Photo exhibit restores dignity to victims of U.S. torture

The Intercept: The U.S. military used a camera as a torture device at Abu Grahib. To add further humiliation to detainees who were already put in cages, urinated on, stripped naked then stacked in macabre human pyramids, their photos were taken during these degrading acts. “I wanted to use the camera to restore these peoples’ humanity through beautiful portraiture,” says photographer Chris Bartlett, whose exhibition, “Iraqi Detainees: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Ordeals,” opens tonight in New York.

When confronted with images of torture, Bartlett says, even the greatest liberal or humanist among us has the tendency to flinch and look away. “It’s such a disturbing and disgusting issue that people want to turn off from it.” Bartlett, who often works in high fashion photography, shooting subjects like candy colored Tory Burch handbags, said he wanted to take “very kind, respectful, beautiful, portraits to draw people into the subject and learn more about their stories.” [Continue reading and view a selection of the portraits...]

facebooktwittermail

Disappearances in Syria: The ghosts of the war

Peaceful activist Mohamed Bachir Arab has been missing since November 2, 2011.

Amnesty: The last time Rania (not her real name) spoke to her friend Mohamed Bachir Arab, was on 1 November 2011. As a hard working doctor and committed political activist, Mohamed had been living in hiding for six months, trying to evade the ever present tentacles of the Syrian intelligence forces, who routinely detain peaceful activists like him.

The following day her worst fears were realized. A strap line on the evening news announced he had been arrested. None of his relatives knew where he had been taken.

Mohamed was a marked man. He had been a student leader at his university in the city of Aleppo, in north-west Syria. Over the years, he had organized a number of protests against government policies, which had landed him in trouble with the authorities. Between 2004 and 2005 he was detained for several months before being released.

But this time, his relatives and colleagues feared it was different. Since the crisis in Syria began in March 2011, the number of individuals who have been detained in secret by the state – or forcibly disappeared – has spiralled out of control.

“The Syrian authorities’ strategy to deal with dissent is brutal: speak against them once and they’ll arrest you; do it again and they will simply make you disappear,” said Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

Many of those lucky enough to be released, after months sometimes years in detention, bear the scars of the brutal treatment they have been subjected to.

Most of them have spoken about passing through a number of the detention centres that make up the dark maze of abuse controlled by the Syrian security forces and intelligence agencies. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Syria: Witnesses corroborate mass deaths in custody claims

Human Rights Watch: Horrific accounts by former detainees in Syria corroborate allegations of mass deaths in custody by a military defector. Four former detainees released from the Sednaya military prison in 2014 described deaths in custody and harsh prison conditions that closely match the allegations of the defector, who photographed thousands of dead bodies in military hospitals in Damascus.

In January, a team of senior international lawyers and forensic experts published a report concluding that Syrian authorities had committed systematic torture and killing of detainees. According to the report, a military defector, code-named Caesar, had taken 55,000 photographs of an estimated 11,000 bodies in military hospitals and other locations in Damascus. The bodies showed signs of starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing.

“The accounts of the four recently released detainees we interviewed lend further credibility to the already damning evidence about mass deaths in Syria’s prisons,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher. “When the Syrian authorities are held to account, the deaths in custody will be one of the first crimes they will have to answer for.”

All four former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they had witnessed the death of fellow detainees in Sednaya prison in Damascus following a combination of beatings, torture, malnutrition, and disease. The former detainees, who were held for between 21 and 30 months, most of the time at Sednaya, described abhorrent conditions, including overcrowding, lack of food, inadequate heating and ventilation, poor medical services, and extremely poor sanitary conditions that caused detainees to develop skin diseases and diarrhea. The detainees said that they had lost significant weight during their detention. One said that he lost more than half of his body weight, weighing only 50 kilograms when he was released. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

10,000 bodies: Inside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown

The Wall Street Journal reports: At Hospital 601, not far from the presidential palace in Damascus, Syrian guards ran out of space to store the dead and had to use an adjoining warehouse where military vehicles were repaired.

A forensic photographer working for Syria’s military police walked the rows and took pictures of the emaciated and disfigured corpses, most believed to be anti-Assad activists. Numbers written on the bodies and on white cards, the photographer said, told regime bureaucrats the identities of the deceased, when they died and which branch of the Syrian security services had held them.

U.S. investigators who have reviewed many of the photos say they believe at least 10,000 corpses were cataloged this way between 2011 and mid-2013. Investigators believe they weren’t victims of regular warfare but of torture, and that the bodies were brought to the hospital from the Assad regime’s sprawling network of prisons. They were told some appeared to have died on site.

Last year, the Syrian military-police photographer defected to the West. Investigators later gave him the code name Caesar to disguise his identity. He turned over to U.S. law-enforcement agencies earlier this year a vast trove of postmortem photographs from Hospital 601 that he and other military photographers took over the two-year period, which he helped smuggle out of the country on digital thumb drives.

Over the ensuing months, U.S. investigators pored over the photos, which depicted the deaths and the elaborate counting system, and started to debrief Caesar and other activists involved in his defection. U.S. and European investigators have since concluded not only that the images were genuine, but that they offered the best evidence to date of an industrial-scale campaign by the government of Bashar al-Assad against its political opponents. U.S. Ambassador-at-large Stephen Rapp, head of the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice, has compared the pattern to some of the most notorious acts of mass murder of the past century.

This account, based on interviews with war-crimes investigators in the U.S. and Europe, more than a dozen defectors, and opposition leaders working with Caesar, provides fresh details about Syria’s crackdown on its political opponents and the central role of Hospital 601 in processing bodies and documenting the deaths for the government.

Investigators haven’t finished analyzing the entire cache of photographs and are still trying to gather evidence to fully understand the regime’s role in the deaths. Prosecutors must be careful about jumping to conclusions before all the evidence is in, cautioned a senior U.S. official, who noted that investigators are far from finished debriefing Caesar.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation unit that investigates genocide and war crimes, and other agencies, hope to soon get a more detailed account of what happened at Hospital 601 from Caesar, officials said. Some U.S. officials want to use Caesar’s photographs, which show bodies that appear to have been strangled, beaten or disfigured, to build a case for a potential war-crimes prosecution of the Assad regime. It is unclear when, if ever, such a case might be brought. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Rebecca Gordon: A nation of cowards?

It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke: a CIA agent and a U.S. Special Operations commando walked into a barbershop in Sana…

That’s the capital of Yemen in case you didn’t remember and not the sort of place where armed Americans usually wander out alone just to get a haircut.  Here’s what we know about the rest of this mysterious tale that surfaced in the U.S. media in early May (only to disappear again shortly thereafter): according to unnamed “American officials,” two armed Yemeni civilians entered that barbershop with the intention of “kidnapping” the Americans, who shot and killed them and were then “whisked” out of the country with the approval of the Yemeni government.

For today, set aside the mystery of what in the world was actually going on in that barbershop and just consider the fact that when “they” do it to “us,” there’s no question about what word to use.  It’s kidnapping, plain and simple.  When we do it to “them” (even when the they turn out to be innocent of any terror crimes), it’s got a far fancier and more comfortable name: “rendition” or “extraordinary rendition.”  When they bust into a barbershop in a tony district in the capital city of Yemen, no question what they have in mind.  When we do it in MilanBenghaziTripoli, or other major cities, sometimes with the collusion of the local police, sometimes with the help of the local government, sometimes with no locals at all, we’re just “rendering” our victims to “justice.”

The CIA in particular and more recently U.S. special operators have made global kidnappings — oops, renditions — a regular beat since 9/11.  A kind of rampage, actually.  As it happens, whatever itcan’t do these days, the “sole superpower” still has the ability to make the global rules to its own liking.  So when we wield the “R” word, it couldn’t be more “legal” or at least, as U.S. experts will testify, the only reasonable way to go.  Of course, when others wield the “K” word, can there be any question of the nastiness or illegality of their acts?  Here’s a guarantee: not a chance.  Any judge-jury-and-executioner-rolled-into-one approach to the world (as with, for instance, the CIA’s drone assassination campaigns) is an ugly way to go and will look even uglier when other countries adopt the latest version of the American Way.  As with torture (oops, sorry again, “enhanced interrogation techniques”), making global kidnapping your loud and proud way of life is a dangerous path to take, long term, no matter how bad the bad guys are that you may be rendering to justice.

Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, a new book on the American way of enhanced interrogation techniques, is here to remind us not only of those facts, but of an even uglier one.  While the Obama administration washed its hands of torture (global assassination campaigns being its claim to fame), its top officials didn’t think it worth the bother to dismantle the elaborate torture system created in the Bush years, which means that, with another flick of the switch somewhere down the line, off we’ll go again. Tom Engelhardt

The 25th hour
Still living with Jack Bauer in a terrified new American world
By Rebecca Gordon

Once upon a time, if a character on TV or in a movie tortured someone, it was a sure sign that he was a bad guy. Now, the torturers are the all-American heroes. From 24 to Zero Dark Thirty, it’s been the good guys who wielded the pliers and the waterboards. We’re not only living in a post-9/11 world, we’re stuck with Jack Bauer in the 25th hour.

In 2002, Cofer Black, the former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, told a Senate committee, “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” He wanted them to understand that Americans now live in a changed world, where, from the point of view of the national security state, anything goes. It was, as he and various top officials in the Bush administration saw it, a dangerous place in which terrorists might be lurking in any airport security line and who knew where else.

Dark-skinned foreigners promoting disturbing religions were driven to destroy us because, as President George W. Bush said more than once, “they hate our freedoms.” It was “them or us.” In such a frightening new world, we were assured, our survival depended in part on brave men and women willing to break precedent and torture some of our enemies for information that would save civilization itself. As part of a new American creed, we learned that torture was the price of security.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

The Nazi interrogator who revealed the value of kindness

Eric Horowitz writes: The downed World War II fighter pilot had little reason to be wary. Thus far, his German interrogator had seemed uninterested in extracting military intelligence, and had acted with genuine kindness. He made friendly conversation, shared some of his wife’s delicious baked goods, and took the pilot out for a lovely stroll in the German countryside. So when the interrogator erroneously suggested that a chemical shortage was responsible for American tracer bullets leaving white rather than red smoke, the pilot quickly corrected him with the information German commanders sought. No, there was no chemical shortage; the white smoke was supposed to signal to pilots that they would soon be out of ammunition.

The man prying the information loose was Hanns Scharff, and as Raymond Tolliver chronicles in The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe, Scharff’s unparalleled success did not come from confrontation or threats, but from simply being nice. With the morality and efficacy of interrogation practices coming under increasing scrutiny, Scharff’s techniques — and questions about the extent to which they work — are taking on greater significance.

The fact that Scharff is even mentioned in criminal justice circles is a historical anomaly. Not only was he never meant be an interrogator, he was never meant to be in the German military at all. In the decade leading up to the war Scharff worked as a businessman in Johannesburg, where he lived with his British wife and two kids. Not exactly a portrait of the threatening Axis enemy Captain America was created to battle. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Judge upholds order demanding release of CIA torture accounts

The Guardian reports: A military judge has rejected the US government’s attempts to keep accounts of the CIA’s torture of a detainee secret, setting up a fateful choice for the Obama administration in staunching the fallout from its predecessor’s brutal interrogations.

In a currently-sealed 24 June ruling at Guantánamo Bay – described to the Guardian – Judge James Pohl upheld his April order demanding the government produce details of the detentions and interrogations of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during his years in CIA custody. The Miami Herald also reported on the ruling, citing three sources who had seen it.

Among those details are the locations of the “black site” secret prisons in which Nashiri was held until his September 2006 transfer to Guantánamo; the names and communications of CIA personnel there; training and other procedures for guards and interrogators; and discussions of the application of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Ariel Dorfman: A tale of torture and forgiveness

I’ll bet you didn’t know that June is “torture awareness month” thanks to the fact that, on June 26, 1987, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect internationally.  In this country, however, as a recent Amnesty International survey indicated, Americans are essentially living in Torture Unawareness Month, or perhaps even Torture Approval Month, and not just in June 2014 but every month of the year.

One simple fact of the post-9/11 era should make this clear and also boggle the mind, but has had almost no impact here.  But for this you need a little background from the early years of what was once called the Global War on Terror.  In addition to a stream of international kidnappings (euphemistically called “renditions”) of terror suspects, including completely innocent people the CIA snatched off the streets of global cities, as well as from the backlands of the planet and “rendered” into the hands of well-known torturing regimes (with the help of 54 other countries) and the setting up of a network of “black sites” or offshore prisons where anything went, the CIA tortured up a storm.  And it did so at the behest of the top officials of the Bush administration, including the president and vice president who were convinced that it was time for Washington to “take the gloves off.”  In those years, torture techniques were reportedly demonstrated in the White House to some of those officials, including the vice president and national security advisor.  At the time, they went by the euphemistic, administration-approved term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which was quickly picked up and used in the U.S. mainstream media in place of the word “torture” — though only when the enhanced interrogators were American, of course.  The bad guys out there continued to “torture” in the usual fashion.

In the Obama years, torture was (at least officially) tossed out as a useful tactic.  But the torturers themselves were given a pass, every last one of them, by the Justice Department, even two cases in which the CIA’s acts of enhancement had led to death.  No charge was ever brought against anyone, including the Justice Department lawyers who wrote the tortured memos endorsing those techniques and redefining torture as only happening when the torturer meant it to, or the officials who green-lighted them.  Think of the Obama administration then as Amnesty National.  That administration did, however, have the guts to go after one man connected to the torture program, forced a plea deal from him, and sent him to jail for two years.  I’m talking about former CIA agent John Kiriakou, the only person since 9/11 convicted of a torture-related crime.  To be specific, his criminal act was to blow the whistle on his former employer’s torture program to a journalist, revealing in the process the name of a CIA agent.  That was considered such an indefensible act — in effect, an act of torture against the American security state — that justice, American-style, was done.

It’s quite a tortuous record when you think about it, not that anyone here does anymore, which is why we need TomDispatch regular Ariel Dorfman, author most recently of Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile, to remind us of what’s really at stake when one human being tortures another. Tom Engelhardt

How to forgive your torturer
The River Kwai passes through Latin America and Washington
By Ariel Dorfman

What a way to celebrate Torture Awareness Month!

According to an Amnesty International Poll released in May, 45% of Americans believe that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable” in order to “gain information that may protect the public.” Twenty-nine percent of Britons “strongly or somewhat agreed” that torture was justified when asked the same question.

For someone like me, who has been haunted by the daily existence of torture since the September 11, 1973 coup that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende, such percentages couldn’t be more depressing, but perhaps not that surprising. I now live, after all, in the America where Dick Cheney, instead of being indicted as a war criminal, sneeringly (and falsely) claims to anyone who asks him — and he is trotted out over and over again as the resident expert on the subject — that  “enhanced interrogations” have been and still are absolutely necessary to keep Americans safe.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

Guantánamo prosecutor fights handing secrets over to defense

The New York Times reports: The chief prosecutor at the Guantánamo Bay war-crimes court has asked a judge to set aside an order that requires the government to give defense lawyers sweeping amounts of classified details related to the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi detainee accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the destroyer Cole.

In a pretrial motion declassified last week, the prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, cited Obama administration efforts to declassify information related to a Senate Intelligence Committee report about the detention and interrogation program. That process, he said, should be allowed to play out.

Richard Kammen, an Indianapolis defense lawyer representing Mr. Nashiri, said in a phone interview that he was drafting a motion to oppose any attempts to reverse the judge’s order. He noted that he had a security clearance, and said the information he was seeking was for his own investigations and was not necessarily going to be made public. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Mystery surrounds move of Afghan ‘torturer in chief’ to U.S. amid allegations of spy agency abuse

The Washington Post reports: In Afghanistan, his presence was enough to cause prisoners to tremble. Hundreds in his organization’s custody were beaten, shocked with electrical currents or subjected to other abuses documented in human rights reports. Some allegedly disappeared.

And then Haji Gulalai disappeared as well.

He had run Afghan intelligence operations in Kandahar after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and later served as head of the spy service’s detention and interrogation branch. After 2009, his whereabouts were unknown.

Because of his reputation for brutality, Gulalai was someone both sides of the war wanted gone. The Taliban tried at least twice to kill him. Despite Gulalai’s ties to the CIA and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, United Nations officials and U.S. coalition partners sought to rein him in or have him removed.

Today, Gulalai lives in a pink two-story house in Southern California, on a street of stucco homes on the outskirts of Los Angeles. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Karen Greenberg: Abu Ghraib never left us

In mid-April, Abu Ghraib was closed down.  It was a grim end for the Iraqi prison where the Bush administration gave autocrat Saddam Hussein a run for his money. The Iraqi government feared it might be overrun by an al-Qaeda offshoot that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. By then, the city of Fallujah for which American troops had fought two bitter, pitched battles back in 2004 had been in the hands of those black-flag-flying insurgents for months.  Needless to say, the American project in Iraq, begun so gloriously — remember Iraqi exiles assuring Vice President Cheney that the invaders would be greeted with “sweets and flowers” — was truly in ruins.  By then, hundreds of thousands had died in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, the insurgencies that followed, and the grimmest of sectarian civil wars.  And the temperature was rising anew in that divided land, where only the Kurdish north was relatively peaceful.  Iraq was once again threatening to fracture, with suicide bombers and car bombs daily occurrences, especially in Shiite areas of the country, and the body count rising rapidly.

The legacy of America’s Iraq is essentially an oil-producing wreck of a state with another autocrat in power, a Shiite government allied to Iran in Baghdad, and a Sunni population in revolt.  That, in short, is the upshot of Washington’s multi-trillion-dollar war.  It might be worth a painting by George W. Bush.  Or maybe the former president should reserve his next round of oils not for the world leaders he met (and Googled), but for those iconic photos from the prison that might have closed in Iraq, but will never close in the American mind.  From the torture troves of Abu Ghraib, there are so many scenes that the former president could focus on in his days of tranquil retirement.

Those photos from hell were, at the time, so run-of-the-mill for the new American Iraq (“as common as cornflakes”) that they were used as screen-savers by U.S. military guards at that prison.  The images then returned to the United States as computer “wallpaper” before making it onto “60 Minutes II” and into our collective brains.  They revealed to this country for the first time that, post-9/11, Washington had taken a cue from the Marquis de Sade and any other set of sadists you cared to invoke.  Of course, the photos and the systematic torture and abuse that went with them at Abu Ghraib were quickly blamed on the usual “few bad apples” and “some hillbilly kids out of control.”

As it happened, those photos that first entered public consciousness 10 years ago this week exposed a genuine American nightmare that led right to the top in Washington and has never ended.  Included in the debacle were Justice Department lawyers who, at the bidding of the highest officials in the land, redefined torture in remarkable ways.  They made it clear, for instance, that the only person who could affirm whether torture had actually taken place was the torturer himself.  (If he didn’t think he had tortured, he hadn’t, or so the reasoning then went.)

No one has followed this endlessly grim tale more assiduously than TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, the chronicler of the creation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and the editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib.  Today, she explores the shameful tale of why, a decade later, the Abu Ghraib affair remains without an end. Tom Engelhardt 

The road from Abu Ghraib
A torture story without a hero or an ending
By Karen J. Greenberg

It’s mind-boggling. Torture is still up for grabs in America. No one questions anymore whether the CIA waterboarded one individual 83 times or another 186 times. The basic facts are no longer in dispute either by those who champion torture or those who, like myself, despise the very idea of it. No one questions whether some individuals died being tortured in American custody.  (They did.) No one questions that it was a national policy devised by those at the very highest levels of government. (It was.) But many, it seems, still believe that the torture policy, politely renamed in its heyday “the enhanced interrogation program,” was a good thing for the country.

Now, the nation awaits the newest chapter in the torture debate without having any idea whether it will close the book on American torture or open a path of pain and shame into the distant future. No one yet knows whether we will be allowed to awake from the nightmarish and unacceptable world of illegality and obfuscation into which torture and the network of offshore prisons, or “black sites,” plunged us all.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

Tom Engelhardt: Knowledge is crime

Why kidnapping, torture, assassination, and perjury are no longer crimes in Washington
By Tom Engelhardt

How the mighty have fallen.  Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars.  Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history — the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program.  A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public.  It was considered a serious breach of national security.  On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a U.S. district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was “a very serious one” and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass.” It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president’s ear.

In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains — as yet — a grim Washington fairy tale.  There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that’s all.  He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.

A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the 13-month jail term.  Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to “an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.”  He stood before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009. 

Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence — the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state.  Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that’s leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.

If this weren’t Washington 2014, but rather George Orwell’s novel 1984, then the sign emblazoned on the front of the Ministry of Truth — “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” — would have to be amended to add a fourth slogan: Knowledge is Crime.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

CIA torture architect: ‘I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country’

Jason Leopold reports: Dr James Elmer Mitchell has been called a war criminal and a torturer. He has been the subject of an ethics complaint, and his methods have been criticized in reports by two congressional committees and by the CIA’s internal watchdog.

But the retired air force psychologist insists he is not the monster many have portrayed him to be.

“The narrative that’s out there is, I walked up to the gate of the CIA, knocked on the door and said: ‘Let me in, I want to torture people, and I can show you how to do it.’ Or someone put out an ad on Craigslist that said, ‘Wanted: psychologist who is willing to design torture program.’ It’s a lot more complicated than that,” Mitchell told the Guardian in his first public comments since he was linked to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program seven years ago.

“I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”

Mitchell is featured prominently in a new report prepared by the Senate select committee on intelligence, which spent five years and more than $40m studying the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

The findings, according to a summary leaked to McClatchy, are damning: that the agency misled the White House, Congress and the American people; that unauthorised interrogation methods were used; that the legal opinions stating the techniques did not break US torture laws were flawed; and perhaps most significant, that the torture yielded no useful intelligence. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

CIA’s use of harsh interrogation went beyond legal authority, Senate report says

McClatchy reports: A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

It is the second degree torture, when the torturer singles out someone else for abuse, that plays on your mind

shaker-aamerClive Stafford Smith writes: Two nights ago I watched The Railway Man at a local film festival. Afterwards, one of the writers, Andy Paterson, was being interviewed by Jon Ronson, the curator of the event. They discussed how Colin Firth’s character, Eric Lomax, had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his torture by the Japanese during the second world war. Paterson had just returned from Tokyo, where it became clear to him that most Japanese people have not got to grips with what happened on the Thai-Burma railway.

I wonder how long it will take us to understand what we are continuing to do to Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo Bay?

I have represented Aamer unsuccessfully for a long time, and we have just received the first independent medical evaluation of him in 12 years. Dr Emily Keram, a respected psychiatrist, despairs for him as long as he remains in Guantánamo Bay. Her report makes for devastating and depressing reading.

Because of society’s eternal prejudices, I am loth to discuss Aamer’s mental health status, but ultimately I must. So let me preface it with an admission: I, too, suffer from PTSD, albeit on an inconsequential scale when compared with either Aamer or Lomax. My own flashbacks, black-and-white negatives of what I witnessed, stem from watching six of my clients die – two each in the electric chair, in the gas chamber and on the lethal injection gurney. The hardest was Nicholas Ingram. I was born in the same hospital as him, and he was electrocuted in a gratuitously grotesque manner.

For Aamer, yes there was all the physical abuse, from beatings, to strappado (dislocating the shoulders by hanging by the wrists), most of which happened to Lomax. But it was the second degree torture (originated by the Spanish Inquisition) that got to Aamer most – when the torturer singles out someone else for abuse and plays on your mind. The American interrogators assured him that they had his family, and they described what they were going to do to his daughter, then five years old: “They are going to screw her. She will be screaming, ‘Daddy! Daddy!'”

I have a five-year-old myself. No wonder Aamer told Keram he felt powerless, guilty that he had failed his kids, his mind imploding. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Senate panel finds CIA illegally interrogated terror suspects after 9/11

McClatchy reports: CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects the agency held after the Sept. 11 attacks to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned.

The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal techniques _ much more abusive than previously known _ and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees harmed the U.S.’s credibility, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program.

The agency also repeatedly misled the Justice Department while stymieing Congress’ and the White House’s efforts to oversee the secret and now-defunct program, McClatchy has learned.

In all, the committee came to 20 conclusions about the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics after spending six years and $40 million evaluating the controversial program, which began during the Bush administration.

The committee voted 11-3 Thursday to declassify an executive summary and conclusions. The findings and summary now will go to the White House and CIA for eventual public release. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

CIA lied about torture program, Senate report says

The Washington Post reports: A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.

“The CIA described [its program] repeatedly both to the Department of Justice and eventually to Congress as getting unique, otherwise unobtainable intelligence that helped disrupt terrorist plots and save thousands of lives,” said one U.S. official briefed on the report. “Was that actually true? The answer is no.”

Current and former U.S. officials who described the report spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue and because the document remains classified. The 6,300-page report includes what officials described as damning new disclosures about a sprawling network of secret detention facilities, or “black sites,” that was dismantled by President Obama in 2009.

Classified files reviewed by committee investigators reveal internal divisions over the interrogation program, officials said, including one case in which CIA employees left the agency’s secret prison in Thailand after becoming disturbed by the brutal measures being employed there. The report also cites cases in which officials at CIA headquarters demanded the continued use of harsh interrogation techniques even after analysts were convinced that prisoners had no more information to give. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Senate CIA torture report could throw Gitmo hearings into chaos

Jason Leopold reports: The possible declassification and release of a Senate report into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program — begun in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — could have a huge impact on the controversial military tribunals happening at Guantánamo Bay, experts and lawyers believe.

The proceedings have been moving at a snail’s pace at the U.S.-held military base on the island of Cuba, amid widespread condemnation that they are being held in a legal limbo and outside the U.S. criminal justice system.

Details surrounding the CIA’s activities have been one of the most contentious issues concerning the commissions at Guantánamo, where the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his co-defendants are on trial. Their alleged treatment while in CIA custody has been a key stumbling block in the hearings’ progress. The same goes for the man alleged to be behind the USS Cole bombing, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another former CIA captive.

In both cases, there have been dozens of delays — mainly due to the fact that the attorneys have been battling military prosecutors over access to classified information about the CIA interrogation program that the attorneys want to use as evidence. Both cases have been dragging on for two years and are still in the pretrial evidentiary phase.

But now that the Senate Intelligence Committee appears set to vote on releasing its long-awaited 6,300-page, $50 million study — or at least some portion of it — the defense attorneys will finally get the opportunity to talk openly at the military commissions about torture. That could prove disastrous for military prosecutors. According to defense attorneys and human rights observers who have been monitoring the proceedings, it might also derail the government’s attempts to convince a jury that the detainees, if convicted, deserve to be executed. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail