Monday, June 13, 2011

Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld Appeal Filed

Center for Constitutional Rights has filed an appeal for the families of two of the three men who died in mysterious circumstances in June 2006. The U.S. government called it "asymmetrical warfare" by the detainees, who are said to have killed themselves in some belief that would hurt the U.S. government. As bizarre as that theory is, Defense Department investigations found the men committed suicide in a multiple, timed series of three planned suicides.

But as an investigation by Scott Horton at Harper's Magazine, and one by Seton Hall School of Law's Center for Policy and Research, demonstrated, the investigation did not hold up to scrutiny. Indeed, the legal case hinges on new eyewitness testimony from four Guantanamo guards who have come forward to tell what they saw that fateful night.

The legal maneuvers throw recent media attempts to discredit the Horton investigation, which won a prestigious magazine journalism prize last month, in a new and more ominous light. (See my story on one such hit piece published in Adweek.)

But the D.C. District Court is citing secrecy issues to keep the new evidence from even being presented. CCR released a press release on Monday discussing the case:
June 13, 2011, Washington and New York – Today, nearly five years to the day after three men died at Guantánamo in June 2006 under still-unexplained circumstances, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel are appealing the dismissal by the District Court for the District of Columbia of a civil lawsuit Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld. The military has maintained that the deaths were suicides, having once famously called them “acts of asymmetrical warfare.” In January 2010, new evidence from four soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths came to light, suggesting that the military’s narrative was a cover-up and that the men may have been killed at a black site at Guantanamo.

“My son Yasser was 17 when he was taken to Guantánamo and 21 when he died there,” said Talal Al-Zahrani, father of Yasser Al-Zahrani. “I have waited for five years for meaningful answers to my questions about how my son died, but the U.S. government has never contacted me. Not when my son died, not in response to my questions afterwards and not to this day. And the fact that the government has not only failed to properly investigate his death but is also attempting to block review by the courts is both hard to believe and very painful for my family. We just want the truth and for those responsible to be held accountable.”

Nashwan Al-Salami, whose brother Salah also died at Guantánamo, said, “For five years the U.S. government and courts have blocked my family’s efforts to know the truth about how my brother died. My father died without ever learning what happened to his son, and I continue to hope for real answers and justice.”

The families had presented the new evidence from the soldiers to the district court, requesting that it reconsider its prior dismissal of the case. The court denied the request, holding that even with allegations of an off-site killing, national security “special factors” continue to bar the constitutional claims and that the defendants are further protected by qualified immunity. With respect to the international law claims, the court held that the new evidence was insufficient to challenge the presumption that the defendants were acting within the scope of their authorized duties and were entitled to absolute immunity. Courts have consistently relied on “special factors,” “state secrets” and the “political question” doctrines to dismiss torture and abuse cases brought before them. Not once in the past decade has a court either evaluated the actual facts of such a case or ruled on the legality of the conduct.

CCR attorneys pointed to other documented examples of deaths and killings covered-up by the military in the recent past, including the falsification of records in the death of former football player Pat Tillman and the premeditated murders of Afghan civilians by members of the Army’s Bravo Company.

“The new evidence is not the result of the wild speculations of the families, or their attorneys, or a journalist. It comes from the eye-witness accounts of four decorated soldiers who were compelled to come forward by their consciences, out of a sense of duty, and at great personal and professional risk. In this context, where the only people who know the truth are our clients’ dead sons and individuals within the government, the information these four men have brought forward is critical. It must give these families a chance to reopen their case. It is shameful that this information hasn’t been given greater consideration by the court,” said CCR staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, lead counsel in the case.

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights called on supporters to demand an independent investigation into the deaths and to ask the Obama Justice Department to change course from the prior administration’s policy of attempting to block every torture and abuse case, including Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, from proceeding. In all these cases, the victims and their families seek accountability, justice and answers.

The case, filed on behalf of the families of two of the deceased men, 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. Early last year, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. 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.

The suit was brought by CCR and co-counsel William Goodman of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C. and Johanna Kalb of the College of Law at Loyola University.

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 or
See also Andy Worthington's two recent articles covering this news:

Teleconference: Five Years After Disputed “Suicides” at Guantánamo, Father of Dead Man Appeals Court’s Refusal to Consider His Case

Relatives of Disputed Guantánamo Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal in US Court

In the article on the teleconference, Andy quoted Terek Dergoul, a former detainee who spent two years at Guantanamo and was released in 2004. He shared a cell right next to Yasser al-Zahrani, and spoke about the dead men, each of whom he knew fairly well.
Tarek Dergoul said:
I knew Yasser, Salah, and Mani personally, for a long period of time, and I knew of their deep will to resist being broken by Guantánamo and to live. These were beautiful men, and Yasser and Mani used to sing songs and recite poetry to lift the spirits of the other detained men. They always fought for the rights of all of us to be free from the abuses we were tormented with, and they were repeatedly subjected to harsh treatment because of this. I have never believed these men committed suicide as the government claims.

EXCLUSIVE: New Documents Claim Intelligence on Bin Laden, al-Qaeda Targets Withheld From Congress' 9/11 Probe

by: Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold, Truthout | Report
On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, just as he has done in years past, a top military intelligence analyst identified by the US government only as "Iron Man" will hunker down in front of his television and watch a particularly gruesome scene of the carnage left behind on that fateful day.

"Although I try to avoid it, I glimpse a film clip, a scene, of people throwing themselves from a burning tower, people who deserved better protection from their country, from me and the men I worked with, and I hear the sounds of the lobby in the [World Trade Center] on tape," said the man, whose alter ego chosen by the government appears to be paying homage to the Marvel Comics superhero [4]. "To me, the sights and sounds, the smoke of that day are not yet history. They are a knot, a silence, a facial tick, a missing friend in Iraq. They are not history yet."

For many Americans, the emotional reaction to President Barack Obama's announcement last month that a Navy Seal team had killed Osama bin Laden during a raid at his compound in Pakistan was celebratory. But for others, like the mysterious Iron Man, who has spent his career lurking in the shadows, the death of the late al-Qaeda leader is a painful reminder of what could have been avoided had the government heeded numerous early warnings of an impending attack against the very targets terrorists struck on 9/11.

The intelligence failures leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are an issue the media - and lawmakers - put to bed years ago, despite the fact that new information continues to trickle out, undercutting the integrity of the official investigations into who knew what and when.

It was an exclusive story [5] Truthout published May 23 in the wake of Bin Laden's death, focusing on a little-known intelligence unit that was ordered to stop tracking his movements prior to 9/11, and led Iron Man to contact Truthout to share previously undisclosed documents he recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [6], which appear to cast further doubt on the official narrative and suggests high-level military and intelligence officials withheld key evidence from Congressional lawmakers probing the attacks.

The materials Iron Man provided to Truthout stand as the most revealing information to surface in years regarding Bin Laden and al-Qaeda's plans to attack the United States.

This is the first page of "Iron Man's" complaint to the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General related to intelligence work he did on Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.
This is the first page of "Iron Man's" complaint to the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General related to intelligence work he did on Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Formal Complaint

Five years ago, Iron Man, who requested Truthout conceal his true identity out of concern for his family's privacy, lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General after he was accused of improperly handling classified material.
Iron Man filed a FOIA request in September 2006, seeking a declassified copy of the six-page complaint he filed with the inspector general's office. He finally received a copy on April 8, just a few weeks prior to the raid on Bin Laden's compound.

What he revealed in that letter, portions of which were redacted by the government because the information is classified, is the inner workings of an elite intelligence unit he headed at one point: the Asymmetric Threats Division, formed in 1999, and "charged with reporting on asymmetric threats, especially terrorism."

The unit worked with Joint Task Force-Civil Support (JTF-CS), also set up in 1999. According to the Defense Department (DoD), JTF-CS was charged with supporting "terrorist response operations in the continental US" and providing "military assistance to civil authorities."
The Asymmetric Threats Division is referred to as DO5, a branch of the Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC), whose responsibilities included, among other things, vetting human intelligence sources on behalf of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). From 1998 to 2001, Iron Man was working as a counterterrorism/counterintelligence analyst for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), assigned to JFIC.

The JFIC is an elite intelligence unit that falls under the authority of the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) and "had a direct and assigned purview on international terrorism against the US, to include the operations of al-Qa'ida and the 9/11 attackers."

The JFIC was also responsible for monitoring Bin Laden and other suspected terrorists who resided in Afghanistan between 1998 and 2000 and was charged with constructing likely scenarios that could be carried out by terrorists and possible government responses.

Iron Man noted the "purpose of the letter" he wrote "is to formally complain" to the inspector general that "JFIC, when instructed in or before May 2002 to provide all original material it might have relevant to al-Qa'ida and the 9/11 attacks for a Congressional inquiry, intentionally misinformed the Department of Defense that it had no purview on such matters and no such material."

"JFIC's role" and the DoD's "role, in the pursuit of al-Qa'ida before 9/11 and timely analysis of the targets actually struck by the 9/11 attackers have remained unknown even to senior DoD officials," the letter says.

Moreover, there has never been a public accounting of the work conducted by DO5. But Iron Man's letter provides deep insight into the secret military intelligence group's highly classified activities.

Tracking Terrorists

DO5 was "a fore-runner of current all-source fusion centers," the letter Iron Man wrote says. Individuals assigned to the unit had "a wide mix of skills" in intelligence disciplines, including human and open-source intelligence, signals intelligence and imagery and signature intelligence.

DO5 drafted "numerous original reports ... identifying probable and possible movements and locations of Usama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar," including likely identification of the house where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed allegedly planned the 9/11 attacks.

From 1999 to 2001, the intelligence unit also "conducted imagery analysis of Jalalabad and Qandahar" and other parts of Afghanistan as they were "pulled into a community-wide initiative on al-Qa'ida."

The letter further states, "DO5 was able to 'scoop' [the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency]," an agency which played a crucial role in identifying the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden had been hiding.

According to US government officials, it was one of Bin Laden's most trusted couriers, whom intelligence operatives identified about five years ago, that led the CIA to pinpoint Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.

But Iron Man's 2006 letter states that DO5 worked closely with DIA and was instrumental in identifying "a likely financial courier" for al-Qaeda, and one who may have led intelligence officials directly to Bin Laden well before 9/11.

Early Intelligence Pointed to the World Trade Center, Pentagon

In 2002, following his departure to DIA, Iron Man returned to JFIC to teach two classes on asymmetric warfare, and he kept "numerous" slides related to DO5's work on "pre-9/11 briefings."

As Iron Man explained in his letter of complaint to DoD's inspector general, "upon my arrival at DIA, I had these documents e-mailed from JFIC to my DIA account, so that I could use them as references for the asymmetric warfare course I was drafting for DIA, and as references for any future counter-terrorism work I might pursue at DIA."

It appears that the allegation Iron Man mishandled classified material stems from a decision he made to email the briefing slides to his DIA account. Iron Man declined to elaborate about the circumstances of the allegations leveled against him. Still, what he reveals in his carefully worded letter in response to those charges is explosive.

"I kept the original classifications on the slides, as historical documents, although the fact that al-Qa'ida was likely to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was clearly no longer classified." (Emphasis added.)

Iron Man further elaborated on this point by stating that high-level DoD officials held discussions about DO5's intelligence activities between the summer of 2000 and June 2001 revolving around al-Qaeda's interest in striking the Pentagon, the World Trade Center (WTC), and other targets.

In other words, the Bush administration was fully aware the terrorist organization had set its sights on those structures prior to 9/11 and, apparently, government officials failed to act on those warnings.

For example, Iron Man states in his letter that in the summer of 2000, DO5 briefed USJFCOM senior intelligence officials and staffers, including the deputy commander in chief, on the "WMD Threat to the U.S."

Iron Man describes a "sensitive," "oral briefing" that took place that summer "indicating that the World Trade Centers #1 and #2 were the most likely buildings to be attacked [by al-Qaeda], followed closely by the Pentagon. The briefer indicated that the worst case scenario would be one tower collapsed onto another."

Furthermore, as he states in his letter, Iron Man was certain that such a scenario was part of a "red cell analysis" discussion that took place prior to the intelligence briefing and included a finding that the buildings "could be struck by a jetliner." He wrote that there was a suggestion about alerting WTC security and engineering or architectural staff, "but the idea was not further explored because of a command climate discouraging contact with the civilian community."

One official who attended the DO5 briefing was Vice Adm. Martin J. Meyer, the deputy commander in chief (DCINC), USJFCOM (Iron Man's complaint does not identify Meyer by name, but notes the presence of the "DCINC" for USJFCOM). But despite the red flags raised during the briefing, Meyer [7] reportedly told Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), and other high-level CONR staffers two weeks before the 9/11 attacks that "their concern about Osama bin Laden as a possible threat to America was unfounded and that, to repeat, 'If everyone would just turn off CNN, there wouldn't be a threat from Osama bin Laden.'"

Mayer retired from the Navy in 2003 and was hired [8] by defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Intelligence Withheld From Congress

Even worse, according to Iron Man's letter, the information DO5 had collected about Bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the lead up to 9/11 was withheld from Congress after the House and Senate Intelligence Committees launched an investigation into the attacks.

"When the Justice Department requested all documents relating to 9/11 from DoD in May 2002, I notified [redacted] in the DIA Congressional Affairs office that I retained these documents," Iron Man's letter states. "I spoke to [redacted] JFIC DI1 [an individual who works in the command administrative staff], who informed me that JFIC had already submitted a response without any documents. I was surprised and disappointed when my successor at DO5 [redacted] notified me of the full JFIC non-response. I notified [redacted] in the Congressional Affairs office, and was told to submit the documents as DIA documents, with an explanatory e-mail. I did so on 29 May 2002, presuming (probably correctly) that the documents might be overlooked, since they originated at JFIC. I forwarded copies to [redacted] (who was departing JFIC that week), (his subordinate), and [redacted] (who was also departing JFIC that week)."

A DoD spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. Spokespeople for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees also did not respond to calls for comment.

After raising his concerns, Iron Man, who from late 2000 to June 2001 was acting head of DO5, was told by his former boss that JFIC's formal response to Congress' inquiries was that "al-Qaida and the 9/11 attacks had been outside JFIC's purview and that JFIC consequently held no material on those issues," which was a lie.

Iron Man's boss said, "He insisted [to officials who responded to the Congressional inquiries] that such was not the case, but was told this was JFIC's response."

Iron Man wrote that "many people" working at government agencies were knowledgeable about JFIC's "role in preparing original analysis" on al-Qaeda, including officials at the CIA, NCIS, USJFCOM, DIA and NSA, whose names were redacted in the letter he sent to DoD's inspector general.

However, after conducting at least 300 interviews and reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, the final report issued by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in December 2002, into "Intelligence Community Activities Before And After The Terrorist Attacks Of September 11, 2001" did not cite any of DO5's work on al-Qaeda or Bin Laden or the fact that the intelligence unit was able to identify the terrorist group's top two targets in the US. The later 2004 9/11 Commission Report did not mention DO5 or JFIC.

Flawed DoD Investigation

Although the inspector general acted on Iron Man's complaint and launched an investigation, the findings of the probe, outlined in a report [9], declassified last year, previously reported by Truthout, was highly flawed and failed to address Iron Man's charges that intelligence was withheld from Congress.

Indeed, it appears the author of the inspector general's report confused Congress' investigation into the 9/11 attacks with the independent National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States [10], otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission, created in late 2002 by legislation passed by Congress. The inspector general's report insisted it did not find any "evidence that the Joint Forces Intelligence Command misled Congress by withholding operational information in response to the 9/11 Commission."

But Iron Man's complaint specifically addressed intelligence withheld from Congress' inquiries into the 9/11 attacks, not the independent panel's probe, thereby dismissing an allegation Iron Man had never made.

Iron Man told Truthout the inspector general's final report "was, shall we say, very incorrect, and intentionally did not address the full scope of the [his] complaint. "

The watchdog did not tackle another of Iron Man's explosive claims about DO5 briefings that centered on "numerous examples and suggestions of how [Osama bin Laden] was being hunted by JFIC and could be hunted by the [intelligence community]."
One such briefing held for a "DIA senior intelligence officer on counterterrorism" was entitled "The Search (for Osama bin Laden) - A [commander in chief] Level View," which included "a compendium of imagery of [a] suspected [Bin Laden] house dating from 23 August 1999 until 11 April 2000."

At the briefing, intelligence officials were informed that "eleven special reports" by DO5 had been disseminated in the "Daily Intelligence Summary on [Bin Laden], Taliban leadership, Afghan military movements, UN locations, and the economic status of Afghanistan."
Another briefing for the counterintelligence/counterterrorism chief at NCIS, and about 30 NCIS agents, "clearly stated the JFIC's Asymmetric Threat Division monitored 'worldwide [counterterrorism/counterintelligence] traffic' and routinely prepared 'analytic reports' and 'supplements national agencies with original intelligence on [Bin Laden] and Afghanistan.'"

Congress was kept in the dark about those discussions and was not shown the documents distributed to intelligence officials at the briefings. The inspector general never bothered to find out why. Remarkably, the watchdog stated in its report, "JFIC did not have the mission to track Usama Bin Ladin or predict imminent US targets."

Iron Man told Truthout it was key intelligence withheld from Congress about al-Qaeda and Bin Laden's pre-9/11 activities that also played a part in his decision to file a complaint with the inspector general.

"My concern was not only that the 9/11 commission had not been informed, but the larger Congress, in its larger oversight responsibilities, had also not been informed," he said.

A Heavy Burden

What remains unclear is exactly what took place back in May 2006 that prompted Iron Man's complaint to the inspector general, given that the issues he had raised centered on events that unfolded four years earlier.

The answer to that question can be found in these passages of Iron Man's letter, particularly the last few sentences:
"My motivation for this complaint is multi-faceted," Iron Man wrote. "I do believe that knowledge of the work done by DO5 would add to DoD's understanding of its role in the events leading up to 9/11, and how to avoid future attacks ... I have been falsely accused of revealing classified information on DO5's work, when I am certain that information is not and has not been classified since 9/11, and I do want to see myself cleared of that false accusation.

"In addition, I and the deputy of that team, [redacted], especially carried the burden of knowledge of how close DoD came to bin Ladin and perhaps being able to reduce the number of lives lost on 9/11 ..."
The deputy whose name the government redacted from Iron Man's letter, is believed to be Kirk von Ackermann, a former Air Force captain and intelligence analyst, who was working for the US Army as a contractor in Iraq and disappeared in October 2003 while traveling between Tikrit and Kirkuk. A computer, a briefcase containing $40,000, and other materials were found in von Ackerman's vehicle after he went missing.

Because von Ackerman's name was classified in the complaint Iron Man filed with the inspector general, he could not confirm whether von Ackerman is the individual he was referring to.

Just three months after Iron Man filed his complaint with DoD's inspector general, in August 2006, the Army Criminal Investigative Service concluded that von Ackerman had been kidnapped and killed. His remains have never been found nor has anyone claimed responsibility for his death.

Von Ackerman's tragic story [11] has been previously reported by journalist-blogger Susie Dow on the web site e Pluribus Media, but has largely remained under the radar. In a May 6 article she published on her personal blog, Dow identified von Ackermann as a member of JFIC's Asymmetric Threats Division. Iron Man's complaint suggests he ultimately became deputy chief of DO5.

In October 2006, Dow wrote [12] that von Ackermann was "assigned to a counterterrorism team."

"You'll find no mention of either Kirk von Ackermann or his team in the 9-11 Commission report.... Well before 9-11, Kirk von Ackermann predicted aircraft could be hijacked and used as weapons against the United States. He also predicted potential targets."

Von Ackerman's wife, Megan von Ackerman, has maintained a blog called "Missing in Iraq [13]," dedicated to her missing husband. In March 2006, she wrote that her husband had planned for such a catastrophic event, but his warnings were ignored:
"... When 9/11 happened everyone around us reacted as normal, civilians would - shock, horror, fear ... but Kirk, isolated from the intelligence and military community of people who knew what he knew, felt what he felt, was essentially alone," Megan von Ackerman wrote. "For a year he had spent his days imagining just this sort of scenario. He had come up with countless plans, evaluated targets, totaled up casualties and estimated political value. He had thought like a terrorist so he could stop them. Now he had to watch it made horribly real - the nightmare he had worked so hard to avoid ... Kirk had tried to make the warning, he had worked endless hours to stop this very thing happening. He knew he had no guilt that he had been ignored. But he retained an enormous sense of responsibility - not only for what happened, but for dealing with the new world that 9/11 ushered in."
Knowing exactly how close he, von Ackerman and DO5 came to capturing Bin Laden and possibly thwarting the attacks on 9/11 is a "burden" Iron Man said he "no longer wants to carry."

"[Redacted] and I discussed this issue the last time we spoke," Iron Man wrote in the final paragraph of his letter to the inspector general, likely referring to von Ackerman. "He remains the longest missing man in Iraq in this war, and I want, one day, to be able to explain to his children what their father foresaw."
Creative Commons License [14]

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License [14].

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reposting FDL Book Salon: Robert Jay Lifton's new memoir, "Witness to an Extreme Century"

I had a great time hosting Firedoglake's Book Salon this afternoon. The guest was famous psychohistorian Robert Jay Lifton. Reposted below is the introductory post I wrote for the occasion. Readers should click though to read the entire exchange between myself, Dr. Lifton, and a number of commenters, touching on subjects from mind control and torture, to the Armenian genocide and the legacy of Hiroshima. Co-author with Dr. Lifton on a couple of books, and recently a blogger on the Wikileaks story, Greg Mitchell shows up in a number of the comments.
We are extraordinarily fortunate to converse today with psychiatrist and psychohistorical researcher Robert Jay Lifton. His new memoir, written after 60 years of professional life, is an amazingly fascinating and entertaining book. Dr. Lifton speaks in his persona of a gifted, intelligent, and rational observer and thinker, a self-described disciple of the Enlightenment and a humanist approach to understanding.

Yet Dr. Lifton was more than a mere witness to history. As his book describes it, his experience working with traumatized returning Vietnam veterans transformed the researcher into an activist as well, and he has continued making outspoken criticisms of U.S. military and interrogation/torture policies ever since. In 2004, he was one of the first medical professionals to speak out against the participation of doctors, nurses, and medics in torture by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Dr. Lifton’s witnessing was always of an active sort, however, seeking to use understanding and intellect to bring light to some of the darkest episodes in recent history. To visit his work is to descend along with him into the most hellish and evil places in modern times, and his work acts like a kind of Virgilian torch for use by we Dante-like pilgrims, visiting hell to discover our own humanity, no matter what uncomfortable truths might await us.

In his book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of “Brainwashing” in China, one of the most important works of psychology in the 20th century, Dr. Lifton interviews the victims of a massive “thought reform” campaign by the victorious Chinese Communist Party, undertaken in the aftermath of a terrible civil war, and under the blows of the Cold War and Korean War. In the process of this encounter with totalism – the manipulation of mind and personality by preying upon the fear of death, the power of group pressures and interpersonal pressures to produce false confessions, the internal splitting or dissociative properties of the mind, and the inescapable drama of individual identity formation – Dr. Lifton’s analysis made a tremendous contribution to our understanding of extreme psychological states, and extreme modalities of social and historical experience.

There were other such confrontations and discoveries, as Dr. Lifton’s personal intellectual and career journey led him to study another totalistic assault, albeit one imposed by distant technological, yet terrible means, in his study on the victims of Hiroshima, later published as Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima. Years later, he wrote, along with Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America, an amazing book about U.S. societal reaction to the destruction of the atomic bomb, the psychology of the men who decided to use it, and the collective denial that has captured our society ever since, while the insane destructive fantasy of total nuclear annihilation haunts us still.

Dr. Lifton’s memoir is organized around these fateful encounters, and the works that emerged from them, from the “thought reform” and Hiroshima work, to his massive 1986 study, The Nazi Doctors – about which he speaks at length about the difficult personal toll in undertaking such a work – and his encounters with the traumatized Vietnam veterans, and opposition to the Vietnam War in general (Home from the War: Learning from the Vietnam Veterans).

Dr. Lifton’s work has continued to enlighten in an activist way, from his work on the apocalyptic Japanese cult, Aum Shrinrikyo (Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism) to the extreme ideology of world domination that arose in U.S. ruling circles following 9/11 (Superpower Syndrome). But his new memoir, while it takes the reader on a journey into the dark territory surrounding “an extreme century” is also a moving personal account of personal development, and of those he encountered along the way.

Accompanied by his supportive and accomplished wife, BJ, and sometimes his children, Dr. Lifton had the good luck to encounter and collaborate with some of the best minds of the last century. Those who seek anecdote about the famous will not be disappointed, as Dr. Lifton describes his relationship with his great mentor, the famous psychoanalyst and theoretician Erik Erikson, his meetings with anthropologist Margaret Mead, his confrontation with Nazi doctor and famed ethologist, Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz, his friendship with novelists Elie Wiesel and Norman Mailer, among other fascinating people who populate his new work.

Dr. Lifton did not remain in an ivory tower. As he explains in his memoir, stirred by the protests of the 1960s, he became an activist, and was twice arrested for civil disobedience against the Vietnam War. At his Wellfleet, Massachusetts home, he initiated a series of yearly meetings, beginning in 1966, and still continuing today, drawing together an idiosyncratic collection of academics, clinicians, artists and thinkers to discuss what he first characterized as psychohistory, but apparently grew larger into wide-ranging discussions about psychology, history, art, current events, all animated by Lifton’s own personality, rooted in inquiry, honesty, and good humor mixed with intellectual rigor.

As a balance to the dark powers of totalism, which draw upon the deepest roots of human psychological vulnerability and threaten the very planet in its death-defying search for unreachable immortality and omnipotence, Dr. Lifton counterposes a vision of a protean self, of symbolic immortality through embracing the connectivity of all humans throughout time. Proteanism concerns “the self’s capacity to change and transform itself,” its creative capacities, and its many cultural variations.
At a large reception during a conference, a graduate student I didn’t know confronted me in a New York/sixties manner so brash as to be almost charming: “Hey, Lifton, I tried to be a protean man and it doesn’t work.” Again I smiled, this time perhaps with a little more uneasiness. I told him that proteanism was not an absolute – one didn’t have to be changing or reconfiguring one’s psyche every day – but rather a tendency of the self. That was true enough, but I knew it to be only the beginning of an answer. (Witness to an Extreme Century, p. 369)
Modern history has presented us with the gravest questions and dilemmas, but Robert Jay Lifton has presented us with the beginning of some answers, and for this we can be grateful. With that, let’s welcome to Firedoglake, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton.

John Pilger Protests Banning of his Film at Lannan Foundation Event

In an infuriating display of censorship, the Lannan Foundation has cancelled at the last minute, and with no explanation, an appearance at their Santa Fe, New Mexico series of events by award-winning journalist John Pilger, whose new film exposes the media spin on how the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been reported. Pilger's new film, "The War You Don't See," was supposed to be screened at the event, according to Pilger.

I can only guess that someone got to the Lannan Foundation, or that they blanched at criticisms that might mean some uncomfortable moments for their various speakers. We don't really know. Recent speakers at Lannan-sponsored "readings and conversations" include Center for Constitutional Rights' Michael Ratner, journalist Chris Hedges, blogger Glenn Greenwald, and NPR correspondent Maria Hinojosa.

The Lannan Foundation states that it "recognizes the profound and often unquantifiable value of the creative process and is willing to take risks and make substantial investments in ambitious and experimental thinking. Understanding that globalization threatens all cultures and ecosystems, the Foundation is particularly interested in projects that encourage freedom of inquiry, imagination, and expression."

Read John Pilger's Open Letter, reproduced below, and you be the judge.
An open letter to Noam Chomsky and the general public.

Dear Noam

I am writing to you and a number of other friends mostly in the US to alert you to the extraordinary banning of my film on war and media, 'The War You Don't See', and the abrupt cancellation of a major event at the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe in which David Barsamian and I were to discuss free speech, US foreign policy and censorship in the media.

Lannan invited me and David over a year ago and welcomed my proposal that they also host the US premiere of 'The War You Don't See', in which US and British broadcasters describe the often hidden part played by the media in the promotion of war, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. The film has been widely acclaimed in the UK and Australia; the trailer and reviews are on my website

The banning and cancellation, which have shocked David and me, are on the personal orders of Patrick Lannan, whose wealth funds the Lannan Foundation as a liberal centre of discussion of politics and the arts. Some of you will have been there and will know the Lannan Foundation as a valuable supporter of liberal causes. Indeed, I was invited in 2002 to present a Lannan award to the broadcaster Amy Goodman.

What is deeply disturbing about the ban is that it happened so suddenly and inexplicably: 48 hours before David Barsamian and I were both due to depart for Santa Fe I received a brief email with a 'sorry for the inconvenience' from a Lannan official who had been telling me just a few days earlier what a 'great honour' it was to have the US premiere of my film at Lannan, with myself in attendance.

I urge you to visit the Lannan website Good people like Michael Ratner, Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald are shown as participants in discussion about freedom of speech. I am there, too, but my name is the only one with a line through it and the word, 'Cancelled'.

Neither David Barsamian nor I have been given a word of explanation. All my messages to Lannan have gone unanswered; my calls calls are not returned; my flights were cancelled summarily. At the urging of the New Mexican newspaper, Patrick Lannan has issued a one-sentence statement offering his regrets to the Lannan-supporting 'community' in Santa Fe. Again, he gives no reason for the ban. I have spoken to the manager of the Santa Fe cinema where 'The War You Don't See' was to be screened. He received a late-night call. Again, no reason for the ban was forthcoming, giving him barely time to cancel advertising in The New Mexican, which was forced to drop a major feature.

There is a compelling symbol of our extraordinary times in all of this. A rich and powerful individual and organisation, espousing freedom of speech, has moved ruthlessly and unaccountably to crush it.

With warm regards

John Pilger

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Legal Case to Decide Secret Police Use of GPS Tracking Devices

The National Association of Criminal Defense (NACDL) has posted the following important press release:
Civil Liberties Groups, Defenders and Law Professors Seek to Require Warrant for Police GPS Surveillance

Washington, DC (June 9, 2011) – A diverse group of civil liberties organizations, defenders and law professors this week weighed in on the question of whether law enforcement may unilaterally conduct unregulated surveillance of personal vehicles by secretly attaching global positioning satellite (GPS) transmitters. The case, State v. Johnson, is currently before the Supreme Court of Ohio and has profound implications for the privacy rights of individuals and organizations. The groups argue that this kind of tracking, unlimited by space or time, requires a court to first issue a warrant based upon a showing of probable cause.

As the law currently stands in Ohio, low-cost GPS transmitters can be secretly attached to any Ohioan’s vehicle to pinpoint the vehicle’s location on public or private property, 24/7, within a few feet or yards, to virtually any computer with an internet connection. The devices are used for tracking a vehicle or person in real-time, and the data also can be permanently stored and subjected to pattern analysis, revealing not just a person’s whereabouts, but his habits, associations, who his friends are, where he shops, banks and goes to church, and a host of other information. The groups and individuals submitting this brief argue that court supervision should be required to protect First and Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the issue, several state courts have held under their own state constitutions that the use of the GPS device without any judicial oversight is unconstitutional, including New York, Washington, Oregon, Delaware, and Massachusetts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently found such a requirement under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The organizations and individuals that joined the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) on this amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief include the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Electronic Frontier Foundation, First Amendment Lawyers Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Office of the Ohio Public Defender, and seven Ohio Professors of Law.

The brief was written by Susan J. Walsh, Of Counsel at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, P.C. in New York City and NACDL National Security Coordinator Michael W. Price.

“In an age where warrants can be secured in minimal time via electronic and other means, to not require a warrant based on probable cause before the government begins secret, around-the-clock electronic surveillance of persons who have not been charged or convicted of any crime is an open invitation to abuse. It is nothing less than an Orwellian nightmare to permit the collection of this kind of personal data without any judicial oversight whatsoever,” explains lead author Susan J. Walsh.

According to Ohio Attorney and Counsel for Amici Curiae on this brief, Ravert J. Clark, “This is just as much a First Amendment free association issue as it is a Fourth Amendment search and seizure issue for the people of Ohio. The secret use of these GPS devices by law enforcement permits the state to continually track and record a person’s whereabouts, without any limitation or prior approval by a court. This would include information about where people eat, sleep, worship, and seek medical care, as well as with whom they associate and the clubs they attend. The status quo should be a cause for significant concern for every Ohioan.”

The brief is available on NACDL’s website at:$FILE/OhiovJohnson_Amicus.pdf

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Most Unreported Story: FBI Involvement in 1993 WTC Bombing

The most under-reported story regarding terrorism in our time: an FBI informant on tape tells his FBI handler how he, as an informant buried inside Ramzi Yousef's terror cell on the 1993 World Trade Center bombing -- indeed, the informer/FBI asset, Emad A. Salem, a former Egyptian intelligence agent, was bodyguard to the Blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman -- was involved in the building of the bomb, and is upset he was pulled out before he could make the bomb non-explosive, as part of a sting of the terrorists.

Then Judge Michael Mukasey (later GWB attorney general) tried to keep the tapes secret, but some were linked to the New York Times.

Too crazy to be believed? Then read these NY Times articles from 1993:

Tapes in Bombing Plot Show Informer and F.B.I. at Odds (10/27/93)

Tapes Depict Proposal to Thwart Bomb Used in Trade Center Blast (10/28/93)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Scott Horton Interviews Jeffrey Kaye on Alex Koppelman's Adweek Hit Piece

I had a great time being interviewed on June 3 by the ever-knowledgeable Scott Horton at Antiwar radio. We discussed my critique of the Alex Koppelman story attacking Harper's magazine's award-winning article on "The Guantanamo Suicides." The article was written by Harper's Scott Horton, no relation to the Horton at Antiwar radio.
Jeffrey Kaye, writer for Truthout and Firedoglake, discusses his article “Deconstructing the Campaign to Malign Award-Winning Article on Guantanamo ‘Suicides’” about (the other) Scott Horton’s exposé; the many half-truths and misrepresentations in Alex Koppelman’s Adweek hit piece; how Koppelman’s publication in Adweek sends a message to magazine publishers and advertisers about what is beyond the pale in mainstream media; the Seton Hall study on the botched NCIS investigation of the “suicides;” and the inconclusive autopsy – due to conspicuously missing body parts – done by Swiss pathologist Patrice Mangin (spun by Koppelman as an endorsement of the suicide theory).
Link to listen to mp3 podcast online.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Poland Prosecutor Dismissed After Threat to Indictments Related to US Torture Renditions

Amrit Singh reports from the blog at for Open Society Foundations on a story totally ignored in the U.S., but concerning torture and the U.S. rendition policy delivering so-called high-level prisoners to torture at CIA black site prisons, including one in Poland...
As Poland’s Legacy of CIA Torture Erupts, Europe’s Human Rights Court Must Act

Poland has never officially acknowledged allowing the CIA to hold and interrogate suspects at a secret CIA “black site” in 2002 and 2003, despite a judicial investigation into the affair launched in 2008.

But this week, just days after the visit to Warsaw by President Barack Obama, the issue has erupted into a major political row, after a front-page story in the leading daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza claimed that the prosecutor heading the black site investigation had been removed for political reasons.

The newspaper asserted that the previous prosecutor may have been preparing to charge high ranking [Polish, I believe] officials with crimes against humanity over the human rights abuses that occurred at the site, which included torture and the holding of suspects incommunicado.

On Tuesday, the Polish media additionally reported that Jozef Pinior, a Polish member of the European Parliament, has confirmed the existence of a document signed by Mr Miller regulating the functioning of the secret CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty. The document, according to Pinior, included establishing what should be done “if a dead body of one of the persons held there should appear.”

His statement —- especially in light of attempts by Poland and the U.S. to evade every measure of accountability for torture and rendition -— further underscores the need for the European Court to swiftly intervene in the case of Guantánamo prisoner Abd-al Rahim al-Nashiri, who was brutally tortured at that prison and now faces the prospect of an unfair trial by military commission followed by the death penalty.

On May 6, 2011, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a case against Poland on behalf of al-Nashiri before the European Court of Human Rights. The case -— still pending before the Court -— seeks accountability for Poland’s active complicity in al-Nashiri’s torture and incommunicado detention at the CIA prison in Poland, as well as in his transfer from Poland despite the substantial risk of his facing the death penalty in U.S. custody. The case also urges the Court to direct Poland to use all available means to preclude the death penalty in his case.

The governments of Poland and the United States appear to be working hand in glove to evade accountability for torture and rendition. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland and the US agreed that the US would not reply to a Polish request for assistance in the pending Polish investigation, so as to prolong the investigation until the case could be suspended.

Meanwhile, on May 16, 2011, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the last remaining legal challenge to U.S. rendition practices in the case of Mohammed v. Jeppesen, leaving intact the dismissal of the case on grounds of the state secrets privilege.

President Obama lavished praise on Poland during his visit there, declaring Poland “one of our closest and strongest allies,” and a “leader” on the rule of law.

The visit certainly confirms the strength of the alliance between Poland and the United States. But all the evidence suggests that in dealing with the legacy of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program it is regrettably an alliance to subvert rather than uphold the rule of law. U.S. courts have largely ratified such subversions of the rule of law and denied rendition victims their day in court. It is now up to the European Court of Human Rights to lead the way forward.
For more visit the Open Society blog.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Adweek Article's Big Lie on Autopsy of Guantanamo "Suicide"

A lot of people were apparently very upset when Scott Horton beat out Jane Mayer's New Yorker article on the Koch brothers and Michael Hasting's Rolling Stone article on Gen. McChrystal and won the National Magazine Award for Reporting this year. Horton's January 2010 article in Harper's, "The Guantanamo Suicides," was based on a number of named sources, including the guard in the watch tower mere yards away from the scene of much of the action, and questioned the official story given by the Department of Defense about the purported suicide of three detainees on the evening of June 10, 2006.

Despite articles written that Horton claimed the murder of the detainees, Horton, along with a report by Seton Hall University School of Law, Center for Policy and Research released around the same time, strongly questioned the procedure and results of the DoD investigations and called for a new investigation. Guantanamo authorities had already announced their position within 24 hours of the discovery of the dead bodies: the deaths were supposedly planned suicides, part of an act of "asymmetrical warfare" on the part of the Taliban and Arab prisoners.

After Donald Rumsfeld and ex-DoD flak Cully Stimson wrote articles last month lambasting those who would question the official investigation, former WarRoom editor Alex Koppelman produced his own critique in the pages of Adweek. The story, "The National Magazine Award and Guantánamo: A Tall Tale Gets the Prize," posted May 23, got a big reception.

I'm not going to repeat all that was wrong with that story here. I've already produced a comprehenive examination of Koppelman's points in an article posted at Truthout. But I will highlight one crucial area here, and expand upon the Truthout article.

What did Patrice Magnin's Autopsy report really say?

After the death of one of the detainees, Ali Abdullah Ahmed (ISN 693), a 27-year-old Yemeni national, Ahmed's father, not believing his son would trangress Islamic law and kill himself, asked for an independent autopsy after his son's body was returned to the family.

Well, not all his body was returned. The Department of Defense withheld crucial neck organs that would be necessary to determine if the death was due to hanging or other form of asphyxiation. Swiss pathologist Patrice Mangin examined the body. According to Alex Koppelman, the autopsy report (written in French and linked here -- the link originally posted by Horton and Harper's, by the way) "ended with the conclusion that hanging was, in fact, the most likely cause of death."

Koppelman even quotes from the autopsy report: "Yet Horton left out a key conclusion of Mangin’s report. 'The cause of death is most likely the consequence of mechanical asphyxia by violence exercised against the neck as part of a hanging, without being able to formally exclude a different mechanism,' said the report, which was written in French. Mangin reiterated this point in a press conference."

Apparently Koppelman cannot read even English. The quote clearly shows that the death was by "mechanical asphyxia" ("asphyxie mécanique par une violence exercée contra la cou"), and adds that one cannot "formally exclude a different mechanism" ("sans pouvoir exclure formellement un autre mécanisme"). In other words, it may not have been hanging, and without the missing organs, he could not deliver a definitive cause.

But let's hear what Mangin himself told the press in an interview delivered in English, from the Truthout article:
Mangin was quite explicit about his findings in a March 3, 2007 interview in English with Carol Vann at InfoSud. Mangin told Vann, “There was asphyxiation which could be due to suicide but also to other reasons. We have too little information to make any definitive conclusions…. And above all, what was the state of the missing organs? We have written to the American authorities, but so far we have not had any reply.”
So Koppelman misinterpreted or misrepresented the autopsy report. But did he even really read it? Another portion of the report, heretofore unreported, notes (French followed by English):
Il est par ailleurs nécessaire de souligner les limites de l'interprétation médico-légale, résultant d'une part d'un début d'altération postmortem, et d'autre part des remaniements induits par la première autopsie, entraînant l'impossibilité de prélever certains échantillons biologiques en vue d'analyses toxicologiques (notamment sang périphérique et urine), et l'impossibilité d'examiner certains ou de parties d'organes, tel que le larynx avec son squelette.

It is also necessary to emphasize the limits of the medico-legal interpretation, resulting on one hand from postmortem deterioration, and on the other hand from rearrangements induced by the first autopsy, resulting in the inability to collect some biological samples for toxicology testing (including peripheral blood and urine), and the impossibility of examining some or parts of organs such as the larynx with its skeleton.
Another portion of the autopsy report states:
Les lésions odontostomatologiques constatées, en particulier l'exarticulation fraîche de l'incisive inférieure à gauche, en l'absence de contusion des lèvres, nécessite impérativement de pouvoir accéder aux rapport établis par les autorités américaines.

Dentistry lesions are detected, especially fresh exarticulation [loss] of the lower left incisor, in the absence of any bruising of the lips, one imperatively needs to have access to reports by American authorities [wondering, as a later sentence elaborates, if the tooth's loss was due to trauma during attempts to resusciate the body].
In other words, Mangin went to some lengths to spell out problems with any medical or legal conclusions from the autopsy, including the inability to even make toxicological sampling on some portions of the body and its fluids. More than once he reiterates the necessity of more information or items from the U.S. authorities. In the end, the autopsy mainly rules out other forms of death besides mechanical asphyxiation, which could have been caused by hanging, or frankly, from the rags found in each of the mouths and/or throats of the deceased (a fact that was covered up in DoD's report, but can be readily accessed by reading the CITF recorded statements by medical personnel at Guantanamo -- large PDF), or some other cause. One such cause would be strangulation, but lacking the neck's hyoid bone, withheld from the independent autopsy, the crucial forensic determinations could not be made.

This is very different from what Koppelman declared, and which has been picked up and spread all over the Internet like a virulent virus. Still, Koppelman was joining a quite large gaggle of neo-con bloggers and supposedly liberal apostates, like Mark Benjamin.

One of the more purple descriptions of incredulity was made by Benjamin Wittes, who blogged after Harper's and Horton won the magazine award, "The Harpers story is nothing more than a set of wholly unfounded accusations of murder and conspiracy directed against our men and women in uniform dressed up as investigative journalism." He followed this thundering pronouncement with a full reposting of Cully Stimson's own blog post on "Horton's delusional article." (Stimson was former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs at the time of the prisoners' deaths, a fact that does not cause Wittes to pause a second for possible examination of bias.)

Wittes, Koppelman and a host of others, have chosen to do the bidding of the Department of Defense for reasons of their own. Truth is the victim, and truth-seekers are vilified. That's the way it is in 21st Century Obama's America.

Cross-posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL

Deconstructing the Campaign to Malign Award-Winning Article on Guantanamo “Suicides”

Originally posted at Truthout

While not the first article attacking Scott Horton’s controversial Harpers’s article, “The Guantanamo Suicides,” Alex Koppelman’s critique in Adweek on May 23 capped a long campaign by some media figures to impugn the veracity of Horton’s investigation, if not the integrity of both Horton and Harper’s Magazine.

Horton’s article in January 2010 strongly criticized the Department of Defense investigations into the June 10, 2006 deaths of three Guantanamo detainees, bringing forth new eyewitness testimony as to what occurred that terrible evening at the camp, calling into question the official narrative. For their part, Guantanamo authorities immediately labeled these deaths suicides. Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the commander at Guantanamo, called the deaths a day after they occurred “an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”

Koppelman’s article appears to be a reaction to the recent presentation of the prestigious National Magazine Award to Horton’s article. The award is given annually by the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME), who since then have stood by their decision to recognize the Horton article.

The Koppelman article also followed attacks on those critical of the DoD investigation of the “suicides” by Donald Rumsfeld, in a May 12 op-ed at the Washington Post, and a May 17 blogpost by Cully Stimson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs at the time of the prisoners’ deaths, lambasting ASME’s “disgraceful award” to Horton.

In addition, the Adweek article was published only five days after another mysterious purported suicide at the Guantanamo prison camp. Inayatullah was a 37-year-old prisoner found dead either in a recreation yard or in his cell, depending on the news account. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is investigating his death, which if ruled suicide would be the sixth such death at the camp, if one includes the deaths of the three prisoners in 2006.

An unprecedented attack by an advertising industry journal against a magazine industry award-winning story, Koppelman’s article stimulated a cascade of grateful response from conservative commentators, such as The Weekly Standard’s “The Scrapbook, Jonathan Last, and Joe Carter (who wrote his own earlier series of articles critiquing Horton’s investigation, blustering that to compare Harper’s Magazine with the National Enquirer “would be an insult to the supermarket tabloid”).

What was surprising was the enthusiasm for Koppelman’s piece from ostensibly more liberal writers, such as John Cole, and Mark Benjamin. In addition, the article was noted and recommended at numerous websites, from Gawker to The Daily Beast.

Benjamin is an interesting, if strange, case. Writing in Time/CNN’s blog, Battleland, Benjamin, himself the author of numerous articles on U.S. torture for, wrote, “Alex Koppelman at AdWeek does a thorough job of airing the problems in Horton's piece,“ adding,  “It's worth a read.”

Benjamin never notes in his encomium to Koppelman’s piece that he had a prior relationship with Koppelman at, or that he co-authored articles with Koppelman. It never occurs to him to reveal this as any source of potential bias. Perhaps he might have reflected that both Koppelman and he have cited Scott Horton as a reliable commentator on U.S. policies in the past.

As yet, no one has chosen to analyze Koppelman’s article in any depth, though both Harper’s Senior Editor Luke Mitchell, Scott Horton, and legal professor Mark Denbeaux have all replied at various times to previous criticism, a fact Koppelman never cites in his article. Denbeaux was the lead author of a Seton Hall University School of Law, Center for Policy and Research study on the Guantanamo “suicides,” “Death in Camp Delta,” and a follow-up answer to DoD’s reply to the Horton and Seton Hall investigations, published as “DoD Contradicts DoD: An Analysis of the Response to ‘Death in Camp Delta.’”

Koppelman’s supposed exposé of Horton’s article is a mish-mash of poor analysis, half-truths, and misrepresentations of the facts. He relies on the following points, which are reproduced below in the order they appear in the article. In order to examine Koppelman’s evidence, and thereby demonstrate the dishonest methodology employed by Koppelman, the counter-evidence follows each of Koppelman’s arguments.

1)             The story had been “well-shopped” around, and had been considered and rejected by Seymour Hersh, ABC News’ Brian Ross Investigative Unit, CBS 60 Minutes, NBC News’ chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, and an unidentified New York Times reporter.

Nothing is less convincing that this particular argument. There are many reasons why a reporter or news agency may pass on a story. It does not strain credulity too far to say that a story that directly contradicts official Department of Defense investigations may not be acceptable to reporters who value access to Pentagon sources, or who, like Miklaszewski, are involved in national security reportage training that relies to a good extent upon cooperation with Defense Department personnel.

Besides a quote from Miklaszewski, the only other quote from a journalistic source regarding Horton’s article is an anonymous criticism from “one of the reporters who looked into the story.” Why is this source anonymous? Why are they not on the record?

Koppelman studiously ignores in his article news sources and human rights groups that were laudatory of Horton’s article, including Amnesty International and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

2)            Horton’s main sources were perimeter guards, distant from the prisoners.”

Koppelman’s story never says how “distant” the guards were. Army Sergeant Joseph Hickman, the primary source for Horton’s article, was in Tower 1, twenty feet away from Sally Port 1 and mere yards away from the Detention Medical Clinic, the activity areas upon which Hickman reports, and perhaps fifty yards from Alpha block, where the prisoners were ostensibly found.

Rather than having a poor perspective on events, the guards, especially Hickman, had a unique overview of camp activities during the critical events that took place. A map labeling the various camp components was published along with the original Harper’s article. Neither Hickman nor the other Army guards on duty around the camp that night were ever interviewed by military investigators. When Hickman brought new witnesses to the attention of the Department of Justice, DoJ failed to follow-up.

3)            In an interview with Adweek, Colonel Michael Bumgarner, commander of the Joint Detention Group, the guard force component of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, denied he ever made a speech after the suicides telling guards the media would hear the dead detainees had hanged themselves. Horton reported witnesses as saying Bumgarner said “you all know” the detainees killed themselves by swallowing rags, and then choking to death. 

Nothing is stranger, perhaps, than Koppelman’s reliance on DoD assurances, not least that of a primary actor in the controversy, Col. Bumgarner. The JDG commander, who had been at Guantanamo from April 2005, and was due to leave command at the end of June 2006, was stripped of his command only days after the detainees’ deaths, possibly for having told the press that each of the detainees had been found with a ball of cloth in their mouths.

DoD later denied that the dead detainees all had such cloths or “rags” stuffed down their throats, saying, despite evidence from the NCIS investigation to the contrary, that such cloths were present in only one prisoner’s mouth. According to Horton, Bumgarner’s speech to the guards, telling them to stick to the hanging story, was derived via a number of sources. Meanwhile, Koppleman asks us to rely on the word of a man who called the detainees under his control totally untrustworthy, as “nothing short of a damn animal that can’t be trusted.”

Furthermore, reading the detainees’ statements (large PDF) taken by the Criminal Investigative Task Force at Guantanamo in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the “suicides,” one is struck by the multiple complaints of the “Colonel” for making prison conditions worse during the term of his command.

4)             One of the independent autopsies performed at the request of the families of the deceased men wrote a report that “ended with the conclusion that hanging was, in fact, the most likely cause of death.” Moreover, according to Koppelman, “[Swiss pathologist Patrice] Mangin reiterated this point in a press conference.”

Koppelman’s fudging of the facts regarding Mangin’s autopsy is egregious. In fact, the autopsy report says that the cause of death is mechanical asphyxiation consistent with a hanging, but also “sans pouvoir exclure formellement un autre mécanisme,” that is, unable to formally exclude another mechanism or cause.

The primary reason for the lack of a definitive decision was the decision of U.S. authorities not to provide crucial neck organs -- the larynx, the hyoid bone, and the thyroid cartilage -- whose examination, for instance, could rule out death by hanging versus death by strangulation or other means. The government’s autopsy noted that one detainee had a broken hyoid bone. Such an injury, according to forensic experts, is more consistent with strangulation than hanging, and quite rare in younger persons.

Mangin was quite explicit about his findings in a March 3, 2007 interview in English with Carol Vann at InfoSud. Mangin told Vann, “There was asphyxiation which could be due to suicide but also to other reasons. We have too little information to make any definitive conclusions…. And above all, what was the state of the missing organs? We have written to the American authorities, but so far we have not had any reply.”

Not only did DoD stonewall requests for the missing organs to more than one independent autopsy physician, they gave no answer to questions Mangin had surrounding the odd cuttings of the prisoners’ toenails and fingernails, removing critical evidence such as DNA or other material to be found under the nails, as there often is in murder cases, in particular strangulation (where the victim often claws the attacker to remove their hands or other mechanical choking device).

That Patrice Mangin did not definitively rule the cause of death as suicide by hanging at his press conference, as maintained by Koppelman, also is reported in an Associated Press article on the press conference at the time. Koppelman is totally wrong in his Adweek assertion about Mangin’s findings.

5)            Army Sergeant Joe Hickman’s account of paddy wagons transporting prisoners to a secret black site at Guantanamo, dubbed “Camp No,” is not plausible, and this is backed up by an email from Dwight Sullivan, who’d been chief defense counsel in the Office of Military Commissions, writing at the time to Slate’s Jack Shafer, who also wrote a series of articles last year criticizing the Horton article.

Sullivan wrote about the Camp No issue in an impassioned blogpost recently, calling Horton’s accusations “crazy libel,” “conspiracy theory,” and “Birther/Truther crazy.” Sullivan maintains that the road the paddy wagons took towards Camp No led “to everything on Naval Station Guantanamo other than the detention camps. That road leads to the hospital. That road leads to the commissary. That road leads to the military commission complex. That road leads to a high school. That road leads to housing areas. That road leads to the ferry to the airport. The road leads to a McDonald’s, a coffee shop, and my favorite Guantanamo eating establishment, the Jerk House."

Horton’s own reply to Koppelman appears to answer the charge, explaining that “It’s true, of course, that when you drive out and you get on roads, you could take roads almost anywhere, there were connections that went on, but everyone I spoke with said ‘No, you would not have driven to that part of the base using that road, there were other roads that would have taken you there much more directly.’”

A look at the map of Guantanamo provided with the original Harper’s article shows Camp No to be quite isolated along a road running north of the main prison camp. There is nothing else along that road, and certainly nothing like a McDonalds, or any housing areas. The areas to the east of Camp No, which include some of the areas to which Sullivan alludes, including the camp headquarters, the chapel, and the post office, and other buildings from the camp, are eminently reachable and in much more direct fashion from Camp Delta from a road running west by northwest out of the camp area. (See also this map from The Guantanamo Testimonials Project.) It is difficult to imagine that multiple paddy wagon trips took a long way around to get to other parts of the camp, along a long empty road passing the Camp No area each time. In short, the objections Sullivan raises do not pass the logic test.

Sullivan also quotes in his blog piece a McClatchy news article reporting that former Guantanamo detainee Abdul Zuhoor said the suicides were a plot by Taliban and Arab prisoners at Guantanamo, corroborating charges of “asymmetrical warfare” put forth by camp officials. But, in a lapse of integrity more typical of the charges Sullivan aims at Scott Horton, Sullivan never mentions that the McClatchy reporter cautioned Zuhoor’s story “must be taken with some skepticism” as Zuhoor “admitted lying to the tribunal at Guantanamo about a host of things.” [Updated note: Sullivan is apparently here simply taking an assertion made by Cully Stimson in his blog post and repeating it without checking on its

6)            Hickman may have seen prisoners being transported, but he could not identify them.  Furthermore, the timeline he provides contradicts that of “multiple witnesses” who saw the detainees in their cells that evening.

While Hickman could not identify the prisoners, and never claimed he could, the unusual instance of their nighttime transfer piqued his interest, and took on a more ominous light due to the circumstances that followed.

The “multiple witnesses” argument might carry more weight, if there weren’t significant problems with the witness statements themselves. As Mark Denbeaux and his team at Seton Hall have described it, the “multiple witnesses” testimony is both dubious and unreliable.

For one thing, the Guantanamo Standard Operation Procedure calls for witnesses to a self-harm act to fill out a Form 2823 immediately after a self-harm event (see p. 172, “Emergency Action Plan (EAPs). 32-1. Attempted Actual Self-Harm”). But no sworn statements were ever given until, as Seton Hall wrote, “more than three days after the detainees died and after the official announcement that they hanged themselves."

Moreover, the statements actually given by the six guards on duty in Alpha Block that night were suspected by NCIS of being false, and the guards were made to sign letters to that effect. Yet none of the guards’ statements has ever been released. Of note, no guard or other personnel on duty at Guantanamo that evening was ever disciplined or charged with anything, despite the fact that numerous SOP procedures seem to have been ignored (such as the failure to call an emergency “Code Blue” after the discovery of the bodies).

A number of detainees in Alpha Block were also interviewed. Almost all said they had seen or heard nothing, and at least one blamed the Americans for the deaths of the prisoners.

Koppelman’s article is not a comprehensive summary of all the purported arguments that have been brought to bear against Horton’s reporting, hence Truthout is not here providing a complete refutation of every argument made by every critic that has been made thus far.

But Koppelman’s story gained an inordinate amount of attention, and the credulity with which it was accepted and promoted by a number of people appears to have more to do with animus against Horton’s investigation than anything else. While the Seton Hall reports, which together total over 150 pages, are far more comprehensive in answering the DoD investigation, they have not been the subject of detailed critique by these same critics. But then, many fewer people were likely to have read them than the Harper’s article. In general, except in passing, Koppelman, like others writing negative hit pieces on the Horton article, have ignored the Seton Hall studies, which fully back Scott Horton’s reporting.

Perhaps what the flap over the ASME award demonstrates is that no serious piece of investigative journalism, especially if recognized, that challenges national security narratives will go unattacked. Certainly any piece of journalism can be challenged, and deservedly so, the better to ascertain its credibility. Koppelman’s article fails to stand up to scrutiny. It is an unserious poison pen attack, cavalier with facts, and undetermined to examine what occurred beyond what DoD authorities allege. Those who have jumped on Koppelman’s bandwagon should be ashamed of themselves.

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