warprompts

Floating in Limbo, literally

Makes you proud to be an American, huh? One Guantanamo detainee victim describes the “kinder, gentler” torture imposed by the Americans he thought he would be safe with:

While staying at his in-law’s village in Afghanistan in December 2001, Abdul Hamid Al-Ghizzawi, my client at Guantánamo, knew little of Bush and Cheney.

Later, when vigilante thugs turned him over to the Northern Alliance for an American bounty, Al-Ghizzawi knew nothing of Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, John Yoo or Matthew Waxman — the man who would become Al-Ghizzawi’s personal war criminal and who is now a professor at Columbia Law School.

So, it was understandable that when Al-Ghizzawi heard American troops were coming, he tried to get himself turned over to them. As Al-Ghizzawi later told me, he thought he would be safe with the Americans “and have rights” and be treated “with respect.” Al-Ghizzawi convinced the Americans to take him when they learned he spoke English. That was all the troops knew about him. Ignorance of who he was or why he was there, however, proved no impediment to torture.

In the early years, “the Americans treated me very brutally and disrespectfully, worse than the Northern Alliance … and the Northern Alliance was very bad,” Al-Ghizzawi recounted to me. “But now the torture is much different. Now the torture is my life every day in this prison, alone without my family, dying, with no rights and no charges.”

His American jailers spared Al-Ghizzawi the very worst of the worst in the long list of torture techniques now in use. He was not murdered or waterboarded. He did not have a razor blade taken to his penis, nor was he hung from the ceiling by his arms. One might describe Al-Ghizzawi’s torture as a kinder, gentler torture.

In American custody, Al-Ghizzawi was only beaten with chains; bound to chairs in excruciating positions for endless hours; threatened with death and with rape; stripped and subjected to body-cavity searches by non-medical personnel while men — and women — laughed and took pictures.

Among many other brutalities and indignities, Al-Ghizzawi was also posed naked with other prisoners; terrorized with dogs; forced to kneel on stones in the searing heat; left to stand or crouch for extended periods; deprived of sleep; subjected to extreme cold without clothes or covering; denied medical attention; and kept in isolation for years.

Again, as I said: a kinder, gentler torture.

Torture planes, and now, Torture ships. The anti-torture group, Reprieve, reported on June 2nd that:

In June 2005 the UN’s special rapporteur on terrorism spoke of “very, very serious” allegations that the United States was secretly detaining terrorism suspects in various locations around the world, notably aboard prison ships in the Indian Ocean region.


Reprieve, the legal action charity, believes that the US has operated a number of ships as floating prisons (possibly as many as 17), where prisoners have been interrogated under torturous conditions before being rendered to other, often undisclosed locations. Details regarding the operation of prison ships have emerged through a number of sources, including the US military and other administration officials, the Council of Europe, various parliamentary bodies and journalists, as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves…

Following his capture by Northern Alliance forces in November 2001, John Walker Lindh, the so called ‘American Taliban’, was transferred first to the USS Peleliu and then to USS Bataan. On board, he received medical treatment for dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. In addition, the bullet wound he received two weeks previously was removed from his leg…

A former Guantánamo prisoner told Reprieve about conditions aboard the USS Bataan:

There were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on television. The people detained on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantánamo.

The USS Bataan is also known to have been operating in the Indian Ocean region.


Reprieve believes that prisoners held aboard the USS Bataan were routinely photographed and examined by medical personnel in between interrogations, and that such records are held by the US administration…

Reprieve will be issuing a full report on the use of prison ships later this year.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, said: “The US administration chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their human rights.”

He added: “By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001. The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.”

David Swanson writes an excellent commentary on McCain and the torture ships:

When asked about other known crimes of Bush and Cheney, Senator Barack Obama has said that he can’t see any crimes now, but he’ll be glad to look into it after we elect him. So, it’s a safe bet that if he becomes president Obama will create a task force to advise him on whether it’s illegal or abusive in any way to secretly kidnap random innocent people, allow their families to think they’re dead, hide them in the hull of what can technically only be called a pirate ship, beat them, hang them by their wrists, starve them, electroshock them, hold their heads underwater, and keep them chained hands-and-feet like something worse than wild animals. Depending on what conclusions Obama’s subordinates draw, it seems an even bet he’ll launch a more in-depth study to fully investigate the question in a discrete and respectful manner.

McCain is a different story, at least in terms of rhetoric. When asked how he came to switch from being an opponent and supposed victim of torture denouncing it as both evil and useless, to a cheerleader for its blatantly illegal use and its justification by dictatorial “signing statement”, Senator John McCain . . . Actually, we would have to have a public communications system for McCain to ever have been asked such an impolite question, but I feel safe in asserting that HAD he been asked that question, he would have replied by threatening to torture the questioner, with a wink and a nervous grin, followed by a slurred and semi-coherent refusal ever to surrender to “extremists.” If I were a betting man, my money would be on McCain’s presidential campaign quite soon offering to name torture ships in honor of major campaign donors. A pirate-themed ball at the Republican National Convention is not unlikely.

Additional coverage on the torture ships:

The Personal is Political

The Guardian

Reuters

AFP

I was lucky enough to interview A.C. Thompson in 2006, co-author of Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights:

Can you tell me a little bit about how this book came about?

Back in December 2005, my co-author Trevor Paglen gave me a call and said, “Hey, I’ve been checking out these planes. Can I come over to your office and talk about it?” And he came over and basically said, “I believe these planes are involved with the CIA in some way. Can you help me figure out who owns them and where they’re based, and find any clues about the corporations who allegedly own these planes?”

So right on the spot we started doing document searches at my desk, and looking up the ownership records for some of these planes. Very quickly it became clear that the planes that he was interested in were not normal.

Torturetaxicover_1 Normally, if you look at any company, you’ll find that it has an office somewhere, it has a CEO or president who can be easily located, it has a Web site — it has all the basic sort of stuff that you’d expect. And the companies that putatively owned these planes had none of that. You couldn’t find an office, you couldn’t find any real estate that they owned, you couldn’t find a phone number for the executives, you couldn’t find an address, and you couldn’t find any homes that executives of these companies owned. Now, you’d expect that the president of even a small aviation company probably owns a home somewhere – you know, you wouldn’t see any of this stuff. And so, very quickly, we realized that there was something weird about this.

Once you saw that something wasn’t really right, what was the next step?

Our whole thing was that we were researching this as people who didn’t have intelligence sources, as people who didn’t have sources deep in the aviation business. We were trying to reverse engineer the program. That was our goal.

So we gathered up all the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records and corporate paperwork that we could. Then we also networked with the plane spotters – the sort of nerdy hobbyists who spend their time obsessing over the minutia and esoterica of aviation — Where does one plane go? Where does it land? What kind of plane is it? Who owns it? Who flies it?

In a lot of ways, they were the ones who actually cracked the CIA’s code, because these geeky types have Web sites and listservs where they’re sharing information with one another. And a lot of them are very interested in suspicious aircraft, and they had obtained flight logs and documented these planes — with photos — in very interesting places.

We could build on that information and start understanding better where these planes were going, and that, in fact, they were very likely CIA planes. That same tactic was employed by Stephen Grey, the author of Ghost Plane, and John Sifton at Human Rights Watch. And really, that sort of became the cutting edge of human rights research and reporting at the moment — to understand how aviation flight patterns work. It was kind of a weird thing.


June 3, 2008 Posted by | 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

Torture Hearing in Congress, Witness List

The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on the role that Bush administration lawyers played in, as Chair Jerrold Nadler’s press release said, “creating abusive interrogation policies [torture] that have resulted in the widespread abuse [torture] of detainees in U.S. custody and control.”

The witnesses debunked the “ticking time bomb” scenario so often used to justify torture:

“Radio silence was the response when today’s witnesses were asked to identify a single example of a true ‘ticking bomb’ scenario ever occurring, even though such scenarios are often invoked to justify torture,” Congressman John Conyers said. “These scholars, who have studied this issue extensively and have intimate knowledge of the legal authority the administration sought, could not identify a single example. I hope that the administration officials who have agreed to testify will shed some light on this and many other questions raised in today’s hearing.”


  • Professor Phillipe Sands described the impact of US interrogation policies and legal opinions on our standing around the world, recounting how a foreign president had pulled out a copy of a John Yoo legal opinion as evidence that US law permitted torture.
  • Georgetown Professor David Luban testified that the John Yoo interrogation opinions were so flawed – full of “hot air” in his words – that US agents were “misled” into believing their actions were lawful and people in US custody “may have suffered cruel and illegal treatment because of these memos.”
  • Professor Sands described an important visit by senior administration lawyers to Guantanamo Bay in 2002 – vice presidential aide David Addington was on this trip and Sands described him as the “leader of the pack.” Former Defense Department general counsel Jim Haynes was also on this trip, and Sands testified at length about how Mr. Haynes and the administration had improperly blamed junior personnel at Guantanamo for initiating and legally approving aggressive interrogation techniques when in fact, Professor Sands testified, those techniques were pushed from the top of the administration and based on legal approval from the John Yoo August 2002 memorandum.

Watch the hearing here.

Before the hearing the Subcommittee considered, and approved by voice vote, a resolution to authorize the Committee Chair to issue subpoenas to compel Dick Cheney’s (another invited witness) Chief of Staff David Addington. Other witnesses — former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the torture memo author John Yoo — have agreed to testify. According to Nadler’s press release, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, former CIA Director George Tenet, and former Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin “remain in dialougue about their availability.” Hmmm…. Maybe we should send Feith, Tenet, Levin, Cheney and Addington “save the date” cards to discuss torture so they don’t over-book their schedules. I’m sure their dance cards are quite full!

May 11, 2008 Posted by | Torture News, Yoo Torture Memo | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torture to American Voices

Another British citizen accuses British officials “outsourcing” his torture. He also describes hearing the sounds of American and British voices while being tortured:

The fourth man to claim that he was tortured after being detained in Pakistan during a British-led counter-terrorism investigation is an alleged al-Qaida terrorist from the West Midlands. He says that for several months the ISI [Pakistan’s intelligence agency] kept him in a pitch-black cell not much bigger than a coffin, and that he was brought out to be beaten, whipped and subjected to electric shocks. On one occasion, he alleges, he was kept hooded and interrogated by people speaking English, with both British and American accents…

[H]is claims follow similar allegations made by three other British citizens of Pakistani origin. These men all say they suffered severe torture at secret ISI interrogation centres shortly before receiving questioning by British counter-terrorism officials.

The latest man to allege British collusion in his torture had been living in Pakistan for almost four years when he was picked up by the ISI two years ago, during a British-led counter-terrorism operation.

“He said he had been interrogated by westerners, but didn’t specify whether they were British or American,” said his lawyer. “He was not well treated during interrogation.”

The 27-year-old’s family say he gave a detailed account of mistreatment after being brought to court on a number of occasions. His brother said: “He described being dragged off a bus and having the living daylights beaten out of him. At first he was held in what he called a ‘grave cell’. It was like a coffin: there was so little room that when he was lying down if he brought up his knees they touched the roof.

“He told me that one time, when he was being beaten, he could hear English and American accents in the room with him. He had a hood over his head but he knows what an English accent sounds like.”

A court in Pakistan eventually ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict the man on terrorism charges.

It’s never a good sign when John Ashcroft is the conscience of the group. Ted Rall writes in his piece, Arrest Bush

“Why are we talking about this in the White House?” John Ashcroft nervously asked his fellow members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. (The Principals were Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General Ashcroft.)

“History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft predicted.

“This” is torture. Against innocent people. Conducted by CIA agents and American soldiers and marines. Sanctioned by legal opinions issued by Ashcroft’s Justice Department. Directly ordered by George W. Bush.

An Iraqi man sued two U.S. military contractors Monday, claiming he was repeatedly tortured while being held at the Abu Ghraib prison for more than 10 months. The AP reports:

Emad al-Janabi’s federal lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, claims that employees of CACI International Inc. and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. punched him, slammed him into walls, hung him from a bed frame and kept him naked and handcuffed in his cell beginning in September 2003…

Al-Janabi, 43, said he was detained by U.S. troops during a late-night raid in which he and his family were beaten by their captors. He said he was taken to a military base where he was stripped naked, a hood was placed on his head and his hands and legs were chained.

“They (U.S. troops) did not tell me what was the reason behind my arrest … during the interrogation, the American soldier told me I was a terrorist … and I was preparing for an attack against the U.S. forces,” said al-Janabi, who denied the accusation and claims he was forced to give confessions under “savage” intimidation.

The lawsuit also claims the contractors conspired in a cover-up by destroying documents and other information, hid prisoners during periodic checks by the International Red Cross and misled military and government officials about what was happening at Abu Ghraib.

Al-Janabi was released in July 2004 and wasn’t charged with any crime, according to the lawsuit. He also was forced to form a human pyramid in the nude with other prisoners, according to the lawsuit, but his Philadelphia-based attorney Susan Burke said it wasn’t known if he was in the infamous photo that became public.

The Jurist reports that last year a US District Judge refused to dismiss a class action suit against CACI alleging torture.

The National Law Journal reports that the Senate on April 23 approved, by unanimous consent, S. 2324, the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008. But the bill passed only after the lawmakers agreed to an amendment by Senator Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., which, among other items, deleted a provision giving the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) jurisdiction to investigate misconduct allegations against department attorneys, including its most senior officials.

So what does this mean? TPMMuckraker explains that:

OPR, which reports to the attorney general, is currently conducting a variety of very sensitive investigations for the administration. The office is probing the Department’s approval of the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. And recently it announced that it is investigating the Department’s legal memos authorizing the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture by CIA and military interrogators.

It is conducting those probes because Inspector General Glenn Fine cannot. The bill which passed the House would have changed that, as Fine himself pointed out in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) back in February, when he told them that he could not investigate the Department’s authorization of torture because “under current law, the OIG does not have jurisdiction to review the actions of DOJ attorneys acting in their capacity to provide legal advice.” Fine added: “Legislation that would remove this limitation has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, but at this point the OIG does not have jurisdiction to undertake the review you request.”

And with Kyl’s amendment, it appears that Fine won’t be getting that jurisdiction any time soon.

Made it Matter: Canadian teacher fasts to protest torture.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment