ISIS recruitment thrives in Egypt’s brutal prisons

Murtaza Hussain reports: While in jail [in Cairo], [Mohamed] Soltan [a 26-year-old citizen of both Egypt and America] says he witnessed the recruitment efforts of Islamic State members. “There were people from across the spectrum of Egyptian society in jail: liberals, Muslim Brotherhood members, leftists, Salafis, and some people who had pledged allegiance to ISIS,” Soltan says. “Everyone felt depressed and betrayed, except for the ISIS guys. They walked around with this victorious air and had this patronizing and condescending attitude towards everyone else.”

Among the facilities in which Soltan was incarcerated was the notorious Tora Prison, where he was kept in an underground dungeon with dozens of other prisoners. Between regular beatings, humiliation, and torture by guards, the prisoners would talk to one another. In this grim environment, ISIS members would attempt to convince others of the justice of their cause. “The ISIS guys would come and tell everyone these nonviolent means don’t work, that Western countries only care about power and the Egyptian regime only understands force,” Soltan says. “They would say that the world didn’t respect you enough to think you deserve democracy, and now the man who killed your friends is shaking hands with international leaders who are all arming and funding his regime.”

While the other political factions represented in Egypt’s jails grappled with a seemingly hopeless situation, Islamic State members were consistently filled with hope and optimism, citing a steady stream of “good news” about their state-building project in Iraq, Syria and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Soltan says.

When the prisoners would discuss their circumstances, even avowed leftists found themselves unable to rebut Islamic State members’ arguments. “They would make very simple arguments telling us that the world doesn’t care about values and only understands violence,” says Soltan. “Because of the gravity of the situation they were all in, by the time the ISIS guys were finished speaking, everyone, the liberals, the Brotherhood people, would be left completely speechless. When you’re in that type of situation and don’t have many options left, for some people these kinds of ideas start to make sense.” [Continue reading…]

The headline for this article in The Intercept reads: “ISIS RECRUITMENT THRIVES IN BRUTAL PRISONS RUN BY U.S.-BACKED EGYPT” — as though the phrase “U.S.-backed” is the only reliable hook for the publication’s readers.

Yes, the fact that the Obama administration continues to provide military aid to the Sisi regime in spite of its appalling human rights record is inexcusable. What this otherwise excellent report neglects to mention, however, is that Sisi’s most generous supporters been Gulf states — driven by their fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And while the U.S. has a terrible track record in supporting authoritarian rule across the Middle East, blame for the stifling of representative government needs to be apportioned more widely, including the roles played by Russia, Iran, the UK, and other European powers.


Enforced disappearances: The Syrian government’s organized attack in which more than 58,000 civilians have gone missing

Amnesty International: The vast scale and chillingly orchestrated nature of tens of thousands of enforced disappearances by the Syrian government over the past four years is exposed in a new report by Amnesty International published today.

Between prison and the grave: Enforced disappearances in Syria reveals that the state is profiting from widespread and systematic enforced disappearances amounting to crimes against humanity, through an insidious black market in which family members desperate to find out the fates of their disappeared relatives are ruthlessly exploited for cash.

“This report describes in heart-breaking detail the devastation and trauma of the families of the tens of thousands of people who have vanished without trace in Syria, and their cruel exploitation for financial gain.”

The scale of the disappearances is harrowing. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented at least 65,000 disappearances since 2011 – 58,000 of them civilians. Those taken are usually held in overcrowded detention cells in appalling conditions and cut off from the outside world. Many die as a result of rampant disease, torture and extrajudicial execution. [Continue reading…]


How U.S. officials can kidnap and threaten American citizens without legal risk

Patrick G. Eddington writes: At exactly 5 p.m. on March 13, 2007, just as I was preparing to leave my cubicle in Washington for the day, I got a phone call from the journalist Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers. To this day, I remember his exact words.

“One of your congressman’s constituents is being held in an Ethiopian intelligence service prison, and I think your former employer is neck-deep in this.”

The congressman was Rush Holt, then a Democratic representative from New Jersey, for whom I worked for 10 years starting in 2004. The constituent was Amir Mohamed Meshal of Tinton Falls, N.J., who alleges that he was illegally taken to Ethiopia, where he was threatened with torture by American officials. My “former employer” was the Central Intelligence Agency, but it soon became apparent that the agency “neck-deep in this” was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Eight years after Mr. Meshal’s rendition, his case ended up before a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The questions hanging over the proceeding were: can the United States government allow, or even facilitate, the rendition of an American citizen to another country for interrogation? And can United States officials themselves conduct rendition and interrogations of American citizens, including threats of torture, on foreign soil?

According to a decision handed down last week, the answers appear to be yes. [Continue reading…]


Torture by another name: CIA used ‘water dousing’ on at least 12 detainees

The Guardian reports: At least a dozen more people were subjected to waterboard-like tactics in CIA custody than the agency has admitted, according to a fresh accounting of the US government’s most discredited form of torture.

The CIA maintains it only subjected three detainees to waterboarding. But agency interrogators subjected at least 12 others to a similar technique, known as “water dousing”, that also created a drowning sensation or chilled a person’s body temperature – sometimes through “immersion” in water, and often without use of a board.

New lawsuits, recently released documents and the Senate’s landmark torture report indicate that at least 13 men in total experienced “water dousing”. Those familiar with their cases and an interrogator cited in the Senate report consider water dousing’s departure from waterboarding to be “a distinction without a difference”.

Water dousing, however, added an element of hypothermia. Some detainees reported their CIA captors dousing them with “cold or refrigerated” water, then wrapping them in similarly frigid sheets of plastic, keeping their temperatures low. [Continue reading…]


Anti-interventionist Donald Trump: Middle East would be more stable with Hussein and Gadhafi

NBC News reports: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, when asked if he believes the Middle East would be better today if Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq were still in power, responded, “It’s not even a contest.”

He related the situations in both of those countries with what is currently happening in Syria and seemed to endorse a stronger President Bashar Assad, even while admitting that he is “probably a bad guy.”

“You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there — it’s a mess — if you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there — it’s a mess — it’s [Syria] going to be same thing,” the real estate mogul said. [Continue reading…]

This is a point of view that appeals to a lot of liberals and peace activists these days, but it begs at least two questions:

How sustainable is stability when it derives from political oppression?

And what is the long-term price of torture?

Without exception, authoritarian regimes across the Middle East have relied on the same techniques for suppressing political opposition: torture.

Torture has the virtue of silencing critics without turning them into martyrs.

The streets can remain quiet when the screams of those having their fingernails ripped out are muffled by heavy prison doors.

But torture doesn’t just scar bodies — it scars minds, feeding a desire for vengeance that has inspired many a terrorist.

Is this what peace and stability really looks like?

Maybe the real lesson of the last decade has not been that regime change is itself such a terrible idea, but rather that the methods employed to achieve that goal have been worse than useless.

The issue is not one of intervention vs non-intervention but rather a question of what might actually lead to the desired goal.

The insular perspective of those who posture as realist defenders of national interest, suggests that it’s none of our business what happens within the borders of other states, but the reality is that sooner or later the misery of every dysfunctional state will spill out across its borders.


‘They were torturing to kill’: Inside Syria’s death machine

Garance le Caisne writes: For two years, between 2011 and 2013, the former Syrian military photographer known only as Caesar used a police computer in Damascus to copy thousands of photographs of detainees who were tortured to death in Bashar al-Assad’s jails. The media have run numerous stories about the man who managed to smuggle astonishing evidence of crimes against humanity out of the country – at great risk to himself and his family – but he had never been interviewed.

Month after month, for two years, this man, who has remained anonymous, took photographs of tortured, starved and burnt bodies. His orders were to photograph the bodies in order to document prisoners’ deaths. He then secretly made copies and transferred them on to USB keys so that he could smuggle them out of his office, hidden in his shoes or his belt, and pass them to a friend who could get them out of the country.

The terrorists of Islamic State proclaim their atrocities on social networks; the Syrian state hides its misdeeds in the silence of its dungeons. Before Caesar, no insider had supplied evidence of the existence of the Syrian death machine. And these photos and documents were damning.

I had to find Caesar. The spectacular advances made by Isis, and the growing number of terrorist attacks by its followers, were drowning out revelations about the Syrian regime’s atrocities. The conflict had already left more than 220,000 dead. Half of all civilians had been forced out of their homes, others had been shelled, their towns and villages besieged by Assad’s army. Caesar’s pictures could put Damascus’s abuses centre stage again. He had to be found. Journalists from all over the world were already looking for him. I knew it would be hard – and it was. Twice I almost gave up. But I kept going, because it was imperative that this man should talk. His testimony was essential if we were to understand the horror at the heart of the regime. [Continue reading…]


Torture in Tunisia


Obama’s secret elite interrogation squad may not be so elite — and might be doomed

The Huffington Post reports: When President Barack Obama took office, he promised to overhaul the nation’s process for interrogating terror suspects. His solution: the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, a small interagency outfit that would use non-coercive methods and the latest psychological research to interrogate America’s most-wanted terrorists — all behind a veil of secrecy.

Today, the HIG often gets the first jab at America’s most-wanted terror suspects. Since its creation in August 2009, HIG teams have questioned a bevy of top detainees, including Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Umm Sayyaf, the wife of a high-profile Islamic State leader killed in a drone strike.

But six years on, the Obama administration’s elite interrogation force is on shaky ground. U.S. officials and outside critics question the effectiveness of its interrogators, whether they’re following their own training, and whether they can continue to rely on psychological research to help break suspects. Congress and the White House, which once saw the group as a key to reinventing the nation’s counterterrorism strategy, aren’t paying attention. And those struggles illuminate a broader reality: Obama’s limited reforms to how American detains, interrogates and prosecutes suspected terrorists are ad-hoc and fragile. His successor could scrap most of them — the HIG included — with the stroke of a pen. [Continue reading…]


No, torture doesn’t make terrorists tell the truth — but here’s what actually works

BuzzFeed reports: Hollywood has a lot to answer for. Thanks to the hit TV show 24 and movies like Zero Dark Thirty, we think we know what terrorist interrogations look like: After being roughed up and threatened, the suspect breaks down and reveals all. Mass murder is thwarted. Osama Bin Laden is shot.

The end, we tell ourselves, justifies the ugly means.

Even after the abuses committed at CIA “black sites” were laid bare last year by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, most Americans stuck to this view. Some 59% believed the CIA’s harsh interrogation methods were justified, in a December 2014 poll run for the Washington Post and ABC News.

Steven Kleinman knows better. In 2003, he was one of the U.S. Air Force’s top interrogators, sent to Iraq to oversee the questioning of suspected insurgents. After arriving in Baghdad, he walked into a darkened room to find a handcuffed detainee kneeling before a seated military interrogator. The suspect was slapped across the face every time he answered a question — whatever he had to say. Kleinman was told that it had being going on for half an hour.

Then a lieutenant colonel, Kleinman pulled rank and halted the interrogation. But what he had witnessed was by then standard practice. “Later I saw people being stripped nude and forced to stand for a long period of time,” Kleinman told BuzzFeed News.

Kleinman was appalled not only because what he saw breached human rights, but also because his long experience in interrogation told him that it just wouldn’t work. “It’s not even close to a consistent means of getting reliable information,” Kleinman said. [Continue reading…]


Jeb Bush leaves door open for use of torture by government

The Associated Press reports: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Thursday declined to rule out resuming the use of torture under some circumstances by the U.S. government.

The former Florida governor said that in general, he believes torture is inappropriate, and that he was glad his brother, former President George W. Bush, largely ended the CIA’s use of the techniques before he left office. The CIA used waterboarding, slapping, nudity, sleep deprivation, humiliation and other methods to coerce al-Qaida detainees — methods the military would be prohibited from using on prisoners of war.

“I don’t want to make a definitive, blanket kind of statement,” Bush told an audience of Iowa Republicans, when asked whether he would keep in place or repeal President Barack Obama’s executive order banning so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the CIA. [Continue reading…]


Move to prohibit psychologists from involvement in national security interrogations

The New York Times reports: The board of the American Psychological Association plans to recommend a tough ethics policy that would prohibit psychologists from involvement in all national security interrogations, potentially creating a new obstacle to the Obama administration’s efforts to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects outside of the traditional criminal justice system.

The board of the of the A.P.A., the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists, is expected to recommend that members approve the ban at its annual meeting in Toronto next week, according to two members, Nadine Kaslow and Susan H. McDaniel, the group’s president-elect. The board’s proposal would make it a violation of the association’s ethical policies for psychologists to play a role in national security interrogations involving any military or intelligence personnel, even the noncoercive interrogations now conducted by the Obama administration. The board’s proposal must be voted on and approved by the members’ council to become a policy.

The board’s recommendation is a response to a report from earlier this month after an independent investigation into the involvement of prominent psychologists and association officials in the harsh interrogation programs operated by the C.I.A. and the Defense Department during the Bush administration. [Continue reading…]


The greed fueling America’s torture disgrace

Katherine Eban writes: Why, exactly, did the United States end up torturing detainees during George W. Bush’s administration’s war on terror, when there was no scientific proof that coercive interrogations would yield valuable intelligence, and ample proof that it would harm our national security interests, elicit false information and spread unnecessary ill will throughout the Muslim world, possibly for generations to come?

It’s a head scratcher, to say the least, but a blockbuster report issued last week suggests one answer: greed. Specifically, the greed of psychologists who hoped to receive, and in some cases did receive, financial benefits in exchange for providing the Pentagon with intellectual and moral cover for its torture of detainees.

The American Psychological Association, roughly the equivalent of the American Medical Association for psychologists, played a crucial, long-hidden role in the story of American torture. James Elmer Mitchell, who created the C.I.A.’s torture program with Bruce Jessen, was a member of the A.P.A. Psychologists sold the C.I.A. and the Pentagon on a menu of aggressive interrogation techniques presented as scientifically proven to be effective; in reality, they were based on Communist methods designed not to find the truth but to produce false confessions that could be used for propaganda purposes. [Continue reading…]


U.S. Justice Department must investigate American Psychological Association’s role in U.S. torture program

Physicians for Human Rights today called for a federal criminal probe into the American Psychological Association’s (APA) role in the U.S. torture program following the release of a damning new report that confirms the APA colluded with the Bush administration to enable psychologists to design, implement, and defend a program of torture. In light of the 542-page independent report first reported by The New York Times, PHR again called for a full investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The corruption of a health professional organization at this level is an extraordinary betrayal of both ethics and the law, and demands an investigation and appropriate prosecutions,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “Rather than uphold the principle of ‘do no harm,’ APA leadership subverted its own ethics policies and sabotaged all efforts at enforcement.” [Continue reading…]


Psychologists who sanctioned torture

In an editorial, the New York Times says: The first detailed accounts of the brutal interrogation program the Central Intelligence Agency established after the Sept. 11 attacks noted that psychologists and other medical professionals played key roles in abetting the torture of terrorism suspects. However, much about their role and their degree of responsibility in one of the most macabre and shameful chapters of American history has remained shrouded in secrecy.

A new report by a former federal prosecutor, first disclosed by James Risen in The Times, contains astonishing, disturbing details. It found that top members of the American Psychological Association, the largest professional organization of psychologists, colluded with officials at the Pentagon and the C.I.A. to keep the group’s ethics policies in line with tactics that interrogators working for the agency and the military were employing.

At a time when intelligence and Department of Defense officials were desperate for intelligence that would help them foil new terror plots, they were willing to pay handsomely for experts who could give the torture program a veneer of legitimacy. Prominent psychologists were apparently happy to indulge them. “A.P.A. chose its ethics policy based on its goals of helping D.O.D., managing its P.R., and maximizing the growth of the profession,” the report said.

The 542-page report, which was commissioned by the board of directors of the American Psychological Association, says that some medical personnel at the C.I.A. became concerned about the torture program, which was run by Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, two contractors who were former Air Force psychologists. The critics at the agency expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the interrogation tactics and questioned whether they were in line with the ethics guidelines of the psychologists association.

The association assembled a task force in 2005 to study the concerns. The task force was dominated by “national security insiders,” Mr. Risen reported. They concluded that psychologists could resume assisting in brutal interrogations.

On Friday, Physicians for Human Rights justifiably called on the Department of Justice to begin a criminal investigation into the psychologists association’s role in the Bush administration’s torture program.

“As mental health professionals, our first obligation must be to our patients,” said Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and the vice chairman of the board of Physicians for Human Rights, in a statement. “The A.P.A.’s collusion with the government’s national security apparatus is one of the greatest scandals in U.S. medical history.”

The Obama administration has so far refused to prosecute the torturers. As more evidence about this program comes to light, that position becomes increasingly indefensible.


The U.S. should follow the lead of Rwanda and others and hold accountable clinicians who torture

Dr Steven Miles writes: The report documenting the role of the American Psychological Association (APA) as an embedded accomplice to torture during the War on Terror is important for its detail, but not for its novelty. The essence of this story has been known for eight years despite APA denials, euphemisms, double-talk and whitewashing; the report simply underscores the truth of what many of us have been saying all along.

The United States Department of Defense (DOD) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) worked hand-in-glove with the APA leadership to dictate and pass a policy document intended to justify and protect psychologists who designed and oversaw interrogation by torture to break prisoners down, despite laws and professional ethics designed to prevent exactly that behavior. The core of the APA position – which was appended to DOD policies – was that psychologists worked for interrogators and had no responsibility for the health of prisoners.

With this cover, psychologists went far beyond “psychological torture”: they oversaw waterboarding, joint-distorting stress positions and the use of military dogs that lunged at and bit prisoners. Behavioral Science Consultation Teams carefully recorded the effects of interrogation “approaches” with names like “fear up harsh” and “ego down” and suggested how to amend these approaches to induce prisoners to exhaustion and compliance.

The APA-DOD-CIA plan succeeded at two of its three aims. It destroyed prisoners and it protected torture psychologists from punishment by licensing boards and from the APA itself. But, as the Senate Select Committee’s Report on CIA torture showed, it failed to produce useful intelligence. This should come as no surprise: psychological and physical torture has long been known to be useless for interrogation.

The latest revelations from the APA report are only a partial accounting of the scope of our government’s torture program. Even the intricacies of how CIA and DOD gained control of policy making at the APA remain murky. The scale of US torture, especially at CIA black sites, for which there is still no accounting of the names and fates of prisoners, remains unknown. Only a small percentage of the Senate report on CIA torture has been released. Only a tiny number of the photographs and videotapes of torture at Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and the archipelago of CIA black sites have been released.

But the devastating effects of US torture persist. [Continue reading…]