Saturday, July 31, 2010

Abu Ghraib Torture Case to Move Forward

Center for Constitutional Rights, whose attorneys have defended so many Guanatanamo prisoners, have announced that their lawsuit centered on accusations of torture and abuse by former Iraqi prisoners against L-3 (formerly Titan Corp.) contractors at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq has cleared an important hurdle.

CCR's press release:
Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Abu Ghraib Torture Case


July 30, 2010, New York - A group of 72 Iraqi citizens who allege they were tortured while imprisoned at detention facilities across Iraq can continue with their lawsuit against military contractor L-3 Services, Inc. and a former employee, a federal judge in Maryland ruled Thursday.

In a 92-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss the Iraqis’ federal and state court claims. He wrote, “On the facts alleged, Defendants’ actions arguably violated the laws of war such that they are not immune from suit under the laws of war.” The court also rejected claims of government contractor immunity defense.

“During wartime,” the court wrote, “‘many things are lawful in that season, which would not be permitted in a time of peace.’ Some actions, however, have been deemed so repulsive to mankind, or so disconnected from prosecuting and winning a war, that they are universally condemned. The law of war attempts to rein in these behaviors. ...One such universally recognized rule is that torture is prohibited.”

The former detainees, all of whom were released without charge, are represented by Susan L. Burke, of Burke PLLC in Washington, D.C.; Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Shereef Akeel, of Akeel & Valentine, PLC in Troy, Mich.

Susan Burke, of Burke PLLC, stated, “With the Court’s ruling, these innocent men are a step closer to completing the true history of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. These men were senselessly tortured by a company that profited from their misery. They came to U.S. courts because our laws, as they have for generations, allow their claims to be heard here.”

Katherine Gallagher, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated, “This thoughtful and thorough decision makes it crystal clear that when corporations, including those which contract with the government, engage in conduct that it universally condemned, they can be held accountable for their illegal acts. The court rightly found that the defendants' status as a contractor cannot shield claims of war crimes and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment from review.”

The lawsuit alleges that L-3 employees, including Adel Nakhla, a U.S. citizen born in Egypt, tortured and otherwise physically and mentally abused the detainees who were arrested by coalition forces and held for up to four years between July 2003 and May 2008 at various detention facilities in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib.

The detainees assert 20 causes of action, including war crimes including the war crime of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, sexual assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, pursuant to the federal Alien Tort Statute and under state law. The abuses they allege include beatings, hanging by the hands and feet, electrical shocks, mock executions, threats of death and rape, sleep deprivation, stress positions, sexual assault, and sensory deprivation.

Nakhla worked as an Arabic translator from June 2003 through May 2004 at Abu Ghraib. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Nakhla was photographed participating in the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and confessed his involvement in acts of torture and abuse to military investigators.

The case is “Wissam Abdullateff Sa’eed Al-Quraishi, et al., v. Adel Nakhla, et al.,” Civil No. PJM 08-1696 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Greenbelt Division
Legal discovery is an important tool to find out just how the contractors were instructed, who was in charge, what were the linkages to Department of Defense and/or CIA officials, and other important details, not least, those that would confirm the prisoners' charges, and help bring accountability and justice to them for their suffering.

Click here for CCR's page on the case.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Cry from Guantanamo: Omar Khadr's Letter to his Attorney

Andy Worthington writes:
The Washington Post has just made available a letter from Guantánamo (PDF), written by Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan in July 2002. The letter, to one of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, was written on May 26, and touches on aspects of Khadr’s impending trial by Military Commission — including his constant desire to fire his lawyers, which surfaced in recent pre-trial hearings, and which I discussed in two articles, Defiance in Isolation: The Last Stand of Omar Khadr and Omar Khadr Accepts US Military Lawyer for Forthcoming Trial by Military Commission.
As Michelle Shepard at the Toronto Star reports, Khadr Canadian attorney "[Denis] Edney and advocates for Khadr released the letter Tuesday afternoon to the Toronto Star, Washington Post, Miami Herald and Edmonton Journal." As for the Canadian government's own despicable role in this affair, Shepard adds:
The Federal Court of Appeal overturned a lower court decision last week that ordered Ottawa to intercede on his behalf in Guantanamo. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the federal government did breach Khadr’s constitutional rights but stopped short of ordering Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask for his repatriation, saying the courts couldn’t stray into the realm of dictating foreign policy.
Here's the full text of the letter. It is heart-breaking to read. For a psychologist such as myself, I see in it the inner struggle of a sensitive man, who was imprisoned as a boy, and has not known adulthood except through the twisted regime of Guantanamo. "I really don’t want to live in a life like this." No doubt Omar is often quite depressed, and trying hard to make sense of what role fate has chosen for him.

Note, too, his referencing of what I believe was the U.S. civil rights struggle -- something to identify with. How ironic that Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American president, is persecuting a former child soldier, using him to validate his own version of the executive's kangaroo court military commissions, while Omar Khadr himself looks for meaning and hope in the example of the great civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

Dear Dennis:

I’m writing to you because sometimes there are things you can’t say, but rather write on paper, and even if I were to tell you you won’t understand. So anyway here are the things:

First: About this whole MC [Military Commissions] thing we all don’t believe in and know it’s unfair and know Dennis that there must be somebody to sacrifice to really show the world the unfairness, and really it seems that it’s me. Know Dennis that I don’t want that, I want my freedom and life, but I really don’t see it coming from this way. Dennis you always say that I have an obligation to show the world what is going on down here and it seems that we’ve done every thing but the world doesn’t get it, so it might work if the world sees the US sentencing a child to life in prison, it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is, and if the world doesn’t see all this, to what world am I being released to? A world of hate, unjust and discrimination! I really don’t want to live in a life like this. Dennis justice and freedom have a very high cost and value, and history is a good witness to it, not too far ago or far away how many people sacrificed for the civil right law to take affect. Dennis I hate being the head of the spear, but life has put me, and as life have put me in the past in hard position and still is, I just have to deal with it and hope for the best results.

Second: The thought of firing everybody as you know is always on my mind so if one day I stop coming or fire you please respect it and forget about me, I know it is hard for you. Just think about me as a child who died and get along with your life. Of course I am not saying that will or willn’t happen but its on my mind all the time.

Dennis. I’m so sorry to cause you this pain, but consider it one of your sons hard decisions that you don’t like, but you have to deal with, and always know what you mean to me and know that I will always be the same person you’ve known me and will never change, and please don’t be sad and be hopeful and know that there is a very merciful and compassionate creator watching us and looking out for us and taking care of us all, you might not understand these thing, but know by experience they have kept me how and who I am.

With love and my best wishes to you, and the family, and everybody who loves me, and I love them back in Canada, and I leave you with HOPE and I am living on it, so take care.

Your truly son,


26 May 2010 at 11:37am

P.S. Please keep this letter as private as can be, and as you see appropriate.

Apparently, Mr. Edney thought his client best served by releasing the letter. Worthington comments:
... he obviously felt that it was appropriate to release it, and that Omar would understand.

And given how difficult it is for many Canadians to see Omar as a human being — even with his vile and inappropriate war crimes trial looming — I tend to think he’s right.
One could say the same thing about Americans. Let's hope a piece of this tragic boy-man's story gets a wider, more sympathetic hearing.


Artie Shaw and his Orchestra, 1938

Plenty of nightmares out there. Thought maybe this one would be easier to take.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why is the NY Times Underplaying Account of Task Force 373’s Extrajudicial Killings?

Crossposted from Firedoglake/The Seminal

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to examine the question posed in the title of this piece as carefully as I’d like, but even the quickly posted Wikipedia entry on Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) Task Force 373 notes that there is a large discrepancy between the amount of targets on TF373’s "kill/capture" list as reported by the major media.

The figures are drawn from the extraordinary release of previously classified Afghan war reports by Wikileaks, and now searchable at the latter’s website.

Task Force 373 is alternately described by the New York Times as "a secret commando unit"; as "an undisclosed ‘black’ unit of special forces" by the UK Guardian; and "an elite American unit…. which operates in Afghanistan outside of the ISAF mandate" by Spiegel Online. These three news sources were partners with Wikileaks in the release of the documents, and had special access to the material prior to their public posting.

By all accounts, Task Force 373 seems to be a kidnapping and death squad, run by the Americans, but housed at a German base in Afghanistan. The very secret unit, unknown even to other ISAF forces, works off a "kill or capture" list known as JPEL, which stands for "Joint Prioritized Effects List." From this bland name springs an operations force that, according to the UK Guardian, has "more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida" on its seize or kill list. Most of the world press has reported this same or similar figure, though Spiegel only says the figure is "large":

The list of targeted individuals is arranged according to process number and priority level. Depending on the case, the commandos are sometimes given the option to arrest or kill their prey. Nowhere in the available documents is that list printed in full, but a total of 84 reports about JPEL operations can be filtered out of the thousands of documents. It is not possible to work out from the documents exactly how many JPEL targets there are in Afghanistan, but the four-digit process numbers are enough to suggest that the total number of targets is large.

It was the four-digit process numbers that the Guardian used to determine their figure. Simply put, they counted.

The pursuit of these "high value targets" is evidently embedded deep in coalition tactics. The Jpel list assigns an individual serial number to each of those targeted for kill or capture and by October 2009 this had reached 2,058.

But however they did it, the New York Times came up with a much different and drastically lower number.

Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

The dramatically lower of numbers reported may be a fudged way of looking at figures. They say "top insurgent commanders", and this may be a subset of the total of 2000 or more. But the Times never reports the larger number, or even that it runs into the four digits. The import of this is to underplay the amount of killings. It’s unlikely there are 2000 or more "top insurgent commanders." So, who is the U.S. seizing or killing?

Operation Phoenix Redux

The Guardian article by Nick Davies reports much more than the single paragraph the New York Times dedicates to the story, emphasizing the legal, moral and political ramifications of the Task Force’s actions.

The United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights, Professor Philip Alston, went to Afghanistan in May 2008 to investigate rumours of extrajudicial killings. He warned that international forces were neither transparent nor accountable and that Afghans who attempted to find out who had killed their loved ones "often come away empty-handed, frustrated and bitter".

Now, for the first time, the leaked war logs reveal details of deadly missions by TF 373 and other units hunting down Jpel targets that were previously hidden behind a screen of misinformation. They raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.

The Guardian story documents some of the cases of killings of women and children, and notes that there is also likely a British version of Task Force 373 operating in Afghanistan as well. The parallels with Vietnam are extraordinary, where U.S. counterinsurgency amounted to a large degree to a capture, torture and assassination program known to us today as Operation Phoenix.

It was only a few weeks ago that I noted (based on an observation in a Guardian story by Ian Cobain and Owen Bowcott) that documents released in Britain in the Binyam Mohammed et al. suit had referenced what sounded like extrajudicial killings associated with the rendition program. "Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?" asks a protocol for MI6 operatives working with the U.S. on rendition operations.

Now we have evidence of massive killings underway by secretive U.S. forces, and of plenty of deaths of civilians who get in the way. But the U.S. press has mostly deep-sixed this aspect of the Wikileaks Afghan logs. A story by CNN makes no mention of how many people might be on TF373’s target list, but does add a word of dissent:

“You have people going in with a kill list and the public accountability simply doesn’t exist,” said Sarah Knuckey, director of the Project on Extrajudicial Executions at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the New York University School of Law.

Marc Ambinder on Task Force 373

Mainstream bloggers appear to be taking the lead of the major U.S. press. Take Marc Ambinder’s story on the release at The Atlantic, and his own reference to TF373:

The task forces themselves — well, there’s TF 373, the Joint Special Operations Command task force for Afghanistan, which has since morphed into something else. The structure is different today. There are, however, references to the activities of Task Force 2-2, a multi-element special operations element that has — and I emphasize has — the authority to basically self-task, to take bad guys off of the JPEL list (the joint prioritized effects list) and decide whether to capture or kill them based on the situation at hand.

There are several incidents in which 2-2 and other 373 elements killed civilians and saw those killings covered up or obscured in official press releases.

Ambinder’s link is to the same Guardian story on TF373 that I have quoted here, so I’ll give him that. But the failure to report the extent of the targets, and the reference to "take bad guys off the JPEL list" makes them sound, well, sort of innocuous, basically good guys. His view that the TF is "basically self-task" is belied by the Guardian’s coverage, which reports, "The process of choosing targets reaches high into the military command." Additionally, the idea that there have only been "several incidents" underplays the extent of damage done by the secret U.S. death squad.

Consider this "incident", reported by Speigel Online:

The documents don’t just reveal the existence and activities of the Taliban hunters, they also show why these special units cause so much anger in the Afghan population. Mistakes made by special units are kept secret. One particularly sensitive report of a TF 373 operation dated June 17, 2007 is classified so secret that details of the mission must not be passed on to other ISAF forces. On this day the soldiers appear to have committed a particularly fatal error. The aim of the mission seems to have been to kill the prominent al-Qaida official Abu Laith. The unit had spent weeks watching a Koran school in which the Americans believed the al-Qaida man and several aides were living. But the five rockets they launched from a mobile rocket launcher ended up killing the wrong people.

Instead of the finding the top terrorist, the troops found the bodies of six dead children in the rubble of the completely destroyed school.

The Guardian reports, "The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path."

It is a sign of how debased our society has become that reports of "targeted killings" and assassinations are met with little outrage in the press or by the public. Perhaps this is because we use terms that will not offend as much. Indeed, in the title of this very piece I use the term "extrajudicial killings" rather than "death squads" (which I do clearly use in the text) because I fear that this reality will be so discordant to readers that they will shun the article, perhaps too psychologically defended to accept the terrible truth about the government they have and the country they live in.

Let us say, too, that the mainstream press plays a major role in this. The downsizing of the figure of killings — really murders — by the Special Operations task force, as reported by the New York Times, or underplayed by major bloggers such as Marc Ambinder, lulls the population into believing the terror wrought by the U.S. military in Afghanistan is really not so bad. But it is bad. It is a war crime, and Julian Assange, who orchestrated the release of the documents upon which this story is based is correct in saying that they give evidence of war crimes. I’m reminded of recent stories that have cited the Harvard study (PDF) that showed how the media dropped using the word "torture" after Abu Ghraib.

One wonders what kind of schizoid state exists at the New York Times. One minute their ed board calls President Obama’s forcible deportation of an Algerian Guantanamo prisoner back to a country where he feared persecution, torture, or death "an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.” The next minute, the editorial news staff is minimizing the number of targets on a U.S. military task force hit list. I’ll let them figure that one out for themselves.

As for the rest of us, we need to step up the demand that U.S. and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

NYT: Obama's Deportation of Naji "an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation"

Cross-posted from Daily Kos and FDL/The Seminal

In an editorial posted by the New York Times on Saturday afternoon, the editorial board condemned the Obama administration's involuntary deportation of a Guantanamo prisoner to Algeria. The prisoner, 35-year-old Abdul Aziz Naji, was cleared of any charges in a wide-ranging review of Guantanamo prisoner status last year. Naji begged not to be sent back to Algeria, a country he fled after being attacked himself at age 17 or 18 by extremists. Naji feared the Algerian government could not protect him against the Islamic fundamentalist rebels that have been fighting the somewhat more moderate Islamic government for some twenty years now.

The Times editorial continues the story:
Though he offered to remain at the prison, the administration shipped him home last weekend and washed its hands of the man. Almost immediately upon arrival, he disappeared, and his family fears the worst.

It is an act of cruelty that seems to defy explanation.
The response of the Obama administration has been terse and self-serving. They say they have gotten assurances from the Algerian government that Mr. Naji, who was never charged with any crime, would not be mistreated or tortured when sent back. The Times notes that a 2008 Supreme Court decision gives "broad discretion to decide when to accept such promises from a foreign government." But human rights groups have long derided such assurances.

According to a diary at Daily Kos by geomoo, Doris Tennant, one of Mr. Naji's attorneys, states she and Naji's other attorney, Ellen Lubell, were informed by the Algerian ambassador "that his government cannot protect him from extremists, who he very much fears will attempt to recruit him because of his association with Guantanamo."

The Times editorial picks up on information about country conditions in Algeria that I had noted in an article at Firedoglake last Tuesday. According to the Times:
The State Department’s human rights report on the country, issued in March, said that reports of torture in Algeria have been reduced but are still prevalent. It quotes human rights lawyers there as saying the practice still takes place to extract confessions in security cases. People disappear in the country, the report said, and armed groups — which obviously made no promises to the administration — continue to act with impunity.
Even more outrageous is the fact that the Obama administration ignored the fact that Mr. Naji had applied for political asylum in Switzerland, denying a request for a stay of deportation from his attorneys. No one knows why the Obama administration has drawn a line in the sand over Naji and another Algerian prisoner, Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, who won his "freedom" via habeas appeal last year. Judge Gladys Kessler has been fighting the D.C. Circuit Court to keep the men from being transferred to Algeria, but a 5-3 decision by the Supreme Court late last week paved the way for the administration's criminal action.

"Criminal" or Stupid, Either Way It's Outrageous

"Criminal" will no doubt be too strong a word for many of you. But the forcible deportation of a person back to a country where he fears persecution, torture, execution, etc. is known in the law as refoulement, and the international legal principle of not returning such an individual as the principle of non-refoulement. This recognized basic human right was written into international protocols beginning with the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and later into the Convention Against Torture treaty, of which the U.S. is a signatory. Not even the Bush administration, in the hundreds of "detainees" it released from Guantanamo, violated this principle.

In a comprehensive analysis, journalist Andy Worthington has described the unbelievable context of the Obama administration's cruel behavior:
This was a bleak day for US justice, not only because it involved the Supreme Court blithely disregarding the UN Convention Against Torture’s “non-refoulement” obligation, joining in an unholy trinity with the D.C. Circuit Court and the Obama administration, but also because it brings to an abrupt, cruel, and — I believe — illegal conclusion a struggle to release prisoners without violating the UN Convention Against Torture, which, for the most part, was actually respected by the Bush administration....

With the Uighurs, the Bush administration recognized its “non-refoulement” obligation, refusing to return them to China, and finding new homes for five of the men in Albania in 2006. When the Obama administration inherited the problem of the remaining 17 men, who had, in the meantime, won their habeas corpus petitions, it found new homes for 12 of them in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland, although five still remain at Guantánamo, and, last spring, the administration turned down a plan by White House Counsel Greg Craig to bring some of the men to live in the US, which would have done more in the long run to defuse scaremongering about Guantánamo than any other gesture.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) decried the Obama administration's forcible removal of Mr. Naji. Mr. Bin Mohammed could also be deported at any time.
CCR supports the ongoing efforts of the U.S. State Department to close Guantánamo Bay, particularly in the face of unyielding resistance from Congress and the seemingly detached indifference of the White House to the continuing plight of the men held in our notorious prison. However, the solution to Guantánamo Bay does not rest on forcing detainees to return to countries where they fear torture and persecution. It is not only illegal, but also bad policy.... Forced repatriations make the United States appear complicit with repressive regimes and are certain to outrage Arabs and Muslims around the world at a time when our government needs their support.
Is There Anything to Be Done?

In a letter the other day to supporters, CCR wrote:
The Obama Administration violated both U.S. and international law by forcibly repatriating Mr. Naji, and Center for Constitutional Rights is now deeply concerned as neither his wellbeing nor whereabouts are known....

Please write the Algerian Embassy in Washington, DC (at and the Permanent Mission of Algeria to the United Nations at and demand that the Algerian government immediately account for Mr. Naji’s whereabouts and well-being. They must tell us where he is and provide assurances that he is well. The Algerian government should also comply with international law prohibiting the use of secret detention and torture. Moreover, the Algerian government must protect Mr. Naji from extremist forces in Algeria who may try to recruit him and harm him when he resists joining them. Finally, the Algerian government should in the future not accept forced repatriations of its citizens who fear they will be harmed in the country.
The court’s decision and the actions of the Obama administration are an outrage and another blow against the international position of non-refoulement, or non-return of refugees and the persecuted, as described in the UN Convention Against Torture and other international treaties and protocols. This action marks the U.S. as an uncivilized nation, a nation busily disassembling the rule of law in the name of empire building.

It's possible that Aziz is a test case, as they will want to release others to countries where they fear persecution. They can let “friendly” governments “dispose” of their prisoners. I also believe it’s possible they intend to seed some small number through as possible double agents among the Islamic “extremist” groups, and this is one way to manufacture bona fides after being held so long. A very dangerous game for everyone involved.

It's noted above that Switzerland has taken up an application for asylum from Mr. Naji (it is, I believe, on appeal there). The simplest solution would be to offer Mr. Naji, who never harmed any U.S. person, asylum in this country, but as FDL/Seminal diarist powwow notes in a comment at Emptywheel yesterday:
For other Bill-of-Attainder-esque reasons, the following Congressional restrictions also deserve highlighting:
The Homeland Security Appropriations Act includes two additional provisions affecting the treatment of Guantanamo detainees. Section 553, which appears to apply beyond the end of the 2010 fiscal year.... prohibits the use of funds appropriated under that act to “provide any immigration benefit” to any former Guantanamo detainee, including a visa, admission into the United States, parole into the United States, or classification as a refugee or applicant for asylum.51 The prohibition is similar to proposals introduced earlier during the 111th Congress; however, the other proposals would apply permanently, whereas the prohibition in the Homeland Security Appropriations Act appears to apply only to funds appropriated by that act.52
In any case, if they can get away with the criminal return of Aziz Naji without popular furor, then they can proceed with more of the same. This was all prefigured when al-Libi — the man who told the U.S. about Saddam and WMD (under torture — he later recanted the “confession”) — was mysteriously found dead in his Libyan cell and there was no call for investigation.

Don't Ignore This Issue

Thus far the Daily Kos community has essentially ignored the outrageous Naji deportation (the diary by geomoo was a notable, but mostly ignored exception). I hope this diary begins the rectification of that. The New York Times editorial reminds us there is "no reason to deliver prisoners to governments that the United States considers hostile and that have a record of torture and lawlessness."

Call the White House: 202-456-1111, or write them if you wish. Let them know there is line beyond which support for this administration ends, and the forceable return of an innocent prisoner, tortured and imprisoned for eight years by the United States, to a country he fled over 15 years ago, in fear for his life, is exactly such a line.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light"

Dylan Thomas reciting his famous poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. Music by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Monday, July 19, 2010

U.S. Deports Guantanamo Prisoner to Possible Torture or Death

Even though 35 year-old Abdul Aziz Naji said he'd rather stay at Guantanamo than be deported to his home country of Algeria, the Obama administration forcibly deported him anyway, despite Mr. Naji's fears that "he would be targeted by violent groups who would kill him if he refused to join their battle against the country's government." The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the deportation in a ruling last week. Now Naji takes on the notoriety and the tragic fate to be the first involuntary transfer from Guantanamo.

In the past, the Obama administration was loathe to repatriate prisoners to countries where they feared persecution, as in the case of the Chinese Uighurs. But the administration has refused to do this in the case of the Algerians, despite ample evidence that both the Algerian government and violent opponents of the Algerian government have engaged in torture and killings in an on-again, off-again civil war going back 20 years now.

The Supreme Court also refused to block the involuntary transfer of Farhi Saeed Bin Mohammed, age 49, who was won his habeas suit in a decision last year. Lyle Denniston at ScotusBlog has been covering the clash of decisions between the D.C. Circuit Court and lower Federal judges over the right of the latter to block transfers or releases of Guantanamo prisoners (h/t powwow). Mohammed could also be involuntarily deported back to Algeria at any time. Note that the text of the Circuit Court's order overruling the Senior Judge Gladys Kessler's halt of the transfer of the Mr. Mohammed has been kept secret.

The Talking Dog interviewed Naji's attorney, Ellen Lubell, last March:
Our client, Abdul Aziz Naji, is from Algeria. His family is there and we’ve spoken with them a number of times. Aziz is 34 and he has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for nearly eight years. He’s very likeable. He is an observant Muslim. Despite having attended school only through the sixth grade, he is bright, insightful, and has an excellent memory. He readily expresses his feelings and views on issues. He is extremely appreciative of our efforts on his case and lets us know this frequently. He loves children and very much wants go get married and have his own.

When Aziz was living in Algeria, around the time he was 17 or 18, he and his brother were attacked by a group of terrorists. After that, his brother left the country and so did Aziz, after completing his required military service. He went first to Mecca on a pilgrimage, and then traveled to Pakistan to perform "zakat"- charitable work – as is required of observant Muslims. Aziz worked for a charitable organization in the mountains of Kashmir for only a few months when he accidently stepped on one of the many landmines still buried left in this war-torn region. The explosion blew off the lower half of his right leg. He was taken to a hospital in Lahore, where he was treated, and over the course of a year received rehabilitation and a prosthetic leg. He decided then that he would try to find a wife. He was directed by friends to another Algerian man living in Peshawar, who was known to be helpful in arranging marriages. Aziz visited the man and while he was there, the man’s house was raided by the Pakistani police. The raid may have been the result of the bounties that were offered by the US at the time to local people if they identified possible “terrorists” among them. The Pakistanis interrogated Aziz, concluded that he had done nothing wrong, and told him they would release him. Instead, they turned him over to the Americans. Aziz was taken to the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then on to Guantanamo.

When we took Aziz’s case, we were provided a file from the U.S. Department of Defense that included a list of allegations against him, with alleged “confessions.” None of the allegations or confessions was backed by any credible evidence. Ultimately, our view that the U.S. had no case against Aziz was validated by the Obama Administration, which cleared him in June 2009 [as part of the review of all the detainees made at the time].
The court’s decision and the actions of the Obama administration are an outrage and another blow against the international position of non-refoulement, or non-return of refugees and the persecuted, as described in the UN Convention Against Torture and other international treaties and protocols. This action marks the U.S. as an uncivilized nation, a nation busily disassembling the rule of law in the name of empire building.

Algeria is a holy mess, with a slow-burning civil war continuing, and massive violence. The 2006 U.S. State Department Country Report on Algeria (released March 6, 2007) states:
[In 2006] Terrorists targeted civilians, security forces, and infrastructure. Press reports estimated that 135 civilians and 174 members of the security forces were killed in terrorist attacks, most of which were attributed to the [Islamic fundamentalist] Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC)…. The total number of disappeared during the 1990s continued to be debated. During the year, the government estimated that 6,546 persons were missing or disappeared as a result of government actions between 1992 and 1999, with some 10,000 additional persons missing or disappeared from terrorist kidnappings and murders....

The country’s 1992-2002 civil conflict pitted self-proclaimed radical Muslims belonging to the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and its later offshoot, the GSPC, against moderate Muslims. During the year [2005] radical Islamic extremists issued public threats against all “infidels” in the country, both foreigners and citizens. The country’s terrorist groups generally did not differentiate between religious and political killings.
Looklex Encyclopedia notes that after the some of the Islamist parties signed a peace accord with the government in 1999, at least 1,000 or more individuals were killed in related clashes in 2002.

From Carol Rosenberg’s article on the SCOTUS decision paving the way for the Naji deportation:
In Naji’s case, his Boston lawyer, Ellen Lubell, said by e-mail Saturday that “he fears extremists will try to recruit him — associating him with Guantánamo — and will torture or kill him if he resists.”

“He has nothing against the Algerian government,” Lubell added, “but he fears that the government will be unable to protect him from Algerian extremists.”
What follows is a press release on the involuntary deportation of Mr. Naji by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
CCR Statement on U.S. Announcement that it Forcibly Repatriated a Guantánamo Detainee to Algeria

July 19, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement in response to the announcement by the U.S. government that it forcibly repatriated a Guantánamo detainee to Algeria:

“We condemn the forcible repatriation of Abdul Aziz Naji to Algeria. Although Mr. Naji has long been cleared of any connection with terrorism, we are deeply concerned that he will disappear into secret detention and face the threat of persecution by terrorist groups in Algeria. He bears no ill will toward the Algerian government, but fears that it will be unable to protect him from extremists in Algeria.

“Mr. Naji fled various forms of persecution in Algeria many years ago, including having been attacked by an extremist. His attempt to avoid forced repatriation and remain at Guantánamo Bay, after nearly a decade of detention without charge or trial, rather than return to Algeria underscores the depth of his fears. Regrettably, our government repatriated him against his will and despite credible fears of future persecution, in violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other international law.

“CCR supports the ongoing efforts of the U.S. State Department to close Guantánamo Bay, particularly in the face of unyielding resistance from Congress and the seemingly detached indifference of the White House to the continuing plight of the men held in our notorious prison. However, the solution to Guantánamo Bay does not rest on forcing detainees to return to countries where they fear torture and persecution. It is not only illegal, but also bad policy. It is another unnecessary stain on our country’s human rights record, and certain to upset our friends and allies around the world. Forced repatriations make the United States appear complicit with repressive regimes and are certain to outrage Arabs and Muslims around the world at a time when our government needs their support.

“Attorneys for Mr. Naji have fought tirelessly for their client over the course of many years. Unfortunately, their efforts to prevent the forced repatriation of their client ended late Friday night with the Supreme Court’s denial of an application to stay his transfer. We admire their selfless dedication, and our thoughts are with their client in Algeria.”
UPDATE, 7/21: Andy Worthington now has a very good, very comprehensive post up now, Obama and US Courts Repatriate Algerian from Guantánamo Against His Will; May Be Complicit in Torture (h/t harpie). Also, powwow points out, in the cross-posting of this article at Firedoglake/The Seminal, that in his/her "diary on this issue [it was not mentioned that] Congress is notified 15 days before anyone is released from Guantanamo, in accordance with a recently-passed law."
So our Members of Congress know – two weeks before the public does, and before the transfer actually happens unlike the public or media – when Guantanamo wartime-”protected” non-POW POWs – like Naji – are being prepared for release by the U.S. military.
Powwow also notes: "By the way, Jeff, the one public document of substance in bin Mohammed's case is the final order of the Circuit panel (with a partial dissent by Tatel) that was unclassified after a short delay."

From the Pages of "Inside Iraq"

The following is a small sample of the on-the-spot blogging from Iraqi journalists working for McClatchy Newspapers. This latest posting wonders if Paul the Octopus could help Iraq, because, you see, things are not really going well there at all. But you won't hear about that from the vast majority of U.S. news outlets, even supposed progressive blogs, like Daily Kos, where admiration for Barack Obama blinds many to the fact that President Obama continues the American occupation, and the support of a corrupt regime in Iraq.

Since the last parliamentary election in last March, all Iraqi people are waiting for forming the governments. We have real big hopes that our politicians learnt some good lessons from the previous seven years. One of the most important lessons was sectarianism is not the right way to build a new Iraq.

After more than four months since the election, our politicians are still fight over power. All they seek is their interests and nothing more. They all use very sweet phrases when they talk to media like The National Unity Government, Building a new Democratic Iraq and Providing the best services to the Iraqi people who were deprived from their rights during Saddam's reign. Yet, nothing really happened. there is no real democracy. The constitution had been violated for many times and the last violation took place just yesterday, July the 13 when the new parliament did not hold the session they agreed about weeks ago. The political parties did not make any progress in their negotiations to form the government although they have been discussing the issue for months. People are not really free because thousands of them have been in jail for years just because they are suspects, we still have the worst public services. Almost, all Baghdad neighborhoods have no electricity for about two full days....

I suggest that we send a delegation to Germany as soon as possible to bring Paul the Octopus to Iraq before the German turn him into delicious meals and before the Dutch marines assassinate him because he predicted their loss....

Paul the Octopus is not Shiite, Sunni or Kurdish. He does not represent any majority or minority. He is not a member of Islamic party or secular party and the most important issue, he is not going to ask for any position in the coming government. He is just a creature who wants to live in peace

Thanks, McClatchy, for bringing us the vital voices at Inside Iraq. (And while I'm in the mood to hand out praise, thanks for Carol Rosenberg, as well.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tim Shorrock Tours the Corporate Intelligence Community

The following is from the introduction to a July 17 blog post by Tim Shorrock, The Corporate Intelligence Community: A Photo Exclusive. One will have to click through to read the actual article, but I thought I'd reproduce Tim's intro here in order to whet one's appetite. H/T's on this to Marcy Wheeler, Jason Leopold, and Loo Hoo. The upcoming Washington Post series to which Shorrock refers is supposed to be by veteran journalist Dana Priest.

Not long ago, as I was preparing an article on government contracting, I was given a tour of Northern Virginia by a friend who spent over a decade as an intelligence operative and another five years working as an intelligence contractor. We drove through Arlington, Herndon, Fairfax, Tysons Corner and McLean, and up to Dulles Airport. Our route took us from the entrance to the CIA through “contractor alley” and past the huge, gleaming office buildings that house the dozens of corporations that make up what Lt. Gen. James Clapper, the incoming director of the Office of National Intelligence, likes to call “the intelligence enterprise.”

This industrial neighborhood is home to around 60 percent of the Intelligence Community. These are the private sector warriors who staff the offices and installations of the CIA, the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the rest of the so-called “Intelligence Community.” As I first reported in Salon in 2007 and later in my book, SPIES FOR HIRE, 70 percent of our intelligence budget goes to these companies. Officially, according to a 2008 ODNI study of human capital within the IC, nearly 40,000 private contractors are working for intelligence agencies, bringing the total number of IC employees to more than 135,000.

So here, as an introduction to the upcoming Washington Post series on intelligence contractors that has the agencies quaking in their boots, is a guide to the “real” IC (I’m sure the Post isn’t going to credit my work, so here’s my chance – with a little help from fellow muckrakers like emptywheel – to scoop the paper for once: screw ‘em).

Enjoy the ride; initial links to company names are to their section of the intelligence database I built with CorpWatch. All photos are copyright Tim Shorrock/2010.

Farewell "American Torture"

Originally posted at Firedoglake/The Seminal

After three-and-a-half years, author Michael Otterman is closing shop over at his "American Torture" blog. The site was named after his book of the same title. Mike worked with contributors Andy Worthington, Raj Purohit, Tom Moran, and Fatima Kola to produce a first-rate site dedicated to the subject of exposing the U.S. torture program. At one point, Mike reached out to me, and I became one of the contributors as well (initially in my web persona as Valtin).

The book, American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, is a fantastic piece of journalistic investigation, and an essential source-book on the evolution of the U.S. torture program. Much of what I have written about over the years first found its expression in Michael Otterman’s incredible history of U.S. torture experimentation and implementation. The book describes how the CIA and Department of Defense research into interrogations found its way to Vietnam, and how "advisers" working with the U.S. counterinsurgency assassination and torture program, Operation Phoenix, went on to use write manuals for use in Latin American torture training programs. He also gives a detailed description of the SERE program.

I first discovered the research on SERE trainees by Charles Morgan and associates in American Torture, and later discovered that Morgan himself was a CIA behavioral scientist, making a contemporary link between the CIA and the SERE program during the time SERE techniques were being "reverse-engineered" into the Bush/Cheney torture program.

While his website isn’t accepting or posting new submissions, Mike isn’t dropping off the radar. Along with Richard Hil and Paul Wilson, he just published another amazing work of political journalism. In his new book, Erasing Iraq: the Human Costs of Carnage, Otterman again traces the history of U.S. intervention in Iraq, from the early support for Saddam Hussein, through the Iran-Iraq War, the 1990 Gulf War, the Clinton-era period of murderous sanctions, and the recent devastation wreaked by the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation. The destruction of Iraqi society, with its millions of displaced, its looting of historical treasures, its chaos and war upon a previously largely secular culture, is shown to be a kind of sociocide.

From Mike’s brand-new website:

For nearly two decades, the US and its allies have prosecuted war and aggression in Iraq. Erasing Iraq shows in unparalleled detail the devastating human cost.

Western governments and the mainstream media continue to ignore or play down the human costs of the war on Iraqi citizens This has allowed them to present their role as the benign guardians of Iraqi interests. The authors deconstruct this narrative by presenting a portrait of the total carnage in Iraq today as told by Iraqis and other witnesses who experienced it firsthand.

Featuring in-depth interviews with Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and from Western countries, Erasing Iraq is a comprehensive and moving account of the Iraqi people’s tragedy.

Erasing Iraq will begin its formal launch in the United States next week, July 22, 7 pm at Revolution Books, 146 W. 26th Street, NYC.

As a last broadside over at American Torture, Mike shows his passion for the anti-torture cause, and notes that the torture he was fighting against still continues. I wish him luck with his important new book, and hope he continues to use his researching skills and his eloquent voice in the cause of fighting against the barbarism of torture that threatens to brutalize this society, and destroy what culture of democracy and equality that was once its inheritance.

From Looking Backwards – The Final Post:

George W. Bush did not invent torture.

After more than three years since the release of American Torture it’s the one phrase that has come to my mind, again and again.

Yes — the Bush Administration promoted torture. They expanded its use. Former officials — and Bush himself — still defend torture. But they did not invent it, or introduce it into US foreign policy.

The KUBARK manual and John Marks’s classic, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, first punctured this myth for me. In American Torture, I used these sources — and many others — to plot US use of torture from SERE schools to secret CIA prisons. My message was simple: Torture is counterproductive. It is inhumane. And it is not new in the American experience.

The more people knew these things, I thought, the more torture would lose its appeal. But torture persists within the legal black hole at Bagram. Guantanamo remains open and indefinite detention—even for the guiltless—continues. Torture photos are blocked. Accountability thwarted. And torture is still codified. Obama has continued the policies of his predecessor. Change has not come….

The continuum of US cruelty is deep — stretching though Vietnam, Latin America and beyond. It should be followed to the root. Surviving torturers and members of previous Administrations responsible for torture should be sought along side Bush Administration officials in any Truth Commission or War Crimes Tribunal….

We owe victims of torture one thing above all else: justice. We should seek out all perpetrators of torture. We must expose them for who they are, and for what they’ve done. There is no statute of limitations on inhumanity.

Thanks, Mike, for all your hard work. I owe you a lot. We all owe you. Much success with your ongoing work to expose injustice and crime, and to bring recognition to the victims of war and imperial hubris.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

9 Steps the Obama Administration Must Take

The following is taken from PHR's The Torture Papers. It summarizes PHR's conclusion that there is sufficient evidence to determine that agencies and individuals in the government of the United States have engaged in illegal human experimentation and unethical research in relation to the U.S. torture program. While I can't speak for PHR, I don't think they'll mind if I say feel free to copy this and distribute widely. I wouldn't use the URL from this blog, but post with the link to the original PHR page. -- Thanks!
9 Steps the Obama Administration Must Take

Physicians for Human Rights calls on the White House and Congress to investigate thoroughly the full scope of the possible human experimentation designed and implemented in the post-Sept. 11 period. The War Crimes Act must be amended to restore traditional human subject protections.

Those who authorized, designed, implemented and supervised these alleged practices of human experimentation—whether health professionals, uniformed personnel, or civilian national security officials—must be held to account for their actions if they are found to have violated what international tribunals previously have held to constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

If any victims of research and experimentation perpetrated by the United States are found, they must be offered compensation, including health care services, to address ongoing health effects related to the experimentation, and a formal apology.

Based on the findings of this investigation, the United States should take the following actions:

  1. President Obama must order the attorney general to undertake an immediate criminal investigation of alleged illegal human experimentation and research on detainees conducted by the CIA and other government agencies following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

  2. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services must instruct the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) to begin an investigation of alleged violations of the Common Rule by the CIA and other government agencies as part of the “enhanced” interrogation program.

  3. Congress must amend the War Crimes Act to eliminate changes made to the Act in 2006 which weaken the prohibition on biological experimentation on detainees, and ensure that the War Crimes Act definition of the grave breach of biological experimentation is consistent with the definition of that crime under the Geneva Conventions.

  4. Congress should convene a joint select committee comprising members of the House and Senate committees responsible for oversight on intelligence, military, judiciary and health and human services matters to conduct a full investigation of alleged human research and experimentation activities on detainees in US custody.

  5. President Obama should issue an executive order immediately suspending any federally funded human subject research currently occurring in secret — regardless of whether or not it involves detainees.

  6. The Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility should commence an investigation into alleged professional misconduct by OLC lawyers related to violations of domestic and international law and regulations governing prohibitions on human subject experimentation and research on detainees.

  7. President Obama should appoint a presidential task force to restore the integrity of the US regime of protections for human research subjects. This task force, comprising current and former officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the human rights community, and leading health professional associations, should review current human subject protections for detainees, and recommend changes to ensure that the human rights of those in US custody are upheld.

  8. States should adopt policies specifically prohibiting participation in torture and improper treatment of prisoners by health care professionals. Such participation is considered professional misconduct and is grounds for loss of professional licensure. Proposed legislation in New York State provides a model for such policy.

  9. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture should undertake an investigation of allegations that the United States engaged in gross violations of international human rights law by engaging in human subject research and experimentation on detainees in its custody.

Eric Olson on CIA's "Disposal" Problem: "Casualties Arising from Experiments"

Some words worth considering, coming off news that the U.S. rendition program included extrajudicial killings, and that the U.S. was also involved in illegal experiments on human beings as an integral part of the torture program. In this quote, the son of U.S. government researcher Frank Olson, describes why his father was murdered, and links that death to crimes conducted by the government itself. The death of Olson, as Eric alludes at the very beginning, was the source of two government fables, each calculated to cover-up the truth. (For more on Frank Olson, skip to the end of this post -- bold emphases below are added.)
“Neither version of the story of my father's ‘suicide’— neither the one from 1953 in which he ‘fell or jumped’ out a hotel room window for no reason, nor the 1975 version in which he dives through a closed window in a nine-day delayed LSD flashback while his hapless CIA escort either looks on in dismay or is suddenly awakened by the sound of crashing glass (both versions were peddled) — made any sense. On the other hand both versions deflected attention from the most troubling issue inherent in the conduct of the kind of BW [biological weapons] and mind-control research in which my father and his colleagues were engaged.

“The moral of my father's murder is that a post-Nuremberg world places the experimenters as well as the research subjects (my father was both simultaneously) at risk in a new way, particularly in countries that claim the moral high ground. Maintenance of absolute secrecy in the new ethical context implies that potential whistle blowers can neither be automatically discredited nor brought to trial for treason. Nor can casualties arising from experiments with unacknowledged weapons be publicly displayed. The only remaining option is some form of ‘disposal.’ This places the architects of such experiments in a position more like that of Mafia dons than traditional administrators of military research. The only organizational exit is a horizontal one. In the face of this implication the CIA enforcers of the early 1950's did not flinch, though historians along with the general public have continued to see the state in all its finery.”
This quote is taken from the closing pages of Jonathan Moreno's book Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans, as reproduced at the website for The Olson Project.

The issue of extrajudicial killings of "ghost prisoners" in the U.S. (perhaps we should say, U.S./UK) rendition secret prisons is treated in a fictional, but serious, fashion in the recently released thriller, Inside Out, by novelist Barry Eisler.

For more on the Frank Olson scandal, and on the history of the U.S. and illegal human experiments on interrogation and mind control, see H.P. Albarelli's recent book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments. Readers may also be interested in an exchange between Albarelli and readers at a Firedoglake Book Salon earlier this year. The author has also written recently on Army testing on biological weapons. See Did the U.S. Army help spread Morgellons and other diseases?

Friday, July 16, 2010

UK on US Rendition: “Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?”

Adapted from original posting at FDL/The Seminal

A series of documents released on July 14 in the UK Binyam Mohamed civil case, Al Rawi and Others v Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Others, have produced a series of explosive revelations, reported in Britain and as yet unknown here in the U.S. The story has been reported at the UK Guardian, while the British advocacy group Reprieve has posted links to all the documents on its site.

The fate of the "ghost prisoners" in the U.S. rendition torture program has been the subject of much speculation. It was a central mystery explored in the recently released best-selling thriller by Barry Eisler, Inside Out, which takes the CIA’s secret black site torture and disappearances as the real-world scandal around which the book’s plot revolves. Eisler’s book implies that there were more killings in the secret prisons than we know.

Now, one of the most incendiary revelations in the documents concerns instructions given to MI6 Special Intelligence Service (SIS) over detention operations. According to Chapter 32 of MI6’s general procedural manual, "Detainees and Detention Operations", "the following sensitivities arise" (PDF – bold emphasis added):

a. the geographical destination of the target. Where will she or he be held? Under whose jurisdiction? Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?

b. what treatment regime(s) for the detainees can be expected?

c. what is the legal basis for the detention?

d. what is the role of any liaison partner who might be involved?

The "objective" of "killing" points to the existence of extrajudicial murders carried out by the intelligence services. It’s not clear if the killings are by UK or liaison — including United States — forces. "Liaison partners" refers to instances of operational cooperation with non-UK intelligence agencies.

Both the Guardian and Reprieve make it clear, as does a perusal of the documents themselves, that official British policy was to cooperate with the U.S. rendition program. At more than one point, the UK government, led then by Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, intervened to facilitate the rendition of prisoners, including UK citizens. At one point, in 2002, British officials discuss how to spin the leaks about UK cooperation with the rendition program: "Our line — that we are seeking information and reassurances and that the US is aware of our opposition to the death penalty — is not strong, but a stronger line is difficult until policy is clearer."

From the Reprieve report:

In a January 10, 2002, telegram from the FCO [Foreign Office], officials made clear that the Blair Government wanted British nationals taken to lawless detention in Guantanamo Bay: “we accept that the transfer of UK nationals held by US forces in Afghanistan to the US base in Guantánamo is the best way to meet out counter-terrorism objective by ensuring that they are securely held"….

An FCO official recognized in an August 22, 2002, email that “we are going to be open to charges of concealed extradition” and that as a result of direct interference by Number 10 “we broke our policy” on consular access by failing to help Martin Mubanga. Mubanga, who was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing after years in lawless detention without charge, was rendered first to Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo because Number 10 specifically refused to allow him to come home.

The Guardian article details a number of other details about "the Labour government’s involvement in the illegal abduction and torture of its own citizens." The UK government says it has identified half a million documents relevant to the Mohamed disclosure requests. The government’s request to stop the release of documents and force mediation with the plaintiffs was turned down by the British court.

Cameron Touts Secrecy for UK Torture Inquiry

The avalanche of documents has not escaped the notice of the new Cameron/Clegg coalition government. Just last week they announced the formation of a UK "judge-led investigation" regarding the complicity of intelligence personnel in the torture and rendition of detainees. The investigation is being conducted by a panel of three, whose head is the intelligence-connected Sir Peter Gibson, who is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA). Many questions have been raised by the appointment of Gibson, and it is startling to think that British human rights groups will accede to the appointment, given Gibson’s likely bias, not to mention his track record in other "judge-led" investigations.

In any case, the six cases involved in the Mohamed civil proceedings are among those to be considered by the Gibson inquiry. While the government may not be able to stop the flow of documents in the Mohamed case, the Prime Minister was not going to let this be a precedent for the upcoming torture investigation.

From the UK Guardian:

Cameron also made clear that the sort of material that has so far been made public with the limited disclosure in the Guantánamo cases would be kept firmly under wraps during the inquiry. "Let’s be frank, it is not possible to have a full public inquiry into something that is meant to be secret," he said. "So any intelligence material provided to the inquiry panel will not be made public and nor will intelligence officers be asked to give evidence in public."

Maybe Cameron will be mollified if he looks at released documents like this one (PDF), in which almost 29 of 36 pages are totally redacted.

Exposing U.S. Torture

While on the surface this appears to be a story about Britain and torture, it is really about the United States. Tony Blair bent British rules and policies, including adherence to international treaties, such as the Convention Against Torture, at the behest of and to placate and cooperate with the United States.

At many points in the documents, it’s evident that British intelligence agents were witnessing serious abuse of prisoners. While they were told not to participate (actively) in the torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment, the policies were written such that cooperation could proceed with ministerial approval.

Meanwhile, in other countries, news of CIA murders of foreign nationals is surfacing. Vanity Fair reported recently that the CIA sent a Blackwater (now Xe) team to Hamburg to “find, fix and finish” Syrian-born Mamoun Darkazanli. A UN report earlier this year on secret detentions reported on the disappearances of anonymous U.S. rendered prisoners in Syrian and Egyptian prisons. But these and other details rarely even make a stir in the corridors of American government. As this Human Rights Watch report noted, the Bush administration never even briefed the appropriate congressional intelligence oversight committees on the workings of the rendition program. Scandalously, neither the Democratically controlled Congress or Democratic administration has investigated the Bush-era rendition program.

The silence meeting these latest revelations in the U.S. press, the lack of ongoing interest in the UK torture inquiry, the failure by the so-called "progressive" components of the Democratic Party to strenuously take up the call by the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and other human rights groups for greater accountability and official investigations over torture is an ominous development. One can only hope at this point that the continuing revelations about great crimes and cover-up will reach a tipping point, and the outrage over other issues — the BP massive oil blowout, Mel Gibson, etc. — will attach to the torture issue, which goes right to the heart of what this nation is. And right now, that heart is rotten.

[See also Andy Worthington's story, UK Sought Rendition of British Nationals to Guantánamo; Tony Blair Directly Involved]

Thursday, July 15, 2010

House Judiciary Committee Releases Bybee Testimony on OLC Memos

In a surprise move, the House Judiciary Committee released a transcript (PDF) of a May 26, 2010 interview with Judge Jay Bybee, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the early Bush administration. Bybee, notoriously, co-wrote with John Yoo two August 2002 OLC memos authorizing the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program. These memos took CIA and JPRA/DoD characterizations about the supposed safety of torture techniques, and along with various twisting and misrepresentations about legal precedent, gave the CIA torturers a green light.

Now Bybee says that all the torture the CIA did was not approved by the memos that bear his name. He also slipped and made various admissions that are still being analyzed by astute observers. For instance, as Marcy Wheeler noted in a posting today, Bybee essentially admits that the CIA experimented on sleep deprivation upon Abu Zubaydah. We know that, but to hear Bybee basically validate it is something. Of course, he tried to walk that back. See Marcy's story.

For a full description of the testimony, and greater context with which to understand the latest revelations, see Jason Leopold's article today at Truthout. For a list of related documents also released by the Judiciary committee, click here. -- While I haven't time to fully write up my own reaction to the testimony, it does seem as if Bybee is trying to distance himself from the CIA and John Yoo, while at the same time justifying his own part in the creation of the memos. It's a classic display of CYA, and it's fun to see what parts of the transcript Bybee wanted to change (see the story on sleep deprivation, for instance, linked above, and here's another one from Marcy/EW).

Posted below is a press release from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) on the Bybee revelations.
Torture Lawyer Jay Bybee Confirms CIA Use of Illegal Interrogation Techniques

Washington, D.C.—The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), a campaign of over 285 religious organizations working together to abolish U.S.-sponsored torture, responded today to the admission made by Judge Jay Bybee, who formerly headed the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), that the CIA used torture techniques beyond even those approved by the OLC.

Types of torture approved by the OLC under then Assistant Attorney General Bybee include waterboarding, walling, stress positions, and sleep deprivation. During his testimony on May 26 before the House Judiciary Committee, Judge Bybee confirmed that the CIA went beyond even those approved types of torture to force detainees to defecate on themselves, to hold detainees in extended isolation, to hang detainees from ceiling hooks, and to administer daily beatings of detainees.

Acting U.S. Attorney John Durham has been tasked by Attorney General Holder with investigating those interrogations that went beyond the guidelines propagated by the OLC. Judge Bybee’s admission confirms that CIA interrogators used types of torture that were not allowed by the OLC guidelines.

“The fact that the CIA used forms of torture not allowed by even the flawed OLC memos demonstrates the need for U.S. Attorney Durham to thoroughly investigate the CIA’s use of torture,” said NRCAT Executive Director, Rev. Richard Killmer.

“It is very important to note that the use of torture was not the result of a few bad apples, whether at the CIA or at the OLC. Rather, the use of torture was condoned at the highest levels of the Bush White House. President Bush is unrepentant about having authorized the use of torture, recently telling a crowd in Grand Rapids that he would ‘do it again’ about the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Also Judge Bybee stated that he was concerned about close communication between John Yoo and the White House. If Attorney General Holder does not follow his investigation to the highest levels of the U.S. government then the result will be a tragic scapegoating instead of true justice.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a growing membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 285 religious groups have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Greenwald and Seims on "The Torture Report"

Blogger and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald and Larry Seims, author of the ACLU's Torture Report, talk about torture, accountability, and the work of documenting the crimes of the U.S. government.

Larry's blog post accompanying this video can be found at The Torture Report

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Omar Khadr Denounces Military Commissions as a Sham

Marcy Wheeler has provided all of us a service and transcribed the written statement of former child soldier Omar Khadr, read aloud in the military commission "court" on July 12, describing why he will not participate in the proceedings surrounding his so-called trial. Omar Khadr fired his American attorneys recently, something he has done before. In his statement, he describes his reasons for doing so. Khadr is the first case to be adjudicated in President Obama's new, supposedly improved military commissions. The latter remain a confused jumble of procedures, and allow wide latitude for the introduction of torture-tainted evidence via hearsay into trial proceedings.
Your honor, I’m boycotting this military commission because:

* Firstly, the unfairness and unjustice of it. I say this because not one of the lawyers I’ve had, or human right organization or any person say that the commission is fair, or looking for justice, but on the contrary they say it is unfair and unjust and that it has been constructed solely to convict detainees and not to find the truth (so how can I ask for justice from a process that does not have it or offer it?) [new color ink--apparently added later] and to accomplish political and public goal and what I mean is when I was offered a plea bargain it was up to 30 years which I was going to spend only 5 years so I asked why the 30 years? I was told it make the US government look good in the public eyes and other political causes.

* Secondly, the unfairness of the rules that will make a person so depressed that he will admit to alligations or take a plea offer that will satisfy the US government and get him the least sentence possible and ligitimize the show process. Therefore I will not willingly let the US gov use me to fullfil its goal. I have been used to many times when I was a child and that’s why I’m here taking blame and paying for thing I didn’t have a choice in doing but was told to do by elders.

* Lastly I will not take any plea offer or [several words redacted] because it will give excuse for the gov for torturing and abusing me when I was a child.
Here is the statement itself, in an image cleared by the military for public release, credit to Carol Rosenberg/The Miami Herald

More from Carol Rosenberg's article:
Alleged ex-teen terrorist Omar Khadr on Monday denounced his coming war-crimes trial as a sham, saying he'd been offered a secret plea deal for release after five years served at Guantánamo.

Instead, the Canadian fired all his attorneys and said he would offer no defense....

The Canadian's family attorney, Dennis Edney, later said that the offer, made about a month ago, was for release from detention here in 2015 -- and continuation of the sentence in his native Canada.

``Mr. Khadr could not admit to guilt to something he did not do,'' Edney said....

Now-fired defense attorneys Barry Coburn and Kobie Flowers sought to show that Khadr as a 15-year-old old captive was coerced into confessing from the start when his first interrogator described scaring him with an American prison gang-rape scenario.
The military commissions are a farce, except for those involved, it is an injustice, and at times, for those abused and tortured, it is re-traumatizing, as it was for Omar Khadr. The Toronto Globe and Mail reported recently that Khadr's attorneys are very worried about their former client:
Omar has lost all hope of a fair trial in Guantanamo, he can see that the trial is rigged,” said Nate Whitling, one of his Canadian lawyers, explaining Mr. Khadr’s decision to dismiss his legal team.

“We tried desperately to talk him out of it,” Mr. Whitling said, adding the Mr. Khadr, 23, was so upset by the pre-trial appearances of interrogators who tortured and abused him after he was captured in 2002 that he chose to cease participating in the tribunals.
“Guantanamo Bay is like a despair factory, it manufactures hopelessness.”— Barry Coburn, American lawyer dismissed by Omar Khadr
I'd add that Omar's response to the appearance of this tormentors in court is indicative of someone with a post-traumatic syndrome. President Obama could order the release of Khadr. The Canadian government could act more strenuously for the return of the former child prisoner. But neither acts for humanitarian reasons, or on behalf of justice. In Canada, however, a federal court recently ruled that the Harper government had failed to intervene appropriately on Mr. Khadr's behalf.

Military judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, has ruled that Khadr's military attorney, Pentagon appointed counsel, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, is to represent Khadr, whether the latter approves or not. According to the Miami Herald story, the judge said, "I want to make sure the proceedings are fair to Mr. Khadr -- whether he boycotts or not."

These kangaroo court hearings are also, in part, the legacy of a complicit Congress, led by a Democratic Party majority, which last year re-approved the Bush-era Military Commissions Act, offering up a new, supposedly improved version of the military commissions court. Last March, no less a person than Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice was quoted in the Washington Post, in a prescient critique foreshadowing Omar Khadr's own, more personal, experientially-derived denunciation:
"Military commissions are antithetical to the administration of justice," Fidell said. "They're slow, they're opaque, the rules are currently unknown."

Friday, July 9, 2010

IHR Clinic's Statement on Complaint Against Former Gitmo Psychologist

Ohio Board Urged to Investigate Former Guantánamo Psychologist Larry James

Ohio residents join others across the country in filing complaints against psychologists complicit in prisoner abuse

Cambridge, MA, July 8, 2010 - The International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School's Human Rights Program filed a complaint with the Ohio Psychology Board yesterday, calling for an investigation into the conduct of Ohio-licensee Dr. Larry C. James, former Chief Psychologist of the intelligence command at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Despite the prison's record of torture during his tenure, Dr. James obtained an Ohio psychology license in 2008 and currently holds the influential post of Dean at Wright State University's School of Professional Psychology in Dayton.

The Clinic, along with Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, filed the 50-page complaint on behalf of four Ohio residents-Michael Reese, a veteran, of Columbus and Cleveland; Trudy Bond, a psychologist, of Toledo; Colin Bossen, a minister, of Cleveland Heights; and Josephine Setzler, a retired professor and mental health advocate, of Fremont.

"We rely on psychologists to follow the ethics of their profession, and to do no harm," said Setzler, who became an advocate after her brother was diagnosed with mental illness. "If a psychologist uses his professional training to facilitate suffering, then should he really be licensed to treat patients in Ohio?"

The complaint follows a filing last month by the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law against Texas psychologist James Mitchell, a CIA-contractor accused of torturing prisoners in the agency's secret prisons program. Also yesterday, the Center for Justice and Accountability filed a complaint in New York against psychologist John Leso, Dr. James's predecessor on the Guantánamo Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) known as "Biscuit."

According to the Ohio complaint, for several months in 2003, and from 2007-2008, Dr. James was the senior psychologist of the Guantánamo BSCT, a small but influential group of mental health professionals whose job it was to advise on and participate in the interrogations, and to help create an environment designed to break down prisoners.

During his tenure at the prison, boys and men were threatened with rape and death for themselves and their family members; sexually, culturally, and religiously humiliated; forced naked; deprived of sleep; subjected to sensory deprivation, over-stimulation, and extreme isolation; short-shackled into stress positions for hours; and physically assaulted. The evidence indicates that abuse of this kind was systemic, that BSCT health professionals played an integral role in its planning and practice, and that Dr. James, in his position of authority, at minimum knew or should have known it was being inflicted.

"We can't afford to have the Board turn a blind eye to these allegations," said Trudy Bond, a practicing psychologist in Ohio for the past 30 years. "The profession relies on the state board to safeguard the public's trust in psychologists."

The complaint details conflicts of interest that marred Dr. James's role as a psychologist, particularly in the case of three minors, aged 12-14 years old, whose treatment he supervised at Guantánamo. Dr. James oversaw their arbitrary detention and forcible transfer to an island thousands of miles away from their families. The complaint also alleges that he failed to fulfill his duty to report abuse, including abuse he personally witnessed.

"It is the day-to-day business of the board to investigate credible allegations against psychologists," said lawyer Deborah Popowski, Skirball Fellow at the International Human Rights Clinic. "We have faith the board will recognize its responsibility and fully investigate the claims in this complaint."

Much of today's complaint addresses information revealed in Dr. James's book, entitled Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib, which he published a few weeks after applying for an Ohio license. In the book, Dr. James alleges that there have been no reports of abuse in Guantánamo since he first arrived in January 2003. The complaint documents, in detail, evidence to the contrary.
I covered some of this story in a longer article yesterday. You can find coverage of the IHR complaint against James in the Ohio local press, including the Dayton Daily News, and the Springfield News-Sun.

To view the complaint, click here (PDF). To learn more about the complainants, click here.

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