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 Comes Home, McCain and Torture

How is the torture mandate in the so-called War on Terror affecting domestic policing? Well, if the following story is any indication, it’s bleeding through:

A man alleges that police entered his home illegally and ripped a catheter from his body during a child pornography investigation that led to the arrest of two neighbors.

[Name redacted by warprompts], 60, of New Britain filed a notice with the city Thursday that he intends to pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit. He accused the officers of inflicting severe injuries as he was recovering from intestinal surgery in February.

[Name redacted’s] lawyer, Paul Spinella, said police entered [the] apartment Jan. 30 and Feb. 28. Glover wasn’t involved in child pornography, has not been charged and has no criminal record, Spinella said.

“The poor guy,” Spinella said. “They ripped the catheter off his person. They assaulted the guy. He’s got major problems as a result of this. He’s a mess now.”

Lt. James Wardwell, a police spokesman, said Friday that the department had not received the intent-to-sue notice and would not comment. A message was left for the city’s corporation counsel

[Name redacted] has two years to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Read this for a good commentary on the Connecticut man’s assault.

Andrew Sullivan argues that John McCain “single-handedly wrested the GOP from its pro-torture position, which is a huge, by no means inevitable, advance over Bush-Cheney.” Sullivan writes:

Yes, he has made a few compromises that were disappointing – and more disappointing for those of us who admire him. But he took on the issue when it could have hurt him badly – against demagogues like Giuliani and say-anything opportunists like Romney – and stood up for American and Western values. Because of McCain, we now know that the next president, unlike the current one, will not be a war criminal.

Oh, has he?

[T]he Senate brought the Intelligence Authorization Bill — which contained a provision banning waterboarding — to the floor for a vote. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an outspoken waterboarding critic, voted against the bill.

At the time, ThinkProgress questioned whether McCain would stand with Bush’s threatened veto of the legislation. Today, the AP reports that McCain has come out saying Bush should veto the measure, which would make the Army Field Manual the standard for CIA interrogations.

(Source: Think Progress)

Glenn Greenwald reports that the Military Commissions Act, another bill that McCain voted for, actually gives the Bush administration power to torture:

An article by The New York Times’s Mark Mazzetti this morning discloses a letter (.pdf) from the Justice Department to Congress which asserts “that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.” In other words, even after all of the dramatic anti-torture laws and other decrees, the Bush administration insists that American interrogators have the right to use methods that are widely considered violations of the Geneva Conventions if we decide that doing so might help “thwart terrorist attacks.”

There are two reasons, and two reasons only, that the Bush administration is able to claim this power: John McCain and the Military Commissions Act. In September, 2006, McCain made a melodramatic display — with great media fanfare — of insisting that the MCA require compliance with the Geneva Conventions for all detainees. But while the MCA purports to require that, it also vested sole and unchallenged discretion in the President to determine what does and does not constitute a violation of the Conventions

As Columbia Law Professor Michael Dorf wrote at the time:

Americans following the news coverage of the debate about how to treat captives in the ongoing military conflicts could be forgiven for believing that the bill recently passed by Congress, the Military Commissions Act (“MCA”), was a compromise between a White House seeking far-reaching powers, and Senators seeking to restrain the Executive. After all, prior to reaching an agreement with the President, four prominent Republican Senators — Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and John Warner — had drawn a line in the sand, refusing to go along with a measure that would have redefined the Geneva Conventions’ references to “outrages upon personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment.” No doubt many Americans believe that because these four courageous Senators stood on moral principle, the bill that emerged, and which President Bush will certainly sign, reflects a careful balance between liberty and security. Yet if that is what Americans believe, they are sorely mistaken. On nearly every issue, the MCA gives the White House everything it sought. It immunizes government officials for past war crimes; it cuts the United States off from its obligations under the Geneva Conventions; and it all but eliminates access to civilian courts for non-citizens — including permanent residents whose children are citizens — that the government, in its nearly unreviewable discretion, determines to be unlawful enemy combatants.

The blog Bootstrapping Andrew Sullivan points out that:

McCain has voted for legislation with enough ambiguity for the CIA to conduct … enhanced interrogation.

At the end of the day, all that is unique to McCain is that he is visibly opposed to waterboarding, while his “friends” are not or won’t say (cf. Mukasey).

Still, McCain, so far as I know, has not said anything about how his administration would pursue a Truth Commission on what occurred under the GOP’s Bush-Cheney regime …

Even if he promised anything, we couldn’t take it seriously. If he was distancing himself from “torture”, then why did he go to see George Bush, immediately after having secured the nomination?

Sullivan articulates a McCain myth (one of the many propagated by the media) that gets frequent play in the mainstream media. Again, the brilliant Glenn Greenwald

That’s John McCain — and his Principled Maverickism and alleged torture opposition — in a nutshell. He continuously preens as some sort of independent moralizer only to use that status to endorse and enable that which he claims to oppose. In Great American Hypocrites, I wrote about his numerous deceitful maneuvers to legalize torture as follows:The mirage-like nature of McCain’s alleged convictions can be seen most clearly, and most depressingly, with his public posturing over the issue of torture. Time and again, McCain has made a dramatic showing of standing firm against the use of torture by the United States only to reveal that his so-called principles are confined to the realm of rhetoric and theater, but never action that follows through on that rhetoric.

In 2005, McCain led the effort in the Senate to pass the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which made the use of torture illegal. While claiming that he had succeeded in passing a categorical ban on torture, however, McCain meekly accepted two White House maneuvers that diluted his legislation to the point of meaningless: (1) the torture ban expressly applied only to the U.S. military, but not to the intelligence community, which was exempt, thus ensuring that the C.I.A.—the principal torture agent for the United States—could continue to torture legally; and (2) after signing the DTA into law, which passed the Senate by a vote of 90–9, President Bush issued one of his first controversial “signing statements” in which he, in essence, declared that, as President, he had the power to disregard even the limited prohibitions on torture imposed by McCain’s law.

McCain never once objected to Bush’s open, explicit defiance of his cherished anti-torture legislation, preferring to bask in the media’s glory while choosing to ignore the fact that his legislative accomplishment would amount to nothing. Put another way, McCain opted for the political rewards of grandstanding on the issue while knowing that he had accomplished little, if anything, in the way of actually promoting his “principles.”

The myth that McCain is anti-torture persists. In today’s Washington Post Dick Morris writes,

McCain needs to not run as a traditional Republican, which is easy, since he’s not one. After all, how did an anti-torture, anti-tobacco, pro-campaign finance reform, anti-pork, pro-alternative-energy Republican ever emerge from the primaries alive?

May 18, 2008 Posted by | Media Criticism, Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment