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US: Rights Groups Denounce Dropping of CIA Torture Cases September 2, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: when Obama made that ridiculous and inane statement, I posted here an article entitled “Looking forward not backward code for no justice.”  Next time you commit a crime and are put on trial, just tell the judge that it is time to look forward and not backward.  Refer to the brilliant opinion of that constitutional law scholar who is the current president of the United States.  The charges against you are sure to be dropped.
 
Published on Saturday, September 1, 2012 by Inter Press Service

 

by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON – U.S. human rights groups have roundly condemned Thursday’s announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department will not pursue prosecutions of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers who may have been responsible for the deaths of two prisoners in their custody.

 Rights groups denounced the decision not to pursue prosecutions of CIA officers who may have been responsible for the deaths of two prisoners in their custody. (Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS)

The announcement appeared to mark the end of all efforts by the U.S. government to hold CIA interrogators accountable for torture and mistreating prisoners detained during the so-called “Global War on Terror” launched shortly after the Al Qaeda attacks on Sep. 11, 2001.

For rights activists and for supporters of President Barack Obama, it was the latest in a series of disappointing decisions, including the failure to close the detention facility at the U.S. base in Guantanamo, Cuba. They had hoped Obama would not only end the excesses of President George W. Bush’s prosecution of the war, but also conduct a full investigation of those excesses, if not prosecute those responsible.

“This is truly a disastrous development,” said Laura Pitter, counter-terrorism advisor at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “To now have no accountability whatsoever for any of the CIA abuses for which there are now mountains of evidence is just appalling.”

“It completely undermines the U.S.’s ability to have any credibility on any of these issues in other countries, even as it calls for other countries to account for abuses and prosecute cases of torture and mistreatment,” she told IPS.

“Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognised prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment and sends the dangerous signal to government officials that there will be no consequences for their use of torture and other cruelty,” noted Jameel Jaffar, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Today’s decision not to file charges against individuals who tortured prisoners to death is yet another entry in what is already a shameful record.”

In his announcement, Holder suggested that crimes were indeed committed in the two cases that were being investigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham but that convictions were unlikely.

“Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

The two deaths took place at a secret CIA detention facility known as the Salt Pit in Afghanistan in 2002 and at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison the following year. The victims have been identified as Gul Rahman, a suspected Taliban militant, and Manadel Al-Jamadi, an alleged Iraqi insurgent.

The two were the last reviewed by Durham, who had originally been tasked by Bush’s attorney general, Michael Mukasey, in 2008 with conducting a criminal investigation into CIA interrogators’ use of “waterboarding” against detainees and the apparently intentional destruction of interrogation videotapes that recorded those sessions.

In August 2009, Holder expanded Durham’s mandate to include 101 cases of alleged mistreatment by CIA interrogators of detainees held abroad to determine whether any of them may be liable to prosecution.

At the time, he also stressed that he would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the controversial legal guidance given by the Bush administration regarding possible “enhanced interrogation” techniques that could be used against detainees.

Such techniques, which include waterboarding, the use of stress positions and extreme heat and cold, are widely considered torture by human rights groups and international legal experts. As such, they violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT), as well as the Geneva Conventions and a 1996 U.S. federal law against torture.

Holder’s position was consistent with Obama’s statement, which human rights groups also strongly criticised, shortly after taking office in 2009 that he did not want CIA officials to “suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering” to escape prosecution and that he preferred “to look forward as opposed to…backwards”.

In his first days in office, Obama ordered all secret CIA detention facilities closed and banned the enhanced techniques authorised by his predecessor.

In late 2010, Durham announced that he would not pursue criminal charges related to the destruction of the CIA videotapes. Seven months later, he recommended that, of the 101 cases of alleged CIA abuse referred to him, only two warranted full criminal investigations in which CIA officers had allegedly exceeded the Bush administration’s guidelines for permissible interrogation techniques.

Now that Holder and Durham have concluded that prosecutions of the individuals involved are unlikely to result in convictions, it appears certain that no CIA officer will be prosecuted in a U.S. jurisdiction. Prosecutions of Bush officials responsible for authorising the “enhanced interrogation” techniques have also been ruled out.

In 2006, a private contractor for the CIA was successfully prosecuted and sentenced to six years in prison for beating an Afghan detainee to death three years before.

Some commentators suggested that these decisions, including the dropping of the two remaining cases, have been motivated primarily by political considerations. Indeed, HRW director Kenneth Roth wrote in an op-ed last year that “dredging up the crimes of the previous administration was seen as too distracting and too antagonistic an enterprise when Republican votes were needed”.

In a statement Thursday, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee praised Holder’s decision. Republicans protested Holder’s referral of the 101 cases to Durham in 2009.

But rights activists expressed great frustration. Holder’s announcement “is disappointing because it’s well documented that in the aftermath of 9/11, torture and abuse were widespread and systematic,” said Melina Milazzo of Human Rights First (HRF), which has been one of the most aggressive groups in investigating and publicising torture and abuse by U.S. intelligence and military personnel.

“It’s shocking that the department’s review of hundreds of instances of torture and abuse will fail to hold even one person accountable.”

Similarly, the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) noted that Holder’s announcement “belies U.S. claims that it can be trusted to hold accountable Americans who have perpetrated torture and other human rights abuses”.

It said the decision “underscores the need for independent investigations elsewhere, such as the investigation in Spain, to continue”. Victims and rights groups including CCR filed criminal complaints against former Bush officials in Spanish courts in 2009, launching two separate investigations by judges there.

© 2012 IPS
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‘Continuing Impunity’: No Charges for CIA in Detainee Torture, Deaths August 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Published on Friday, August 31, 2012 by Common Dreams

Years-long Justice Dept. investigation ends without accountability

– Common Dreams staff

The CIA will face no charges over the torture and death of detainees while in custody, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday as it ended a criminal investigation begun by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham in 2008. Rights groups have called the decision “nothing short of a scandal.”

Gul Rahman, who died in 2002 while being held at a secret CIA facility known as the ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan (photo: AP)

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Democracy Now! summarizes the part of the investigation begun in June of 2011 into the deaths of two detainees: “The Justice Department had been probing the deaths of two men: one in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan. Gul Rahman died in 2002 while being held at a secret CIA facility known as the ‘Salt Pit’ in Afghanistan. He had been shackled to a concrete wall in near-freezing temperatures. Manadel al-Jamadi died in 2003 while in CIA custody at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. His corpse was photographed packed in ice and wrapped in plastic.”

The ACLU slammed the decision.

“That the Justice Department will hold no one accountable for the killing of prisoners in CIA custody is nothing short of a scandal,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “The Justice Department has declined to bring charges against the officials who authorized torture, the lawyers who sought to legitimate it, and the interrogators who used it. It has successfully shut down every legal suit meant to hold officials civilly liable.

“Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognized prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment and sends the dangerous signal to government officials that there will be no consequences for their use of torture and other cruelty. Today’s decision not to file charges against individuals who tortured prisoners to death is yet another entry in what is already a shameful record.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights also criticized the decision and noted the importance of independent investigations.

“Once again, the United States has shown it is committed to absolving itself of any responsibility for its crimes over the past decade. Today’s announcement belies U.S. claims that it can be trusted to hold accountable Americans who have perpetrated torture and other human rights abuses, and underscores the need for independent investigations elsewhere, such as the investigation underway in Spain, to continue. Impunity does not always cross borders,” the group stated.

Obama Admininstration Backs Shell in Supreme Court Case August 25, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Human Rights, Labor, Nigeria.
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Roger’s note: Vote Obama!  “Plus ca change …” you can believe in.

Published on Saturday, August 25, 2012 by CorpWatch Blog

 

The Obama administration is backing Shell Oil after abruptly changing sides in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that could make it even more difficult for survivors of human rights abuses overseas to sue multinational corporations in federal courts. The case will be heard on October 1.

Lawyers at EarthRights International, a Washington-based human rights law nonprofit, say they suspect that a new legal submission – which was signed only by the U.S. Justice Department – reflects tensions inside the government on how to deal with multinational corporations do business in the U.S. Significantly, neither the State nor the Commerce Department signed on to the brief, despite their key roles in the case.

“It was shocking,” Jonathan Kaufman EarthRights legal policy coordinator commented to Reuters. “The brief was largely unexpected, based on what they had filed previously, and pretty breathtaking.”

At issue is the Alien Torts Claim Act (ATCA) – an 18th century U.S. law originally designed to combat piracy on the high seas – that has been used during the last 30 years as a vehicle to bring international law violations cases to U.S. federal courts.

Lawyers began using ATCA as a tool in human rights litigation in 1979, when the family of 17-year-old Joel Filartiga, who was tortured and killed in Paraguay, sued the Paraguayan police chief responsible. Filartiga v. Peña-Irala set a precedent for U.S. federal courts to punish non-U.S. citizens for acts committed outside the U.S. that violate international law or treaties to which the U.S. is a party. ATCA has brought almost 100 cases of international (often state-sanctioned) torture, rape and murder to U.S. federal courts to date.

In recent years, a number of ATCA lawsuits have also been filed against multinationals which has angered the business lobby. “Expansion of this problem into the international arena via ATCA promises nothing but trouble for U.S. economic and foreign policy interests worldwide,” wrote John Howard, vice president of international policy and programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “U.S. national interests require that we not allow the continuing misapplication of this 18th century statute to 21st century problems by the latter day pirates of the plaintiffs’ bar.”

No plaintiff against a corporation has won on ATCA grounds, although some have settled or plea bargained. In 1996 Doe v. Unocal, a lawsuit filed by ethnic Karen farmers against Unocal (now owned by Chevron) set a new precedent when a U.S. federal court ruled that corporations and their executive officers could be held legally responsible for crimes against humanity. Unocal contracted with the Burmese military dictatorship to provide security for a natural gas pipeline project on the border of Thailand and Burma. The suit accused Unocal of complicity in murder, rape and forcing locals to work for Unocal for free. Shortly before the jury trial was set to begin in 2005, Unocal settled with the plaintiffs by paying an undisclosed sum, marking the first time a corporation settled in any way a case based on the ATCA.

Another such case was filed against Chiquita, the global banana producer, by surviving victims of brutal massacres waged by right-wing paramilitary squads in Colombia. The paramilitary, who killed thousands of civilians during Colombia’s dirty war of the 1980s and 1990s, were on Chiquita’s payroll in the 1990s. Now-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended Chiquita in the case and won a plea bargain for them of $25 million and five years of probation.

Holder isn’t the only Justice Department staffer who defended a corporation in an ATCA case. Sri Srinivasan, recently nominated for the second highest position in the Justice Department, represented Exxon Mobil in a case brought against them by Indonesian villagers who survived alleged attacks, torture and murder by Indonesian military units hired by Exxon to provide security. Lower courts disagreed on Exxon’s liability under ATCA, and in 2011 an appeals court sent the case back to trial.

Which brings us to the case currently before the Supreme Court – Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (Shell) – brought by relatives of nine Nigerian Ogoni activists who were executed in 1995 by a military dictatorship allegedly working in collaboration with Shell. For the last ten years, the widow of executed Dr. Barinem Kiobel and other Nigerian refugees have been trying to prove in court that the British-Dutch multinational oil company Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., or Shell Oil, conspired with the Nigerian military to illegally detain, torture and kill critics of Shell’s environmentally destructive practices in the Niger Delta.

In February the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case to determine whether or not corporations – as opposed to private parties – could be sued under the ATCA. At that time the Justice Department, submitted a “friend of the court” brief that said they could.

Lawyers say that if the Supreme Court accepts that the case can be heard in U.S. courts, it will mark a significant step forward for human rights activists. It will also send a powerful signal to business that any violations overseas can be prosecuted if they do business in the U.S.

Then in June, the Obama administration, suddenly changed its opinion. The new brief from the Justice Department “read like a roadmap for getting rid of cases Srinivasan and Holder had worked on previously” EarthRights attorney Kaufman told Reuters.

In its submission filed in response to a Supreme Court order to re-argue whether or not ATCA applied to territories outside the U.S., the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit against Shell. The brief’s authors stated that the ATCA was not appropriate for Kiobel or other lawsuits involving foreign corporations accused of collaborating in human rights abuses with a foreign government outside U.S. territory.

U.S. courts “should not create a cause of action that challenges the actions of a foreign sovereign in its own territory, where the [sued party] is a foreign corporation of a third country that allegedly aided and abetted the foreign sovereign’s conduct,” the Justice Department wrote.

However, the Justice Department stopped short of categorically barring all similar cases that occur outside the U.S. from ATCA eligibility, and it left ambiguous whether the current recommendation would prevent future ATCA lawsuits against U.S. citizens or corporations, or in cases where abuses take place on the high seas.

EarthRights International filed three Freedom of Information Act requests in July to look for evidence showing whether or not corporate interests and lobbying influenced the government’s decision to back Shell.

“If disclosed, this information will help reveal whether or not the business interests of Attorney General Eric Holder or Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan influenced the government’s position in Kiobel,” said Kaufman.

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Puck Lo

Puck Lo is a freelance writer, researcher and multimedia producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. www.pucklo.com

 
COMMENTS
 
Avatar

gardenernorcal2 hours ago

“U.S. courts “should not create a cause of action that challenges the actions of a foreign sovereign in its own territory, where the [sued party] is a foreign corporation of a third country that allegedly aided and abetted the foreign sovereign’s conduct,” the Justice Department wrote.”

Yet we can get involved in regime change in foreign sovereign countries like Libya and Syria?

 
itsthethird42 minutes ago

Multinational corporations make law and justice with the
power of money and provide a safe haven to social predators while promoting the
rape of the planet for profit. The world
has no or few laws and little to no enforcement of justice to limit or abolish
multi National corporate abuse but in fact what laws exist or are enforced
promote abuse and injustice in the name of profit to shareholders. However the shareholders are for the most
part other corporations not people but a few greedy power hungry social predators. It’s time the world limits the criminal abuse
of multinational corporations and the few who control them for gain and or
power.

 

Moore, Glover, Stone, Greenwald, Wolf, Ellsberg Urge Correa to Grant Asylum to Assange June 24, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
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Roger’s note: It is hard to believe that Correa will not come under tremendous pressure from the US government not to grant asylum to Assange.  As far as I can see the most leverage the US will have has to do with trade.  At present the US grants Ecuador privileged status with regards to export tariffs.  Should the US withdraw this privilege, it will have an impact of Ecuadorian exporters, how much I am not sure.  On other hand, accepting Assange is likely to be popular in Ecuador and internationally and would enhance Correa’s international profile.  And Correa can not be ignorant of the fact that Ecuador may very well be Assange’s last chance to avoid US “justice.”  Even if Assange somehow makes it to Ecuador, given the obsession of Obama, Holder, Congressional leaders, and — last but not least — the CIA, I doubt if the hunt will be over.  All Obama has to do is brand him as terrorist, and the US — which respects no national boundary or sovereignty — will have the “legal” pretext to nab or murder him.

opednews.com, June 24, 2012

By Michael Moore, Glenn Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Naomi Wolf, et al, Just Foreign Policy

The following letter has been circulated mostly in the United States by Just Foreign Policy. It will be hand-delivered to the Embassy of Ecuador in London by Just Foreign Policy Policy Director Robert Naiman on Monday, June 25.

We will also hand-deliver the online petition circulated by Just Foreign Policy, which has now been signed by more than 4,000 people. That petition — which you can still sign — is here:

June 25, 2012

Dear President Correa,

We are writing to urge you to grant political asylum to Julian Assange.

 

As you know, British courts recently struck down Mr. Assange’s appeal against extradition to Sweden, where he is not wanted on criminal charges, but merely for questioning. Mr. Assange has repeatedly made clear he is willing to answer questions relating to accusations against him, but in the United Kingdom. But the Swedish government insists that he be brought to Sweden for questioning. This by itself, as Swedish legal expert and former Chief District Prosecutor for Stockholm Sven-Erik Alhem testified, is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate.”

We believe Mr. Assange has good reason to fear extradition to Sweden, as there is a strong likelihood that once in Sweden, he would be imprisoned, and then likely extradited to the United States.

As U.S. legal expert and commentator Glenn Greenwald recently noted, were Assange to be charged in Sweden, he would be imprisoned under “very oppressive conditions, where he could be held incommunicado,” rather than released on bail. Pre-trial hearings for such a case in Sweden are held in secret, and so the media and wider public, Greenwald notes, would not know how the judicial decisions against Mr. Assange would be made and what information would be considered.

The Washington Post has reported that the U.S. Justice Department and Pentagon conducted a criminal investigation into “whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violated criminal laws in the group’s release of government documents, including possible charges under the Espionage Act.” Many fear, based on documents released by Wikileaks, that the U.S. government has already prepared an indictment and is waiting for the opportunity t o extradite Assange from Sweden.

The U.S. Justice Department has compelled other members of Wikileaks to testify before a grand jury in order to determine what charges might be brought against Mr. Assange. The U.S. government has made clear its open hostility to Wikileaks, with high-level officials even referring to Mr. Assange as a “high-tech terrorist,” and seeking access to the Twitter account of Icelandic legislator Birgitta Jónsdóttir due to her past ties to Wikileaks.

Were he charged, and found guilty under the Espionage Act, Assange could face the death penalty.

Prior to that, the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of providing U.S. government documents to Wikileaks, provides an illustration of the treatment that Assange might expect while in custody. Manning has been subjected to repeated and prolonged solitary confinement, harassment by guards, and humiliating treatment such as being forced to strip naked and stand at attention outside his cell. These are additional reasons that your government should grant Mr. Assange political asylum.

We also call on you to grant Mr. Assange political asylum because the “crime” that he has committed is that of practicing journalism. He has revealed important crimes against humanity committed by the U.S. government, most notably in releasing video footage from an Apache helicopter of a 2007 incident in which the U.S. military appears to have deliberately killed civilians, including two Reuters employees. Wikileaks’ release of thousands of U.S. State Department cables revealed important cases of U.S. officials acting to undermine democracy and human rights around the world.

Because this is a clear case of an attack on press freedom and on the public’s right to know important truths about U.S. foreign policy, and because the threat to his health and well-being is serious, we urge you to grant Mr. Assange political asylum.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

 Will Eric Holder Succeed in Executing Julian Assange for Telling the Truth?
 

 The world’s number one fear regarding Sweden’s attempt to extradite Julian Assange is that Sweden is simply acting as an agent of the United States. In fact the paranoia regarding our government’s desire to silence Assange is so strong that one Australian journalist suggested that Assange might be assassinated by a high power rifle as he leaves the Ecuadoran embassy or die in a Swedish jail incident reminiscent of how Stephen Biko was killed in South Africa. The Administration better pray that Assange is alive in November as voters would likely hold any death of Assange against Barack Obama when the polls open.

The ludicrous extradition and Obama’s obsession with WikiLeaks and Assange play well into these fears. What country (other than Sweden in the Assange case) extradites someone over a broken condom? England, instead of exercising common sense, is willing to allow extradition, but England has a history of going to war and committing crimes against humanity on behalf of the United States. Neither England nor Sweden has a death penalty, but acting as agents of the United States, they could put an honest, innocent man to death simply by extraditing him to the United States.

As Assange is not an American and not physically in the United States, a round-about method is needed for the U.S. Government to apprehend him for extinction. Hence the entrance of Sweden and a claim by a female CIA agent that a condom broke while Assange was having sex with her. This little rouse is enough to launch a hero of the people into a nightmare that could lead to the American death chambers.

Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder can play all the games they want, but they’ve already gone public with enough information to verify all of Julian Assange’s claims that the Sweden nonsense is nothing more than a rouse for the real criminal prosecution awaiting Assange in the United States for going public with evidence of U.S. Government corruption in its prosecution of the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The FBI’s WikiLeaks probe commenced with the arrest of Private Manning in May 2010 after he had allegedly confessed to former computer hacker turned FBI informant Adrian Lamo that he had leaked classified documents.

On November 29, 2010, US Attorney-General Eric Holder told a Washington press conference that the Justice Department was pursuing “an active, ongoing criminal investigation” into WikiLeaks. This was the day after WikiLeaks and its media partners began releasing more than 250,000 State Department cables, showing wrongdoing by the U.S. Government.

 

Holder was urged to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917 in a December 2, 2010, letter from PATRIOT Act and Iraq War proponent Dianne Feinstein (Chairwoman, U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee) and Christopher Bond (Deputy Chairman of said committee). The Espionage Act of 1917 was used to round up thousands of American patriots for their opposition to World War I in a witch hunt that was worse than the one engaged in by Joe McCarthy. Now they expected Holder to use his authority as Attorney General to create a new witch hunt aimed at suppressing international opposition to the current undeclared wars in the Middle East.

It is known that a grand jury was convened in Alexandra Virginia on or before December 22, 2010 and continuing thereafter for the purpose of prosecuting Julian Assange. Therefore, any pretense that the United States is not targeting Assange for a possible life or death sentence is a flat out lie that is disrespectful to the citizens of the United States.

 Guilt or innocence has little to do with whether a person is executed in the United States. It was universally known that Troy Davis was innocent when he was executed with the acquiescence of President Barack Obama. Across America and around the world, people offered up their own lives in exchange for saving an innocent Troy Davis. Following the example of Spartacus, people everywhere took up the slogan, “I am Troy Davis.” Showing that economics matters more than innocence, Obama intervened for economic reasons on behalf of a likely-guilty death row convict the day after Davis was killed.

Executing likely innocents has had a long tradition in the United States. Nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize and saving potentially thousands of lives in Los Angeles was not enough to prevent the execution of Stan “Tookie” Williams. Condemnation from the Queen of England and even Nikita Khrushchev was not enough to save Caryl Chessman. Millions of German death camp victims might have been saved if the United States Government had not stopped Chessman from succeeding in his attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler prior to Chessman’s own execution by the State of California for an act Chessman probably did not commit and that was no longer even chargeable as a crime, not long after the erroneous conviction.

From using its Wall Street connections in preventing donations to WikiLeaks to arresting and torturing American military hero Bradley Manning on suspicion Manning leaked photos Americans NEEDED TO SEE, Eric Holder and the U.S. Government have made it clear they have ZERO TOLERANCE FOR TRUTH.

So with truth and justice still hanging in the balance, Ecuador may be the last hope of those who do not want truth to die. People around the world are praying that President Correa will do the right thing and take a stand for truth and freedom. Interestingly, it has been pointed out that the CIA has operatives in Ecuador and it may not be the perfect place for a CIA target to hang out. Yet, it is the only country offering to stand up for freedom of the press in this instance.

Ecuador has long opposed the death penalty and could really show its opposition to the death penalty through granting Assange asylum or going further and making him a diplomat and providing him with full immunity. Either would allow Assange to continue his work in ferreting out truths that the U.S. Government would rather keep hidden. If Obama ever decides to Hussein or Gadhafi Correa, Correa’s best hope for survival would be an informed public. Without safety for the Julian Assanges of the world, the U.S. is free to plunder Ecuador or other vulnerable countries at will.

The Wall Street executives, who think they own America, and the tyrants, who enforce the will of these spoiled rich elitists, should learn from history. They should read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and ponder whether three hundred million Americans are ready to listen to the words of Thomas Jefferson about patriots and tyrants. People and children are dying of starvation in the streets of America. Hard workers have lost their homes to Wall Street greed. The innocent are being maced and clubbed at their schools and arrested for standing on public property. Cities are enacting ordinances to prevent good Samaritans from feeding the homeless (like similar “Don’t feed the animals” ordinances). Revolution is in the air and it would not surprise me if any action taken against Assange were the catalyst. If Obama has any actual ability to govern and has not completely lost touch with reality, he should end all attempts to persecute Julian Assange and welcome any assistance from Ecuador in protecting this human symbol of everything for which America once stood.

 

Take action — click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
Stand up for Julian Assange and Freedom of the Press

Click here to see the most recent messages sent to congressional reps and local newspapers

The author is the chairman of a liberal Democratic club that is working to move the Democratic Party towards its true base, the people. She has organized major political events and helped elect some of the most liberal politicians in America. Her (more…)

 

Obama Justice and medical marijuana April 26, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Drugs.
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Cannabis plants grow at Northwest Patient Resource Center in Seattle, Wash. (Credit: Reuters/Cliff DesPeaux)

 

The President’s justification for his crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries has to be heard to be believed

President Obama gave an interview to Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner this week and was asked about his administration’s aggressive crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, including ones located in states where medical marijuana is legal and which are licensed by the state; this policy is directly contrary to Obama’s campaign pledge to not “use Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws about medical marijuana.” Here’s part of the President’s answer:

I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana – and the reason is, because it’s against federal law. I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say, “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books” . . . .

The only tension that’s come up – and this gets hyped up a lot – is a murky area where you have large-scale, commercial operations that may supply medical marijuana users, but in some cases may also be supplying recreational users. In that situation, we put the Justice Department in a very difficult place if we’re telling them, “This is supposed to be against the law, but we want you to turn the other way.” That’s not something we’re going to do.

Aside from the fact that Obama’s claim about the law is outright false — as Jon Walker conclusively documents, the law vests the Executive Branch with precisely the discretion he falsely claims he does not have to decide how drugs are classified — it’s just extraordinary that Obama is affirming the “principle” that he can’t have the DOJ “turn the othe way” in the face of lawbreaking. As an emailer just put it to me: “Interesting how this principle holds for prosecuting [medical] marijuana producers in the war on drugs, but not for prosecuting US officials in the war on terror. Or telecommunications companies for illegal spying. Or Wall Street banks for mortgage fraud.”

That’s about as vivid an expression of the President’s agenda, and his sense of justice, and the state of the Rule of Law in America, as one can imagine. The same person who directed the DOJ to shield torturers and illegal government eavesdroppers from criminal investigation, and who voted to retroactively immunize the nation’s largest telecom giants when they got caught enabling criminal spying on Americans, and whose DOJ has failed to indict a single Wall Street executive in connection with the 2008 financial crisis or mortgage fraud scandal, suddenly discovers the imperatives of The Rule of Law when it comes to those, in accordance with state law, providing medical marijuana to sick people with a prescription.

The Lawless Roads: America’s Ever-Expanding Torture Matrix April 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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, www.opednews.com, April 8, 2012

In two brief posts over the past week, Scott Horton at Harper’s gives us a harrowing sketch of the entrenchment and ever-spreading expansion  of the Torture Matrix that now sits enthroned at the very heart of the  American state. This entrenchment and expansion has been carried out —  enthusiastically, energetically, relentlessly — by the current  president of the United States: a progressive Democrat and recipient of  the Nobel Peace Prize.
Horton notes the uncovering of the Zelikow Memo, written by one of the chief factotums of the Bush Administration,  Philip Zelikow. While serving as a State Department lawyer in 2006,  Zelikow wrote a legal brief that demolished the written-to-order  “torture memos” by White House lawyers, which sanctioned the widespread  use of torture techniques that were — and still are — clearly war  crimes. As Horton points out, the Zelikow memo did not even address the most brutal tortures instigated by the Bush administration, but confined  itself to the so-called “torture lite” methods (many of which are still  in use today). Yet even here, Zelikow clearly demonstrated “that the use of these techniques would constitute prosecutable felonies — war  crimes.” The existence of the Zelikow memo proves that there was indeed  official recognition throughout the highest reaches of government that  war crimes were being committed at the order of the White House and the  intelligence agencies. Horton goes on:

“In order for a prosecution to succeed, a  prosecutor would have to show that the accused understood that what he  was doing was a crime. In United States v. Altstoetter, a case in which  government lawyers were prosecuted for their role in, among other  things, providing a legal pretext for the torture and mistreatment of  prisoners, the court fashioned a similar rule, saying that the law  requires “proof before conviction that the accused knew or should have  known that in matters of international concern he was guilty of  participation in a nationally organized system of injustice and  persecution shocking to the moral sense of mankind, and that he knew or  should have known that he would be subject to punishment if caught.”The Zelikow memo satisfies both of these elements — it makes clear that the  techniques the Justice Department endorsed constituted criminal conduct, and it applied the “shock the conscience” test of American  constitutional law to help reach that conclusion. It could therefore be  introduced as Exhibit A by prosecutors bringing future charges.”

Horton also provides a succinct background to the other “torture  memos” that Bush attorneys wrote in support of the criminal operation — a perpetrators’ paper trail that is actually much more extensive than  is usually known.
This memo has been in the possession of the  Obama Administration since its first day in office. It was in the  possession of the special prosecutor that Obama’s Justice Department  appointed to look into the torture system — a special prosecutor who  found that there was nothing to prosecute. Horton writes:

“Spencer Ackerman, whose persistence is to be credited for the publication of Zelikow’s memo, astutely pressed its author to answer this question: Why, in light of Zelikow’s findings,  did the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the  legality of CIA interrogation techniques fail to bring charges?”‘I don’t know why Mr. Durham came to the conclusions he did,’ Zelikow says, referring to the Justice Department  special prosecutor for the CIA torture inquiry, John Durham. ‘I’m not  impugning them, I just literally don’t know why, because he never  published any details about either the factual analysis or legal  analysis that led to those conclusions.'”

To reiterate: one of the chief insiders of the right-wing Republican  Bush White House believes that the war crimes ordered by the Bush White  House deserve prosecution. The chief insiders of the progressive  Democratic Obama White House believe these war crimes should not be  prosecuted.
Then again, why should Barack Obama want to prosecute torture — when he is successfully arguing for it to be applied not  only to the American population at large? In another post, Horton writes of Obama’s great success at the Supreme Court: the ruling that allows all Americans to be strip-searched when taken into custody  for even the most minor infractions. The purpose of this, as Horton  points out, is clearly to humiliate and “break” the citizen — who is,  you might recall, entirely innocent in the eyes of the law at that  point. In fact, as Horton notes, the U.S. military itself recognizes the strip search as a torture technique that American pilots might face if  captured by heinous rogue states. Horton:

“…the Supreme Court has decided on the  claim of Albert Florence, a man apprehended for the well-known offense  of traveling in an automobile while being black. Florence was hustled  off to jail over a couple of bench warrants involving minor fines that  had in fact been paid — evidence of which he produced to unimpressed  police officers. He was then twice subjected to humiliating strip  searches involving the inspection of body cavities. Florence sued,  arguing that this process violated his rights.
“There is very  little doubt under the law about the right of prison authorities to  subject a person convicted or suspected of a serious crime to conduct a  strip search before introducing someone to the general prison  population. But does the right to conduct a strip search outweigh the  right to dignity and bodily integrity of a person who committed no crime whatsoever, who is apprehended based on a false suspicion that he  hadn’t discharged a petty fine — for walking a dog without a leash, say,  or turning a car from the wrong lane? Yes. In a 5-4 decision, the Court  backed the position advocated by President Obama’s Justice Department,  upholding the power of jailers against the interests of innocent  citizens. As Justice Anthony Kennedy reasons in his majority opinion (in terms that would be familiar to anyone who has lived in a police  state), who is to say that innocent citizens are really innocent? ‘[P]eople detained for minor offenses,’ he writes, ‘can turn out to be  the most devious and dangerous criminals.’ ….
“The decision  reflects the elevation of the prison industry’s interest in maintaining  order in its facilities above the interests of individuals. And it does  so by systematically misunderstanding the reasons behind strip searches. Kennedy insists that they are all done for the aim of fostering order,  and he backs up this position with exemplary bits of pretzel logic. For  instance, he suggests that a person stopped for failing to yield at an  intersection may well have heroin taped to his scrotum, and may attempt  to bring it into the prison to which he is taken. In advancing such  rationales, the Court ignores the darker truth about strip searches:  they are employed for the conscious humiliation and psychological  preparation of prisoners, as part of a practice designed to break them  down and render them submissive.
“Just as the Florence decision  was being prepared, the Department of Defense released a previously  classified training manual used to prepare American pilots for  resistance to foreign governments that might use illegal and immoral  techniques to render them cooperative. Key in this manual are the  precise practices highlighted in Florence. Body-cavity searches are  performed, it explains, to make the prisoner ‘feel uncomfortable and  degraded.’ Forced nudity and invasion of the body make the prisoner feel helpless, by removing all items that provide the prisoner with  psychological support. In other words, the strip search is an essential  step in efforts to destroy an individual’s sense of self-confidence,  well-being, and even his or her identity. The value of this tool has  been recognized by authoritarian governments around the world, and now,  thanks to the Roberts Court, it will belong to the standard jailhouse  repertoire in the United States.”

To reiterate: the Obama Administration vigorously defended the  introduction of this authoritarian practice into every place of  incarceration in the United States. The fact that this draconian  stricture will fall most heavily on African-Americans cut no ice with  the historic, epoch-shaking first minority president in American  history. (But why should it? By almost every measure — employment,  housing, wealth, poverty programs, community support, voting rights,  civil rights, etc. — African-Americans have been sent reeling backwards by the policies of the Obama Administration.)
Obama has  adamantly refused to prosecute clear, credible and copious allegations  of war crimes by his predecessor. He is now applying acknowledged  torture techniques to the general American population. And as William  Blum reminds us in his latest “Anti-Empire Report,” Obama is still  carrying out torture on a massive, systematic scale in the gulag he  commands — despite the pervasive progressive myth that he has formally  ended “torture” in the American system. Blum:

“…the executive order concerning torture, issued January 22, 2009 — ‘Executive Order 13491 — Ensuring Lawful Interrogations’ — leaves loopholes, such as being applicable only ‘in any armed conflict.’ Thus, torture by Americans outside  environments of ‘armed conflict,’ which is where much torture in the  world happens anyway, is not prohibited. And what about torture in a ‘counter-terrorism’ environment?
“One of Mr. Obama’s orders  required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a  revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a  guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary  confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, the  induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental  manipulation such as temperature and perhaps noise, and possibly stress  positions and sensory overload. …

“Just as no one in the Bush  and Obama administrations has been punished in any way for war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries they waged illegal war  against, no one has been punished for torture. And, it could be added,  no American bankster has been punished for their indispensable role in  the world-wide financial torture. What a marvelously forgiving land is  America. This, however, does not apply to Julian Assange and Bradley  Manning. …
“I’d like at this point to remind my dear readers of  the words of the ‘Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,’ which was drafted by the United  Nations in 1984, came into force in 1987, and ratified by the United  States in 1994. Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: ‘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.’
Such marvelously  clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard  for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud  of humanity. We cannot slide back.”

No exceptions whatsoever — not even an eternal “War on  Terror.” This is indeed clear language — and it is indisputably the law of the land, as the constitutional law professor in the White House  well knows. But this no longer means anything. As we noted here a couple of years ago, in an excerpt from a “conversation during Civil War”:

“But in days past, I was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer, can you believe it? It seems ” ridiculous now, doesn’t it? An  orderly system meant to govern human society, to establish justice, to  advance the progress and enlightenment of the human race. Yet that  system, that civil cosmos — to which I was so passionately committed —  embraced and protected the most wretched evils, entrenched the powerful  in their unjust privilege, oppressed the poor and weak most relentlessly and wickedly, yet at every step — at every step — sang hosannas to  itself as some kind of divinity. The ‘Law’ — oh, what a hush of  reverence surrounded that word, how deeply that reverence and respect  penetrated the heart. Well, my heart, anyway. But in these last few years we have seen — in intense, concentrated, microscopic view —  the truth about the law, a truth which too often escaped us in the slow  unrolling of peacetime. The truth that there is no law, no Platonic Form out there to which we give paltry representation. There is only power:  power in conflict with power, power seeking to drive out power, to  establish its dominance, maintain its privilege. Power … acquiesces to law — sometimes — but it never, never bows to it. Power goes along with the law when it is convenient to do so, when it is not too restrictive, when it demands little more than the occasional sacrifice — for the  powerful are certainly not above throwing one of their own to the mob  when circumstances require. But when it comes to the crisis, power  shreds the law like a filthy rag and has its own way. And then you see  that the law is nothing but a rag, to be torn and patched and fitted to  power’s aims. The worst atrocities I have seen or heard of in this war  have been committed wholly and completely under the law. This thing I  held in such reverence was, is, nothing but a scrap soaked with blood  and sh*t.”

Or, pertaining more directly to the case at hand, and under-girding some of Blum’s points, including his insights on rendition, is a piece I wrote in 2011:

“There is of course a myth that Barack  Obama has ‘ended’ the practice of torture. This is not even remotely  true. For one thing, as we have often noted here, the Army Field Manual  that Obama has adopted as his interrogation standard permits many  practices that any rational person would consider torture. For another, we have no way of verifying what techniques are actually  being used by the government’s innumerable ‘security’ and intelligence  agencies, by the covert units of the military — and by other entities  whose very existence is still unknown. These agencies are almost  entirely self-policed; they investigate themselves, they report on  themselves to the toothless Congressional ‘oversight’ committees; we  simply have to take these organizations — whose entire raison d’etre is deceit, deception, lawlessness and subterfuge — at their word. And  of course, we have no way of knowing what is being done in the torture  chambers of foreign lands where the United States often ‘outsources’ its captives, including American citizens.
“Finally, even if the  comforting bedtime story of Obama’s ban of torture techniques in  interrogation were true, there remains his ardent championing of the  right to seize anyone on earth — without a warrant, without producing  any evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing — and hold them indefinitely,  often for years on end, in a legal limbo, with no inherent rights  whatsoever, beyond whatever narrowly constricted, ever-changing, legally baseless and often farcical ‘hearings’ and tribunals the captors deign  to allow them. Incarceration under these conditions is itself an  horrendous act of torture, no matter what else might happen to the  captive. Yet Obama has actively, avidly applied this torture, and has  gone to court numerous times to defend this torture, and to expand the  use of this torture …

“….Murder, cowardice, torture,  dishonor: these are fruits — and the distinguishing characteristics —  of the militarized society. What Americans once would not do even to  Nazis with the blood of millions on their hands, they now do routinely  to weak and wretched captives seized on little or no evidence of  wrongdoing at all. We are deep in the darkness, and hurtling deeper,  headlong, all the time.”

US Calls Mount to Investigate Bush Era Officials for Torture July 12, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Human Rights, Torture.
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Published on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 by Inter Press Service

  by Naseema Noor

WASHINGTON – Senior officials under the former George W. Bush administration knowingly authorized the torture of terrorism suspects held under United States custody, a Human Right Watch (HRW) report released here Tuesday revealed.

Titled “Getting Away with Torture”, the 107-page report presents a plethora of evidence that HRW says warrants criminal investigations against former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet and Bush himself, among others. (photo:  pantagrapher)

Titled “Getting Away with Torture”, the 107-page report presents a plethora of evidence that HRW says warrants criminal investigations against former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet and Bush himself, among others.

Newly de-classified memos, transcriptions of congressional hearings, and other sources indicate that Bush officials authorized the use of interrogation techniques almost universally considered torture – such as waterboarding – as well as the operation of covert CIA prisons abroad and the rendition of detainees to other countries where they were subsequently tortured.

HRW also criticized the United States under the current Barack Obama administration for failing to meets it obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other inhumane treatment.

“President Obama has defended the decision not to prosecute officials in his predecessor’s administration by arguing that the country needs ‘to look forward, not backward,'” said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth. “[He] has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime.”

To date, both the Bush and Obama administrations have successfully prevented courts from reviewing the merits of torture allegations in civil lawsuits by arguing that the cases involve sensitive information, which, if revealed, might endanger national security.

Last year, Bush defended the use of waterboarding on the grounds that the Justice Department deemed it legal. In 2002, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel had drafted memos approving the legality of a list of abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. However, HRW documents evidence that shows senior administration officials pressured the politically-appointed lawyers to write these legal justifications.

“Senior Bush officials shouldn’t be allowed to shape and hand-pick legal advice and then hide behind it as if were autonomously delivered,” Roth said.

HRW further recommends that Congress establish an independent, nonpartisan commission to examine the mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and compensate victims of torture, as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

“Without [a commission], torture very much remains within the toolbox of accepted policies. People are not going to back away from it until there is accountability,” Karen Greenberg, executive director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security and author of “The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days”, told IPS.

In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a special prosecutor to investigate detainee abuse, but limited the mandate to only “unauthorized” acts, which effectively excluded violations like waterboarding and forcing prisoners to maintain stress positions that were approved by the Bush administration.

But on Jun. 30 of this year, the Justice Department announced that it would continue probing only two of nearly 100 allegations of torture. The open cases involve the deaths of two men – Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi, and Gul Rahman, an Afghan – in CIA custody.

Human and civil rights group criticized the narrow scope of the torture investigations, while HRW said they failed to address the systematic character of the abuses.

“The U.S. government’s pattern of abuse across several countries did not result from acts of individuals who broke the rules,” Roth said. “It resulted from decisions made by senior U.S. officials to bend, ignore, or cast aside the rules.” If the U.S. does not pursue criminal investigations, HRW is urging other countries to exercise universal jurisdiction under international law and prosecute the aforementioned officials.

A number of former detainees have already taken this step by filing criminal complaints in courts outside of the U.S.

In February 2011, alleged victims of torture living in Switzerland planned to file a suit against Bush, causing him to cancel his trip there.

Another investigation is underway in Spain, where the Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights requested a subpoena for a former commander of the Abu Ghraib prison to explain his role in the alleged torture of four detainees.

Washington’s failure to investigate its own citizens for abuses like torture ultimately undercuts its efforts to hold other governments accountable for human rights violations, according to HRW.

“The U.S. is right to call for justice when serious international crimes are committed in places like Darfur, Libya, and Sri Lanka, but there should be no double standards,” Roth said.

“When the U.S. government shields its own officials from investigation and prosecution, it makes it easier for others to dismiss global efforts to bring violators of serious crimes to justice,” he added.

Failing to prosecute ultimately sends the message that “if you are powerful, you can get away with even torture,” Greenberg said.

Copyright © 2011 IPS-Inter Press Service

The always-expanding bipartisan Surveillance State May 20, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy.
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Friday, May 20, 2011 08:21 ET

When I wrote earlier this week about Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article on the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, the passage I hailed as “the single paragraph that best conveys the prime, enduring impact of the Obama presidency” included this observation from Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin:  “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state.”  There are three events — all incredibly from the last 24 hours — which not only prove how true that is, but vividly highlight how it functions and why it is so odious.

First, consider what Democrats and Republicans just jointly did with regard to the Patriot Act, the very naming of which once sent progressives into spasms of vocal protest and which long served as the symbolic shorthand for Bush/Cheney post-9/11 radicalism:

Top congressional leaders agreed Thursday to a four-year extension of the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, the controversial law passed after the Sept. 11 attacks that governs the search for terrorists on American soil.

The deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner calls for a vote before May 27, when parts of the current act expire. The idea is to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government. . . .

From its inception, the law’s increased surveillance powers have been criticized by liberals and conservatives alike as infringements on free speech rights and protections against unwarranted searches and seizures.

Some Patriot Act opponents suggest that Osama bin Laden’s demise earlier this month should prompt Congress to reconsider the law, written when the terrorist leader was at the peak of his power. But the act’s supporters warn that al-Qaida splinter groups, scattered from Pakistan to the United States and beyond, may try to retaliate.

Now more than ever, we need access to the crucial authorities in the Patriot Act,” Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This will be the second time that the Democratic Congress — with the support of President Obama (who once pretended to favor reforms) — has extended the Patriot Act without any changes.  And note the rationale for why it was done in secret bipartisan meetings:  to ensure “as little debate as possible” and “to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government.”  Indeed, we wouldn’t want to have any messy, unpleasant democratic debates over “the expanded power the law gives to the government.”  Here we find yet again the central myth of our political culture:  that there is too little bipartisanship when the truth is there is little in Washington but that. And here we also find — yet again — that the killing of Osama bin Laden is being exploited to justify a continuation, rather than a reduction, in the powers of the National Security and Surveillance States.

Next we have a new proposal from the Obama White House to drastically expand the scope of “National Security Letters” — the once-controversial and long-abused creation of the Patriot Act that allows the FBI to obtain private records about American citizens without the need for a subpoena or any court approval — so that it now includes records of your Internet activities:

White House proposal would ease FBI access to records of Internet activity

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. . .

Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL.” . . .

To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is “incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting,” said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.

The critics say its effect would be to greatly expand the amount and type of personal data the government can obtain without a court order. “You’re bringing a big category of data — records reflecting who someone is communicating with in the digital world, Web browsing history and potentially location information — outside of judicial review,” said Michael Sussmann, a Justice Department lawyer under President Bill Clinton who now represents Internet and other firms.

So first they conspire with the GOP to extend the Patriot Act without any reforms, then seek to expand its most controversial and invasive provisions to obtain the Internet activities of American citizens without having to bother with a subpoena or judicial approval — “they” being the Democratic White House.

Most critically, the government’s increased ability to learn more and more about the private activities of its citizens is accompanied — as always — by an ever-increasing wall of secrecy it erects around its own actions.  Thus, on the very same day that we have an extension of the Patriot Act and a proposal to increase the government’s Internet snooping powers, we have this:

The Justice Department should publicly release its legal opinion that allows the FBI to obtain telephone records of international calls made from the U.S. without any formal legal process, a watchdog group asserts.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel violated federal open-records laws by refusing to release the memo.

The suit was prompted in part by McClatchy’s reporting that highlighted the existence of the memo and the department’s refusal to release it. Earlier this year, McClatchy also requested a copy and was turned down.

The decision not to release the memo is noteworthy because the Obama administration — in particular the Office of Legal Counsel — has sought to portray itself as more open than the Bush administration was. By turning down the foundation’s request for a copy, the department is ensuring that its legal arguments in support of the FBI’s controversial and discredited efforts to obtain telephone records will be kept secret.

What’s extraordinary about the Obama DOJ’s refusal to release this document is that it does not reveal the eavesdropping activities of the Government but only its legal rationale for why it is ostensibly permitted to engage in those activities.  The Bush DOJ’s refusal to release its legal memos authorizing its surveillance and torture policies was unquestionably one of the acts that provoked the greatest outrage among Democratic lawyers and transparency advocates (see, for instance, Dawn Johnsen’s scathing condemnation of the Bush administration for its refusal to release OLC legal reasoning: “reliance on ‘secret law’ threatens the effective functioning of American democracy” and “the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government.”

The way a republic is supposed to function is that there is transparency for those who wield public power and privacy for private citizens.  The National Security State has reversed that dynamic completely, so that the Government (comprised of the consortium of public agencies and their private-sector “partners”) knows virtually everything about what citizens do, but citizens know virtually nothing about what they do (which is why WikiLeaks specifically and whistleblowers generally, as one of the very few remaining instruments for subverting that wall of secrecy, are so threatening to them).  Fortified by always-growing secrecy weapons, everything they do is secret — including even the “laws” they secretly invent to authorize their actions  — while everything you do is open to inspection, surveillance and monitoring.

This dynamic threatens to entrench irreversible, absolute power for reasons that aren’t difficult to understand.  Knowledge is power, as the cliché teaches.  When powerful factions can gather unlimited information about citizens, they can threaten, punish, and ultimately deter any meaningful form of dissent:  J. Edgar Hoover infamously sought to drive Martin Luther King, Jr. to suicide by threatening to reveal King’s alleged adultery discovered by illicit surveillance; as I described earlier today in my post on New York’s new Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer was destroyed in the middle of challenging Wall Street as the result of a massive federal surveillance scheme that uncovered his prostitution activities.  It is the rare person indeed with nothing to hide, and allowing the National Security State faction unfettered, unregulated intrusive power into the private affairs of citizens — as we have been inexorably doing — is to vest them with truly awesome, unlimited power.

Conversely, allowing government officials to shield their own conduct from transparency and (with the radical Bush/Obama version of the “State Secrets privilege”) even judicial review ensures that National Security State officials (public and private) can do whatever they want without any detection and (therefore) without limit or accountability.  That is what the Surveillance State, at its core, is designed to achieve: the destruction of privacy for individual citizens and an impenetrable wall of secrecy for those with unlimited surveillance power.  And as these three events just from the last 24 hours demonstrate, this system — with fully bipartisan support — is expanding more rapidly than ever.

US Created ‘Safe Haven’ for Nazis, Report Says November 15, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in History.
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 Lisa Holewa Contributor

AOL News

(Nov. 14) — The United States created a safe haven for some Nazis after World Ward II, granting them entry even though government officials knew of their pasts, according to a U.S. Justice Department report detailed in today’s New York Times.

“America, which prided itself on being a safe haven for the persecuted, became — in some small measure — a safe haven for persecutors as well,” the report says, describing what it calls “the government’s collaboration with persecutors.”

The Justice Department cited “numerous factual errors and omissions” in the report, according to the Times, but declined to say what they were. The Justice Department also said the report was never formally completed and did not represent its official findings.

The report documents a neglected corner of history, focusing on the work of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which was created in 1979 to deport Nazis.

Arthur L.H. Rudolph, who supervised the design of the Apollo-Saturn V moon rocket, has renounced his U.S. citizenship and left the country Oct. 17, 1984. The Justice Department alleged that Rudolph, shown in a 1960 photo,

AP
Arthur L.H. Rudolph, who developed the Saturn V rocket for the U.S., oversaw a Nazi munitions factory that used slave labor in World War II.

“It’s an amazing story that needs to be told,” prosecutor Judith Feigin, who authored the report, told the Times.

The 600-page report found that the Justice Department itself sometimes concealed what American officials knew about Nazis in this country, and in other cases American intelligence officials aided Nazis in the U.S.

For example, the report details the case of Tscherim Soobzokov, a former Waffen SS soldier. According to the report, prosecutors filed a motion in 1980 that “misstated the facts,” claiming that checks of CIA and FBI records revealed no information on his Nazi past.

In fact, the report said, the Justice Department “knew that Soobzokov had advised the CIA of his SS connection after he arrived in the United States.”

Soobzokov was killed in 1985 by a bomb at his New Jersey home after his case was dismissed.

The report also cites help that CIA officials provided in 1954 to Otto Von Bolschwing, an associate of Adolf Eichmann who later worked for the CIA in the United States.

According to the report, CIA officials debated in memos whether Von Bolschwing should deny any Nazi affiliation or “explain it away on the basis of extenuating circumstances,” if confronted about his past.

The Justice Department, after learning of Von Bolschwing’s Nazi ties, sought to deport him in 1981. He died that year at 72.

The report also examines the case of Arthur L.H. Rudolph, a Nazi scientist who was brought to the United States in 1945 for his rocket-making expertise. Rudolph ran the Mittelwerk munitions factory.

The report cites a 1949 memo from a top Justice Department official urging immigration officers to let Rudolph back in the U.S. after a stay in Mexico, saying that a failure to do so “would be to the detriment of the national interest.”

Justice Department investigators later found evidence that Rudolph was much more actively involved in exploiting slave laborers at Mittelwerk than he or American intelligence officials had acknowledged, the report says.

Rudolph has been honored by NASA and is credited as the father of the Saturn V rocket.

The report was first undertaken in 1999, after senior Justice Department lawyer Mark Richard persuaded Attorney General Janet Reno to begin this look at Nazi-hunting history. He assigned Feigin to the job and edited the final version of the report in 2006, urging the Justice Department to make it public, according to the Times.

When Richard became ill with cancer, he told a gathering of friends and family that he hoped to see the report’s publication before he died, the colleagues said. He died in June 2009.

“I spoke to him the week before he died, and he was still trying to get it released,” Feigin told the Times. “It broke his heart.”

Under the threat of a lawsuit after Richard’s death, the Justice Department turned over a heavily redacted version last month to a private research group, the National Security Archive.

In the censored version, a chapter on the OSI’s case against John Demjanjuk — a retired American autoworker who was mistakenly identified as Treblinka’s Ivan the Terrible — deletes dozens of details, including part of a 1993 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that raised ethics accusations against Justice Department officials.

The complete version of the report was obtained by The New York Times for its story today.

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.

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