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Setting Sail for Gaza, Armed with Love Letters and a Missive from Dr. King June 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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“Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.”
Published on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him,” said Dr. Martin Luther King as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. These words will guide me and other passengers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, a fleet of nine boats scheduled to set sail for Gaza on June 25 from various Mediterranean ports. While the Israelis try to label us provocateurs, terrorists and Hamas supporters, we are simply nonviolent advocates following the teachings of Dr. King. We refuse to sit at the docks of history and watch the people of Gaza suffer.

The U.S. boat, which will carry 50 Americans, is called The Audacity of Hope. It is named after Obama’s bestselling political autobiography in which he lauds our collective audacity of striving to become a better nation. But I prefer to think of our boat as part of Dr. King’s legacy. He, too, talked about audacity, about his audacious faith in the future. “I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him,” Dr. King said.

Our intrepid group has its moral compass aimed at the way things ought to be. Our cargo is not humanitarian aid, as some of the other ships are carrying, but thousands of letters from the U.S. people, letters of compassion, solidarity and hope written to people living in the Gaza Strip. We travel with what Dr. King called “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

We focus on Gaza because since 2007 the Israeli government has enforced a crippling blockade on its 1.5 million residents. Inflicting collective punishment on civilians is morally wrong and is a gross violation of international humanitarian law under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet the world’s democracies do nothing to stop Israel’s extraordinarily cruel behavior, and in fact did nothing for 22 days in 2009 while the Israel military unleashed a tidal wave of carnage that left 1,400 Palestinians dead. They continue to sit by while the people of Gaza remain isolated and unable to secure access to building materials and basic living supplies, and while Israeli soldiers shoot at Gaza’s farmers trying to till their land along the border and attack fisherman trying to make a living in waters off their shore. And in the case of the United States, our government is not simply sitting by, but supporting the Israeli military with $3 billion in military aid a year.

Bonus Photo - Gaza Demo

The Palestinians’ plea for help has been ignored by world governments, but it has pricked the conscience of civil society. Caravans have crisscrossed Europe and Africa, carrying tons of aid. Boats have braved Israeli war ships and tried to dock in Gaza’s ports. Over 1,000 people joined the Gaza Freedom March, an attempt to break the siege that was brutally stopped by Egyptian police during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

In May, 2010, seven ships and nearly 700 passengers carrying humanitarian aid tried to breach Israel’s naval blockade. The Israeli military violently intercepted the ships, killing nine passengers aboard the Turkish boat, including a 19-year-old American citizen. The rest of passengers were roughed up, arrested, thrown in Israeli prisons, and deported.

For a brief moment, this tragedy in international waters focused the world spotlight on Gaza. Israel said it would ease the draconian siege, allowing more goods to enter the beleaguered strip. But just this month, the health authorities in Gaza proclaimed a state of emergency due to an acute shortage of vital medicines and also this month, a report from the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA, found unemployment in Gaza at a staggering 45.2 percent, among the highest in the world. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the number of abject poor living on just over one dollar a day has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed in 2007. “It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” Gunness said.

Hopes inside Gaza were buoyed by the Egyptian revolution. A groundswell of grassroots solidarity by Egyptians pushed the new government to announce that it would open its border with Gaza. But that promise remains elusive, asthousands are still blocked from crossing, and all imports and exports must still pass through the Israeli side. Israel remains the warden for the world’s largest open-air prison. It continues to decide what goods can enter, what exports can come out, and which people can get exit visas. It continues to control Gaza’s electricity, water supply, airspace and access to the Mediterranean.

Although the Israelis know that our boats will not carry arms and we, the passengers, are committed to nonviolence, they have nonetheless vowed to stop us with a dizzying array of force—water cannons, commandos, border police, snipers, and attack dogs from the military’s canine unit.

Equally astonishing is the U.S. government’s reaction. Instead of demanding safe passage for unarmed U.S. citizens participating in what passenger and writer Alice Walker calls the Freedom Ride of our era,” the State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner has labeled our actions “irresponsible and provocative” and the U.S. government has joined Israel in strong-arming countries in the Mediterranean to prevent us from sailing.

This pressure is having an impact. At the urging of the Turkish government, our flagship, the Mavi Marmara, the same ship that was so violently attacked last year, recently announced that it will not be joining the flotilla. The Mavi Marmara was going to carry 500 people; its absence cuts our numbers in half. And there may be more ships forced to drop out.

All this bullying, however, only strengthens our resolve. We may be fewer boats, we may have fewer passengers, we may be threatened with violence, but we will sail. And if the Israelis intercept our boats, we call on people around the world to gather at Israeli embassies and consulates to express their outrage.

Like the inexorable rhythm of the ocean, the Palestinians will continue to lap at the shores of injustice. They will keep coming back, wave after wave, demanding the right to rebuild their tattered communities, the right to live in dignity. Shoring them up will be the international community, including activists like us who join their nonviolent resistance. The real question is: How long will the Israelis, with U.S. backing, continue to swim against the tide?

 

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org). She is author of Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart.

We Are at War All Over The World May 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in War, War on Terror.
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 Dave Lefcourt, www.opednews.com, May 17, 2011

If there was any doubt left that we are at war all over the world, let that doubt be completely dispelled.

The specific reason: a classified executive order called, “AQN Ex Ord or Al Qaeda Network Executive Order , , signed by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in early 2004.” [1]

The order allows “US Special Forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.” [2]

What began under Bush Jr., “President Obama has reserved the right for US forces to operate lethally and unilaterally in any country around the globe in pursuit of alleged high-value terrorists,” [3] (this was obviously the executive order used by President Obama to take out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan).

To put it simply, we reserve the right to enter ANY country to go after anyone we want to. There are no issues of a nation’s sovereignty, the Geneva Convention on war or any other treaty or international agreement we may have previously entered into and signed. This is all superseded by the aforementioned executive order.

For all intents and purposes our diplomacy with other countries, the treaties and international agreements we previously entered into with all of them are in reality null and void. We have betrayed their trust with this executive order.

Sure we’ll continue the charade of being a respected member of the international community of nations and a country that abides by the rules of international law, but reality says otherwise.

We may even have a Constitution with its separation of powers which mandates separate and equal legislative and judicial branches along with the executive.

But the legislative branch (Congress) has relinquished and abdicated its powers to the executive and has become a mere impediment and sometimes inconvenience to the supreme powers now assumed by the executive. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has remained neutral regarding the respective powers of the executive and the Congress vis-à-vis the Constitution (thus effectively giving the executive a free hand to do as he pleases).

So though the assumption of power is clearly un-Constitutional and illegal, the executive has in reality become a dictatorship while the country retains the appearance and trappings of a representative democracy.

Like the Roman Republic before it some two thousand years ago which subsequently became the Roman Empire in fact (with the ascension of Julius Caesar as Emperor and the deference of the Roman Senate), our republic has in fact descended into an empire.

And with this reality of our imperial over-reach we should no longer wonder why much of the world mistrusts us or even hates us. We have brought this on ourselves.

We have created, through our policies most of the terrorism that exists in the world.

We the people have not been vigilant. Our passiveness and acquiescence has made us enablers to a government run amok that commits us to unnecessary and endless wars against a terrorism our government’s policies created.

We may deceive ourselves with our American “exceptionalism”, our sense of “entitlement” and the egocentric belief the world wants to be like us.

This a mirage, a fantasy and our ultimate illusion.

Yes Osama bin Laden is dead. We killed him, but lest we forget, he was creature of our own creation. He did not erupt spontaneously out of some nothingness.

Unfortunately we keep creating more of his kind with our endless wars and our “lethal and unilateral” operations in any country around the world.

[1] The Kill Team, by Jeremy Scahill, “The Nation”, May 23, 2011.

[2]   See footnote #1

[3]   See footnote #1

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One Guantanamo Trial That Will Be Held in New York April 6, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Published on Wednesday, April 6, 2011 by TruthDig.com

by Amy Goodman

On the same day President Barack Obama formally launched his re-election campaign, his attorney general, Eric Holder, announced that key suspects in the 9/11 attacks would be tried not in federal court, but through controversial military commissions at Guantanamo. Holder blamed members of Congress, who he said “have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States.” Nevertheless, one Guantanamo case will be tried in New York. No, not the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any of his alleged co-conspirators. This week, the New York state Supreme Court will hear the case against John Leso, a psychologist who is accused of participating in torture at the Gitmo prison camp that Obama pledged, and failed, to close.

The case was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) on behalf of Steven Reisner. Reisner, a New York psychologist and adviser to Physicians for Human Rights, is at the center of a growing group of psychologists campaigning against the participation of psychologists in the U.S. government’s interrogation programs, which they say amounts to torture. Unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the largest association of psychologists in the world, has refused to implement a resolution passed by its membership barring APA members from participating in interrogations at sites where international law or the Geneva Conventions are being violated. Reisner, a child of Holocaust survivors, is running for president of the APA, in part to force it to comply with the resolution.

John Francis Leso is a U.S. Army major, formerly chief of the clinical psychology service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. According to CJA, Dr. Leso “led the first Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) at … Guantanamo from June 2002 to January 2003,” where he “co-authored an interrogation policy memorandum that incorporated illegal techniques adapted from methods used by the Chinese and North Korean governments against U.S. prisoners of war.”

Reisner filed a complaint with the New York state agency that governs licenses of psychologists, the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD), asking for an investigation and appropriate disciplinary action. He took this route, Reisner told me, because “health professionals are privy to private information, to weaknesses, to psychological and physical compromises, and they are privy to that information because they take an oath not to abuse that information to cause harm. So when health professionals use that very information … to cause harm, we want to make sure that those people are held accountable and have their licenses revoked, if necessary.”

The OPD declined to investigate, so Reisner is seeking a court order to force the agency to do so.

Maj. Leso recommended three categories of interrogation severity at Guantanamo, depending on the prisoners’ ability to resist. “Category III” included “daily use of 20 hour interrogations; the use of strict isolation without the right of visitation by treating medical professionals or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); the use of food restriction for 24 hours once a week; the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee he might experience a painful or fatal outcome; non-injurious physical consequences; removal of clothing; and exposure to cold weather or water until such time as the detainee began to shiver.”

Leso is alleged to have participated in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a young man captured in Afghanistan and referred to as the “20th hijacker.” Al-Qahtani’s interrogation was so harsh that his charges were dropped. He is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said in response to Holder’s announcement: “The Obama administration all but admitted political failure today as it announced it would try the 9/11 defendants before the deeply flawed military commission system rather than in Article III civilian courts as originally planned.  … In the same breath that the U.S. is calling for the rule of law in the Middle East, it is subverting it at home.”

The roll call of U.S. officials implicated in torture is long, yet not one of them has been held accountable: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, psychologists Col. Larry James and John Leso, among others. As an Arab Spring is celebrated around the world, we should turn over a new leaf in the United States and celebrate an American Spring as well, one that rejects torture and is not afraid to use its judicial system, whether trying accused terrorists or torturers.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Afghan officials beat detainees ‘on a whim’: military inquiry May 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Canadian Press, May 7, 2010 

OTTAWA — A military board of inquiry says Afghan authorities regularly beat enemy prisoners “in the street and elsewhere” and most Canadian soldiers were well aware of the fact.

The probe into an incident involving a suspected Taliban fighter who was beaten in the street in front of Canadian troops says soldiers on the ground had ongoing concerns about the Afghan police.

The report says the “practice of corporal punishment being meted out on an apparent whim in the street and elsewhere was common and was observed and commented upon by most Canadian Forces members.”

The investigators say the suspected Taliban fighter who was beaten in June 2006 after he was turned over by the Canadians wasn’t deemed a detainee so the incident wasn’t reported to military brass.

The board found that while a detainee-reporting process was in place during the incident, it fell to soldiers and commanders to determine when someone was actually in Canadian custody.

In this case, the troops on the ground didn’t consider the suspected insurgent a Canadian detainee.

The probe made no recommendations because it found the military now has a clearly defined process of documenting and reporting detainees.

The investigation stems from an incident in which Canadian soldiers captured a suspected Taliban fighter and handed him over to local police.

The Afghan police then beat the man to the point where the Canadians had to intervene.

A report on the incident was apparently uncovered only in December, leaving egg on the face of the country’s top military commander.

Gen. Walt Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, told the Commons defence committee that Canadian troops had questioned the suspected insurgent, but never detained him.

But Natynczyk corrected himself a day later, saying Canadian troops did indeed capture the man and gave him to Afghan police before taking him back into custody when they saw him being beaten.

Natynczyk then ordered an investigation to determine why the information did not get to him or Rick Hillier, the general who served before him.

Rear-Admiral Paul Maddison, commander of the navy’s East Coast operation, headed the board of inquiry.

Opposition parties say the episode shows the governing Conservatives had credible proof of torture and knew of the dangers of transferring prisoners as far back as 2006.

The Tories insist they had no solid evidence of Canadian-captured prisoners being abused by the Afghans before November 2007.

Diplomat Richard Colvin told a Commons committee last fall that Canadian officials were warned about possible torture in 2006, but took little or no action to halt the transfer of prisoners to Afghan authorities.

Colvin said all prisoners turned over by Canadian troops to the Afghans were probably then abused by their captors.

Knowingly transferring a prisoner into a situation where they may face a risk of torture is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime.

A Commons committee and the quasi-judicial Military Police Complaints Commission have been looking into the issue of alleged detainee abuse for months.

Moving Guantanamo to Bagram Could Evade Court Jurisdiction March 25, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Published on Thursday, March 25, 2010 by The Progressiveby Matthew Rothschild

In President Obama’s first week in office, he pledged to close down Guantanamo within a year.

The year’s been up for two months now, and Guantanamo still remains open.

Making matters worse, it looks like the Obama Administration may simply move Guantanamo to Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the “White House is considering whether to detain international terrorism suspects at [Bagram Air Base] in Afghanistan, an option that would lead to another prison with the same purpose as Guantanamo Bay.”

And that purpose is to hold suspects indefinitely, without ever granting them any due process rights.

The Supreme Court has ruled that suspects held at Guantanamo have due process rights because Guantanamo is effectively U.S. property. But the Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration before it, says that this court decision does not apply to Bagram Air Base.

Last September, Obama’s Justice Department told a lower court that “when it comes to military facilities, unlike Guantanamo, that are truly abroad-particularly those halfway across the globe in an active war zone-courts in the United States exceed their role by second-guessing the political branches about the reach of habeas jurisdiction.”

Until the Court resolves that question, Obama can ship detainees from Guantanamo – or anywhere else in the world – to Bagram Air Base and hold them there for years at a time.

It’s against international law, but that hasn’t stopped a President before.

So it looks like make Guantanamo may soon be Spanish for Bagram, and both will translate into human rights violations.

© 2010 The Progressive

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

Afghanistan’s My Lai Massacre March 5, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Students executed by US forces in Kunar Province

Friday 05 March 2010

by: Dave Lindorff, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
 

 

photo
(Photo: Omer Wazir; Edited: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)

When Charlie Company’s Lt. William Calley ordered and encouraged his men to rape, maim and slaughter over 400 men, women and children in My Lai in Vietnam back in 1968, there were at least four heroes who tried to stop him or bring him and higher officers to justice. One was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., who evacuated some of the wounded victims, and who set his chopper down between a group of Vietnamese and Calley’s men, ordering his door gunner to open fire on the US soldiers if they shot any more people. One was Ron Ridenhour, a soldier who learned of the massacre and began a private investigation, ultimately reporting the crime to the Pentagon and Congress. One was Michael Bernhardt, a soldier in Charlie Company, who witnessed the whole thing and reported it all to Ridenhour. And one was journalist Seymour Hersh, who broke the story in the US media.

Today’s war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has them almost weekly, as US warplanes bomb wedding parties or homes “suspected” of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents. They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable “collateral damage” of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a mistake – a massacre, which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11-18, and a 12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others in Kunar Province on December 26.

Sadly, no principled soldier with a conscience like pilot Thompson tried to save these children. No observer had the guts of a Bernhardt to report what he had seen. No Ridenhour among the other serving US troops in Afghanistan has investigated this atrocity or reported it to Congress. And no American reporter has investigated this war crime the way Hersh investigated My Lai.

There is a Hersh for the Kunar massacre, but he’s a Brit. While American reporters, like the anonymous journalistic drones who wrote “CNN’s” December 29 report on the incident took the Pentagon’s initial cover story – that the dead were part of a secret bomb squad – at face value, Jerome Starkey, a dogged reporter in Afghanistan working for the Times of London and the Scotsman, talked to other sources – the dead boys’ headmaster, other townspeople and Afghan government officials – and found out the real truth about a gruesome war crime – the execution of handcuffed children. And while a few news outlets in the US like The New York Times did mention that there were some claims that the dead were children, not bomb makers, none, including CNN, which had bought and run the Pentagon’s lies unquestioningly, bothered to print the news update when, on February 24, the US military admitted that in fact the dead were innocent students. Nor has any US corporate news organization mentioned that the dead had been handcuffed when they were shot. Starkey reported the US government’s damning admission</a>. Yet still the US media remain silent as the grave.

Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to execute a captive. Yet, in Kunar on December 26, US-led forces, or perhaps US soldiers or contract mercenaries, cold-bloodedly executed eight hand-cuffed prisoners. It is a war crime to kill children under the age of 15, yet in this incident a boy of 11 and a boy of 12 were handcuffed as captured combatants and executed. Two others of the dead were 12 and a third was 15.

I called the secretary of defense’s office to ask if any investigation was underway into this crime or if one was planned, was told I had to send a written request, which I did. To date, I have heard nothing. What the Pentagon has done – no surprise – is to pass the buck by leaving any investigation to the International Security Assistance Force – a fancy name for the US-led NATO force fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a clever ruse, since Congress has no authority to compel testimony from NATO or the ISAF as it would the Pentagon. A source at the Senate Armed Services Committee says the ISAF is investigating, and that the committee has asked for a “briefing” – that means nothing would be under oath – once that investigation is complete, but don’t hold your breath or expect anything dramatic.

I also contacted the press office of the House Armed Services Committee to see if any hearings into this crime have been planned. The answer is no, though the press officer asked me to send her details of the incident. (Not a good sign that House members and staff are paying much attention – the killings led to countrywide student demonstrations in Afghanistan, to a formal protest by the office of President Hamid Karzai and to an investigation by the Afghan government, which concluded that innocent students had been handcuffed and executed and, no doubt, contributed to a call by the Afghan government for prosecution and execution of American soldiers who kill Afghan civilians.)

There is still time for real heroes to stand up in the midst of this imperial adventure that may now appropriately be called Obama’s War in Afghanistan. Plenty of men and women in uniform in Afghanistan know that nine innocent Afghan children were captured and murdered at America’s hands last December in Kunar. There are also probably people who were involved in the planning or carrying out of this criminal operation who are sickened by what happened. But these people are, so far, holding their tongues, whether out of fear or out of simply not knowing where to turn. (Note: If you have information you may contact me.)

There are also plenty of reporters in Afghanistan and in Washington who could be investigating this story. They are not. Don’t ask me why. They certainly should not be able to call themselves journalists – at least with a straight face.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-area journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net. Lindorff may be reached at dlindorff@yahoo.com

Bagram, Obama’s Secret Penal Colony February 18, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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(Roger’s note: Most Americans likely believe the lies that have been put out by the Obama administration and parroted by Obama’s supporters and the corporate media, to wit, that President Obama has put an end to the Bush era renditions, torture, and imprisonment without rights.  Those who are familiar with the blog sphere and many others outside of the United States are aware of the brutal continuation of these barbaric practices.  The article below is another demonstration that the more things change the more they stay the same.)

Thursday 11 February 2010

by: Sara Daniel  |  Le Nouvel Observateur

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Although Afghan National Army soldiers practice search techniques as part of their training for treatment of detainees, human rights activists do not believe the Obama administration will hand Bagram prison over to the Afghans. (Photo: lafrancevi)

They look at one another, happy and deeply moved. A little self-conscious also. How to meet again after so long? How to pick up the thread of an existence interrupted three, four years ago? They hardly know how any more. At Bagram, people lose the notion of time. This December morning, they are three who have been released from “the Americans’ prison.” In this Kabul alley, it’s a strange spectacle to see these men squeezed into their new sky blue tunics that they’ve exchanged for their red prisoners’ uniforms. They laugh at meeting their dear ones whom they don’t dare embrace. “Is it really you, Ahmad, my brother? – I thought you were dead!” Politely, the two first ex-prisoners brush aside our questions: they’re in a rush to be alone with their families after such a long absence. Soon, their silhouettes disappear, erased in Kabul’s dusty wind.

Only the third lingers, happy for the opportunity to speak. No one has come to pick him up. Hadji Gul Raman relates the worst with a smile. His teeth broken by punches the day of his arrest. The air conditioning that froze his bones in midwinter. The fire extinguishers that sprayed ice water on the twenty prisoners piled up in chain-linked cells. The lack of privacy, the daily fights to use the sole toilet … These humiliations and tortures, formerly used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, are still standard operating procedure at Bagram, in spite of Barack Obama’s declaration. In spite of the horror he seemed to profess for these aberrations of the “war against terrorists” begun by his predecessor. And yet, Raman did not experience the “techniques” in use during the first years of Bagram prison, built eight years ago. He did not live through what Omar Kadr – 15 years old at the time of his arrest – suffered; Kadr, whom the screws transformed into a living mop, wiping him across the floor after having coated it with floor wax. Or those that Dilawar – dead in 2002 after having been hung by the hands for four days, although there was no evidence against him – endured. According to the autopsy report, Dilawar’s legs had doubled in volume.

So Hadji Gul Raman spent three years in this dungeon of America-at-war because, like almost all Afghans, he possessed a Kalashnikov … One day in December 2006, Raman left with his uncles to find his cousin, Hadji Ahmed Sharkan, a district governor in Helmand province, kidnapped by traffickers – a national sport in Afghanistan. At a checkpoint, American soldiers searched them. They arrested the one holding the weapon; they ended up releasing the others. Raman never saw either lawyer or judge; it is consequently impossible to verify his version of events … “They crossed me off the list of the living,” he says. “I knew neither how long I would remain imprisoned nor where I was.” How to locate a place that does not exist?

On No Map

For the Bagram detention center, located on an American military base in northwestern Kabul, does not figure on any map. The site of the biggest American military prison outside the United States is classified a defense secret. Unlike Guantanamo, no journalist has been able to visit the two sand-colored hangars surrounded by concrete. No outside observer, no Red Cross inspector, has had access to the detention center’s “special” quarter where “very high-value” prisoners are interrogated. In this “black jail,” as the detainees call it, the individual concrete cells have no window; the lights remain on 24/7. Last August, the American government limited time spent in these interrogation sites to … two weeks.

Bagram, the prison which, in the words of an American military prosecutor, would make Guantanamo look like “a five-star hotel.” Bagram, the dread of Afghans who all know a family member or a neighbor who disappeared one day without a trace, swallowed up by that black hole. Bagram, which American human rights activists have dubbed “Obama’s Guantanamo.” For after the new president’s election, the American attorney general decreed that those imprisoned there – unlike those in Guantanamo – could not contest their detention before a civilian judge, nor even see a lawyer … A decision so contrary to the principles asserted by Obama that he is today suspected of wanting to replace the Cuban penal colony with the Afghan prison. While the number of detainees at Guantanamo has continued to decline (there are now less than 200), it has rapidly increased at Bagram, particularly over the last few months. According to American Army spokesman Stephen Clutter, there are 750 today, including 30 non-Afghans and five minors. It is as though the United States, enmeshed in its struggle against terrorism and al-Qaeda, had finally determined that it couldn’t, in time of war, make do without a lawless prison where every means is legitimate for “harvesting” intelligence. Initially a triage center for prisoners arrested in the Afghan theater of operations, Bagram became the final destination for suspects arrested in the framework of the war against terror.

In the early morning hours of a glacial December day, squatting men wait in the Kabul prosecutor’s rose garden. They have come to enquire about their disappeared. Families from every region of Afghanistan have sent their old people: those who can no longer work in the fields sometimes camp for whole months in the capital in hope of having news about their prisoners. The prosecutor receives notables only, those who can produce a letter of recommendation signed by their tribal chieftain. The others are tossed from offices to little cubicles, directed to subalterns who chase them away with the back of a hand or rush to lose their files in the stacks of paperwork.

In the batch, there are guilty persons to be sure, authors of attacks animated by hatred of the occupier. But the majority of stories these men tell describe the extraordinary misunderstanding that has settled in between Afghans and the occupying troops. Fear and incomprehension. Culture shock, skillfully exploited by warlords or simple peasants: to get rid of a troublesome rival, all one has to do is denounce him as a dangerous Taliban to Western soldiers who understand nothing about all these quarrels. This war conducted by strikes of blind raids sends people to prison for years who are often guilty only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Abdul Razak, a Kandahar bazaar merchant, was detained for five years at Guantanamo, then Bagram, because he had … the same name as the Taliban minister of the interior. Abdul Rahman, also jailed in the Afghan prison, was accused of having killed a policeman who was not yet dead the day of his arrest … The affair that brought Alam Khan, a young peasant, to Bagram is just as absurd. His father, an old man whose face is crisscrossed by deep wrinkles, railing against the Americans’ lack of discernment, relates: “One day, in Zabul province, our neighbor Nasrallah shot my son, whose land he coveted, twice. During his convalescence, my son swore to take revenge. But before he could do so, Nasrallah had denounced him to the Americans to protect himself. He claimed that my son was a Taliban commandant, a certain Salim. Yet everybody knows that this Salim is not even from our district!”

“Zoo Smell”

Outraged by these arbitrary arrests, the committee for peace and reconciliation (charged with rallying the “moderate” Taliban to the Afghan government) and President Karzai have asked the Americans to allow the Afghan legal system to reexamine the cases of prisoners for whom their tribal chieftains vouch. The Americans – as in Iraq – finally agreed to communicate certain files to the local authorities. At this time, the committee has received over 2,300 letters from tribal chieftains which have led to hundreds of liberations. Committee member and law professor Hachimi, former adviser to the Afghan justice minister, acknowledges that these discharges have frequently been as arbitrary as the arrests: “It’s too dangerous to go to the provinces to hear the protagonists. So we settle for having the detainees repeat their version of the facts. If there’s no discrepancy, we propose their release. And the Americans decide …”

Sayed Sharif Sharif, the Afghan judge charged with preparing the cases that the Americans agree to communicate to him, receives visitors in a tiny office, the cupboards of which overflow with paper. He will never forget the first time he visited the prison at Bagram: “The dogs, the zoo smell that emanated from the cages …” Of the 600 cases he has been able to examine, 200 prisoners were immediately cleared – “judicial errors.” The others were tried on minor charges and released after two years of prison. “As for the hundred or so Bagram prisoners arrested before 2007, we’ve never been able to obtain access to their files,” says Judge Sharif.

“We Even Have to Pay the Judges”

Barack Obama, who has not given up on closing the prison at Guantanamo, has never mentioned Bagram in his speeches. Yet, after his election, he signed a decree ordering the closure of all secret sites under CIA control. That decree, however, was not applied to Bagram, because it comes under the responsibility of the Army’s special forces section … Such mystery surrounds this detention center situated in the combat zone that a good many Americans do not even know of its existence. Human rights activists’ actions have lifted a corner of the veil. The American Civil Liberties Union, a New York-based NGO whose mission is “defending and preserving the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States,” brought a legal action and obtained a ruling obliging the American military penitentiary administration to reveal the names of most Bagram detainees. But those who figure on that list remain “enemy combatants” and still do not have the right to representation by a lawyer.

Tina Foster, a lawyer for the legal NGO headquartered in New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights, was defending Guantanamo prisoners when she realized that the worst physical maltreatment undergone by her clients had taken place at Bagram. Since she has been looking into the case of the “Afghan gulag,” the young woman receives Obama’s promises with skepticism. The American government has just announced that it was considering confiding the administration of the prison to the Afghan government as soon as it had trained the necessary personnel. But Tina Foster doesn’t believe it. She points out that no date has been fixed for this transfer of power that is all the more hypothetical in that President Karzai, who for months has been trying – in vain – to form a government, has never been weaker. “They’re not preparing to close the prison at all,” states the lawyer. “On the contrary, they’re enlarging it. The United States needs Bagram to be able to replace Guantanamo. With respect to the methods of the war against terror, nothing but the language has changed from the Bush administration to the Obama administration.” Meanwhile, for the last few months, the Bagram prisoners against whom there is the least evidence are being progressively transferred to the Afghan Pul-e Charkhi prison – which is also being enlarged. There, they recover an identity and receive a verdict, a prelude to their exit from prison: a manner of providing a legal framework to their liberation, in the absence of any for their incarceration. But this step towards freedom is not without pitfalls, since, in the Afghan legal system, other ambushes lie in wait for “releasables.” As the father of Hayatullah, a 20-year-old prisoner who has hoped for months to get out of the Pul-e Charkhi limbo, explains: “If my son is innocent, why not liberate him directly? Since he’s been at Pul-e-Charkhi, we have to pay all the time, even the judges. But we don’t have the means … The rich Taliban commandants, they have comfortable cells; they’ve even got cell phones!”

In a confidential 700-page report on the prison system in Afghanistan ordered by Gen. David Petraeus, marine officer Douglas Stone has demonstrated the system’s perversity. Of 600 prisoners incarcerated at Bagram in June 2009, at least 400 were innocent! But the detention conditions and prison overpopulation result from the multiplication of military operations, notably in the south of the country, frequently leading to the transformation of innocents into fanatics. In other words: arbitrary detentions and abuse manufacture terrorists on an assembly line; a vicious circle that the dispatch of 30,000 additional soldiers risks reinforcing. And which seriously undermines the cause for which America fights in Afghanistan. Such is the paradox of Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is conducting wars on two fronts. A sincere humanist who maintains secret prisons in violation of the principles of that America which elected him.

Since Obama has been the United States president, the number of prisoners at Bagram prison has continued to rise. To answer human rights activists’ criticisms, the American administration has just built a new building (cost: $67 million) as yet unoccupied. It will be able to shelter only 300 prisoners of the 750 still held in the dilapidated cages of the old prison.

Tina Foster

Since 2005, Tina Foster, a 35-year-old New York lawyer, has gone to bat for Bagram prisoners. In their name, she submits habeas corpus petitions (in principle, it is illegal in the United States to imprison anyone without a trial) but up until now, in vain. Tina Foster campaigned for Obama, thinking that he would put an end to the illegal methods implemented in the name of the “war against terror.” Today, she is cruelly disappointed.

For barely two years, and thanks to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Bagram prisoners have been able to communicate with their family members through videoconferencing. The ICRC also obtained permission, in September 2008, to organize family visits within the confines of the prison. However, recently, detainees have refused to participate to protest against their conditions of imprisonment.

Khaled Sheikh Mohammed

Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the September 11 attacks, was Bagram prison’s most famous detainee. He stayed there before being sent to a secret jail in Poland, then to Guantanamo. At Bagram, he was tortured: “They stuck a tube in my anus into which water was poured,” he confided to Red Cross representatives.

At the London Conference on Afghanistan, the question of national reconciliation with the Taliban was discussed … According to the UN’s Kabul representative, Norwegian Kai Eide, a first subject of discussion with the Taliban faction could bear on the “list of detainees at Bagram prison.”

Translation: Truthout French Language Editor, Leslie Thatcher.

 

The Real Roots of the CIA’s Rendition and Black Sites Program February 17, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
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(Roger’s note: too many innocents believe that the moral decline in the US began with the Bush Administration.  Setting aside minor defects in the American character as evidenced by such peccadilloes as genocide against the Native population and the slavery of Africans, we see in this article posted below that the illegal clandestine machinations of the CIA go back at least until the early 1950s.  The Office of Strategic Services [OSS], the CIA’s forerunner, was formed in 1942 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Precisely when it began its criminal activities is up for interpretation, although we know that under the leader ship of Allen Dulles [1953-1961], the CIA’s first civilian Director, the Agency was active in overthrowing democratic regimes in Guatemala and Bolivia.  Dulles and his brother John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, were both rabid anti-Communists.  The latter had advocated using the atomic bomb to “rescue” the French Army in Vietnam where it was trapped at Dien Bien Phu, only to be overrode by Eisenhower.

 

If one is to take seriously Harry Truman’s dictum, “the buck stops here,” then we can justifiably say that every president at least beginning with Eisenhower can be held responsible for the torture and murder carried out by the CIA: that would be Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and last but not least, Barack Obama.)

Wednesday 17 February 2010

by: H.P. Albarelli Jr. and Jeffrey Kaye, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

 

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(Image: Troy Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: ArtMakesMeSmile, DecadeNull, LoveMissB)

On Tuesday, February 10, the British High Court finally released a “seven-paragraph court document showing that MI5 officers were involved in the ill-treatment of a British resident, Binyam Mohamed.” The document is itself a summary of 42 classified CIA documents given to the British in 2002. The US government has threatened the British government that the US-British intelligence relationship could be damaged if this material were released. The revelations regarding Mohamed’s torture, which include documentation of the fact the US conducted “continuous sleep deprivation” under threats of harm, rendition, or being “disappeared,” were criticized by the British court as being “at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities,” and in violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The Mohamed case is the most prominent of a number of cases that have come to public attention. While the timeline of Mohamed’s torture places the implementation of the Bush administration’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” many months prior to their questionable legal justification in the August 1, 2002, Jay Bybee memo to the CIA, the use of torture and rendition has a much earlier provenance. Over the past decade, many Americans have been shocked and disturbed about the CIA’s secret program of rendition and torture carried out in numerous secret sites (dubbed “black sites” by the CIA) around the globe. The dimensions of this program for the most part are still classified “Eyes Only” in the intelligence community, but the program’s roots can be clearly discovered in the early 1950’s with the CIA’s Artichoke Project. Perhaps the best and strangest case illustrating this can be found in the agency’s own files. This is the so-called “Lyle O. Kelly case.” The facts of this case are drawn from declassified government documents.

An Early Example of Torture and Rendition: “The Kelly Case”

In late January 1952, Morse Allen, a CIA Security Office official, was summoned to the office of his superior, security deputy chief Robert L. Bannerman, where he met with another agency official to discuss what Bannerman initially introduced as “the Kelly case.” Wrote Allen, in a subsequent memorandum for his files, the official “explained in substance the Kelly case as follows: “Kelly, (whose real name is Dimitrov), is a 29-year-old Bulgarian and was the head of a small political party based in Greece and ostentively [sic] working for Bulgarian independence.” The official described Dimitrov [whose first name was Dimitre] to Allen as “being young, ambitious, bright … a sort of a ‘man-on-a-horse’ type but a typical Balkan politician.”

The official continued explaining to Allen that months earlier CIA field operatives discovered that Dimitrov was seriously considering becoming a double agent for the French Intelligence Service. “Accordingly,” states the memo, “a plot was rigged in which [Dimitrov] was told he was going to be assassinated and as a protective he was placed in custody of the Greek Police.” Successfully duped, Dimitrov was then thrown into prison. There he was subjected to interrogation and torture, and he witnessed the brutal torture of other persons the CIA had induced authorities to imprison. Greek intelligence and law enforcement agencies were especially barbaric in their methods. Highly respected Operation Gladio historian Daniele Ganser describes the treatment of prisoners: “Their toes and fingernails were torn out. Their feet were beaten with sticks, until the skin came off and their bones were broken. Sharp objects were shoved into their vaginas. Filthy rags, often soaked in urine, and sometimes excrement, were pushed down their throats to throttle them, tubes were inserted into their anus and water driven in under very high pressure, and electro shocks were applied to their heads.”

According to Allen’s memo, after holding Dimitrov for six months the Greek authorities decided he was no more than “a nuisance” and they told the CIA “to take him back.” Because the agency was unable to dispose of Dimitrov in Greece, the memo states, the CIA flew him to a secret interrogation center at Fort Clayton in Panama. In the 1950’s, Fort Clayton, along with nearby sister installations Forts Amador and Gulick, the initial homes of the Army’s notorious School of the Americas, served as a secret prison and interrogation centers for double agents and others kidnapped and spirited out of Europe and other locations. Beginning in 1951, Fort Amador, and reportedly Fort Gulick, were extensively used by the Army and the CIA as a secret experimental site for developing behavior modification techniques and a wide range of drugs, including “truth drugs,” mescaline, LSD and heroin. Former CIA officials have also long claimed that Forts Clayton and Amador in the 1950’s hosted a number of secret Army assassination teams that operated throughout North and South America, Europe and Southeast Asia.

There in Panama, Dimitrov was again aggressively interrogated, and then confined as “a psychopathic patient” to a high-security hospital ward at Fort Clayton. Allen’s memo makes a point of stating: “[Dimitrov] is not a psychopathic personality.”

The Artichoke Treatment

This remarkable summary brought the official to the purpose of his meeting with CIA security official Morse Allen. After months of confinement in Panama, Dimitrov had become a serious problem for the agency and the military officials holding him in the hospital. Dimitrov had become increasingly angry and bitter about his treatment and he was insisting that he be released immediately. Dimitrov, through his strong intellect and observation powers, was also witnessing a great deal of Project Artichoke activity and on occasion would engage military and agency officials in unauthorized conversations. The official explained to Allen that the CIA could release Dimitrov to the custody of a friend of his in Venezuela, but was prone not to because Dimitrov was now judged to have become extremely hostile toward the CIA. “Hence,” explained the official, “[CIA] is considering an ‘Artichoke’ approach to [Dimitrov] to see if it would be possible to re-orient [Dimitrov] favorably toward us.”

Wrote Allen in his subsequent summary memorandum: “This [Artichoke] operation, which will necessarily involve the use of drugs is being considered by OPC with a possibility that Dr. Ecke and Mike Gladych will carry out the operation presumably at the military hospital in Panama. Also involved in this would be a Bulgarian interpreter who is a consultant to this Agency since neither Ecke nor Gladych speak Bulgarian.” Allen noted in his memo that security chief Bannerman “pointed out” that this type of operation could “only be carried out” with his or his superior’s (security chief Sheffield Edwards) authorization, and “that under no circumstances whatsoever, could anyone but an authorized M.D. administer drugs to any subject of this Agency of any type.” (The “Dr. Ecke” mentioned above was Dr. Robert S. Ecke of Brooklyn, New York, and Eliot, Maine, where he died in 2001. “Mike Gladych,” according to former CIA officials, was a decorated wartime pilot who after the war became “deeply involved in black market trafficking in Europe and the US,” and then in the early 1950’s was recruited to join a “newly composed Artichoke Team operating out of Washington, DC.”)

Allen also wrote that Bannerman was concerned that the military hospital at Fort Clayton may not approve of or permit an Artichoke operation to be conducted on the ward within which Dimitrov was being held, thus necessitating the movement of Dimitrov to another location in Panama. Lastly, Bannerman stated to the official and Allen that “[the CIA’s Office of] Security [through its Artichoke Committee] would have to be cognizant” of the operation, and may even want to “run the operation themselves since this type of work is one which Security handles for the Agency. Here it is interesting to note that among the many members of the agency’s Artichoke Committee in 1952 was Dr. Frank Olson, who would about a year later be murdered in New York City.

Morse Allen concluded his memo: “While the [Artichoke] technique that Ecke and Gladych are considering for use in this case is not known to the writer [Allen], the writer believes the approach will be made through the standard narco-hypnosis technique. Re-conditioning and re-orientating an individual in such a matter, in the opinion of the writer, cannot be accomplished easily and will require a great deal of time…. It is also believed that with our present knowledge, we would have no absolute guarantee that the subject in this case would maintain a positive friendly attitude toward us even though there is apparently a successful response to the treatment. The writer did not suggest to [Bannerman and the CIA official] that perhaps a total amnesia could be created by a series of electro shocks, but merely indicated that amnesia under drug treatments was not certain.” Interesting also is that Allen noted in his memo, about thirty days prior to his meeting, an official in the CIA’s Technical Services Division, Walter Driscoll, discussed “the Kelly case” with him. No details of that discussion were provided.

About a month later, according to former CIA officials, after Artichoke Committee approval to subject Dimitrov to Artichoke techniques, a high-ranking CIA official objected to treating Dimitrov in such a manner. That objection delayed application of the techniques for about “three weeks.” In March 1952, according to the same former officials, Dimitrov was “successfully given the Artichoke treatment in Panama for a period of about five weeks.”

In late 1956, the CIA brought Dimitrov, at his request, to the United States. Apparently, the Agency felt comfortable enough with Dimitrov’s diminished hostility and anger to agree to bring him to America from Athens, where he had returned for undetermined reasons. CIA files state, “The Agency made no further operation use of Dimitrov after he came to the United States, however, former CIA officials dispute this and relate that Dimitrov was “used on occasion for sensitive jobs.”

This, however, was not the end of Dimitre Dimitrov’s story.

After being relocated to the United States, Dimitrov either remained bitter or resumed his bitterness toward the CIA. In June 1960, he contacted the CIA’s Domestic Contact Division and requested financial assistance for himself and additional covert support and assistance for activities against Bulgaria. In 1961, he contacted an editor at Parade, a Sunday newspaper magazine then with reported strong ties to the CIA, with the intention of telling his story. A Parade editor contacted the CIA and was informed, according to CIA documents, that Dimitrov was “an imposter” who was “disreputable, unreliable, and full of wild stories about the CIA.”

About ten years after the JFK assassination, Dimitrov, operating sometimes under the aliases Lyle Kelly, James Adams, General Dimitre Dimitrov and Donald A. Donaldson, informed a number of people that he had information about who ordered the murder of JFK and who had committed the act. Reportedly, he had encountered the assassins while he had been imprisoned in Panama. He also told several people that he knew about military snipers who had murdered Martin Luther King. In 1977, Dimitrov actually met with US Sen. Frank Church, head of a Senate Committee investigating the CIA, and President Gerald Ford to share his information. Dimitrov said after the meeting that Ford had asked him to keep the information confidential until he could verify a number of facts. Immediately following the March 29, 1977, death of Lee Harvey Oswald’s friend George de Mohrenschildt, Dimitrov became extremely frightened and contacted a reporter with a foreign television station who either mistakenly, or intentionally, revealed Dimitrov’s name publicly on American television. Not long after this, Dimitrov disappeared in Europe where he had fled. He has never been seen or heard from since. Former CIA officials say privately, “Dimitrov was murdered” and “His body will never be found.”

A 1977 memorandum written, before Dimitrov’s disappearance, by an attorney in the CIA’s General Counsel’s Office, A. R. Cinquegrana, states: “[It appears] to me that the nature of the Agency’s treatment of Dimitrov might be something which should be brought to the attention of appropriate officials both within and outside the Agency. The fact that he is still active and is making allegations connected with the Kennedy assassination may add yet another dimension to this story.”

Binyam Mohamed’s Torture

Dimtrov’s story takes on added significance when one considers the latest stories of the unraveling torture conspiracy and operations conducted by the American CIA and Department of Defense, in conjunction with their British allied organizations, and a host of other governments, including Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland and numerous others. After a series of exposures during the 1970’s, many assumed the worst excesses of the Cold War torture research program, and its implementation in programs such as the CIA’s Operation Phoenix in Vietnam were a fixture of the past. However, subsequent revelations, e.g. the appearance of a US-sponsored torture manual for use in Latin America in the 1980’s, including documentation of torture by US forces in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, demonstrate that a direct line exists between the torture and rendition programs of the past and the practices of the present day. Recently, articles have detailed how the 2006 rewrite of the Army Field Manual allowed for use of ongoing isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, induction of fear and the use of drugs that cause temporary derangement of the senses.

The Binyam Mohamed story is unfortunately not unique, but it does demonstrate that the implementation of a SERE-derived experimental torture program began months before it was given legal cover by the memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Other stories, for instance of “War on Terror” captives being drugged and tortured, have been related by the prisoners themselves, by their attorneys, and by US and international rights agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose report on the torture of CIA “high-value detainees” was leaked to Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books.

While Binyam in many ways had a very different personal background than Dimitrov, like the Bulgarian political leader, he was rendered to a US foreign ally for torture. He was drugged. He was considered unreliable and a “disposal” problem for US leaders, who kept secret the actual treatment they endured. Both were victims of a torture program run by the CIA. Both were sent from their foreign torturer back to US custody, where they endured intense psychological torture.

Binyam Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, where his torture, as evidenced by the latest UK court release, was supervised by US agents. This torture was akin to the treatment meted out to Abu Zubaydah. Binyam was subsequently sent to Morocco in July 2002, where he was hideously tortured for 18 months, including a period where multiple scalpel cuts were made to his penis, and a hot stinging fluid poured on the wounds in an attempt to get him to confess to a false “dirty bomb” plot. (The US only dropped the bombing claims in October 2008.) At one point, a British informer was used to try to “turn” Mohamed into an informant for the US or Britain, just as the Artichoke treatment was used to “re-orient” Dimitrov in a pro-US direction. Mohamed also indicated that he had been drugged repeatedly.

In January 2004, Binyam Mohamed was flown to a CIA “black” site in Afghanistan, the infamous “Dark Prison.” Mohamed is one of five plaintiffs in an ACLU suit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan Inc., which ran the aircraft for the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. According to an ACLU account:

In US custody, Mohamed was fed meals of raw rice, beans and bread sparingly and irregularly. He was kept in almost complete darkness for 23 hours a day and made to stay awake for days at a time by loud music and other frightening and irritating recordings, including the sounds of “ghost laughter,” thunder, aircraft taking off and the screams of women and children.

Interrogations took place on almost a daily basis. As part of the interrogation process, he was shown pictures of Afghanis and Pakistanis and was interrogated about the story behind each picture. Although Mohamed knew none of the persons pictured, he would invent stories about them so as to avoid further torture. In May 2004, Mohamed was allowed outside for five minutes. It was the first time he had seen the sun in two years.

Amazingly, this was not the end of Mohamed’s ordeal. From the Dark Prison he was sent to Bagram prison, and then later to Guantanamo. In August 2007, the British government petitioned the US for release of their subject. Eighteen months later, and after being subjected to more abuse at Guantanamo, he was finally able to leave US custody and return to Britain.

The Use of Drugs in Torture by the United States

The allegations of drugging by Mohamed and other prisoners are redolent of the use of hallucinogenic and other powerful mind-altering drugs by the US in its Artichoke, MK-ULTRA and other programs. A recent account, by Joby Warrick of The Washington Post, described some of these allegations of drugging of “detainees.” The Post article subsequently led to an ongoing DoD Inspector General investigation into Possible Use of Mind Altering Substances by DoD Personnel during Interrogations of Detainees and/or Prisoners Captured during the War on Terror (D2007-DINT01-0092.005) “to determine if DoD personnel conducted, facilitated, or otherwise supported interrogations of detainees and /or prisoners using the threat or administration of mind altering drugs.” According to his attorney’s filings in the Jose Padilla case, Padilla, who was also originally implicated in the “dirty bomb” so-called plot with Binyam Mohamed, was forced to take LSD or other powerful drugs while held in solitary confinement in the Navy brig in South Carolina.

Another former Guantanamo prisoner, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian Muslim released in 2005, has consistently told his tale of being subjected to electroshock, beatings and drugging while in US custody.

The CIA has been accused of involvement in continuing interrogation experimentation upon prisoners. The recent release of the previously censored summary of Mohamed’s treatment in Pakistan notes that “The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.” As Stephen Soldz notes in an article on the British court revelations, “Why were these effects being ‘carefully observed’ unless to determine their effectiveness in order to see whether they should be inflicted upon others? That is, the observations were designed to generate knowledge that could be generalized to other prisoners. The seeking of “generalizable knowledge” is the official definition of “research,” raising the question of whether the CIA conducted illegal research upon Binyan Mohamed.” The role of doctors, psychologists and other medical professionals in the CIA/DoD torture program has been condemned by a number of individuals in their respective fields, and by organizations such as Center for Constitutional Rights and Physicians for Human Rights.

Most recently, in an important article by Scott Horton at Harpers, the reexamination of the evidence in the supposed 2006 suicides of three prisoners at Guantanamo pointed to the possibility that the prisoners were killed in a previously unknown black site prison on the Guantanamo base – “Camp No” – run by the CIA or Joint Special Operations Command. This raises the question of why they were taken off site at all. One prisoner, 22-year-old Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, had needle marks on both of his arms. The marks were notably not documented in the US military’s autopsy report.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The tale of Dmitri Dimitrov documents the existence of a US-run torture and rendition program decades before the post-9/11 scandals of the Bush administration. Both the CIA and the Department of Defense have been implicated in both the research and implementation of torture for much of post-World War II US history. And yet, aside from the famous Church and Pike Congressional investigations of the 1970’s, and the hearings and report from the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2008-09 on detainee abuse, the perpetrators of these crimes have gone unpunished. The current administration of President Barack Obama has clearly stated that it had little appetite to “look backwards” and seek accountability for the abuses of the past. Yet these abuses are never really “past,” as the suffering of the victims and their families continues into the present. Additionally, the practice of torture, or use of “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of prisoners has not ended, and the same generals, colonels, admirals and intelligence agency bureaucrats and politicians who have been linked to past programs are free to research or implement ongoing abuse of prisoners and experimentation.

This country needs a clear and definite accounting of its past and present use of torture. Like a universal acid, torture breaks down the sinews of its victims, and in the process, the links between people and their government are transformed into the naked exercise of pure sadistic power of rulers over the ruled. The very purpose of civilization is atomized in the process. We need a full, open and thorough public investigation into the entire history of the torture program, with full power to subpoena, and to refer those who shall be held accountable for prosecution under the due process of law.

Cheney Admits to War Crimes, Media Yawns, Obama Turns the Other Cheek February 16, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture.
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Monday 15 February 2010

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | News Analysisphoto
(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, World Economic Forum, stevefaeembra, MissusK)

Dick Cheney is a sadist.

On Sunday, in an exclusive interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC News’ “This Week,” Cheney proclaimed his love of torture, derided the Obama administration for outlawing the practice, and admitted that the Bush administration ordered Justice Department attorneys to fix the law around his policies.

“I was a big supporter of waterboarding,” Cheney told Karl, as if he were issuing a challenge to officials in the current administration, including President Barack Obama, who said flatly last year that waterboarding is torture, to take action against him. “I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques…”

The former vice president’s declaration closely follows admissions he made in December 2008, about a month before the Bush administration exited the White House, when he said he personally authorized the torture of 33 suspected terrorist detainees and approved the waterboarding of three so-called “high-value” prisoners.

“I signed off on it; others did, as well, too,” Cheney said in an interview with the right-wing Washington Times about the waterboarding, a drowning technique where a person is strapped to a board, his face covered with a cloth and then water is poured over it. It is a torture technique dating back at least to the Spanish Inquisition.

The US has long treated waterboarding as a war crime and has prosecuted Japanese soldiers for using it against US troops during World War II. And Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department prosecuted a Texas sheriff and three deputies for using the practice to get confessions.

But Cheney’s admissions back then, as well as those he made on Sunday, went unchallenged by Karl and others in the mainstream media. Indeed, the two major national newspapers–The New York Times and The Washington Post–characterized Cheney’s interview as a mere spat between the vice president and the Obama administration over the direction of the latter’s counterterroism and national security policies.

The Times and Post did not report that Cheney’s comments about waterboarding and his enthusiastic support of torturing detainees amounted to an admission of war crimes given that the president has publicly stated that waterboarding is torture.

Ironically, in March 2003, after Iraqi troops captured several U.S. soldiers and let them be interviewed on Iraqi TV, senior Bush administration officials expressed outrage over this violation of the Geneva Convention.

“If there is somebody captured,” President George W. Bush told reporters on March 23, 2003, “I expect those people to be treated humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.”

Nor did the Times or Post report that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” Cheney backed was, in numerous cases, administered to prisoners detained at Guantanamo and in detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan who we would come to discover were innocent and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The torture methods that Cheney helped implement as official policy was also directly responsible for the deaths of at least 100 detainees.

Renowned human rights attorney and Harper’s magazine contributor Scott Horton said, “Section 2340A of the federal criminal code makes it an offense to torture or to conspire to torture. Violators are subject to jail terms or to death in appropriate cases, as where death results from the application of torture techniques.”

In addition to Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder said during his confirmation hearing last year that waterboarding is torture.

“Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants,” Horton wrote in a Harper’s dispatch Monday. 

Karl also made no mention of the fact that the CIA’s own watchdog concluded in a report declassified last year that the torture of detainees Cheney signed off on did not result in any actionable intelligence nor did it thwart any imminent attacks on the United States. To the contrary, torture led to bogus information, wrongful elevated threat warnings, and undermined the war-crimes charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 attacks because the evidence against him was obtained through torture.

Karl also failed to call out Cheney on a statement the former vice president made during his interview in which he suggested the policy of torture was carried out only after the Bush administration told Justice Department attorneys it wanted the legal justification to subject suspected al-Qaeda prisoners to brutal interrogation methods.

Cheney told Karl that he continues to be critical of the Obama administration “because there were some things being said, especially after we left office, about prosecuting CIA personnel that had carried out our counterterrorism policy or disbarring lawyers in the Justice Department who had — had helped us put those policies together, and I was deeply offended by that, and I thought it was important that some senior person in the administration stand up and defend those people who’d done what we asked them to do.”

In an interview with Karl on December 15, 2008, Cheney made a similar comment, which Karl also allowed to go unchallenged, stating that the Bush administration “had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross.”

Bush’s Key Line of Defense Destroyed

Those statements, both on Sunday and in his December 2008 interview with Karl, destroys a key line in the Bush administration’s defense against war crimes charges. For years, Cheney and other Bush administration officials pinned their defense on the fact that they had received legal advice from Justice Department lawyers that the brutal interrogations of “war on terror” detainees did not constitute torture or violate other laws of war.

Cheney’s statements, however, would suggest that the lawyers were colluding with administration officials in setting policy, rather than providing objective legal analysis.

In fact, as I reported last year, an investigation by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) determined that DOJ attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee blurred the lines between attorneys charged with providing independent legal advice to the White House and policy advocates who were working to advance the administration’s goals, according to legal sources who were privy to an original draft of the OPR report.

That was a conclusion Dawn Johnsen reached. Johnsen was tapped a year ago by Obama to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), where Yoo and Bybee worked, but her confirmation has been stuck in limbo.

In a 2006 Indiana Law Journal article, she said the function of OLC should be to “provide an accurate and honest appraisal of applicable law, even if that advice will constrain the administration’s pursuit of desired policies.”

“The advocacy model of lawyering, in which lawyers craft merely plausible legal arguments to support their clients’ desired actions, inadequately promotes the President’s constitutional obligation to ensure the legality of executive action,” said Johnsen, who served in the OLC under President Bill Clinton. “In short, OLC must be prepared to say no to the President.

“For OLC instead to distort its legal analysis to support preferred policy outcomes undermines the rule of law and our democratic system of government. Perhaps most essential to avoiding a culture in which OLC becomes merely an advocate of the Administration’s policy preferences is transparency in the specific legal interpretations that inform executive action, as well as in the general governing processes and standards followed in formulating that legal advice.”

In a 2007 UCLA Law Review article, Johnsen said Yoo’s Aug. 1, 2002, torture memo is “unmistakably” an “advocacy piece.”

“OLC abandoned fundamental practices of principled and balanced legal interpretation,” Johnsen wrote. “The Torture Opinion relentlessly seeks to circumvent all legal limits on the CIA’s ability to engage in torture, and it simply ignores arguments to the contrary.

“The Opinion fails, for example, to cite highly relevant precedent, regulations, and even constitutional provisions, and it misuses sources upon which it does rely. Yoo remains almost alone in continuing to assert that the Torture Opinion was ‘entirely accurate’ and not outcome driven.”

The original draft of the OPR report concluded that Yoo and Bybee violated professional standards and recommended a referral to state bar associations where they could have faced disciplinary action and have had their law licenses revoked.

The report’s findings could have influenced whether George W. Bush, Cheney and other senior officials in that administration were held accountable for torture and other war crimes. But two weeks ago, it was revealed that officials in Obama’s Justice Department backed off the earlier recommendation and instead altered the misconduct findings against Yoo and Bybee to “poor judgment,” which means neither will face disciplinary action. The report has not yet been released.

For his part, Yoo had already admitted in no uncertain terms that Bush administration officials sought to legalize torture and that he and Bybee fixed the law around the Bush administration’s policy.

As I noted in a report last year, in his book, “War by Other Means: An Insider’s Account on the War On Terror,” Yoo described his participation in meetings that helped develop the controversial policies for the treatment of detainees.

For instance, Yoo wrote about a trip he took to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with other senior administration officials to observe interrogations and to join in discussions about specific interrogation methods. In other words, Yoo was not acting as an independent attorney providing the White House with unbiased legal advice but was more of an advocate for administration policy.

The meetings that Yoo described appear similar to those disclosed by ABC News in April 2008.

“The most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al-Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA,” ABC News reported at the time, citing unnamed sources.

“The high-level discussions about these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed – down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

“These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al-Qaeda suspects – whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding,” according to unnamed sources quoted by ABC News.

Torture Preceded Legal Advice

If ABC’s Karl had a firmer grasp on the issues he queried Cheney about he would have known that as recently as last week, three UK high-court judges released seven paragraphs of a previously classified intelligence document that proved the CIA tortured Binyam Mohamed, a British resident captured in Pakistan in April 2002 who was falsely tied to a dirty bomb plot, months before the Bush administration obtained a memo from John Yoo and Jay Bybee at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) authorizing specific methods of torture to be used against high-value detainees, further undercutting Cheney’s line of defense.

The document stated bluntly that Mohamed’s treatment “could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities.”

Under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the treatment of Mohamed and the clear record that the Bush administration used waterboarding and other brutal techniques to extract information from detainees should have triggered the United States to conduct a full investigation and to prosecute the offenders.In the case of the US’s refusal to do so, other nations would be obligated to act under the principle of universality.

However, instead of living up to that treaty commitment, the Obama administration has time and again resisted calls for government investigations and has gone to court to block lawsuits that demand release of torture evidence or seek civil penalties against officials implicated in the torture.

Though it’s true, as Vice President Joe Biden stated Sunday on “Meet the Press,” that Cheney is rewriting history and making “factually, substantively wrong” statements about the Obama administration’s track record and approach to counterterrorism, it’s difficult, if not near impossible, to defend this president from the likes of Cheney.

Case in point: last week the Obama administration treated the disclosure by British judicial officials of the former prisoner’s torture as a security breach and threatened to cut off an intelligence sharing arrangement with the UK government.

In what can only be described as a stunning response to the revelations contained in the intelligence document, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said “the [UK} court’s judgment will complicate the confidentiality of our intelligence-sharing relationship with the UK, and it will have to factor into our decision-making going forward.”

“We’re deeply disappointed with the court’s judgment today, because we shared this information in confidence and with certain expectations,” LaBolt said, making no mention of Mohamed’s treatment nor even offering him an apology for the torture he was subjected to by the CIA over the course of several years. Mohamed was released from Guantanamo last year and returned to the UK.

As an aside, as revelatory as the disclosures were, news reports of Mohamed’s torture were buried by the mainstream print media and went unreported by the cable news outlets, underscoring how the media’s interest in Bush’s torture policies has waned.

The Obama administration’s decision to ignore the past administration’s crimes has alienated civil liberties groups, who he could once count on for support.

Last December, on the day Obama received a Nobel Peace prize, Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told reporters that “on every front, the [Obama] administration is actively obstructing accountability. This administration is shielding Bush administration officials from civil liability, criminal investigation and even public scrutiny for their role in authorizing torture.”

That being the reality is what makes Cheney’s claim on Sunday that the Obama administration is attempting to prosecute “CIA personnel that had carried out our counterterrorism policy or disbarring lawyers” laughable.

Holder has expanded the mandate of a special counsel, appointed during the Bush administration, who is investigating the destruction of torture tapes, to conduct a “preliminary review” of less than a dozen torture cases involving CIA contractors and interrogators to determine whether launching an expanded criminal inquiry is warranted. That hardly amounts to a prosecution. It’s not even an investigation.

And “disbarring lawyers, a clear reference to Yoo and Bybee, which is beyond the scope of the Justice Department watchdog’s authority to begin with, is no longer a possibility given that the OPR report reportedly does not recommend disciplinary action.

In a statement, the ACLU said, “to date, not a single torture victim has had his day in court.”

As Jane Mayer reported in a recent issue of the New Yorker, Holder’s limited scope authorization to Durham did not go over well with the White House and Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel made sure Holder knew where the administration stood.

“Emanuel worried that such investigations would alienate the intelligence community…,” Mayer reported. “Emanuel couldn’t complain directly to Holder without violating strictures against political interference in prosecutorial decisions. But he conveyed his unhappiness to Holder indirectly, two sources said. Emanuel demanded, ‘Didn’t he get the memo that we’re not re-litigating the past?'”

Jason Leopold is the Deputy Managing Editor at Truthout. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.

Clare Short: Tony Blair Lied and Misled Parliament in Build-Up to Iraq War February 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Published on Tuesday, February 2, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

Blair ‘lied’ over war preparations • Attorney general ‘misled’ government • Brown ‘marginalised and unhappy’

by James Sturcke

Clare Short, the former international development secretary, today accused Tony Blair of lying to her and misleading parliament in the build-up to the Iraq invasion.

[Clare Short arriving to give evidence at the Iraq inquiry. (Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)]
Clare Short arriving to give evidence at the Iraq inquiry. (Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

 

Short, giving evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the war, also said the 2003 conflict had put the world in greater danger of international terrorism.

 

Declassified letters between Short and Blair released today show she believed that invading Iraq without a second UN resolution would be illegal and there was a significant risk of a humanitarian catastrophe.

She told the inquiry that she had a conversation with Blair in 2002. He told her that he was not planning for war against Iraq and that the evidence has since revealed that he was not telling the truth at that point, she said.

She also said she was “stunned” when she read the 337-word legal advice written by the then-attorney general Lord Goldsmith during a cabinet meeting on 17 March 2003, three days before the war began. She was forbidden by Blair from discussing it during the meeting.

“I said, ‘That is extraordinary.’ I was jeered at to be quiet. If the prime minister says be quiet there is only so much you can do.

“I think for the attorney general to come and say there’s unequivocal legal authority to go war was misleading.”

Short, who was applauded by some audience members in public seats at the end of her evidence, said the ministerial code was broken as cabinet colleagues were not aware of Goldsmith’s modifications to his legal advice over the previous weeks. The inquiry has already heard how Goldsmith changed his mind over the need for a second resolution after visiting the US the month before the war.

Short said cabinet colleagues were unaware of the legal advice given by the most senior Foreign Office lawyers, Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, which called for a second UN resolution.

“The ministerial code said legal advice should be circulated and it wasn’t. We only had the answer to the parliamentary question [Goldsmith’s short ruling]. There was a lot of misleading of parliament too by the prime minister of the day.

“The ministerial code is unsafe because it is enforced by the prime minister and if he’s in on the tricks then that’s it. When I found out what went into it I think we were misled.”

She added that she had “various cups of coffee” with Gordon Brown, at that time the chancellor, who “was very unhappy and marginalised [in the run up to war]”.

He was disillusioned about a number of issues, not specifically Iraq, and felt Blair was “obsessed with his legacy”.

Later, Short added that after the war, “Gordon was back in with Tony and not having cups of coffee with me any more”.

Asked about the cabinet meetings in the run-up to the war, Short told the inquiry that the cabinet did not operate in the manner it was required to constitutionally.

“It was not a decision-making body. I don’t think there was ever a substantive discussion about anything in cabinet. If you ever raised an issue with Tony Blair he would cut it off. He did that in July 2002 when I said I wanted to talk about Iraq. He said he did not want it leaking into the press.”

Short described cabinet meetings as “little chats” rather than decision-making opportunities.

“There was never a meeting … that said: ‘What is the problem? What are we trying to achieve? What are our options?'”

The declassified documents showed that Short believed the situation in Iraq to be “fragile” before hostilities began.

In one, written on 14 February 2003, she wrote: “Any disruption could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. With some more time, sensible measures can be taken to reduce these risks and improve people’s prospect of stability after the conflict.”

Short told the panel that both the British and US armies failed to honour their Geneva convention responsibilities to keep order, describing the situation in the post-invasion aftermath as “mad”, with food for refugees only being ordered at the last minute.

Short said Blair persuaded her against resigning on the same day as Cook by assuring her that the UN would have the lead role in reconstructing Iraq and that George Bush would support the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Asked why she didn’t resign earlier, she said: “If I knew then what I know now, I would have.” As for the pronouncements that the French would not back a second resolution, it was one of the “big deceits” of the British, Short said.

The French president, Jacques Chirac, could have supported military action but not while UN weapons inspectors wanted more time and it should have been given.

“There was no emergency. No one had attacked anyone. There wasn’t any new WMD. We could have taken the time and got it right. The forces weren’t ready to go in. They have said that themselves.”

Short ended her evidence by calling for a serious debate about the “special relationship” with the US, calling the current one “poodle-like”.

Short stood down from the cabinet on 12 May 2003, nearly eight weeks after the invasion.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited