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How a Washington Global Torture Gulag Was Turned Into the Only Gulag-Free Zone on Earth February 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Chile, Latin America, Torture, War on Terror.
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Published on Monday, February 18, 2013 by TomDispatch.com

The Latin American Exception

by Greg Grandin

(Max Fisher — The Washington Post)

The map tells the story.  To illustrate a damning new report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detentions and Extraordinary Rendition,” recently published by the Open Society Institute, the Washington Post put together an equally damning graphic: it’s soaked in red, as if with blood, showing that in the years after 9/11, the CIA turned just about the whole world into a gulag archipelago.

Back in the early twentieth century, a similar red-hued map was used to indicate the global reach of the British Empire, on which, it was said, the sun never set.  It seems that, between 9/11 and the day George W. Bush left the White House, CIA-brokered torture never saw a sunset either.

All told, of the 190-odd countries on this planet, a staggering 54 participated in various ways in this American torture system, hosting CIA “black site” prisons, allowing their airspace and airports to be used for secret flights, providing intelligence, kidnapping foreign nationals or their own citizens and handing them over to U.S. agents to be “rendered” to third-party countries like Egypt and Syria.  The hallmark of this network, Open Society writes, has been torture.  Its report documents the names of 136 individuals swept up in what it says is an ongoing operation, though its authors make clear that the total number, implicitly far higher, “will remain unknown” because of the “extraordinary level of government secrecy associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition.”

No region escapes the stain.  Not North America, home to the global gulag’s command center.  Not Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia.  Not even social-democratic Scandinavia.  Sweden turned over at least two people to the CIA, who were then rendered to Egypt, where they were subject to electric shocks, among other abuses.  No region, that is, except Latin America.

What’s most striking about the Post’s map is that no part of its wine-dark horror touches Latin America; that is, not one country in what used to be called Washington’s “backyard” participated in rendition or Washington-directed or supported torture and abuse of “terror suspects.”  Not even Colombia, which throughout the last two decades was as close to a U.S.-client state as existed in the area.  It’s true that a fleck of red should show up on Cuba, but that would only underscore the point: Teddy Roosevelt took Guantánamo Bay Naval Base for the U.S. in 1903 “in perpetuity.”

Two, Three, Many CIAs 

How did Latin America come to be territorio libre in this new dystopian world of black sites and midnight flights, the Zion of this militarist matrix (as fans of the Wachowskis’ movies might put it)?  After all, it was in Latin America that an earlier generation of U.S. and U.S.-backed counterinsurgents put into place a prototype of Washington’s twenty-first century Global War on Terror.

Even before the 1959 Cuban Revolution, before Che Guevara urged revolutionaries to create “two, three, many Vietnams,” Washington had already set about establishing two, three, many centralized intelligence agencies in Latin America.  As Michael McClintock shows in his indispensable book Instruments of Statecraft, in late 1954, a few months after the CIA’s infamous coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government, the National Security Council first recommended strengthening “the internal security forces of friendly foreign countries.”

In the region, this meant three things.  First, CIA agents and other U.S. officials set to work “professionalizing” the security forces of individual countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Uruguay; that is, turning brutal but often clumsy and corrupt local intelligence apparatuses into efficient, “centralized,” still brutal agencies, capable of gathering information, analyzing it, and storing it.  Most importantly, they were to coordinate different branches of each country’s security forces — the police, military, and paramilitary squads — to act on that information, often lethally and always ruthlessly.

Second, the U.S. greatly expanded the writ of these far more efficient and effective agencies, making it clear that their portfolio included not just national defense but international offense.  They were to be the vanguard of a global war for “freedom” and of an anticommunist reign of terror in the hemisphere.  Third, our men in Montevideo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asunción, La Paz, Lima, Quito, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Managua were to help synchronize the workings of individual national security forces.

The result was state terror on a nearly continent-wide scale.  In the 1970s and 1980s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Operation Condor, which linked together the intelligence services of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile, was the most infamous of Latin America’s transnational terror consortiums, reaching out to commit mayhem as far away as Washington D.C., Paris, and Rome.  The U.S. had earlier helped put in place similar operations elsewhere in the Southern hemisphere, especially in Central America in the 1960s.

By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans had been tortured, killed, disappeared, or imprisoned without trial, thanks in significant part to U.S. organizational skills and support.  Latin America was, by then, Washington’s backyard gulag.  Three of the region’s current presidents — Uruguay’s José Mujica, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega — were victims of this reign of terror.

When the Cold War ended, human rights groups began the herculean task of dismantling the deeply embedded, continent-wide network of intelligence operatives, secret prisons, and torture techniques — and of pushing militaries throughout the region out of governments and back into their barracks.  In the 1990s, Washington not only didn’t stand in the way of this process, but actually lent a hand in depoliticizing Latin America’s armed forces.  Many believed that, with the Soviet Union dispatched, Washington could now project its power in its own “backyard” through softer means like international trade agreements and other forms of economic leverage.  Then 9/11 happened.

“Oh My Goodness”

In late November 2002, just as the basic outlines of the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs were coming into shape elsewhere in the world, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew 5,000 miles to Santiago, Chile, to attend a hemispheric meeting of defense ministers.  “Needless to say,” Rumsfeld nonetheless said, “I would not be going all this distance if I did not think this was extremely important.” Indeed.

This was after the invasion of Afghanistan but before the invasion of Iraq and Rumsfeld was riding high, as well as dropping the phrase “September 11th” every chance he got.  Maybe he didn’t know of the special significance that date had in Latin America, but 29 years earlier on the first 9/11, a CIA-backed coup by General Pinochet and his military led to the death of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende.  Or did he, in fact, know just what it meant and was that the point?  After all, a new global fight for freedom, a proclaimed Global War on Terror, was underway and Rumsfeld had arrived to round up recruits.

There, in Santiago, the city out of which Pinochet had run Operation Condor, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials tried to sell what they were now terming the “integration” of “various specialized capabilities into larger regional capabilities” — an insipid way of describing the kidnapping, torturing, and death-dealing already underway elsewhere. “Events around the world before and after September 11th suggest the advantages,” Rumsfeld said, of nations working together to confront the terror threat.

“Oh my goodness,” Rumsfeld told a Chilean reporter, “the kinds of threats we face are global.”  Latin America was at peace, he admitted, but he had a warning for its leaders: they shouldn’t lull themselves into believing that the continent was safe from the clouds gathering elsewhere.  Dangers exist, “old threats, such as drugs, organized crime, illegal arms trafficking, hostage taking, piracy, and money laundering; new threats, such as cyber-crime; and unknown threats, which can emerge without warning.”

“These new threats,” he added ominously, “must be countered with new capabilities.” Thanks to the Open Society report, we can see exactly what Rumsfeld meant by those “new capabilities.”

A few weeks prior to Rumsfeld’s arrival in Santiago, for example, the U.S., acting on false information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, detained Maher Arar, who holds dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and then handed him over to a “Special Removal Unit.” He was flown first to Jordan, where he was beaten, and then to Syria, a country in a time zone five hours ahead of Chile, where he was turned over to local torturers.  On November 18th, when Rumsfeld was giving his noon speech in Santiago, it was five in the afternoon in Arar’s “grave-like” cell in a Syrian prison, where he would spend the next year being abused.

Ghairat Baheer was captured in Pakistan about three weeks before Rumsfeld’s Chile trip, and thrown into a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan called the Salt Pit.  As the secretary of defense praised Latin America’s return to the rule of law after the dark days of the Cold War, Baheer may well have been in the middle of one of his torture sessions, “hung naked for hours on end.”

Taken a month before Rumsfeld’s visit to Santiago, the Saudi national Abd al Rahim al Nashiri was transported to the Salt Pit, after which he was transferred “to another black site in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was waterboarded.” After that, he was passed on to Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo, Romania, and back to Guantánamo, where he remains.  Along the way, he was subjected to a “mock execution with a power drill as he stood naked and hooded,” had U.S. interrogators rack a “semi-automatic handgun close to his head as he sat shackled before them.”  His interrogators also “threatened to bring in his mother and sexually abuse her in front of him.”

Likewise a month before the Santiago meeting, the Yemini Bashi Nasir Ali Al Marwalah was flown to Camp X-Ray in Cuba, where he remains to this day.

Less than two weeks after Rumsfeld swore that the U.S. and Latin America shared “common values,” Mullah Habibullah, an Afghan national, died “after severe mistreatment” in CIA custody at something called the “Bagram Collection Point.” A U.S. military investigation “concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment… caused, or were direct contributing factors in, his death.”

Two days after the secretary’s Santiago speech, a CIA case officer in the Salt Pit had Gul Rahma stripped naked and chained to a concrete floor without blankets.  Rahma froze to death.

And so the Open Society report goes… on and on and on.

Territorio Libre 

Rumsfeld left Santiago without firm commitments.  Some of the region’s militaries were tempted by the supposed opportunities offered by the secretary’s vision of fusing crime fighting into an ideological campaign against radical Islam, a unified war in which all was to be subordinated to U.S. command.  As political scientist Brian Loveman has noted, around the time of Rumsfeld’s Santiago visit, the head of the Argentine army picked up Washington’s latest set of themes, insisting that “defense must be treated as an integral matter,” without a false divide separating internal and external security.

But history was not on Rumsfeld’s side.  His trip to Santiago coincided with Argentina’s epic financial meltdown, among the worst in recorded history.  It signaled a broader collapse of the economic model — think of it as Reaganism on steroids — that Washington had been promoting in Latin America since the late Cold War years.  Soon, a new generation of leftists would be in power across much of the continent, committed to the idea of national sovereignty and limiting Washington’s influence in the region in a way that their predecessors hadn’t been.

Hugo Chávez was already president of Venezuela.  Just a month before Rumsfeld’s Santiago trip, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva won the presidency of Brazil. A few months later, in early 2003, Argentines elected Néstor Kirchner, who shortly thereafter ended his country’s joint military exercises with the U.S.  In the years that followed, the U.S. experienced one setback after another.  In 2008, for instance, Ecuador evicted the U.S. military from Manta Air Base.

In that same period, the Bush administration’s rush to invade Iraq, an act most Latin American countries opposed, helped squander whatever was left of the post-9/11 goodwill the U.S. had in the region.  Iraq seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the continent’s new leaders: that what Rumsfeld was trying to peddle as an international “peacekeeping” force would be little more than a bid to use Latin American soldiers as Gurkhas in a revived unilateral imperial war.

Brazil’s “Smokescreen”

Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks show the degree to which Brazil rebuffed efforts to paint the region red on Washington’s new global gulag map.

A May 2005 U.S. State Department cable, for instance, reveals that Lula’s government refused “multiple requests” by Washington to take in released Guantánamo prisoners, particularly a group of about 15 Uighurs the U.S. had been holding since 2002, who could not be sent back to China.

“[Brazil’s] position regarding this issue has not changed since 2003 and will likely not change in the foreseeable future,” the cable said.  It went on to report that Lula’s government considered the whole system Washington had set up at Guantánamo (and around the world) to be a mockery of international law.  “All attempts to discuss this issue” with Brazilian officials, the cable concluded, “were flatly refused or accepted begrudgingly.”

In addition, Brazil refused to cooperate with the Bush administration’s efforts to create a Western Hemisphere-wide version of the Patriot Act.  It stonewalled, for example, about agreeing to revise its legal code in a way that would lower the standard of evidence needed to prove conspiracy, while widening the definition of what criminal conspiracy entailed.

Lula stalled for years on the initiative, but it seems that the State Department didn’t realize he was doing so until April 2008, when one of its diplomats wrote a memo calling Brazil’s supposed interest in reforming its legal code to suit Washington a “smokescreen.”  The Brazilian government, another Wikileaked cable complained, was afraid that a more expansive definition of terrorism would be used to target “members of what they consider to be legitimate social movements fighting for a more just society.” Apparently, there was no way to “write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions” of Lula’s left-wing social base.

One U.S. diplomat complained that this “mindset” — that is, a mindset that actually valued civil liberties  — “presents serious challenges to our efforts to enhance counterterrorism cooperation or promote passage of anti-terrorism legislation.”  In addition, the Brazilian government worried that the legislation would be used to go after Arab-Brazilians, of which there are many.  One can imagine that if Brazil and the rest of Latin America had signed up to participate in Washington’s rendition program, Open Society would have a lot more Middle Eastern-sounding names to add to its list.

Finally, cable after Wikileaked cable revealed that Brazil repeatedly brushed off efforts by Washington to isolate Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, which would have been a necessary step if the U.S. was going to marshal South America into its counterterrorism posse.

In February 2008, for example, U.S. ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobell met with Lula’s Minister of Defense Nelson Jobin to complain about Chávez.  Jobim told Sobell that Brazil shared his “concern about the possibility of Venezuela exporting instability.”  But instead of “isolating Venezuela,” which might only “lead to further posturing,” Jobim instead indicated that his government “supports [the] creation of a ‘South American Defense Council’ to bring Chavez into the mainstream.”

There was only one catch here: that South American Defense Council was Chávez’s idea in the first place!  It was part of his effort, in partnership with Lula, to create independent institutions parallel to those controlled by Washington.  The memo concluded with the U.S. ambassador noting how curious it was that Brazil would use Chavez’s “idea for defense cooperation” as part of a “supposed containment strategy” of Chávez.

Monkey-Wrenching the Perfect Machine of Perpetual War

Unable to put in place its post-9/11 counterterrorism framework in all of Latin America, the Bush administration retrenched.  It attempted instead to build a “perfect machine of perpetual war” in a corridor running from Colombia through Central America to Mexico.  The process of militarizing that more limited region, often under the guise of fighting “the drug wars,” has, if anything, escalated in the Obama years.  Central America has, in fact, become the only place Southcom — the Pentagon command that covers Central and South America — can operate more or less at will.  A look at this other map, put together by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, makes the region look like one big landing strip for U.S. drones and drug-interdiction flights.

Washington does continue to push and probe further south, trying yet again to establish a firmer military foothold in the region and rope it into what is now a less ideological and more technocratic crusade, but one still global in its aspirations.  U.S. military strategists, for instance, would very much like to have an airstrip in French Guyana or the part of Brazil that bulges out into the Atlantic.  The Pentagon would use it as a stepping stone to its increasing presence in Africa, coordinating the work of Southcom with the newest global command, Africom.

But for now, South America has thrown a monkey wrench into the machine.  Returning to that Washington Post map, it’s worth memorializing the simple fact that, in one part of the world, in this century at least, the sun never rose on US-choreographed torture.

© 2013 Greg Grandin
Greg Grandin

Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book, Fordlandia, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history.

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Terror and torture May 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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abu-ghraib-matthew-langleyArtwork: Matthew Langley

Jim Miles

www.onlinejournal.com, May 1, 2009

The current media frenzy concerning Obama’s coming release of more information on U.S. torture between 2000 and 2005 is a political storm conveniently kept out of context.

There are two aspects to the context that are missing. First, this is not new information and well before current events erupted into the news, the case has been made all along that the Bush administration in general — Bush and Cheney, their political advisors and legal representatives — are all complicit in contravening the Geneva Conventions on torture and the treatment of prisoners of war. Secondly, terror and torture go hand in glove, the two are fully related and have been used by the U.S. and its proxies in many different contexts around the world — and are still doing so as Obama has put an end to torture at Guantanamo, but has not denied renditions to friendly torturers elsewhere.

The spin-doctors in the White House are no longer allowing the use of the term “war on terror” although the facts of the war have not changed. As the global war on whatever or the long war on whomever continues, the abuses associated with terror and torture will continue to spread.

The initiator of terror, of course, is the occupier of foreign territories creating the obvious wish on the part of the indigenous populations for the occupier to go home, currently involving most of the Middle East from Israel/Palestine through to Pakistan. This has happened throughout history, ancient and modern, from the Crusades and the Mongol hordes through the genocide of native populations in the Americas to the more modern terrors of a highly developed technological warfare that readily conquers “enemies” as defined by the political elites for a variety of reasons, from religious zealotry to political zealotry, frequently one and the same thing, seen most evidently in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . and Pakistan?

Put in simpler terms, the U.S. uses terror, the U.S. uses torture, its allies and compatriots use terror, use torture, and as the U.S. expands its war frontiers further into Pakistan, so will the edges of terror and torture expand.

Power and control

Torture is ultimately about power and control. It ranges from the pure brutality of physical torture often described in many of the wars for suppression of indigenous control in Central America to the more ‘refined’ torture currently used to break down a prisoner’s psychological persona without leaving the physical scars of the less sophisticated forms of torture. Torture is used to create terror, to create a population that is subservient and easily controlled by the very fear of the terror that it spreads. In turn, as terror and torture strips away the thin layers of civilization that control man’s baser instincts, terror and torture become devices used by the combatants on both sides.

As the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. role in abrogating human rights and crimes against humanity have a powerful effect elsewhere in the world. “The actions of the United States have also made it more difficult to critize the violations of international law by other countries, most notably Israel.” What occurred at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Bagram airbase “bear more than a passing resemblance” with the “testimonies of Palestinians released from Israeli prisons.” [1]

As expressed shortly after Abu Ghraib, “the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.” Even though torture does not do what it is purported to do, provide useful information, “a plea to torture one terrorist with a ticking bomb becomes the rationale for insecure leaders to win the right to torture someone, anyone, to assuage the uncertainties of rule and empower themselves for dominion.” [2]

Obama

I have no sympathy — and perhaps a seed of disdain — for Obama’s current problems on the political front with his inheritance of the Bush legacy of torture. If the world is to look forward with “hope” for “change” it needs to start at home. Simply releasing more information will provide neither hope nor change. If Obama wishes to be more than a man of wonderful sounding phrases, he will have to do what is correct by international law and arrange whatever is necessary under U.S. law to investigate and prosecute those involved with the torture — not just the low level people, those “following orders,” but the ones in the executive and legislative branches who formed the concept and provided the legal okay for it, contrary to international laws.

From readings of international law, Obama himself becomes guilty of torture as anyone who is complicit with aiding and abetting torture becomes guilty of the crime. If he refuses to act, then under international standards, Obama becomes guilty of the crime. Unfortunately the U.S. is one of the most contradictory countries when it comes to upholding laws, always telling others that they need to be transparent, open, democratic, but when it suits its own purposes it relies on ignoring, abrogating, or denying international law.

Guilty until proven innocent

Phillippe Sands’ work “Torture Team” examines one particular case related to Guantanamo and arrives at the clear conclusion that there is good case for prosecuting Bush, Cheney, Feith, Haynes, Gonzales, Yoo, Bybee and others from this case in itself. [3] Others included in this list are the medical workers, physicians and psychologists, who supported those actually applying the torture.

Within its own internal laws the U.S. has provided immunity from prosecution under the Military Commissions Act as it “Gives US officials immunity from prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before the end of 2005 by US military and CIA.” [4]

Sands adds, “Legislation creating such an immunity would allow the crime to be covered up: it was almost an admission that a crime had occurred.” [5] That immunity, however arguable under U.S. law, does not extend outside the U.S.: “Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, any country may prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by anyone anywhere.” [6]

Alfred McCoy in “A Question of Torture — CIA Interrogation From the Cold War to the War on Terror” examines the history of torture up to the days of Abu Ghraib. He starts by stating “five intertwined aspects of its perverse psychology,” the fifth of which needs to be restated strongly today: “ . . . a nation that sanctions torture in defiance of its democratic principles pays a terrible price. For nearly two millennia, the practice has been identified with tyrants and empires. For the past two centuries, its repudiation has been synonymous with the humanist ideals of the Enlightenment and democracy. When any modern state tortures even a few victims, the stigma compromises its majesty and corrupts its integrity. Its officials must spin an ever more complex web of lies that, in the end, weakens the bonds of trust and the rule of law that are the sine qua non of a democracy.” [7]

For Obama to avoid complicity, for Obama to not be seen as opposing basic human rights, for Obama to avoid being labelled an ineffective orator, he needs to act on the information that is at hand and proceed with some form of investigation that has the power it needs to fully complete its legal tasks. For the U.S. to not be seen as it has for the past decade as a country that trammels other people’s international rights, the people of the U.S., and their elected representatives, need to support that investigation.

Canadian complicity

Canada is a minor player on the world political scene, increasingly seen as nothing more than a U.S. puppet, a minion succouring favour, trying to be one of the big boys on the global stage by supporting the Bush doctrine, even after Bush is gone. The Canadian government under Harper has supported the U.S. in Afghanistan and currently on into Pakistan without considering the context of who started the great mujahideen warriors in the first place (the U.S. CIA and Pakistani ISI) and why they are now fighting them in Central Asia (gas, oil, containment of China and Russia).

This complicity extends to torture. The case of Maher Arar is a relatively well-known extradition case that the government aided in. More recently, now that Guantanamo is being shut down, a Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is being denied entry back into Canada even though the Federal Court has said it should be allowed. One of the government’s arguments is that Khadr needs to be processed through the U.S. legal system (hmm . . . see above) even though under international law he could be tried here in Canada. While Harper wishes to appear tough on terrorism, he is only making himself complicit in the illegal practices utilized by the U.S. at Guantanamo, soon perhaps to be sanctioned by Obama as well.

The Canadian pretender to the throne, whom I do not always agree with, appears to understand the situation more clearly than Harper. Michael Ignatieff states, . . . even in emergency, even if some liberties must be suspended, a constitutional state must remain answerable to the higher law, a set of standards that protect foundational commitments to the dignity of every person. [8]

Terror’s answer

Terror is an act of aggression. It is part and parcel of the nature of warfare, and is a particular conjoint of unilateral preemptive warfare. The answer to terror is twofold. First the initiating countries, those that are doing the invading, manipulating, coercive activities, need to stop. The second is that terror used in response to terror cannot be stopped by war, but needs to be stopped by international police work and the upholding of international law internally and internationally by all parties.

For Canada, hopefully, Harper will see the last of his controlling reign in the next election and equally hopefully, Ignatieff can stand up his own beliefs in human rights extending beyond state legalities. Obama needs to act in his own backyard and ignore his own state legalities of the Military Commissions Act, or terror will continue regardless of any war label applied to U.S. actions. If it cannot be contained and brought to justice in the U.S., it will not happen internationally.

[1] Byers, Michael. War Law — Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 2005. p. 154.

[2] McCoy, Alfred W. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2006. p. 207.

[3] Sands, Phillippe. Torture Team — Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law. Allen Lane (Penguin), 2008. See review at

[4] Anup Shah. “Military Commissions Act 2006—Unchecked Powers?Znet. October 02, 2006.

[5] Sands, ibid, p. 252.

[6] Byers, ibid, p. 143

[7] McCoy, ibid, p. 14.

[7] Ignatieff, Michael. The Lesser Evil — Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Princeton University, 2004. p. 44.

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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A Call to End All Renditions February 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Marjorie Cohn

Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian residing in Britain, said he was tortured after being sent to Morocco and Afghanistan in 2002 by the U.S. government. Mohamed was transferred to Guantánamo in 2004 and all terrorism charges against him were dismissed last year. Mohamed was a victim of extraordinary rendition, in which a person is abducted without any legal proceedings and transferred to a foreign country for detention and interrogation, often tortured.

Mohamed and four other plaintiffs are accusing Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. of flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured. In Mohamed’s case, two British justices accused the Bush administration of pressuring the British government to block the release of evidence that was “relevant to allegations of torture” of Mohamed.

Twenty-five lines edited out of the court documents included details about how Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel as well as other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding “is very far down the list of things they did,” according to a British official quoted by the Telegraph (UK).

The plaintiffs’ complaint quotes a former Jeppesen employee as saying, “We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights – you know, the torture flights.” A senior company official also apparently admitted the company transported people to countries where they would be tortured.

Obama’s Justice Department appeared before a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday in the Jeppesen lawsuit. But instead of making a clean break with the dark policies of the Bush years, the Obama administration claimed the same “state secrets” privilege that Bush used to block inquiry into his policies of torture and illegal surveillance. Claiming that the extraordinary rendition program is a state secret is disingenuous since it is has been extensively documented in the media.

“This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course,” said the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, counsel for the five men.

If the judges accept Obama’s state secrets claim, these men will be denied their day in court and precluded from any recovery for the damages they suffered as a result of extraordinary rendition.

Two and a half weeks before Obama’s representative appeared in the Jeppesen case, the new President had signed Executive Order 13491. It established a special task force “to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.”

This order prohibits extraordinary rendition. It also ensures humane treatment of persons in U.S. custody or control. But it doesn’t specifically guarantee that prisoners the United States renders to other countries will be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that doesn’t amount to torture. It does, however, aim to ensure that our government’s practices of transferring people to other countries complies with U.S. laws and policies, including our obligations under international law.

One of those laws is the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty the United States ratified in 1992. Article 7 of the ICCPR prohibits the States Parties from subjecting persons “to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” The UN Human Rights Committee, which is the body that monitors the ICCPR, has interpreted that prohibition to forbid States Parties from exposing “individuals to the danger of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment upon return to another country by way of their extradition, expulsion or refoulement.”

Order 13491 also mandates, “The CIA shall close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future.” The order does not define “expeditiously” and the definitional section of the order says that the terms ‘detention facilities’ and ‘detention facility’ “do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.” Once again, “short term” and “transitory” are not defined.

In his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Eric Holder categorically stated that the United States should not turn over an individual to a country where we have reason to believe he will be tortured. Leon Panetta, nominee for CIA director, went further last week and interpreted Order 13491 as forbidding “that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values.”

But alarmingly, Panetta appeared to champion the same standard used by the Bush administration, which reportedly engaged in extraordinary rendition 100 to 150 times as of March 2005. After September 11, 2001, President Bush issued a classified directive that expanded the CIA’s authority to render terrorist suspects to other States. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said the CIA and the State Department received assurances that prisoners will be treated humanely. “I will seek the same kinds of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely,” Panetta told the senators.

Gonzales had admitted, however, “We can’t fully control what that country might do. We obviously expect a country to whom we have rendered a detainee to comply with their representations to us . . . If you’re asking me, ‘Does a country always comply?’ I don’t have an answer to that.”

The answer is no. Binyam Mohamed’s case is apparently the tip of the iceberg. Maher Arar, a Canadian born in Syria, was apprehended by U.S. authorities in New York on September 26, 2002, and transported to Syria, where he was brutally tortured for months. Arar used an Arabic expression to describe the pain he experienced: “you forget the milk that you have been fed from the breast of your mother.” The Canadian government later exonerated Arar of any terrorist ties. In another instance, thirteen CIA operatives were arrested in Italy for kidnapping an Egyptian, Abu Omar, in Milan and transporting him to Cairo where he was tortured.

Panetta made clear that the CIA will continue to engage in rendition to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects and transfer them to other countries. “If we capture a high-value prisoner,” he said, “I believe we have the right to hold that individual temporarily to be able to debrief that individual and make sure that individual is properly incarcerated.” No clarification of how long is “temporarily” or what “debrief” would mean.

When Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) asked about the Clinton administration’s use of the CIA to transfer prisoners to countries where they were later executed, Panetta replied, “I think that is an appropriate use of rendition.” Jane Mayer, columnist for the New Yorker, has documented numerous instances of extraordinary rendition during the Clinton administration, including cases in which suspects were executed in the country to which the United States had rendered them. Once when Richard Clarke, President Clinton’s chief counter-terrorism adviser on the National Security Council, “proposed a snatch,” Vice-President Al Gore said, “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.”

There is a slippery slope between ordinary rendition and extraordinary rendition. “Rendition has to end,” Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, recently told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!: “Rendition is a violation of sovereignty. It’s a kidnapping. It’s force and violence.” Ratner queried whether Cuba could enter the United States and take Luis Posada, the man responsible for blowing up a commercial Cuban airline in 1976 and killing 73 people. Or whether the United States could go down to Cuba and kidnap Assata Shakur, who escaped a murder charge in New Jersey.

Moreover, “renditions for the most part weren’t very productive,” a former CIA official told the Los Angeles Times. After a prisoner was turned over to authorities in Egypt, Jordan or another country, the CIA had very little influence over how prisoners were treated and whether they were ultimately released.

The U.S. government should disclose the identities, fate, and current whereabouts of all persons detained by the CIA or rendered to foreign custody by the CIA since 2001. Those who ordered renditions should be prosecuted. And the special task force should recommend, and Obama should agree to, an end to all renditions.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law. Her new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published in April 2009. Her articles are archived at http://www.marjoriecohn.com.