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Guilty: Britain admits collusion, new torture claims emerge March 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Britain, Torture.
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Sunday, 1 March 2009, www.independent.co.uk

HARAZ GHANBARI/AP

The US government held Binyam Mohamed, below, at Camp Delta from 2004 until his release last week

 

Evidence from last British resident in Guantanamo reveals the full story of how terror suspects were illegally maltreated. Robert Verkaik reports

Britain faces fresh accusations that it colluded in the rendering and alleged torture of a second UK resident now being held at Guantanamo Bay. The new claims bring further pressure on ministers to come clean about the scale of the Government’s complicity in the rendition and torture of dozens of terror suspects captured by the Americans after 9/11.

 

His case comes after that of Binyam Mohamed, 30, released from the US naval base in Cuba last week, and whose claims of UK involvement in his torture are being investigated by the Attorney General. Now allegations made by Shaker Aamer, the final British resident held at Guantanamo Bay, raise concerns that both MI5 and MI6 were widely involved in the US rendition and torture programme operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11.

Mr Aamer, 42, says he was rendered from the Pakistan border to Afghanistan where he claims he was tortured. He was passed by Pakistani groups to the Northern Alliance who sold him to the Americans. The CIA arranged for his detention in Afghanistan and final transfer to Guantanamo Bay.

He adds that two MI6 or MI5 officers, a man and a woman, interrogated him after he had been subjected to beatings and sleep deprivation by the Americans while being held at a prison in Kandahar in January 2002. He has told his UK lawyers that the British woman officer called herself “Sally”.

A few weeks later he says an MI5 officer was present while he was being tortured by CIA agents in an interrogation cell at Bagram air base in Afghanistan in January or February 2002. This time he claims a man called “John”, who introduced himself as being from British intelligence, was in the room when his head was repeatedly “bounced” against a wall and he was told that he was going to die.

Mr Aamer’s statement will be used in a High Court challenge against the British government to force ministers to release information about his detention and interrogation in 2002.

The new charges of British complicity in rendition and torture are the latest to be made against the British government which has always denied using torture or helping others use it. But a series of embarrassing revelations has shown the public may not have been told the whole truth. After blanket denials that the British overseas territory of Diego Garcia was used by the Americans for “torture flights”, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was forced to admit last year that the UK Government had been misled by the US administration. Mr Miliband said the British outpost on the Indian Ocean island had twice been used by the US as a refuelling stop for the secret transfer of two terrorism suspects in 2002 to Morocco and Guantanamo Bay.

Then, on Thursday, it was the turn of the Defence Secretary, John Hutton, to make an embarrassing admission to Parliament. He told MPs that Britain had helped in the rendition of two Iraqis captured by British forces and sent to Afghanistan for interrogation by US agents as recently as 2004.

Pressure is now growing on the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to say what he was told about the US rendition programme when he was Foreign Secretary between 2001 and 2006.

Zachary Katznelson of the human rights charity Reprieve, representing Mr Aamer, said: “We must know whether MI5 or MI6 has information about Mr Aamer’s detention and torture so that we can show that any evidence against him obtained under such conditions cannot be relied on by the US in any prosecution.”

Mr Katznelson alleges Mr Aamer had been tortured by American agents for several days before he was interrogated by British intelligence officers. He said: “Mr Aamer has told us that on one occasion he was beaten and his head was bounced against the wall. They were screaming at him ‘you are going to die’. He says that during this abuse a member of the British security services was present in the room who witnessed what was happening.”

From Bagram, Mr Aamer was flown to Guantanamo Bay, where he is on hunger strike in protest at his alleged mistreatment and continued separation from his family. He also claims to have been beaten and tortured during his detention in Cuba.

Reprieve said the full story of Britain’s involvement in US rendition and torture had not been told and that ministers’ recent admissions were only the tip of the iceberg.

“This Government has misled us again and again,” said Reprieve executive director Clare Algar. “Surely we must immediately have the public inquiry into the Government’s conduct of the ‘War on Terror’ demanded by so many,” she said.

Andrew Tyrie MP, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, says the latest revelations require a full inquiry into Britain’s role.

Mr Katznelson said Mr Aamer’s evidence showed British collusion in rendition and torture was “systemic”.

Binyam Mohamed also claims that British agents questioned him before he was sent to Morocco where he says he was brutally tortured before being taken to Cuba. He also said one of the British officers who interrogated him introduced himself as “John”.

Mr Mohamed was arrested by Pakistani immigration officials at Karachi airport in April 2002 when intending to return to the UK. He alleges that he was tortured in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2004, including being beaten, scalded and having his penis slashed with a scalpel.

The MI5 agent who interviewed Mr Mohamed in Pakistan in early 2002 told the High Court last year that the US and UK both wanted information from him because they regarded him as a terror threat. The question was how it should best be obtained.

A telegram sent by MI5 requesting US permission to see Mr Mohamed made the case that the security service’s “knowledge of the UK scene may provide contextual background useful during any continuing interview process … This will place the detainee under more direct pressure.”

In his note of the meeting with the British resident, the MI5 officer recalled: “I told Mohamed he had an opportunity to help us and help himself. The US authorities will be deciding what to do with him and this will depend to a very large degree on his degree of co-operation.” Could witness B be the same MI5 agent who Shaker Aamer said had called himself “John”? Or was it coincidence that both British residents came up with same name for their interrogator?

The truth may not be known until Britain releases secret evidence about the Mohamed case. In a ruling last month, the High Court recommended that these documents be made public, but the judges stopped short of making it an order. Lawyers for Mr Miliband had warned that intelligence relations with the US would be seriously harmed were the documents to see the light of day. Lawyers believe these documents may also help to show whether “John”, or someone else from MI5 or MI6, also interviewed Mr Aamer.

Mr Aamer, his wife and their three children left London in 2001 to go to Afghanistan to work with a children’s charity. But Mr Aamer, a Saudi Arabian national who came to the UK in 1996, was captured on the Pakistan border in December 2001. Mr Aamer was transferred to Kandahar and Bagram air base and then flown on to Guantanamo Bay. For four years he has been held in solitary confinement because the Guantanamo camp guards believe he wields too much influence over other detainees. He has never seen his youngest son, who was born after his capture.

Mr Aamer’s lawyers have filed a 16-page claim arguing for his removal from isolation in Guantanamo Bay prison. The British government has recently begun pressing the US administration for Mr Aamer’s release.

It is understood that a party of Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials who visited Mr Mohamed in Cuba shortly before he was cleared for release, also had limited contact with Mr Aamer, who has lost half his body weight after a series of hunger strikes. An FCO spokesman said the Americans had told the British Government that they still had security concerns about Mr Aamer and would not release him.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that they took Mr Aamer’s allegations very seriously and had launched an “urgent review” of the case. He said that Britain did not carry out or collude in torture.

How the Government changed its story from denial to regret

No one told us

20 November, 2005

“These are privately chartered aircraft and they don’t need to tell us who is on board.”

Department of Transport

We don’t keep track of such things

22 November, 2005

“Where passengers do not leave the airfield, the MoD … does not record details of passengers.”

Adam Ingram, then Defence minister

No one asked us

30 November, 2005

The Government is “not aware of the use of their territory or airspace for the purposes of extraordinary rendition, nor have we received any requests, [or] granted any permission for the use of UK territory or airspace for such purposes”.

Foreign Office

It never happened

5 December, 2005

“We have no evidence to corroborate media allegations about use of UK territory in rendition operations.”

Foreign Office

We have no record

13 December, 2005

“Careful research has been unable to identify any occasion … when we have received a request for permission by the United States for a rendition through the United Kingdom territory or airspace …. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories … there is simply no truth in claims that the UK has been involved in rendition.”

Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary

There’s no evidence

22 December, 2005

“I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that anything illegal has been happening here at all.

“I am not going to start ordering inquiries into this, that or the next thing when I have got no evidence to show whether this is right or not.”

Tony Blair, then Prime Minister

We’ve done nothing illegal

20 January, 2006

“Anything we do in relation to rendition is in compliance with our international obligations. We fulfil our legal obligations.”

Tony Blair’s spokesman

They’d have to ask us first

16 February, 2006

“We have made clear to [the US] we expect them to seek permission to render detainees via British airspace.”

Ian Pearson, then Foreign Office minister

We’ve never given permission

7 October, 2006

“Mr Hoon … made clear that the British Government has not approved and will not approve a policy of supporting the transfer of individuals through the UK to places where there are substantial grounds to suspect that they face the risk of torture.”

Foreign Office

OK, they did it twice. But that’s all

25 February, 2008

“The two flights from the US already identified are the only ones we are aware of.”

Foreign Office

Yes, we were involved. And we shouldn’t have been

27 February, 2009

“In retrospect, it is clear to me that the transfer to Afghanistan of these two individuals should have been questioned at the time.”

John Hutton, Defence Secretary

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My Role in the Torture of Binyam Mohamed February 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Torture.
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Barbara Ehrenreich, www.barbaraehrenreich.com, February 23, 2009

I like to think that some of the things I write cause discomfort in those readers who deserve to feel it. Ideally, they should squirm, they should flinch, they might even experience fleeting gastrointestinal symptoms. But I have always drawn the line at torture. It may be unpleasant to read some of my writings, especially if they have been assigned by a professor, but it should not result in uncontrollable screaming, genital mutilation or significant blood loss.

With such stringent journalistic ethics in place, I was shocked to read in the February 14th Daily Mail Online a brief article headed “Food writer’s online guide to building an H-bomb…the ‘evidence’ that put this man in Guantanamo.” The “food writer” was identified as me, and the story began:

A British ‘resident’ held at Guantanamo Bay was identified as a terrorist after confessing he had visited a ‘joke’ website on how to build a nuclear weapon, it was revealed last night. Binyam Mohamed, a former UK asylum seeker, admitted to having read the ‘instructions’ after allegedly being beaten, hung up by his wrists for a week and having a gun held to his head in a Pakistani jail.

While I am not, and have never been, a “food writer,” other details about the “joke” rang true, such as the names of my co-authors, Peter Biskind and physicist Michio Kaku. Rewind to 1979, when Peter and I were working for a now-defunct leftwing magazine named Seven Days. The government had just suppressed the publication of another magazine, The Progressive, for attempting to print an article called “The H-Bomb Secret.” I don’t remember that article and the current editor of The Progressive recalls only that it contained a lot of physics and was “Greek to me.” Both in solidarity with The Progressive and in defense of free speech, we at Seven Days decided to do a satirical article entitled “How to Make Your Own H-Bomb,” offering step-by-step instructions for assembling a bomb using equipment available in one’s own home.

The satire was not subtle. After discussing the toxicity of plutonium, we advised that to avoid ingesting it orally, “Never make an A-bomb on an empty stomach.” My favorite section dealt with the challenge of enriching uranium hexafluoride:

First transform the gas into a liquid by subjecting it to pressure. You can use a bicycle pump for this. Then make a simple home centrifuge. Fill a standard-size bucket one-quarter full of liquid uranium hexafluoride. Attach a six-foot rope to the bucket handle. Now swing the rope (and attached bucket) around your head as fast as possible. Keep this up for about 45 minutes. Slow down gradually, and very gently put the bucket on the floor. The U-235, which is lighter, will have risen to the top, where it can be skimmed off like cream. Repeat this step until you have the required 10 pounds of uranium. (Safety note: Don’t put all your enriched uranium hexafluoride in one bucket. Use at least two or three buckets and keep them in separate corners of the room. This will prevent the premature build-up of a critical mass.)

Our H-bomb cover story created a bit of a stir at the time, then vanished into the attics and garages of former Seven Days staffers, only to resurface, at least in part, on the Internet in the early 2000s. Today, you can find it quoted on the blog spot of a University of Dayton undergraduate (http://port80.blogsome.com/2005/03/13/how-not-to-build-a-thermonuclear-bomb), along with the flattering comment: “This forum post is priceless. It is one of the best pieces of scientific satire I have ever seen. I can only hope and pray that terrorist groups attempt to construct an atomic bomb using these instructions – if they survive the attempt, they’ll have at least wasted months of effort.”

Enter Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian refugee and legal resident of Britain who had found work as a janitor after drug problems derailed his college career. According to his lawyer, Clive Smith of the human rights group Reprieve, Mohamed traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, attracted by the Taliban’s drug-free way of life – which, from my point of view, was a little like upgrading from bronchitis to lung cancer. War soon drove him out of Afghanistan and to Karachi, from where he sought to return to the U.K. But, as a refugee, he lacked a proper passport and was using a friend’s, which led to his apprehension at the airport. Smith says the Pakistanis turned him over to the FBI, who were obsessed at the time with the possibility of an Al Qaeda nuclear attack on the U.S. After repeated beatings and the above-mentioned hanging by the wrists, Mohamed “confessed” to having read an article on how to make an H-bomb on the Internet, insisting to his interrogators that it was a “joke.”

But post-9/11 America was an irony-free zone, and it’s still illegal to banter about bombs in the presence of airport security staff. It’s not clear how the news of Mohamed’s H-bomb knowledge was conveyed to Washington – many documents remain classified or have not been released – but Smith speculates that the part about the H-bomb got through, although not the part about the joke. The result, anyhow, was that Mohamed was thrust into a world of unending pain – tortured at the U.S. prison in Baghram, rendered to Morocco for 18 months of further torture, including repeated cutting of his penis with a scalpel, and finally landing in Guantanamo for almost five years of more mundane abuse. He was just released and returned to Britain today.

As if that were not enough for a satirist to have on her conscience, the U.S. seems to have attributed Mohamed’s presumed nuclear ambitions to a second man, an American citizen named Jose Padilla, aka the “dirty bomber.” The apparent evidence? Padilla had been scheduled to fly on the same flight out of Karachi that Mohamed had a ticket for, so obviously they must have been confederates. Commenting on Padilla’s apprehension in 2002, the Chicago Sun-Times editorialized: “We castigate ourselves for failing to grasp the reality of what they’re [the alleged terrorists are] trying to do, but perhaps that is a good thing. We should have difficulty staring evil in the face.”

I am not histrionic enough to imagine myself in any way responsible for the torments suffered by Mohamed and Padilla – at least no more responsible than any other American who failed to rise up in revolutionary anger against the Bush terror regime. No, I’m too busy seething over another irony: Whenever I’ve complained about my country’s torturings, renderings, detentions, etc., there’s always been some smug bastard ready to respond that these measures are what guarantee smart-alecky writers like myself our freedom of speech. Well, we had a government so vicious and impenetrably stupid that it managed to take my freedom of speech and turn it into someone else’s living hell.

Worse Than My Darkest Nightmare February 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture.
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As I gain my freedom, I am determined that neither those who remain in detention, nor their abusers, are forgotten

by Binyam Mohamed

www.guardian.co.uk, February 23, 2009

I hope you will understand that after everything I have been through, I am neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media on the moment of my arrival back to Britain. Please forgive me if I make a simple statement through my lawyer. I hope to be able to do better in days to come, when I am on the road to recovery.

I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares. Before this ordeal, “torture” was an abstract word to me. I could never have imagined that I would be its victim. It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways – all orchestrated by the United States government.

While I want to recover, and put it all as far in my past as I can, I also know I have an obligation to the people who still remain in those torture chambers. My own despair was greatest when I thought that everyone had abandoned me. I have a duty to make sure that nobody else is forgotten.

I am grateful that, in the end, I was not simply left to my fate. I am grateful to my lawyers and other staff at Reprieve, and to Lt Col Yvonne Bradley, who fought for my freedom. I am grateful to the members of the British Foreign Office who worked for my release. And I want to thank people around Britain who wrote to me in Guantánamo Bay to keep my spirits up, as well as to the members of the media who tried to make sure that the world knew what was going on. I know I would not be home in Britain today, if it were not for everyone’s support. Indeed, I might not be alive at all.

I wish I could say that it is all over, but it is not. There are still 241 Muslim prisoners in Guantánamo. Many have long since been cleared even by the US military, yet cannot go anywhere as they face persecution. For example, Ahmed bel Bacha lived here in Britain, and desperately needs a home. Then there are thousands of other prisoners held by the US elsewhere around the world, with no charges, and without access to their families.

And I have to say, more in sadness than in anger, that many have been complicit in my own horrors over the past seven years. For myself, the very worst moment came when I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realised, had allied themselves with my abusers.

I am not asking for vengeance; only that the truth should be made known, so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured. Thank you.

This is the statement issued by Binyam Mohamed on his return to the UK

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.

More accuse Britain in torture of Guantanamo detainee February 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Julie Sell | McClatchy Newspapers, February 10, 2009

LONDON — Despite years of denials, new questions are being raised about Britain’s possible involvement in the torture of a detainee now on a prolonged hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

Both an American military lawyer who’s seen classified documents on the case and the head of a special parliamentary committee said Tuesday that the British government might have been complicit in the alleged mistreatment of Binyam Mohamed. The former British resident was seized in 2002 and held in several countries — including Morocco, where he claims he was tortured — before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2004.

Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, a U.S. military lawyer assigned to defend Mohamed, said that British intelligence agency “MI5 was involved a long time ago” in the interrogation of her client.

“They were feeding certain information to his interrogators when he was in Morocco,” said Bradley, who’s in London this week to lobby members of Parliament to press for her client’s release and his return to Britain.

Meanwhile, Andrew Tyrie, a Conservative member of Parliament and the head of a committee investigating extraordinary renditions — the international transfer of suspected terrorists by the U.S. — said he’s also convinced that Mohamed was “severely tortured” during interrogations and that British officials had a role in his mistreatment.

Tyrie said the official line on British involvement in torture “has gone from flat denials to a succession of admissions that there was involvement.” The latter have come in the form of court documents, the most recent being last week’s ruling by a British high court.

Tyrie also said Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, which has broader authority than his own, “appears to have been misled” about Britain’s role in interrogations and torture of American detainees when it was preparing an official report on the subject in 2007. That report cleared Britain of any wrongdoing, saying the CIA never told British officials where detainees were being held or how they were being treated.

It emerged last week that 42 classified documents seen by the British court and Mohamed’s lawyers had never been passed on to the intelligence and security committee when it was researching Britain’s role in the case the case.

A possible probe of British intelligence agencies is “under consideration” by the United Kingdom’s attorney general’s office, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. She couldn’t provide a timetable on the conclusion of its work. Another member of Mohamed’s legal team, Clive Stafford Smith, said that last fall he offered to provide the attorney general with documents to advance the inquiry if they were needed, but they have never requested them.

Under Britain’s Criminal Justice Act it is against the law for British officials to commit or be complicit in acts of torture anywhere in the world. Violation of the act can lead to life imprisonment.

Bradley, who’ll speak before several parliamentary committees and meet Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday, has suggested that there could be a “conspiracy” to keep her client in Guantanamo Bay in hopes that he might die there and never tell his story publicly. Mohamed is among a group of prisoners on a long-term hunger strike, and Bradley said there’d been a “drastic” deterioration in his health when she saw him two weeks ago on a regular monthly visit.

Bradley said she “applauds” the Obama administration’s plans to close Guantanamo Bay and send the remaining detainees home as soon as possible, as well as Britain’s willingness to let him settle here.

But Mohamed’s continued detention and stories about other abused prisoners suggest to her that not all officials have yet adopted the new policy. “Somewhere in the middle people need their mind changed to get along with the program,” she said. “But Mr. Mohamed doesn’t have months or years to give up his life for this to trickle down.”

(Sell is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

Obama’s Legal Team Copies Bush’s ‘State Secrets’ Trick to Cover Up Torture and Renditions February 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture.
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(Note from Roger: More “plus ca change …” you can believe in.  ‘Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said in an impassioned statement. “This is not change. This is definitely more of the same.”‘)

 Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted February 10, 2009.

Attorneys representing the Obama administration are defending one of the most controversial practices of the Bush administration.

On Monday in San Francisco, attorneys representing the Obama administration did what many of the president’s supporters would have considered unthinkable on election day: they arrived in a federal courtroom and defended one of the most controversial practices of the Bush administration.

“Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government,” Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said in an impassioned statement. “This is not change. This is definitely more of the same.”

The case was Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen Dataplan, a lawsuit originally brought in 2007 by the ACLU on behalf of five victims of extraordinary rendition, the notorious CIA program in which terror suspects are kidnapped, thrown on a plane and flown to another country to be tortured and interrogated.

Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, is said to have provided the logistical support for the rendition of all five plaintiffs, among them, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian national who, in July 2002, was taken from Pakistan to Morocco, where for 18 months he was imprisoned and brutally tortured, including being cut with razorblades on his testicles. Mohamed was later sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he supposedly awaits imminent plans for his release. He has never stood trial.

Under Bush, the ACLU’s lawsuit was thrown out multiple times on “state secrets” grounds — a bogus excuse according to human rights lawyers who have long argued that the real goal was to keep evidence of the sort of torture endured by Mohamed away from a courtroom.

“To date, not a single torture victim has had his day in court in the United States,” ACLU attorney Ben Wizner told reporters last week. Thus, the objective of yesterday’s hearing was simple: the ACLU was asking that the lawsuit move forward. But to the dismay of many who believed Obama would open the door to justice for torture victims in the so-called war on terror, it appears his administration is instead following in Bush’s footsteps.

“This case cannot be litigated,” Department of Justice lawyer Douglas Letter said on Monday. “The judges shouldn’t play with fire in this national security situation.”

For those who spent the past eight years fighting back against cynical claims of “national security” to justify illegal and inhumane practices, the words smack of the Bush era.

“If the Obama administration, so early on, is toeing the Bush line,” Romero warns, “that speaks volumes for where we might end up years from now.”

The Debate Over Rendition

The Jeppesen hearing came on the heels of a week that saw the topic of extraordinary rendition — and Obama’s approach to it — under particular scrutiny. On Feb. 1, the Los Angeles Times ran a story that caused a stir around the issue in the media, the blogosphere and the human rights community.

“The CIA’s secret prisons are being shuttered,” the article began. “Harsh interrogation techniques are off-limits. And Guantanamo Bay will eventually go back to being a wind-swept naval base on the southeastern corner of Cuba.

“But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counterterrorism tool.

“Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.”

The article quoted an anonymous administration official, who said,

“Obviously you need to preserve some tools — you still have to go after the bad guys.

“The legal advisors working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.”

The official’s statement was backed up with a quote from a representative from Human Rights Watch: “‘Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place'” for renditions, said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.”

The article sparked anger and controversy from op-ed pages to the blogosphere. (“So, it would appear that we will not see the end of torture under this administration after all,” lamented blogger Digby.) But backlash against the LA Times quickly followed.

In a post titled “Renditions Buffoonery,” attorney Scott Horton, who writes the Harpers blog “No Comment,” called it a “breathless piece of reporting,” which, among other problems, “misses the difference between the renditions program, which has been around since the Bush 41 administration at least … and the extraordinary renditions program which was introduced by Bush 43 and clearly shut down under an executive order issued by President Obama in his first week.”

The earlier renditions program regularly involved snatching and removing targets for purposes of bringing them to justice by delivering them to a criminal justice system. It did not involve the operation of long-term detention facilities and it did not involve torture. There are legal and policy issues with the renditions program, but they are not in the same league as those surrounding extraordinary rendition.

The LA Times, said Horton, “got punk’d.”

Constitutional lawyer and blogger Glenn Greenwald had his own criticisms about the article, and got into an e-mail debate with its author, Greg Miller, whose response defending his report was posted on Greenwald’s blog.

“The story made clear that Obama intends to administer the rendition program in a very different way,” Miller argued. “… This is not a story saying it’s business as usual under Obama.”

“Nevertheless, the rendition program is controversial. Even if administered in the most enlightened manner, it is a program that involves the use of the CIA in secret abductions and prisoner transfers.”

Even as some backpedaled on their initial reactions (“You’d think I’d know better than to take a newspaper article about the intelligence community at face value by now,” Digby wrote), for some who have closely followed the Obama administration’s handling of torture in his first days in office, the discussion was far from over.

“Liberal bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon defending President Obama’s executive order calling for a review of 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,” wrote psychologist and blogger Jeffrey Kaye, who has spent the past few months waging a one-man crusade against the torture loophole embedded in the Army Field Manual. “Forget that Obama did not outlaw the practice of rendition. But this is because, according to certain liberal bloggers, and a few human rights spokespeople (like Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch), ‘Under limited circumstances, there is a legitimate place’ for renditions.”

According to Horton et al., extraordinary renditions are war crimes, because the government sends prisoners to foreign countries to be tortured. (That is certainly correct, so far as that goes.) “Legal” renditions — as defined by Richard Clarke in a recent article … are examples of “renditions performed by the American government [and] are legal, effective and done within the scope of human rights” (emphasis added). And if you think differently, then you are “ridiculously misinformed,” a “buffoon,” a “moron” (the latter by a Daily Kos commenter to yours truly).

Like other defenders of Obama’s right to maintain some version of the policy in place, Clarke, a counterterror advisor to Bill Clinton, sought to clear up “the confusion over rendition.” Rendition “proved workable before the Bush administration,” Clarke wrote, “And it need not be something to fear in the future.”

What Is Really at Stake

The differences between Bush-era rendition and its precursors are not insignificant — in fact, Horton and Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner debated them on Democracy Now! last week. But, given that they largely boil down to what the CIA did as a matter of policy under Bush (torture) versus what was allegedly done under Clinton unofficially (torture), neither are they the most urgent issue at hand. Obama’s much-lauded executive orders are vague enough to elicit endless speculation when it comes to rendition and other intelligence policies. But the actions of his Department of Justice on Monday were not.

“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,” Ben Wizner said. “Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.”

Indeed, at stake in the Jeppesen case is not only justice for the victims of a hideous policy — one that, in whatever form, should not be exercised by a country that claims to be a beacon of democracy and human rights — but a changing of course when it comes to the flagrant abuse of the state-secrets doctrine, which was repeatedly used by the Bush administration to stamp out lawsuits against the government for its myriad abuses, from torture to illegal spying.

Both Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, have vowed to review the Bush administration’s use of the state secrets privilege. As a DOJ spokesperson told the Washington Post yesterday. “It is vital that we protect information that if released could jeopardize national security, but the department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know.”

But as Romero told reporters last week, the actions of the Obama administration “are unfortunately speaking louder than their words.”

“What this is clearly about is shielding the U.S. government and Bush officials from any accountability,” wrote Glenn Greenwald following the Jeppesen hearing Monday. “Worse, by keeping Bush’s secrecy architecture in place, it ensures that any future president — Obama or any other — can continue to operate behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy, with no transparency or accountability even for blatantly criminal acts.”

Will War Crimes Be Outed? December 19, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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78244074WM004_Supreme_Court(Photo: Jean-Marc Bouju / pdnonline.com)

www.truthout.org

17 December 2008

by: Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, The Nation

As the officials of the Bush administration pack up in Washington and move into their posh suburban homes around the country, will they be able to rest easy, or will they be haunted by the fear that they will be held accountable for war crimes?

    There are many reasons to anticipate that the incoming Obama administration and the new Congress will let sleeping dogs lie. Attention to criminal acts by the former administration would probably anger Republicans, whose support Obama is hoping to win for his first priority, his economic program. Democratic Congressional leaders have known a great deal about Bush administration lawlessness, and in some cases have even given it their approval–making an unfettered review seem unlikely.

    Some of Obama’s own top appointees would undoubtedly receive scrutiny in an unconstrained investigation–Obama’s reappointed defense secretary Robert Gates, for example, has had responsibility not only for Guantánamo but also for the incarceration of tens of thousands of Iraqis in prisons in Iraq like Camp Bucca, which the Washington Post described in a headline as “a Prison Full of Innocent Men,” without even a procedure for determining their guilt or innocence–unquestionably a violation of the Geneva Conventions in and of itself.

    But the repose of the Cheneys, Bushes, Gonzaleses and Rumsfelds may not turn out to be so undisturbed. In his notorious torture memo, Alberto Gonzales warned about “prosecutors and independent counsels” who may in the future decide to pursue “unwarranted charges” based on the US War Crimes Act’s prohibition on violations of the Geneva Conventions. While no such charges are likely to be brought anytime soon, neither are they likely to vanish. In the short run, Obama and his team face inescapable questions about the legal culpability of the Bush administration. And in the long run, such charges are likely to grow only more unavoidable once the former officials of that administration have lost the authority to quash them.

    In April Obama said that if elected, he would have his attorney general initiate a prompt review of Bush-era action to distinguish between possible “genuine crimes” and “really bad policies.”

    “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” Obama told the Philadelphia Daily News. He added, however, that “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.”

    Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, speaking to the American Constitution Society in June, described Bush administration actions in terms that sound a whole lot more like “genuine crimes” than like “really bad policies”:

Our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance against American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the use of procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution…. We owe the American people a reckoning.”

 

    A Reckoning?

    While attention has focused on whether, once president, Obama will move quickly to close Guantánamo, shut down secret prisons, halt rendition and ban torture, there’s a less visible struggle over whether and how to provide a reckoning for war crimes past.

    A growing body of legal opinion holds that Obama will have a duty to investigate war crimes allegations and, if they are found to have merit, to prosecute the perpetrators.

    In a December 3 Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, law professors Anthony D’Amato (the Leighton Professor at Northwestern University School of Law) and Jordan J. Paust (the Mike & Thersa Baker Professor at the Law Center of the University of Houston) ask whether president-elect Barack Obama will have “the duty to prosecute or extradite persons who are reasonably accused of having committed and abetted war crimes or crimes against humanity during the Bush administration’s admitted ‘program’ of ‘coercive interrogation’ and secret detention that was part of a ‘common, unifying’ plan to deny protections under the Geneva Conventions.”

    They answer, “Yes.”

    “Under the US Constitution, the president is expressly and unavoidably bound to faithfully execute the laws.” The 1949 Geneva Conventions “expressly and unavoidably requires that all parties search for perpetrators of grave breaches of the treaty” and bring them before their own courts for “effective penal sanctions” or, if they prefer, “hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party.”

    The statement is particularly authoritative–and particularly striking–because Paust is also a former captain in the United States Army JAG Corps and member of the faculty at the Judge Advocate General’s School.

    Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights says that one of Barack Obama’s first acts as president should be to “instruct his attorney general to appoint an independent prosecutor to initiate a criminal investigation of former Bush Administration officials who gave the green light to torture.”

    Parallel to the legal community, members of Congress and president-elect Obama are trying to chart a strategy that avoids the appearance of seeking to punish Bush administration officials without appearing blatantly oblivious to their apparent war crimes. According to the AP’s Lara Jakes Jordan, “Two Obama advisors say there’s little–if any–chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.” Instead, “Obama is expected to create a panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission to study interrogations, including those using waterboarding and other tactics that critics call torture.”

    Asked if Bush administration officials would face prosecution for war crimes, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy flatly said, “In the United States, no,” but he does intend to continue to investigate Bush administration officials and their interrogation policies. “Personally, I would like to know exactly what happened. Torture is going to be a major issue.”

Continue the Cover-Up?

 

    President-elect Obama may well seek to delay taking a stand for or against such accountability actions. But he is likely to be confronted early in his administration by choices about whether to continue or terminate legal cover-up operations the Bush administration currently has under way.

    For example, the Bush administration has blocked the civil suit against US officials by Canadian Maher Arar for his “rendition” to Syria and his torture there by invoking the “state secrets” privilege. According to Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, they have appointed a prosecutor to investigate the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations, but the investigation is limited only to whether crimes were committed in relation to the destruction of the tapes–not whether what was being videotaped is a crime. The administration has refused to cooperate with the trial of twenty-six Americans, mostly CIA agents, who kidnapped a terrorism suspect in Milan and flew him to Egypt where, he says, he was tortured. And they have refused to provide secret documents to the British High Court in the case of Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed that may demonstrate that US officials were complicit in his torture in Morocco.

    If the Obama administration continues the Bush administration’s efforts to prevent investigators from investigating and courts from hearing such cases, it will rapidly become part of the cover-up. If it begins to, at a minimum, stop obstructing such proceedings, the result could be a rapid crumbling of the wall of silence the Bush administration has tried so assiduously to build around its “war on terror.”

    A bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 11 will make it far more difficult to evade the responsibility of holding Bush administration officials legally accountable for war crimes. Released by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain after two years of investigation, the report concluded:

The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own…. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees…. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.

 

    In an interview published in the Detroit News, Senator Levin said he was not responsible for deciding whether officials should be prosecuted for authorizing torture, but he admitted that there is enough evidence that victims of abuse could file civil lawsuits against their assailants. Levin also suggested that the Obama administration “needs to look for ways in which people can be held accountable for their actions.”

    An Accountability Movement

    Outside the Beltway, a movement to hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture and other war crimes after they leave office is gradually emerging. It received a boost when over a hundred lawyers and activists met in Andover, Massachusetts on September 20 at a conference entitled “Planning for the Prosecution of High Level American War Criminals.” The conference created an ongoing committee to coordinate accountability efforts. At the close, conference convener Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law noted more than twenty strategies and specific actions that had been proposed, ranging from the state felony prosecutions proposed by former district attroney Vincent Bugliosi to the international prosecutions pioneered by the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Rumsfeld cases; and from impeaching Bush appointees like Federal Judge Jay Bybee to public shaming of torture-tainted former officials like ohn Yew, now a professor at the University of California Law School.

    One of proposals discussed at the Andover conference was the creation of a citizens’ War Crimes Documentation Center, modeled on the special office set up by the Allied governments before the end of World War II to investigate and document Nazi war crimes. Such a center could be the nexus for research, education and coordination of a wide range of civil society forces in the US and abroad that are demanding accountability. It could bring together the extensive but scattered evidence already available, to compile a narrative of what actually happened in the Bush administration. It could help or pressure Congress to conduct investigations to fill in the blanks. It could pull together high-profile coalitions to campaign around the issue of accountability for specific crimes like torture. If Obama does initiate some kind of investigating commission, such a center could provide it with information and help hold it accountable.

    A Moral Education

    There are a myriad of reasons for urgently holding the Bush regime to account, ranging from preventing unchallenged executive action from setting new legal precedent to providing a compelling rationale for the immediate cessation of bombing civilians in the escalating Afghan war.

    But the issue raised by Bush administration war crimes is even larger than any person’s individual crimes. As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” The long history of aggressive war, illegal occupation, and torture, from the Philippines to Iraq, have given the American people a moral education that encourages us to countenance war crimes. If we allow those who initiated and justified the illegal conquest and occupation of Iraq and the use of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo to go unsanctioned, we teach the world–and ourselves–a lesson about what’s OK and legal.

    As countries like Chile, Turkey and Argentina can attest, restoration of democracy, civic morality and the rule of law is often a slow but necessary process, requiring far more than simply voting a new party into office. It requires a wholesale rejection of impunity for the criminal acts of government officials. As Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) put it, “We owe it to the American people and history to pursue the wrongdoing of this administration whether or not it helps us politically…. Our actions will properly define the Bush Administration in the eyes of history.”

    ———

    Jeremy Brecher is a historian whose books include Strike!, Globalization from Below, and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt). He has received five regional Emmy Awards for his documentary film work. He is a co-founder of WarCrimesWatch.org.

    Brendan Smith is a legal analyst whose books include Globalization From Below and, with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, of In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan). He is current co-director of Global Labor Strategies and UCLA Law School’s Globalization and Labor Standards Project, and has worked previously for Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and a broad range of unions and grassroots groups. His commentary has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, CBS News.com, YahooNews and the Baltimore Sun. Contact him at smithb28@gmail.com.