The Guardian reports: Lawyers for two men subject to extraordinary rendition by the CIA told the European court of human rights (ECHR) on Tuesday that Poland, which permitted a secret “black” site to operate on its territory, should be held responsible for their torture.
The two-day hearing at Strasbourg was the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing US agencies to carry out “enhanced” interrogation and “waterboarding” programmes. In a highly unusual legal move, the media and public were barred from the opening day’s session.
The military base at Stare Kiejkuty, north of Warsaw, it was revealed, had previously been used by German intelligence and later the Soviet army during the second world war. One of the men, it was alleged, was subjected to mock executions while hooded and otherwise naked. [Continue reading...]
Institute on Medicine as a Profession: An independent panel of military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts today charged that U.S. military and intelligence agencies directed doctors and psychologists working in U.S. military detention centers to violate standard ethical principles and medical standards to avoid infliction of harm. The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers (see attached) concludes that since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA improperly demanded that U.S. military and intelligence agency health professionals collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in U.S. custody.
These practices included “designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of detainees, according to the report. Although the DoD has taken steps to address some of these practices in recent years, including instituting a committee to review medical ethics concerns at Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Task Force says the changed roles for health professionals and anemic ethical standards adopted within the military remain in place.
“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Task Force member Dr. Gerald Thomson, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University. “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.”
The Task Force report, supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations, calls on the DoD and CIA to follow medical professional standards of conduct to enable doctors and psychologists to adhere to their ethical principles so that in the future they be used to heal, not injure, detainees they encounter. The Task Force also urges professional medical associations and the American Psychological Association to strengthen ethical standards related to interrogation and detention of detainees.
The report, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, is based on two years of review of records in the public domain by a 19-member task force. The report details how DoD and CIA policies institutionalized a variety of interventions by military and intelligence agency doctors and psychologists that breach ethical standards to promote well-being and avoid harm. [Continue reading...]
John Sifton writes: I have just arrived here in the Gambia, in westernmost Africa, to testify before the African Commission of Human Rights about a CIA rendition case involving Djibouti, 4,000 miles east at the mouth of the Red Sea.
The case against Djibouti was brought by Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a Yemeni citizen who was arrested in 2003 in Tanzania and taken on a private flight to Djibouti. There the CIA — with help from Djibouti authorities — detained him short term and then flew him to another CIA facility in Afghanistan. His petition provides evidence that he was subjected to beatings and torture in both locations. The CIA appears to have realized later that al-Asad was not involved in terrorism or al-Qaeda, and returned him to Yemen in 2005.
The al-Asad case is one of several brought to hold the US government and its co-perpetrators accountable for unlawful arrests, detentions, and interrogations carried out by the CIA during the Bush administration — serious abuses that my colleagues and I documented for Human Rights Watch in numerous reports in 2004 to present. Known CIA interrogation techniques included severe sleep deprivation, forced standing, exposure to cold, slapping and hitting, confining detainees in small boxes, and throwing detainees against the wall. Some were waterboarded. [Continue reading...]
Jane Mayer reports: Last night, along with the bill reopening the government, the Senate confirmed Stephen W. Preston, the top lawyer at the C.I.A., to move to the Pentagon to serve in the same role there. The vote slipped by unnoticed by most, but on close inspection, it revealed previously unreleased documents that lift the lid on an unusual standoff between Congress and the Obama Administration’s C.I.A. At its core is a bitter disagreement over an apparently devastating, and still secret, report by the Senate Intelligence Committee documenting in detail how the C.I.A.’s brutalization of terror suspects during the Bush years was unnecessary, ineffective, and deceptively sold to Congress, the White House, the Justice Department, and the public. The report threatens to definitively refute former C.I.A. personnel who have defended the program’s integrity. But so far, to the consternation of several members of the Intelligence Committee, the Obama Administration, like Bush’s before it, is keeping the damning details from public view.
Preston’s confirmation became a proxy skirmish in the fight. Obama reportedly hoped to get Preston confirmed before the congressional recess this past summer. Instead, Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, who is a member of both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee, put a “hold” on Preston’s confirmation until he answered a set of additional, and previously undisclosed, questions. A copy of these seven questions, and Preston’s answers, obtained by The New Yorker (below), sheds new light on the conflict.
The questions and answers make clear that Udall, who has pushed vigorously for the report’s release, voted to confirm Preston only after he believed that the general counsel distanced himself from his own intelligence agency’s defiant and defensive stance on the six-thousand-three-hundred page report, which cost forty million dollars to produce. Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, are pushing to declassify and publicly release it. But John Brennan, the agency’s director, a career C.I.A. officer, and an Obama confidant, is apparently resisting disclosure, and challenging many of the report’s conclusions.
On June 27th, the C.I.A. delivered an impassioned rebuttal of the report to the committee. Last month marked the last of numerous meetings between C.I.A. and Intelligence Committee personnel over the disputed report. They did not go well, according to several informed sources. Meanwhile, despite Obama’s calls for increased transparency, the White House has apparently sat on the sidelines, urging the two intransigent sides to work out their differences. Without White House involvement, the standoff is likely to remain a huge battle. [Continue reading...]
Andrew Gumbel writes: In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to observe first-hand the effects of a peculiar — and, at the time, entirely novel — form of incarceration. The Quakers, who had opened the prison two years earlier, believed that long-term solitary confinement was an ideal form of religious penitence (whence the term penitentiary) and would hasten prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration into society. They saw it not as extreme punishment but as a progressive idea, far preferable to the giant holding pens typical of the age, where mutilations and violence among prisoners were common, and spiritual betterment all but unthinkable.
Tocqueville was favorably impressed. “Can there be a combination more powerful for reformation,” he wrote, “than that of a prison which hands over the prisoner to all the trials of solitude, leads him through reflection to remorse, through religion to hope, and makes him industrious by the burden of idleness?”
Ten years later, Dickens paid his own visit to Eastern State, and came away with a rather different opinion. Solitary confinement, he found, inflicted unimaginable torment on the minds of those subjected to it. Far from leading prisoners to enlightenment, it ruined their concentration and haunted them with hideous visions. They fell into deep despair, losing track of time and of themselves. “I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body,” he wrote in his American Notes for General Circulation:
[B]ecause its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear [...] It wears the mind into a morbid state, which renders it unfit for the rough contact and busy action of the world.
Dickens was not alone. Harry Hawser, who wrote poems about his experience at Eastern State around the same time, hauntingly described the effects of being plunged into a “living tomb.” By the end of the 19th century, the Supreme Court noted that solitary confinement had caused many prisoners to fall “into a semi-fatuous condition,” and others still to kill themselves or to become violently insane. By World War I, the practice was largely abandoned.
Still, the idea never entirely went away, and in our bewildering world of chronically overcrowded, gang-infested prisons, it has returned with a vengeance. The new generation of high-security supermax prisons, whose spreading popularity over the past 40 years has coincided with an explosion in prisoner numbers, is premised on the notion that dangerous inmates — the “worst of the worst,” in official parlance — need to be kept separate from the general prison population, and from each other. [Continue reading...]
Common Dreams: ‘Defense’ contractor CACI International has taken the shocking step of suing four former Abu Ghraib detainees who are seeking redress in U.S. courts for the company’s role in torturing, humiliating and dehumanizing them, with the U.S. corporation recently requesting that the judge order the plaintiffs—all of whom are Iraqi—to pay CACI for legal costs.CACI is demanding over $15,000 in compensation, mostly for witness fees, travel allowances and deposition transcripts, according to court documents.
“Given the wealth disparities between this multi-billion dollar entity and four torture victims, given what they went through, it’s surprising and appears to be an attempt to intimidate and punish these individuals for asserting their rights to sue in U.S. courts,” Baher Azny, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is working on the case, told Common Dreams.
Just weeks ago, a federal judge dismissed the former Abu Ghraib prisoners’ lawsuit against CACI International on the grounds that because Abu Ghraib is oversees, it is beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
The plaintiffs are appealing the decision, with their lawyers arguing that a U.S. corporation operating in a U.S. military prison should be subject to U.S. law.
The ruling is expected to have far-reaching ramifications for the shadowy networks of private contractors who operate in war-torn Iraq under veils of secrecy and with near-immunity, despite widely documented war crimes.
The New York Times reports: The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says she is planning a push to declassify hundreds of pages of a secret committee report that accuses the Central Intelligence Agency of misleading Congress and the White House about the agency’s detention and interrogation program, which is now defunct.
The 6,000-page report, which took years to complete and cost more than $40 million, is the only detailed account to date of a program that set off a national debate about torture. The report has been the subject of a fierce partisan fight and a vigorous effort by the C.I.A. to challenge its conclusions, and last month, the agency’s director, John O. Brennan, delivered a lengthy rebuttal to the report to committee leaders.
But the committee’s chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in a statement this week that the report was on “firm ground” and that she planned to ask the White House and C.I.A. to declassify its 300-page executive summary after “making any factual changes to our report that are warranted after the C.I.A.’s response.”
The committee’s top Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said he believed the report was deeply flawed and agreed with the intelligence agency’s critique. But he said he believed that a summary of the report could be made public, as long as it was accompanied by a summary of the agency’s response and a dissenting statement from committee Republicans.
The clash over the report is, at its core, a fight over who writes the history of what is perhaps the most bitterly disputed part of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. More than four years have passed since the C.I.A. closed its secret prisons, and nearly a decade since agency interrogators subjected Qaeda detainees to the most brutal interrogation methods, including the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: The CIA has completed a report that challenges the findings of a Senate investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, according to U.S. officials who said the response cites errors in the congressional probe and disputes its central conclusion that harsh methods used against al-Qaeda detainees failed to produce significant results.
The classified CIA document is expected to be delivered to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday by Director John Brennan during a closed-door meeting with the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).
The agency’s rebuttal is the most detailed defense that the CIA has assembled to date of one of the more controversial programs in its history, one that employed simulated drowning and other brutal measures to get information from al-Qaeda captives before the agency was ordered to close its secret prisons in 2009.
But the agency’s response and the 6,000-page congressional report it addresses both remain classified, making it unclear whether portions of either document will be made public. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the agency’s response, but current and former U.S. intelligence officials said it is sharply critical of the course of the committee’s investigation as well as its conclusions.
Despite lawmakers’ conclusions that harsh interrogations were ineffective, “anyone who was around and involved in the program knows that’s not right,” said a former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official. “I don’t know how they could fail to say that actually it was effective, and you can separate that from whether you approve of it or not.” [Continue reading...]
And why is a former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official being quoted? Why? Because he/she is a former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official. The statement itself is worthless. It refers to what anyone who was around knows, without actually saying whether that includes the source. And then it asserts that torture was effective, implying that it resulted in intelligence being gathered that could not have been gathered in any other way. That’s an unprovable assertion because if you use torture, you close off the possibility of finding out what you could have learned without the use of torture.
David M. Anderson writes: The British do not torture. At least, that is what we in Britain have always liked to think. But not anymore. In a historic decision last week, the British government agreed to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused while detained during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Each claimant will receive around £2,670 (about $4,000).
The money is paltry. But the principle it establishes, and the history it rewrites, are both profound. This is the first historical claim for compensation that the British government has accepted. It has never before admitted to committing torture in any part of its former empire.
In recent years there has been a clamor for official apologies. In 2010, Britain formally apologized for its army’s conduct in the infamous “Bloody Sunday” killings in Northern Ireland in 1972, and earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron visited Amritsar, India, the site of a 1919 massacre, and expressed “regret for the loss of life.”
The Kenyan case has been in process for a decade in London’s High Court. The British fought to avoid paying reparations, so the decision to settle is a significant change of direction. The decision comes months ahead of the 50th anniversary of the British departure from Kenya — once thought of as the “white man’s country” in East Africa. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.
The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.
Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.
While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.
“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.
The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” [Continue reading...]
Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, a military prosecutor at Guantanamo, truly believed that Mohamedou Ould Slahi was guilty, but he also believed Slahi’s interrogators should face prosecution for torture.
Jess Bravin writes: It would be months before Stu Couch got a fuller picture of the Slahi interrogation. But as he began to piece together the facts, he became increasingly alarmed. Each detail suggested a sustained, systematic regime of physical and psychological coercion that undermined the reliability of everything Slahi said. The trial could end up being more about what the government did to Slahi than what he did for al Qaeda.
Couch was convinced that Slahi had spent years organizing the Qaeda network in Europe, culminating with recruitment of the Hamburg cell that supplied hijackers for 9/11. If any detainee deserved the death penalty, it was Slahi.
Yet Couch hesitated. He ruminated for weeks. Was the United States justified in beating Slahi, in subjecting him to isolation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, and sexual humiliation? Was it justified in constructing elaborate scenarios that literally put the fear of death in him, convincing him that he was about to be killed?
One threat, Couch believed, was the worst of all: To have his mother raped.
“Military guys are real big about their mommas,” Couch said. And few more than Stu Couch. “Other than my wife, my mom is my best friend,” he said. “That’s just who I am.”
Couch wondered if he could prosecute Slahi at all.
He would lie awake for hours almost every night. During the 10-hour workdays at commissions, dark circles under Couch’s eyes exaggerated his hangdog look.
One Sunday, as usual, Couch drove his family to church. He was distracted as the service unfolded, possessed by the Slahi case. He mechanically obeyed when the minister called on worshippers to stand.
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself ?”
“I will, with God’s help,” came the echo. All persons. That included Osama bin Laden. And Mohamedou Ould Slahi.
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Every human being.
He was surrounded by people, but suddenly Couch felt very, very small. It was as if he stood alone in a dark, cavernous hall, a bright, single shaft of light illuminating him, unseen persons, or powers, awaiting his answer.
“I will,” he said. “With God’s help.”
After the service, he told his wife, Kim, of the threat to rape the prisoner’s mother. It was the linchpin to the prisoner’s cooperation, the foundation of the entire case.
He told Kim he would have to drop a case. A 9/11 case. “I hate to say it,” he said, “but being a Christian is gonna trump being an American.”
David Bromwich writes: Zero Dark Thirty is a spy thriller about the tracking and killing of Osama Bin Laden. Good police work did it, the film says, and it aims to show what (in the extraordinary circumstances) good police work amounts to. Action movies have been the director Kathryn Bigelow’s métier, and Zero Dark Thirty is tense and well-paced. It has the kind of proficiency one associates with, say, The Hunt for Red October. It does not mean to compete with a film like The Battle of Algiers. There is no question here of taking up a complex historical subject and exploring it with a semblance of human depth. Rather, the movie accepts the ready prejudices and fears of its American audience, and builds up pressure for two hours to prepare the thrill and relief at the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. The first two hours skip forward selectively to cover the trajectory of ten years. The final twenty-five minutes of action are portrayed almost in real time.
Until Americans stop indulging our elected officials in their appetite for secrecy, we will not know exactly what orders the Navy Seals carried into Abbottabad. Pretty clearly, it was a kill mission and not “Capture or Kill.” Zero Dark Thirty makes killing the personal preference of its heroine, Maya, a CIA agent who begins the hunt in September 2001 and whose relentless pursuit is clinched by success. When she talks to the Navy Seals team, she says she wants them to “kill him for me.” The “me” element in the international hunt, and its reflexive connection to revenge, is emphasized more than once. This overtly simplifies an area of moral doubt which the film in other ways simplifies covertly. Maya’s stamina, force, and drive somehow place her beyond challenge. By the end, her superiors at CIA are intimidated, and we feel they ought to be. Maya has no friends, and no life outside the hunt, but her determination is itself a sort of passion. It is, in fact, the only passion that is represented in the film.
How was Bin Laden found? Zero Dark Thirty tells us that it was done by the torture of detainees; by the collection and deduction of evidence from dossiers, videos, recorded phone calls and intercepted emails; and by tailing couriers. All of these methods the movie dispassionately records, and it affirms the efficacy of all. The narrative lacks the patience and tightness to illustrate many convincing particulars of the detective work. That it leaves us in the dark, however, is also part of the point. We Americans, the film is saying, must put ourselves in the hands of the experts who have mastered the darkness. [Continue reading...]