Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pelosi, Fast-track This -- Legislation Introduced to Sunset and Repeal the AUMF

A press release from Rep. Barbara Lee's office, as posted at
Washington, DC - This week, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation to sunset and repeal Public Law 107-40, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), over a six month period.

On September 14, 2001, Congresswoman Lee was the only Member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF.

"Nine years ago, I made the unpopular decision to vote against this authorization based on a fundamental belief that a blank check to wage war anywhere, at any time, and for any length does not serve the national security interests of the United States," said Congresswoman Lee.

"In reflecting on the rush-to-war in Afghanistan and President Bush's misguided war-of-choice in Iraq, my worst fears have unfortunately been realized.

"Over the last nine years this broad authorization of force has had far-reaching implications which shake the very foundations of our great nation and democracy.

"It has been used to justify warrantless surveillance and wiretapping activities, indefinite detention practices that fly in the face of our constitutional values, extrajudicial targeted-killing operations, and a policy of borderless and open-ended war that threatens to indefinitely extend U.S. military engagement around the world.

"It is time for Congress to reexamine, and ultimately repeal this flawed authorization.

"The alternative, to concede Congress's constitutional responsibilities and blindly accept the persistence of war without end, is unacceptable."
The official bill number of this legislation is H.R. 6282 and the original co-sponsors are Representatives Walter Jones (NC), Rep. Lynn Woolsey (CA), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH), Rep. Ron Paul (TX), Rep. Michael M. Honda (CA), Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME), Rep. Pete Stark (CA), Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ), Rep. Keith Ellison (MN).

See full article by Barbara Lee at SFGate. (H/t Jim White)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Court Closes Door to Families of Wrongfully Detained Men Who Died at Guantánamo

From Center for Constitutional Rights, a press release relating to a new low in the attitude of the Obama administration and the federal courts, who have made a point of blocking judicial remedies for those tortured, and now even those murdered, by the U.S. in the ongoing "war against terror." The government's claims of "national security" are quite clearly meant to cover war crimes and other crimes against humanity.

The press release:
September 29, 2010 Washington and New York – Today, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia affirmed its decision to dismiss Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, a civil lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel concerning the deaths of three Guantánamo prisoners in June 2006, despite newly-available evidence from soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths that strongly suggest the men were killed at a black site at Guantánamo and a government cover-up of the true cause and circumstances of the deaths. The government reported the deaths as suicides.

“No one can compensate me for the loss of my son; no one can bring him back to me,” said Talal Al-Zahrani, father of Yasser Al-Zahrani. “But the court’s refusal to hear my son’s case is devastating and deepens my family’s pain. The courts should be investigating my son’s death and holding those responsible accountable. President Obama should be defending human rights and the democratic values the U.S. preaches to the world, rather than going to court to defend the lies and gruesome crimes of the Bush administration.”

The case, filed on behalf of the families of two of the deceased, Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami of Yemen, charged the government and 24 federal officials with responsibility for the men’s abuse, wrongful detention and ultimate deaths. Earlier this year, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, holding that national security considerations prevented the court from hearing the families’ claims. Following the dismissal, the families filed a motion for reconsideration on the basis of the evidence from the soldiers, as reported by Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010, arguing that the new facts compelled the court to reopen the case.

While noting that “‘it is, as plaintiffs argue, ‘disturb[ing]’ that defendants allegedly ‘fought to keep secret virtually all information concerning the cause and circumstances of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami’s deaths’ and that ‘details of an elaborate, high-level cover-up of likely homicide at a ‘black site’ at Guantanamo’ are now emerging,’” the court’s decision today held that national security considerations still bar it from considering the families’ claims, and that the defendants’ alleged involvement in the murder of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami was still within the scope of their employment.

“The very secrecy of Guantánamo is what allowed the government to torture and illegally imprison innocent men there for years, as we now know from leaked government memos, whistleblowers, and repeated wins in court in detainees’ habeas cases,” said CCR Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, lead counsel in the case. “Yet the court’s decision today allows secrecy to continue to shroud the truth about these deaths, in the face of compelling evidence of a four-year cover-up of murder.”

The suit was brought by CCR and co-counsel William Goodman of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C. and the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at the Washington College of Law. The decision, the complaint, the government briefs and other court documents, as well as video of Mr. Talal Zahrani addressing the U.S. government, courts and people regarding his son’s death can be found on CCR’s legal case page.
This appears to be the heart of the court's decision (PDF — bold emphasis added):
Specifically, plaintiffs maintain that “unspecified national security concerns” should not be allowed to trump other factors in this case without question, given the government’s alleged efforts to keep the circumstances of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami’s deaths secret and the possibility of a homicide at a “black site.” (Id. at 10.) Plaintiffs allege that the new evidence compels the creation of a Bivens remedy, or at least additional discovery geared toward uncovering sufficient evidence to allow the Court to conduct a special factors analysis….

Relying on the Supreme Court’s post-Bivens special factor analysis in Sanchez-Espinoza, the D.C. Circuit “ha[d] no doubt that . . . considerations of institutional competence preclude judicial creation of damage remedies” where federal defendants are sued by nonresident aliens asserting their constitutional rights. Id. There, plaintiffs accused defendants of “acting in concert and conspiracy with the other defendants and others unknown, [and] authoriz[ing], financ[ing], train[ing], direct[ing] and knowingly provid[ing] substantial assistance for the performance of activities which terrorize and otherwise injure the civilian population of the Republic of Nicaragua.” Id. at 205. The assistance allegedly provided by the United States “resulted in summary execution, murder, abduction, torture, rape, wounding, and the destruction of private property and public facilities.” Id. The extreme nature of these allegations notwithstanding, the Court held that “the special needs of foreign affairs must stay our hand in the creation of damage remedies against military and foreign policy officials for allegedly unconstitutional treatment of foreign subjects causing injury abroad.” Id. at 209. The Court concluded that the “foreign affairs implications” of suits like that in Sanchez-Espinoza “cannot be ignored,” because of “their ability to produce . . . ‘embarrassment of our government abroad’ through ‘multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.’” Id. (quoting Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 226 (1962)).

Nearly twenty-five years later, in Rasul II, the D.C. Circuit, invoking Sanchez-Espinoza, affirmed the dismissal of claims under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments brought by former detainees at the military facility in Guantanamo Bay. Although it found that plaintiffs had failed to state a Bivens claim because defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, Rasul II, 563 F.3d at 532, it also identified an alternative ground for dismissing plaintiffs’ Bivens claims—that “special factors” counseled against doing so. Id. at 532 n.5. The Court found that “[t]he danger of obstructing U.S. national security policy is one such factor” and that there was “no basis” for distinguishing the Rasul plaintiffs’ claims from the claims in Sanchez-Espinoza….

The Court finds that the new evidence and allegations4 presented by plaintiffs do not change the application of Rasul II to this case nor do they compel reconsideration of the Court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ constitutional claims….

While it is, as plaintiffs argue, “disturb[ing]” that defendants allegedly “fought to keep secret virtually all information concerning the cause and circumstances of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami’s deaths” and that “details of an elaborate, high-level cover-up of likely homicide at a ‘black site’ at Guantanamo” are now emerging (id. at 10), these claims are comparable to those in Sanchez-Espinoza, where it was alleged that the United States had violated fundamental human rights when it allegedly sponsored terrorist raids in Nicaragua that resulted in the “execution, murder, abduction, torture, rape [and] wounding” of “innocent Nicaraguan civilians.” 770 F.2d at 205. And, they are comparable to allegations that U.S. officials threatened, tortured, and beat detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Rasul v. Rumsfeld, 414 F. Supp. 2d 26, 27, 29 (D.D.C. 2006). Moreover, even if every allegation of “shocking conduct” in plaintiffs’ proposed amended complaint and the Harper’s Magazine article is true (Pls.’ Mot. at 14), the highly disturbing nature of allegations in a complaint cannot be a sufficient basis in law for the creation of a Bivens remedy where special factors counsel hesitation. The question before the Court is not whether homicide “exceeds the bounds of permissible official conduct in the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody and demands accountability” or whether the families of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami deserve a remedy. (Id. at 13-14.) Rather, the question is “who should decide whether such a remedy should be provided.” Bush, 462 U.S. at 380; see also Wilson v. Libby, 535 F.3d 697, 705, 709 (D.C. Cir. 2008). The D.C. Circuit unequivocally answered that question when it found that courts “must leave to Congress the judgment whether a damage remedy should exist” in cases involving national security and foreign policy concerns
The court bows to the government’s claims of “national security.” It’s outrageous, and they are quite blatant in their claims that the worst of crimes are not to be addressed by the courts if “national security” is invoked. As commenter phred wrote at the Emptywheel blog:
So Article III totally abdicates their authority to a hopelessly dysfunctional Article I, leaving all of us at the mercy of a tyrannical Article II.

What happened to checks and balances?

And to paraphrase bmaz from awhile back… When you are comparing legality to our conduct in Nicaragua, you’ve already lost the argument.
In the Emptywheel article on this, Marcy Wheeler notes, "here’s one of Scott Horton’s articles on this to remind you of the background and the new evidence the plaintiffs submitted."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Unemployment Spreads Across the Land -- Pictorial

Sending a chill across our political-social landscape. The picture only hints at the human suffering such job losses entail.

H/T Susan Gardner at Daily Kos

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

ACLU to Fight for Release of "Enemy Combatant" Tribunals Transcripts; Fayiz al-Kandari Loses Habeas Appeal

From a new ACLU press release:
ACLU In Federal Appeals Court Thursday To Argue For Release Of Guantánamo Detainee Statements

Tribunal Transcripts Would Provide Critical Testimony About Bush Torture Program

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union will be in court Thursday to argue that the government should release transcripts in which 14 prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay describe abuse and torture suffered in CIA custody.

The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to obtain uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals used to determine if Guantánamo detainees qualify as "enemy combatants." In October, a federal court ruled that the government can continue to suppress the detainees' testimony about the abuse they suffered in CIA custody. The ACLU is asking the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reverse that decision.

More information about the case is available online at:

Oral arguments in American Civil Liberties Union v. DOD, a FOIA lawsuit seeking the release of transcripts from Guantánamo Combatant Status Review Tribunals.

Ben Wizner of the ACLU National Security Project will argue the case. Other attorneys on the case are Jameel Jaffer, ACLU Deputy Legal Director, Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and Arthur B. Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area.

Thursday, September 23, 2010
9:30 a.m. EDT

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
333 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, D.C.
On a related note, see Andy Worthington's excellent article on Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s outrageous decision to deny Fayiz Al-Kandari his habeas petition. The decision itself has not been published. As Andy wrote:
... the authorities have refused to accept al-Kandari’s account of his activities, even though a cursory glance at the allegations against him demonstrates that, of the 20 allegations against him, 16 are attributed to an unidentified “individual,” and only one — a claim that he “suggested that he and another individual travel to Afghanistan to participate in jihad and … provided them with aliases” — came from al-Kandari himself (and has been refuted by him).
The paucity of evidence is so extreme that, after his Combatant Status Review Tribunal in 2004 (a deliberately one-sided process designed to rubber-stamp the men’s prior designation as “enemy combatants”), the tribunals’ legal advisor made a point of dissenting from the tribunal’s conclusion that he was an “enemy combatant,” stating:
Indeed, the evidence considered persuasive by the Tribunal is made up almost entirely of hearsay evidence recorded by unidentified individuals with no first hand knowledge of the events they describe.
As researchers at the Seton Hall law School noted, in a major analysis of the CSRT documentation, entitled, “No-Hearing Hearings” (PDF, p. 34), “Outside of the CSRT process, this type of evidence is more commonly referred to as ‘rumor.’”

Although these “rumors” were sufficient for the Pentagon to regard him as a prisoner of such significance that he was put forward for a trial by Military Commission in October 2008 (which has not been revived under President Obama), it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, inside the prison, he is regarded as a threat not because of what he is supposed to have done prior to his capture, but because of his attitude in detention.

The fact that the majority of the allegations against him were made by other prisoners is largely a testament to his own resistance. As one of Guantánamo’s least compliant prisoners, he has not fought back physically, but has refused to make false confessions implicating himself or others, as so many others have done under duress (and as the judges in the District Court have been exposing in other habeas petitions).
See the whole article, and while you're informing yourself, bookmark Andy's ongoing series describing "Who are the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"The United States of America Has Gone Mad"

On September 20, Amy Goodman's Democracy Now presented a video of John Le Carré reading from his 2003 essay on 9/11 and its disastrous political aftermath, including the invasion of Iraq.

From the Le Carré text (H/T Barry Eisler):
America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.

The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.

The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the world’s poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions.

But bin Laden conveniently swept all that under the carpet. The Bushies are riding high. Now 88 per cent of Americans want the war, we are told. The US defence budget has been raised by another $60 billion to around $360 billion. A splendid new generation of nuclear weapons is in the pipeline, so we can all breathe easy. Quite what war 88 per cent of Americans think they are supporting is a lot less clear. A war for how long, please? At what cost in American lives? At what cost to the American taxpayer’s pocket? At what cost—because most of those 88 per cent are thoroughly decent and humane people—in Iraqi lives?

How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America’s anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. But the American public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election.

Those who are not with Mr Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I’m dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam’s downfall—just not on Bush’s terms and not by his methods. And not under the banner of such outrageous hypocrisy.

The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America’s Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist. [...]

What is at stake is not an imminent military or terrorist threat, but the economic imperative of US growth. What is at stake is America’s need to demonstrate its military power to all of us—to Europe and Russia and China, and poor mad little North Korea, as well as the Middle East; to show who rules America at home, and who is to be ruled by America abroad.

By the by, if you have not read Le Carré's last novel, A Most Wanted Man, you are missing one of the most amazing books of our time, akin to Eisler's Inside Out, two novels that expose the underlying realities of our time. Both books are thoroughly enjoyable, and yet also manage to condemn the use of torture for the modern barbarity that it is.

Monday, September 20, 2010

DoJ Inspector General: FBI "Improperly" Spied On Activists

The ACLU has posted a statement regarding the release of the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report, A Review of the FBI’s Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups (PDF).

There's a lot to look at and laugh and fear in this report. Nice to know that civil disobedience can be a reason to open a terrorist investigation, or that throwing blood on a federal building or a U.S. flag (are you listening, Sen. Feinstein?) is a “forceful” act that would warrant classifying the act as an act of terrorism, as “wilful injury” to U.S. property is listed (or was in 2002) as an offense in the definition of the federal crime of terrorism. (See page 148 of report as the FBI goes after that notorious group, the Catholic Workers!).

Haven’t by any means read this whole report, which appears a classic partial admission of crimes, without any real accountability, or admission that the sum total of these events represent attacks upon Constitutional rights.

"Improper" says the DoJ IG, not illegal restraints against the first amendment. Just like the actions of Yoo and Bybee were the result of "bad judgment" and not illegal and unprofessional actions by attorneys in thrall to the Executive, hell-bent on torture.

As the ACLU statement makes clear, the FBI has such a long history of breaking the law and targeting individuals for political activity that there is no way this is not a continuation of that history. I'm glad this information is out there, but history also shows that the police and intelligence agencies of the state are highly resistant to reforms. I'm not sure what, under the current political configuration of this country, can be done, but vigiliance and exposure are, for now, our only tools in defending ourselves. If there is to be reform, it will have to be far more stringent that what we have seen in the past.

From the ACLU press release:
Investigation Was Prompted By ACLU FOIA Lawsuit That Turned Up Evidence Of Unlawful Surveillance

WASHINGTON – The FBI improperly spied on American activists involved in First Amendment-protected activities and mischaracterized nonviolent civil disobedience as terrorism which improperly placed activists on terrorist watch lists, according to a report out today by the Justice Department’s Inspector General. Inspector General Glenn A. Fine undertook his investigation after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered evidence that the FBI was chilling political association and improperly investigating peaceful advocacy groups.

The Inspector General (IG) found the improper investigations were often opened based on “factually weak” or even “speculative” justifications, and were sometimes extended in duration without sufficient basis. The IG said that the low standard for opening investigations under the 2002 Attorney General Guidelines, which required only the “possibility” of a federal crime, contributed to the problem.

The FBI also made false and misleading statements to Congress and the American public to mute criticism over its unlawful spying activities, including a false claim that improper surveillance of a 2002 anti-war protest in Pittsburgh was related to a separate, validly approved FBI investigation. This false information was repeated by FBI Director Robert Mueller before Congress and in communications between the Bureau and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The following can be attributed to Michael German, ACLU Senior Policy Counsel and former FBI agent:

“The FBI has a long history of abusing its national security surveillance powers, reaching back to the smear campaign waged by the American government against Dr. Martin Luther King. Americans peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights were able to become targets of FBI surveillance because spying guidelines that were established after the shameful abuses of the 60s and 70s were loosened in 2002. Unfortunately, they were loosened again in 2008, even after this abuse was uncovered.

“Unless the rules regulating the FBI are strengthened to safeguard the privacy of innocent Americans, we are all in danger of being spied on and added to terrorist watch lists for doing nothing more than attending a rally or holding up a sign.”
See also the take on this story by Marcy Wheeler, while here is the Washington Post story on the report's release.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Assange Frame-up

Over at Counterpunch, Israel Shamir and Paul Bennett have a new article that demolishes the contrived "rape" case against Julian Assange of Wikileaks. They've done their research and found CIA connections to one of the women involved, not to mention the reasons the Swedish government may have saluted so quickly a sign from their U.S. allies. It's strange that Assange, who knew the U.S. would be trying to set him up, fell for the classic "honey trap" ploy. But then, that's why state spook agencies keep using it... it works so often. One can't hold it against him.

Let's hope Mr. Assange slips this trap of opportunists, U.S. character assassins, old Cold War assets looking for a new job, and just plain liars, and is back at work soon doing what he does best, helping expose criminal activity among the governments of this world.

From the Counterpunch article:
Julian Assange now stands accused of: (1) not calling a young woman the day after he had enjoyed a night with her, (2) asking her to pay for his bus ticket, (3) having unsafe sex, and (4) participating in two brief affairs in the course of one week. These four minor charges, worthy of Leopold Bloom’s mock trial in the Nightown chapter in Ulysses, have been shaken and fermented until they were able to cook up a half-baked rape case!....

* The pseudo-progressive organization Reporters Sans Frontières attacked Assange for endangering the lives of innocent American secret agents in Afghanistan. Despite its ‘leftist’ terminology, RSF is a private organization drawing funds from US government sources aiming to destabilize Cuba. It is connected to Cuban émigrés in Miami.

* Anna Ardin (the official complainant) is often described by the media as a “leftist”. She has ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups. She published her anti-Castro diatribes (see here and here) in the Swedish-language publication Revista de Asignaturas Cubanas put out by Misceláneas de Cuba. From Oslo, Professor Michael Seltzer points out that this periodical is the product of a well-financed anti-Castro organization in Sweden.

Read the entire article. H/T to Rixstep and tehranchik at Twitter

A sorrowful song

Henyrk Górecki - from Symphony No. 3, Op. 36 , "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," Third Movement

David Zinman, conductor, and Dawn Upshaw, soprano. (Unaccountably, the video does not give the orchestra a credit.)

The song for the third movement is taken from a Silesian folk song, comprising the lament of mother for her son, missing in the battles of an uprising the Polish region of Opole.

The libretto in translation:
Where has he gone
My dearest son?
Perhaps during the uprising
The cruel enemy killed him

Ah, you bad people
In the name of God, the most Holy,
Tell me, why did you kill
My son?

Never again
Will I have his support
Even if I cry
My old eyes out

Were my bitter tears
to create another River Oder
They would not restore to life
My son

He lies in his grave
and I know not where
Though I keep asking people

Perhaps the poor child
Lies in a rough ditch
and instead he could have been
lying in his warm bed

Oh, sing for him
God's little song-birds
Since his mother
Cannot find him

And you, God's little flowers
May you blossom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily.

Who's More Insane, Christine O'Donnell or Barack Obama?

Chris Floyd makes yet again another excellent point:
The political-media-blogospherical establishment is currently working itself into a lather over the elevation of a "nutty" Tea Party woman to the Republican nomination for a Senate seat in Delaware. The selection of Christine O'Donnell by a tiny sliver of voters in a closed primary in a tiny state whose main claim to fame is its decades of whorish service as a protective front for rapacious corporations is, we are told, an event of world-shaking proportions fit for endless analysis and scary headlines all over the world.

It's true that O'Donnell has taken the politically risky step of denouncing America's national pastime -- masturbation -- and has, over the years, supported any number of positions that put her on the far side of common sense. But one struggles in vain to find that she has advanced anything remotely as radical -- or lunatic -- as the idea that the President of the United States is some kind of intergalactic emperor who holds the power of life and death over every living being on earth in his autocratic hands. Yet this is precisely the position proclaimed -- openly, before Congress, God and everybody -- by the highly educated, intellectually sophisticated, super-savvy Laureate of Peace currently residing in the White House.

This same president has also fought tooth and nail -- often in open court -- to shield torturers, escalate pointless wars of aggression, relentlessly expand a liberty-stripping Stasi-style security apparatus, give trillions of tax dollars to rapacious financiers, health-care corporations, insurance companies and bloodstained war profiteers, while launching cowardly drone missile attacks on the sovereign territory of close ally, killing hundreds of civilians in the process - and has just signed off on the biggest arms deal in history with one of the most viciously repressive tyrannies on earth....

But a hardy few out there are still trying to draw attention to the actual crimes and moral atrocities being committed by the actual holders of actual power. One of these is Andy Worthington, who is beginning an eight-part series on the remaining prisoners still being held in the still-unclosed American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. As Worthington says, the series will
help explain how few of the remaining prisoners have any connection to terrorism, how some are civilians, and how others were foot soldiers for the Taliban, in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan that had nothing to do with 9/11, and very little to do with al-Qaeda. I also hope that it may contribute to the almost non-existent debate regarding the Authorization for Use of Military Force, and the administration's misplaced use of it to hold foot soldiers in Guantanamo, as well as highlighting other aspects of the habeas litigation, the military commissions, the moratorium on releasing Yemenis, and the decision to hold 48 of the prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial.
There's more at Chris's article. If you don't regularly read Empire Burlesque, you should make it one of your regular stops in a Net scene mostly full of gasbags and apologists, one way or another, for the current American political scene.

Thanks to Chris for plugging Andy Worthington's important new series documenting the biographies of the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo. That will be essential reading, and an antidote to the inane discussions out of Washington concerning Guantanamo, indefinite detention, and other Bush-era crimes carried over into the Obama years.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bushism Redux: Charge 'em if you can't kill 'em

More on the ACLU/CCR filing I reported on last month. It seems, as Glenn Greenwald put it in an article on Wednesday, Obama has adopted a Red Queen strategy: "Sentence first -- verdict afterward."

Marcy Wheeler caught what a very odd point in the AP story on the government's turn in strategy: "The Obama administration is considering filing the first criminal charges against radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in case the CIA fails to kill him and he’s is captured alive in Yemen." Wheeler added:
And the claim that they’re charging al-Awlaki just in case they happen to capture him alive rather than dead (opps!)? I’d suggest it probably has a lot more to do with the suit CCR and ACLU have taken against the government. I’m guessing that following shortly on formal charges, DOJ will tell the courts they can’t litigate the al-Awlaki suit because it pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation. Voila! No discovery in the lawsuit!!
For myself, I found a good deal of dry, wry humor in the ACLU/CCR comment that the changes "would be a step in the right direction." Damn. I'd hate to see what a step in the wrong direction would look like at this point.

Here's the press release from CCR and ACLU. Please support these organizations with some donations so they can do this necessary work for all of us.
CCR and ACLU Respond to Report that the Government Will Bring Charges Against Anwar Al-Aulaqi

EW YORK – The Obama administration is considering filing criminal charges against Anwar Al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen located in Yemen whom the U.S. government has already targeted for death without charge or trial, according to an AP story today.

In August, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s asserted authority to carry out “targeted killings” of U.S. citizens located far from any armed conflict zone. The groups were retained by Nasser Al-Aulaqi to bring the lawsuit in connection with the government’s decision to authorize the targeted killing of his son, Anwar Al-Aulaqi. The groups charge that if the government has evidence that a U.S. citizen is involved in terrorist activity, he should be charged with a crime and prosecuted.

The following can be attributed to the ACLU and CCR:

“Our organizations have long stated that if the government has evidence that Anwar Al-Aulaqi is involved in terrorist activity, it should present that evidence to a court – not authorize his execution without charge or trial. Now, months after the government announced its intent to kill Al-Aulaqi, it may finally bring charges against him. This would be a step in the right direction. The constitutional guarantee of due process relies on the critical distinction between allegations and evidence. If the reports that charges may be brought against Al-Aulaqi are true, the fact that it has taken the government this long – months after having announced his death sentence – suggests that, in this case, the government’s allegations were far ahead of its evidence.

“While bringing charges against Al-Aulaqi based on credible evidence would be a step in the right direction, it would not mean that he could now be targeted for killing without trial. It is well established that the government cannot use extrajudicial killing to punish people for past acts, but only to prevent grave and imminent threats. A criminal charge for past crimes does not provide a license to kill.

“We continue to believe that the courts must play a role in establishing legal standards for when the government can take the life of one of its own citizens without charge or trial. For that reason, we will continue with our litigation.”

For more information on the case, including fact sheets and legal papers, visit: and

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

For a Fair, Just UK Torture Inquiry

Amnesty International and eight British NGOs have written a letter to the Rt. Hon. Sir Peter Gibson, who has been picked -- despite his close ties to the intelligence world -- to head the UK inquiry into alleged UK involvement in the mistreatment of detainees held abroad. Here's a link to the HTML announcement page on the joint letter at Amnesty International. Here's the link to the PDF of the letter.
What follows are selected portions of the letter, dated 8 September 2010:
Dear Sir Peter

Following the announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron on 6 July of an inquiry into allegations of UK involvement in the mistreatment of detainees held abroad, the AIRE Centre, Amnesty International, British Irish RIGHTS WATCH, Cageprisoners, Justice, Liberty, Redress, Reprieve, and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, write to offer a number of constructive comments to ensure the success of the inquiry.

A sufficiently empowered and transparent inquiry could discharge the United Kingdom’s duty to effectively investigate damaging allegations of knowledge and/or involvement by state actors or agents in the torture, ill-treatment or rendition of individuals that have arisen in the last decade. Such an inquiry could also play an important role in clarifying how involvement in torture, ill- treatment or rendition might be prevented in the future.

It is incumbent on governments to promptly and effectively investigate all allegations of torture and other related human rights abuses. In order to comply with basic human rights standards, it is essential that the inquiry be:

(1) Prompt. The earliest events that this inquiry must consider occurred at least a decade ago. Delay has increased the damage caused by allegations of involvement in torture and ill- treatment and has already reduced the potential for the inquiry to uncover the truth.

(2) Independent. The persons responsible for and carrying out the inquiry must be fully independent of any institution, agency or person who may be the subject of, or are otherwise involved in, the inquiry. Where allegations of involvement in torture and ill-treatment have been made, an independent response is particularly important in order to preserve confidence in the administration of justice.

(3) Thorough. The inquiry must be sufficiently empowered, staffed, and resourced to be thorough, wide-ranging and rigorous. It must be able to pronounce on state responsibility for knowledge and involvement in the serious human rights violations that have been alleged and to identify any individuals responsible for such abuses, including establishing the responsibility of superior officers for crimes committed by subordinates under their effective control. The inquiry must be capable of determining whether any conduct was unlawful and thus must be empowered to: secure all relevant evidence and testimony; interview victims and their families; question any eye witnesses; take statements of any officials alleged to have been involved in violations; secure appropriate medical reports; and consider any evidence which implicates any public officials or agents of the state.

(4) Subject to public scrutiny, with the participation of victims. The inquiry must be open to adequate public scrutiny. Survivors or victims must be involved in the process to ensure their right to effective investigation and redress, and special measures must be adopted to ensure this participation is supportive, safe and effective; non-governmental organizations have an important role to play in this regard. The participation of survivors, victims and civil society ensures the adherence of the inquiry to the rule of law, prevents any appearance of collusion in or tolerance of illegal acts, and helps safeguard victims’ rights to an effective remedy and reparations....

In order for the inquiry to fulfil its purposes, we recommend the following:

(1) The inquiry must appoint a strong legal team with sufficient expertise to deal with the range of human rights, intelligence, and secrecy issues that it is likely to face;

(2) The presumption must be that each stage of the inquiry will be public, with as much evidence as possible to be heard and considered in public;

(3) The inquiry must ensure that survivors and victims have standing as parties to the inquiry and have a right to legal representation funded by the inquiry. Survivors, victims and their representatives must be kept informed of all information relevant to the investigation and have access to hearings and the ability to make submissions;

(4) Other interested parties, including the intelligence services, must also have standing and the right to legal representation funded by the inquiry. They and their representatives must be kept informed of all information relevant to the investigation; and have access to hearings and the ability to make submissions;

(5) The inquiry must require that all relevant documents be disclosed to the inquiry by the government; the head of the inquiry must have the power to decide whether or not to make such documents public;

(6) The inquiry must aim to achieve maximum possible disclosure. Any determination that certain information should be kept confidential, including on the grounds of national security, should be made applying limited and precisely defined grounds that are specified in advance; an independent mechanism should be developed to ensure that any decision by the inquiry panel to withhold such information is in the public interest;

(7) The inquiry must ensure that any invocation of secrecy or confidentiality on the part of the government, its agents, or the inquiry does not: prevent an independent, impartial, and thorough investigation of alleged human rights violations; prevent the government and individual perpetrators from being held accountable; prevent a victim from receiving an effective remedy, including reparation; or prevent full and public disclosure of the truth;

(8) The inquiry must be empowered to require the production of evidence, subject to ordinary rules of admissibility, and must also be able to require a person to attend the inquiry to give evidence or to provide a written statement. It must be an offence for a person to fail to do anything that is required of him or her regarding the production of evidence. It must be an offence to do anything to distort or alter evidence provided to the inquiry;

(9) The inquiry panel must request the cooperation of agents and officials of foreign states who can provide relevant evidence, and that the government should support such requests;

(10) The inquiry panel should be empowered to enforce cooperation from corporations doing business in the UK who are alleged to have had knowledge of or been involved in any abuses that are the subject of the inquiry;

(11) It is imperative that the inquiry report be published, and that any redactions for national security reasons be agreed by the inquiry panel and be subject to review by a court. The inquiry must be empowered to not only establish particular facts, practices and policies, but should also consider the adequacy of measures in place to prevent the occurrence of any wrongdoing in the future. The final report must be made public and should at a minimum include the conclusions and recommendations based on findings of fact and applicable law, in sufficient detail to satisfy the requirement of full and public disclosure of the truth about UK responsibility for the human rights violations in question.
Amnesty and the other organization also ask for close NGO participation and scrutiny, as such organizations, deeply involved with the torture issue are "in a position to assist the inquiry in designing its scope and in pursuing certain lines of inquiry." The letter should be read in its entirety, and it is up to U.S. and British civil society to back the clear, reasonable, and essential roadmap for a successful inquiry laid out so well by Amnesty and the other NGOs.

I don't usually ask this, but pass this story or link on where you think it will do the most good. H/T to mzchief at FDL for the story.

"The troubled waters are frozen fast."

From The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu - translated by Kenneth Rexroth:
Lady Murasaki says:

The troubled waters
are frozen fast.
Under clear heaven
moonlight and shadow
ebb and flow.

Answered by Prince Genji:

The memories of long love
gather like drifting snow,
poignant as the mandarin ducks
who float side by side in sleep.
Picture title: Yozakura no shita de chanoyu wo suru mitsūji
Artist: Toyokuni Utagawa, 1786-1865
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (link)

Government Report on Drugging of Detainees Is Suppressed

By  Jeffrey Kaye & Jason Leopold, originally posted at Truthout

A major Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation on the drugging of detainees held at Guantanamo and other Department of Defense (DoD) facilities was completed almost a year ago and shared with a key Senate committee. But the investigation did not receive any media attention at the time likely due to the fact that the report was classified. News of the completion of the investigation and the report came as a surprise to human rights workers who had been involved in investigating the drugging claims. According to DoD spokesperson, Maj. Tanya Bradsher, the report is classified. While the findings of the investigation are unknown, a spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee said the OIG's investigation did not substantiate allegations of drugging of prisoners for the "purposes of interrogation." The involuntary use of drugs on prisoners would violate a number of domestic and international laws, as well as basic ethical codes of the medical professions.

Truthout filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last week to gain access to the OIG report. Kelly McHale, a senior FOIA Specialist who works in the Inspector General's office, said Tuesday the Defense Department "may be unable to respond to your request within the FOIA's 20 day statutory time period as there are unusual circumstances which may impact on our ability to quickly process your request.

"These unusual circumstances may be: (a) the need to search for and collect records from a facility geographically separated from this Office; (b) the potential volume of records responsive to your request; and (c) the need for consultation with one or more other agencies or DoD components having a substantial interest in either the determination or the subject matter of the records," McHale wrote in an email in response to Truthout's FOIA request. "For these reasons, we placed your request in our complex processing queue and will process it consistent with the order in which we received your request. Please note that we currently have an administrative workload of 105 cases."

Stephen Soldz, president-elect for Psychologists for Social Responsibility, who also wrote about the drugging controversy in April 2008, told Truthout, "Given that ex-detainees' accounts of other abuses have repeatedly proved reliable when they were independently corroborated by official documents and accounts from guards, there is no reason to doubt detainees' accounts of drugging. Was 'interrogation' defined so narrowly as to exclude drug use designed to make detainees cooperate with interrogators or to instill terror or confusion in detainees?" Soldz asked.

The initial impetus for the OIG investigation was a Washington Post exposé by reporter Joby Warrick in April 2008. A few weeks prior to the Post story, Jeff Stein had written about the drugging of prisoners in an article at Congressional Quarterly, noting that the chief federal defender for supposed al-Qaeda suspect Jose Padilla asserted in a 2007 legal motion that Padilla was "was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations." Warrick's story described as an example of possible drugging the case of former Saudi detainee, Adel al-Nusairi. According to his attorney, "[Nusairi] was injected in the arm with something that made him tired - that made his brain cloudy. When he would try to read the Koran, his brain would not focus. He had unusual lethargy and would drool on himself."

More recent accounts of drugging by detainees include charges by Abdul Aziz Naji, who was forcibly repatriated to Algeria from Guantanamo July 2010. Naji told an Algerian newspaper that detainees at Guantanamo were forced "to take some medicines for three months to drive them crazy, loosing [sic] memory and committing suicide." According to an important exposé by Scott Horton at Harpers last winter, at least one of the three Guantanamo prisoners that DoD claimed committed suicide in 2006 had needle marks on both of his arms. According to Horton, the Obama administration has refused to open an investigation into these mysterious deaths, which allegedly took place at a previously unreported black site at Guantanamo, known informally as Camp No.

Warrick's contention that "[a]t least two dozen other former and current detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere say they were given drugs against their will or witnessed other inmates being drugged, based on interviews and court documents," led to movement in the otherwise glacial US Senate. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska), representing the Senate's Armed Services, Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, respectively, sent letters to "the CIA and Defense Department inspectors general calling for an investigation." The senators said they were reacting to the March 2008 article in the Post, as well as other public reports, confirming the use of drugs on "detainees," and indicated the controversy "warrant[ed] a thorough investigation."

While it is unknown how the CIA replied, the Inspector General's office at DoD began a probe. The final report, entitled "Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees," was finally published September 23, 2009.

Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman at the Senate Armed Services Committee, told  Truthout that the Committee received a copy of the September 2009 report, but it was marked as classified and she could not discuss the details. However, she was authorized to say that the OIG investigation "did not substantiate allegations" that mind altering drugs "were used for interrogation purposes" on detainees.

That still leaves a lot of questions. Reports have described the use of drugs for restraint of prisoners, facility control, as a condition of confinement, sedation during transport as well as use in interrogations. The use of drugs in mind control experiments, the purpose of which was to assess the effects of various controlled substances on the physical and psychological functioning of the individual, has been described by numerous authors, investigative journalists, Congressional committees and even (after decades of denial) the DoD.

The use of drugs for sedation or interrogations was raised in the May 10, 2005, Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo from Stephen Bradbury to then-CIA Senior Deputy Legal Council John Rizzo on the "Combined Use of Certain Techniques That May Be Used in the Interrogation of High-Value al-Qaeda Detainees." Bradbury noted that the OLC's advice pertained only to interrogations and not "to conditions of confinement or detention, as distinct from the interrogation of detainees." He notes that the CIA's Office of Medical Services (OMS) rules allow the sedation of detainees during transportation. Even so, Bradbury writes that OMS reported they were "unaware" of the use of sedating drugs in the transport of detainees during the prior two years. This appears to be an admission that they were aware of such practices prior to May 2003. Bradbury told the CIA, "We caution that any use of sedatives should be carefully evaluated," referencing violations of US anti-torture law as an example.

Nearly three years before the Bradbury memo, OLC memos written by John Yoo, with assistance from Jay Bybee and David Addington, had allowed for the use of mind-altering drugs in interrogations, maintaining such use was not torture unless it caused "permanent" or "profound" mental harm or damage. In 2006, when the new version of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on human intelligence collection was approved, it allowed an even less stringent ban on the use of drugs than Yoo had envisioned, dropping the OLC prohibition against use of drugs that could cause "profound mental harm," a standard that could be met, according to Yoo, by induction of even a brief psychotic episode. In the version of the AFM in force prior to 2006, any "chemically induced psychosis" was forbidden. In the new AFM, still currently in effect, only drugs used that cause permanent, lasting harm are not allowable for interrogation use.

While the letters from Senators Biden, Hagel and Levin called for both CIA and DoD inspector general investigations, it is not known if the CIA ever initiated such an in-house review. In 2008, the Senate Armed Services Committee undertook a detailed "Inquiry into the treatment of detainees in US custody," with two public hearings and a published report. Nevertheless, the committee's report did not include an investigation of any abuse by involuntary drugging.

Meanwhile, key personnel working in DoD intelligence circles have a history of exploring or advocating the use of drugs in interrogations. In July 2003, the CIA, in conjunction with the Rand Corporation and the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a workshop entitled "Science of Deception: Integration of Practice and Theory." The proceedings included a discussion on new ways to utilize drugs and sensory bombardment techniques to break down individuals under interrogation. Links to the description of this workshop have recently been scrubbed at APA's web site. The meeting included the participation of DoD personnel and was co-organized by APA's former senior scientist, Susan Brandon. Dr. Brandon is today research chief for the Behavioral Science Program within the Defense Intelligence Agency's Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center (DCHC). A recent report by Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic described the DCHC as providing "intelligence operatives and interrogators.... [performing] interrogations for a sub-unit of Task Force 714, an elite counter-terrorism brigade."

When the Washington Post story broke in 2008, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) publicly called for Congressional and Department of Justice investigations of the allegations of drugging detainees, noting that some of these abuses may also have involved forced medication "for therapeutic purposes" without informed consent. As one example of this sort of abuse, Brent Mickum, attorney for Abu Zubaydah, told Truthout that since Zubaydah was transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, he "has suffered upwards of 250 seizures due to the fact that he was treated and overdosed with Haldol. On two occasions I went down there to meet with him he was in no position to talk to me."

Soon after the Post story appeared, then-President of PHR, Leonard Rubenstein (currently a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) stated, "The forced medication of detainees without their consent, either for interrogation or as a chemical restraint, is an affront to the very foundations of medical ethics.... Even if used for purportedly therapeutic purposes, absent very exceptional circumstances, detainees have a right to consent to modes of treatment, just as others do and the Department of Defense has indeed recognized this right."

"The Man in the Snow White Cell"

Last month, a government panel investigating interrogation techniques - the shadowy Intelligence Science Board, which has been linked to the creation under the Obama administration of the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG - had one of their teaching papers posted online at Secrecy News. Entitled "Intelligence Interviewing: Teaching Papers and Case Studies," the April 2009 study, ostensibly discussing the problems with getting good intelligence from coercive interrogations (i.e., torture), had no problem with one scenario that utilized severe isolation and sensory deprivation to loosen up a prisoner. The case is well-known to intelligence professionals and is known as "The Man in the Snow White Cell":
In early 1972, [Nguyen] Tai ["the most senior North Vietnamese officer ever captured during the Vietnam War"] was informed he was being taken to another location to be interrogated by the Americans. After being blindfolded, he was transported by car to an unknown location and placed in a completely sealed cell that was painted all in white, lit by bright lights 24 hours a day and cooled by a powerful air-conditioner (Tai hated air conditioning, believing, like many Vietnamese, that cool breezes could be poisonous). Kept in total isolation, Tai lived in this cell, designed to keep him confused and disoriented, for three years without learning where he was.
Tai's interrogation began anew....
Without doubt, the South Vietnamese torture gave Tai the incentive for the limited cooperation he gave to his American interrogators, but it was the skillful questions and psychological ploys of the Americans and not any physical infliction of pain, that produced the only useful (albeit limited) information that Tai ever provided. [Emphasis added.]
The ISB analysts never mention the deleterious effects that three years of psychological torture may have produced in the prisoner. It is indicative of the way in which psychological forms of torture have been buried in the public's consciousness in lieu of preoccupation with more physical forms of torture, such as waterboarding.

Long ago, the CIA and military discovered that the use of physical methods of torture tended to cause more resistance, or too quickly broke down the prisoner and made him insensible. So, they studied and implemented a more psychological method that relied primarily on isolation, sensory deprivation or overload, sleep deprivation and induction of debility. The introduction of brutal "enhanced interrogation techniques," reverse-engineered from the "Resistance to Interrogation" classes of the SERE schools, were never totally accepted by the intelligence community and may have had more to do with experimental protocols still only dimly understood than with any expected production of operational intelligence.

DoD Review: Guantanamo Medical Records Shared With Interrogators

One intriguing outcome from the DoD drugging investigation was a "Review of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Inclusion of Detainee Mental Health Information in Intelligence Information Reports," issued May 2010. A short summary of this review appears in Appendix G, "Detailed Summary Agency Oversight" of the July 30, 2010, report to Congress by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. According to Long, the Senate Armed Services Committee has not been briefed on this report.

The investigation into use of mental health information in intelligence reports at Guantanamo had, as its initial public objective, whether interrogators and analysts were considering detainee mental health as "an indicator of reliability" when determining "reliability and accuracy of information" obtained through interrogations. By the time the investigation was completed in May of this year, the issue had become one of confusion over guidelines and procedures at Guantanamo over the sharing of medical information between health care personnel and interrogators. If nothing else, the recent report demonstrates that interrogations and examinations of detainees remain an ongoing issue at Guantanamo, even as it widely assumed that much of the focus on new intelligence has shifted to the interrogations at Bagram Air Base or DoD black site prisons in Afghanistan.

Controversies over the use of private medical and mental health information and records of detainees by interrogators in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere were aired in medical journals going back some years. In the July 7, 2005, article "Doctors and Interrogators at Guantanamo Bay," published in the New England Journal of Medicine, M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan H. Marks warned against doctors and other medical personnel crossing the line between caregiver and interrogator. Such breaches of privacy would violate the privacy of medical and mental health treatment for the supposed benefit of the interrogator, some of whom use the information to inform their anxiety and fear-based approach to interrogation.
Clinical expertise has a limited place in the planning and oversight of lawful interrogation. Psychologists play such a role in criminal investigations and medical monitoring of detainees is called for by international legal instruments. But proximity of health professionals to interrogation settings, even when they act as caregivers, carries risk. It may invite interrogators to be more aggressive, because they imagine that these professionals will set needed limits. The logic of caregiver involvement as a safeguard also risks pulling health professionals in ever more deeply. Once caregivers share information with interrogators, why should they refrain from giving advice about how to best use the data?
Responding to the controversy around sharing medical records described in the Marks and Bloche article, a few weeks after the NEJM article was published, then-Army Surgeon Gen. Kevin Kiley assured the press that there was a "firewall" between interrogators and members of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) that work with the interrogators and medical records. Whatever the practice, the 2005 Standard Operating Procedure for the BSCTs at that time shows that while the BSCTs were to act as liaisons between interrogators and Guantanamo medical personnel, describing "the implications of medical diagnoses and treatment for the interrogation process," it is clearly stated, "Neither BSCT personnel and interrogation teams have access to medical records of detainees." Medical information coming from Guantanamo's Joint Medical Group is limited to physical, medical and functional limitations "required to consider in order to ensure the safety of the detainee and US personnel, e.g. diabetes, heart condition, special diet or contagious condition."

According to a communication from Stephen Soldz, the 2006 BSCT directives, "while establishing controls on use of medical records, made it clear that these records could be accessed for national security purposes. Thus, any firewalls could potentially be breached." So, it is not surprising to hear that the May 2010 inspector general review of Joint Task Force Guantanamo on use of detainee medical records reports that, under the Obama administration, sharing of such records with interrogators is commonplace, the subject of shabby oversight ten years after the opening of the prison site:
Present regulatory guidance authorizes health-care providers to share detainee medical information with interrogators, but does not provide specific guidance on how to do so. As a result execution of these policies at Guantanamo has been inconsistent, resulting in confusion for both health-care providers and interrogation elements. [Emphasis added.]
Such confusion is not accidental. Oversight means that things that aren't supposed to happen are in fact kept under some kind of control. Given the ongoing controversies about medical information being shared, it is important that, as part of a clear and open investigation of procedures at Guantanamo and other detainee prison sites, that the public be given an understanding of exactly what type of information is in those medical records and of what benefit such information might be to interrogators, the better to understand how such information might be abused and whether rules and procedures for the legal and ethical use of medical information are truly followed.

Nathaniel Raymond, director of PHR's Campaign Against Torture, said "the American people will not know whether those standards were enforced properly unless there is complete transparency about what was done or not done in our name."

"One classified Inspector General's report does little to answer the disturbing questions raised by government documents, news reports and the statements of detainees themselves," Raymond told Truthout in an interview. 

For all its rules and Standard Operating Procedures, Guantanamo remains a lawless place, where maltreatment of prisoners continues and torture is by no means a banished evil. The continuation of Appendix M interrogations at the facility, steeped in techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and creation of strong fear, guarantees that abuse continues.

Because this is happening under a Democratic Party administration, oversight by former critics of the Bush administration - especially in Congress - is muted, for fear of tarnishing the reputation of the Democratic Party. That's one major reason these stories are not being reported. No one is bothering to look, for fear of what they might find. Hence, no major investigations either, at least not for public consumption.

Reposted under guidelines of Creative Commons Attribution - Non-Commercial 3.0 License

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grand Guignol in Afghanistan: U.S. Soldiers Kill for "Sport", Collect Fingers as "Trophies"

UK Guardian: "Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret 'kill team' that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies."

In the U.S., there's been little coverage of this tale of U.S. atrocities, first reported last week. It must not be as important as the latest Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck piece. But here's Hal Bernton at the Seattle Times reporting a story the New York Times and Washington Post have still failed to report:
As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses.

The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.
But wait! Maybe there is a Palin angle:
Army investigators have built a substantial portion of their case upon the statements of Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, who is alleged to have participated in some of the crimes.
War atrocities are unfortunately not that uncommon, but the U.S. sanitized coverage of the military actions of American soldiers abroad guarantees that this kind of thing rarely reaches the ears of "Homeland" citizens. For a disturbing, yet partial list of such atrocities in Afghanistan, see this CommonDreams article from last April. Of course, in no small measure, the impact of the Wikileaks leak of thousands of U.S. documents on Afghanistan was to publicize the killings of civilians and how they were repeatedly covered up. On the other hand, when last year there were reports the Taliban cut off the fingers of two Afghan voters, Fox News and the right-wing war propaganda machine were right on top of it.

According to Associated Press, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs formed the "kill team," and he collected more than dead man digits, obtaining besides finger bones, leg bones and a tooth from victims. Some reports say a skull was kept as a trophy, though its recipient wasn't named. The entire sick plot was discovered only after one soldier was severely beaten for supposedly "snitching" about the crimes. Some of the soldiers apparently had their own second thoughts. AP reports that one of them, Spc. Adam Winfield, "sent frantic messages" to his family about the crimes.
"I'm not sure what to do about something that happened out here but I need to be secretive about this," Winfield wrote to his parents in a Facebook message obtained by the AP.

"Should I do the right thing and put myself in danger for it. Or just shut up and deal with it," he wrote. "There are no more good men left here. It eats away at my conscience everyday."
Some of the soldiers involved face penalties of life imprisonment or death. Other charges against this group of soldiers includes possession of hashish, obstruction of justice, and various weapons charges. According to Agence France-Presse the Pentagon is worried about how the news will affect support for the war effort.
The allegations against soldiers recently deployed in southern Afghanistan have yet to be proven but are "serious nonetheless," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters....

Even if the allegations are proved to be untrue, the case "is unhelpful," Morrell said.

"It does not help the perceptions of our forces around the world," he said.
No kidding. Running an imperial war is not easy, especially when racist and prejudiced attitudes at home and in the military are rampant. In the days surrounding the revelations of the "kill team" atrocities in Afghanistan, back in the United States the media was fixated on an obscure religious kook who wanted to burn the Koran, and never-ending diatribes about the building of an Islamic cultural center some four blocks from the previous location of the World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, let's not forget how spook agencies tolerate crazy propaganda from within their own midst. Case in point, the 2004 article by a Harvard lecturer and former Chief of Neuropsychiatry at Guantanamo Bay in the house organ of the American Federation of Intelligence Officers, which made the shocking claim that "hard-core zealots" had "brains that are structurally and functionally different from us." The author, William Henry Anderson, M.D, then opined that 100,000 "zealots" within the Muslim body politic would have to be eliminated, the way "malignant [cancer] cells" are removed from a healthy body. Despite a protest from a psychologist member, the AFIO would not denounce Anderson's article.

These soldiers must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Such a prosecution is not a foregone conclusion, because though charging sheets have been drawn up, as BBC reports, "the cases were in a preliminary phase of investigation and military prosecutors had yet to decide whether to move ahead with proceedings."

But their superiors should be put on trial, too. It seems incredible that no one higher than a sergeant knew what was going on. Indeed, as the Christian Science Monitor and AP accounts make clear, Spc. Adam Winfield's father, informed by his son of the crimes, made numerous attempts to inform the Army about what was happening.

But such a trial might have to take place in the court of public opinion, where opposition to the losing war in Afghanistan continues to build.

Washington Post Rehabilitates Abu Zubaydah Torturer

Cross-posted from The Seminal/FDL

I haven't been blogging much of late, as I'm working on a few big investigative pieces. The first, due out later this week at Truthout, will take up the issue of the involuntary drugging of detainees, previously the subject of a big Washington Post exposé in April 2008. Another article, on the build-up to the torture and experimentation program inside the Department of Defense in 2001-2002 (co-written with Jason Leopold) also will be out soon. Meanwhile, the news scans by, and while I can count on Marcy, Spencer, Leopold, Jim White, Jeff Stein and others to catch and comment on the most egregious stories, others simply scroll onwards without comment.

One such story concerns an article by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post at the end of last month. Entitled "Guide tells how terrorism suspect became informant," Pincus related the tale of a pre-9/11 interrogation described in "a newly disclosed 2009 teaching guide for government interrogators by the director of national intelligence's Intelligence Science Board [ISB]." The guide recounts, among other examples, the interrogation of Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, a suspect in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya that killed 218 people. Al-Owhali was later convicted for his part in the terrorist action, and sentenced to life without parole in May 2001.

The ISB study (PDF) was initially linked at Secrecy News, where Steven Aftergood calls the ISB "an official advisory group to the Director of National Intelligence." (A note at the Intelligence & Security Academy website describes the ISB as serving under the Director of Central Intelligence.) The purpose of the teaching study was to ostensibly examine "important recent examples of effective, non-coercive intelligence interviewing with high value detainees."

And non-coercive it certainly appears to be, as Pincus reports it. The FBI interrogator hands out butterscotch candy to suspects to build rapport. He shows a "'demonstrated appreciation' for the Muslim beliefs of the suspect and the interpreter." He shares meals with Al-Owhali, and even when the interrogation falls into a "good cop, bad cop" pattern, the occurrence is supposedly unplanned. In the end, the hardened Al Qaeda terrorist gives in, telling his captors, "If you promise I'll be tried in the United States, I'll tell you everything. America is my enemy, not Kenya. I will tell you all about involvement with the bombings, bin Laden and al-Qaeda."

There are two things about the Pincus story that I thought important. For one thing, Pincus selectively chose the Al-Owhali case and ignored the other major "teaching" example, which involved initial physical torture, and three subsequent years of isolation and sensory deprivation of a prisoner. And then, as a second fact of some note, Pincus chose the story of Al-Owhali interrogator FBI Special Agent Stephen Gaudin without once mentioning the latter's dubious role in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah.

A Tale of Two (FBI) Interrogators

The story of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in Thailand has been told now many times, in more than one version, and even still all the facts are not known. The Zubaydah interrogation was made famous as the purported experimental test case for the new "enhanced interrogation techniques" (EIT) of the CIA. The famous "second" Yoo/Bybee memo of August 1, 2002 was meant to authorize torture techniques on Zubaydah. The EITs, which included waterboarding, wall slamming, sleep deprivation, stress positions, insects in a confinement box, and more, were derived via reverse-engineering the torture techniques taught in the the "Resistance to Interrogation" classes of the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE survival schools.

One version of the story comes from the testimony of Ali Soufan, one of the FBI agents present at the Zubaydah interrogation. According to his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2009, he and his FBI compatriot (who turned out to be Stephen Gaudin), who had supposed great success eliciting information from Zubaydah using standard interrogation techniques, were appalled when James Mitchell and the Counter-Terrorism Center team arrived, and began to implement their harsh form of interrogation. Gaudin, Soufan and "a top CIA interrogator who was working with [them]" protested to their superiors, and the FBI pulled Soufan out. Gaudin stayed for a month or so longer, though Soufan never mentioned that. (Soufan's testimony also touts as "successful" the elicitation of the supposed "dirty bomb" plot of Binyam Mohamed and Jose Padilla, intelligence that was later discredited, and Mohamed, at least, was released from Guantanamo last year.)

The 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report (PDF) on detainee abuse was the product of the biggest and longest investigation of U.S. torture outside the Pentagon or the Executive Branch. In their report, Senator Carl Levin's investigators gave a very different view of what went down in Thailand:

The FBI Special Agent [Soufan] told the DoJ Inspector General that he also "raised objections to these techniques to the CIA and told the CIA it was 'borderline torture." According to the unclassified DoJ Inspector General's report, a second FBI agent present [Gaudin] did not have a "'moral objection'" to the techniques and noted that he had "undergone comparable harsh interrogation techniques as part of the U.S. Army Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training."

[One short paragraph redacted]

(U) According to the DoJ Inspector General's report, FBI Counterterrorism Assistant Director Pat D'Amuro gave the instruction to both FBI agents to "come home and not participate in the CIA interrogation." The first FBI Special Agent left immediately, but the other FBI agent remained until early June 2002.

In Jane Mayer's version of events, recounted in her book, The Dark Side, she gives what is essentially Soufan's version, and even states that both FBI agents, being appalled, left the interrogation, unable to stop the "experiment" that was the EITs. Even so, the SASC's version is more authoritative, drawing as it does on the May 2008 Department of Justice Inspector General's report (PDF) on "the FBI's Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq."

The DoJ IG Report is revealing about the actions of Soufan and Gaudin, called Thomas and Gibson in the report, respectively. Not only were these FBI agents present when the CIA arrived, but they participated in interrogations of Zubaydah when he had already been subjected to sleep deprivation, shackling, and stress positions. Indeed, the FBI had been instructed by their superiors when they arrived not to give Zubaydah any Miranda warnings. Even more, Gibson/Gaudin was singled out in the report for participating in the CIA's use of the EITs, having been assured by the CIA that the techniques were "approved 'at the highest levels' and that [he] would not get in any trouble."

Yet, in the end, the IG report absolved Gibson/Gaudin of his participation in CIA torture, noting that at the time of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah Gibson/Gaudin had received "no guidance" regarding participation in the CIA's "non-FBI techniques". Instead he had been told that regular FBI procedure was not to be followed (no Miranda warning, no FD-302 interview summaries). As a result, the IG concluded that "under these circumstances, there was insufficient basis to conclude that Gibson's cooperation with the CIA while the CIA was using non-FBI techniques on Zubaydah violated clear FBI policy." (See pp. 321-324 of the DoJ IG report.)

None of all this, of course, is mentioned in Pincus's bright and glowing review of the al-Owhali interrogation. But even more, there's nothing about this in the ISB's own document, which presents the al-Owhali interrogation as a teaching exercise. That the ISB is disingenous about really reforming U.S. interrogation is made manifest by the other major interrogation case study presented in the report.

The ISB presents the story of Nguyen Tai, "the most senior North Vietnamese officer ever captured during the Vietnam War." After months of brutal torture by the South Vietnamese government -- without the production of useful intelligence -- Tai is turned over to U.S. interrogators, who keep Tai imprisoned in total isolation for three years, his room "painted all in white, lit by bright lights 24 hours a day, and cooled by a powerful air-conditioner." When some useful intel is finally "educed" out of Mr. Tai, the ISB commentary chalks this up to "the skillful questions and psychological ploys" of the American interrogators, never mentioning the deleterious effects that three years of psychological torture may have produced in the prisoner. Instead, the ISB intones there was no "physical infliction of pain," and leaves the student interrogator to ponder the wonders of "non-coercive" interrogation.

The ISB has been linked to the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, that the Obama administration implemented as a supposed reform of Bush-era interrogation abuses. While the worst elements of the EITs may have ended -- I've heard no further reports of waterboarding, for instance -- terrible abuses and torture, with roots in the sensory deprivation research of the CIA and military in the 1950s-1970s, and fully implemented in the KUBARK CIA interrogation manual of the 1960s, continue to this day. In fact, we can see that such techniques as isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation are still a staple of U.S. interrogation, as evidenced by the special techniques reserved for non-POWs in Appendix M of the current Army Field Manual.

One wonders what impulse directed Walter Pincus and the Washington Post to consider rehabilitating the image of an FBI agent heavily criticized in two government investigations of detainee abuse. I suppose one wishes to take care of one's own, and following the non-accountability orders of the Obama administration, who asks us not to look back at the crimes of the past, that is just what the Post is doing. Or is it? The account of the al-Owhali interrogation is precisely a look back at a sanitized past, which is exactly the kind of past the current administration appears willing to allow. The relative disinterest of many progressive commentators, the press, and Democratic politicians in pursuing an investigation of not just past crimes, but undertaking an examination of the forces at work today in constructing interrogation policy, only ensures that abuses will continue.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Morton Feldman's "Neither"

Written to a sparse libretto by Samuel Beckett, this is Feldman's only opera. The clip below is of the first ten minutes of a filed version by Barrie Gavin. The Radio-Sinfonie-Orchestra of Frankfurt is conducted by Zoltan Pesko.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

9th Circuit Adopts "State Secrets" Defense Against Jeppensen Rendition-Torture Victims

In yet another outrage in the torture scandal, according to an ACLU press release, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ostensibly the most liberal such court in the nation, has ruled Wednesday in an en banc hearing that the lawsuit of five men kidnapped and tortured by the United States government is dismissed, as trespassing upon "state secrets" privileges by the government. The ruling follows an appeal by the Obama administration, who has proven the worthy successor to the Bush/Cheney executive, striving to keep secret state actions of rendition and torture.

The five men include former prisoner Binyam Mohamed, whose case has been covered extensively by the press, and whose torture is a key reason the government of Great Britain recently announced that there would be an investigation of British collaboration with the United States on the torture and rendition programs. A UK Guardian story reported on protests by the legal charity Reprieve over the appointment of the intelligence-linked Sir Peter Gibson to head the inquiry. I'd made much the same exception to Gibson's appointment in my coverage of the announcement of the inquiry back in July. Of course, the British government claims no conflict of interest for the 76-year-old Gibson, who is Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA).

The 9th Circuit's final vote was tight, 6-5, and the decision and the dissents are well-worth reading (PDF). But this ruling is an outrage, and another indication of the anti-democratic nature of this supposed democratic state, made more ironic and sickening when you consider that the U.S. military spills the blood of hundreds of thousands, and makes refugees out of millions more, all in the name of spreading "Democracy." It would be funny, if it weren't so... so criminal and disgusting.

Consider this story from just one of the five defendants, Ahmed Agiza, seeking damages against Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc, the Boeing subsidiary that leased the planes used in some of the torture renditions. He was kidnapped by the CIA from Sweden and sent to Egyptian torturers three months after 9/11. Note, too, that Sweden had negotiated with Egypt guarantees of humane treatment (for all of you who believe the Obama administration's claims that getting guarantees regarding conditions of imprisonment and interrogation from "host" countries makes rendition "safe"). From the court's ruling:
Plaintiff Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian national who had been seeking asylum in Sweden, was captured by Swedish authori- ties, allegedly transferred to American custody and flown to Egypt. In Egypt, he claims he was held for five weeks “in a squalid, windowless, and frigid cell,” where he was “severely and repeatedly beaten” and subjected to electric shock through electrodes attached to his ear lobes, nipples and geni- tals. Agiza was held in detention for two and a half years, after which he was given a six-hour trial before a military court, convicted and sentenced to 15 years in Egyptian prison. According to plaintiffs, “[v]irtually every aspect of Agiza’s rendition, including his torture in Egypt, has been publicly acknowledged by the Swedish government.”
From the ACLU press release:
SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court today dismissed a case against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc. for its role in the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition program. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Northern California filed the lawsuit in May 2007 on behalf of five men who were kidnapped by the CIA, forcibly disappeared to U.S.-run prisons overseas and tortured. The Bush administration intervened in the case, improperly asserting the "state secrets" privilege in an attempt to have the lawsuit thrown out.

In April 2009, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the government must invoke the state secrets privilege with respect to specific pieces of evidence – not over an entire lawsuit. The Obama administration appealed that ruling, and in December the appeal was heard by an en banc panel of all 11 Ninth Circuit judges. According to the ACLU, today's ruling all but shuts the door on accountability for the illegal program. The ACLU intends to seek Supreme Court review of the decision.

The following can be attributed to Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit:

"This is a sad day not only for the torture victims whose attempt to seek justice has been extinguished, but for all Americans who care about the rule of law and our nation's reputation in the world. To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had his day in court. If today's decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers. The torture architects and their enablers may have escaped the judgment of this court, but they will not escape the judgment of history."

Attorneys on the case are Wizner, Steven Watt, Steven R. Shapiro and Jameel Jaffer of the national ACLU, Julia Harumi Mass of the ACLU of Northern California, Paul Hoffman of the law firm Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP and Hope Metcalf of the Yale Law School Lowenstein Clinic. In addition, Margaret L. Satterthwaite and Amna Akbar of the International Human Rights Clinic of New York University School of Law and Clive Stafford-Smith and Zachary Katznelson represent plaintiffs in this case.
Others are responding to this terrible decision by the Ninth Circuit, including Marcy Wheeler, Nick Baumann, Josh Gerstein, and Garrett at Daily Kos. For more on the rendition story, see my article at Firedoglake last July, UK on U.S. Rendition: “Is it clear that detention, rather than killing, is the objective of the operation?” For an even longer historical perspective, read The Real Roots of the CIA's Rendition and Black Sites Program by H.P. Albarelli and Jeffrey Kaye, published at last February.

Bottom line? Ben Wizner described it well, calling it a sad, sad day for all torture victims, as well as those who care about the rule of law. Marcy Wheeler put it more acerbicly:
So basically, the government can kidnap you and send you to be tortured – as they did with Binyam Mohamed – yet even if your contractors acknowledge what they were doing, if the government wants to call their own law-breaking a secret, the most liberal Circuit Court in the country agrees they can.
In a related story, see Adam Goldman's AP piece on the torture of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a CIA black site prison in Poland, where he had been sent via rendition back in 2002 and 2003. Al-Nashiri famously had both a gun and a drill held threateningly to his head during the torture. Ostensibly, according to the article, the torturer in question was an ex-FBI agent and CIA interrogator named "Albert." The article looks meant to warn DoJ prosecutor John Durham not to bother with a prosecution of the CIA agents involved, as doing so would open a can of worms, since previously DoJ declined prosecution, and "Albert" went on to work for the CIA for years after his "reprimand" in the Nashiri case.

As al-Nashiri's attorney said about her client's case:
"Terrorizing a hooded, shackled prisoner is torture," [Nancy] Hollander said. "I will do everything in my power to make sure the world knows that agents of the U.S. government tortured my client and have now held him in violation of U.S. and international law for over eight years."

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