In China, brutality yields confessions of graft

n13-iconThe Associated Press reports: The local Chinese official remembers the panic he felt in Room 109. He had refused to confess to bribery he says he didn’t commit, and his Communist Party interrogators were forcing his legs apart.

Zhou Wangyan heard his left thigh bone snap, with a loud “ka-cha.” The sound nearly drowned out his howls of pain.

“My leg is broken,” Zhou told the interrogators. According to Zhou, they ignored his pleas.

China’s government is under strong pressure to fight rampant corruption in its ranks, faced with the anger of an increasingly prosperous, well-educated and Internet-savvy public. However, the party’s methods for extracting confessions expose its 85 million members and their families to the risk of abuse. Experts estimate at least several thousand people are secretly detained every year for weeks or months under an internal system that is separate from state justice.

In a rare display of public defiance, Zhou and three other party members in Hunan described to The Associated Press the months of abuse they endured less than two years ago, in separate cases, while in detention. Zhou, land bureau director for the city of Liling, said he was deprived of sleep and food, nearly drowned, whipped with wires and forced to eat excrement. The others reported being turned into human punching bags, strung up by the wrists from high windows, or dragged along the floor, face down, by their feet. [Continue reading...]

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Washington Post: Declassify the Senate report on CIA interrogation methods

o13-iconIn an editorial, the Washington Post says: More than a dozen years after the attacks of 9/11, it is time to treat government decisions made in the aftermath as history — to be debated and learned from. This is especially true of the misguided program of interrogation and torture carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency. In the years after the attacks, so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” that did not measure up to American values nor international law were brought to bear on detainees. We need to know the full story of how that happened.

In a landmark investigation, comparable in significance to the 9/11 Commission report, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence initiated a full probe of the interrogations in 2009. The investigation was completed in December 2012 and approved by a 9 to 6 vote. The resulting report is roughly 6,300 pages long, with a 300-page executive summary. The CIA, which is the focus of much criticism in the report, submitted a 120-page response to the committee in June, explaining where the agency agreed with the findings and where it disagreed. A long period of discussion between the CIA and committee staff ensued, concluding last September. Since then, the report has been under revision to reflect the comments.

When complete, the full report will go back to the committee for approval and then, perhaps, to the executive branch for declassification. We hope this happens soon. The committee chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has called for the release of a declassified executive summary and of the findings and conclusions. President Obama, who early in his first term repudiated the legal memos that were used as justification for the interrogations but also announced that he would not seek criminal charges against CIA operatives who participated in the them, has endorsed making public a declassified version.

Clearly, this has been a painful process for the CIA. The report is expected to be highly critical of the agency’s actions. A key issue is whether methods such as waterboarding produced any useful intelligence, as members of the Bush administration and others have claimed. A debate without the facts is hollow. We need to read the report of the Senate committee in order to squarely address it.

There have been some reports in recent days of an investigation by the CIA’s inspector general into whether agents gained access to Senate committee computers, perhaps an effort to interfere with the report’s publication. If this happened, this is terribly inappropriate. The CIA must cooperate with Congress in getting this report published, however unpleasant that may be.

The interrogation methods were part of a covert action program authorized by the president. It is time to examine the program with some historical perspective, learn the lessons and ponder how the United States can best defend itself in a dangerous world without violating dearly held values and principles.

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Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening

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British ex-Guantanamo inmate denies Syria-related terror charges

n13-iconReuters reports: A British man once held at Guantanamo Bay turned human rights campaigner told a court in London on Saturday he would plead not guilty to providing training and funding terrorism in Syria, police said.

Moazzam Begg, 45, who was released without charge from the U.S. military prison in Cuba in 2005, was detained at his home in Birmingham in central England last week and charged with terrorism offences dated between October 2012 and April 2013.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court on Saturday and was remanded in custody to appear at London’s Old Bailey criminal court on March 14.

It is the first time he has ever faced any charges.

Begg was held by the U.S. government at Bagram detention center in Afghanistan, then Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February 2002 suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda.

After his release, he founded Cage, a human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of people detained during counter-terrorism operations.

Cage accused British authorities of “retraumatising” Begg by refusing to grant him bail, saying this was part of a campaign to criminalize legitimate activism. [Continue reading...]

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Karen Greenberg: Obama’s commandments

Think of us as having two presidents.  One, a fellow named Barack Obama, cuts a distinctly Clark Kent-ish figure.  In presiding over domestic policy, he is regularly thwarted in his desires by the Republicans in Congress and couldn’t until recently get his most basic choices for government positions or the judiciary through the Senate.  For the most minimal look of effectiveness, he has to rely on relatively small gestures by executive order.  In the recent history of the American presidency, he is a remarkably powerless figure presiding over what everyone who is a media anyone claims is a riven, paralyzed, even broken government structure, one in which the Republicans are intent on ensuring that a Democratic president can do nothing until they take the White House (which is almost guaranteed to be never).  What this president wants, almost by definition, he can’t have.  He is, as Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote recently, a man who’s lost the plot line to his own story and has been relegated to the position of onlooker-in-chief.

But keep in mind that that’s only one of our two presidents.  The other, a fellow named Barack Obama, flies (by drone) like Superman, rules more or less by fiat, sends U.S. missiles to strike and kill just about anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the distant backlands of the planet, and dispatches the country’s secret warriors (whether from the CIA or the special operations forces) wherever he pleases.  He can, with rare exceptions, intervene violently wherever he chooses.  He can (by proxy) listen in on whomever he’s curious about (including, it seems, 320 German business and political leaders).  He rules over what former Congressional insider Mike Lofgren calls the “deep state” in Washington, a national security apparatus that is neither riven, nor broken, nor paralyzed, with only the rarest intercessions from Congress.  In this world, Obama’s powers have only grown, along with the “kill list” he reviews every week.

Admittedly, in his actions abroad from Afghanistan to Libya, his moves on the global stage haven’t exactly proven to be brilliant coups de théâtre.  Many have, in fact, been remarkably boneheaded.  But no one ever claimed that Superman’s superpowers included super-brain-power.

Think of this White House, then, as the schizophrenic presidency, one half remarkably impotent, the other ever more potent.  The conundrum is that they both inhabit the same man.  And if they add up to anything, as Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and TomDispatch regular, makes clear today, it’s long-term bad news for the country and the planet. Tom Engelhardt

The Five Commandments of Barack Obama
How “thou shalt not” became “thou shalt”
By Karen J. Greenberg

In January 2009, Barack Obama entered the Oval Office projecting idealism and proud to be the constitutional law professor devoted to turning democratic principles into action.  In his first weeks in office, in a series of executive orders and public statements, the new president broadcast for all to hear the five commandments by which life in his new world of national security would be lived. 

Thou shalt not torture.

Thou shalt not keep Guantanamo open.

Thou shalt not keep secrets unnecessarily.

Thou shalt not wage war without limits.

Thou shalt not live above the law.

Five years later, the question is: How have he and his administration lived up to these self-proclaimed commandments?

[Read more...]

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Is solitary confinement an impossible idea?

f13-iconBenjamin Wallace-Wells writes: On July 8 of last year, a 50-year-old man named Todd Ashker, an inmate at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, began a hunger strike. He had compiled a list of demands, but the essential one was that the policy that dictated the terms of his imprisonment be abolished. Ashker was housed in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit, the most restrictive prison unit in California and a place of extreme isolation. Convicts stay in their cells 23 hours a day and leave only to exercise in a concrete room, alone; their meals are fed into their cell through a slot. Other than an awareness that they are staring at the same blank wall as seven other men kept in their “pod,” they are completely alone. Ashker has been there since 1990; in his view, he has been subject to nearly a quarter-­century of continuous torture. “I have not had a normal face-to-face conversation with another human being in 23 years,” he told me recently, speaking from the other side of a thick plate of glass.

The sheer length of time inmates spend here has made Pelican Bay a novel experiment in social control. The California prison system allows any confirmed gang member to be kept in the SHU indefinitely, with a review of his status only every six years. (Prisoners who kill a guard or another inmate, by contrast, are given a five-year term in the SHU.) This policy has filled Pelican Bay with men considered the most influential and dangerous gang leaders in California. Ashker, allegedly a senior member of the Aryan Brotherhood, had for years shared a pod with Sitawa Jamaa, allegedly the minister of education of the Black Guerrilla Family, and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly an important leader of the Mexican Mafia. In the next pod over was Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of three “generals” of Nuestra Familia. According to the state, these men have spent much of their lives running rival, racially aligned criminal organizations dedicated, often, to killing one another. But over a period of years, through an elaborate and extremely patient series of conversations yelled across the pod and through the concrete walls of the exercise room, the four men had formed a political alliance. They had a shared interest in protesting the conditions of their confinement and, eventually, a shared strategy. They became collaborators.

The men planned for the hunger strike meticulously. They had staged two more modest strikes in 2011, and afterward some had staged private fasts in their cells to try to learn how long they might be able to go without food. The four men had spent the spring putting on weight. Ashker had calculated how much water he needed to drink to keep his electrolytes ­balanced, his heart pumping: 240 ounces a day. In June, the men sent letters to an activist group detailing their grievances, explaining when the strike would begin, and asking other prisoners to join them. In letters to families and friends, they spread the word. Corrections officers throughout the state heard the news; on July 2, a few senior officials visited from Sacramento to meet with the prisoners and measure their intent. They left ­convinced the men were serious. Then, a few days later, the prisoners stopped eating.

The severity of his isolation meant that as the strike began, Ashker had little idea of what effect it was having or how many other prisoners had decided to join him. It turned out to be the largest coordinated hunger strike in American history. [Continue reading...]

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Lawyers, judge hold secret Guantánamo hearing on CIA black sites

n13-iconCarol Rosenberg reports: A military judge held a secret war court session Saturday on defense lawyers’ efforts to uncover evidence of what the CIA did to the alleged USS Cole bomber across years in the agency’s clandestine overseas prison network.

Both the public and the alleged terrorist were excluded from the 111-minute hearing in the case that seeks the execution of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri as mastermind of the Oct. 12, 2000 terror attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors off Aden, Yemen.

Only prosecutors and defense lawyers attended the hearing with the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, and a court recorder creating a classified transcript of the proceedings.

Nashiri, 49, spent four years in secret CIA prisons where, according to declassified reports, agents waterboarded him and interrogated him nude with a hood on his head and handcuffs on his wrists. One U.S. agent threatened to kill the Saudi with a power drill and handgun, and threatened to have his mother raped. [Continue reading...]

Meanwhile, AFP reports: Five former Guantanamo detainees are seeking damages for what they say were years of sexual, mental and physical abuse at the US detention center, where they were held without charge or trial.

The men from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Algeria, who are now settled in other countries, alleged Friday at a US appeals court that they were subjected to torture that included forced nudity, sexual harassment and beatings, first in Afghanistan and then at the military jail in Cuba.

Justices will make their ruling in several weeks, but one of them, Judge David Tatel, said military and civilian officials at the Pentagon had failed in their duty.

“Their job is to protect the detainees from abuse, they failed to do so,” he said.

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What the CIA learned from the Nazis

f13-iconAnnie Jacobsen writes: It was 1946 and World War II had ended less than one year before. In Top Secret memos being circulated in the elite ‘E’ ring of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were preparing for ‘total war’ with the Soviets—to include atomic, chemical, and biological warfare. They even set an estimated start date of 1952. The Joint Chiefs believed that the U.S. could win this future war, but not for reasons that the general public knew about. Since war’s end, across the ruins of the Third Reich, U.S. military officers had been capturing and then hiring Hitler’s weapons makers, in a Top Secret program that would become known as Operation Paperclip. Soon, more than 1,600 of these men and their families would be living the American dream, right here in the United States. From these Nazi scientists, U.S. military and intelligence organizations culled knowledge of Hitler’s most menacing weapons including sarin gas and weaponized bubonic plague.

As the Cold War progressed, the program expanded and got stranger still. In 1948, Operation Paperclip’s Brigadier General Charles E. Loucks, Chief of U.S. Chemical Warfare Plans in Europe, was working with Hitler’s former chemists when one of the scientists, Nobel Prize winner Richard Kuhn, shared with General Loucks information about a drug with military potential being developed by Swiss chemists. This drug, a hallucinogen, had astounding potential properties if successfully weaponized. In documents recently discovered at the U.S. Army Heritage Center in Pennsylvania, Loucks quickly became enamored with the idea that this drug could be used on the battlefield to “incapacitate not kill.” The drug was Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.

It did not take long for the CIA to become interested and involved. Perhaps LSD could also be used for off-the-battlefield purposes, a means through which human behavior could be manipulated and controlled. In an offshoot of Operation Paperclip, the CIA teamed up with Army, Air Force and Naval Intelligence to run one of the most nefarious, classified, enhanced interrogation programs of the Cold War. The work took place inside a clandestine facility in the American zone of occupied Germany, called Camp King. The facility’s chief medical doctor was Operation Paperclip’s Dr. Walter Schreiber, the former Surgeon General of the Third Reich. When Dr. Schreiber was secretly brought to America—to work for the U.S. Air Force in Texas—his position was filled with another Paperclip asset, Dr. Kurt Blome, the former Deputy Surgeon General of the Third Reich and the man in charge of the Nazi’s program to weaponize bubonic plague. The activities that went on at Camp King between 1946 and the late 1950s have never been fully accounted for by either the Department of Defense or the CIA.

Camp King was strategically located in the village of Oberursel, eleven miles northwest of the United States European Command (EUCOM) headquarters in Frankfurt. Officially the facility had three names: the U.S. Military Intelligence Service Center at Oberursel, the 7707th European Command Intelligence Center, and Camp King. In 1945, the place housed captured Nazis but by 1948 most of its prisoners were Soviet bloc spies. For more than a decade Camp King would function as a Cold War black site long before black sites were known as such—an ideal facility to develop enhanced interrogation techniques in part because it was “off-site” but mainly because of its access to Soviet prisoners. [Continue reading...]

Annie Jacobsen’s new book, Operation Paperclip, is published this week.

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The parallels between American slavery and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians

o13-iconEva Illouz writes: [T]he critiques of Israel in the United States are increasingly waged by Jews, not anti-Semites. The initiators and leaders of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement are such respected academics as Judith Butler, Jacqueline Rose, Noam Chomsky, Hilary Rose and Larry Gross, all Jews.

If Israel is indeed singled out among the many nations that have a bad record in human rights, it is because of the personal sense of shame and embarrassment that a large number of Jews in the Western world feel toward a state that, by its policies and ethos, does not represent them anymore. As Peter Beinart has been cogently arguing for some time now, the Jewish people seems to have split into two distinct factions: One that is dominated by such imperatives as “Israeli security,” “Jewish identity” and by the condemnation of “the world’s double standards” and “Arabs’ unreliability”; and a second group of Jews, inside and outside Israel, for whom human rights, freedom, and the rule of law are as visceral and fundamental to their identity as membership to Judaism is for the first group. Supreme irony of history: Israel has splintered the Jewish people around two radically different moral visions of Jews and humanity.

If we are to find an appropriate analogy to understand the rift inside the Jewish people, let us agree that the debate between the two groups is neither ethnic (we belong to the same ethnic group) nor religious (the Judith Butlers of the world are not trying to push a new or different religious dogma, although the rift has a certain, but imperfect, overlap with the religious-secular positions). Nor is the debate a political or ideological one, as Israel is in fact still a democracy. Rather, the poignancy, acrimony and intensity of the debate are about two competing and ultimately incompatible conceptions of morality.
[...]
[W]hat started as a national and military conflict has morphed into a form of domination of Palestinians that now increasingly borders on conditions of slavery. If we understand slavery as a condition of existence and not as ownership and trade of human bodies, the domination that Israel has exercised over Palestinians turns out to have created the matrix of domination that I call a “condition of slavery.”

The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry has documented that between 1967 and 2012, Israeli authorities arrested some 800,000 Palestinians by power of the “military code.” (A more conservative assessment from Israeli sources documented that 700,000 Palestinians were detained between 1967 and 2008.) This number is astounding, especially in light of the fact that this represents as much as 40 percent of the entire male population. When a large part of the adult male population is arrested, it means that the lives of a large number of breadwinners, the heads of a family, are disrupted, alienated and made into the object of the arbitrary power of the army. In fact, which nation would create a Prisoner Affairs Ministry if imprisonment was not such a basic aspect of its life?

These facts also mean that a significant portion of the non-incarcerated population lives under the constant fear and threat of imprisonment. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s war on journalists

o13-iconSharif Abdul Quddus writes: In Egypt, journalism can now be a form of terrorism. At least that’s what prosecutors are alleging in a case targeting Al Jazeera, with 20 defendants referred to trial on charges of joining or aiding a terrorist group and endangering national security.

Among the principal accusations, the prosecutor’s statement accuses the defendants of manipulating video footage “to produce unreal scenes to suggest abroad that the country is undergoing a civil war that portends the downfall of the state.” The statement goes on to say prosecutors assigned a team of “media experts” from the Egyptian Union for Television and Radio to inspect equipment seized from the hotel where Al Jazeera English was operating. The technical reports show that “the footage was altered and video scenes were modified using software and high-caliber editing equipment.”

So they used Final Cut Pro. They edited. They probably even selected the fiercest footage of clashes for their reports. The nature of the charges would be comical if they weren’t so serious.

The journalists accused in the case are being treated as terrorists – that is to say, inhumanely. Two of the detained Al Jazeera English staff, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, are being held in Al-Akrab, the maximum security wing of Tora prison, alongside jihadis and militants. They have been kept in solitary confinement 24-hours a day in insect-infested cells with no beds, books or sunlight for over four weeks. Following the series of bombings in Cairo on January 24, guards even took away their blankets and food their relatives had provided. After a recent visit with him, Fahmy’s family said his spirit appeared to have been broken. Peter Greste is being held in only slightly better conditions.

Meanwhile, two other Al Jazeera journalists, Abdallah al-Shami and Mohamed Badr, have been imprisoned for over five months, their lives irrevocably damaged for having reported from the site of clashes and swept up in the mass arrests of protesters. Shami has been on a hunger strike since January 21 to protest his detention.

Egypt has become one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a journalist. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranked it the third deadliest country for journalists in 2013 and among the world’s top ten worst jailers of journalists. Aside from being killed, wounded, or arrested by security forces, reporters in Egypt are increasingly being attacked by civilians. [Continue reading...]

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Obama administration won’t divulge cost of Guantanamo camp, asks court to dismiss FOIA lawsuit

n13-iconMcClatchy reports: The Obama administration is refusing to divulge how much it spent to build the secret prison facility at Guantanamo where the accused 9/11 co-conspirators are held and has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by a Miami Herald reporter demanding documents that would reveal the number.

In a filing Friday, the Justice Department said that the Pentagon had found just one document that would provide information relevant to a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request reporter Carol Rosenberg filed seeking that cost figure. That document was exempt from disclosure, the filing said, because it contained details of internal deliberations and the names of many officials who were entitled to privacy.

The Justice Department also made a separate secret filing with the court that provided more details on why the document should remain secret. That filing was not shared with Rosenberg’s attorneys, and its contents are unknown. [Continue reading...]

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The torture that flourishes from Gitmo to an American supermax

FeaturePardiss Kebriaei writes: I just returned from Guantánamo, where I met with my client Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Yemeni citizen who began his thirteenth year of detention without charge there this month. He has been deprived of a third of his life, from ages 22 to 35, because the United States government says that in 2001 he was a cook for a Taliban affiliate that no longer exists. In a few months, he will go through another government review that will either recommend his transfer from Guantánamo or his continued and indefinite imprisonment. We have words and images to describe waterboarding; it is harder to convey the suffocation of perpetual detention.

The crisis of Ghaleb’s continuing detention — its injustice and pain — was at one time more visible. Guantánamo began as a prison the Bush administration declared was outside the law, and there was little pretense about it. People were shoved off the first transport planes in shackles and hoods and locked into outdoor cages. For two years, they were held incommunicado and denied the right to know or contest why they were being detained. When it came to torture, the “gloves were off,” to paraphrase top military and civilian officials.

The wrongful detention and abuse of the men who remain are less overt now. Today, as the result of years of legal challenges and advocacy, detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention in federal court; indeed, it is a federal court that sanctioned Ghaleb’s indefinite detention for being a cook. Today, the cages of the makeshift “Camp X-Ray” are overgrown with weeds; the majority of detainees are held in “state-of-the-art” facilities that resemble maximum-security prisons in the United States and mask similar cruelties. Today, torture is the mental torment of 4,380 days behind the walls of an island prison without good reason or end. It is that which Ghaleb says is excruciating.

A colleague, the first civilian attorney allowed access to the prison in 2004, talks of that first visit. The barbarity of the way human beings were being treated was raw and exposed. My visits nowadays begin with a mint on my pillow in my lodging quarters. I can bring pizza to my clients. The crisis at Guantánamo is as present now as ever, but it has been given legal cover, sanitized, normalized. It took a mass hunger strike at the prison last year to wake us up to it.

A few years ago, at an event in January marking yet another anniversary of the Guantánamo prison’s existence, I met the father of Fahad Hashmi, a US citizen of Pakistani descent who grew up in New York City. Fahad is incarcerated at another infamous US prison — the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Colorado. As a lawyer, I had spent the last several years trying to extend the protections of the American legal system to Guantánamo. But that meeting was an introduction to a slice of unjust punishment and torture on American soil—another outrage born of the “War on Terror,” where government zealotry produces grotesque outcomes, the façade of legal process can legitimize profound unfairness, and barbarity is masked by utter normality. [Continue reading...]

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Leaving Gaza

FeatureAfter her final visit to Gaza before returning to London, The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, writes: Hazem Balousha was uncharacteristically despondent when he greeted me recently at the end of my long walk through the open-air caged passageway that separates the modern hi-tech state of Israel from the tiny, impoverished, overcrowded Gaza Strip.

Hazem has been a colleague and a friend for three and a half years, a relationship built over more than 20 visits I’ve made to Gaza. He arranges interviews and provides translation; but most importantly he helps me understand the people, the politics and the daily struggle of life in Gaza. We have talked for hours in his car, over coffee, at his home. He has accompanied me to grim refugee camps and upmarket restaurants; to the tunnels in the south and farms in the north; to schools and hospitals; to bomb sites and food markets; to the odd wedding party and rather more funerals. In the face of Gaza’s pressure-cooker atmosphere and bleak prospects, he – like so many I’ve met here – has always been remarkably good-humoured.

But not this time. As we waited for Hamas officials sporting black beards and bomber jackets to check my entry permit, I asked Hazem: “How’s it going?” He shrugged, and began to tell me about the many phone calls he’d had to make to find a replacement cooking gas canister recently, and how his small sons whine when the electricity cuts out for hours each day, depriving them of their favourite TV shows.

“This is what we have come to. We wake up in the night worrying about small things: cooking gas, the next power cut, how to find fuel for the car,” he said dejectedly. “We no longer care about the big things, the important things, the future – we just try to get through each day.”

The people of Gaza are reeling from a series of blows that have led some analysts to say that it is facing its worst crisis for more than six years, putting its 1.7 million inhabitants under intense material and psychological pressure. Israel’s continued blockade has been exacerbated by mounting hostility to Gaza’s Hamas government from the military regime in Cairo, which sees it as an extension of Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptians have virtually cut off access to and from Gaza, and as a result Hamas is facing crippling financial problems and a new political isolation.

Power cuts, fuel shortages, price rises, job losses, Israeli air strikes, untreated sewage in the streets and the sea, internal political repression, the near-impossibility of leaving, the lack of hope or horizon – these have chipped away at the resilience and fortitude of Gazans, crushing their spirit. [Continue reading...]

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Contrary to Obama’s promises, the U.S. military still permits torture

Jeffrey Kaye writes: The United States Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogation (pdf) has been sold to the American public and the world as a replacement for the brutal torture tactics used by the CIA and the Department of Defense during the Bush/Cheney administration.

On 22 January 2009, President Obama released an executive order stating that any individual held by any US government agency “shall not be subjected to any interrogation technique or approach, or any treatment related to interrogation, that is not authorized by and listed in Army Field Manual 2 22.3.”

But a close reading of Department of Defense documents and investigations by numerous human rights agencies have shown that the current Army Field Manual itself uses techniques that are abusive and can even amount to torture.

Disturbingly, the latest version of the AFM mimicked the Bush administration in separating out “war on terror” prisoners as not subject to the same protections and rights as regular prisoners of war. Military authorities then added an appendix to the AFM that included techniques that could only be used on such “detainees”, ie, prisoners without POW status.

Labeled Appendix M, and propounding an additional, special “technique” called “Separation”, human rights and legal group have recognized that Appendix M includes numerous abusive techniques, including use of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. psychology body declines to rebuke member in Guantánamo torture case

The Guardian reports: America’s professional association of psychologists has quietly declined to rebuke one of its members, a retired US army reserve officer, for his role in one of the most brutal interrogations known to have to taken place at Guantánamo Bay, the Guardian has learned.

The decision not to pursue any disciplinary measure against John Leso, a former army reserve major, is the latest case in which someone involved in the post-9/11 torture of detainees has faced no legal or even professional consequences.

In a 31 December letter obtained by the Guardian, the American Psychological Association said it had “determined that we cannot proceed with formal charges in this matter. Consequently the complaint against Dr Leso has been closed.”

But the APA did not deny Leso took part in the brutal interrogation of the suspected 20th 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose treatment the Pentagon official overseeing his military commission ultimately called “torture”. [Continue reading...]

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Evidence of ‘industrial-scale killing’ by Syria spurs call for war crimes charges

The Guardian reports: Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the “systematic killing” of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers.

The three, former prosecutors at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, examined thousands of Syrian government photographs and files recording deaths in the custody of regime security forces from March 2011 to last August.

Most of the victims were young men and many corpses were emaciated, bloodstained and bore signs of torture. Some had no eyes; others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution.

The UN and independent human rights groups have documented abuses by both Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels, but experts say this evidence is more detailed and on a far larger scale than anything else that has yet emerged from the 34-month crisis.

The three lawyers interviewed the source, a military policeman who worked secretly with a Syrian opposition group and later defected and fled the country. In three sessions in the last 10 days they found him credible and truthful and his account “most compelling”.

They put all evidence under rigorous scrutiny, says their report, which has been obtained by the Guardian and CNN.

The authors are Sir Desmond de Silva QC, former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the former lead prosecutor of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, and Professor David Crane, who indicted President Charles Taylor of Liberia at the Sierra Leone court.

The defector, who for security reasons is identified only as Caesar, was a photographer with the Syrian military police. He smuggled the images out of the country on memory sticks to a contact in the Syrian National Movement, which is supported by the Gulf state of Qatar. Qatar, which has financed and armed rebel groups, has called for the overthrow of Assad and demanded his prosecution.

The 31-page report, which was commissioned by a leading firm of London solicitors acting for Qatar, is being made available to the UN, governments and human rights groups. Its publication appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week’s UN-organised Geneva II peace conference, which is designed to negotiate a way out of the Syrian crisis by creating a transitional government. [Continue reading...]

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