defenders, that has happened not because Obama tried but failed to eliminate it, but precisely because he embraced it as his own policy from the start.
Psychologists’ Collusion in Ongoing Illegal Detentions January 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: apa, bagram, brad olson, detainees, ethics, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, human rights, International law, medical ethics, parwan, psychological association, psychological ethics, psychologists, roger hollander, roy eidelson, stephen soldz, torture, trudy bond
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As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantánamo Detention Center, several thousand miles away sits another United States detention facility, less well-known but with a history perhaps even more gruesome. Obscured throughout the decade-long “global war on terror,” the detention center at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan is where two detainees died in December 2002. Initial autopsies at the time ruled both deaths homicides, according to a 2,000-page confidential Army file obtained by the New York Times. Autopsies of the two dead detainees found severe trauma to both prisoners’ legs. The coroner for one of the dead noted, “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.”
Detainees pray before dawn near a fence of razor-wire inside Camp 4 detention facility at the Guantanamo (Photo: Cryptome)
In January 2009, to much fanfare, newly-elected President Barack Obama signed a directive authorizing the closing of Guantánamo Detention Center. But a month later the new administration discreetly told a federal judge that military detainees at Bagram had no habeas corpus rights to challenge their imprisonment. At the same time, the Pentagon was moving forward on plans to build a new prison in Bagram, renamed the “Detention Facility in Parwan” (DFIP). This facility was designed to accommodate 600 prisoners under normal conditions and as many as 1,100 during a “surge.”
Today, President Obama has abandoned his inaugural pledge to close Guantánamo and there are more than 3,000 detainees at Bagram — five times the number of prisoners when the president took office — with a scheduled expansion of the facility by the end of 2012 to house up to 5,500 detainees. One troubling constant across the developments at Bagram is the presence and involvement of psychologists at these facilities, which clearly violate international legal standards for the treatment of detainees. Among the military psychologists present during the early years of the Bagram prison were Colonel Morgan Banks, Captain Bryce Lefever, and Colonel Larry James, notable for their key roles in formulating the American Psychological Association’s (APA) much criticized ethics policy on psychologist-assisted interrogations.
According to Banks’ biographical statement, he “spent four months over the winter of 2001/2002 at Bagram Airfield.” More broadly, Banks provided technical, consultation, and interrogation support to all Army psychologists. He also assisted in establishing the Army’s first permanent SERE training program. As for Lefever’s biosketch, it notes that he also served at the detention center at Bagram Air Base. He “was deployed as the Joint Special Forces Task Force psychologist to Afghanistan in 2002, where he lectured to interrogators and was consulted on various interrogation techniques.”
The third military psychologist, James, was the Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantánamo when, according to his book, Fixing Hell, he flew to Afghanistan to transfer three juveniles who had been forcibly and arbitrarily detained at Bagram. James described these boys as “the most fragile . . . children [he] had ever met,” yet he oversaw their being loaded onto a cargo plane at Bagram Air Force Base, “bound [and] blindfolded,” for a flight that typically lasted over 20 hours. Others who appear to have been transferred from Bagram to Guantánamo that same day reported being chained around the waist, wrists, back and ankles and the intense pain of being unable to speak, see, hear, move, or even stretch or breathe properly.The boys were essentially kidnapped, and were returned home a year later, having never had access to legal counsel and having never been charged with a crime.
Public information about exactly what transpires at Bagram today is scarce. The BBC was allowed a rare, one-hour visit to the new Parwan/Bagram prison in 2010. The report noted that “Prisoners are kept in 56 cells, which the prisoners refer to as ‘cages’. The front of the cells are made of mesh, the ceiling is clear, and the other three walls are solid. Guards can see down into the cells from above.” These detainees were moved around in wheelchairs, wearing goggles and headphones to block sight and sound.
In 2011, Daphne Eviatar, an attorney for Human Rights First, interviewed 18 former detainees from the main facility in Parwan and was permitted to observe seven detainee hearings there. In her detailed report she noted:
After many years of completely denying detainees in Afghanistan the opportunity to defend themselves against arbitrary detention, the United States government has finally implemented a hearing process that allows detainees to hear the charges against them and to make a statement in their own defense. Although a significant improvement, these new hearings fall short of minimum standards of due process required by international law.” [Emphasis added.]
In a subsequent interview with CBS News, Eviatar stated:
[Parwan] is worse than Guantánamo because there are fewer rights…There was no evidence presented, there was no questioning of the government’s evidence, whether this person had done anything wrong, whether he deserved to be in prison. So that’s a real problem — you have a complete lack of due process.
And in 2010 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed the existence of a separate, second detention facility at Parwan. Many former prisoners have referred to it as the Tor Jail, translated as “Black Jail.” Nine former prisoners interviewed separately by the BBC spoke of almost identical treatment there: distressingly cold cells, perpetual loud noise, constant light, and, violating any sense of privacy, camera surveillance. One former prisoner said American soldiers made him dance to music to obtain permission to use the toilet.
Today, there are clear indications that psychologists continue to be involved in the detention and interrogation of detainees at Parwan/Bagram. Such activities stand in direct contravention of APA policy based on a 2008 petition resolution. Approved through a member-led referendum, this resolution prohibits psychologists from working in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” (or if they are providing treatment for military personnel).
Significant evidence that psychologists are working at Bagram/Parwan in violation of APA policy comes in part from a symposium on “Operational Problems in Behavioral Sciences” sponsored by the United States Air Force Medical Service in August 2011. The first slide of the partially redacted powerpoint presentation on the “BSCT Mission” describes the role of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) as providing: “…psychological expertise and consultation in order to assist the command in conducting safe, legal, ethical, and effective detention facility operations, intelligence interrogations, and detainee debriefing operations” (OTSG/MEDCOM Policy Memo 09-053).
A later slide reveals that the current BSCTs at the Parwan Detention Facility are composed of a psychologist or forensic psychiatrist, who must be licensed for independent practice, and a “behavioral science technician.” Further confirming the presence of psychologists, a June 2010 newspaper article about Parwan by the military editor of the Fayettville Observer notes: “Air Force Maj. Colin Burchfield, 34, a clinical psychologist, observes the behavior of both detainees and guards on TV monitors.”
Disturbingly, and contrary to the APA’s 2008 referendum policy, one of the key documents still used to support the ongoing involvement of psychologists at the Parwan facility is an earlier 2005 report from the APA’s “Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security” (the PENS Report). The PENS Report, cited in the Operational Problems powerpoint presentation described above, endorsed psychologists’ engagement in detainee interrogations — despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations and practices that violate international law.
Six of the nine voting members of the PENS Task Force were on the payroll of the U.S. military and/or intelligence agencies. Five of these six served in chains of command that had been accused of the kinds of abuses that led to the creation of the Task Force, including the three psychologists linked to the early Bagram prison: Dr. Morgan Banks, Dr. Bryce Lefever, and Dr. Larry James. The PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists have an important role to play in keeping interrogations “safe, legal, ethical, and effective,” and the APA Board approved the PENS Report in a highly unusual emergency vote.
The APA’s claims that it stands strongly against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are belied by the organization’s repeated failure to take assertive and meaningful action. There is no clearer example than the continuing participation of psychologists in detention and interrogation activities at the Parwan/Bagram prison — a site where international law itself is seemingly confined indefinitely to a small, dark cell.
But health professionals, human rights advocates, and intelligence professionals of conscience worldwide have refused to accept this status quo. One noteworthy and promising effort is an online petition campaign calling for the annulment of APA’s PENS Report. The initiative has been supported by many distinguished members of APA, as well as non-psychologists such as psychiatrists Robert Jay Lifton and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles; scholar-activists such as Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky; attorneys who have represented Guantanamo detainees; eminent veterans of the intelligence community; and many other psychologists and human rights advocates. Please consider joining this call and signing the petition at www.ethicalpsychology.org/pens.
Trudy Bond is an independent psychologist, steering committe member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. For questions, responses or media contact, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roy Eidelson is a clinical psychologist and the president of Eidelson Consulting, where he studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, associate director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Roy can be reached at email@example.com.
Brad Olson is an assistant professor and co-director of the Community Psychology Ph.D. Program in downtown Chicago. He is President-Elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) and co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.
Stephen Soldz is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. Soldz is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and served as a psychological consultant on several Guantánamo trials. Currently Soldz is Past-President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.