The Torture Chronicle December 24, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: alan dershowitz, CIA torture, enhance interrogation, eric holder, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, human rights, International law, jay bybee, john yoo, maher arar, philip giraldi, rendition, roger hollander, torture, torture memos
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Roger’s note: Here it is Christmas Eve, 2012, and I am posting yet another article on torture. Our shameless president may have chosen to “look forward, not backwards” when it comes to prosecuting those responsible for these high crimes. I for one cannot forget them, nor can I forget the fact that the United States government continues to sow death and destruction around the globe.
A classified Senate Intelligence Committee report shows the futility of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
If there is one word missing from the United States government’s post-9/11 lexicon it is “accountability.” While perfectly legal though illicit sexual encounters apparently continue to rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, leading to resignations, no one has been punished for malfeasance, torture, secret prisons, or extraordinary renditions.
Indeed, the Obama administration stated in 2009 that it would not punish CIA torturers because it prefers to “look forward and not back,” a decision not to prosecute that was recently confirmed by Attorney General Eric Holder in two cases involving the deaths of detainees after particularly brutal Agency interrogations. What the White House decision almost certainly means is that the president would prefer to avoid a tussle with the Republicans in congress over national security that would inevitably reveal a great deal of dirty laundry belonging to both parties.
The bipartisan willingness to avoid confrontation over possible war crimes makes the recently completed 6,000 page long Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture an extraordinary document. Though it is still classified and might well never see the light of day even in any sanitized or bowdlerized form, its principal conclusions have been leaking out in the media over the past two weeks. It directly addresses the principal argument that has been made by Bush administration devotees and continues to be advanced regarding the CIA torture agenda: that vital information obtained by “enhanced interrogation techniques” led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to the report, no information obtained by torture was critical to the eventual assassination of the al-Qaeda leader, nor has it been found to be an indispensable element in any of the other terrorism cases that were examined by the Senate committee.
What exactly does that mean? It means that torture, far from being an essential tool in the counter-terrorism effort, has not provided information that could not be obtained elsewhere and using less coercive methods. Senator Diane Feinstein, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and has had access to the entire classified document, elaborated, explaining that the investigation carried out by the Senate included every detainee held by CIA, examining “the conditions under which they were detained, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy or inaccuracy of CIA descriptions about the program to the White House, Department of Justice, Congress and others.” It “uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program…” The report has 35,000 footnotes and investigators perused 6 million pages of official records, which is why it has taken more than two years to produce.
The Senate inquiry’s conclusions inevitably lead to the assumption that there has been a whole lot of lying and obfuscation going on in connection with the so-called war on terror. To recap major developments, 9/11 unleashed a counter-offensive by the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center (CTC), which was at the time headed by Cofer “the gloves come off” Black. Secret prisons were established in Europe and Asia, torture was used extensively in the interrogation of suspects, and some detainees were shipped off to friendly intelligence services in places like Egypt for even more aggressive questioning. This was referred to as rendition. Some suspects were snatched off the streets in European and Asian cities before being rendered.
The Justice Department gave its approval for the harsh interrogation techniques in a notorious secret memo drafted by John Yoo and Jay Bybee in 2005 only months after a 2004 public statement in which the selfsame Justice Department declared that torture would not be acceptable. On October 5, 2007, President George W. Bush restated the official position, “This government does not torture people. We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations.” But he also contradicted himself, elaborating that his administration’s interrogation methods included questioning carried out by “highly-trained professionals.” He explained, “When we find somebody who may have information regarding an attack on America, and you bet we’re going to detain them, you bet we’re going to question them. The American people expect us to find out information, this actionable intelligence, so we can help protect them. That’s our job.”
Since that time the issue of torture itself has become an ideological abstraction, with the neoconservatives, many Republicans, and even some conservative Democrats reflexively supporting it. It has also frequently been debated in the intelligence community. There are undeniably some who believe that all terrorist suspects should be tortured even unto death to tell what they know, but an increasing number of former intelligence officers have expressed doubts over the efficacy of the procedure, a conclusion that is now supported by the Senate findings.
To cite one example of what torture can produce, prominent al-Qaeda figure Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, commonly referred to as KSM, was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan was reportedly water-boarded 183 times and “broken” by his CIA interrogators. He subsequently confessed to being involved in virtually every terrorist act carried out in the previous 20 years, including 9/11, the beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl, and the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole. He clearly was not actually involved in many of the incidents, but he was willing to admit to anything.
There are also other good reasons to oppose torture and torture by proxy through CIA rendition. Most people and governments worldwide believe that torture is immoral, a view that is generally shared by most Americans. Legally there is also a long tradition condemning torture. German and Japanese officers were executed after the Second World War for torturing prisoners and the principle was firmly established that torture, specifically including waterboarding, is a war crime. The US is signatory to the UN’s anti-torture convention, and both the United States Code and specific acts of congress require prosecution of any government employee engaging in such activity. In practical terms, torture also opens up a door that should never be opened by anyone who genuinely cares about US soldiers, diplomats, and intelligence officers stationed at their peril around the world. To put it succinctly, if we do it to them, they will do it to us.
Mistakes are inevitable when one accepts that it is okay to break the rules in favor of more coercive interrogation. To cite one example of how intelligence operations can go wrong, on December 13, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United States kidnapped German citizen Khaled el-Masri and he was taken to an airport where he was “Severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded” before being sent on to Afghanistan for more of the same. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity while subsequent attempts to obtain recompense through the US courts were blocked by the Obama administration, which claimed state secrets privilege.
Another well-documented rendition case, of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, consigned an innocent man to torture in Syria. Yet another rendition, of Milan-based Muslim cleric Abu Omar turned into a prime example of an intelligence operation designed by Monty Python, employing a cast of hundreds at a cost of many millions of dollars. It continues to play out in the Italian courts. Abu Omar was tortured in Egypt and eventually released when it turned out that he had no information of value.
Torture advocates have assiduously cultivated a number of myths, most prominent of which is the “ticking time bomb.” This is a particular favorite of the redoubtable Alan Dershowitz and a number of prominent neocons. It goes like this — a terrorist is captured who has knowledge of an impending attack on a major civilian target, but he won’t cooperate. How to get the information? Simple. Get an accommodating judge to issue a legal finding that enables you to torture him until he talks, thereby saving lives of innocent civilians.
The only problem with the Dershowitz narrative is that there has never been an actual ticking time bomb. No terrorist has ever been captured, subjected to torture, and provided information that foiled an attack, not even in Israel where routine torture of suspected terrorists captured in flagrante used to be the case (but is now illegal). Advocating a policy of torture, with all that entails, based on a “what if” is fighting evil with more evil, not a solution.
Torture brutalizes and degrades the individual carrying it out, the organization he or she represents, and the government that approves of the practice. The Senate committee report should finally put paid to the arguments being made that it is a reliable interrogation tool, but there still remains the question of accountability. A recent book by Jose A. Rodriguez, who approved and oversaw the CIA torture regime while he served as head of the Counter Terrorism Center and later as Deputy Director of the Clandestine Services, demonstrates that there are still zealots who believe in “extreme measures” in spite of any evidence presented to the contrary. The book is entitled “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives.” Well, apparently that is just not true and perhaps Jose owes the surviving victims of “hard measures” an apology.
Philip Giraldi is the executive director of the Council for the National Interest and a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues. He is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer who served eighteen years overseas in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Mr. Giraldi was awarded an MA and PhD from the University of London in European History and holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honors from the University of Chicago. He speaks Spanish, Italian, German, and Turkish. His columns on terrorism, intelligence, and security issues regularly appear in The American Conservative magazine, Huffington Post, and antiwar.com. He has written op-ed pieces for the Hearst Newspaper chain, has appeared on “Good Morning America,” MSNBC, National Public Radio, and local affiliates of ABC television. He has been a keynote speaker at the Petroleum Industry Security Council annual meeting, has spoken twice at the American Conservative Union’s annual CPAC convention in Washington, and has addressed several World Affairs Council affiliates. He has been interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Britain’s Independent Television Network, FOX News, Polish National Television, Croatian National Television, al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, 60 Minutes, and other international and domestic broadcasters.
One Guantanamo Trial That Will Be Held in New York April 6, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: aclu, american psychological association, amy goodman, apa, enhance interrogation, eric holder, geneva convention, Guantanamo, human rights, john leso, military commissions, Mohammed al-Qahtani, psychologists, roger hollander, steeven reisner, torture
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Published on Wednesday, April 6, 2011 by TruthDig.com
On the same day President Barack Obama formally launched his re-election campaign, his attorney general, Eric Holder, announced that key suspects in the 9/11 attacks would be tried not in federal court, but through controversial military commissions at Guantanamo. Holder blamed members of Congress, who he said “have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States.” Nevertheless, one Guantanamo case will be tried in New York. No, not the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any of his alleged co-conspirators. This week, the New York state Supreme Court will hear the case against John Leso, a psychologist who is accused of participating in torture at the Gitmo prison camp that Obama pledged, and failed, to close.
The case was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) on behalf of Steven Reisner. Reisner, a New York psychologist and adviser to Physicians for Human Rights, is at the center of a growing group of psychologists campaigning against the participation of psychologists in the U.S. government’s interrogation programs, which they say amounts to torture. Unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the largest association of psychologists in the world, has refused to implement a resolution passed by its membership barring APA members from participating in interrogations at sites where international law or the Geneva Conventions are being violated. Reisner, a child of Holocaust survivors, is running for president of the APA, in part to force it to comply with the resolution.
John Francis Leso is a U.S. Army major, formerly chief of the clinical psychology service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. According to CJA, Dr. Leso “led the first Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) at … Guantanamo from June 2002 to January 2003,” where he “co-authored an interrogation policy memorandum that incorporated illegal techniques adapted from methods used by the Chinese and North Korean governments against U.S. prisoners of war.”
Reisner filed a complaint with the New York state agency that governs licenses of psychologists, the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD), asking for an investigation and appropriate disciplinary action. He took this route, Reisner told me, because “health professionals are privy to private information, to weaknesses, to psychological and physical compromises, and they are privy to that information because they take an oath not to abuse that information to cause harm. So when health professionals use that very information … to cause harm, we want to make sure that those people are held accountable and have their licenses revoked, if necessary.”
The OPD declined to investigate, so Reisner is seeking a court order to force the agency to do so.
Maj. Leso recommended three categories of interrogation severity at Guantanamo, depending on the prisoners’ ability to resist. “Category III” included “daily use of 20 hour interrogations; the use of strict isolation without the right of visitation by treating medical professionals or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); the use of food restriction for 24 hours once a week; the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee he might experience a painful or fatal outcome; non-injurious physical consequences; removal of clothing; and exposure to cold weather or water until such time as the detainee began to shiver.”
Leso is alleged to have participated in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a young man captured in Afghanistan and referred to as the “20th hijacker.” Al-Qahtani’s interrogation was so harsh that his charges were dropped. He is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said in response to Holder’s announcement: “The Obama administration all but admitted political failure today as it announced it would try the 9/11 defendants before the deeply flawed military commission system rather than in Article III civilian courts as originally planned. … In the same breath that the U.S. is calling for the rule of law in the Middle East, it is subverting it at home.”
The roll call of U.S. officials implicated in torture is long, yet not one of them has been held accountable: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, psychologists Col. Larry James and John Leso, among others. As an Arab Spring is celebrated around the world, we should turn over a new leaf in the United States and celebrate an American Spring as well, one that rejects torture and is not afraid to use its judicial system, whether trying accused terrorists or torturers.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2011 Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.