The Precious Gift of Freedom

Reprieve, a London organization that works with detainees at Guantanamo, is releasing pictures based on the censored drawings of Sami al-Haj, the al-Jazeera cameraman imprisoned at Guantánamo:

Mr. al-Haj had shown the drawings to his lawyer, Cori Crider, during a visit last month. Fearing that they would be censored, Ms. Crider asked Mr. al-Haj to provide detailed descriptions of the drawings, which he duly did.

When the drawings were subsequently censored, as anticipated, Reprieve approached Lewis Peake and asked him to create original works based on Mr. al-Haj’s descriptions.

The first of the pictures to be released (the others will follow over the next week or so) documents Mr. al-Haj’s feelings about the way he sees himself subjected to force-feeding in what he and other prisoners describe as the “Torture Chair,” the restraint chair into which they are strapped twice a day, when they have a 110 cm tube forcibly inserted into one nostril so that liquid food can be administered. The tube is pulled out after each feeding, and the prisoners are left in the chair for up to two hours so that they can be force-fed again if they vomit.

“The first sketch is just a skeleton in the torture chair,” Mr. al-Haj explained. “My picture reflects my nightmares of what I must look like, with my head double-strapped down, a tube in my nose, a black mask over my mouth, with no eyes and only giant cheekbones, my teeth jutting out — my bones showing in every detail, every rib, every joint. The tube goes up to a bag at the top of the drawing. On the right there is another skeleton sitting shackled to another chair. They are sitting like we do in interrogations, with hands shackled, feet shackled to the floor, just waiting. In between I draw the flag of Guantanamo — JTF-GTMO — but instead of the normal insignia, there is a skull and crossbones, the real symbol of what is happening here.”

Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, who served as the Navy’s judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000, discusses the legality and effectiveness of torture:

Minnpost.com: Is that a tested theory — that it’s more effective for interrogators to build rapport with someone they’ve captured?

JH: Absolutely. If you read the literature or you talk to interrogators who are not just CIA thugs, that has been the doctrine since we can remember. Torture was never intended in its earliest days to be a quest for the truth. It was intended to get people to confess to things they hadn’t done like being a witch. We have turned it around and tried to legitimize it.

And another interview with the brilliant Darius Rejali, this time with Harper’s:

During the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Shah’s torture was the best recruiting tool the opposition had. Prisons were places where prisoners met each other and professionalized their skills, as I and others have documented. It feels like a nightmare watching American politicians make the same mistake as the Shah. I like to believe that with every mistake we must surely be learning, but sometimes it is hard to believe.

When I talked about people under torture saying anything, I was especially interested in the cases where torturers interrogate for true information. That’s what I document doesn’t work. But it seems pretty clear that torture works to generate false confessions, which serve equally as well as true confessions for many state purposes.

Wonder if there’s a Hallmark card for this… On the five year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, Hillary Clinton said the US has given Iraq the “precious gift of freedom”:

“I have been outlining plans as to what we can and must do to begin bringing our sons and daughters home. I am convinced that we can start within sixty days and do it in a responsible and careful manner, recognizing that the Iraqi government has to take responsibility for its own future, that we have given them the precious gift of freedom, and it is up to them to decide whether or not they will use it. But we cannot win their civil war. There is no military solution.”

Here are some of those gifts —

The New Yorker reports on more of the US government sanctioned macabre at Abu Ghraib, including a detainee who was just 10 years old and the practice of submerging prisoners in garbage cans filled with ice water:

“Put them in a cell where the toilet is blocked—backed up. It smells like urine and crap. That would drive you nuts.” And you could keep shifting a prisoner’s mealtimes, or simply withhold meals. The prisoners ate the same M.R.E.s that the guards ate, but you could deny them the spoon and all the fixings. “If you got Salisbury steak, they got the Salisbury steak, not the rice that comes with it, not the hot sauce, not the snack, not the juice—the Salisbury steak, and that’s it,” [Javal] Davis said, who had spent six years in the Army. “They were starving by the time they’d get ready to get interrogated.” At that point, he said, it would be: “O.K., we’ll give you more food if you talk.”

And you could inflict pain. “You also had stress positions, and you escalated the stress positions,” Davis said. “Hand-cuffs behind their backs, high up, in very uncomfortable positions, or chained down. Then you had the submersion. You put the people in garbage cans, and you’d put ice in it, and water. Or stick them underneath the shower spigot naked. They’d be freezing.” It was a routine, he said: “Open a window while it was, like, forty degrees outside and watch them disappear into themselves . . . before they go into shock.”


March 26, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , | Leave a comment


One man held by the CIA in secret tells his story to Amnesty International. He was subjected to, according to AI’s statement, isolation, beatings, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, sensory deprivation and overload with bright lighting and loud music or repeated sound effects. He was taken into custody in Iraq by US forced in January 2004 and held at Abu Ghraib. According to Amnesty, “He was then sent to a CIA secret prison in Afghanistan, and then, in April 2004, to a second secret prison in an unidentified country – possibly in Eastern Europe. He was held there in complete isolation for a further 28 months, before being sent to Yemen and eventually released in May 2007.”

Read a series of essays in Washington Monthly to, as they elegantly said, stop a debate:

“In most issues of the Washington Monthly, we favor articles that we hope will launch a debate. In this issue we seek to end one. The unifying message of the articles that follow is, simply, Stop. In the wake of September 11, the United States became a nation that practiced torture. Astonishingly—despite the repudiation of torture by experts and the revelations of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib—we remain one. ”

The ACLU is appealing a court’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan. The lawsuit alleges that the company provided flight planning and logistical support services for aircraft and crews that were used by the CIA to kidnap and torture victims of “extraordinary rendition.”

In 2006, I was lucky enough to interview A.C. Thompson, one of the co-authors of Torture Taxi. He told me:

“[T]his CIA program, is not something that happens abroad — it’s not distanced from your daily life. The people who make it happen are your neighbors. They are unassuming people who are not necessarily government employees. They provide the cover and provide the infrastructure for the CIA to cruise around the world, kidnap people, throw them in dungeons and torment them.

That was really the theme that we wanted to hammer home: We all have culpability here. This is our government, these are our neighbors, this is our community, and this is not an exotic, totally covert thing. This is also a very pedestrian program. It’s in some ways a program that connects the very exotic and horrific to the very mundane facets of American life.”

March 23, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | Leave a comment

Clean torture, winter soldiers and kids

You wouldn’t know it by reading The New York Times, The Washington Post or watching the nightly news but veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars gathered in Silver Spring, Maryland last weekend for the Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan hearings (3/13/08-3/16/08).

Watch and listen to Chris Arendt
, who was a guard at Guantanamo Bay, which he called a “concentration camp.”

Read here
about the psychological impact on Gitmo guards.

Take action for one Guantanamo detainee here.

Democracy Now! interviews Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy:
“[T]here is no sharp line between domestic and international torture. Practices that start in our prisons go out into the field. Practices in the field come back to us…

Tasers moved from domestic policing here, they’ve been out there in Iraq. We have a number of cases where people allege that they were tortured with the use of tasers. And the problem with tasers—the problem with any kind of device that doesn’t leave marks is this: if we’re going to use violence in a democracy, there has to be third-party accountability. It just can’t be that you take the cops’ word for it, right? There’s got to be a way in which somebody can say, ‘Hmm, let me look at that tape again and see if you properly used mace or that baton or something.’ And with electrical weapons that leave very few marks, it’s very hard to know.”

Children threatened with rape at Gitmo.

March 21, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | Leave a comment

Blue coat, purple backpack and PATH searches

So a few years ago, in the wake of Bush’s declaration of a war on terror, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, along with the NYC subway (through the NYPD) started randomly searching passengers before they entered the trains. One could refuse but would have to leave for another station. At the time I wrote a story, urging riders to refuse to be searched. Lawsuits cropped up and courts upheld the illegal searches. And in 2006 the Department of Homeland Security came to the PATH to show off its newest, high-tech equipment to search commuters.

And even though I commute every day on my dear PATH (I really do love it, even though some commuters don’t know to move all the way in) I had never been stopped by the cops who occasionally hung around the station. Until today.

As I was walking to swipe my card, I saw their eyes on me and then heard, “Excuse me miss… we’d like to search your bag.” I looked at them, pissed they were interrupting my morning routine, pissed they were searching me for no reason, other than that I caught their eye, and pissed at the idiocy — and passive acquiescence — to the whole dumb thing. I turned around to leave and walk to the station several blocks down. They told me again they wanted to search my bag.

I told them that they couldn’t search my bag and I was going to another station. They told me the search would take no time (further proof that this whole thing is just a placebo) and I angrily said, “It’s not about that. It’s about civil liberties.” Yeah, all you cynics, I said it. They told me I may be denied entry at another station. Annoyed, I demanded their badge numbers and names, scrawling it on the back of a booklet from work.

I left the station and got on at Exchange Place, adding about 15-20 minutes onto my commute.

During this exchange, one of the officers looked at me and said, “Blue coat, purple backpack.” (I wear a puffy blue coat and a bright purple overstuffed backpack. It’s what a 12-year old wears who wants to make sure traffic can see her at night.)

I know his meaning — I’ll be stopped tomorrow. While I stood up today, I know convenience will win out tomorrow and I’ll acquiesce. Shit, that’s not exactly an inspiring ending, is it?

Postscript: I haven’t entirely given up. I’m researching to see if any organizations are interested in bringing this issue back to court. I’ve e-mailed the NJCLU, filled out their Mass Transit Random Search Report Form and Flex Your Rights to see if I have any recourse. No answer yet but we’ll see.

March 19, 2008 Posted by | Non-Fiction | , , , , , | 5 Comments

ACLU lawsuit, voices of torture, the torture playlist

ACLU sues the federal government on 03/14/08 to demand full disclosure of Guantanamo prisoners’ descriptions of torture by CIA interrogators. The ACLU is demanding the government release un-redacted transcripts in which 14 prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay describe abuse and torture they suffered in CIA custody.
Read more here.

Read one torture victim’s experience here, the story of Dr. Sami Al-Arian.

Take Action for Dr. Al-Arian here.

Check out Mother Jones article on Gitmo Detainee 061 here.

And while you’re at Mother Jones, check out their story on the Torture Playlist and the guards who chose the music. The songs are used “to induce sleep deprivation, ‘prolong capture shock,’ disorient detainees during interrogations—and also drown out screams.”

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | Leave a comment

Obama on Clinton on torture, Bush veto, Go DC!

Obama Says Clinton Wavered on Torture, San Francisco Chronicle
Obama’s campaign cited Clinton’s October 2006 interview with the New York Daily News in which she indicated she would be willing to authorize torture to extract information about an impending terrorist attack.

“In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the president, and the president must be held accountable,” Clinton said.

Full story

On Tuesday, March 11th, the House failed to override President Bush’s veto of a bill that would have prohibited the CIA from using waterboarding and other torture methods.
Find out how your representative voted here

Go DC!
Spiritual Leaders Protest Torture Veto: Read it here

Oy, I can’t believe we’re actually having a national debate over torture, er, harsh interrogation methods… We don’t torture, I forgot.

Media criticism on the mainstream press coverage of Bush’s veto:
NYT Dangerously Downplays Bush’s Anti-Torture Veto:
Read it here

And another story on the NYT coverage here.

The Intelligence Authorization Act would have mandated that no person in the custody or within the control of an element of the intelligence community, regardless of that individual’s physical location or nationality, shall be “subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations” (Sec. 327).

The Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations dictates that:
No person in the custody or under the control of the DOD, regardless of
nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment as defined in US law, including the
Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

Care should be taken to protect the detainee from exposure (in
accordance with all appropriate standards addressing excessive or
inadequate environmental conditions) to—
− Excessive noise.
− Excessive dampness.
− Excessive or inadequate heat, light, or ventilation.
− Inadequate bedding and blankets.
− Interrogation activity leadership will periodically monitor the
application of this technique.

Use of separation must not preclude the detainee getting four hours
of continuous sleep every 24 hours.

Separation must be employed in accordance with the standards in this
manual. These standards include the following:
Prohibitions against abusive and unlawful actions (see para 5-75) and
against the employment of military working dogs in the conduct of
interrogation (see paras 5-59 and 8-2)….

Use of hoods (sacks) over the head, or of duct tape or adhesive tape
over the eyes, as a separation method is prohibited.

March 13, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | Leave a comment

Tortured Language: White House Press Briefing

White House Press Briefing
March 6, 2008

Q Does the President realize he’s going to further tarnish our image for humanity if he vetoes a ban on torture?

MS. PERINO: That’s not what he’s suggesting, Helen. You’re talking about the Senate — the intelligence authorization bill?

Q Isn’t he supposed to veto the ban this week, or so?

MS. PERINO: Helen — well, he is going to veto a bill, but it’s not the bill in which you describe. The bill that he is going to veto is the intelligence authorization bill. We’ve had a statement of administration position that has been out for a long time. There are many different reasons he’s going to veto it. One of the main ones is that it would apply the Army Field Manual, which is very good guidance for young soldiers who are out on the field who might capture somebody out on the battlefield, but it is not something that should apply to a terrorist interrogation program that is run by the CIA.

Q Why? It’s torture, isn’t it?

MS. PERINO: It isn’t — no, we are not torturing, and that is not what the bill says.

Q Well, it would ban —

MS. PERINO: Torture is already illegal.

Q — he is vetoing a ban on torture, isn’t he?

MS. PERINO: Torture is already illegal in this country, and the President has already signed a bill reiterating that fact. The simple point of this bill is that the Army Field Manual — the President does not believe, nor does the intelligence community — I’d point you to General Hayden and others who say that it should not —

Q The military certainly believes in it.

MS. PERINO: It is appropriate for the military to have the Army Field Manual as its guidelines. But we do not believe that it should apply to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Q Why? Are they human beings? Are we humane people?

MS. PERINO: We are humane people. We have a terrorist interrogation program that helps make sure that we keep this country safe. We do not torture. But what I will tell you is that you will hear more about this this weekend. The President’s radio address will be on this issue.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Non-Fiction | Leave a comment

Army Generals and Torture: Immoral and Stupid

Amazing interview about torture with retired military generals on Democracy Now!


BRIG. GEN. JAMES CULLEN: Well, we hear a lot of arguments to try to justify practices—under newspeak are called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but we know exactly what we’re talking about. It’s torture in different packaging. We hear the argument, as you mentioned, that we’re in a new paradigm, and the old rules don’t apply. Anyone who managed to stay awake through high school history classes knows, as we have fought other insurgencies, from the Philippines and Vietnam and other places, the rules do apply. We’re not facing something new. As we go back in our history, we look at President Lincoln through General Eisenhower, they all faced far greater threats to our nation than what we’re looking at today. And yet, they held the line, and they were very clear in their direction that we are going to act properly in accordance with the rule of law.

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Non-Fiction | Leave a comment