WASHINGTON — Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.
Censorship is alive and well in Canada – just ask government scientists February 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Civil Liberties, Media, Science and Technology.
Tags: Canada, canada science, climate change, elizabeth renzetti, environment, freedom of information, Freedom of speech, roger hollander, science, scientists, Stephen Harper, university of victoria
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Roger’s note: Canada under the leadership of J. Edgar Harper.
The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Feb. 22 2013, 8:27 PM EST
Last updated Saturday, Feb. 23 2013, 9:01 AM EST
Freedom to Read Week begins on Feb. 24, bringing with it the perfect opportunity to kick the tires of democracy and make sure the old jalopy’s still running as she should.
What’s that you say? The bumper fell off when you touched it? The engine won’t turn over? That’s not so good. Better look under the hood.
We like to think of censorship as something that happens over there, in the faraway places where men break into houses at night to smash computers, or arrive in classrooms to remove books they don’t like. Not in lovely, calm, respectful Canada. Here we don’t necessarily notice freedoms being eroded slowly, grain by grain, “like sands through the hourglass,” if you’ll allow me to quote from Days of Our Lives.
Just ask Canada’s government scientists. Oh wait, you can’t ask them, because they’ve got duct tape over their mouths (metaphorical duct tape, but hey – it’s still painful). This week the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic and Democracy Watch asked federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault to investigate claims that scientists are being prohibited from speaking freely with journalists – and through them, the public.
In a report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the UVic researchers present some chilling findings: Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists or to spout a chewed-over party line, rubber-stamped by their PR masters; the restrictions are particularly tight when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands; Environment Canada scientists require approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on sensitive topics “such as climate change or protection of polar bear and caribou.”
You wouldn’t want the average citizen to learn too much about caribou, now. Who knows how crazy he could get with that kind of information? It could lead to panel discussions about Arctic hares, town halls on ptarmigans. The report states that government scientists are “frustrated,” which is hardly surprising. It’s like hiring Sandy Koufax and never letting him pitch.
The other thing that the report makes clear is how deliberate this strategy is: “The federal government has recently made concerted efforts to prevent the media – and through them, the general public – from speaking to government scientists, and this, in turn, impoverishes the public debate on issues of significant national concern.”
This is not an issue that’s going away. The Harper government’s heavy-handed control of scientists’ research has raised concerns across the world for a few years, including condemnation from such bastions of Marxism as Nature magazine.
A couple thousand scientists from across the country marched on Parliament Hill last July to protest cuts in research (many in the highly sensitive area of environment and climate change) and restrictions on their ability to speak freely about their work. They created what might be the best chant in the history of political protest: “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!”
Last week, Margaret Munro of Postmedia News reported that a University of Delaware scientist was up in arms over a new confidentiality agreement brought in by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “I’m not signing it,” Andreas Muenchow told the reporter. What does this mean for bilateral co-operation on research? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
The Vise-Grip on information is tightening and Ottawa is the muscle. Last month, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression released a report about the dire state of freedom of information requests: “Canada’s access to information system is in a deep crisis and without urgent reform could soon become dysfunctional,” the report noted. That means fewer requests being processed, at a more glacial pace, with more of the juicy bits blacked out by the government censor’s pen. This is the good stuff, people. The stuff the government doesn’t want you to know about. The stuff that’s kept in a filing cabinet in Gatineau under a sign that says, “Nothing here. Nope. Just a three-week-old tuna sandwich. And it’s radioactive.” This is the information we need to keep an eye on the government’s internal gears – and it’s being withheld.
Canada recently plummeted 10 places to No. 20 in the World Press Freedom Index, which measures how unfettered a country’s media is. Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the index, is concerned about the access-to-information issue and about the protection of journalists’ sources. The beacon we should now follow is Jamaica, whose press freedoms rank highest in the region.
It’s the perfect time to welcome Freedom to Read Week. There are events all over Canada and countless ways to celebrate our precious liberties. Bring your kids to the library. Read something you shouldn’t. Even better, write something you shouldn’t. A letter to your MP, perhaps?
Tags: aclu, assange, bradley manning, civil liberties, first amendment, FISA, foia, freedom of information, glenn greenwald, government secrets, obama administration, p.j. crowley, peace, peace prize, roger hollander, state secrets, whistle blower, whistle-blowing, wikileaks
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11, 2011 08:53 ET
As Julian Assange wins the Sydney Peace Prize for “exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights,” NPR reports that “a federal grand jury in Virginia is scheduled to hear testimony on Wednesday from witnesses” in the criminal investigation of his whistle-blowing group, as “prosecutors are trying to build a case against [the] WikiLeaks founder  whose website has embarrassed the U.S. government by disclosing sensitive diplomatic and military information.” The NPR story — based in part on my reporting of a Grand Jury Subpoena served two weeks ago in Cambridge — explains what has long been clear: that “the WikiLeaks case is part of a much broader campaign by the Obama administration to crack down on leakers.”
Specifically, NPR accurately reports, the effort to turn Assange and WikiLeaks into criminals for doing nothing more than what newspapers, Bob Woodward, and administration officials frequently do — disclose government secrets to the public without authorization — is merely one prong in the Obama administration’s unprecedented war against whistleblowing:
A Worrisome Development
National security experts say they can’t remember a time when the Justice Department has pursued so many criminal cases based on leaks of government secrets.
Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has been following five separate prosecutions, part of what he calls a tremendous surge by the Obama administration.
For people who are concerned about freedom of the press, access to national security information, it’s a worrisome development,” says Aftergood, who writes for the blog Secrecy News [ed: and is a vocal WikiLeaks critic].
Aftergood says some of the most important disclosures of the past decade, including abuses by the U.S. military at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, came out because people concerned about overreach blew the whistle on the government.
”Leaks serve a very valuable function as a kind of safety valve,” he adds. “They help us to get out the information that otherwise would be stuck.”
The Obama Justice Department doesn’t agree.
The vast majority of publicly disclosed high-level government corruption and lawbreaking over the last decade has come from unauthorized leaks, with the majority of it over the last year from WikiLeaks. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that high-level government officials — even those who ran on a platform of protecting and venerating whistle-blowing — want to destroy it through a mix of persecution and intimidation. To its credit, the DOJ recently announced that it would not prosecute Thomas Tamm, the mid-level DOJ officials who informed the New York Times about the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program. But that has been a rare exception, as the DOJ is actively prosecuting an array of whistleblowers who exposed similar levels of corruption and wrongdoing — in blatant violation of Obama’s decree to “Look Forward, not Backward” when it comes to protecting powerful Bush-era political officials who committed serious crimes. Indeed, the prosecution of WikiLeaks — which, unlike government employees, has no duty to safeguard government secrets — would be the greatest blow to press freedoms and whistleblowing in the last several decades at least.
Assange was awarded this peace prize yesterday because — unlike other Peace Prize recipients — his work has been relentlessly devoted to impeding wars (not escalating them) by exposing the truth about the destruction and suffering they spawn. Beyond that, even the most vehement WikiLeaks critics, such as NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller, admit that the disclosures from WikiLeaks (and allegedly Bradley Manning) played at least some role in sparking the democratic rebellions in the Middle East, as those documents highlighted in new detail the breadth of the corruption of many of those despots:
And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.
And yet, many of the very same people who cheer for those democratic uprisings continue simultaneously to cheer for the administration that (a) steadfastly supported those dictators (and in some cases still supports them in exchange for doing America’s bidding) while (b) persecuting with Grand Jury investigations, imprisonment, and crushing solitary confinement those who seem to have helped spawn those rebellions. That the U.S. Government is obsessed with crushing one of the few remaining avenues for learning what it does (whistleblowing) — and forever imprisoning those who have brought more transparency to its wrongdoing and deceit than all media outlets combined (WikiLeaks, Assange and, if the accusations are true, Manning) — underscores just how central a role secrecy plays in maximizing government power and the ability of officials to abuse it. This secrecy regime is the heart and soul of the National Security State.
But to really see the true purposes served by secrecy, just consider this truly amazing ACLU report from yesterday. In 2009, the ACLU filed a FOIA request seeking information about how the Government has interpreted and applied the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 — the bipartisan legislation which vested lawbreaking telecoms with retroactive immunity and drastically expanded the Government’s domestic eavesdropping powers (in order to legalize the crux of the once-controversial Bush NSA program). Unsurprisingly, the Most Transparent Administration Ever refused to provide anything other than the most heavily redacted documents in response to that FOIA request, though it was enough, explained the ACLU, to “confirm that the government had interpreted the statute as broadly as we had feared and even that the government had repeatedly violated the few limitations that the statute actually imposed.”
But since then, the ACLU has been aggressively pursuing more documents, including attempting to find out which specific private industry telecoms are cooperating in these eavesdropping programs. Two weeks ago, the DOJ provided its explanations as to why it refuses to produce that information. Among those documents was what the ACLU calls ” this unexpectedly honest explanation from the FBI” about the real reason it insists on concealing this information. Just behold the noble purposes fulfilled by the secrecy regime (click on image to enlarge):
As the ACLU succinctly put it:
There you have it. The government doesn’t want you to know whether your internet or phone company is cooperating with its dragnet surveillance program because you might get upset and file lawsuits asserting your constitutional rights. Would it be such a bad thing if a court were to consider the constitutionality of the most sweeping surveillance program ever enacted by Congress?
This is the real purpose of the Government’s devotion to the secrecy regime: it prevents any meaningful accountability on the part of those in power. Preventing the public from knowing what they’re doing (and what their “private partners” are doing) ensures no backlash ensues and there is no accountability possible. That, manifestly, is the Obama administration’s overarching goal in adopting the Bush/Cheney version of the “state secrets” privilege and thus shielding even presidential crimes from judicial review: by keeping everyone, including courts, in the dark about what they do, they shield themselves (the public/private consortium that runs the National Security and Surveillance States) from the rule of law. And by keeping the public in the dark about what they do, they maintain exclusive control over information and thus shield and enable their own propaganda.
Whistleblowers in general — and WikiLeaks and Assange in particular — are one of the very, very few genuine threats to that scheme. And that — and that alone — is why they are being targeted with such fervor and force. And it’s why those who believe in greater transparency and in subverting that secrecy regime should do everything possible to defend whistleblowers from this assault.
* * * * *
Philosophy Professor Jonathan Lear has a very interesting article in The New Republic on what motivated P.J. Crowley to speak out against Bradley Manning’s detention conditions and the important public values fulfilled by that type of (exceedingly rare) candor from public officials.
And for those in Boston: on May 26, I’ll be speaking to the annual meeting of the ACLU in Massachusetts. Ticket information is here. In advance of that event, I was interviewed by them on multiple civil liberties issues; those short video segments can be viewed here.
- More: Glenn Greenwald
Julian Assange Awarded Australian Peace Prize May 11, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: assange, australia, freedom of information, government secrecy, Media, peace, peace prize, roger hollander, sydney peace foundation, wikileaks
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WikiLeaks founder receives the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal for ‘championing people’s right to know’
Wikileaks’ Australian founder Julian Assange, who enraged Washington by publishing thousands of secret US diplomatic cables, has been given a peace award for “exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights”.
Julian Assange was presented with the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal at the Frontline Club in London. (Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters) Assange was awarded the Sydney Peace Foundation’s gold medal on Tuesday at the Frontline Club in London, only the fourth such award to be handed out in its 14-year history. The not-for-profit organisation is associated with the University of Sydney and supported by the City of Sydney.
Assange, who is fighting extradition from Britain to Sweden over alleged sex crimes, was praised for “challenging centuries-old practices of government secrecy and by championing people’s right to know”.
“We think the struggle for peace with justice inevitably involves conflict, inevitably involves controversy,” the foundation’s director, Professor Stuart Rees, said.
“We think that you and WikiLeaks have brought about what we think is a watershed in journalism and in freedom of information and potentially in politics.”
Rees criticised the Australian government, saying it must stop shoring up Washington’s efforts to “behave like a totalitarian state”, and said the foundation was “appalled by the violent behaviour by major politicians in the United States“.
WikiLeaks caused a media and diplomatic uproar late last year when it began to publish its cache of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables, revealing secrets such as that Saudi leaders had urged US military action against Iran. Some US politicians said WikiLeaks should be defined as an international terrorist organisation.
Assange himself claimed publication of the cables helped shape uprisings in north Africa and the Middle East and said WikiLeaks was on the side of justice.
Gates Invokes New Authority to Block Release of Detainee Abuse Photos November 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, abuse photos, aclu, Afghanistan War, bagram, civilian casualties, congress, detainee abuse, foia, freedom of information, geneva conventions, government transparency, Guantanamo, Iraq war, jason leopold, national security, nuremberg, Obama, Robert Gates, roger hollander, supreme court, torture, torture photos
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(Roger’s Note: here is just one more example of how Obama lied to the American people when he promised transparency in government and change from the policies of the Bush torture machine. He re-appoints Bush’s Defense Secretary and uses his majority in Congress to authorize Gates to bury torture evidence — all, of course, in the name of the sacred cow known as national security. Slowly what passes for the American left may be awakening to the fact that Obama is a fraud, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Much too slowly, however.)
Saturday 14 November 2009
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has blocked the release of photographs depicting US soldiers abusing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, invoking new powers just granted to him by Congress that allows him to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and keep the images under wraps on national security grounds.
In a brief filed with the US Supreme Court late Friday, Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, said Gates “personally exercised his certification authority” on Friday to withhold the photos and “determined that public disclosure of these photographs would endanger citizens of the United States, members of the United States Armed Forces, or employees of the United States Government deployed outside the United States.”
“Based on that determination, the Secretary has concluded that the photographs are ‘protected documents’” and are “exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA,” the government’s brief states.
In his certification included with the filing, Gates said his decision to withhold as many as 2,000 photos was based “upon the recommendations of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [Michael Mullen], the Commander of U.S. Central Command [David Petraeus], and the Commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq [Ray Odierno]…”
As first reported by truthout, the photographs at issue include one in which a female solider is pointing a broom at a detainee “as if [she were] sticking the end of a broomstick into [his] rectum.”
Other photos are said to show US soldiers pointing guns at the heads of hooded and bound detainees in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division investigated the matter and “three of the six investigations led to criminal charges and in two of those cases, the accused were found guilty and punished,” according to papers Kagan previously filed with the Supreme Court.
The ACLU filed a FOIA request in 2003 to gain access to photographs and videos related to the treatment of “war on terror” prisoners in US custody and sued the government a year later to enforce the FOIA filing. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the release of the photos in a June 2005 ruling that was affirmed by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in September 2008.
The Bush administration challenged the Second Circuit’s ruling, and in March the court denied that petition. In its earlier ruling, the appeals court also shot down the Bush administration’s attempt to radically expand FOIA exemptions for withholding the photos, stating that the Bush administration had attempted to use the FOIA exemptions as “an all-purpose damper on global controversy.”
The Obama administration indicated it would abide by the appeals court order and release at least 44 of the photographs in question, but, in May, after he was pilloried by Republicans, President Obama backtracked, saying he had conferred with high-ranking military officials who advised him that releasing the images would stoke anti-American sentiment and would endanger the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As Truthout previously reported, the Obama administration petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the case last summer. The petition raised similar arguments related to FOIA exemptions in this case as those made by the Bush administration and later rejected by the Second Circuit.
Justices were prepared to meet and decide whether to take the case, but the high court agreed last month to delay their decision at the request of Obama administration officials who wanted to wait and see if Congress would pass legislation authorizing the Defense Department to circumvent FOIA.
In other words, the Obama administration wanted Congress to pass a law that would effective quash the Second Circuit’s decision. And that’s exactly what lawmakers did last month when they passed the Homeland Security appropriations bill, signed into law by President Obama, which included a provision to amend FOIA. The provision gave Gates the power to withhold “protected documents” he believes would endanger the lives of US soldiers or government employees deployed outside of the country if publicly released.
The amendment was originally sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, (I-Connecticut), and Lindsey Graham, (R-South Carolina). Obama sent a letter to the lawmakers last summer stating that he would work closely with Congress to help pass the measure to keep the abuse photographs sealed, according to a footnote in the administration’s Supreme Court petition.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, (D-New York), who opposed the FOIA amendment, said in a floor statement in October as Congress was debating the provision, that the language, stripped from an earlier version of the bill, was quietly reinserted “apparently under direct orders from the [Obama] administration.”
According to the bill, the phrase “protected documents” refers to photographs taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009, and involves “the treatment of individuals engaged, captured or detained” in the so-called “war on terror.” Photographs that Gates determines would endanger troops and government employees could be withheld for three years.
The ACLU said Gates’ certification “is categorical with respect to all of the photos and fails to provide the individualized assessment that the amendment’s language requires and also fails to provide any basis for the claim that disclosure of the photos would harm national security.”
The group intends to file a response to the administration’s brief next week.
In an oped column published in the Los Angeles Times last month, Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said although the powers Congress granted Gates is meant to cover the abuse photos, it “could also cover, for example, video footage of aerial attacks that resulted in civilian casualties or photos showing the conditions of confinement at the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan.”
“The legislation establishes a regime of censorship that would extend to many images of the military’s activities abroad.” Jaffer wrote.
Obama’s decision to sign legislation into law that allows his administration to circumvent FOIA marks an about-face on the open-government policies that he proclaimed during his first days in office.
On January 21, Obama signed an executive order instructing all federal agencies and departments to “adopt a presumption in favor” of Freedom of Information Act requests, and promised to make the federal government more transparent.
“The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears,” Obama’s order said. “In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.”
Instead of withdrawing its petition now that legislation has been passed, the Obama administration on Friday asked the high court to vacate the Second Circuit’s ruling, and then “remand to allow the lower courts to address the effect of the new legislation on the litigation.”
“Given Congress’s enactment of intervening legislation resolving the present dispute by providing for withholding of the records at issue, the Court now has no occasion to address the proper construction of [FOIA] Exemption 7(F) as set forth in the government’s petition,” the government’s filing states. “The appropriate disposition, after these events, is for this Court to [pull the case up from the Second Circuit and take jurisdiction of the case and the issue], vacate the judgment of the court of appeals, and remand for further proceedings… in light of the intervening legislation” passed by Congress.
In its earlier Supreme Court petition, the Obama administration argued that FOIA Exemption 7(F) allows for the withholding of information if it threatens the lives of individuals.
The Second Circuit, however, disagreed. The court ruled that FOIA “mandates the public disclosure of such photographs – regardless of the risk to American lives – because FOIA Exemption 7(F) requires the government to ‘identify at least one individual with reasonable specificity’ and show that disclosure ‘could reasonably be expected to endanger that individual.’”
The government argued that the Second Circuit misinterpreted the law when it ruled that the government had to identify specific individuals who would be harmed by the disclosure of the photographs
The Obama administration maintained that the Second Circuit’s interpretation of Exemption 7(F), “is inconsistent with the text of Exemption 7(F), which broadly encompasses danger to ‘any individual,’ with no suggestion of the court’s extra-textual requirement of victim specificity. The history of drafting that exemption “underscores that conclusion. Congress did not mean for public disclosure of agency records to trump the life and physical safety of individuals – particularly in a case such as this, in which the government has already made public the underlying investigative reports revealing all relevant allegations of wrongdoing and the associated investigative conclusions.”
“The President and the United States military fully recognize that certain photographs at issue depict reprehensible conduct by American personnel and warranted disciplinary action,” the government’s petition states. “There are neither justifications nor excuses for such conduct by members of the military. But the fact remains that public disclosure of the photographs could reasonably be expected to endanger the lives and physical safety of individuals engaged in the Nation’s military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs therefore are exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA. Review by this Court is warranted to give effect to Exemption 7(F) and the protection it affords to the personnel whose lives and physical safety would be placed at risk by disclosure.”
Alex Abdo, a legal fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the Obama administration’s argument for continuing to suppress the photos “sets a dangerous precedent – that the government can conceal evidence of its own misconduct precisely because the evidence powerfully documents gross abuses of power and of detainees.
“This principal is fundamentally anti-democratic. The American public has a right to see the evidence of crimes committed in their name.”
Tags: 9/11, 9/11 families, al-Qaeda, doj, foi, freedom of information, George Bush, house of saud, islamic relief, justice department, obama administration, Osama bin laden, roger hollander, saudi arabia, saudi hijackers, saudi royal family, saudi terrorism, Taliban, world trade center
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The case has put the Obama administration in the middle of a political and legal dispute, with the Justice Department siding with the Saudis in court last month in seeking to kill further legal action. Adding to the intrigue, classified American intelligence documents related to Saudi finances were leaked anonymously to lawyers for the families. The Justice Department had the lawyers’ copies destroyed and now wants to prevent a judge from even looking at the material.
The Saudis and their defenders in Washington have long denied links to terrorists, and they have mounted an aggressive and, so far, successful campaign to beat back the allegations in federal court based on a claim of sovereign immunity.
Allegations of Saudi links to terrorism have been the subject of years of government investigations and furious debate. Critics have said that some members of the Saudi ruling class pay off terrorist groups in part to keep them from being more active in their own country.
But the thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents compiled by lawyers for the Sept. 11 families and their insurers represented an unusually detailed look at some of the evidence.
Internal Treasury Department documents obtained by the lawyers under the Freedom of Information Act, for instance, said that a prominent Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization, heavily supported by members of the Saudi royal family, showed “support for terrorist organizations” at least through 2006.
A self-described Qaeda operative in Bosnia said in an interview with lawyers in the lawsuit that another charity largely controlled by members of the royal family, the Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia, provided money and supplies to the terrorist group in the 1990s and hired militant operatives like himself.
Another witness in Afghanistan said in a sworn statement that in 1998 he had witnessed an emissary for a leading Saudi prince, Turki al-Faisal, hand a check for one billion Saudi riyals (now worth about $267 million) to a top Taliban leader.
And a confidential German intelligence report gave a line-by-line description of tens of millions of dollars in bank transfers, with dates and dollar amounts, made in the early 1990s by Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz and other members of the Saudi royal family to another charity that was suspected of financing militants’ activities in Pakistan and Bosnia.
The new documents, provided to The New York Times by the lawyers, are among several hundred thousand pages of investigative material obtained by the Sept. 11 families and their insurers as part of a long-running civil lawsuit seeking to hold Saudi Arabia and its royal family liable for financing Al Qaeda.
Only a fraction of the documents have been entered into the court record, and much of the new material is unknown even to the Saudi lawyers in the case.
The documents provide no smoking gun connecting the royal family to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. And the broader links rely at times on a circumstantial, connect-the-dots approach to tie together Saudi princes, Middle Eastern charities, suspicious transactions and terrorist groups.
Saudi lawyers and supporters say that the links are flimsy and exploit stereotypes about terrorism, and that the country is being sued because it has deep pockets and was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers.
“In looking at all the evidence the families brought together, I have not seen one iota of evidence that Saudi Arabia had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks,” Michael Kellogg, a Washington lawyer representing Prince Muhammad al-Faisal al-Saud in the lawsuit, said in an interview.
He and other defense lawyers said that rather than supporting Al Qaeda, the Saudis were sworn enemies of its leader, Osama bin Laden, who was exiled from Saudi Arabia, his native country, in 1996. “It’s an absolute tragedy what happened to them, and I understand their anger,” Mr. Kellogg said of the victims’ families. “They want to find those responsible, but I think they’ve been disserved by their lawyers by bringing claims without any merit against the wrong people.”
The Saudi Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Two federal judges and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled against the 7,630 people represented in the lawsuit, made up of survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks and family members of those killed, throwing out the lawsuit on the ground that the families cannot bring legal action in the United States against a sovereign nation and its leaders.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide this week whether to hear an appeal, but the families’ prospects dimmed last month when the Justice Department sided with the Saudis in their immunity claim and urged the court not to consider the appeal.
The Justice Department said a 1976 law on sovereign immunity protected the Saudis from liability and noted that “potentially significant foreign relations consequences” would arise if such suits were allowed to proceed.
“Cases like this put the U.S. government in an extremely difficult position when it has to make legal arguments, even when they are the better view of the law, that run counter to those of terrorist victims,” said John Bellinger, a former State Department lawyer who was involved in the Saudi litigation.
Senior Obama administration officials held a private meeting on Monday with 9/11 family members to speak about progress in cracking down on terrorist financing. Administration officials at the meeting largely sidestepped questions about the lawsuit, according to participants. But the official who helped lead the meeting, Stuart A. Levey, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has been outspoken in his criticism of wealthy Saudis, saying they have helped to finance terrorism.
Even if the 9/11 families were to get their trial in the lawsuit, they might have difficulty getting some of their new material into evidence. Some would most likely be challenged on grounds it was irrelevant or uncorroborated hearsay, or that it related to Saudis who were clearly covered by sovereign immunity.
And if the families were to clear those hurdles, two intriguing pieces of evidence in the Saudi puzzle might still remain off limits.
One is a 28-page, classified section of the 2003 joint Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. The secret section is believed to discuss intelligence on Saudi financial links to two hijackers, and the Saudis themselves urged at the time that it be made public. President George W. Bush declined to do so.
Kristen Breitweiser, an advocate for Sept. 11 families, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, said in an interview that during a White House meeting in February between President Obama and victims’ families, the president told her that he was willing to make the pages public.
But she said she had not heard from the White House since then.
The other evidence that may not be admissible consists of classified documents leaked to one of the law firms representing the families, Motley Rice of South Carolina, which is headed by Ronald Motley, a well-known trial lawyer who won lucrative lawsuits involving asbestos and tobacco.
Lawyers for the firm say someone anonymously slipped them 55 documents that contained classified government material relating to the Saudi lawsuit.
Though she declined to describe the records, Jodi Flowers, a lawyer for Motley Rice, said she was pushing to have them placed in the court file.
“We wouldn’t be fighting this hard, and we wouldn’t have turned the material over to the judge, if we didn’t think it was really important to the case,” she said.
Gonzales’s Advice to Bush on How to Avoid War Crimes June 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, acul, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, bush administration, Condoleezza Rice, defense department, detainee abuses, dod, doug feith, foa, freedom of information, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, jason leopold, mike dunlavey, richard myers, roger hollander, rumsfeld, sere, Taliban, torture, War Crimes, waterboarding, william haynes, wolfowitz
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17 June 2009by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report
On January 25, 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised George W. Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions because doing so would “substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act” and “provide a solid defense to any future prosecution.”
Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated February 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention. That memo, according to a recently released bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the door to “considering aggressive techniques,” which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior Bush officials.
”The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees,” says the committee’s December 11 report.
“While the President’s order stated that, as ‘a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,’ the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in US custody.”
The Supreme Court held in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that the prisoners were entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.
Many of the classified policy directives, such as Gonzales’s memo to Bush, are now part of the public record thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration, which has so far resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents that shows how Bush officials twisted the law in order to build a legal framework for torture.
These documents have been posted on the ACLU’s web site. But several hundred of the most explosive records were republished in the book “Administration of Torture” along with hard-hitting commentary by the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, who heads the group’s National Security Project, and Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the organization.
Rumsfeld Wanted a “Product”
On February 14, 2002, just one week after Bush signed the action memo, Maj. Gen. Mike Dunlavey was contacted by Rumsfeld, who asked him to attend a Defense Department meeting with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others on February 21 or 22. At the meeting, Rumsfeld told Dunlavey he wanted him to oversee interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility in Cuba. Prisoners captured by US military personnel had first arrived at Guantanamo a month earlier. Dunlavey was a family court judge in Erie County, Pennsylvania, when he got the call from Rumsfeld and was placed in charge of interrogations at Guantanamo.
Rumsfeld told Dunlavey, according to a witness statement he made on March 17, 2005, to US Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who was investigating FBI complaints about abuse at Guantanamo, that the Department of Defense had rounded up “a number of bad guys” and the secretary of defense “wanted a product and wanted intelligence now.”
Rumsfeld “wanted to set up interrogation operations and to identify the senior Taliban and senior operatives and to obtain information on what they were going to do regarding their operations and structure,” Dunlavey said, according to a copy of his witness statement. “Initially, I was told that I would answer to SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) and [US Southern Command]. The directions changed and I got my marching orders from the President of the United States. I was told by the SECDEF that he wanted me back in Washington, DC every week to brief him…. The mission was to get intelligence to prevent another 9/11.”
Dunlavey did not explain what he meant by “I got my marching orders from the president.” But his comments suggest that Bush may have played a much larger role in the interrogation of prisoners than he has let on. Moreover, Dunlavey’s witness statement indicates that harsh interrogations, such as waterboarding, may have taken place earlier than previously known and may have preceded an August 1, 2002, legal opinion issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorizing specific interrogation techniques to use against prisoners.
As early as December 2001, according to the documents obtained by the ACLU, high-ranking military officials began to implement an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare US soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime.
In June 2004, Gen. James Hill of Southern Command, the Defense Department’s command unit responsible for military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, held a press briefing and confirmed that interrogation techniques specifically authorized by Rumsfeld for use at Guantanamo were derived from the SERE school. In October 2002, Dunlavey wrote to Hill to seek authorization that interrogators be granted the authority to use methods that strayed from the Army Field Manual in order to extract information from prisoners.
Dunlavey, in making his case to Hill for authority to use more aggressive techniques, attached a copy of Bush’s then classified February 7, 2002, action memo along with an analysis that said, “since the detainees are not [Enemy Prisoners of War] the Geneva Conventions limitations that ordinarily would govern captured enemy personnel interrogations are not binding on US personnel.”
Hill sent Dunlavey’s request to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers discussed it with William Haynes II, the Defense Department’s general counsel, who briefed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith. The request ultimately ended up on Rumsfeld’s desk and he approved it, according to the documents.
”The documents establish that senior officials in Washington, including White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, constructed a legal framework that would permit the abuse and torture of prisoners,” the ACLU’s Jaffer and Singh wrote in “Administration of Torture.” “They establish that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, relying on this legal framework, expressly authorized the use of interrogation methods – including SERE methods – that went far beyond those endorsed by the Army Field Manual. They establish that Rumsfeld and Gen. Geoffrey Miller oversaw the implementation of the newly authorized interrogation methods and closely supervised the interrogation of prisoners thought to be especially valuable.”
In early December 2002, FBI officials who had participated in some interrogations at Guantanamo complained to Miller that the methods used against prisoners at Guantanamo were unlawful. But Miller was not receptive. That led FBI officials to conclude that senior Bush administration officials and Rumsfeld were making decisions about interrogations in particular.
A December 16, 2002, email written by an FBI official expressed frustration that the Defense Department refused to budge from its controversial interrogation methods.
”Looks like we are stuck in the mud with the interview approach of the military vs. law enforcement,” the email said.
In May 2004, Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he briefed Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone about his plan to “Gitmo-ize” the Abu Ghraib prison.
That month, an email written by a senior FBI agent in Iraq in 2004 specifically stated that President George W. Bush had signed an executive order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation, and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.
The FBI email, dated May 22, 2004, followed disclosures about abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and sought guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were obligated to report the US military’s harsh interrogation of inmates when that treatment violated FBI standards, but fit within the guidelines of a presidential executive order.
According to the email, Bush’s executive order authorized interrogators to use military dogs, “stress positions,” sleep “management,” loud music and “sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.” to extract information from detainees in Iraq.
The May 2004, FBI email stated that the FBI interrogation team in Iraq understood that despite revisions in the executive order that occurred after the furor over the Abu Ghraib abuses, the presidential sanctioning of harsh interrogation tactics had not been rescinded.
”I have been told that all interrogation techniques previously authorized by the Executive Order are still on the table but that certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted,” the author of the FBI email said.
”We have also instructed our personnel not to participate in interrogations by military personnel which might include techniques authorized by Executive Order but beyond the bounds of FBI practices.”
The White House had emphatically denied that any such presidential executive order existed, calling the unnamed FBI official who wrote the email “mistaken.” Prior to the May 22, 2004, email several others written by FBI agents that month were sent to Valerie Caproni, the FBI’s general counsel, about detainees being tortured before the unnamed agent sent Caproni the email citing Bush’s alleged executive order.
On July 9, 2004, the FBI’s Office of Inspections distributed an email asking its agents who were stationed at Guantanamo whether they had witnessed, “Aggressive treatment, interrogations or interview techniques … which were not consistent with FBI interview policy/guidelines.”
More than two-dozen agents responded that they observed numerous instances of detainee abuse. One FBI agent wrote that, despite Rumsfeld’s public statements to the contrary, the interrogation methods “were approved at high levels w/in DoD.” In addition to Rumsfeld, the FBI emails said Paul Wolfowitz, one Bush administration official who has largely escaped scrutiny in the torture debate, approved the methods at Guantanamo.
In 2006, Miller received a Distinguished Service Medal for “exceptionally meritorious service.” Dunlavey is an Erie County judge.
Jason Leopold is editor in chief of The Public Record, www.pubrecord.org.
Tags: aclu, democracy, detainee photographic records, evidence of war crimes, foia, freedom of information, glenn greenwald, Joe Lieberman, lindsey graham, Obama, obama secrecy, obama transparency, open government, roger hollander, torture, torture evidence, torture photographs, torture photos, torturers, War Crimes
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by Glenn Greenwald
It was one thing when President Obama reversed himself last month by announcing that he would appeal the Second Circuit’s ruling that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) compelled disclosure of various photographs of detainee abuse sought by the ACLU. Agree or disagree with Obama’s decision, at least the basic legal framework of transparency was being respected, since Obama’s actions amounted to nothing more than a request that the Supreme Court review whether the mandates of FOIA actually required disclosure in this case. But now — obviously anticipating that the Government is likely to lose in court again (.pdf) — Obama wants Congress to change FOIA by retroactively narrowing its disclosure requirements, prevent a legal ruling by the courts, and vest himself with brand new secrecy powers under the law which, just as a factual matter, not even George Bush sought for himself.
The White House is actively supporting a new bill jointly sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman — called The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009 — that literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.” As long as the Defense Secretary certifies — with no review possible — that disclosure would “endanger” American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure. The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely. The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.
Just imagine if any other country did this. Imagine if a foreign government were accused of systematically torturing and otherwise brutally abusing detainees in its custody for years, and there was ample photographic evidence proving the extent and brutality of the abuse. Further imagine that the country’s judiciary — applying decades-old transparency laws — ruled that the government was legally required to make that evidence public. But in response, that country’s President demanded that those transparency laws be retroactively changed for no reason other than to explicitly empower him to keep the photographic evidence suppressed, and a compliant Congress then immediately passed a new law empowering the President to suppress that evidence. What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people? Read the language of the bill; it doesn’t even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.
That this exact scenario is now happening in the U.S. is all the more remarkable given that the President who is demanding these new suppression powers is the same one who repeatedly vowed “to make his administration the most open and transparent in history.” After noting the tentative steps Obama has taken to increase transparency, the generally pro-Obama Washington Post Editorial Page today observed: “what makes the administration’s support for the photographic records act so regrettable” is that “Mr. Obama runs the risk of taking two steps back in his quest for more open government.”
What makes all of this even worse is that it is part of a broader trend whereby the Government simply retroactively changes the law whenever it decides it does not want to abide by it. For decades, we had laws in place authorizing citizens to sue their telecommunication carriers if the telecoms allowed government spying on their communications in violation of the law, but when it was revealed that the telecoms did exactly this, the Congress simply changed the law retroactively so that it no longer applied. For decades, we had laws imposing civil and criminal liability on government officials who engaged in or authorized torture, but when it was revealed that our government did that, the Congress just retroactively changed the law to protect the torturers. And now that courts have ruled that our decades-old transparency law compels disclosure of this torture evidence, the Congress is just going to retroactively change the law — again — this time to empower the President to suppress that evidence anyway.
Other than creating an illusion of transparency and accountability, what’s the point of having laws that purport to restrict what the Government can do if political officials just retroactively waive those laws whenever they want? What’s the point of having a FOIA law if the Government will simply pass a new law exempting itself from FOIA’s mandates any time it loses in court and wants to conceal evidence anyway? And what conceivable rationale is there for limiting the President’s new secrecy powers to post-9/11 photographs? Given that anything which reflects poorly on our Government can be said to endanger our troops and American citizens, why stop here? Why not just have a general power of suppression whereby the President can keep any evidence secret as long as his Defense Secretary decrees that its disclosure will ”endanger” the troops?
The debate over whether there is value in disclosing these specific photographs is entirely misplaced. That isn’t how open government works. The burden isn’t on citizens to prove that there is value in disclosure. Everything that government does is supposed to be transparent to the public unless there is a compelling reason for secrecy — and the whole point of FOIA always has been that mere embarrassment, the mere fact that information reflects poorly on our government, isn’t a legitimate ground for concealment. That’s a critical principle for open government. This new law explicitly guts that principle. It institutionalizes the pernicious notion that secrecy is justified where disclosure would reflect badly on the Government and thus “endanger” American citizens and/or our troops.
Combine all of this with the increasingly disturbing spectacle taking place in a California federal court in the Al-Haramain case — where the Obama DOJ is on the verge of being sanctioned by a federal judge for defying the court’s order to make available documents relating to Bush’s illegal eavesdropping activities — and the infatuation with excessive presidential secrecy, the linchpin of government abuse, appears alive and well in the new administration. Is there really anyone who wants to argue that defiance of a federal court’s order and enacting a new law authorizing suppression of torture evidence — the disclosure of which is compelled both by courts and FOIA — are remotely consistent with anything Obama said he would do, or remotely consistent with what a healthy democratic government would do?
© 2009 Salon.com
Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, amrit singh, bagram, detainees, foia, freedom of information, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, interrogations, Iraq, iraqi prisoners, jason leopold, nuremberg, Obama, prisoner abuse, roger hollander, rumsfeld, Taliban, torture, torture memos, torture photos, torture videos, War Crimes
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www.opednews.com, Friday, 15 May 2009 06:46
U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan took dozens of pictures of their colleagues pointing assault rifles and pistols at the heads and backs of hooded and bound detainees and another photograph showed two male soldiers and one female solider pointing a broom to one detainee “as if I was sticking the end of a broom stick into [his] rectum,” according to the female soldier’s account as told to an Army criminal investigator.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday he would not release these photographs, reversing a promise he made a month ago, fearing it would stoke anti-American sentiment and endanger U.S. troops.
I found the documents that describes the photographs on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU obtained the files, but not the photographs, in 2005 as part of the organization’s wide-ranging Freedom of information Act lawsuit against the federal government related to the Bush administration’s treatment of “war on terror” prisoners in U.S. custody.
About 31 digital photographs contained on a compact disc discovered in June 2004 during an office clean-up at Bagram Airfield also depicted the corpse of “local national” who died from “apparent gunshot wounds” and uniformed U.S. soldiers from the Second Platoon of the 22nd Infantry Battalion stationed at Fire Base Tycze and Dae Rah Wod (DRW) kicking and punching prisoners whose heads were covered with “sand bags” and blindfolds and hands were “zipped-tied,” according to a U.S. Army criminal investigation. The documents related to that investigation can be found in these five separate files: [part 1] [part 2] [part 3] [part 4] [part 5].
The soldiers said they intended to keep the prisoner abuse photographs as “mementos” to recall their deployment in Afghanistan, according to an Army criminal investigation.
The Pentagon banned the use of hoods following the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, where shocking photos were leaked of sexual and physical abuse in 2004. According to a report on prisoner abuse prepared for the Department of Defense by James Schlesinger, orders signed by Bush and Rumsfeld in 2002 and 2003 authorizing brutal interrogations “became policy” at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.
Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff attorney, confirmed that the photographs described in the documents were those that Obama has decided to withhold and that the ACLU has fought to gain access to the images for nearly six years.
The documents describing the photographs were part of separate reports prepared in May, August, and July 2004 by the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division into the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Another photograph that was set for release at the end of month that is now being withheld was taken in December 2003 and was found on a government computer. The image shows three soldiers at the St. Mere Forward Operating Base posing with three Iraqi detainees “zip-tied to bars in a stress position, fully clothed, with hoods over their heads.”
One female soldier in the photo is pointing a broom “as if I was sticking the end of a broom stick into the rectum of a restrained detainee,” she testified to Army investigators in April 2004.
On March 27, 2004, this soldier sent an e-mail to an undisclosed number of her colleagues. She discovered that the photograph she appeared in had been widely disseminated and that she was under investigation.
“You guys have a picture of me holding a broom near a detainee,” says her e-mail, under the subject line “VERY IMPORTANT!!!!!” “I don’t have a copy of this picture anywhere…but some Marine got a hold of it and now I’m being investigated for detainee abuse. I guess one of you share the photos with the Marines…but either way, they have a copy of that picture.
“Anyway, this email serves two purposes. First, I know that at least one more of you guys is in the picture, but I cannot remember who. If I’m being investigated…I’m sure that the other individuals in this picture will be investigated as well, so heads up! Secondly, can I please have a copy of this picture ASAP!!! I can’t stress how badly I need this picture so I can show people that it was just a posed shot, and that I wasn’t physically beating anyone with a broom
One of the recipients of the soldier’s e-mail replied the same day with a copy of the photograph and a note that said “I can’t see how they think this is anything but fun.”
The female soldier interviewed by Army criminal investigators testified that she did not remember why the Iraqi prisoners in the photograph were “flexicuffed to the bars…and have sandbags covering their heads,” but “detainees were put in that stress position either because the interrogators felt that the detainee could provide further intelligence, or because the detainee was a disciplinary problem.” She said the detainees weren’t placed in that position for the photograph but were “already there when we decided to take the picture.”
That investigation was initiated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which was headed by Donald Rumsfeld and found evidence that several soldiers “committed the offenses of conspiracy, failure to obey a general order, and cruelty and maltreatment when they posed for an inappropriate photograph with detainees.
The female solider who appeared in the photo testified, “The other interrogators and I did not have a lot of work to do for a couple of days. Myself and several other MPs… were fooling around in the prison, and SGT [redacted] took several photographs.”
The soldier said “everyone” was taking pictures and he was unaware of a “no picture” taking policy. “It was always an [military interrogator] call to zip-tie them and put them in certain positions.”
The Army investigative report into the photographs found on the compact disc is more than 500 pages and determined that eight soldiers, whose identities were redacted, “committed the offense of dereliction of duty, when as guards detailed to secure and protect detainees, they willfully failed to perform their duties with no reasonable or just excuse, by jokingly pointing weapons at the bound detainees, and exposed photographs of this unwarranted activity.”
Soldiers admitted that dozens of other photographs of prisoner abuse were destroyed after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke in May 2004. A separate Army criminal report prepared that month also found that a soldier “possessed a photograph of himself pointing what appears to be a pistol at an unidentified [prisoner], whose hands were tied and his head covered laying down.”
The soldiers interviewed said Special Forces out of Fort Bragg was in charge of operating the military facilities where the photographs were taken and had never provided soldiers with any written guidelines on how to handle detainees.
In addition, soldiers interviewed said Special Forces Psyops and military interrogation teams authorized them to “play loud music and keep detainees awake if the interrogators wanted them to.”
One soldier said they “kept the detainees awake by holding them up or by playing the loud music,” the report noted. The soldier said Special Forces instructed soldiers that prisoners who were “violent or had information” were “flex-cuffed on their hands, heads covered and not allowed to sleep.”
Sleep deprivation, which is what the soldier appears to be describing, would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions ban on cruel and inhumane treatment and underscores how the Bush administration’s interrogation policies trickled down to low-level soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One solider admitted during a July 2004 interview with an Army investigator that he took “bad photographs” before “the incident in Iraq,” which is likely a reference to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The soldier characterized the “bad photographs” as those in which the “public would be outraged” if it was released. He went on to state “that he was standing behind a prisoner with a weapon holding it at their head” in one of the two photographs he appeared in.
The corpse of the dead Afghanistan national was photographed sometime in January 2004 after he was shot to death by U.S. soldiers who believed he was responsible for a rocket-propelled grenade attack on Fire Base Tycze that seriously wounded three U.S. Soldiers. However, an investigation into the incident was never conducted.
Most of the soldiers interviewed in all of the incidents stated that they were not aware of any set policy on the treatment of detainees, and did not realize at the time that their actions were wrong nor did they believe it was inappropriate. A sergeant stated that he had also seen pictures on Army computers of detainees being kicked, hit or inhumanely treated while in U.S. custody.
Another soldier said he had “seen a few pictures of this nature before but thought nothing of it since these people are the ones that are trying to kill us.”
On Wednesday, Obama told reporters that the photographs “are not particularly sensational.”
Obama said that his decision to withhold the photographs stemmed from his personal review of the photos and his concern that their release would endanger American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But pressure from Bush administration holdovers, the media and two senators also played a role.
Obama’s reversal marks a renewal of U.S. hypocrisy regarding the abuse of detainees and the hiding of evidence about such crimes.
For instance, last September in upholding a lower court ruling ordering the release of the photos, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit noted that past U.S. administrations had championed the release of photos that showed prisoners of war being abused and tortured.
Notably, after World War II, the U.S. government publicized photos of prisoners in Japanese and German prisons and concentration camps, which the court noted, “showed emaciated prisoners, subjugated detainees, and even corpses. But the United States championed the use of the photos as a means of holding the perpetrators accountable.”
The Bush administration’s legal arguments were rife with other examples of hypocrisy, including an argument that release of the photos – even with the personal characteristics of detainees obscured – would violate their privacy rights under the Geneva Conventions.
The irony was that the Bush administration – with the help of legal opinions drafted by Justice Department lawyers – had maintained that detainees from the war in Afghanistan and the larger “war on terror” were not entitled to prisoner of war protections under the Geneva Conventions.
Indeed, an action memo signed by President Bush on Feb. 7, 2002, opened the door to abusive treatment by declaring that the Third Geneva Convention, which sets standards for treatment of prisoners from armed conflicts, did not apply to the conflict with al-Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to the convention’s legal protections.
The ACLU argued that the Bush administration’s legal strategy was “surprising because there would be no photos of abuse to request had the government cared this much about the Geneva Conventions before the abuses occurred and the photos were taken.”
In disputing the administration’s selective application of these international standards, the ACLU noted “the Geneva Conventions were designed to prevent the abuse of prisoners, not to derail efforts to hold the government accountable for those abuses.”
Federal courts agreed with the ACLU’s arguments. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the Bush administration’s position legally flawed and added that releasing “the photographs is likely to further the purposes of the Geneva Conventions by deterring future abuse of prisoners.”
The appeals court also shot down the Bush administration’s attempt to radically expand Freedom of Information Act exemptions for withholding the photos, stating that the Bush administration had attempted to use the FOIA exemptions as “an all-purpose damper on global controversy.”
The Obama administration has until June 9 either to reargue the case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York or to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the matter.
Copyright © 2008 The Public Record. All rights reserved.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, amrit singh, anti-American sentiment, bagram, beltway, Bill Kristol, binyam mohamed, bush crimes, cia interrogation, doj, foia, freedom of information, geneva conventions, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, International law, justice department, max boot, michael goldfarb, national security, nuremburg, obama administration, obama cover-up, obama coverup, olc torture memos, rendition, roger hollander, torture, torture memos, torture photos, torture techniques, torture videos, un convention, War Crimes, warrantless wiretapping, waterboarding
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It’s difficult to react much to Obama’s complete reversal today of his own prior decision to release photographs depicting extreme detainee abuse by the United States. He’s left no doubt that this is what he does: ever since he was inaugurated, Obama has taken one extreme step after the next to keep concealed both the details and the evidence of Bush’s crimes, including rendition, torture and warrantless eavesdropping. The ACLU’s Amrit Singh — who litigated the thus-far-successful FOIA lawsuit to compel disclosure of these photographs — is exactly right:
The reversal is another indication of a continuance of the Bush administration policies under the Obama administration. President Obama’s promise of accountability is meaningless, this is inconsistent with his promise of transparency, it violates the government’s commitment to the court. People need to examine these abusive photographs, but also the government officials need to be held accountable.
Andrew Sullivan, one of Obama’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, wrote of today’s photograph-concealment decision and yesterday’s story of Obama’s pressuring Britain to conceal evidence of Binyam Mohamed’s torture:
Slowly but surely, Obama is owning the cover-up of his predecessors’ war crimes. But covering up war crimes, refusing to prosecute them, promoting those associated with them, and suppressing evidence of them are themselves violations of Geneva and the UN Convention. So Cheney begins to successfully coopt his successor. . .
From extending and deepening the war in Afghanistan, to suppressing evidence of rampant and widespread abuse and torture of prisoners under Bush, to thuggishly threatening the British with intelligence cut-off if they reveal the brutal torture inflicted on Binyam Mohamed, Obama now has new cheer-leaders: Bill Kristol, Michael Goldfarb and Max Boot. . . .
Those of us who held out hope that the Obama administration would not be actively covering up the brutal torture of a Gitmo prisoner who was subject to abuse in several countries must now concede the obvious. They’re covering it up – in such a crude and obvious fashion that it is actually a crime in Britain.
John Aravosis said Obama’s logic was “a bit Bushian.” Steve Hynd observes that “Obama Trades Our Principles For Cheneyism.” TPM decalres: ”Obama falls back on Bushisms.” Dan Froomkin writes: ”Obama Joins the Cover-Up.” I’ll just note a few points for now about Obama’s efforts to keep these photographs concealed:
(1) Think about what Obama’s rationale would justify. Obama’s claim — that release of the photographs “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger” — means we should conceal or even outright lie about all the bad things we do that might reflect poorly on us. For instance, if an Obama bombing raid slaughters civilians in Afghanistan (as has happened several times already), then, by this reasoning, we ought to lie about what happened and conceal the evidence depicting what was done — as the Bush administration did — because release of such evidence would “would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.” Indeed, evidence of our killing civilians in Afghanistan inflames anti-American sentiment far more than these photographs would. Isn’t it better to hide the evidence showing the bad things we do?
Apparently, the proper reaction to heinous acts by our political leaders is not to hold them accountable but, instead, to hide evidence of what they did. That’s the warped mentality Obama is endorsing today, and has been endorsing since January 20.
(2) How can anyone who supports what Obama is doing here complain about the CIA’s destruction of their torture videos? The torture videos, like the torture photos, would, if released, generate anti-American sentiment and make us look bad. By Obama’s reasoning, didn’t the CIA do exactly the right thing by destroying them?
(3) This is just another manifestation of the generalized Beltway religion that we should suppress and ignore the heinous acts our government committed and to which we acquiesced, because if we just agree to forget about all of it, then we can blissfully pretend that it never happened and avoid doing anything about it.
(4) Obama’s claim that he has to hide this evidence to protect our soldiers is the sort of crass, self-serving exploitation of “The Troops” which was the rancid hallmark of Bush/Cheney rhetoric. Everyone knows what the real effect of these photographs would be: they would highlight just how brutal and criminal was our treatment of detainees in our custody, and further underscore how amoral and lawless are Obama’s calls that we Look To the Future, Not the Past. Manifestly, that is why they’re being suppressed.
(5) For all of you defend-Obama-at-all-cost cheerleaders who are about to descend into my comment section and other online venues to explain how Obama did the right thing because of National Security, I have this question: if you actually want to argue that concealing these photographs is the right thing to do, then you must have been criticizing Obama when, two weeks ago, he announced that he would release them. Otherwise, it’s pretty clear that you don’t have any actual beliefs other than: ”I support what Obama does because it’s Obama who does it.” So for those arguing today that concealing these photographs is the right thing to do: were you criticizing Obama two weeks ago for announcing he would release these photographs?
Also, the OLC torture memos released several weeks ago surely increased anti-American sentiment. Indeed, those on the Right who objected to the release of those memos cited exactly that argument. How can anyone cheer on Obama’s decision today to conceal these photographs while also cheering on his decision to release the OLC memos? Those who have any intellectual coherence would have to oppose both or support both. Those two decisions only have one fact in common: Obama made them. Thus, the only way to cheer on both decisions is to be guided by the modified Nixonian mantra: what Obama does is right because Obama does it.
Also, during the Bush years, were you — along with Bill Kristol and National Review — attacking the ACLU and Congressional Democrats for demanding that the Bush administration stop concealing evidence of its torture, on the ground that disclosure of such evidence would harm America’s national security? Were you defending Bush then for doing what Obama is doing now?
(6) If these photographs don’t shed any new light on what our Government did — if all they do is replicate what we already know from the Abu Ghraib photographs — then how can it possibly be the case that they will do any damage? To argue that they will harm how we are perceived is, necessarily, to acknowledge that they reveal new information that is not already widely known.
(7) We are supposed to have what is called Open Government in the United States. The actions of our government — and the evidence documenting it — is presumptively available to the public. Only an authoritarian would argue that evidence of government actions should be kept secret in the absence of a compelling reason to release it.
The presumption is the opposite: documents in the government’s possession relating to what it does is presumptively public in the absence of compelling reasons to keep it concealed. That the documents reflect poorly on the government is not such a reason to keep them concealed. If it were, then it would always be preferable to have political leaders cover-up their crimes on the ground that disclosing them would reflect poorly on the U.S. and spur anti-American sentiment. Open government is necessary precisely because only transparency deters political leaders from doing heinous acts in the first place.
UPDATE: Here (.pdf) is the letter the DOJ sent to the court this afternoon, advising the judge that they changed their minds “at the highest levels of Government” and would not, as previously promised, release the photographs, but instead would attempt to appeal the Second Circuit’s decision compelling their release to the Roberts Supreme Court.
UPDATE II: In comments, Paul Daniel Ash addresses the Obama supporters who are defending Obama’s decision to keep these photographs concealed on the ground that “no good would come” from disclosure:
I’m pretty jaded, but even I’m outraged and saddened by the number of voices being raised in this comment thread supporting the decision to conceal these photos.
“No good will come?” Would we even have had an Abu Ghraib scandal without the pictures of bloody prisoners and men cowering in front of dogs? “No good?” Is there or is there not an active debate in this country about whether or not torture is acceptable? “No good?” Did a United States Senator not say just today, in the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, that torture techniques have been used for the past five centuries because “apparently they work?”
“No good will come?”
Indeed, it’s pretty hard to believe that the people who are arguing that “no good will come” from release of these photos either (a) lived through the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos and/or (b) are living through the “torture debate” we are now having.
Photographs convey the reality of things in a way that mere words cannot. They prevent people who want to deny what was done the ability to do so. They force citizens to face what their country did and what they are now justifying and advocating. They impede the ability of political leaders to use euphemisms to obscure the truth. They show in graphic detail what the effects are of sanctioning torture policies. They prove that this was about more than ”dunking three terrorists into water.” They highlight the fact that no decent person believes that this should all just be forgotten and its victims told that they have no right to have accountability. That’s precisely why the photographs are being suppressed: because of how much good they would do.
CIA Refuses to Turn Over Torture Tape Documents May 13, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Ghraib, Abu Zubaydah, aclu, american civil liberties union, amrit singh, bagram, bush administration, cia, cia videotapes, Criminal Justice, destroyed cia tapes, detainees, doj, enhanced interrogation techniques, foia, freedom of information, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, International law, interrogation, interrogation videotapes, jason leopold, john durham, justice department, kyle foggo, nuremburg, roger hollander, special prosecutor, torture, torture memos, torture methods, torture videotapes, waterboarding
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(Roger’s note: no, that is not a typo finding the words “integrity” and “CIA” in the same sentence. If it weren’t so tragic it would be funny. And, by the way, John Durham was appointed in January of 2008 to lead a criminal probe into the destruction of the CIA torture, aka interrogation tapes. One wonders what is taking so long.)
Wednesday 13 May 2009, www.truthout.org
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report
The CIA claims the integrity of a special prosecutor’s criminal investigation into the destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes will be compromised if the agency is forced to turn over detailed documents to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) describing the contents of the tapes, according to newly released court documents.
In a May 5 letter to US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein, Lev Dassin, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the Justice Department recently had discussions with prosecutors working on the criminal investigation into the destruction of the interrogation tapes and was informed that “the production of documents … would conflict and substantially interfere with the [criminal] investigation” into the destruction of the interrogation tapes.
”As the court is aware, the scope of the tapes investigation includes the review of whether any person obstructed justice, knowingly made materially false statements, or acted in contempt of court or Congress in connection with the destruction of videotapes,” Dassin’s letter says. “The Government thus respectfully requests that [a previous court order demanding the CIA turn over detailed descriptions of the contents of the destroyed tapes] be withdrawn or otherwise stayed until the tapes investigation has been completed.”
Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff attorney, said the move is “a classic CIA delay tactic.”
In court papers, she said the government is using the criminal investigation “as a pretext for indefinitely postponing” its obligation to produce documents related to the destruction of the videotapes.
”The Government makes no mention of an expected timeline for completion of [Special Prosecutor John] Durham['s] investigation,” the ACLU said in court papers. “Nor has Mr. Durham provided a declaration in support of the Government’s position.”
Hellerstein seemed to agree. He pointed out in a two-page order that Durham had not stepped forward to state that his probe would be hindered if documents related to the destruction of the tapes were turned over to the ACLU.
In fact, in a March court filing, Dassin noted that a stay of the contempt motion filed by the ACLU seeking release of the tapes was allowed to expire on February 28 without a request for a continuation – signaling that Durham’s investigation was complete. In January, Durham had indicated in a court filing that he expected to wrap up his probe by the end of February.
Last month, however, Durham questioned the CIA’s former number three official, Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, about the destruction of the tapes. Foggo, who was sentenced to three years in prison for fraud for steering lucrative contracts to a friend, was due to report to federal prison, but Durham asked for a delay so he could question him about the tape destruction.
In December 2007, the ACLU filed a motion to hold the CIA in contempt for its destruction of the tapes in violation of a court order requiring the agency to produce or identify all records requested by the ACLU related to the CIA’s interrogation of “war on terror” detainees.
Hellerstein ordered the Justice Department, on behalf of the CIA, to file legal briefs by May 27 justifying the reasons for withholding the documents. He added that those papers should include affidavits, including a declaration from the special prosecutor investigating the tape destruction
Those documents “may include also any reasons why the identity of persons involved in the destruction should not be disclosed,” Hellerstein wrote in a two-page order.
Several weeks ago, Dassin revealed in another court filing that the CIA has about 3,000 documents related to the 92 destroyed videotapes, suggesting an extensive back-and-forth between CIA field operatives and officials of the Bush administration. The Justice Department said the documents include “cables, memoranda, notes and e-mails” related to the destroyed CIA videotapes.
In last week’s court filing, Dassin said, “those 3,000 records included ‘contemporaneous records,’ which were created at the time of the interrogation or at the time the videotapes were viewed, ‘intelligence record,’ which do not describe the interrogations but contain raw intelligence collected from the interrogations, ‘derivative records,’ which summarize information contained within the contemporaneous records, and documents related to the location of the interrogations, that upon further review by the CIA, were determined not to relate to the interrogations or to the destroyed videotapes.”
The ACLU and the government have jointly proposed that the government describe the contents of the “contemporaneous” and “derivative” records, but not the intelligence records or the “other records that ultimately proved to be unrelated to the interrogations or the videotapes.”
Dassin said the Justice Department intends to turn over additional indexes next month, and on May 18 will produce a list of “all contemporaneous records and all derivative records” related to the destruction of the interrogation tapes, but he added that quite a bit of information will be withheld.
In previous court filings, Dassin acknowledged that 12 videotapes, showed Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, being subjected to waterboarding and other harsh methods. The 80 other videotapes purportedly show Zubaydah and al-Nashiri in their prison cells. Some of the videotapes predated the Justice Department’s August 1, 2002, legal memo authorizing CIA interrogators to use ten torturous methods against “high-value” detainees.
But it’s unknown whether the interrogation tapes that predate the August 1, 2002, “torture” depict “enhanced interrogation” techniques not yet approved by the Justice Department.
Last week, the CIA turned over to the ACLU documents that showed CIA interrogators at a secret “black site” prison provided top agency officials in Langley with daily “torture” updates of Abu Zubaydah, the alleged “high-level” terrorist detainee, who was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.
The documents included two sets of indexes (Part I) (Part II), totaling 52 pages that contained general descriptions of cables sent back to CIA headquarters describing the August 2002, videotaped interrogation sessions of Zubaydah. Those cable transmissions included a description of the techniques interrogators had used and the intelligence, if any, culled from those sessions.
The CIA and the Justice Department declined to turn over a more detailed description of the cables its field agents sent back to headquarters, citing several exemptions under the Freedom of Information Act.
In a two-page letter accompanying the indexes, CIA Associate General Counsel John McPherson wrote that a “senior government official” would submit a declaration on May 22 “that more fully explains the justifications for withholding a more detailed description of the cables.”
Jason Leopold is editor in chief of The Public Record, www.pubrecord.org.