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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.


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June 1, 2008 Posted by | Media Criticism, Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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