warprompts

Life at Guantanamo: “I look alive, but actually I’m dead”

Solitary confinement at Guantanamo Bay: “I look alive, but actually I’m dead…”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released two reports on the conditions and treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. One report highlights numerous instances of threats and abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo by interrogators from brutal human rights abusing regimes who are given full access by the U.S. The second report demonstrates the deteriorating mental health of the overwhelming majority of Guantánamo prisoners relegated to solitary confinement at the prison.

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[In] Solitary Confinement at Guantánamo Bay, CCR details the deteriorating mental health of the approximately 70 percent of Guantánamo’s prisoners who are currently in solitary confinement – virtually all without charge or trial. Three of Guantánamo’s camps – Camps 5, 6, and Echo – house detainees in extreme conditions of solitary confinement, which the government speaks about as “single-occupancy cells” providing greater “privacy.”

CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren
said, “The government is not keeping these men in a Holiday Inn-type room—in reality, they live in brutal isolation with no chance of seeing the light of day, much less a fair trial.”


According to the report released today, one prisoner in Camp 6 recounted to his lawyer, “I’ve started talking to the ceiling. I know it’s crazy, but I can’t stand it anymore.” Another Camp 6 prisoner with deteriorating mental health, stated, “I look alive, but actually I’m dead.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights reports on House of Representative subcommittee hearings on the torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar:

Two House of Representatives Subcommittees will be hearing testimony from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General on the rendition of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen sent by the United States to be tortured in Syria more than five years ago. The hearing will focus on the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the processes used to send Mr. Arar to Syria, which the office has so far refused to release to the public – instead, in March of this year, it released an unclassified one-page summary with no new information. Some portion of the Report is now supposed to be released at the conclusion of tomorrow’s hearing. According to an article in Harper’s magazine, the release of the Report has been delayed by the efforts of senior government officials because it exposes “serious misconduct.” The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents Maher in a case against high-level U.S. officials calls again for the release of the entire unredacted OIG report. “More than five years have passed since our government sent Maher to Syria to be tortured, and almost two years since the Canadian government issued its 1,200-page report on the role of Canadian officials in what was done to Maher,” said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. “It is high time the Inspector General reveal his full findings on the actions of U.S. government officials so they may begin to be held accountable.”

Democracy Now! reported that in October 2002, Arar was detained at JFK airport while on a stopover in New York. He was then jailed and secretly deported to Syria. He was held for almost a year without charge in an underground cell not much larger than a grave. Charges were never filed against him. In a 2006 interview he told Democracy Now!:

Well, you know, they [the Americans] sent me to a country where it is common knowledge that they torture detainees. I was—I spent there a year, ten months of which I was placed in an underground cell. Of course, this is not to mention the beatings, the physical beatings I endured at the beginning when I arrived in Syria. But I can tell you that the psychological torture that I endured during this ten-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. It is beyond human imagination.

Making it Matter:

Actions continue for June’s National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Check out these inspiring Atlanta actions:

Druid Hills United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta will fly banners in their sanctuaries in June decrying the U.S. use of torture.

“Each banner highlights [the fact that] we still have a policy of torture,” said Suzanne O’Hatrick, who is helping coordinate the national campaign.

Churches in all 50 states and Puerto Rico are participating, and the sponsors expect many more to sign on, she said.

David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, has been a leading religious voice against the use of torture and is organizing a conference on the topic Sept. 11-12 in Atlanta.

“Disturbingly, that debate [over torturing prisoners in the war on terror] remains unresolved, with significant percentages of the American people approving torture, and American law and policy continuing to reflect our national inability to renounce it,” Gushee wrote.

And the Episcopal News Service reports that:

More than 275 congregations of a wide variety of faiths in all 50 United States and the District of Columbia will display an anti-torture banner on the exterior of their buildings during June, which religious and human-rights organizations have designated as Torture Awareness Month.

Make it Matter. Check out the campaign website here, tell the presidential candidates to oppose torture and sign the statement against torture.

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June 8, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tasers, British gov’t sued, APA action

Check out this piece on the ethics of selling tasers to governments who torture:

Seldom are businesses in the developed world implicated directly in torture, but too often they avert their eyes as their products, purchases or independent contractors support abuses, according to Schulz, who is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C. He cited the case of Taser International, the Scottsdale, Ariz., manufacturer of “stun guns.” Taser’s devices, sold domestically to police departments and private citizens, shoot electrified barbs that cause a flash of intense pain and momentary muscle failure. Police use them in place of pistols and clubs to protect themselves and subdue unruly people.

The U.S. Commerce Department has documented the sale of Tasers to countries, including Saudi Arabia, that are known for using electro-shock devices as tools of torture, Schulz said. He debated Taser’s chief executive, Rick Smith, three years ago at Claremont-McKenna College in California. At the time, he asked Smith to stop selling his company’s wares to countries that the U.S. State Department had classified as torturers. Taser’s president indicated that the company “would sell to any country it pleased,” Schulz stated.

I’m reminded of what Darius Rejali said on Democracy Now

You know, one of the very important points I want to make in my book is that I know we’re all focused on international torture, but there 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.

We all know what waterboarding is. What we forget is that waterboarding was a technique that, although it was learned in the Philippines—we’ve all seen the New Yorker article, I’m sure, on how that happened—those soldiers, when they come back, what kind of jobs do they get? They get jobs as policemen. They get jobs as private security people. And very soon, in the 1920s, all those techniques from the Philippine war started appearing all across the United States. They were used on conscientious objectors during World War I. The techniques that appeared in Chicago in ’72 to ’92 were all techniques that we have already documented in Vietnam that MPs were quite familiar with, right? So, after every war, people come back.

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.

I always ask people, during the Rodney King video, which everybody saw, “Does everyone remember it?” And everyone says, “Yeah.” And ehtn I say, “Well, how much electroshock did he get when that video was running?” And everyone goes, “I don’t remember anything. There was just beating.” I was like, “No, he had a taser in him. He had gotten two bolts of 50,000 volts, and they were emptying out the remains of that charge in him while he was struggling.” Now, everybody can get outraged by violence they can see. Violence they can’t see, we barely have the opportunity even to raise the question.

Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, writes about learning that Americans were torturing detainees, as per the White House orders:

Simply put, American fighting men and women were abusing detainees. I later learned that they were doing so on the basis of policies being set by senior members of the Bush administration. As someone who had spent thirty-one years in the Army, I was appalled…

The worst horrors of our war have yet to be revealed—but they will be. Secret prisons, renditions, homicides, torture, and innocents swept up in a vast network of detention—all will be revealed. It is the nature of our openness that it be so. We must start now to recognize our crimes and our complicity. We are all guilty, and we must all take action in whatever way we can. Torture and abuse are not American. They are foreign to us and always should be. We need to exorcise them from our souls and make amends.

Excerpts of 29-year old British resident Binyam Mohamed’s diary were published in The Guardian in 2005. The paper reported that he described being flown by a US government plane to a prison in Morocco. One agonizing excerpt:

They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists. I asked for a doctor.

Doctor No 1 carried a briefcase. “You’re all right, aren’t you? But I’m going to say a prayer for you.” Doctor No 2 gave me an Alka-Seltzer for the pain. I told him about my penis. “I need to see it. How did this happen?” I told him. He looked like it was just another patient. “Put this cream on it two times a day. Morning and night.” He gave me some kind of antibiotic.

I was in Morocco for 18 months. Once they began this, they would do it to me about once a month. One time I asked a guard: “What’s the point of this? I’ve got nothing I can say to them. I’ve told them everything I possibly could.”

“As far as I know, it’s just to degrade you. So when you leave here, you’ll have these scars and you’ll never forget. So you’ll always fear doing anything but what the US wants.”

Later, when a US airplane picked me up the following January, a female MP took pictures. She was one of the few Americans who ever showed me any sympathy. When she saw the injuries I had she gasped. They treated me and took more photos when I was in Kabul. Someone told me this was “to show Washington it’s healing”.

Mohamed is now suing the British government. Andy Worthington reports,

On Tuesday, Binyam Mohamed, a 29-year old British resident in Guantánamo, sued the British government for refusing to produce evidence which, his lawyers contend, would demonstrate that he was tortured for 27 months by or on behalf of US forces in Morocco and Afghanistan, that any “evidence” against him was only obtained through torture, and that the British government and intelligence services knew about his torture and provided personal information about him — unrelated to terrorism — that was used by the Americans’ proxy torturers in Morocco…

Although he later reported to his lawyer — Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, which represents 35 prisoners in Guantánamo — that the British checked out his story, and confirmed that he was a “nobody,” the Americans were not convinced, and decided to send him to Morocco, where he could be interrogated by professional torturers who were not bothered about international treaties preventing the use of torture, and who were equally unconcerned about whether evidence of their activities would ever surface.

Speaking of his time in Morocco, where he was held for 18 months, Binyam told Stafford Smith that he was subjected to horrendous torture, which, included, but was not limited to having his penis cut with a razor on a regular basis. In spite of this, the regular beatings and other torture that he did not even want to talk about, Binyam said that his lowest moment of all came when his torturers produced evidence of his life in London, which could only have come from the British intelligence services, and he realized that he had been abandoned and betrayed by his adopted homeland.

After Morocco, Binyam was transferred to Afghanistan, where he endured further torture in the “Dark Prison,” a secret “black site” near Kabul, run by the CIA, which was a grim recreation of a medieval dungeon, but with the addition of non-stop music and noise, blasted into the pitch-dark cells at an ear-piercing volume.

Make it Matter. Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together is asking APA members to sign the resolution —

Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.

Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together reports that the resolution requires signatures from 1% of current APA members in order to be brought before the entire APA membership for a direct vote.

May 14, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sami al-Haj’s Release from Guantanamo Bay

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was finally released from Guantanamo. He arrived in his native Sudan on the evening of May 1, 2008.

Alternet reported:

After four and a half months of inexplicable inertia, the U.S. administration has finally seen fit to release another group of prisoners from Guantánamo, including the Sudanese al-Jazeera cameraman and journalist Sami al-Haj. Despite claims from within the administration that it was hoping to scale down the operation at Guantánamo, no prisoners have been released since December 2007, when two other Sudanese prisoners, 13 Afghans, ten Saudis and three British residents were released…

The most celebrated Guantánamo prisoner — at least in the Middle East — Sami, whose story was reported at AlterNet just a few weeks ago, was seized by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001, apparently at the behest of the U.S. authorities, who suspected that he had conducted an interview with Osama bin Laden. As with much of their supposed intelligence, this turned out to be false, but as his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of the legal action charity Reprieve (which represents Sami and 34 other Guantánamo prisoners), explained last year, “name me a journalist who would turn down a bin Laden scoop.

The same author also wrote a powerful piece on the other prisoners released with Sami al-Haj:

On the cargo plane containing Sami al-Haj that landed in Khartoum in the early hours of May 2 were Amir Yacoub al-Amir and Walid Ali, who, like Sami, were bound like beasts for their journey despite finally being transported to freedom. Both had also been held for over six years without charge or trial, but unlike Sami, whose plight was widely publicized by al-Jazeera, by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, and by groups campaigning for the rights of journalists, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières, both of these men had barely registered on the media’s radar.

And here’s some other coverage of his release:

The U.S. War on Journalists by Amy Goodman

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists have been held for extended periods by the U.S. military and then released without charge. Just weeks ago in Iraq, the U.S. military released Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein after holding him without charge for two years. The military had once accused Hussein of being a “terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP.”

Andy Worthington reported just weeks before al-Haj’s release

As the years wore on, however, the irrepressible spirit recalled by all those who had met Sami before his imprisonment, and which also impressed Stafford Smith, was ground down by a particular despair that is perhaps unknowable to those who are not imprisoned without charge, without trial, with no contact with family or friends, and with no way of knowing when, if ever, this regime of almost total isolation will come to an end.

On January 7, 2007, the fifth anniversary of his detention without trial by the US, Sami embarked on a hunger strike, which continues to this day. In common with the small number of other persistent hunger strikers, he is strapped into a restraint chair twice a day and force-fed against his will. Clive Stafford Smith explained the brutality of the procedure, the reason the authorities are doing it, and also why it is illegal to do so, in an article last October.

Listen/Read the 2007 Democracy Now! program on al-Haj and fellow imprisoned journalist, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.

The release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston earlier this month after 114 days in captivity in Gaza made headlines around the world and was hailed internationally as a victory for press freedom.

During Johnston’s nearly four months in captivity, calls for his release came from world leaders and human rights organizations alike. Over 200,000 people signed an online petition calling for him to be freed.

But perhaps the most poignant of Johnston’s supporters came from deep within the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who had been jailed without charge at Guantanamo for the past five-and-a-half years, sent a letter via his lawyer calling for Johnston’s release. He wrote, “While the United States has kidnapped me and held me for years on end, this is not a lesson that Muslims should copy.”

In comparison to journalist Alan Johnston, Sami al-Haj’s story of abduction has been largely ignored by the corporate media, kept out of the global spotlight.

May 12, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Psychologists’ Torture Policy

Read about psychologists’ efforts to change the American Psychological Association’s policy on torture. Amy Goodman writes in A Torture Debate Among Healers:

While the other healing professions, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, bar their members from participating in interrogations, the APA leadership has fought against such a restriction.Frustrated with the APA, a New York psychoanalyst, Dr. Steven Reisner, has thrown his hat into the ring [for APA president]. Last year, Reisner and other dissident psychologists formed the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology in an attempt to force a moratorium against participation by APA members in harsh interrogations…

He is running on a platform opposing the use of psychologists to oversee abusive and coercive interrogations of prisoners at Guantanamo, secret CIA black sites or anywhere else international law or the Geneva Conventions are said not to apply.

The issue came to a head at the 2007 APA annual convention. After days of late-night negotiations, the moratorium came up for a climactic vote. We saw a surreal scene on the convention floor: Uniformed military were out in force. Men and women in desert camo and Navy whites worked the APA Council of Representatives, and officers in crisp dress uniforms stepped to the microphones.

Military psychologists insisted that they help make interrogations safe, ethical and legal, and cited instances where psychologists allegedly intervened to stop abuse. “If we remove psychologists from these facilities, people are going to die!” boomed Col. Larry James of the U.S. Army, chief psychologist at Guantanamo Bay and a member of the APA governing body. Dr. Laurie Wagner, a Dallas psychologist, shot back, “If psychologists have to be there in order to keep detainees from being killed, then those conditions are so horrendous that the only moral and ethical thing to do is to protest by leaving.”

The moratorium failed, and instead a watered-down resolution passed, outlining 19 harsh interrogation techniques that were banned, but only if “used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.” In other words, this loophole allowed, you can rough people up, just don’t do permanent harm.

Immediately after the vote, Reisner spoke out at a packed town hall meeting: “If we cannot say, ‘No, we will not participate in enhanced interrogations at CIA black sites,’ I think we have to seriously question what we are as an organization and, for me, what my allegiance is to this organization, or whether we might have to criticize it from outside the organization at this point.”

Here’s some background on the APA’s torture policy:

The Enablers (Mother Jones), 03/01/08:

Last May, a Pentagon report showed that military psychologists oversaw the adaptation of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program for use in “terror” interrogations… SERE training is intended “to replicate harsh conditions that the Service member might encounter if they are held by forces that do not abide by the Geneva Conventions,” according to the 2007 report. By using SERE techniques against prisoners, the United States has become the country that is violating the Geneva Conventions.

After 9/11, psychologists helped reverse-engineer the SERE program from defensive to offensive use. Members of the Army’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), which included psychologists, oversaw the use of these torture techniques against prisoners at Guantanamo. Last November, a Guantanamo Bay standard operating procedures manual from 2003 was leaked that revealed how new prisoners were to be kept in isolation—and hidden from Red Cross investigators, in violation of the Geneva Conventions—for their first month in order to “enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process.” This process of sensory deprivation and isolation is a cornerstone of the psychological torture techniques used by the U.S. military and CIA. And psychologists played a role in developing it.

Psychological Warfare (Salon), 07/26/06:

The 150,000-member American Psychological Association is facing an internal revolt over its year-old policy that condones the participation of psychologists in the interrogations of prisoners during the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

Last summer, the APA adopted new ethical principles drafted by a task force of 10 psychologists, who were selected by the organization’s leadership. That controversial task-force report, which is now official APA policy, stated that psychologists participating in terror-related interrogations are fulfilling “a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm.”

But Salon has learned that six of the 10 psychologists on the task force have close ties to the military. The names and backgrounds of the task force participants were not made public by the APA; Salon obtained them from congressional sources. Four of the psychologists who crafted the permissive policy were involved with the handling of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, or served with the military in Afghanistan — all environments where serious cases of abuse have been documented…

In May, the American Psychiatric Association reacted to the detainee-abuse scandal by barring psychiatrists’ participation in interrogations. A month later, in June, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder Jr. unveiled a new policy clarifying the role of medical professionals in interrogations. It laid out a preference for psychologists (rather than psychiatrists) to advise on interrogations. That 10-page document also set other guidelines for military medical professionals who deal with detainees, such as establishing a barrier between acting as caregivers and those who advise interrogators….

Listen to (or read) a Democracy Now! debate with Dr. Steven Reisner and the APA president, Dr. Gerald Koocher (06/16/06):

Should doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists participate in military interrogations? Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association have adopted policies discouraging their members from being involved. But their counterpart, the American Psychological Association has not.

Read an open letter to the APA President, Sharon Brehm.

And for more analysis:

The Ethics of Interrogation and the APA: A Critique of Policy and Process

Psychologists and the Realpolitik of Torture

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment