The Washington Post reports: Military prosecutors this year learned about a massive cache of CIA photographs of its former overseas “black sites” while reviewing material collected for the Senate investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, U.S. officials said.
The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand that all the images be turned over and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.
Defense attorneys said they have not yet been informed about the photographs and said it is unacceptable that they should come to light now, more than three years after the arraignment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: For those looking at Syria’s four-year-long conflict from the outside, the slaughter has appeared to have little or no pattern, a barbaric struggle in which all are equally guilty. But a new survey of blood-curdling sectarian massacres perpetrated in Syria since the start of the civil war provides a very clear picture of the ultimate villain behind the carnage.
According to the survey by the Syrian Network for Human Rights, there have been 56 major massacres displaying obvious sectarian or ethnic cleansing traits. Of these 49 were carried out by Syrian government forces or local and foreign militia allies of President Bashar al-Assad, making a mockery of the Syrian leader’s frequent claim to foreign broadcasters that his soldiers would never harm their own people deliberately as a matter of policy.
In fact, three days before Assad sat down with the BBC for an especially chilling interview last February and lamented how war, alas, causes casualties, government-aligned militiamen stormed the As-Sabil neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs and slaughtered three Sunni families, including four children and five women. [Continue reading…]
Amr Darrag writes: When the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in April, in a trial internationally condemned as unconstitutional, unfair and deeply politicised, many saw it as a test of the international community’s resolve to stand up to the series of show trials currently under way in Egypt. For those who back democracy and human rights, the wall of silence from the international community was as predictable as it was tragic. At that time, I predicted that such silence would be interpreted by the Sisi regime as a green light to a death sentence for Morsi.
Where once politicians from Downing Street to the White House lauded the ideals and actions of the 2011 revolutionaries, now they were rendered mute as Egypt’s first democratically elected president was effectively sentenced to a life behind bars. Many also saw the sentence as a nail in the coffin for the ideals and dreams of the Arab Spring.
This week, the gradual purge of this first democratic government in Egypt took a darker turn. The Sisi regime, buoyed by the clear apathy of its international partners, upheld a death sentence handed down in May to Morsi and more than 100 people. The trial was nothing but a farce. Amnesty International called it a grossly unfair charade, which demonstrated a “complete disregard for human rights”. [Continue reading…]
Pacific Standard reports: In July 2010, Susan J. Terrio, an anthropologist at Georgetown University, visited an immigration shelter in Southern California. The shelter’s staff were discussing the case of a 17-year-old Somali girl, Hanadi, who had been in their custody for seven months. In Somalia, Hanadi’s father had been killed by militants, and her brother had disappeared, likely a victim of fighters from Al Shabab. As a young teen, Hanadi fled to Kenya, and, eventually, with the help of a smuggler, to Panama. Immigration authorities in Panama detained her for six months, after which she traveled to the United States, where she was detained again by U.S. immigration authorities.
At the time of Terrio’s visit, Hanadi had begun to show signs of “mental deterioration”: She cursed at another detainee, pounded on tables, and in one instance threatened suicide. The shelter’s staff believed she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended that she take psychiatric medication, which she refused. They also suggested that Hanadi be transferred to a more sophisticated residential treatment center. Terrio had visited a similar center earlier that year, where she met heavily sedated detainees who were suffering from severe depression, schizophrenia, and other disorders.
Most immigration shelters fall on a spectrum between locked houses and prisons, and children like Hanadi are not free to leave. Hanadi wanted to stay with a cousin in the U.S. but had been unable to find him. Although she was a good candidate for a claim of political asylum, the government was entitled to hold her, with a few restrictions, until her case was resolved—simply because she was a minor. After the meeting, Terrio listened while Hanadi and a staff member discussed the idea of moving to a group home. Hanadi, Terrio writes in her new book Whose Child Am I?, “began to sob”:
I don’t want group home. I want freedom. Not fair. Two years. I have no life. In Somalia good life. Now not better life. Said what I wanted. Said I don’t want to be here. They say, “Be patient.” Why? They think if send me to another house, then OK. NOT OK. … I’m not crazy. I just want freedom.
Several days later, Hanadi was transferred to a therapeutic shelter, after which Terrio lost track of her. [Continue reading…]
An editorial in the New York Times says: In 2008, Ali al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al Qaeda who has been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since early 2002, was convicted by the military tribunal there and sentenced to life in prison. But officials had no evidence that Mr. Bahlul was involved in any war crimes, so they charged him instead with domestic crimes, including conspiracy and material support of terrorism.
Last Friday, a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed Mr. Bahlul’s conspiracy conviction because, it said, the Constitution only permits military tribunals to handle prosecutions of war crimes, like intentionally targeting civilians. (The court previously threw out the other charges on narrower grounds.)
The 2-1 decision, by Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, was a major rebuke to the government’s persistent and misguided reliance on the tribunals, which operate in a legal no man’s land, unconstrained by standard constitutional guarantees and rules of evidence that define the functioning of the nation’s civilian courts. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: More than 20 Republican senators rejected a ban on the use of cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners on Tuesday, voting against an ultimately successful measure to permanently prevent a repeat of the CIA’s once secret and now widely-discredited torture program.
The bipartisan amendment reaffirms President Barack Obama’s prohibition of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, which were developed by the CIA under the administration of his predecessor, George W Bush.
The measure passed in the Senate, 78-21.
However Republican hawks, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, opposed the amendment, despite an impassioned plea from their colleague, John McCain, who called on them to avoid the “dark path of sacrificing our values for our short-term security needs”. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The Central Intelligence Agency had explicit guidelines for “human experimentation” before, during and after its post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees, the Guardian has learned, which raise new questions about the limits on internal oversight over the agency’s in-house and contracted medical research.
Sections of a previously classified CIA document, made public by the Guardian on Monday, empower the agency’s director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research”. The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the US government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.
CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about US torture as a violation of medical ethics.
But the revelation of the guidelines has prompted critics of CIA torture to question how the agency could have ever implemented what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” – despite apparently having rules against “research on human subjects” without their informed consent. [Continue reading…]
David Abramowitz writes: In 2002, I was the chief counsel for the Democratic members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. At the time, the committee was considering legislation authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The central justification raised by the George W. Bush administration revolved around Iraq’s suspected and continued possession of weapons of mass destruction.
In the fall of 2002, the committee received a briefing on Iraq from the intelligence community. I remember thinking that almost all of the details presented to us by the Bush administration were old and familiar. It was concerning but not alarming. In fact, I felt a growing sense that there was no new information to suggest that Iraq was a real threat, and certainly not one that could justify U.S. military action.
Then the CIA briefer dropped a bombshell. With the great confidence that was this briefer’s hallmark, he stated that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda members.
I remember the jarring impact of this revelation. I thought to myself that if we knew that, perhaps there was even more information we didn’t know, including a possible transfer of such weapons to Al Qaeda. I looked over to one of the senior staffers who shared my reaction: This was serious.
I had attended hundreds of briefings in my 10 years of working on Capitol Hill, but very few resulted in such an immediate change in my thinking or had such an emotional impact. Until that day, I had been dubious that the regime of Saddam Hussein would cooperate in any meaningful way with jihadists. Afterward, when lawmakers or staffers asked me about my own view, I would point to this intelligence as an important consideration. And I believe that lawmakers very much took the CIA briefer’s dramatic revelation into account when deciding whether to vote to use military force against Iraq.
We now know that this information was obtained from a single source. According to the New York Times, the individual, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was captured in Pakistan, transferred to a military base in Afghanistan and then rendered to authorities in Egypt, where he claims he was tortured. Indeed, even at the time, his statements on Iraq were disputed within the intelligence community, and the Senate report on prewar intelligence indicates that no corroborating evidence was ever found. Once back in U.S. custody, Libi recanted his statements, and the CIA withdrew intelligence based on these remarks.
I am not writing to re-litigate the reasons we went to war with Iraq. And I recognize that this information was coerced by a foreign intelligence service, not by the CIA.
But we need to remember that nearly 4,500 U.S. service members lost their lives in a conflict that was justified, in part, using unreliable information obtained via torture. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also lost their lives. And we are still dealing with the ramifications of our intervention there. [Continue reading…]
Huffington Post reports: For years, Guantanamo Bay prisoners’ memories of their time in CIA custody have been considered classified state secrets. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers can’t talk publicly about how he lost his left eye. Lawyers for Mustafa al Hawsawi, who can now only sit on a pillow, can’t tell the press or the public about anal feedings that left him with a rectal prolapse. And until recently, Majid Khan’s lawyers couldn’t bring up the time he was hung from a pole for two days, naked and hooded, while interrogators threw ice water on him.
The government argued that by talking about what had happened to them, the CIA’s former prisoners, who are now detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, would risk revealing classified information about the agency’s torture program.
But as James Connell, a lawyer who represents detainee Ammar al Baluchi, wrote more than three years ago in a motion to declassify the prisoners’ accounts, “A person’s own experiences — whether the smell of a rose or the click of a gun near one’s head — are what make them a person, and the government can never own or control them.”
The notion that a torture survivor’s memories can be classified, Connell wrote, “contravenes the most basic principles of human rights.” He added that detainees “were exposed to classified interrogation techniques only in the sense that Hiroshima was exposed to the classified Manhattan Project.”
Now, the government is starting to change course. A Senate Intelligence Committee report, which began to pull back the curtain on the CIA’s use of torture in secret prisons known as “black sites,” compelled the government to change its rules about keeping former CIA prisoners’ memories secret. Khan became the first to successfully test the new rules by going public with his account of his imprisonment, which included details not previously disclosed in the Senate report. Citing the success of Khan’s team, defense attorneys for other Guantanamo detainees are now cautiously optimistic that they can bring their clients’ memories of their time in CIA black sites to light. [Continue reading…]
Adam Ciralsky reports: On a stifling day in August 2013, a police photographer with chiseled features and a military bearing moved hurriedly about his office in Damascus. For two years, as Syria’s civil war became ever more deadly, he lived a double life: regime bureaucrat by day, opposition spy by night. Now he had to flee. Having downloaded thousands of high-resolution photographs onto flash drives, he snuck into the empty office of his boss and took cell-phone pictures of the papers on the man’s desk. Among them were execution orders and directives to falsify death certificates and dispose of bodies. Armed with as much evidence as he could safely carry, the photographer—code-named Caesar—fled the country.
Since then, the images that Caesar secreted out of Syria have received wide circulation, having been touted by Western officials and others as clear evidence of war crimes. The pictures, most of them taken in Syrian military hospitals, show corpses photographed at close range — one at a time as well as in small groupings. Virtually all of the bodies — thousands of them—betray signs of torture: gouged eyes; mangled genitals; bruises and dried blood from beatings; acid and electric burns; emaciation; and marks from strangulation. Caesar took a number of these pictures, working with roughly a dozen other photographers assigned to the same military-police unit.
But Caesar himself, like the intelligence operation of which he became a part, has remained in the shadows. He appeared only once in public, last summer, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he wore a hood and spoke through a translator. He spoke briefly, and in a restricted setting, though I have been able to obtain a copy of his complete testimony. He sought and was granted asylum in a Western European country whose name Vanity Fair has agreed not to disclose, for his personal safety. [Continue reading…]
ICIJ and the Huffington Post report: Glenda Chávez walks between the orange trees of her family’s grove, approaching a low wire fence that divides her property from Corporación Dinant’s Paso Aguán plantation. On Dinant’s side of the fence, rows of spiky palm oil trees stretch for miles across the green landscape of northern Honduras.
“Here,” she says in a soft, determined voice, pointing to a spot on her side of the fence where a search party found the last traces of her father’s life.
Gregorio Chávez, a preacher and farmer, disappeared in July 2012. Hours later, men from their peasant community found the machete he’d taken with him to tend to his vegetables. The men also found drag marks in the dirt leading toward Dinant’s property, Glenda says.
Four days after Gregorio Chávez disappeared, searchers discovered the preacher’s body on the Paso Aguán plantation, buried under a pile of palm fronds. He had been killed by blows to his head, and his body showed signs that he may have been tortured, according to a government special prosecutor investigating his death. Glenda and the other villagers immediately suspected he had been killed for speaking out from the pulpit against Dinant, their adversary in a battle over ownership of land that the company long ago incorporated into its vast palm oil operations.
“These plantations are bathed in blood,” Glenda Chávez says. “Not only has my father died, but more than 100 peasants have died in defense of the land.”
Special prosecutor Javier Guzmán says security guards employed by Dinant are “the leading suspects” in Gregorio Chávez’s killing, but no one has been charged in the case. The company vigorously denies it had anything to do with his death.
The preacher’s death was one of 133 killings that have been linked to the land conflicts in Honduras’ Bajo Aguán valley, according to Guzmán, who was appointed by the federal government to investigate the wave of violence that has ripped through the area in recent years. The circumstances of these deaths remain fiercely disputed in a struggle that has pitted Dinant and other large corporate landholders against peasant collectives, with both sides involved in violence that has at times turned gruesome.
The conflict has drawn international scrutiny in part because Dinant, one of its central protagonists, has been financed by the World Bank Group.
Dinant was backed by the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank conglomerate that lends to private companies. The IFC supported Dinant, one of Central America’s biggest palm oil and food producers, throughout the recent land conflicts. It provided $15 million directly to Dinant in 2009 and later channelled $70 million in 2011 to a Honduran bank that was one of Dinant’s largest financiers.
In doing so, the IFC aligned itself with one of the key players in a deadly civil conflict, staking its money and reputation on a powerful corporation with a questionable history. The IFC ignored easily obtainable evidence that should have warned it away from doing business with Dinant, the lender’s internal ombudsman later found. [Continue reading…]
Last December, Jeff Conant reported: As one of the fastest growing global commodities, palm oil has recently earned a reputation as a major contributor to tropical deforestation and, therefore, to climate change as well.
About 50 million metric tons of palm oil is produced per year – more than double the amount produced a decade ago – and this growth appears likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Because oil palm trees, native to West Africa, require the same conditions as tropical rainforests, nearly every drop of palm oil that hits the global market comes at the expense of natural forests that have been, or will be, burned, bulldozed and replaced with plantations.
With deforestation garnering headlines due to forests’ crucial role in regulating the climate, global commodity producers, from Nestle and Unilever in Europe, to Cargill in the United States to Wilmar International in Indonesia, are recognizing the need to provide products that are “deforestation-free.” Other corporate-led initiatives like the public-private Tropical Forest Alliance that promises to reduce the deforestation associated with palm oil, soy, beef, paper and pulp, and the recent New York Declaration on Forests signed at the UN Climate Summit in New York, suggest that saving the world’s forests is now squarely on the corporate sustainability agenda.
But what is being left behind is the other significant impact of palm oil and other agro-industrial commodities – namely human rights. Commitments to protect forests and conservation areas can, if well implemented, address environmental concerns by delimiting the areas of land available for conversion to palm oil. But natural resource exploitation is inextricably linked to human exploitation, and such commitments do little to address this.
A case in point is Grupo Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company that declared last month that it has been awarded international environmental certifications for its achievements in environmental management and occupational health and safety. Dinant has also been making overtures toward joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), including hosting the RSPO’s 4th Latin American conference in Honduras in 2013. But, Dinant, which produces about 60 percent of the palm oil in Honduras, is at the center of what has been called “the most serious situation in terms of violence against peasants in Central America in the last 15 years.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: During the early days of the revolution against President Hosni Mubarak, a sense of shared purpose and community made Tahrir Square feel like the safest place in Cairo, for women and men. But that collapsed almost the moment Mr. Mubarak left office, on Feb. 11, 2011. Sexual assault and the harassment of women in public, an epidemic problem in Egypt for decades, became alarmingly common again.
The security forces have long used sexual assault as a weapon against political dissent. In a notorious episode in 2005, security officers watched pro-government thugs sexually assault four female demonstrators outside the journalists’ syndicate in Cairo. Prosecutors declined to bring charges, and state and private media outlets blamed the women for exposing themselves.
After Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, military forces trying to disperse demonstrators detained a group of women and subjected them to “virginity tests.” A military intelligence officer named Abdel Fattah el-Sisi publicly defended the practice, arguing that it was necessary to protect soldiers from rape allegations. He is now Egypt’s president. [Continue reading…]
Egyptian Streets reports: A quite troublesome rise in the number of reported cases of enforced disappearances has swept Cairo and other governorates across Egypt. According to a report released by Human Rights Monitor on Saturday, 44 cases of enforced disappearances have been recorded until May 2015, with 31 taking place in May, in addition to 13 more reported during March and April.
“Over the last four years, there were cases of enforced disappearances, but it was not the default, it was more rare… one among other violations,” said Mona Seif, a human rights activist working closely with political detainees. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Until about four months ago, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 29, was just another Saudi royal who dabbled in stocks and real estate.
He grew up overshadowed by three older half brothers who were among the most accomplished princes in the kingdom — the first Arab astronaut; an Oxford-educated political scientist who was once a research fellow at Georgetown and also founded a major investment company; and a highly regarded deputy oil minister.
But that was before their father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 79, ascended to the throne. Now Prince Mohammed, the eldest son of the king’s third and most recent wife, is the rising star.
He has swiftly accumulated more power than any prince has ever held, upending a longstanding system of distributing positions around the royal family to help preserve its unity, and he has used his growing influence to take a leading role in Saudi Arabia’s newly assertive stance in the region, including its military intervention in Yemen.
In the four months since his coronation, King Salman has put Prince Mohammed in charge of the state oil monopoly, the public investment company, economic policy and the ministry of defense. [Continue reading…]
BBC News reports: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years of imprisonment on blogger Raif Badawi, despite a foreign outcry.
Speaking from Canada, his wife Ensaf Haidar told news agency AFP, “this is a final decision that is irrevocable.”
In March, the kingdom expressed “surprise and dismay” at international criticism over the punishment.
At the time, the foreign ministry issued a statement saying it rejected interference in its internal affairs.
In 2012, Badawi was arrested and charged with “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: Anyone who had the time to read the summary of the 6,700-page report by Senate investigators on the federal government’s program of torturing detainees captured after the Sept. 11 attacks knew, or at least suspected, that there was more to the sickening story.
This week, a Reuters report added to those suspicions with newly declassified statements from Majid Khan, a high-value prisoner who had been affiliated with Al Qaeda, was captured in 2003 and has been held at Guantánamo Bay since 2006.
Over more than seven years of conversations at Guantánamo with his lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Mr. Khan described even more torture and abuse than is contained in the Senate report. Although the details of his account, as documented in notes by his lawyers, could not be independently confirmed, they corroborate many of the findings of the report.
Soon after his capture, Mr. Khan said, interrogators waterboarded him twice, a contention that contradicts the Central Intelligence Agency’s claim that it had already named all detainees who were subjected to that practice. (The C.I.A. has denied that Mr. Khan was waterboarded.) As he was moved among a series of C.I.A.-operated “black sites” over the following months, Mr. Khan told his lawyers, the torture continued. He was beaten repeatedly. He was hung naked from a wooden beam for three days, shackled and starved. He was taken down once during that time to be submerged in an ice bath. Interrogators pushed his head under the water until he thought he would drown. He received what he called “violent enemas,” and was anally assaulted in a process the interrogators called “rectal feeding.”
“I wished they had killed me,” Mr. Khan said. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency used a wider array of sexual abuse and other forms of torture than was disclosed in a Senate report last year, according to a Guantanamo Bay detainee turned government cooperating witness.
Majid Khan said interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his “private parts” – none of which was described in the Senate report. Interrogators, some of whom smelled of alcohol, also threatened to beat him with a hammer, baseball bats, sticks and leather belts, Khan said.
Khan’s is the first publicly released account from a high-value al Qaeda detainee who experienced the “enhanced interrogation techniques” of President George W. Bush’s administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.
Khan’s account is contained in 27 pages of interview notes his lawyers compiled over the past seven years. The U.S. government cleared the notes for release last month through a formal review process. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: The former deputy CIA director made a series of factual misstatements while defending the agency’s harsh treatment of detainees in his recent book, Senate intelligence committee staffers assert in a 54-page document filed with citations from CIA records.
The detailed critique of the memoir by Michael Morell shows the extent to which critics and backers continue to try to shape public perceptions of the CIA’s post-9/11 detention and interrogation program, even months after the release of a Senate report that sought to render a final judgment on it.
How the public interprets the CIA’s use of torture is not merely a matter of history: At least one Republican presidential candidate, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, recently promised to bring back harsh interrogation techniques if elected. [Continue reading…]
Rambo! In my Reagan-era youth, the name was synonymous with the Vietnam War — at least the Vietnam War reimagined, the celluloid fantasy version of it in which a tanned, glistening, muscle-bound commando busted the handcuffs of defeat and redeemed America’s honor in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Untold millions including the Gipper himself, an inveterate Vietnam revisionist, were enraptured.
Many years later, studying war crimes in Vietnam, I would come across a real Rambo — or maybe you’d call him an anti-Rambo. To the best of my knowledge, this Rambo didn’t fire a machine gun one-handed or use explosive-tipped arrows. But his work was a powder keg with a short fuse and his conscience a bright flame. While conducting research for a Pentagon-funded project on refugees, A. Terry Rambo turned up evidence that South Korean troops, functionally serving as America’s mercenaries in Vietnam, had massacred a large number of civilians. That Rambo “presented the findings” to, he said, “a whole slew of colonels — 10 or 12” of them. He thought the American brass would take action. Instead, a U.S. officer instructed him to leave that information out of his report. “I told [the officer] as a civilian I didn’t feel myself bound by [U.S. military] orders and that I was going to submit a report on it.” Rambo eventually went public with the story.
He was far from alone.
The criminality, the madness of the Vietnam War seemed to compel many to act in similar ways even when it put them at great peril, threatened to upend their lives, sink their careers, and leave them at odds with their families. Many took to the streets; many who knew secrets spilled them; and the phenomenon spread. It became a golden age of whistleblowing: veterans exposing U.S. atrocities, civilians exposing FBI dirty tricks and domestic surveillance, governmentofficials exposing White House crimes and NSA spying. Truth-telling seemed to be in the air. And, of course, a former Pentagon analyst and employee of the military-funded RAND Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg, rocked the world with his exposure of the U.S. military’s secret history of the Vietnam War — known as the Pentagon Papers — laying bare decades of lies foisted upon Congress and the American people. Today, in another great age of whistleblowers, only Ellsberg’s name remains.
The real Rambo, Ron Ridenhour, Jamie Henry, Perry Fellwock, Peter Buxtun, and so many others are known only to a tiny minority. In 1970, A. Terry Rambo told the New York Times that he had heard about a RAND study that also found evidence of South Korean atrocities. A RAND spokesman said they had turned up “rumors about Korean troop behavior… but since they did not involve RAND research, we can only regard them as hearsay.” Decades later — no thanks to RAND — it’s well-documented that South Korean forces slaughtered large numbers of Vietnamese civilians. It might never have been so if the real Rambo hadn’t had the courage to come forward.
Without whistleblowers, citizens are at the mercy of massaged truths and fine-crafted fictions spun by officials who prefer shadows to sunlight. If you can imagine a world in which the Pentagon Papers were never leaked, in which the burglary of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office by President Nixon’s “Plumbers” was never uncovered, in which decades of blood-soaked lies were kept secret from the American people, then you can imagine a world in which the late Anthony Russo, another former RAND analyst and whistleblower in danger of evaporating into history’s mists, never had a crisis of conscience.
Today, Russo has been reduced to a footnote and his shining accomplishment assumed to be, as he put it, as a “Xerox aide” to Ellsberg, a man who did little more than help physically copy documents. As Barbara Myers writes in her inaugural (and epic) TomDispatch piece, Russo was far more instrumental in the leaking of the Pentagon Papers than most know — and that may have been only his second most important act of whistleblowing. With news of a final Rambofilm starring Stallone on the horizon, the time seems ripe to remember the real Rambos and Russos who took great risks to tell hard truths, exposing misery, malfeasance, and murder that the powerful would rather have kept hidden. Nick Turse
The other conspirator
The secret origins of the CIA’s torture program and the forgotten man who tried to expose it
By Barbara Myers
The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.
The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.
Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.
That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.