warprompts

What’s Worth 72 Words in the Washington Post?

Listen to Andy Worthington on Counterspin discuss press coverage of the people released with Sami-al-Haj:

Sami al-Haj, the Al Jazeera cameraman recently released after six years in the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo, is back in his native Sudan. As the only journalist believed held in Guantamo, Al Haj’s story has become well known around the world. It is less well-known in the US-al-Haj’s May 1st release merited just a 72 word squib in the Washington Post, and a short report on page 14 of the New York Times.

Still less attention has been paid to the other Guantanamo detainees who were released with Al Haj. Journalist Andy Worthington will join us to tell their stories. He is the author of “The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.”

Read the fascinating piece, Why the Police Wouldn’t Tase Me, by a journalist who asked to be tasered:

At lunch break, Cpl. Gillis shows up and says the lawyers got cold feet about the plan to zap me. “As you learned this morning, there’s risk of injury,” says the 43-year-old RCMP expert in taser training who has been exposed more than 20 times during training and compares its effects to the muscle burn of a gym workout. “You could potentially tear a muscle and we would be on the hook for your medical expenses and loss of income. You could come after us for pain and discomfort.”

I had been questioning my sanity for days, particularly after seeing a video of La Toya Jackson voluntarily zapped (in the back). But now I feel like a dinner guest promised a full meal that never materializes. Why can’t I sign my life away with a waiver? Gillis says he’ll make another call during lunch. “My school of thought is that if we’re saying this is safe for use on the public, why not?” offers Gillis.

Back in the classroom, Tarasoff hands us each a loaded X-26 Taser and then goes over recent policy and protocol changes. Example: even if they draw a Taser on a subject, they will have to file a report by the end of shift, not within 15 days, “because people haven’t been completing the forms.” Officers are now also allowed to remove the barbed darts from the subject instead of waiting for a medical officer, unless they’ve hit “sensitive areas” like eyes and genitals.

‘Excited delirium’ situations

“Remember that if the situation dictates, you can use multiple applications,” Tarasoff says once again. “If the subject is in the grips of a mental health crisis or has excited delirium (ED), they’ll need medical assistance ASAP. In order for EHS to intervene, they first have to be restrained and under control. It falls on us to do that. With ED, the use of a taser in probe deployment mode may be the most effective response to establish control.”

This is another surprising recommendation. The American Civil Liberties Union says Taser International uses the diagnosis to “whitewash” in-custody deaths and the Canadian government report specifically called for restricting use with ED subjects. “Right now [the report author] is putting out off-the-cuff comments if you will,” Gillis responds. “Where’s the meat and potatoes? We have to go on science and the leading medical expert in this country Christine Hall [a BC ER physician] is still saying, ‘Look this is better than fighting with these people and traditional methods.’ So as a result we’re going to continue to use it in ED cases.”

Background — another post on tasers:

The Ethics of Selling Tasers to Governments Who Torture

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June 1, 2008 Posted by | Media Criticism, Torture News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torture in the House: Marjorie Cohn’s Testimony

Read an excerpt from Marjorie Cohn’s testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

She speaks of the law and torture…

What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. That’s Latin for “higher law” or “compelling law.” This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition.

The United States has always prohibited torture in our Constitution, laws, executive statements, judicial decisions, and treaties. When the U.S. ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of American law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions.

The U.S. War Crimes Act, and 18 USC sections 818 and 3231, punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute criminalizes the commission, attempt, or conspiracy to commit torture outside the United States.

John Yoo’s criminal role…

The Constitution gives Congress the power to make laws and the President the duty to enforce them. Yet Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members. But torture and inhumane treatment are never allowed under our laws.

Justice Department lawyers wrote memos at the request of Bush officials to insulate them from prosecution for torture. In memos dated August 1, 2002 and March 14, 2003, John Yoo wrote the DOJ would not enforce U.S. laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.

The maiming statute makes it a crime for someone “with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure” to “cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb, or any member of another person” or throw or pour upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance.

Yoo said, “just because the statute says — that doesn’t mean you have to do it.” In a debate with Notre Dame Professor Doug Cassell, Yoo said there is no treaty that prohibits the President from torturing someone by crushing the testicles of the person’s child. It depends on the President’s motive, Yoo said, notwithstanding the absolute prohibition on torture.

Yoo twisted the law and redefined torture much more narrowly than the Torture Convention and the Torture Statute. Under Yoo’s definition, you have to nearly kill the person to constitute torture.

Yoo wrote that self-defense or necessity could be defenses to war crimes prosecutions, notwithstanding the Torture Convention’s absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances.

DOJ Memos…

After the August 1, 2002 memo was made public, the DOJ knew it was indefensible. It was withdrawn as of June 1, 2004, and a new opinion, dated December 30, 2004, specifically rejected Yoo’s definition of torture, and admitted that a defendant’s motives to protect national security won’t shield him from prosecution. The rescission of the prior memo is an admission by the DOJ that the legal reasoning was wrong. But for the 22 months it was in effect, it sanctioned and caused the torture of myriad prisoners.

Yoo and other DOJ lawyers were part of a common plan to violate U.S. and international laws outlawing torture. It was reasonably foreseeable their advice would result in great physical or mental harm or death to many detainees. Indeed, more than 100 have died, many from torture. Yoo admitted recently he knew interrogators would take action based on what he advised.

The torture architects and their liability…

Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. Bush admitted he knew and approved of their actions.

They are all liable under the War Crimes Act and the Torture Statute. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander in chief, are liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.

The President can no more order the commission of torture than he can order the commission of genocide, or establish a system of slavery, or wage a war of aggression.

A Select Committee of Congress should launch an immediate and thorough investigation of the circumstances under which torture was authorized and rationalized. The high officials of our government, and the lawyers who advised them, should be investigated and prosecuted by a Special Prosecutor, independent of the Justice Department, for their roles in misusing the rule of law and legal analysis to justify torture and other crimes in flagrant violation of our laws.



June 1, 2008 Posted by | Torture News, Yoo Torture Memo | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Torture Activism and Arrests; Ted Rall; Making it Matter

Anti-torture activists convicted on May 29, 2008… They were charged with “unlawful free speech” or “causing a harangue,” or in some cases, both. The counts each carry a maximum of 60 days in jail:

Thirty-four Americans arrested at the Supreme Court on January 11, 2008 were found guilty after a three-day trial which began on Tuesday, May 27th in D.C. Superior Court. The defendants represented themselves, mounting a spirited defense of their First Amendment rights to protest the gross injustice of abuse and indefinite detention of men at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

Charged with “unlawful free speech,” the defendants were part of a larger group that appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11—the day marking six years of indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo. “I knelt and prayed on the steps of the Supreme Court wearing an orange jumpsuit and black hood to be present for Fnu Fazaldad,” said Tim Nolan, a nurse practitioner from Asheville, NC who provides health care for people with HIV.

***

In a new twist on traditional protest, the 35 activists [entered] their names as those of actual Guantánamo inmates. On January 11th, they were arrested without their own identification and were taken into custody under the name of a Guantánamo prisoner. This act symbolically grants the Guantánamo prisoners their day in court– which the Pentagon has denied them for years.

Father Bill Pickard, a Catholic priest from Scranton, PA, is one of the defendants. But he will be tried “as” Faruq Ali Ahmed, a Guantánamo detainee. “I went to the Supreme Court to make a simple plea that the inhumane treatment and actual torture of inmates at Guantánamo Bay stop,” says Fr. Pickard. “I went to bring the name and the humanity of Faruq Ali Ahmed — who claims he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 simply to teach the Koran to children and that he has no affiliation with the Taliban or Al Qaeda — before the law. He cannot do it himself, so I am called by my faith, my respect for the rule of law and my conscience to do it for him.” Among the defendants is a hog farmer from Grinnell, Iowa, a social worker from Saratoga Springs, New York, and a legal secretary from Baltimore.

Representing themselves, the defendants plan on justifying their acts as upholding U.S. law and international human rights and will call witnesses to document the abuses at Guantánamo.

(Source: Guantanamo Detainees to Get Their Day in Court, Witness Against Torture Press Release)

***

[Historian Michael S. Foley, a professor at the City University of New York, teaches the U.S. Constitution to undergraduates testified for the defense on the third day of trial.]

Mike Foley had entered the Supreme Court, as had Ms. Schaeffer-Duffy, earlier in the day, and had had time to tour the building and see a film. As a historian and a history professor he appreciated there being an exhibit on the 1944 Korematsu decision upholding the constitutionality of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, but noted the absence of other exhibits related to curtailment of rights during time of war.

Foley described approaching the Great Hall close to 1:00. As he got close to the front door at the top of the steps, near the security checkpoint, he saw a few people begin to unfurl a banner. “In moments police snatched the banner. Behind them, other people had begun to take their jackets off, showing orange T-shirts, and one woman was starting to put on an orange jump suit. In a matter of moments, though, there was bedlam. Police were running, and I heard others being called on a police radio. A number of people were lined on either side of the hall, but there was mayhem. People began to kneel. It looked like some were praying and some were trying to get out of the way to keep from getting knocked over. I saw two people start to read, but immediately police swiped their papers out of their hands. At that point people started singing.” He went on to say, “I saw my friend Nancy Gowan being slammed to the ground. She took a hard fall. Then she was dragged away.”

Foley said the police gave no warnings before beginning to arrest people. “It would have been easy for them. It was perfectly quiet. The hall had the hushed, reverential tone appropriate for that space. But the police yelled, ‘Get the banner!’” He said police did not tell the first people apprehended that they were about to be arrested or that they were being arrested. Later, when many people had already been taken into custody, he said the police began saying, “You realize you’re about to be arrested.”

Foley was able to observe the arrests because he was one of the last ones to be arrested, and he said the people were not disorderly or threatening. “It was the police who reacted, who were disorderly. It was like they were prepared and waiting, but didn’t have a plan. The orderly, dignified program plan of the people who came to the Great Hall never happened. They tried to improvise a program after the arrests.”

When asked if he thought he was at risk of being arrested when he went to the Great Hall, he said, “No more than I thought I might be arrested anywhere for reading a statement. We went to file petitions to the U.S. Justices. When I saw the charge of unlawful free speech, I was shocked. I teach the Bill of Rights to my students. If anyone had told me I would be arrested for unlawful free speech I would have said they were crazy, but of all places, I would never have thought it could happen in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court!”

(Source: Witness Against Torture press release)

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees were barred from testifying on behalf of the protestors:

Judge Wendell Gardner refused to hear testimony from Guantanamo attorney, Thomas Wilner, in the trial of 34 Americans arrested while acting on behalf of Guantanamo detainees at the U.S. Supreme Court on January 11, 2008. Judge Gardner ruled that Wilner’s testimony was unnecessary” and “not relevant” to make a determination.

The defense argued that Wilner, who represents 12 Kuwaiti detainees and who speaks frequently in public about his trips to Guantanamo, helped shape the intent of the defendants in making their protest to shut down the American prison camp in Cuba.

The 34 defendants, acting as their own attorneys, took the names of Guantanamo detainees at the time of arrest and have carried those names through the trial. Some, acting in solidarity with the detainees, have refused to speak during the trial as a way of highlighting the rights withheld from the detainees thus far.

Others have mounted a defense arguing that on January 11, the sixth anniversary of the interrogation camps’ opening, they appealed to the justices of the Supreme Court to rule against the Bush administration in the cases of Boumediene v. U.S. and Al Odah v. Bush. They contend that they acted on January 11th after all other remedies had been exhausted and only after hearing lawyers like Thomas Wilner describe the predicaments of their clients, expressing horror and astonishment that more Americans were not protesting the detainees’ indefinite detention and torture.

Let’s see how much the national, mainstream media covered the protest and subsequent trial:

The Washington Post ran a 452 word story in the Metro section on January 13, 2008 and a 553 story on May 28, 2008.

The AP ran a 645 word story on June 2, 2008.

The CNN wire ran a 127 word story on May 27, 2008.

Local press faired better. Check out their extensive coverage here.

Speaking of the media, Ted Rall writes on American torture camps and journalists “who love the government too much”:

In last week’s column I cited New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau as a prime example of what ails us: reporters who don’t report, a.k.a. journalists who love the government too much.

When Lichtblau found out that the Bush Administration was listening to Americans’ phone calls and reading their e-mail, he decided to hold the story. Instead of fulfilling his duty to the Times’ readers and running with it, he asked the White House for permission. By the time the NSA domestic surveillance story finally ran, 14 months had passed–and Bush had won the 2004 election.

Again, in a May 17th piece bearing the headline “FBI Gets Mixed Review in Interrogation Report,” Lichtblau is running interference for the government. “A new Justice Department report praises the refusal of FBI agents to take part in the military’s abusive questioning of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan,” begins the article, “but it also finds fault with the bureau’s slow response to complaints about the tactics from its own agents.”

“Abusive questioning.” “Harsh interrogation tactics.”

According to the Justice Department report, “routine” treatment of Guantánamo prisoners–witnessed by the FBI–includes “bending the detainee’s thumbs back and grabbing his genitals.” Military and CIA torturers chained detainees’ hands and feet together for as long as a full day, “left to defecate on themselves.” They terrorized them with dogs, stripped them and made them wear women’s underwear and subjected them to blaring music, freezing cold and searing heat.

Torture. Such a simple word. Why not use it?

Lichtblau’s “mixed review” appellation notwithstanding, the report by the Justice Department paints a shocking, uniformly negative portrait of a federal law enforcement agency whose officers react to appalling conduct with the Nuremberg defense–“I was just following orders.”

“Indeed,” reported U.S. News & World Report, “time after time, the report concludes that FBI agents saw or heard about numerous interrogation methods–from sleep deprivation to duct-taping detainees’ mouths to scaring them with dogs–that plainly violated their own agency’s code of conduct.” (Not to mention the Geneva Conventions.) Rather than report their scruples to someone who might raise hell and put a stop to the systemic torture at Gitmo and other U.S. concentration camps–i.e., the public–FBI agents turned to the criminals. Just like Lichtblau did with domestic spying.

Making it Matter:

June is Torture Awareness Month. Read about one CA church’s actions here.

A letter to the editor shows the power of language in torture:

Every day we read and hear how waterboarding “simulates” drowning. Victims “perceive” and “believe” that they are being drowned, we’re told, as if they were falling for some clever parlor trick. You can’t find a story which does not use one of those qualifiers every time “waterboarding is mentioned.”

I think this must be some kind of record in the application of mass propaganda; since a five-minute Web search reveals that waterboarding, in fact, is drowning. The victim perceives and believes that water is going into his lungs because water is going into his lungs, any time he breathes.

There is only one real qualifier that applies, and it’s the same one that applied to the process of dunking witches in colonial Salem. That is, it is controlled, intentional drowning, which can be interrupted, or not, by those perpetrating it. Malcolm Nance, who is now a terrorism advisor to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, states in The Independent Dec. 22 that he personally witnessed and supervised hundreds of waterboardings, at the U.S. Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School in San Diego, as part of training Navy SEALs…

And read another letter to the editor here.


June 1, 2008 Posted by | Media Criticism, Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment