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Accountability for Bush’s Torture November 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: the United States government has a long history of disgraceful behavior, and the Bush/Cheney torture regime is one of the most heinous.  We need to be constantly reminded, and we need to acknowledge that the Obama government’s disregard of its constitutional obligation to prosecute constitutes legal and moral complicity.

By (about the author)
OpEdNews Op Eds 11/29/2012 at 20:45:34

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In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal,    a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked . It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.

Ten years and four months since it was first issued, that memo — one of two issued on the same day that will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).

Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of them should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under U.S. domestic law and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

However, the architects of the torture program didn’t care, and still don’t care, because for them the disgraceful memos written by Yoo were designed to be a “golden shield,” a guarantee that, whatever they did, they were covered, because they had legal advice telling them that torture was not torture.

Barack Obama came into office promising to ban the use of torture. His administration released the second Yoo and Bybee “torture memo” and three later “torture memos” from 2005 as part of a court case in April 2009. That, however, was the end of the Obama administration’s flirtation with accountability. In court, every avenue that lawyers have tried to open up has been aggressively shut down by the government, citing the “state secrets doctrine,” another “golden shield” for torturers, which prohibits the discussion of anything the government doesn’t want discussed, for spurious reasons of national security.

The only other opportunity to stop the rot came three years ago, when an internal DoJ ethics investigation concluded, after several years of diligent work, that Yoo and Bybee were guilty of “professional misconduct” when they wrote and signed the memos. That could have led to their being disbarred, which would have been inconvenient for a law professor at UC Berkeley (Yoo) and a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Bybee). It also might well have set off ripples that would have led to Bush and Cheney and their lawyers.

However, at the last minute a long-time DoJ fixer, David Margolis, was allowed to override the report’s conclusions, claiming that both men were guilty only of “poor judgment,” which, he alleged, was understandable in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and which carried no sanctions whatsoever.

Thwarted in the United States, those seeking accountability have had to seek it elsewhere: in Spain; in Poland, where one of the CIA’s “black sites” was located; and in Italy, where 23 Americans — 22 CIA agents and an Air Force colonel — were convicted in November 2009, in a ruling that was upheld on appeal in September this year, of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric, Abu Omar, and rendering him to Egypt, where he was tortured.

The United States has refused to extradite any of the men and women convicted in Italy, but the ruling is a reminder that not everyone around the world believes in Yoo’s and Bybee’s “golden shield.”

Moreover, although senior Bush administration officials — Bush and Cheney themselves and Donald Rumsfeld — have so far evaded accountability, their ability to travel the world freely has been hampered by their actions. In February 2011, for example, Bush called off a visit to Switzerland when he was notified that lawyers — at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights — had prepared a massive torture indictment that was to be presented to the Swiss government the moment he landed in the country.

The former president was told that foreign countries might take their responsibilities under the UN Convention Against Torture more seriously than America has and arrest him on the basis that his home country had failed to act on the clear evidence that he had authorized torture, which he had actually boasted about in his memoir, Decision Points, published in November 2010.

Most recently, lawyers seeking accountability have tried pursuing Bush in Canada. Last September, prior to a visit by the former president, CCR and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) submitted a 69-page draft indictment to Attorney General Robert Nicholson, along with more than 4,000 pages of supporting material setting forth the case against Bush for torture.

When that was turned down, the lawyers launched a private prosecution in Provincial Court in Surrey, British Columbia, on behalf of four Guantanamo prisoners — Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani, and Murat Kurnaz (all released, with the exception of bin Attash) — on the day of Bush’s arrival in Canada.

That avenue also led nowhere because the attorney general of British Columbia swiftly intervened to shut down the prosecution. Undeterred, however, CCR and CCIJ last week tried a new approach on behalf of those four men who, as Katherine Gallagher of CCR explained in the Guardian, “are all survivors of the systematic torture program the Bush administration authorized and carried out in locations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo, and numerous prisons and CIA “black sites’ around the world.”

“Between them,” she added, “they have been beaten; hung from walls or ceilings; deprived of sleep, food, and water; and subjected to freezing temperatures and other forms of torture and abuse while held in U.S. custody.”

The new approach taken by the lawyers was to file a complaint with the UN Committee Against Torture, in which the four men “are asking one question: how can the man responsible for ordering these heinous crimes openly enter a country that has pledged to prosecute all torturers regardless of their position and not face legal action?”

As Gallagher explained, “Canada should have investigated these crimes. The responsibility to do so is embedded in its domestic criminal code that explicitly authorizes the government to prosecute torture occurring outside Canadian borders. There is no reason it cannot apply to former heads of state, and indeed, the convention has been found to apply to such figures including Hissène Habré [the former president of Chad] and Augusto Pinochet.”

That is true, and it will be interesting to see how the UN Committee Against Torture responds. Probably the “golden shield” will not need to be invoked once more by the United States, as the Canadian government evidently has no wish to annoy its neighbor. Moreover, it has its own appalling track record when it comes to preserving human rights in the “war on terror,” as the cases of Omar Khadr in Guantanamo, and Mahar Arar and others who were tortured in Syria demonstrate. However, the submission is to be commended for reminding people that great crimes — committed by the most senior U.S. officials and their lawyers — still remain unpunished, and that that is a situation that ought to be considered a major disgrace rather than something to be brushed aside.

Guantánamo Prisoners Stage Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike on 10th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison January 10, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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10.1.12

Today, prisoners at Guantánamo will embark on a peaceful protest, involving sit-ins and hunger strikes, to protest about their continued detention, and the continued existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, three years after President Obama came to office promising to close it within a year, and to show their appreciation of the protests being mounted on their behalf  by US citizens, who are gathering in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to stage a rally and march to urge the President to fulfill his broken promise.

Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, and one of the attorneys for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, said that his client, who is held in isolation in Camp 5, told him on his last visit that the prisoners would embark on a peaceful protest and hunger strike for three days, from Jan. 10 to 12, to protest about the President’s failure to close Guantánamo as promised.

He explained that the men intended to inform the Officer in Charge ahead of the protest, to let the authorities know why there would be protests, and added that the prisoners were encouraged by the “expression of solidarity” from US citizens planning protests on Jan. 11, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.

Kassem also said that another of his clients, in Camp 6, where most of the prisoners are held, and where, unlike Camp 5, they are allowed to socialize, stated that prisoners throughout the blocks were “extremely encouraged” by reports of the protests in Washington D.C.

The prisoner, who does not wish to be identified, also said that banners and signs had been prepared, and that there would be peaceful sit-ins in the communal areas. He added that the prisoners were concerned to let the outside world know that they still reject the injustice of their imprisonment, and feel that it is particularly important to let everyone know this, when the US government, under President Obama, is trying to persuade the world that “everything is OK” at Guantánamo, and that the prison is a humane, state of the art facility.

He also explained that the prisoners invited the press to come to Guantánamo and to request interviews with the prisoners, to hear about “the toll of a decade” of detention without charge or trial, and said that they “would like nothing more” than to have an independent civilian and medical delegation, accompanied by the press, be allowed to come and talk to the 171 men still held.

In Camp 5, Shaker Aamer and the other men still held there will not be able to stage a sit-in, as they are unable to leave their cells, but they will participate in the protests by refusing meals.

No one knows how the authorities will respond to the protests, especially as the new commander of Guantánamo, Navy Rear Adm. David Woods, has gained a reputation for punishing even the most minor infractions of the rules with solitary confinement.

According to Kassem, prisoners have complained that the new regime harks back to the worst days of Guantánamo, between 2002 and 2004, when punishments for non-cooperation were widespread.

Of the 171 men still held at Guantánamo, 89 were “approved for transfer” out of Guantánamo by a Task Force of career officials and lawyers from the various government departments and the intelligence agencies, and yet they remain held because of Congressional opposition and President Obama’s unwillingness to tackle his critics. 36 others were recommended for trials, and 46 others were designated for indefinite detention without charge pr trial, on the basis that they are too dangerous to release, but that there is insufficient evidence against them to put them on trial.

That is a disgraceful position for the government to take, as indefinite detention on the basis of information that cannot be used as evidence indicates that the information is either tainted by torture, or is unreliable hearsay. It remains unacceptable that President Obama approved the indefinite detention of these men in an executive order last March, even though he also promised that their cases would be subject to periodic review.

Just as disgraceful, however, is the fact that all of the 171 prisoners still at Guantánamo face indefinite detention, as none of them can leave the prison given the current restrictions. That ought to trouble anyone who cares about justice and fairness, and the protests by the prisoners, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, ought to convey, more eloquently than any other method, why the pressure to close the prison must be maintained.

Note: For further information, to sign up to  a new movement to close G, and to sign a new White House petition on the “We the People” website calling for the closure of Guantánamo, visit the new website, “Close Guantánamo.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Welcome to Boston, Mr. Rumsfeld. You Are Under Arrest. September 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
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http://www.opednews.com/articles/1/Welcome-to-Boston-Mr-Rum-by-Ralph-Lopez-110920-706.html

September 23, 2011

By Ralph Lopez

(about the author)
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been stripped of legal immunityfor acts of torture against US citizens authorized while he was in office.   The 7th Circuit made the ruling in the case of two American contractors who were tortured by the US military in Iraq after uncovering a smuggling ring within an Iraqi security company.  The company was under contract to the Department of Defense.   The company was assisting Iraqi insurgent groups in the “mass acquisition” of American weapons.  The ruling comes as Rumsfeld begins his book tour with a visit to Boston on Monday, September 26, and as new, uncensored photos of Abu Ghraib spark fresh outrage across Internet.  Awareness is growing that Bush-era crimes went far beyond mere waterboarding.

Torture Room, Abu Ghraib

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters in 2004of photos withheld by the Defense Department from Abu Ghraib, “The American public needs to understand, we’re talking about rape and murder here…We’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience. We’re talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges.”  And journalist Seymour Hersh says: “boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has.”

Rumsfeld resigned days before a criminal complaintwas filed in Germany in which the American general who commanded the military police battalion at Abu Ghraib had promised to testify.  General Janis Karpinski in an interview with Salon.comwas asked: “Do you feel like Rumsfeld is at the heart of all of this and should be held completely accountable for what happened [at Abu Ghraib]?”

Karpinski answered: “Yes, absolutely.”  In the criminal complaint filed in Germany against Rumsfeld, Karpinski submitted 17 pages of testimonyand offered to appear before the German prosecutor as a witness.  Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida, who participated in the hearings on Abu Ghraib, said of Rumsfeld: “There was no way Rumsfeld didn’t know what was going on. He’s a guy who wants to know everything.”

And Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the official Army investigation into Abu Ghraib, said in his report:

“there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

Abu Ghraib Prisoner Smeared with Feces

In a puzzling and incriminating move, Camp Cropper base commander General John Gardner ordered Nathan Ertel released on May 17, 2006, while keeping Donald Vance in detention for another two months of torture.  By ordering the release of one man but not the other, Gardner revealed awareness of the situation but prolonged it at the same time.

It is unlikely that Gardner could act alone in a situation as sensitive as the illegal detention and torture of two Americans confirmed by the FBI to be working undercover in the national interest, to prevent American weapons and munitions from reaching the hands of insurgents, for the sole purpose of using them to kill American troops.  Vance and Ertel suggest he was acting on orders from the highest political level.

The forms of torture employed against the Americans included “techniques” which crop up frequently in descriptions of Iraqi and Afghan prisoner abuse at Bagram, Guantanamo, and Abu Ghraib.  They included “walling,” where the head is slammed repeatedly into a concrete wall, sleep deprivation to the point of psychosis by use of round-the-clock bright lights and harsh music at ear-splitting volume, in total isolation, for days, weeks or months at a time, and intolerable cold.

The 7th Circuit ruling is the latest in a growing number of legal actions involving hundreds of former prisoners and torture victims filed in courts around the world.  Criminal complaints have been filed against Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials in Germany, France, and Spain.  Former President Bush recently curbed travel to Switzerlanddue to fear of arrest following criminal complaints lodged in Geneva.  “He’s avoiding the handcuffs,” Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.  And this month Canadian citizens forced Bush to cancel an invitation-only appearance in Toronto.

And the Mayor of London threatened Bush with arrest for war crimes earlier this year should he ever set foot in his city, saying that were heto land in London to “flog his memoirs,” that “the real trouble — from the Bush point of view — is that he might never see Texas again.”

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief-of-Staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson surmised on MSNBCearlier this year that soon, Saudi Arabia and Israel will be “the only two countries Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest will travel too.”

Abu Ghraib: Dog Bites

What would seem to make Rumsfeld’s situation more precarious is the number of credible former officials and military officers who seem to be eager to testify against him, such as Col. Wilkerson and General Janis Karpinsky.

In a signed declaration in support of torture plaintiffs in a civil suit naming Rumsfeld in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Col. Wilkerson, one of Rumsfeld’s most vociferous critics,  stated:“I am willing to testify in person regarding the  content of this declaration, should that be necessary.”  That declaration, among other things, affirmed that a documentary on the chilling murder of a 22-year-old Afghan farmer and taxi driver in Afghanistan was “accurate.”  Wilkerson said earlier this yearthat in that case, and in the case of another murder at Bagram at about the same time, “authorization for the abuse went to the very top of the United States government.”

Dilawar

The young farmer’s name was Dilawar.  The New York Times reported on May 20, 2005:

“Four days before [his death,] on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr, Mr. Dilawar set out from his tiny village of Yakubi in a prized new possession, a used Toyota sedan that his family bought for him a few weeks earlier to drive as a taxi.
On the day that he disappeared, Mr. Dilawar’s mother had asked him to gather his three sisters from their nearby villages and bring them home for the holiday. However, he needed gas money and decided instead to drive to the provincial capital, Khost, about 45 minutes away, to look for fares.”

Dilawar’s misfortune was to drive past the gate of an American base which had been hit by a rocket attack that morning.  Dilawar and his fares were arrested at a checkpoint by a warlord, who was later suspected of mounting the rocket attack himself, and then turning over randam captures like Dilawar in order to win trust.

The UK Guardian reports:

“Guards at Bagram routinely kneed prisoners in their thighs — a blow called a “peroneal strike”…Whenever a guard did this to Dilawar, he would cry out, “Allah! Allah!” Some guards apparently found this amusing, and would strike him repeatedly to show off the behavior to buddies.
One military policeman told investigators, “Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny. … It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes.””

The New York Times reported that on the last day of his life, four days after he was arrested:

“Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar’s face.
“Come on, drink!” the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. “Drink!”

At the interrogators’ behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

“Leave him up,” one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.”

The next time the prison medic saw Dilawar a few hours later, he was dead, his head lolled to one side and his body beginning to stiffen.  A coroner would testify that his legs “had basically been pulpified.”The Army coroner, Maj. Elizabeth Rouse, said: “I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.” She testified that had he lived, Dilawar’s legs would have had to be amputated.

Despite the military’s false statement that Dilawar’s death was the result of “natural causes,” Maj. Rouse marked the death certificate as a “homicide” and arranged for the certificate to be delivered to the family.  The military was forced to retract the statement when a reporter for the New York Times, Carlotta Gall, tracked down Dilawar’s family in Afghanistan and was given a folded piece of paper by Dilawar’s brother.  It was the death certificate, which he couldn’t read, because it was in English.

The practice of forcing prisoners to stand for long periods of time, links Dilawar’s treatment to a memo which bears Rumsfeld’s own handwriting on that particular subject.  Obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request, the memo may show how fairly benign-sounding authorizations for clear circumventions of the Geneva Conventions may have translated into gruesome practice on the battlefield.

The memo, which addresses keeping prisoners “standing” for up to four hours, is annotated with a note initialed by Rumsfeld reading: “”I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”  Not mentioned in writing anywhere is anything about accomplishing this by chaining prisoners to the ceiling.  There is evidence that, unable to support his weight on tiptoe for the days on end he was chained to the ceiling, Dilawars arms dislocated, and they flapped around uselessly when he was taken down for interrogation.  The National Catholic Reporter writes “They flapped like a bird’s broken wings”

Contradicting, on the record, a February 2003 statement by Rumsfeld’s top commander in Afghanistan at the time, General Daniel McNeill, that “we are not chaining people to the ceilings,” is Spc. Willie Brand, the only soldier disciplined in the death of Dilawar, with a reduction in rank.  Told of McNeill’s statement, Brand told Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes: “Well, he’s lying.”  Brand said of his punishment: “I didn’t understand how they could do this after they had trained you to do this stuff and they turn around and say you’ve been bad”

Exhibit: Dilawar Death Certificate marked “homicide”

Exhibit: Rumsfeld Memo: “I stand 8-10 hours a day.  Why only 4 hours?”

Dilawar’s daughter and her grandfather

Binyam, Genital-Slicing

Binyam Mohamed was seized by the Pakistani Forces in April 2002 and turned over to the Americans for a $5,000 bounty.  He was held for more than five years without charge or trial in Bagram Air Force Base, Guantánamo Bay, and third country “black” sites.

“They cut off my clothes with some kind of doctor’s scalpel. I was naked. I tried to put on a brave face. But maybe I was going to be raped. Maybe they’d electrocute me. Maybe castrate me…
One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. “I told you I was going to teach you who’s the man,” [one] eventually said.

They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists. I asked for a doctor.”

I was in Morocco for 18 months. Once they began this, they would do it to me about once a month. One time I asked a guard: “What’s the point of this? I’ve got nothing I can say to them. I’ve told them everything I possibly could.”

“As far as I know, it’s just to degrade you. So when you leave here, you’ll have these scars and you’ll never forget. So you’ll always fear doing anything but what the US wants.”

Later, when a US airplane picked me up the following January, a female MP took pictures. She was one of the few Americans who ever showed me any sympathy. When she saw the injuries I had she gasped. They treated me and took more photos when I was in Kabul. Someone told me this was “to show Washington it’s healing”.

The obvious question for any prosecutor in Binyam’s case is: Who does “Washington” refer to?  Rumsfeld?  Cheney?  Is it not in the national interest to uncover these most depraved of sadists at the highest level?  US Judge Gladys Kessler, in her findings on Binyam made in relation to a Guantanamo prisoner’s petition, found Binyam exceedingly credible.  She wrote:

“His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one foreign prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in plots to imperil Americans. The government does not dispute this evidence.”

Obama: Torturers’ Last Defense

The prospect of Rumsfeld in a courtroom cannot possibly be relished by the Obama administration, which has now cast itself as the last and staunchest defender of the embattled former officials, including John Yoo, Alberto Gonzalez, Judge Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and others.  The administration employed an unprecedented twisting of arms in order to keep evidence in a lawsuit which Binyam had filedin the UK suppressed, threatening an end of cooperation between the British MI5 and the CIA.  This even though the British judges whose hand was forced puzzled that the evidence “contained “no disclosure of sensitive intelligence matters.”  The judges suggested another reason for the secrecy requested by the Obama administration, that it might be “politically embarrassing.”

The Obama Justice Department’s active involvement in seeking the dismissal of the cases is by choice, as the statutory obligation of the US Attorney General to defend cases against public officials ends the day they leave office.  Indeed, the real significance of recent court decisions, the one by the 7th Circuit and yet another against Rumsfeld in a DC federal court, may be the clarification the common misconception that high officials are forever immune for crimes committed while in office, in the name of the state.  The misconception persists despite just a moment of thought telling one that if this were true, Hermann Goering, Augusto Pinochet, and Charles Taylor would never have been arrested, for they were all in office at the time they ordered atrocities, and they all invoked national security.

Andy Worthington writes that:

“As it happens, one of the confessions that was tortured out of Binyam is so ludicrous that it was soon dropped…The US authorities insisted that Padilla and Binyam had dinner with various high-up members of al-Qaeda the night before Padilla was to fly off to America. According to their theory the dinner party had to have been on the evening of 3 April in Karachi … Binyam was  meant to have dined with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Sheikh al-Libi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla.” What made the scenario “absurd,” as [Binyam’s lawyer] pointed out, was that “two of the conspirators were already in U.S. custody at the time — Abu Zubaydah was seized six days before, on 28 March 2002, and al-Libi had been held since November 2001.””

The charges against Binyam were dropped, after the prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, resigned. He told the BBC later that he had concerns at the repeated suppression of evidence that could prove prisoners’ innocence.

The litany of tortures alleged against Rumsfeld in the military prisons he ran could go on for some time.  The new photographic images from Abu Ghraib make it hard to conceive of how the methods of torture and dehumanization could have possibly served a national purpose.

The approved use of attack dogs, sexual humiliation, forced masturbation, and treatments which plumb the depths of human depravity are either documented in Rumsfeld’s own memos, or credibly reported on.

The UK Guardian writes:

The techniques devised in the system, called R2I – resistance to interrogation – match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.

One former British special forces officer who returned last week from Iraq, said: “It was clear from discussions with US private contractors in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they didn’t know what they were doing.””

Torture Now Aimed at Americans, Programs Designed to Obtain False Confessions, Not Intelligence

The worst of the worst is that Rumsfeld’s logic strikes directly at the foundations of our democracy and the legitimacy of the War on Terror.  The torture methods studied and adopted by the Bush administration were not new, but adopted from the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program (SERE) which is taught to elite military units.  The program was developed during the Cold War, in response to North Korean, Chinese, and Soviet Bloc torture methods.  But the aim of those methods was never to obtain intelligence, but to elicit false confessions.  The Bush administration asked the military to “reverse engineer” the methods, i.e. figure out how to break down resistance to false confessions.

In the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee reportwhich indicted high-level Bush administration officials, including Rumsfeld, as bearing major responsibility for the torture at Abu Gharib, Guantanamo, and Bagram, the Committee said:

“SERE instructors explained “Biderman’s Principles” — which were based on coercive methods used by the Chinese Communist dictatorship to elicit false confessions from U.S. POWs during the Korean War — and left with GTMO personnel a chart of those coercive techniques.”

The Biderman Principles were based on the work of Air Force Psychiatrist Albert Biderman, who wrote the landmark “Communist Attempts to Elecit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War,” on which SERE resistance was based.  Biderman wrote:

“The experiences of American Air Force prisoners of war in Korea who were pressured for false confessions, enabled us to compile an outline of methods of eliciting compliance, not much different, it turned out, from those reported by persons held by Communists of other nations.  I have prepared a chart showing a condensed version of this outline.”

The chart is a how-to for communist torturers interested only in false confessions for propaganda purposes, not intelligence.  It was the manual for, in Biderman’s words, “brainwashing.”  In the reference for Principle Number 7, “Degradation,” the chart explains:

“Makes Costs of Resistance Appear More Damaging to Self-Esteem than Capitulation; Reduces Prisoner to “Animal Level…Personal Hygiene Prevented; Filthy, Infested Surroundings; Demeaning Punishments; Insults and Taunts; Denial of Privacy”

Appallingly, this could explain that even photos such as those of feces-smeared prisoners at Abu Ghraib might not, as we would hope, be only the individual work of particularly demented guards, but part of systematic degradation authorized at the highest levels.

Exhibit: Abu Ghraib, Female POW

This could go far toward explaining why the Bush administration seemed so tone-deaf to intelligence professionals, including legendary CIA Director William Colby, who essentially told them they were doing it all wrong.  A startling level of consensus existed within the intelligence community that the way to produce good intelligence was to gain the trust of prisoners and to prove everything they had been told by their recruiters, about the cruelty and degeneracy of America, to be wrong.

But why would the administration care about what worked to produce intelligence, if the goal was never intelligence in the first place?  What the Ponzi scheme of either innocent men or low-level operatives incriminating each other  DID accomplish, was produce a framework of rapid successes and trophies in the new War on Terror.

And now, American contractors Vance and Ertel show, unless there are prosecutions, the law has effectively changed and they can do it to Americans. Jane Mayer in the New Yorker describes a new regime for prisoners which has become coldly methodical, quoting a report issued by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, titled “Secret Detentions and Illegal Transfers of Detainees.”  In the report on the CIA paramilitary Special Activities Division detainees were “taken to their cells by strong people who wore black outfits, masks that covered their whole faces, and dark visors over their eyes.”

Mayer writes that a former member of a C.I.A. transport team has described the “takeout” of prisoners as:

“a carefully choreographed twenty-minute routine, during which a suspect was hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, and transported by plane to a secret location.”

A person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry, referring to cavity searches and the frequent use of suppositories, likened the treatment to “sodomy.” He said, “It was used to absolutely strip the detainee of any dignity. It breaks down someone’s sense of impenetrability.”

Of course we have seen these images before, in the trial balloon treatment of Jose Padilla, the first American citizen arrested and declared “enemy combatant” in the first undeclared war without end.  The designation placed Padilla outside of his Bill of Rights as an American citizen even though he was arrested on American soil.  Padilla was kept in isolation and tortured for nearly 4 years before being released to a civilian trial, at which point according to his lawyer he was useless in his own defense, and exhibited fear and mistrust of everyone, complete docility, and a range of nervous facial tics.

Jose Padilla in Military Custody

Rumsfeld’s avuncular “golly-gee, gee-whiz”  performances in public are legendary.  Randall M. Schmidt, the Air Force Lieutenant General appointed by the Army to investigate abuses at Guantanamo, and who recommended holding Rumsfeld protege and close associate General Geoffrey Miller “accountable” as the commander of Guantanamo, watched Rumsfeld’s performance before a House Committee with some interest. “He was going, “My God! Did I authorize putting a bra and underwear on this guy’s head and telling him all his buddies knew he was a homosexual?’ ”

But General Taguba said of Rumsfeld: “Rummy did what we called “case law’ policy — verbal and not in writing. What he’s really saying is that if this decision comes back to haunt me I’ll deny it.”

Taguba went on: “Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There’s no way he’s suffering from C.R.S.–Can’t Remember sh*t.”

Miller was the general deployed by Rumsfeld to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib in 2003 after Rumsfeld had determined they were being too “soft” on prisoners.  He said famously in one memo “you have to treat them like dogs.”  General Karpinski questioned the fall of Charles Graner and Lyndie England as the main focus of low-level “bad apple” abuse in the Abu Ghraib investigations.  “Did Lyndie England deploy with a dog leash?” she asks.

Exhibit: Dog deployed at Abu Ghraib, mentally-ill prisoner

Abu Ghraib prisoner in “restraint” chair, screaming “Allah!!”

Rumsfeld’s worry now is the doctrine of Universal Jurisdiction, as well as ordinary common law.  The veil of immunity stripped in civil cases would seem to free the hand of any prosecutor who determines there is sufficient evidence that a crime has been committed based on available evidence.  A grand jury’s bar for opening a prosecution is minimal.  It has been said “a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich.”  Rumsfeld, and the evidence against him, would certainly seem to pass this test.

The name Dilawar translates to English roughly as “Braveheart.”  Let us pray he had one to endure the manner of his death.  But the more spiritual may believe that somehow it had a purpose, to shock the world and begin the toppling of unimaginable evil among us.  Dilawar represented the poorest of the poor and most powerless, wanting only to pick up his three sisters, as his mother had told him to, for the holiday.  The question now is whether Americans will finally draw a line, as the case against Rumsfeld falls into place and becomes legally bulletproof.  Andy Worthington noted that the case for prosecutors became rock solid when Susan Crawford, senior Pentagon official overseeing the Military Commissions at Guantánamo — told Bob Woodward that the Bush administration had “met the legal definition of torture.”

As Rumsfeld continues his book tour and people like Dilawar are remembered, it is not beyond the pale that an ambitious prosecutor, whether local, state, or federal, might sense the advantage.  It is perhaps unlikely, but not inconceivable, that upon landing at Logan International Airport on Wed., Sept. 21st, or similarly anywhere he travels thereafter, Rumsfeld could be greeted with the words such as: “Welcome to Boston, Mr. Secretary.  You are under arrest.”

Take action — click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
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Massachusetts District Attorneys Who Can Indict Rumsfeld, Please Email them this post and call them.SAMPLE INDICTMENT
LEGAL BACKGROUND

RELEVANT US CODE:

a. Conspiracy to torture in violation of the U.S. Code, in both Title 18, Section 2340

b. Conspiracy to commit war crimes including torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, murder, mutilation or maiming and intentionally causing serious bodily injury in violation of Title 18, Section 2441

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley:
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One Ashburton Place
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And Gov. Duval Patrick has an obligation to order the state police to do the same: CONTACT FORM

Local District Attorneys
Berkshire County: District Attorney David F. Capeless
Elected November 2006
OFFICE ADDRESS:     P.O. Box 973
888 Purchase Street
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Bristol County     District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter
Appointed March 2004
Elected November 2004
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Cape & Islands     District Attorney Michael O’Keefe
Elected November 2002
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3231 Main Street
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Essex County: District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett
Elected November 2002
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Hampden     District Attorney Mark Mastroianni
Elected 2010
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50 State Street
Springfield, MA 01103
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Middlesex County: District Attorney Gerard T. Leone, Jr.
Elected November 2006
OFFICE ADDRESS:     15 Commonwealth Avenue
Woburn, MA 01801
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Norfolk     District Attorney Michael Morrissey
Elected 2010
OFFICE ADDRESS:     45 Shawmut Ave.
Canton, MA 02021
PHONE:     (781) 830-4800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (781) 830-4800     end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX:     (781) 830-4801
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Northwestern     District Attorney David Sullivan
Elected 2010
HAMPSHIRE OFFICE ADDRESS:     One Gleason Plaza
Northampton, MA 01060
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< a href=”http://media.fastclick.net/w/click.here?sid=48406&m=6&c=1&#8243; target=”_blank”><img src=”http://media.fastclick.net/w/get.media?sid=48406&m=6&tp=8&d=s&c=1&#8243; width=300 height=250 border=1></Plymouth     District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz
Appointed November 2001
Elected November 2002
OFFICE ADDRESS:     32 Belmont Street
Brockton, MA 02303
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FAX:     (508) 586-3578
INTERNET ADDRESS:     http://www.mass.gov/…

Suffolk County:     District Attorney Daniel F. Conley
Appointed January 2002
Elected November 2002
OFFICE ADDRESS:     One Bulfinch Place
Boston, MA 02114
PHONE:     (617) 619-4000 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (617) 619-4000     end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX:     (617) 619-4009
INTERNET ADDRESS:     http://www.mass.gov/…

Worcester     District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr.
Elected November 2006
OFFICE ADDRESS:     Courthouse – Room 220
2 Main Street
Worcester, MA 01608
PHONE:     (508) 755-8601 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (508) 755-8601     end_of_the_skype_highlighting
FAX:     (508) 831-9899
INTERNET ADDRESS:     http://www.worcesterda.com

The Hidden Horrors of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files April 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Published on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

 

WikiLeaks’ latest revelations — secret military files on almost all of the 779 prisoners held in the US “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — are already causing a stir, and for good reason, as they resuscitate a story that appears to have been forgotten in the last few years: how, in their rush to prove themselves tough and vengeful in response to the 9/11 attacks, the most senior officials in the Bush administration not only discarded international laws and treaties including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, but also threw out safeguards designed to protect innocent people from being wrongly imprisoned in wartime.

Some of the key discoveries in the Guantánamo files are the documents on the 201 prisoners released between 2002 and summer 2004, which cover new ground, as the US military has never publicly released any of this information before. For the other 578 prisoners, information has at least been revealed through the release of the government’s allegations against the prisoners, and the transcripts of the tribunals and review boards used to assess their significance, which were released in 2006 (with follow-ups in the years since), but for these 201 prisoners, many of the stories are being related for the very first time. These are mostly dispiriting revelations about how children as young as 14 and old men in their 80s were rounded up and sent to Guantánamo, joining farmers, taxi drivers and unwilling Taliban recruits — hordes of the innocent or the insignificant, whose stories help to confirm the folly of Guantánamo.

Just as significant, however, are the stories of the majority of the other prisoners — the nearly 400 others released, and most of the 171 still held. Understanding their stories generally requires more effort, as the allegations marshalled against them seem to prove what a threat they are — until, that is, the sources of these allegations are investigated, and are revealed, time and again, as very dubious indeed.

Although JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, responsible for creating these files, has done a good job of creating the illusion of coherent intelligence dossiers, an illusion is all it is. On close inspection, the files are full of lies and distortions, with certain figures appearing over and over again. They include “high-value detainees” like Abu Zubaydah, waterboarded 83 times and held for four and a half years in secret CIA prisons, and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, tortured in Egypt until he falsely confessed that there were connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003), who was finally sent back to Libya to be murdered.

There are also others, held only in Guantánamo, who are known as notoriously unreliable informants, and who, whether through the use of torture, coercion, or bribery (the promise of better living conditions) have repeatedly told lies about their fellow prisoners. These have been seen through, generally by some official figures at Guantánamo, and also by judges in the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions, who have recognized their baleful influence, and have often moved to dismiss their testimony, damaging or even eviscerating the government’s cases.

There are dangerous men in Guantánamo, of course — some, if not all of the 14 ‘high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who arrived in Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, some of the ten others transferred to Guantánamo from secret prisons in September 2004, plus a handful of others. Essentially, these are the 36 men recommended for trials by the Obama administration’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which spent the whole of 2009 analysing the prisoners’ cases.

As for the rest of the 171 men still held, 47 of whom are being held indefinitely without charge or trial by President Obama on the basis that they are too dangerous to release, even though no evidence exists that can be used in court, these documents reveal how the distortions engendered by Guantánamo continue to erode all hope of a rational settlement to the vexed question of when Guantánamo will actually close.

When innocent people are labelled as “low risk” detainees, and foot soldiers are labelled as “medium risk” or “high risk,” as they are in these official documents, the proper outcome — that prisoners should either be charged or released, and the abomination that is Guantánamo should be closed as soon as possible — is lost in a miasma of misplaced fear.

Politically, it appears that President Obama has decided that Guantánamo is too toxic to touch. That is a disgrace, as it shows him to be a man lacking in firm principles, after all his fine talk about the importance of justice and the law, when he was a Senator, and it is also a tragedy for America.

I won’t hold my breath hoping for enlightenment, but these documents released by WikiLeaks deserve to be read widely, and to be acted upon decisively by Americans who care about justice and the rule of law, because, with Guantánamo still open, they reveal the unjustifiable triumph, from beyond the electoral grave, of the Bush adminstration, whose actions, whatever their supposed justification, took the country to a wretched and disturbing place that still needs to be abandoned and repudiated as a thoroughly unacceptable aberration from the principles on which the United States was founded.

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Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is a journalist and historian, based in London. He is the author of The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 759 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, the first book to tell the stories of all the detainees in America’s illegal prison. For more information, visit his blog here.

Obama’s National Security Policy: The Death of Hope and Change November 4, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Published on Thursday, November 4, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Andy Worthington

To be brutally honest, those of us concerned with “national security” issues (indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo and elsewhere, trials by Military Commission and accountability for the Bush administration’s torturers) and foreign policy (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) could tell by May 2009 that “hope” and “change” were dead in the water.

Whereas Barack Obama had never disguised his desire to step up the military occupation of Afghanistan, while scaling down operations in Iraq, he had promised — or had seemed to promise — a thorough repudiation of the detention policies at Guantánamo and Bagram, and the coercive interrogations and torture that had stalked their cells and interrogation rooms.

However, although he promised to close Guantánamo within a year and to uphold the absolute ban on torture in a series of executive orders issued on his second day in office, fine words were followed by months of inactivity, as a cautious Task Force of career officials from government departments and the intelligence agencies was convened to review the Guantánamo cases.

By May 2009, with Republicans seizing on the President’s court-ordered release of a notorious series of “torture memos,” issued by Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, as a demonstration of his untrustworthiness on national security issues, a fundamental change occurred.

The reviled Military Commission trial system for Guantánamo prisoners, which Obama had suspended on his first day in office, was reintroduced, as was indefinite detention without charge or trial as an official policy, even though this was the heart of the Bush administration’s program, and even though progressive supporters of the President had presumed that there were only two options for inthe remaining prisoners: federal court trials, or release.

This was followed by another deeply unsavory official policy — resisting any more embarrassing disclosures about the Bush administration’s torture program by inappropriately invoking sweeping “state secrets” privileges, as, for example, in the case of five men subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture, who sought to sue Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a Boeing subsidiary that had operated as the CIA’s torture travel agent.

There were also several other disgraces: fighting a court order providing new homes on the US mainland to Guantánamo prisoners (the Uighurs) who had won their habeas corpus petitions but who could not be repatriated (to China) because of the risk of torture in their home countries; fighting a court order extending habeas corpus rights to a handful of foreign prisoners rendered to Bagram from other countries; preventing the release of any cleared prisoners to Yemen after a hysterical overreaction to the news that the failed Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was recruited in Yemen; replacing the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation policies with drone attacks on Pakistan; and approving the assassination of US citizens anywhere in the world.

Although Republicans in Congress — and cowardly members of Obama’s own party — bear considerable blame for the descent into paralysis of those few parts of the President’s bold promises that he had not already undermined voluntarily, the end result of the last 21 months of cowardice and compromise is that, on foreign policy and national security issues, there was little positive momentum that a shift of political power in the mid-term elections could actually erode.

That said, losing control of the House of Representatives guarantees that anything the administration might have still contemplated doing — standing up to critics and insisting that, as announced a year ago, the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks will take place in federal court, or moving any of the Guantánamo prisoners to a prison on the US mainland — has no chance of happening at all, making the United States a slightly gloomier place than it was before the mid-term elections.

Moreover, given the deepening of Obama’s paralysis that this signifies, it also makes it seem less, rather than more likely that the President and his party will be able to do anything meaningful to lure back the progressive base that helped secure victory in 2008, in time for the 2012 Presidential election, unless, by some miracle, someone decides to try to rein in the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex as an economic necessity (if for no other reason).

That, however, sounds too much like “hope” and “change,” which, to reiterate, are dead in the water in America today.

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

Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues June 11, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Published on Friday, June 11, 2010 by CagePrisoners.comby Andy Worthington

Sometimes the truth is so sickening that no one in a position of authority – senior government officials, lawmakers, the mainstream media – wants to go anywhere near it.

This appears to be the case with the deaths of three men at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006. According to the official version of events, Salah Ahmed al-Salami (also identified as Ali Abdullah Ahmed), a 37-year old Yemeni, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a 30-year old Saudi, and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan, died by hanging themselves, in what Guantánamo’s then-Commander, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, described as an act of “asymmetric warfare.”

Adm. Harris was, appropriately, censured for describing as an act of warfare the deaths of three men, held for over four years without charge or trial, but although his comments – and those of Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, who described the men’s deaths as a “good PR move” – were despicable, it was true that all three men had been implacably opposed to the regime at Guantánamo, and that each had expressed their opposition to it – and their solidarity with their fellow prisoners – through resistance, by enduring painful months of force-feeding as three of the prison’s most persistent hunger strikers, and by raising their fellow prisoners’ spirits as accomplished singers of nasheeds (Islamic songs).

Former prisoners cast doubt on the suicide story

In a statement issued just after the announcement of the deaths in June 2006, nine British ex-prisoners recalled the men’s indefatigable spirit, and cast doubt on the US military’s claims that they had committed suicide:

The prisoners in Guantánamo knew Manei al-Otaibi [Mani al-Utaybi] as someone who recited the Qur’an and poetry with a beautiful voice. He was of high moral character and was loved and respected amongst the prisoners, as was Yasser. They both came from wealthy backgrounds and had everything to live for.

They were often involved in protests and hunger strikes, which meant that they were always given “level four” statuses. That means the only items they would be allowed in the cell were a mat, and a blanket (only at night). They didn’t have toilet paper, let alone bed sheets that could be easily constructed into a noose, or even a pen and paper with which to write a suicide note.

A more detailed analysis was provided by one of the nine British ex-prisoners, Tarek Dergoul, who wrote:

I knew them personally, so I can judge well their frame of mind. Their iman (belief in God) was very strong, there was high morale and it comes as a complete shock to my system when it is said to me that they could have committed suicide. I was with them for a long period of time, and it never even came into our mind the thought of committing suicide. We were always far too busy constructing some form of hunger strike or non-cooperation strike, to even register the thought of suicide. It is quite simply ridiculous. When we were not in isolation for our continued protests we were in the regular blocks planning our next move.

Dergoul also provided further descriptions of two of the men and their state of mind, explaining that Yasser al-Zahrani and Manei al-Otaibi “would be the first amongst all others to stand up for our rights and the rights of others.”

He added that al-Zahrani was “a beautiful brother,” who had memorized the entire Qur’an, and “was softly spoken and had a very nice voice. He used to sing nasheeds for us and all the brothers loved him as he was always optimistic. He would sing morale-boosting nasheeds for the other detainees nearby to him. He was very well known to everyone in the camp.”

He also explained that al-Zahrani had “participated in all the hunger strikes and non-cooperation strikes,” which, he added, “include[d] not speaking in interrogation and also not standing for any immoral behavior (such as being sexually harassed or watching the Qur’an being desecrated).” Non-cooperation, he pointed out, “would result in punishment,” and al-Zahrani “ended up doing a lot of time in isolation simply due to the fact that he would never allow for an injustice to take place before him without being defiant for the sake of our rights,” but he “had so much determination, will-power and morale that it is ridiculous to think he could have taken his own life.”

Writing about Manei al-Otaibi, Dergoul described him as “another beautiful brother,” who was “extremely funny,” and explained that, like al-Zahrani, he “used to recite poetry – in fact this was the thing he was best known for – and he also used to sing nasheeds for us.” He added:

I stayed beside Manei for three weeks inside the regular blocks, and that is when he told me about his wealthy family and his previous life and how he used to get up to no good as people do when they are young. It was also during those three weeks that he taught me tajweed (the science of reciting the Qur’an correctly). By the end of that time we had shared with one another our inner most thoughts. I consider it an insult and I am sure that his family finds it equally offensive, to suggest that he would stoop to the level of taking his own life.

Admittedly, the men’s outlook on life could have changed in the two years following Tarek Dergoul’s release from Guantánamo, but Omar Deghayes, who was still in Guantánamo at the time of their deaths, recently backed up his analysis, describing them as poets with beautiful voices whose spirits were unbroken at the time of their deaths, although he did acknowledge that they had been subjected to severe mistreatment.

Seton Hall Law School demolishes the suicide story

If the profiles above suggest problems with the official suicide story, that is entirely appropriate, as development in the last two years – and particularly in the last six months – have demonstrated. The first of these was the publication, in August 2008, of the official report into the deaths, conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The report – actually, nothing more than a 934-word statement – was presumably intended to be buried under coverage of the Presidential election, and did nothing to address doubts about the official story, but over the next year a colossal archive of documents collected for the investigation was thoroughly analyzed by staff and students at the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey.

On December 7, 2009, Seton Hall published a 136-page report, “Death in Camp Delta” (PDF), which comprehensively undermined the conclusion of the NCIS investigation. Some of the most important questions asked in the report were:

  • “[H]ow each of the detainees, much less all three, could have done the following: braided a noose by tearing up his sheets and/or clothing, made a mannequin of himself so it would appear to the guards he was asleep in his cell, hung sheets to block vision into the cell – a violation of Standard Operating Procedures, tied his feet together, tied his hands together, hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling, climbed up onto the sink, put the noose around his neck and released his weight to result in death by strangulation, hanged until dead and hung for at least two hours completely unnoticed by guards.”
  • “[H]ow three bodies could have hung in cells for at least two hours while the cells were under constant supervision, both by video camera and by guards continually walking the corridors guarding only 28 detainees.”
  • Why the authorities did not report that, “when the detainees’ bodies arrived at the clinic, it was determined that each had a rag obstructing his throat.”
  • Why the authorities did not report that the detainees “had been dead for more than two hours when they were discovered, nor that rigor mortis had set in by the time of discovery.”
  • How the supposed suicides “could have been coordinated by the three detainees, who had been on the same cell block fewer than 72 hours with occupied and unoccupied cells between them and constant supervision.”

Moreover, the researchers also discovered so many omissions and contradictions in the reports of the various personnel who were present on the night of the men’s deaths that it was impossible to construct a coherent narrative. It was also impossible not to conclude that, with so many holes in the official account, the investigation was, as Professor Mark Denbeaux explained in a press release, “a cover up,” and, in addition, one that raised “more compelling questions”: “Who knew of the cover up? Who approved of the cover up, and why? The government’s investigation is slipshod, and its conclusion leaves the most important questions about this tragedy unanswered.”

In the Seton Hall report, the omissions and contradictions focus on the fact that the only guards who were asked to make statements on the night “were advised that they were suspected of making false statements or failing to obey direct orders” (the statements have never been publicly released); on asking why other guards were “ordered not to provide sworn statements about what happened that night”; on asking why the government “seemed to be unable to determine who was on duty that night in Alpha Block” (where the deaths supposedly occurred); on asking “why the guards who brought the bodies to the medics did not tell the medics what had happened to cause the deaths and why the medics never asked how the deaths had occurred”; on why there is “no indication that the medics observed anything unusual on the cell block at the time that the detainees wee hanging dead in their cells”; and, finally, on “why the guards on duty in the cell block were not systematically interviewed about the events of the night, why the medics who visited the cell block before the hangings were not interviewed, [and] why the tower guards, who had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, were not interviewed.”

In addition, the report also noted the NCIS’s failure to review “audio and video recordings which are systematically maintained; ‘Pass-On’ books prepared by each shift to describe occurrences on the block for the next shift; the Detainee Information Management System, which contains records of all activity for that night as the events occur; and Serious Incident reports, which are the reports used when there are suicide attempts.”

The authors were also particularly concerned that a prominent claim in the NCIS statement – “that on the night in question, another detainee (who did not later commit suicide) had walked through the cell block telling people ‘tonight’s the night'” – was not explained. “There is no indication,” they wrote, “of how this could have happened given camp security rules or, if it had taken place, why security was not tighter as a result.”

Harper’s Magazine reports soldiers’ testimony, suggests prisoners died in torture sessions

Just six weeks after the Seton Hall report was published, answers to some of these questions were provided in the most extraordinary manner. In an article for Harper’s Magazine, law professor Scott Horton revealed the story of Army Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, and a number of other soldiers – the tower guards mentioned in the Seton Hall report, who “had the responsibility and ability to observe all activity in the camp, [but] were not interviewed.”

Sgt. Hickman, who was on duty in a tower on the prison’s perimeter on the night the three men died, addressed some of the NCIS investigations’ omissions and contradictions by explaining that the reason that men had been dead for over two hours before their deaths were reported, that few reports were taken from the personnel on duty, and that rags were stuffed in the men’s throats was not because they had committed suicide, but because they had been taken from the cell block earlier that evening to a secret facility outside the main perimeter fence of Guantánamo – known to the soldiers as “Camp No” – where they had either been deliberately killed, or had a died as the result of particularly brutal torture sessions.

Sgt. Hickman, and several other witnesses under his supervision, told Scott Horton personally that they had not seen anyone moved to the clinic from Alpha Block, where the prisoners reportedly died, and when I spoke to Sgt. Hickman a few months ago, he confirmed that this was the case, telling me categorically that neither he, nor three men he was in charge of who were stationed no more than 40 feet away from the clinic, saw anyone moved from the block to the clinic. “They didn’t die in their cells,” he explained.

This was not all. Sgt. Hickman – and other witnesses – also explained that the false suicide story required a cover-up, and that this involved Col. Mike Bumgarner, the warden at Guantánamo, telling a meeting of between 40 and 60 men on the morning of June 10 that, although “‘you all know’ three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death,” the media would report that the three men “had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored.”

In no time at all, the deaths were reinvented as acts of “asymmetrical warfare,” and the whole sordid cover-up began in earnest.

Sgt. Hickman has no reason to lie. He joined the US military in 1983, at the age of 19, as a Marine, and spent time in military intelligence. Later, as a civilian, he worked as a private investigator, but after the 9/11 attacks, he re-enlisted in the Army National Guard and was deployed to Guantánamo in March 2006, where he “was selected as Guantánamo’s ‘NCO of the Quarter’ and was given a commendation medal.” When his tour of duty ended in March 2007 and he returned to the US, he was “promoted to staff sergeant and worked in Maryland as an Army recruiter.”

However, as he explained to Scott Horton, “he could not forget what he had seen at Guantánamo. When Barack Obama became president, [he] decided to act. ‘I thought that with a new administration and new ideas I could actually come forward,’ he said. ‘It was haunting me.'” And as he told me a few months ago, he felt “physically sick” after holding onto his story for three years.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the start of this article, some stories are so disturbing that no one in authority wants to go near them, and this is clearly the case with the deaths of Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani. Although the Harper’s article received widespread coverage around the world, it was almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the US, with the New York Times and the Washington Post content to run an Associated Press story, without following up on it, and only Keith Olbermann of MSNBC covering the story on TV.

Part of the problem is that, although a Justice Department investigation was launched after Sgt. Hickman approached Mark Denbeaux and his son Josh last February, and the Denbeauxs took the case to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, an initial flurry of interest rapidly waned, and Teresa McHenry, the head of the Criminal Division’s Domestic Security Section, who took charge of the investigation, notified Mark Denbeaux on November 2, 2009 that the investigation was being closed. Scott Horton described Denbeaux’s reaction as follows:

“It was a strange conversation,” Denbeaux recalled. McHenry explained that “the gist of Sergeant Hickman’s information could not be confirmed.” But when Denbeaux asked what that “gist” actually was, McHenry declined to say. She just reiterated that Hickman’s conclusions “appeared” to be unsupported. Denbeaux asked what conclusions exactly were unsupported. McHenry refused to say.

As Horton also noted, McHenry “ha[d] firsthand knowledge of the Justice Department’s role in auditing such techniques, having served at the Justice Department under Bush and having participated in the preparation of” at least one of a number of memoranda “approving and setting the conditions for the use of torture techniques” – commonly known as the “torture memos” – which “CIA agents and others could use to defend themselves against any subsequent criminal prosecution.”

Today, as we pause to remember the three men who died at Guantánamo four years ago, we should also reflect that, as with the two other supposed suicides at Guantánamo – of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi, on May 30, 2007, and of Mohammed al-Hanashi, a Yemeni, on June 1, 2009 – nothing resembling an adequate explanation has yet been provided for their deaths, and Sgt. Joe Hickman, the man who has done the most to try to expose the truth about the deaths in June 2006, has apparently put his career on the line for nothing, sidelined for doing what was right. “Under the Constitution I swore to defend, we don’t do this,” he told me when we spoke a few months ago.

Why an independent inquiry is needed – and a call for Shaker Aamer to be released

Calls for a full investigation into all the deaths at Guantánamo may come to nothing, but they must be made, or we will demonstrate to those who hold the reins of accountability that the darker the allegations, the easier they are to hide.

In addition, the fallout from that horrendous night in Guantánamo is still affecting one other man, who was brutally tortured that same evening, but who, unlike Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, did not die.

That man is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who is still held, despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007. A passionate and fearless defender of the rights of the prisoners – also like the men who died – he may still be held because of what he knows.

Describing what happened to him – which involved choking, and the kind of violent punishment for dissent that Tarek Dergoul identified in the cases of Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani – Shaker Aamer provided a statement to one of his lawyers, which was later filed as an affidavit with the District Court in Washington D.C.:

On June 9th, 2006, [Shaker Aamer] was beaten for two and a half hours straight. Seven naval military police participated in his beating. Mr. Aamer stated he had refused to provide a retina scan and fingerprints. He reported to me that he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs. The MPs inflicted so much pain, Mr. Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose repeatedly so hard to the side he thought it would break. They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a mag-lite in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out.

Note: To take action for Shaker Aamer, please feel free to cut and paste a letter to foreign secretary William Hague, available here, asking him to do all in his power to secure his return from Guantánamo to the UK, to be reunited with his family.

© 2010 Cage Prisoners

The Torture of Omar Khadr, a Child in Bagram and Guantánamo May 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War, War on Terror.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

 

Omar Khadr wounded

(Roger’s note: this long and painful article describes in tortuous detail the abuse of a child caught in the web of insanity known as the war against terror.  It recounts only one of many stories which serve as an indication of the level of barbarism to which the American program has sunk under the leadership of allegedly civilized leaders such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  Those of us who have not become inured to the implementation of torture and other gross violations of human rights that are being perpetuated on a daily basis in our name have a moral obligation to continue to speak out and act against these crimes and the criminals – elected and otherwise – who perpetuate them.)

Published on Thursday, May 13, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

by Andy Worthington

Are we so inured to the implementation of torture by the Bush administration that we no longer recognize what torture is? Torture, according to the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person.”

Under President Bush, however, John Yoo, an ideological puppet in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is supposed to objectively interpret the law as it applies to the executive branch, purported to redefine torture, in two memos that have become known as the “torture memos,” as the infliction of physical pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” or the infliction of mental pain which “result[s] in significant psychological harm of significant duration e.g. lasting for months or even years.”

I ask this question about torture – and our attitude to it – because of what took place last week, in pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo preceding the trial by Military Commission of the Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. A number of witnesses revealed details of Khadr’s mistreatment, in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, which hinted at his inclusion in an abusive program that, before the 9/11 attacks, before Yoo’s memos and before a general coarsening of attitudes towards abuse and the mistreatment of prisoners, would have led to calls for that mistreatment to be thoroughly investigated, and, very possibly, for it to be regarded as torture or as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

In Khadr’s case, these questions should not even need raising, for a number of other compelling reasons. The first concerns his age. Under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which the US is also a signatory, juveniles – defined as those under the age of 18 when the crime they are accused of committing took place – “require special protection.” The Optional Protocol specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities,” and requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

Instead, however, the US government is attempting, for the third time, to prosecute Khadr for war crimes in a special trial system for foreign terror suspects – the Military Commissions – which were first ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in 2006, were then revived by Congress but abandoned by President Obama on his first day in office (after they had succeeded in delivering just three dubious results), and were then revived again by President Obama, with the support of Congress, last summer.

Compounding the dark absurdity of Khadr’s proposed trial is an uncomfortable truth that has been particularly noted by Lt. Col. David Frakt, a former military defense attorney for the Commissions, who has regularly pointed out that the Military Commissions are fundamentally flawed because they contain “law of war offenses” invented by Congress, including “Providing Material Support to Terrorism” and “Murder in Violation of the Law of War.” Lt. Col. Frakt has recently expressed even graver concerns about how the new Military Commissions Act includes a passage which claims that “a detainee may be convicted of murder in violation of the law of war even if they did not actually violate the law of war.”

As I also explained in an article last week, “critics of Khadr’s trial have, from the beginning, recognized that there is something horribly skewed about redefining the internationally accepted laws of war so that one side in an armed conflict – the US – can kill whoever it wants with impunity, whereas its opponents are viewed as terrorists, or, when brought to trial, as those who have committed ‘Murder in Violation of the Law of War.'”

Nevertheless, as the Obama administration has decided to press ahead with Khadr’s trial, pre-trial hearings were held over the last two weeks in an attempt to address concerns raised by Khadr’s defense team. These largely skirted the issues discussed in the paragraphs above, but focused unerringly on Khadr’s alleged mistreatment, through a “Motion to Suppress Statements Procured Using Torture, Coercion and Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment” (PDF), in which his lawyers argued that any self-incriminating statements that Khadr may have made should be ruled out because of the manner in which they were extracted.

The torture of Omar Khadr

Over the years, and in an affidavit submitted in February 2008 (PDF), Khadr has described his mistreatment in detail, explaining how he was unconscious for a week after his capture, when he was severely wounded, and how, in Bagram, where he was taken after just two weeks in a hospital, his interrogations began immediately, at the hands of an interrogator who manipulated his injuries (the exact details were redacted from his affidavit). Crucially, he also explained how, as soon as he regained consciousness, “the first soldier told me that I had killed an American with a grenade,” and how, during his first interrogation at Bagram, “I figured out right away that I would simply tell them whatever I thought they wanted to hear in order to keep them from causing me [redacted].”

There is much more in the affidavit – casual cruelty, whereby guards made Khadr do hard manual labor when his wounds were not healed, and, significantly, threats “to have me raped, or sent to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Israel to be raped.” He also noted, “I would always hear people screaming, both day and night,” and explained that other prisoners were scared of his interrogator. “Most people would not talk about what had been done to them,” he declared. “This made me afraid.”

Khadr also described what happened to him in Guantánamo, where, as I explained last week, he “arrived around the time that a regime of humiliation, isolation and abuse, including extreme temperature manipulation, forced nudity and sexual humiliation, had just been introduced, by reverse-engineering torture techniques, used in a military program designed to train US personnel to resist interrogation if captured, in an attempt to increase the meager flow of ‘actionable intelligence’ from the prison.”

At various points in 2003, while the use of these techniques was still widespread, Khadr stated that he was short-shackled in painful positions and left for up to ten hours in a freezing cold cell, threatened with rape and with being transferred to another country where he could be raped, and, on one particular occasion, when he had been left short-shackled in a painful position until he urinated on himself:

Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me, and then, with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. Later, I was put back in my cell, without being allowed a shower or a change of clothes. I was not given a change of clothes for two days. They did this to me again a few weeks later.

Crucially, when describing the interrogations that punctuated these experiences at Guantánamo, Khadr explained, “I did not want to expose myself to any more harm, so I always just told interrogators what I thought they wanted to hear. Having been asked the same questions so many times, I knew what answers made interrogators happy and would always tailor my answers based on what I thought would keep me from being harmed.”

Until two weeks ago, these claims – though well-known to those who have followed Khadr’s case – had, for the most part, not been aired in a courtroom. In response to the defense motion, however, the government attempted to refute Khadr’s claims, calling a female interrogator who stated that Khadr had voluntarily admitted that he threw the grenade that killed US Sgt. Christopher Speer, during sessions after his arrival at Guantánamo in October 2002 that were perfectly amicable, and an FBI agent, Robert Fuller, who stated that his interrogations of Khadr at Bagram earlier in October 2002 were also “conversational” and “non-confrontational,” and that Khadr had freely admitted to throwing the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer.

Whilst it was possible – if not probable – that both interrogators were telling the truth about interrogating Khadr non-coercively, the problem remains that Khadr has stated that, from the time of his very first interrogation, he regarded telling his interrogators what they wanted to hear as the best way of avoiding mistreatment, and so may not have been telling them the truth. As a result, last week’s witnesses were more significant because they shed light on the early days after he recovered consciousness in US custody, and, in particular, on his first interrogation and his subsequent interaction with that interrogator. Along the way, further witnesses cast shadows on the government’s otherwise clean picture of interrogations conducted in a non-coercive environment.

It would have remarkable had this not happened, as countless witnesses – including soldiers as well as current and former Guantánamo prisoners – have described the brutality at Bagram at the time Khadr was held there between August and October 2002, which led, just over a month after Khadr’s departure for Guantánamo, to the murder of two prisoners – and, very possibly, to other murders at the time he was held.

The medic’s testimony — and “Palestinian hanging”

The first to reveal a glimpse of the regime at Bagram was, ironically, a medic called as a witness by the prosecution. “Mr. M,” as he was identified, who testified by video link from Boston, countered Khadr’s claims that, while he was at Bagram, “five people in civilian clothes would come and change my bandages,” and that they “treated me very roughly and videotaped me while they did it,” stating that he alone changed his bandages twice a day, and that no rough treatment was involved.

He did, however, note that, on one occasion, he found Khadr hooded and chained to a cage by his wrists with his arms “just above eye level,” and that when he lifted the hood, Khadr was visibly upset. The medic added, as Carol Rosenberg described it in the Miami Herald, that “he didn’t object to Khadr’s treatment, because chaining was an approved form of punishment” at Bagram, “adding that he didn’t know the reason for the punishment nor how long Khadr had been chained.”

This rather nonchalant description of “chaining” may not have shocked the medic, especially as the chains were apparently “slack enough to allow Khadr’s feet to touch the floor,” but the only reason for this was because of the severity of his wounds, as Khadr explained in his affidavit, in which he also stated that he was chained up “several times.” Otherwise, like numerous other prisoners, including Dilawar (the subject of “Taxi to the Dark Side“) and Mullah Habibullah, the two prisoners who were killed at Bagram in December 2002, he would have been fully suspended by his wrists, in a torture technique more commonly known as the “strappado” technique or “Palestinian hanging.”

Nevertheless, as Barry Coburn, Khadr’s lead lawyer, explained, the medic’s testimony provided “critically important validation” of statements in his client’s affidavit, and another of his lawyers, Kobie Flowers, added, “Had this been an American soldier in North Korea, people would be outraged. Here we have a 15-year-old individual who was nearly killed with bullets in his back who was left up there to hang as punishment.”

“Interrogator No. 2” and Khadr’s first interrogation — on a stretcher

However, while this was significant in establishing some context for the general and well-chronicled brutality at Bagram, which will no doubt emerge in unprecedented detail should Khadr’s trial proceed, it was not until Tuesday last week that previously unknown information emerged regarding Khadr’s first interrogation on arrival at Bagram, which, according to a master sergeant in the US Army, identified as “Interrogator No. 2,” who appeared in person, took place on the same day that Khadr was moved from the hospital to what Carol Rosenberg described as “the crude, putrid Bagram Air Base detention center.”

The interrogator, who was an observer at Khadr’s first interrogation on August 12, 2002, revealed that “the questioning took place while Khadr was on a stretcher – he couldn’t remember if Khadr was shackled to it – and that his notes included this detail: ‘Clarification was difficult due to the sedation and fatigue of the detainee.'” He also explained that no coercion was used on him, but just two approved techniques from the Army Field Manual: “fear down,” which is designed to play down a prisoner’s anxieties, and “fear of incarceration,” which encourages prisoners to tell the truth by pointing out that otherwise they may face extended imprisonment.

It is hard to tell if this controlled line of questioning strictly reflects reality, but even so, as one of Khadr’s military lawyers, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson noted, the testimony showed that Khadr “was first questioned within just 12 hours of his transfer from the US field hospital to the detention center.” Kobie Flowers was more forceful in his criticism. “You got a guy who is 15, seriously wounded, who has had multiple surgeries, and that’s the first time the United States government takes a statement from him to use in his prosecution,” he said, adding, “Now whether it is torture, cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment or simply involuntary … I don’t think any federal judge in the United States would allow that type of conduct.”

The testimony of Damien Corsetti

On Wednesday, a peripheral figure in Khadr’s story – but one who has achieved a certain notoriety – testified by video link from Arlington, Virginia. Damien Corsetti, who was known as “Monster” at Bagram, based on a tattoo on his chest, and also as “The King of Torture,” described himself as “a disabled veteran suffering post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his interrogation work in both Afghanistan and Iraq,” and explained how, on seeing Khadr on July 29, 2002, just two days after his capture, he was struck by how he was an injured “child” detained in “one of the worst places on Earth.” He added, “More than anything, he looked beat up. He was a 15 year-old kid with three holes in his body, a bunch of shrapnel in his face. That was what I remember. How horrible this 15 year-old child looked.”

Corsetti, who was cleared in 2005 of abuse charges relating to his conduct in Bagram and, later, at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, explained, back in 2007, how he was still haunted by “the cries, the smells, the sounds” of those whose torture he witnessed, when he was called upon to attend sessions in the basement of Bagram in which “high-value detainees” were tortured. “[T]hey are with me all the time,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Corsetti told the court that he was “not one of Khadr’s interrogators” but had befriended him in Bagram. He explained that the guards and interrogators, who identified all the prisoners as “BOB” (which stood for “Bad Odor Boys”), named Khadr “Buckshot BOB,” due to his injuries. He added that “there was the sound of screaming and yelling ‘continuously,” and also confirmed that threats were made to send prisoners to countries where they would be tortured, or raped. He specifically mentioned Israel and Egypt, but added, as Michelle Shephard explained in the Toronto Star, that he “did not know if Khadr had been told this.” As Khadr stated in his affidavit that he was indeed threatened with being sent to Israel or Egypt (or Syria or Jordan), Corsetti’s testimony therefore endorsed another of Khadr’s claims.

“Interrogator No. 1” and the rape threat

If Corsetti’s testimony, for the most part, did little more than add some more color to the story of Khadr’s early months in US custody, Thursday’s witness, Joshua Claus, provided potent testimony regarding the kind of threats to which Khadr was subjected, and also provided a disturbing link to the kind of violence in Bagram that led to the murders of Dilawar and Mullah Habibullah in December 2002. Claus, formerly a sergeant in the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion (of which Corsetti was also a member), was identified in court as “Interrogator No. 1,” and was Khadr’s main interrogator at Bagram, the “skinny blond” man with glasses (just 21 years old at the time) who also interrogated him while he was on a stretcher, on the day that he was moved to Bagram from the field hospital, and who, according to Khadr, mistreated him in an unknown manner (because the details are redacted) during his first interrogation.

Testifying by video link from Arizona, Claus recalled, in particular, using the technique described as “fear up harsh” in interrogations of Khadr, during which he would kick the furniture and scream at the young prisoner. He also admitted that he invented a rape story to scare him, explaining, as Spencer Ackerman described it in the Washington Independent:

“I told him a fictitious story we had invented when we were there,” Interrogator #1 said. It was something “three or four” interrogators at Bagram came up with after learning that Afghans were “terrified of getting raped and general homosexuality, things of that nature.” The story went like this:

Interrogator #1 would tell the detainee, “I know you’re lying about something.” And so, for an instruction about the consequences of lying, Khadr learned that lying “not so seriously” wouldn’t land him in a place like “Cuba” – meaning, presumably, Guantánamo Bay – but in an American prison instead. And this one time, a “poor little 20-year-old kid” sent from Afghanistan ended up in an American prison for lying to an American. “A bunch of big black guys and big Nazis noticed the little Afghan didn’t speak their language, and prayed five times a day – he’s Muslim,” Interrogator #1 said. Although the fictitious inmates were criminals, “they’re still patriotic,” and the guards “can’t be everywhere at once.”

“So this one unfortunate time, he’s in the shower by himself, and these four big black guys show up – and it’s terrible something would happen – but they caught him in the shower and raped him. And it’s terrible that these things happen, the kid got hurt and ended up dying,” Interrogator #1 said. “It’s all a fictitious story.”

Perhaps so, but as Ackerman also noted, every other interrogator who spoke to Khadr did so “after he heard a ‘fictitious story’ about a young Afghan who lied to US interrogators and as a result was raped and killed in jail.”

In many ways, the events of the last two weeks were inconclusive, and it remains to be seen how the judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, will interpret them. Certainly, there was much worse abuse at Bagram and at Guantánamo than that experienced by Omar Khadr, but he was just a child during his time at Bagram and the early years of his abuse at Guantánamo, and it may well be that, as his lawyers assert, any self-incriminating statements that he made (especially regarding the throwing of a grenade that may have taken place when he was face down and unconscious under a pile of rubble) were produced because rape threats and physical violence based primarily on exploitation of his wounds was enough to terrify him into acquiescence with whatever his captors wanted.

The Pentagon shoots itself in the foot: four reporters banned

Ironically, the biggest story in Guantánamo last week was not the reports of Khadr’s treatment but the banning of four reporters (including Michelle Shephard and Carol Rosenberg), after they revealed Claus’ name in newspaper reports. The Pentagon alleged that this violated an order stipulating that Claus’ real name was protected information, but this was patently ridiculous, because his name was already in the public domain, and, in 2008, he had even conducted an interview with Michelle Shephard.

Instead of protecting Claus, the Pentagon’s heavy-handed response served only to make other reporters wonder if the Pentagon was trying to prevent anyone from working out that, unlike Damien Corsetti, Claus served five months in prison for pleading guilty in a court martial to the abuse of an unidentified prisoner at Bagram, who was made “to roll back and forth on the floor and kiss the boots of his interrogator,” as Michelle Shephard described it, and for the assault of Dilawar. In Shephard’s words, “He admitted to forcing water down the throat of Dilawar and twisting a hood over the Afghan’s head.” Moreover, as another soldier explained in a military report into Dilawar’s death, “I had the impression that Josh was actually holding the detainee upright by pulling on the hood. I was furious at this point because I had seen Josh tighten the hood of another detainee the week before. This behavior seemed completely gratuitous and unrelated to intelligence collection.”

In his interview in 2008, Claus insisted that he wanted to set the record straight. “They’re trying to imply I’m beating or torturing everyone I ever talked to [at Bagram],” he said, adding that, with Khadr, “I spent a lot of time trying to understand who he was and what I could say to him or do for him, whether it be to bring him extra food or get a letter out to his family … I needed to talk to him and get him to trust me.”

Responding last Thursday to a question about his conviction posed by Barry Coburn, Claus insisted that he “lost control at a very slight moment. You’re talking about two-and-a-half minutes of my life.” This may not technically be correct, as there was clearly more than one incident, but it is obvious that his actions were part of an abusive program sanctioned at the highest level of the Bush administration, and moreover, as Damien Corsetti explained, “the pressure to get information from prisoner at Bagram was intense.” He told Col. Parrish, “This was less than a year after 9/11 so we’re all still pretty heated up about that. This was life and death stuff we were supposedly dealing with. There was just a ton of pressure on us to get information to save lives and generate reports.”

By banning the four reporters, the Pentagon has only succeeded in drawing attention to something it presumably wanted to hide: that Omar Khadr’s mistreatment in Bagram took place at time when the violence in the prison, sanctioned by the Bush administration, was so intense that prisoners died, and that his first interrogator was implicated in the murder of one of these men. It doesn’t prove that Khadr wasn’t coerced into making false confessions, but it doesn’t augur well for claims that everything about his treatment was “conversational” and “non-confrontational.”

The Obama administration has until July, when Khadr’s trial is scheduled to start, to extricate itself from a public relations disaster of its own making, by formulating an acceptable plea deal for Khadr and arranging his return to Canada. Too much about this story – from the trumped-up war crimes charges, to the doubts about Khadr’s guilt, to his age and the abuse to which, on occasion, he was undoubtedly subjected – makes proceeding with the trial an unpalatable and essentially pointless exercise. It is, I believe, time, after nearly eight years, for his punishment to come to an end, and for his long-delayed rehabilitation to begin.

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

 

http://www.youdontlikethetruth.com/?lang=En&page=Trailer

“You don’t like the truth: 4 days inside Guantanamo.”  The most powerful and disturbing documentary I have ever seen over my 50 some odd years of political involvement.

I cannot tell you how painful it was to watch for over an hour as a Canadian CSIS officer systematically applied psychological torture to this 16 year old child.

If you are a Canadian, you will feel a profound shame (the Canadian Supreme Court found that the interrogation was a violation of the child’s rights, but didn’t order the government to do anything about it).  If you are a human being with an ounce of humanity …

The documentary, using the video of the four days of interrogation, shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the child was innocent of the charge against him.  It shows him (who already had been brutally tortured by the Americans) virtually destroyed emotionally over the persistent hectoring of his interrogator and yet, in the end, having more courage and decency than his monster of an adversary (a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing).

There is much more I could say, and maybe I will add another post once I calm down.  If you want to know the truth about this disgusting travesty of justice, try to find a way to see this documentary, or at least view the trailer whose link is at the top of this post.  The documentary’s home page is http://www.youdontlikethetruth.com/?lang=En&page=Home

Roger Hollander, October 31, 2010

Defining Torture March 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
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Monday 01 March 2010

by: Andy Worthington, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

 

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(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: alumbis, *terry)

It’s now over two weeks since veteran Justice Department (DOJ) lawyer David Margolis dashed the hopes of those seeking accountability for the Bush administration’s torturers, but this is a story of such profound importance that it must not be allowed to slip away.

Margolis decided that an internal report into the conduct of John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, who wrote the notorious memos in August 2002, which attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, was mistaken in concluding that both men were guilty of “professional misconduct,” and should be referred to their bar associations for disciplinary action.

Instead, Margolis concluded, in a memo that shredded four years of investigative work by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), the DOJ’s ethics watchdog, that Yoo and Bybee had merely exercised “poor judgment.” As lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which is charged with providing objective legal advice to the executive branch on all constitutional questions, Yoo and Bybee attempted to redefine torture as the infliction of physical pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” or the infliction of mental pain which “result[s] in significant psychological harm of significant duration e.g. lasting for months or even years.”

Yoo, notoriously, had lifted his description of the physical effects of torture from a Medicare benefits statute and other health care provisions in a deliberate attempt to circumvent the UN Convention Against Torture, signed by President Reagan in 1988 and incorporated into US federal law, in which torture is defined as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person …

Obsessed with finding ways in which “severe pain” could be defined so that the CIA could torture detainees and get away with it, Yoo drew on some truly revolting examples of physical torture, citing a particularly brutal case, Mehinovic v. Vuckovic, in which, during the Bosnian war, a Serb soldier named Nikola Vuckovic had tortured his Bosnian neighbor, Kemal Mehinovic, with savage and sadistic brutality. Yoo dismissed the possibility that other torture techniques – waterboarding, for example, which is a form of controlled drowning, and prolonged sleep deprivation – might cause “significant psychological harm of significant duration,” or physical pain rising to a level that a judge might regard as torture.

In both of his definitions, however, Yoo was clearly mistaken. No detailed studies have yet emerged regarding the prolonged psychological effects of the torture program approved by Yoo and Bybee, largely because lawyers for the “high-value detainees” in Guantánamo have been prevented – first under Bush, and now under Obama – from revealing anything publicly about their clients.

However, lawyers for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was charged in the Bush administration’s military commissions, made a good show of demonstrating that bin al-Shibh is schizophrenic and on serious medication, when they argued throughout 2008 that he was not fit to stand trial, and I have seen no evidence to suggest that bin al-Shibh was in a similar state before his four years in secret CIA prisons.

An even more pertinent example is Abu Zubaydah, a supposed high-value detainee, held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years, for whom the torture program was originally developed. Zubaydah’s case may well be the most shocking in Guantánamo, because, although he was subjected to physical violence and prolonged sleep deprivation, was confined in a small box and was waterboarded 83 times, the CIA eventually concluded that he was not, as George W. Bush claimed after his capture, “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” but was, instead, a “kind of travel agent” for recruits traveling to Afghanistan for military training, who was not a member of al-Qaeda at all.

Zubaydah was clearly mentally unstable before his capture and torture, as the result of a head wound sustained in Afghanistan in 1992, but as one of his lawyers, Joe Margulies, explained in an article in the Los Angeles Times last April, his subsequent treatment in US custody has caused a profound deterioration in his mental health that would certainly constitute “significant psychological harm of significant duration.” Margolis wrote:

No one can pass unscathed through an ordeal like this. Abu Zubaydah paid with his mind. Partly as a result of injuries he suffered while he was fighting the communists in Afghanistan, partly as a result of how those injuries were exacerbated by the CIA and partly as a result of his extended isolation, Abu Zubaydah’s mental grasp is slipping away. Today, he suffers blinding headaches and has permanent brain damage. He has an excruciating sensitivity to sounds, hearing what others do not. The slightest noise drives him nearly insane. In the last two years alone, he has experienced about 200 seizures.

Moreover, when it came to defining physical torture, the OPR report’s authors noted that, as so often in the memos, Yoo had ignored relevant case history. The key passage in the report deals with the US courts’ decisions regarding the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). Yoo had drawn on Mehinovic for his description of physical torture “of an especially cruel and even sadistic nature,” and, as the authors noted, he also argued that only ‘acts of an extreme nature’ that were ‘well over the line of what constitutes torture’ have been alleged in TVPA cases.”

The authors continued:

Thus, the memorandum asserted, “there are no cases that analyze what the lowest boundary of what constitutes torture.”[sic]

That assertion was misleading. In fact, conduct far less extreme than that described in Mehinovic v. Vuckovic was held to constitute torture in one of the TVPA cases cited in the appendix to the Bybee memo. That case, Daliberti v. Republic of Iraq, 146 F. Supp. 2d 146 (D.D.C. 2001), held that imprisonment for five days under extremely bad conditions, while being threatened with bodily harm, interrogated and held at gunpoint, constituted torture with respect to one claimant.

A close inspection of Daliberti (which dealt with US personnel seized by Iraqi forces between 1992 and 1995) is revealing, as the DC District Court held, “Such direct attacks on a person and the described deprivation of basic human necessities are more than enough to meet the definition of ‘torture’ in the Torture Victim Protection Act.” The judges based their ruling on the following:

David Daliberti and William Barloon allege that they were “blindfolded, interrogated and subjected to physical, mental and verbal abuse” while in captivity. They allege that during their arrests one of the agents of the defendant threatened them with a gun, allegedly causing David Daliberti “serious mental anguish, pain and suffering.” During their imprisonment in Abu Ghraib prison, Daliberti and Barloon were “not provided adequate or proper medical treatment for serious medical conditions which became life threatening.” The alleged torture of Kenneth Beaty involved holding him in confinement for eleven days “with no water, no toilet and no bed.” Similarly, Chad Hall allegedly was held for a period of at least four days “with no lights, no window, no water, no toilet and no proper bed.” Plaintiffs further proffer that Hall was “stripped naked, blindfolded and threatened with electrocution by placing wires on his testicles … in an effort to coerce a confession from him.”

Yoo and his apologists will undoubtedly quibble yet again. There is the threat of electrocution, a threat made with a gun and deprivation of water, in one case for 11 days, none of which feature in the OLC’s memos. However, outside of the specific torture program approved by the OLC, numerous prisoners who were held at Bagram before being transported to Guantánamo have stated that they were actually subjected to electric shocks while hooded (rather than being threatened with electrocution), and that being threatened at gunpoint was a regular occurrence.

Moreover, it has also been stated that the withholding of medication was used with Abu Zubaydah after his capture, when he was severely wounded, and it should also be noted that numerous ex-prisoners have stated that, in Guantánamo, it was routine for medical treatment to be withheld unless prisoners cooperated with their interrogators.

Most of all, however, a comparison between Daliberti and the OLC memos reveals the extent to which the techniques approved by Yoo resulted in “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental,” which clearly exceeded that endured by David Daliberti and his fellow Americans in Iraq.

First of all, there is waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that has long been recognized as torture by the United States. As Eric Holder noted during his confirmation hearing in January 2009, “We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam.” With this in mind, it ought to be inconceivable that anyone could argue that waterboarding Abu Zubaydah 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times could be anything less than torture.

In addition, the prolonged isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, nudity, hooding, shackling in painful positions, cramped confinement, physical abuse, dousing in cold water, beatings and threats endured by the CIA’s high-value detainees (as revealed in the leaked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report based on interviews with the 14 men transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006) completes a picture that surely “shocks the conscience” more than the torture described in Daliberti, especially as those held were subjected to these techniques for far longer periods.

Should any further doubts remain about the definition of torture – and how it was implemented in the “War on Terror” – these should have been dispelled in January 2009, when, shortly before President Bush left office, Susan Crawford, the retired military judge who was the Convening Authority for the Military Commissions at Guantánamo (responsible for deciding who should be charged) granted the most extraordinary interview to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.

Crawford told Woodward that the reason she had not pressed charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was initially put forward for a trial by Military Commission, along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and three other men, was because he was tortured in Guantánamo.
“We tortured Qahtani,” she said. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture.”

“The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” Crawford explained. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge,” and to conclude that it was torture.

As I explained in an article at the time:

Al-Qahtani’s treatment was severe, of course. As Time magazine revealed in an interrogation log that was made available in 2005, he was interrogated for 20 hours a day over a 50-day period in late 2002 and early 2003, when he was also subjected to extreme sexual humiliation, threatened by a dog, strip-searched and made to stand naked, and made to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists. On one occasion he was subjected to a “fake rendition,” in which he was tranquilized, flown off the island, revived, flown back to Guantánamo, and told that he was in a country that allowed torture.

In addition, as I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files:

The sessions were so intense that the interrogators worried that the cumulative lack of sleep and constant interrogation posed a risk to his health. Medical staff checked his health frequently – sometimes as often as three times a day – and on one occasion, in early December, the punishing routine was suspended for a day when, as a result of refusing to drink, he became seriously dehydrated and his heart rate dropped to 35 beats a minute. While a doctor came to see him in the booth, however, loud music was played to prevent him from sleeping.

The techniques used on al-Qahtani were approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but the impetus came from the torture memos written and authorized by Yoo and Bybee. Moreover, although Crawford was not so principled when it came to considering the treatment to which the high-value detainees had been subjected in CIA custody – on the basis, presumably, that such information would be easier to conceal in a Military Commission than al-Qahtani’s well-publicized ordeal – it is clear from the ICRC report on the high-value detainees that their treatment also “met the legal definition of torture.” In addition, it seems probable that the treatment of the 80 other prisoners held in secret CIA prisons, the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, before their arrival in Guantánamo and the treatment of over 100 prisoners in Guantánamo, who were subjected to versions of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on al-Qahtani would also constitute torture.

For these reasons, David Margolis’ whitewash of Yoo and Bybee cannot be the final word. In his memo to Attorney General Eric Holder, dismissing the report’s conclusions, Margolis tried to claim that it was important to remember that Yoo and Bybee were working in extraordinary circumstances, striving to prevent another major terrorist attack. In an early version of the report, OPR head Mary Patrice Brown dismissed this argument, asserting, “Situations of great stress, danger and fear do not relieve department attorneys of their duty to provide thorough, objective and candid legal advice, even if that advice is not what the client wants to hear.”

This is correct, but another authoritative source also explains why there are no excuses for twisting the law out of all shape in an attempt to justify torture. As the UN Convention Against Torture stipulates (Article 2.2), “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

The UN Convention also stipulates (Article 4. 1) that signatories to the Convention “shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law” and requires each state, when torture has been exposed, to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution” (Article 7.1). As with Article 2.2, there are no excuses for not taking action, and that includes political expediency, or, as Barack Obama described it, “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” 

Bagram: Graveyard of the Geneva Conventions February 5, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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Thursday 04 February 2010

by: Andy Worthington, t r u t h o u t | Report
 

 

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(Photo: aleph.oto)

On January 15, 2010, the Pentagon released the first-ever list of prisoners held in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility, the main US prison in Afghanistan for the last eight years. An annotated version of the list is available here.

For those who fear that there are hundreds of prisoners in Bagram who have been held for many years, the limited information provided by the list is somewhat reassuring. Of the 645 prisoners listed, all but a hundred or so were seized in the last two years. There is a caveat, however. Based on the numbering system used, it appears that a total of 3,000 prisoners have been held at Bagram since the last of the regular prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo in November 2003, but although some have been freed – as part of an essentially inscrutable review process – it is not known how many others have been transferred either to Afghan custody (under a similarly inscrutable arrangement) or to Block “D” of Kabul’s main prison, Pol-i-Charki.

Refurbished by US forces in early 2007, Block “D” is where 45 of the 46 Afghan prisoners repatriated from Guantanamo since August 2007 have ended up. The one exception is Mohamed Jawad, released last August, who won his habeas corpus petition in a US court, but the other 45 have been subjected to equally opaque policies regarding their continued detention, and decisions about whether they should be tried or released, and, if the former, whether trials should be based on anything other than dubious “evidence” recycled from Guantanamo. The overriding question about Block “D” – which lawyers are hoping to test in US courts following the recent transfer of four Afghans from Guantanamo – is whether Block “D” is under Afghan or American control.

Despite these small reassurances about Bagram, I would not like to give the impression that all is well with the prison. The length of time that the majority of the 645 men have been held may appear to be quite reasonable – between one and two years – but this is supposed to be a prison in a war zone, and those detained should be screened on capture to make sure that they have not been seized by mistake, and then held for the duration of hostilities. Instead, there is every indication that prisoners are, in general, seized according to the defining characteristics of the “War on Terror,” as played out in both Iraq and Afghanistan – indiscriminate dragnets and raids based on often dubious intelligence – which not only fail to win “hearts and minds,” but also demonstrate a unilateral (and illegal) reworking of the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions and the Prevention of Torture

If there is any doubt about a wartime prisoner’s status – because he is not wearing a uniform, for example – he is entitled to an Article 5 competent tribunal, held close to the time and place of capture, at which he can call witnesses. The US military pioneered these tribunals from Vietnam onwards, and was preparing to undertake them in December 2001, when the prisons at Kandahar and Bagram opened, until orders came from on high that, in the “war on terror,” they were unnecessary. In its extraordinary arrogance and contempt for the law, the Bush administration decided that no screening was required, and that it was sufficient for the president to declare that, on capture, all the men were “enemy combatants,” who could be held indefinitely without any rights whatsoever.

The purpose – as became apparent at Guantanamo, when President Bush declared that the Geneva Conventions did not extend to those held in the “war on terror” – was not to keep men off the battlefield for the duration of hostilities, but to provide the lawless conditions in which they could be interrogated for “actionable intelligence.” The result, as has been chronicled as Guantanamo, at Bagram, at Abu Ghraib and in the secret prison network, was a torture regime, purportedly sanctioned by memos written by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which claimed to redefine torture for the use by the CIA, or, in the case of the military, through “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for use at Guantanamo, which later migrated to Iraq.

In many ways, these techniques were first conceived at Bagram, where the use of sleep deprivation and brutal stress positions (the “strappado” technique, or “Palestinian hanging”) was widespread, and the regime was so brutal that, in 2002, at least two prisoners (and possibly as many as five) were murdered in US custody.

Despite official claims that the conditions at Bagram have improved in the years since, a BBC report in June 2008, based on interviews with men held in the prison between 2002 and 2008, found that only two “said they had been treated well,” while the rest complained that “they were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with dogs.” In “Undue Process,” a Human Rights First report published in November 2009, a distinction was made between those held in Bagram’s early years, and those held since 2006, when, as the report noted, ex-detainees “described significantly better treatment than those captured earlier, but some still told of being assaulted at the point of capture and being held in cold isolation cells for several weeks after their capture.”

Moreover, in October 2009, during a panel discussion following the launch of the new Guantanamo documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo,” former prisoner Omar Deghayes explained how his Pakistani brother-in-law was recently captured on a visit to Afghanistan and ended up in Bagram. As Omar described it, his brother-in-law’s wife, who was allowed to talk to her husband through a videophone system established by the International Committee of the Red Cross in early 2008, reported “how horribly and badly tortured he was, how he had marks on his eyes and was really badly battered.”

Importing Guantanamo-Style Reviews to Bagram

In an attempt to stifle dissent – and, it seems, as part of a cynical maneuver to encourage the Court of Appeals to reverse the habeas victories last March of three foreign prisoners who were rendered to Bagram from other countries – the Obama administration announced last September that it was introducing a new review process for the Bagram prisoners. Submitted in court documents relating to the government’s appeal, the proposals, for the first time, allowed prisoners to call witnesses in their defense.

This was an improvement, because, until 2007, there was no formal review process at all, and as District Court Judge John D. Bates noted last March, when he granted the habeas corpus petitions of the three foreign prisoners rendered to Bagram, the system that was then put in place – consisting of Unlawful Enemy Combatant Review Boards – “falls well short of what the Supreme Court found inadequate at Guantanamo” (the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, the one-sided review process convened in 2004-05, which the Supreme Court found inadequate in Boumediene v. Bush, the June 2008 ruling granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights).

With incredulity, Judge Bates noted that the Bagram prisoners are not even allocated a personal representative from the military, as happened during the CSRTs at Guantanamo, and also noted that, although they are allowed to represent themselves:

Detainees cannot even speak for themselves; they are only permitted to submit a written statement. But in submitting that statement, detainees do not know what evidence the United States relies upon to justify an “enemy combatant” designation – so they lack a meaningful opportunity to rebut that evidence. [The government’s] far-reaching and ever-changing definition of enemy combatant, coupled with the uncertain evidentiary standards, further undercut the reliability of the UECRB review. And, unlike the CSRT process [which was followed by annual review boards], Bagram detainees receive no review beyond the UECRB itself.

In what appeared to be a direct response to Judge Bates’ damning criticisms, the Obama administration announced that, under the new rules, each prisoner would be assigned a US military official to represent him (as happened at Guantanamo), and that prisoners would also have the right to call witnesses and present evidence when it is “reasonably available” (as also happened at Guantanamo, even though no foreign witness was ever summoned to Cuba to testify).

It was also announced that the boards would determine whether prisoners should be held by the United States, turned over to Afghan authorities or released, but although the proposals included a promise that, “For those ordered held longer, the process will be repeated at six-month intervals,” the unilateral flight from the Geneva Conventions was confirmed not only in the decision to export Guantanamo’s discredited tribunal system to Bagram, but also in a section detailing how prisoners would be treated on capture.

As the submission explained, new prisoners would be subjected, on capture, not to Article 5 tribunals, but to cursory reviews by “the capturing unit commander” and by the commander of Bagram to ascertain that they “meet the criteria for detention.” Moreover, the DoD insisted that it was not merely holding prisoners “consistent with the laws and customs of war,” but was also holding those who fulfill the criteria laid down in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (the founding document of the “War on Terror,” approved by Congress within days of the 9/11 attacks), which authorized the president to detain those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001,” or those who supported them.

This is depressingly close to the “new paradigm” of warfare introduced by Bush and Cheney, and it is, perhaps, no surprise that, as criticisms began to mount, the administration strategically announced that it was in the process of transferring control of Bagram to the Afghan government. It remains to be seen how swiftly the proposed transfer will occur, but it is unsurprising that the announcement has been made, for two reasons: firstly, because it diverts attention from current US policy, and secondly, because, as with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in Iraq, it allows the US government to abdicate all responsibility for the mistakes it has made. Signed in November 2008, the SOFA in Iraq has led to the transfer of thousands of prisoners in US control to the custody of the Iraqi government, even though what awaits them is not a review of whether their detention by US forces was a mistake, but the chaos of the Iraqi judicial system.

Secret Prisons

This is depressingly cynical, of course, but what makes it even worse is a reasonable assumption that the transfer of Bagram to Afghan control will not include the transfer of any prisoners regarded as significant. For these men, the likelihood is that the US government will retain control of a secretive “black jail” within Bagram airbase, exposed by The Washington Post and The New York Times in November 2009, and will continue to seize men in nighttime raids, sending them either to this facility, or to one of nine “Field Detention Sites” on military bases, “often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families,” as Anand Gopal reported in a ground-breaking exposé last week, which revealed the extensive torture and abuse of those held.

Gopal’s account is not the only insight into the dark realities of current US detention policies in Afghanistan, beyond Bagram, beyond the Geneva Conventions, and, it seems, beyond the law. Late last year, a reliable Afghan source informed a lawyer friend of mine that there were, at the time, about two dozen secret facilities in Afghanistan, including three or four in Herat, four or five in northern Afghanistan, and three or four in Kabul. According to this source, the majority were US facilities, although a few were run by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan government’s domestic intelligence agency, and a few others were run by the Afghan Army. The source added, “They are all worse than Bagram. All contain a mix of combatants, criminals and totally innocent persons. The main difference is that those at the US prisons are fed better. No one has any rights.”

In addition, just last week, in response to my recent articles, a military insider let me know that, “Not only were there facilities in Bagram, but in Kandahar and Salerno as well. Saw them firsthand between 2006 and 2009, but was told not to speak of the jails.” These, it was noted, were “unsanctioned facilities,” which were off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

As eight years of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld should have taught us, once you abandon the Geneva Conventions, all that lies beyond is secrecy and torture. The Obama administration has certainly tinkered with the Bush administration’s legacy, but as the stories of Bagram, the “dark jail” and the network of secret facilities demonstrate, tinkering threatens only to drive the dark truths further underground, and what is needed is the courage to thoroughly repudiate the brutal practices at the heart of the “war on terror.”

Andy Worthington is a journalist and the author of “The Guantanamo Files” (Pluto Press), the first book to tell the stories of all the prisoners in Guantanamo. He maintains a blog here.

Guantánamo: The Definitive Prisoner List (Updated for 2010) January 6, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Torture, War.
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(Roger’s note: I am making an exception here to my policy of not posting fund solicitation)

The Guantanamo Files

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Back in March, I published a four-part list identifying all 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, as “the culmination of a three-year project to record the stories of all the prisoners held at the US prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” Now updated (as my ongoing project nears its four-year mark), the four parts of the list are available here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

As I explained at the time, the first fruit of my research was my book The Guantánamo Files, in which, based on an exhaustive analysis of 8,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon (plus other sources), I related the story of Guantánamo, established a chronology explaining where and when the prisoners were seized, told the stories of around 450 of these men (and boys), and provided a context for the circumstances in which the remainder of the prisoners were captured.

The list provided references to the chapters in The Guantánamo Files where the prisoners’ stories can be found, and also provided numerous links to the hundreds of articles that I wrote between May 2007 and March 2009, for a variety of publications, expanding on and updating the stories of all 779 prisoners. In particular, I covered the stories of the 143 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 onwards in unprecedented depth, and also covered the stories of the 27 prisoners charged in Guantánamo’s Military Commission trial system in more detail than was available from most, if not all other sources.

In addition, the list also included links to the 12 online chapters, published between November 2007 and February 2009, in which I told the stories of over 250 prisoners that I was unable to include in the book (either because they were not available at the time of writing, or to keep the book at a manageable length).

As a result — and notwithstanding the fact that the New York Times had made a list of documents relating to each prisoner available online — I believe that I was justified in stating that the list was “the most comprehensive list ever published of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo,” providing details of the 533 prisoners released at that point (and the dates of their release), and the 241 prisoners who were still held (including the 59 prisoners who had been cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration), for the same reason that my book provides what I have been told is an unparalleled introduction to Guantánamo and the stories of the men held there: because it provides a much-needed context for these stories that is difficult to discern in the Pentagon’s documents without detailed analysis.

When I first published the list in March, I promised — perhaps rather rashly — that I would update the list as more prisoners were released, a task that proved easier to promise than to accomplish. As a result, this update to the four parts of the list draws on the 290 or so articles that I have published in the last ten months, tracking the Obama administration’s stumbling progress towards closing the prison, reporting the stories of the 41 prisoners released since March, and covering other aspects of the Guantánamo story; in particular, the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions in the US courts, in which, since March, nine prisoners have had their habeas corpus petitions granted by the US courts, and six have had their petitions refused (the total, to date, is 32 victories for the prisoners, and just nine for the government). Overall, as it stood at December 31, 2009, 574 prisoners had been released from Guantánamo (42 under Obama), one — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — had been transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial, six had died, and 198 remained, including one man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who is serving a life sentence after a one-sided trial by Military Commission in 2008.

As for my intention, it remains the same as it did when I first published the list. As I explained at the time:

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

I also hope that it provides a compelling explanation of how that same government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, established a prison in which the overwhelming majority of those held — at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total — were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism.

To this I would only add that, nearly a year after President Obama took office, I hope that the list and its references provide a useful antidote to the current scaremongering regarding the failed Christmas plane bomber, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his alleged ties with one — just one — of the 574 prisoners released from Guantánamo, in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda cell. This purported connection is being used by those who want the evil stain of Guantánamo to endure forever (still led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, but also including a number of spineless Democrats) to argue that no more of the Yemenis — who make up nearly half of the remaining prisoners — should be released, even though the ex-prisoner in question is a Saudi, even though no more than a dozen or so of the 574 prisoners released have gone on to have any involvement whatsoever with terrorism, and even though all of these men were released during the presidency of George W. Bush.

One year ago, it looked feasible that Guantánamo would close by January 2010. We now know that President Obama’s self-imposed deadline will be missed, partly through the unprincipled agitating of opportunistic opponents in Congress and the media, and partly through the government’s own lack of courage in the face of this opposition, but this is no reason for complacency. As the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening approaches, it remains imperative that those who oppose the existence of indefinite detention without charge or trial — and who call, instead, for the full reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, and federal court trials for terrorists — maintain the pressure to close Guantánamo, and to charge or release the prisoners held there, as swiftly as possible.

Andy Worthington
London

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on The Public Record. Also discussed by Andrew Sullivan on The Daily Dish, by Juan Cole on Informed Comment (with a link to my recent article about the six Yemenis released before Christmas) and by The Talking Dog. It was also highlighted on the front page of Common Dreams, an edited version was posted in the UK on Liberal Conspiracy and Counterpoint, the blog of the British Council, and it was also cross-posted on various other sites including Global ResearchThe World Can’t Wait, psychologist and anti-torture blogger Jeff Kaye’s Invictus, Psyche, Science and Society, the blog of psychoanalyst, psychologist, researcher and activist Stephen Soldz, Free Detainees, Uruknet, Blog from Middle East and Shadow on the Sun. It was also discussed on Open Salon by Debra Sweet of The World Can’t Wait (and on Debra’s own site) and on Democratic Underground, was mentioned on The Guantánamo Blog, was linked to prominently on the front page of Antiwar.com, and was “Website of the Day” on CounterPunch.

Thanks, everybody!

January 2010