Friday, October 05, 2007

Torture, Black Site Prisons - How Far has America Fallen?

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The One Case of Torture Obama Doesn't Want You to Learn About
By George Washington
May 20, 2009
http://www.opednews.com/articles/Think-You-ve-Heard-Everyth-by-George-Washington-090520-950.html
Binyam Mohamed was arrested on suspicion of being affiliated with Al Qaeda. However, the evidence against Binyam was so weak that Obama ordered him released from Guantanamo and sent to England.
As the military lawyer assigned to defend him told CNN:
When she was first assigned to represent Mohamed, she did not question he was a hardened terrorist, because “my government was saying these were the worst of the worst.” However, she now says, “There’s no reliable evidence that Mr. Mohamed was going to do anything to the United States.”
The attorney also wrote in an opinion piece for the Guardian:
“It is worth bearing in mind that all charges against Binyam have been dropped and that Binyam’s chief prosecutor resigned, citing the unfairness of the system. I profoundly hope that he is not being kept in Guantánamo to avoid information surrounding his rendition and torture coming out.”
What does Binyam's case have to do with torture? His military lawyer also told CNN:
When Mohamed was first held at a CIA prison in Morocco, “They started this monthly treatment where they would come in with a scalpel or a razor type of instrument and they would slash his genitals, just with small cuts.”(And see this.) Okay, that's horrible. But at least Obama has treated him fairly, right? Well, it is true that Obama had Binyam released. However, Obama is going to extraordinary lengths to try to cover up the extent of Binyma's torture.
For example, the Obama Justice Department has filed criminal charges against one of Binyam's lawyers just for asking Obama to release details of Binyam's torture.The Obama administration also made a dramatic threat against the British government. Specifically, Obama told England that if British courts released any documents about Binyam's torture, the U.S. would stop sharing vital intelligence with England, even if such intelligence would prevent a terrorist attack against England. The Obama administration is playing real hardball to try to hide the truth.
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Report Outlines Medical Workers’ Role in Torture
By SCOTT SHANE
April 7, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/world/07detain.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&pagewanted=all
WASHINGTON — Medical personnel were deeply involved in the abusive interrogation of terrorist suspects held overseas by the Central Intelligence Agency, including torture, and their participation was a “gross breach of medical ethics,” a long-secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded.
Based on statements by 14 prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda and were moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in late 2006, Red Cross investigators concluded that medical professionals working for the C.I.A. monitored prisoners undergoing waterboarding, apparently to make sure they did not drown. Medical workers were also present when guards confined prisoners in small boxes, shackled their arms to the ceiling, kept them in frigid cells and slammed them repeatedly into walls, the report said.
Facilitating such practices, which the Red Cross described as torture, was a violation of medical ethics even if the medical workers’ intentions had been to prevent death or permanent injury, the report said. But it found that the medical professionals’ role was primarily to support the interrogators, not to protect the prisoners, and that the professionals had “condoned and participated in ill treatment.”
At times, according to the detainees’ accounts, medical workers “gave instructions to interrogators to continue, to adjust or to stop particular methods.”
The Red Cross report was completed in 2007. It was obtained by Mark Danner, a journalist who has written extensively about torture, and posted Monday night with an article by Mr. Danner on the Web site of The New York Review of Books. Much of its contents were revealed in a March article by Mr. Danner and in a 2008 book, “The Dark Side,” by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, but the reporting of the Red Cross investigators’ conclusions on medical ethics and other issues are new.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, told investigators that when he was waterboarded, his pulse and oxygen level were monitored, and that a medical attendant stopped the procedure on several occasions.
Another prisoner, Walid bin Attash, who had previously had a leg amputated, said that when he was forced for days to stand with his arms shackled above his head, a health worker periodically measured the swelling in his intact leg and eventually ordered that he be allowed to sit.
The report does not indicate whether the medical workers at the C.I.A. sites were physicians, other professionals or both. Other sources have said that psychologists helped design and run the C.I.A. interrogation program, that physicians’ assistants and former military paramedics worked regularly in it, and that physicians were involved at times.
By policy, the Red Cross, the chief independent monitor of detention conditions around the world, keeps its reports to governments confidential to encourage officials to grant access to prisoners. Bernard Barrett, a spokesman for the organization in Washington, declined on Monday to comment on the report, adding, “We deplore that confidential material attributed to the I.C.R.C. was made public.”
Mark Mansfield, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that because of the Red Cross’s confidentiality policy, he would not comment on the report. He said that President Obama had prohibited all government interrogators from using techniques apart from the noncoercive methods in the Army Field Manual, and that the new C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, “has taken decisive steps to ensure that the C.I.A. abides by the president’s executive orders.”
Mr. Mansfield added, however, that Mr. Panetta “has stated repeatedly that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.” The C.I.A.’s interrogation methods were declared legal by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.
In its 40-page report, the Red Cross roundly condemned the C.I.A. detention program not only for using torture and other cruel treatment, but also for holding prisoners without notice to governments or families.
“The totality of the circumstances in which the 14 were held effectively amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearance, in contravention of international law,” said the report, which was provided to the C.I.A. acting general counsel, John Rizzo, in February 2007.
Shortly after taking office in January, Mr. Obama ordered the C.I.A. secret detention program closed and directed that the Red Cross be promptly informed of every person detained by the C.I.A. or any other agency.
The report also provided new details of the Bush administration’s failure to cooperate for several years with the Red Cross’s inquiries and investigations of American detention programs. Repeated inquiries and reports from the organization beginning in 2002 received no response from American officials, the report said, though the United States sent a diplomatic message addressing some inquiries in 2005.
M. Gregg Bloche, a Georgetown University law professor, who also trained as a psychiatrist and is now a visiting professor at the University of Chicago law school, called the report’s findings “a disturbing confirmation of our worst fears about medical professionals’ involvement in directing and modulating cruel treatment and torture.”
Another critic of medical involvement in harsh interrogation, Dr. Steven H. Miles, a physician at the Center for Bioethics of the University of Minnesota, said he had counted about 70 cases worldwide after World War II in which physicians were punished for participating in torture or related crimes. Most were in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, he said. None have been in the United States.
Dr. Miles said that in recent decades, torture had almost always involved medical professionals, and that to deter future misconduct, the medical role in the C.I.A. program should be fully disclosed.
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Revealed: Pentagon's secret prisons, legal loopholes and CIA 'ghost' detaineesStephen C. Webster
Published: Thursday February 12, 2009
http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Revealed_Pentagons_secret_prisons_legal_loopholes_0212.html Three major human rights organizations have declared the Department of Defense was running secret prisons at Bagram and in Iraq, actively sought ways around the terms of the Geneva conventions and cooperated with the CIA's "ghost detention" program which saw prisoners hidden from Red Cross oversight.
The arrival of the documents comes on the same day the ACLU published two unredacted pages of a government report which reveals detainees in US custody were tortured to death.
"These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines," said Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the NYU International Human Rights Clinic, in a Thursday advisory. "In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.
"The papers, part of a volley of responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, were released by Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.
The entire package, which encompasses hundreds of pages, was boiled down to several key points by the CCR in a report by Mother Jones writer Steve Aquino. "One heavily redacted page mentions (PDF, page 34) an 'undisclosed detention facility' at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan," he noted. "Another, dated May 2004, highlights (PDF, page 17) how the Geneva Conventions can be interpreted to allow the CIA and the DoD to ghost detainees' identities so they can be denied a visit from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"This was done, according to a memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to 'maximize intelligence collection efforts.' In other words, give them more time to interrogate inmates."
And perhaps most outrageous, a Feb. 2006 e-mail disclosed by the groups highlights an effort to limit bad press by delaying the release of a detainee "for 45 days or so until things cool down."
"It is astonishing that the government may have delayed releasing men from Guantánamo in order to avoid bad press," said CCR attorney Gitanjali Gutierrez, who represents many of the men held in Guantánamo, in an Amnesty International release. "Proposing to hold men for a month and a half after they were deemed releasable is inexcusable. The Obama Administration should avoid repeating this injustice and release the innocent individuals with all due haste."
"Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Thursday that he had not seen the documents and wasn't aware of the story," reported CNN.
After Washington Post reporter Dana Priest revealed the existence of the CIA's secret prisons in a November 2005 report, RAW STORY was the first publication to uncover the exact location of one such "black site" in Eastern Europe. President Obama has signed an order mandating the closure of the CIA's secret prisons and the US military prison Guantanamo Bay within a year of Jan. 22, 2009.
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US accused of war crimes over torture methods
Posted Wed Aug 20, 2008
Margot O'Neill
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/08/20/2340909.htm
The use of torture by the US Government in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001 has come under increasing criticism.
In 1863 at the height of the US civil war, president Abraham Lincoln set the principles for interrogation of prisoners with a famous instruction "military necessity does not admit of cruelty".
It took the September 11 attacks to change those principles and Vice-President Dick Cheney said the US would now have to work through the dark side.
In response, government lawyers drew up the so-called torture memos that would ultimately unleash the abuses at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and at a host of secret CIA "black sites". In his new book, lawyer Philippe Sands argues that the responsible officials, and the lawyers who advised them, should be charged with war crimes.
Popular TV drama '24' regularly show terror suspects being tortured so the hero can save the day but does this reflect a new tolerance of torture tactics in the United States?
At the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq there was little heroism on display among those who humiliated and tortured Iraqi prisoners.
The US Government blamed rogue soldiers but its own top officials had made it plain that US standards dramatically changed following the September 11 terror attacks.
"We also have to work the the dark side if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world," said Mr Cheney shortly after the New York attacks in 2001.
"A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies if we're going to be successful."
The former director of the CIA Counterterrorist Centre, Cofer Black, echoed Mr Cheney's words. "All you need to know is that there was a before 9/11 and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off," he said.
As a result, terror suspects held by the US endured what US officials termed "aggressive coercion".
Former US Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora describes some some of the interrogation techniques.
"[Guantanamo Bay detainee] Al-Qahtani was interrogated for and I'm illustrating now, not the exact, something like 48 out of 52 days, often for stretches exceeding 12 to 14 or even 16 hours a day," he said.
"He was kept in cold rooms such that he was shivering uncontrollably, his heart rate would drop; he was provided fluids intravenously without the opportunity to go to the bathroom. He was sexually humiliated by female US guards and other treatments of this sort."
In December 2002 then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a now infamous memo which justified these new methods.
The memo detailed a variety of enhanced interrogation techniques such as leaving people standing for up to four hours.
Mr Rumsfeld wrote at the bottom "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?".
The US Justice Department declared treatment only amounted to torture if it intentionally resulted in pain equivalent to serious injury, organ failure or death.
Some are now questioning whether the officials who authorised these techniques may be open to being charged with war crimes.
Based on a report by Margot O'Neill for Lateline

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Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/04/washington/04interrogate.html?_r=2&hp=&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin
By Scott Shane, David Johnston and James Risen
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 — When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.
But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.
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Beyond Mukasey's Confirmation, White House Liability Issues Loom Large
By Elizabeth Holtzman
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/111407R.shtml
t r u t h o u t OpEd
Tuesday 13 November 2007
Though it failed to send his nomination the way of Robert Bork, attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey's evasiveness on the definition of torture has done something historic. It has made it unmistakably clear to mainstream observers that the president may be criminally liable for violating anti-torture laws. Criminal liability of this White House will have wider repercussions than Mr. Mukasey's confirmation. It will reverberate through his tenure as attorney general and beyond the end of the Bush administration.
We now know that the reason Mr. Mukasey refused to acknowledge that waterboarding meets the legal definition of torture, or at the very least cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, clearly had nothing to do with not being briefed about the procedure. If he didn't know at the time of the Senate committee hearing, he certainly learned afterwards that the US had considered waterboarding criminal and prosecuted it for at least a century. The real reason, as mainstream news analysts now acknowledge, was that publicly admitting waterboarding is torture or cruel and inhuman would have put the president in jeopardy of criminal charges.
The War Crimes Act of 1996 makes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees a violation of the Geneva Conventions and a federal crime. In addition, a 1994 law, 18 USC Section 2340 (a), makes it a federal crime to engage in torture outside the US, and it also applies to those who conspire with (or aid and abet or order) torture outside the US. Both statutes apply to any US national, including the president, the vice president and other top officials, as well as subordinates, such as CIA officers or other US personnel. If the president ordered, directed or authorized waterboarding or other forms of torture or mistreatment, he may have violated these laws. They carry the death penalty in cases where the victim dies. In such cases there is no statute of limitations, so the president could be subject to prosecution for the rest of his life.
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Justice on 'The Windward Side' of Guantanamohttp://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15839964
November 1, 2007 · Clive Stafford Smith is one of just a few people who've had independent access to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. He's a human rights lawyer representing dozens of the prisoners held there, and he says countless innocent men have been held at Gitmo for years with no meaningful review of the accusations against them. Many of them, he says, have suffered terrible abuse.
In Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay, Smith details the abuses and absurdities of life inside the legal black hole of the prison camp.
Smith works as legal director of Reprieve, a U.K.-based organization that represents "prisoners denied justice by powerful governments across the world, especially those governments that should be upholding the highest standards when it comes to fair trials," according to its Web site. In addition to his work at Guantanamo, Smith has spent nearly two decades representing death-row inmates in the southern United States.
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Thom Hartmann's "Independent Thinker" Book of the Month Review for BuzzFlash.com http://www.buzzflash.com/store/items/882
You can find out how to listen to Thom's Air America radio program by going to his homepage

Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side
By Clive Stafford Smith
Reviewed by Thom Hartmann
If you were to ask the average American where the people currently being held in the US-run Guantanamo Bay concentration camps came from, most would tell you that they were Al Qaeda "fighters" who had been "captured on the battlefield." This myth has been repeated over and over again during the past six years -- and it's just that, a myth.
Fact is, 95 percent were not even taken into custody by US troops, but instead were turned over to US troops by people being paid the equivalent of about a quarter-million dollars "bounty." Right after our invasion of Afghanistan, US planes flew over impoverished regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan dropping leaflets offering US$ 5000 -- more than 7 years average salary in those regions -- to anybody turning in a "terrorist." People saw opportunities to settle old scores, turning in neighbors they'd been feuding with, literally kidnapping strangers just to get the bounty, and using the US to dispose of troublesome members of rival tribes, clans, or sects.
As a result, 92 percent of the people held at Guantanamo are not even accused of being fighters for Al Qaeda.
Clive Stafford Smith is a British-born US citizen and attorney who has defended roughly 50 of the Guantanamo detainees over the past few years. His book -- brilliantly written in first-person narrative and an evocative, almost novel-like style -- lays bare the horrors of the most prominent of a worldwide chain of US-run torture centers and concentration camps.
The main reason most of them have not been released, it appears to this reader of Smith's book, is because to do so would expose crimes of torture, illegal detention, and human rights violations so severe that they could lead to international criminal prosecutions of senior Bush (and, possibly, Blair) administration officials.
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CIA coverups and American injusticeHow the Bush administration's policies in the war on terror are coming back to haunt usBy Hina Shamsi, http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/12/11/guantanamo/
Dec. 11, 2007 GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba -- The news last week that the CIA had destroyed interrogation videotapes of two prisoners in its secret detention program had particular resonance at Guantánamo Bay, where I was attending a U.S. military tribunal hearing as a human rights observer. The destroyed tapes reportedly were evidence of the CIA's brutal treatment, in secret prisons abroad, of two alleged high-level al-Qaida operatives, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nahsiri. Both men are now in U.S. military custody in Guantánamo, together with 13 other former CIA prisoners the government refers to as "high-value detainees."
Evidence from three of the other "high-value detainees" was a key issue in the hearing I attended, and showed how the Bush administration's authorization of illegal detention and brutal prisoner treatment has tainted all aspects of its existing framework for handling key terrorist suspects. With the administration's stubborn refusal to return to the rule of law, how can it be surprising that, in Washington, D.C., the CIA's likely crimes have led to a coverup?
More light may be shed on the CIA's destruction of evidence in the coming weeks, with congressional committees pursuing investigations. A test of new Attorney General Michael Mukasey's leadership will be whether he appoints an investigator into the CIA's wrongdoing who is independent of the Department of Justice. Not only has the DOJ been demoralized by scandal and accusations of partisanship, it was also responsible for writing legal memos that justified the CIA's unlawful interrogation and detention program.
Just last month, the government told the American Civil Liberties Union that the DOJ had three memos, written in May 2005, that relate to CIA interrogation tactics. We know from news reports that at least two of these memos authorized the CIA to use harsh treatment, including waterboarding, freezing temperatures and head slaps, with the promise of impunity for interrogators. The disclosure was part of a court filing in ACLU v. Department of Defense, a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, seeking the government's release of the memos. A federal judge is expected to decide the issue early in 2008, but in the meantime, the CIA's destruction of the interrogation tapes falls afoul of two existing court orders in the same case.
In Guantánamo, the destruction of CIA evidence loomed large as proceedings continued in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, allegedly a driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. At issue in Hamdan's hearing was whether under the Military Commissions Act the government had the authority to try Hamdan as an "unlawful enemy combatant." Congress passed the law in October 2006, under pressure from the Bush administration, on the eve of the midterm elections. The law circumvents due process safeguards that are a hallmark of American justice, in both the military's own court-martial system and in the federal courts. For the more than 300 men held in Guantánamo for over six years, the Military Commissions Act stripped their right to challenge detention without charge through the ancient writ mechanism of habeas corpus. (The prisoners' challenge to this provision was before the Supreme Court last Wednesday.)
The first thing that happened when I and the other three human rights observers went through security for Hamdan's hearing was an apt metaphor for the rest of the two-day proceeding: We were forbidden from bringing the law into the courtroom. We could not bring in our copies of the Military Commissions Act, the rules of procedure, or even the military's own charges against Hamdan. Apparently the military feared that such basic but essential documents posed some sort of security risk. We were each permitted to bring in only a notepad and a pen.
Hamdan's hearing was the first time the government publicly presented evidence to support its "unlawful enemy combatant" charge, and the defense had the chance to refute the government's case. The playing field was not level, however. For example, the defense wanted to call five Guantánamo prisoners, including three "high-value detainees," Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramzi Bin al-Shib and Abu Faraj al-Libi, as witnesses. According to defense lawyers, these potential witnesses, and especially the "high-value detainees," could refute the government's charge that Hamdan had engaged in a conspiracy with senior members of al-Qaida to attack and murder civilians.
The judge permitted testimony from one of the detainees (and the defense and prosecution are negotiating the possible testimony of another), but refused to let the three "high-value detainees" testify, on the basis that the defense request was not timely in the proceedings. Government lawyers argued that the three were part of a highly classified special access program -- a situation of the government's own making, of course -- and that only those with top secret clearance had access to them, which took time.
On the flight back from Guantánamo on Friday night, I asked Hamdan's lead military defense lawyer, Lt. Brian Mizer, what it would take to get access. Lt. Mizer told me that, in fact, he had that top secret clearance and had been "read into" other special access programs on national security cases. It took about 20 minutes to get access, he said, but only if the government was willing. It has been widely reported that Muhammad, al-Shib, and al Libi have each been subjected to extreme cruelty, if not torture, in CIA custody. But the government takes the position that their treatment is classified and cannot be disclosed as a matter of the highest national security. But the credibility of that position has been destroyed along with the deliberate destruction of the CIA tapes.
Torture will also be an issue in any trial of any other "high-value detainees." The government has said that it intends to try at least some of these men in military commission proceedings. But this is where Bush administration policies will come back to haunt us with a vengeance: Unlike the majority of Guantánamo detainees who appear to be low-level players or even innocent, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others did likely engage in serious and heinous crimes. If so, they should be prosecuted and sentenced -- but based on lawfully obtained evidence in full and fair proceedings that comport with the best traditions of American justice.
Instead, there's no doubt that government torture and cruelty -- and the question of what other evidence might exist or have been destroyed -- will be an issue in their trials. Given the CIA's destruction of the interrogations tapes, it will now be even harder to take government assurances of fair play and transparency at face value. There's also the danger that information obtained through torture will be introduced in the military commissions, in violation of more than 200 years of American law and values. For the first time in U.S. history, and under pressure from the Bush administration, in the Military Commissions Act, Congress explicitly authorized an American tribunal to permit evidence obtained through "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" as long as it was obtained before Dec. 31, 2005. Even though the Military Commissions Act prohibits evidence obtained through torture, it could still come in because of this cruel treatment loophole, combined with the other provisions that permit secret evidence and evidence from second- and third-hand sources. After 9/11, the Bush administration created a legal black hole in the name of national security -- and six years later, we're still trying to crawl out of it. The question now is, which direction will we take? At stake is nothing less than a return to the rule of law, the heart of American justice from which we have strayed so far.
The government could still choose to pull itself out of the morass it created by using two proven systems for detention and trial: either military courts-martials or the civilian criminal justice system.
Instead, it looks as if we're on the verge of creating a different, but equally dubious approach. Over the summer, academics, policymakers and others have begun calling for another entirely new system: a national security court, with fewer procedural and substantive safeguards, to oversee the detention (possibly indefinitely, without criminal charge) and trial of terrorism suspects. Attorney General Mukasey indicated his willingness to consider such a system in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed in August. And in June, Secretary of Defense Gates asked Congress to provide "a statutory basis for holding prisoners who should never be released and who may or may not be able to be put on trial." We face the risk that, instead of repealing the Military Commissions Act, Congress could compound its mistake and enact a new, second-tier system of secondary justice.
Among other justifications, proponents argue that our existing military or civilian criminal justice systems are too protective of individual rights. They add that regular courts could give defendants access to sensitive national security information for their own defense, and that the threshold for evidence obtained from battlefields is too high. But none of these arguments addresses specifically why, if existing laws are inadequate, the better approach is not to identify flaws and amend them, rather than create a new system designed to circumvent core protections of constitutional due process.
The United States' strength lies in its values, enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and in military and civilian criminal justice systems that reflect those values. It is because the Bush administration ignored and continues to ignore this that we are so far from having an effective and lawful arrangement for detaining and trying terrorism suspects.
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New Light Shed on CIA's 'Black Site' Prisons
By Dafna Linzer and Julie TateWashington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 28, 2007; A01
On his last day in CIA custody, Marwan Jabour, an accused al-Qaeda paymaster, was stripped naked, seated in a chair and videotaped by agency officers. Afterward, he was shackled and blindfolded, headphones were put over his ears, and he was given an injection that made him groggy. Jabour, 30, was laid down in the back of a van, driven to an airstrip and put on a plane with at least one other prisoner.
After 28 months of incarceration, Jabour -- who was described by a counterterrorism official in the U.S. government as "a committed jihadist and a hard-core terrorist who was intent on doing harm to innocent people, including Americans" -- was released eight months ago. U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials confirmed his incarceration and that he was held in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would not discuss conditions inside black sites or the treatment of any detainee.
A house in Islamabad, which U.S. intelligence officials say was jointly run by the CIA and Pakistani intelligence, had been outfitted with jail cells. When Jabour arrived, he saw as many as 20 other detainees, including the 16-year-old son of an Egyptian sheik, who had been captured in Pakistan. Dozens of al-Qaeda suspects swept up in the years after Sept. 11, 2001, have been through the house, according to accounts by former prisoners and U.S. intelligence officials with knowledge of the facility.
Jabour spent five weeks there, chained to a wall and prevented from sleeping more than a few hours at a time. He said he was beaten nightly by Pakistani guards after hours of questions from U.S. interrogators. Then he and others were whisked off to CIA-run sites. Some sites were in Eastern Europe; Jabour went to one in Afghanistan. Interrogators -- whom he described as Americans in their late 20s and early 30s -- told Jabour he would never see his three children again.
Human Rights Watch has identified 38 people who may have been held by the CIA and remain unaccounted for. Intelligence officials told The Post that the number of detainees held in such facilities over nearly five years remains classified but is higher than 60. Their whereabouts have not been publicly disclosed.
"The practice of disappearing people -- keeping them in secret detention without any legal process -- is fundamentally illegal under international law," said Joanne Mariner, director of the terrorism program at Human Rights Watch in New York. "The kind of physical mistreatment Jabour described is also illegal." Mariner interviewed Jabour separately as part of the organization's investigation.
The CIA said it would not comment directly on Jabour. "The agency does not, as a rule, publicly discuss specific rendition cases from the war on terror," said Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the CIA. But, he said, renditions "are a key, lawful tool in the fight against terror, and have helped save lives by taking terrorists off the street. They are conducted with care, they are closely reviewed, and they have produced valuable intelligence that has allowed the United States and other nations to foil terrorist plots."
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History of an Interrogation Technique: Water BoardingNew Debate Sparked on What Constitutes Torture Nov. 29, 2005 http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/Investigation/story?id=1356870
CIA Director Porter Goss maintained this week that the CIA does not employ methods of torture. In doing so, he opened a new debate over exactly what constitutes torture -- especially when it comes to the harshest of the CIA's six secret interrogation techniques, known as "water boarding."
The water board technique dates back to the 1500s during the Italian Inquisition. A prisoner, who is bound and gagged, has water poured over him to make him think he is about to drown. Current and former CIA officers tell ABC News that they were trained to handcuff the prisoner and cover his face with cellophane to enhance the distress. According to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a torture victim during the Vietnam War, the water board technique is a "very exquisite torture" that should be outlawed.
"Torture is defined under the federal criminal code as the intentional infliction of severe mental pain or suffering," said John Sifton, an attorney and researcher with the organization Human Rights Watch. "That would include water boarding."
On "Good Morning America" today, Goss told ABC News' Charles Gibson that the CIA does not inflict pain on prisoners.
Yet, in response to Gibson's inquiry if water boarding would come under the heading of torture, Goss simply replied, "I don't know."
Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier's severe punishment.
"The soldier who participated in water torture in January 1968 was court-martialed within one month after the photos appeared in The Washington Post, and he was drummed out of the Army," recounted Darius Rejali, a political science professor at Reed College.
Earlier in 1901, the United States had taken a similar stand against water boarding during the Spanish-American War when an Army major was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for water boarding an insurgent in the Philippines.
"Even when you're fighting against belligerents who don't respect the laws of war, we are obliged to hold the laws of war," said Rejali. "And water torture is torture."
This morning, Goss insisted that the CIA and its officers are not breaking U.S. law.
"We do debriefings because debriefings are the nature of our business -- to get information, and we do all that, and we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive," Goss said.
The CIA maintains its interrogation techniques are in legal guidance with the Justice Department. And current and former CIA officers tell ABC News there is a presidential finding, signed in 2002, by President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft approving the techniques, including water boarding.
ABC News' Maddy Sauer, Vic Walter, and Rich Esposito contributed to this report.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006
Photo of waterboard used in torture
To illustrate what our government is doing, it is now helpful to visist Khmer Rouge prison museums. There, you will find instruments of torture, such as a waterboard. Here's a photo, courtesy of blogger David Corn (HT: Sullivan): And here's the most important quote:
Why is this relevant to the current debate? Because the torture techniques of North Korea, North Vietnam, the Soviet Union and its proxies--the states where US military personnel might have faced torture--were NOT designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques were designed to elicit CONFESSIONS. That's what the Khymer Rouge et al were after with their waterboarding, not truthful information.
Bottom line: Not only do waterboarding and the other types of torture currently being debated put us in company with the most vile regimes of the past half-century; they're also designed specifically to generate a (usually false) confession, not to obtain genuinely actionable intel. This isn't a matter of sacrificing moral values to keep us safe; it's sacrificing moral values for no purpose whatsoever.
(emphasis added) I am deeply ashamed to be following in the footsteps of some of the vilest regimes in modern history.
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Ex-State Dept. official: Hundreds of detainees died in U.S. custody, at least 25 murdered
By Think Progress on Jun 18th, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/06/18/ex-state-dept-official-hundreds-of-detainees-died-in-us-custody-at-least-25-murdered/
At today’s House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights hearing on torture, Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, told Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody, with up to 27 of these declared homicides:
NADLER: Your testimony said 100 detainees have died in detention; do you believe the 25 of those were in effect murdered?
WILKERSON: Mr. Chairman, I think the number’s actually higher than that now. Last time I checked it was 108.
A February 2006 Human Rights First report found that although hundreds of people in U.S. custody had died and eight people were tortured to death, only 12 deaths had “resulted in punishment of any kind for any U.S. official.”
Transcript:
NADLER: Colonel Wilkerson, in your prepared testimony, you write that “as I compiled my dossier for Secretary Powell, and as I did further research, and as my views grew firmer and firmer I had to reread that memo (of February 7, 2002), “I needed to balance in my own mind the overwhelming evidence that my own government had sanctioned abuse and torture, which at its worse had led to the murder of 25 detainees and at least 100 detainee deaths. We have murder at least 25 people in detention. That was the clear low point [lower end of the range] of the evidence.” Your testimony said 100 detainees have died in detention; do you believe the 25 of those were in effect murdered?
WILKERSON: Mr. Chairman, I think the number’s actually higher than that now. Last time I checked it was 108, and the total number that were declared homicides by the military services, or by the CIA, or others doing investigations, CID, and so forth — was 25, 26, 27.
NADLER: Were declared homicides?
WILKERSON: Right, starting as early as December 2001 in Afghanistan.
NADLER: And these were homicides committed by people engaged in interrogations?
WILKERSON: Or in guarding prisoners, or something like that. People who were in detention.
NADLER: They were in detention, not trying to escape or anything, declared homicides by our own authorities.
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Six Questions for Jane Mayer, Author of The Dark Side
By Scott Horton
July 14, 10:58 AM, 2008
In a series of gripping articles, Jane Mayer has chronicled the Bush Administration’s grim and furtive dealings with torture and has exposed both the individuals within the administration who “made it happen” (a group that starts with Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington), the team of psychologists who put together the palette of techniques, and the Fox television program “24,” which was developed to help sell it to the American public. In a new book, The Dark Side, Mayer puts together the major conclusions from her articles and fills in a number of important gaps. Most significantly, we learn the details on the torture techniques and the drama behind the fierce and lingering struggle within the administration over torture, and we learn that many within the administration recognized the potential criminal accountability they faced over these torture tactics and moved frantically to protect themselves from possible future prosecution. I put six questions to Jane Mayer on the subject of her book, The Dark Side.
[Read the article for the first five questions. Question 6 follows.]
6. One of the lingering mysteries in Washington has been what happened to the CIA internal probe into homicides involving the program. You note that CIA Inspector General (IG) John Helgerson undertook a study and initially concluded, just as the Red Cross and most legal authorities in the United States and around the world, that the program was illegal and raised serious war crimes issues. Helgerson was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney, the man who provided the impetus for the program, and it appears as a result of these meetings the IG’s report was simply shut down. Would those probes have brought into question the Justice Department’s specific approval of torture techniques used by the CIA–approval that involved not just John Yoo, but much more specifically Michael Chertoff and Alice Fisher, the two figures who ran the criminal division?The fact that John Helgerson—the inspector general at the CIA who is supposed to act as an independent watchdog—was called in by Cheney to discuss his tough report in 2004 is definitely surprising news. Asked for comment, Helgerson through the CIA spokesman denied he felt pressured in any way by Cheney. But others I interviewed have described the IG’s office to me as extremely politicized. They have also suggested it was very unusual that the Vice President interjected himself into the work of the IG. Fred Hitz, who had the same post in previous administrations, told me that no vice president had ever met with him. He thought it highly unusual.
Helgerson’s 2004 report had been described to me as very disturbing, the size of two Manhattan phone books, and full of terrible descriptions of mistreatment. The confirmation that Helgerson was called in to talk with Cheney about it proves that–as early as then–the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in The Program.
We know that in addition, the IG investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees, and that Helgerson’s office forwarded several to the Justice Department for further consideration and potential prosecution. The only case so far that has been prosecuted in the criminal courts is that involving David Passaro—a low-level CIA contractor, not a full official in the Agency. Why have there been no charges filed? It’s a question to which one would expect that Congress and the public would like some answers. Sources suggested to me that, as you imply, it is highly uncomfortable for top Bush Justice officials to prosecute these cases because, inevitably, it means shining a light on what those same officials sanctioned. Chertoff’s role in particular seems ripe for investigation. Alice Fisher’s role also seems of interest. Much remains to be uncovered.
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Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Top Bush Officials
By Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 12, 2008 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/11/AR2008121101969.html
A bipartisan panel of senators has concluded that former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials bear direct responsibility for the harsh treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and that their decisions led to more serious abuses in Iraq and elsewhere.
In the most comprehensive critique by Congress of the military's interrogation practices, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report yesterday that accuses Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the authors and chief promoters of harsh interrogation policies that disgraced the nation and undermined U.S. security. The report, released by Sens. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), contends that Pentagon officials later tried to create a false impression that the policies were unrelated to acts of detainee abuse committed by members of the military.
"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," the report states. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."
The report is the most direct refutation to date of the administration's rationale for using aggressive interrogation tactics -- that inflicting humiliation and pain on detainees was legal and effective, and helped protect the country. The 25-member panel, without one dissent among the 12 Republican members, declared the opposite to be true.
The administration's policies and the resulting controversies, the panel concluded, "damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."
The panel drew from congressional testimony and official documents, many of which were previously released during a nearly two-year probe. While many of the underlying facts were known, the report represented the most significant attempt by Congress to assess one of the defining controversies of the Bush presidency.
"These policies are wrong and must never be repeated," McCain said in a statement.
Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary from 2001 to 2006, rejected the report's conclusions and said it was the committee, particularly Levin, that had sullied the nation's image.
"It's regrettable that Senator Levin has decided to use the committee's time and taxpayer dollars to make unfounded allegations against those who have served our nation," said Keith Urbahn, an aide to Rumsfeld. He accused Levin of pursuing a politically motivated "false narrative" that is "unencumbered by the preponderance of the facts."
A Defense Department spokesman noted that the Pentagon cooperated extensively with the Senate investigation and has taken numerous steps in recent years to ensure the humane treatment of detainees. The steps included a revision of the Army's field manual that establishes the rules for interrogations.
"Any credible allegations of abuse by U.S. military personnel are taken seriously and looked into in painstaking detail," said the spokesman, Bryan Whitman. "If and when applicable, offenders have been punished."
The White House declined to comment.
The panel's investigation focused on the Defense Department's employment of controversial interrogation practices, including forced nudity, painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and the use of dogs. The practices, some of which had already been adopted by the CIA at its secret prisons, were adapted for interrogations at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and later migrated to U.S. detention camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
The full report was unanimously approved by the committee late last month and sent to the Pentagon with no dissenting views, Levin said in an interview. Although much of the information has previously been made public, there are references to still-classified memos, including an Aug. 1, 2002, report to the CIA by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, who headed the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, evaluating the legality of specific interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.
Levin acknowledged that most of the senior officials named in the report have left government or soon will. "But I would hope that the new administration, as well as the Defense Department . . . would look for ways, where appropriate, to hold people accountable," he said.
Even if no legal action is taken, Levin said, "it's essential that we take on these kinds of challenges because what's at stake here is the reputation of our country."
White House officials have maintained that the measures were approved in response to demands from field officers who complained that traditional interrogation methods were not working on some of the more hardened captives.
But Senate investigators said the seeds of the policy originated in a Feb. 7, 2002, memo signed by President Bush declaring that the Geneva Conventions, which outline standards for the humane treatment of detainees, did not apply to captured al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. As early as that spring, top administration officials, including then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, participated in meetings where the use of coercive measures was discussed, the panel said, drawing on a statement by Rice released this year.
In July 2002, Rumsfeld's senior staff began compiling information about techniques used in military survival schools to simulate conditions that U.S. airmen might face if captured by an enemy that did not follow the Geneva Conventions. Those techniques -- borrowed from a training program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE -- included waterboarding, or simulated drowning, and were loosely based on methods adopted by Chinese communists to coerce propaganda confessions from captured U.S. soldiers during the Korean War.
The SERE program became the template for interrogation methods that were ultimately approved by Rumsfeld himself. In the field, U.S. military interrogators used the techniques with little oversight and frequently abusive results, the panel found.
"It is particularly troubling that senior officials approved the use of interrogation techniques that were originally designed to simulate abusive tactics used by our enemies against our own soldiers," the report said, "and that were modeled, in part, on tactics used by the Communist Chinese to elicit false confessions from U.S. military personnel."
Human rights and constitutional law organizations have urged further action, ranging from an independent commission to prosecutions of those involved in authorizing the interrogations. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has helped defend detainees at Guantanamo, said the committee report is valuable because "it's official, it's bipartisan."
"It's open and explicit, going right to Rumsfeld and having Rice involved," Ratner said. "It breaks new ground in saying that the SERE techniques basically don't work . . . that they're actually designed to elicit false confessions."
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American Psychological Association Complicit in CIA Torturehttp://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/10-apa-complicit-in-cia-torture/
Sources: Salon, June 21, 2007 Title: “The CIA’s torture teachers” Author: Mark Benjamin
Vanity Fair, July 17, 2007 Title: “Rorschach and Awe” Author: Katherine Eban
Democracy Now!, August 20, 2007 Titles: “American Psychological Association Rejects Blanket Ban on Participation in Interrogation of US Detainees,” “APA Interrogation Task Force Member Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo Exposes Group’s Ties to Military,” “Dissident Voices: Ex-Task Force Member Dr. Michael Wessells Speaks Out on Psychologists and Torture,” and “APA Members Hold Fiery Town Hall Meeting on Interrogation, Torture”
Student Researchers: Dan Anderson, Corey Sharp-Sabatino, Lindsey Lucia, and Andrea Lochtefeld
Faculty Evaluator: David Van Nuys, PhD
When in 2005 news reports exposed the fact that psychologists were working with the US military and the CIA to develop brutal interrogation methods, American Psychological Association (APA) leaders assembled a task force to examine the issue. After just two days of deliberations, the ten-member task force concluded that psychologists were playing a “valuable and ethical role” in assisting the military. A high level of secrecy surrounding the task force prohibited disclosure of the proceedings and of members and attendees. It wasn’t until a year later that the membership was finally published on Salon.com, revealing that six of nine voting members were from the military and intelligence agencies with direct connections to interrogations at Guantánamo and CIA black sites that operate outside of Geneva Conventions.
The Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force was assembled in response to growing evidence that psychologists were not only taking part in procedures that have shocked the senses of humanity around the world, but were in fact in charge of designing those brutal tactics and training interrogators in those techniques.
Two psychologists in particular played a central role: James Elmer Mitchell, who was contracted to the CIA, and his colleague Bruce Jessen. Both worked in the classified military training program for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE)—which conditions soldiers to endure captivity in enemy hands. In a very quasi-scientific manner, according to psychologists and others with direct knowledge of their activities, Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics inflicted on SERE trainees for use on detainees in the “global war on terror.”
With complete adoption of SERE interrogative techniques by the US Military, the CIA put Mitchell and Jessen in charge of training interrogators in the brutal techniques, including waterboarding, in its network of black sites. Meanwhile it is increasingly clear that the US has sacrificed its conscience and its global image for tactics that are at best ineffective.
With close to 150,000 members, the APA is the largest body of psychologists in the world. Unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association who, since 2006, have completely barred doctors from participation, the APA continues to allow its members to participate in detainee interrogations, arguing that their presence keeps interrogations safe and prevents abuse.
Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, one of the three civilian members of the 2005 PENS task force, whose task was to consider the appropriateness of psychologists’ involvement in harsh methods of interrogations, claims that the highest levels in the Department of Defense (DOD) preordained the task force’s conclusions.
Citing a series of irregularities, including haste, intimidation, and secrecy, Arrigo contends that the task force was far from balanced or independent. She discloses that APA President Gerald Koocher exerted strong control over task force decisions and censured dissidents. Six of the ten members were highly placed in the DOD, clearly in attendance to represent decisions that had already been made. Those were a) the adoption of the permissive definition of torture in US law as opposed to the strict definition in international law, and b) the participation of military psychologists in interrogation settings.
Many angry psychologists insist that the APA policy has made the organization an enabler of torture.
At the annual APA convention in August 2007, members presented the APA Council of Representatives with a moratorium amendment to the APA resolution, stating,
Be it resolved that the objectives of the APA shall be to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education and welfare. And therefore the roles of psychologists in settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights should be limited as health personnel to the provision of psychological treatment.
The Council voted overwhelmingly to reject this measure that would have banned its members from participating in abusive interrogation of detainees.
In a fiery town hall meeting that followed the convention, dozens of infuriated psychologists testified. Among them, Dr. Steven Reisner, a member of the Coalition for an Ethical APA, asked why the Council of Representatives voted to reject the moratorium in such clear contradiction to the convictions of a vast majority of APA membership.
Reisner reflected on the lack of ethical standards essential to such an association and its members, “This goes to the essence of who we are as ethical psychologists. 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 at this point.” [Read entire article at: http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/10-apa-complicit-in-cia-torture/]
Also See: The CIA's torture teachersPsychologists helped the CIA exploit a secret military program to develop brutal interrogation tactics -- likely with the approval of the Bush White House.Jun. 21, 2007
By Mark Benjamin
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/06/21/cia_sere/print.html
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Torture prosecutions finally begin in the U.S.
Glenn Greenwald
Wednesday Dec. 31, 2008
http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/12/31/torture/index.html
While fiercely loyal establishment spokespeople such as The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus continue to insist that prosecutions are only appropriate for common criminals ("someone breaking into your house") but not our glorious political leaders when they break the law (by, say, systematically torturing people), the Bush administration has righteously decided that torture is such a grotesque and intolerable crime that political leaders who order it simply must be punished in American courts to the fullest extent of the law . . . . if they're from Liberia:
MIAMI (AP) -- U.S. prosecutors want a Miami judge to sentence the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 147 years in prison for torturing people when he was chief of a brutal paramilitary unit during his father's reign.
Charles McArthur Emmanuel, also known as Charles "Chuckie" Taylor Jr. is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9 by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga. His conviction was the first use of a 1994 law allowing prosecution in the U.S. for acts of torture committed overseas.
Even in the U.S., it's hard to believe that federal prosecutors who work for the Bush DOJ were able to convey the following words with a straight face:
A recent Justice Department court filing describes torture - which the U.S. has been accused of in the war on terror - as a "flagrant and pernicious abuse of power and authority" that warrants severe punishment of Taylor.
"It undermines respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller in last week's filing. "The gravity of the offense of torture is beyond dispute."
The AP article which reported on these proceedings, by Curt Anderson, is almost as illustrative an exhibit of how our country operates as the trial itself is. Marvel at this passage:
Emmanuel had argued in previous court papers that he was being unfairly prosecuted for acts similar to those committed by U.S. personnel in Iraq and elsewhere.
The administration of President George W. Bush has been criticized by some around the world and in Congress for using aggressive interrogation techniques. Justice Department memos were seen as providing legal underpinnings for some of the techniques.
However, administration officials have blamed abuses at places such as Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison on a small number of soldiers or agents and insisted there has been no systematic mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan or the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Acts which, when ordered by Liberians, are "criminal torture" meriting life imprisonment magically become, when ordered by Americans, mere "aggressive interrogation techniques." And while not all of the "techniques" used by the Liberians were authorized by Bush officials ("hot clothes irons" and "biting ants shoveled onto people's bodies"), many of the authorized American techniques are classic torture tactics and resulted in the deaths of many detainees and the total insanity of many more.
Worse, AP -- with canine-like subservience -- mindlessly recites the Bush administration's excuses (Abu Ghraib was due to low-level rogue bad apples and "there has been no systematic mistreatment of detainees") without even mentioning the ample evidence proving how false those government claims are. That's standard American "journalism" for you: "Our Government says X, and even if it's false and even if it's intensely disputed, we'll just leave it at that." Doing anything more -- as NBC News' David Gregory pointed out -- is "not their role."
There's something beautifully illustrative about this torture prosecution. Apparently, it's not just appropriate, but necessary and urgent, for American courts to be used to prosecute the leaders of small African nations who order torture exclusively in their own land. Doing that is necessary to uphold what the Bush DOJ calls "respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law."
But -- say Bush loyalists and our pliant political class in unison -- the one thing that we cannot tolerate is for American courts to be used to impose accountability on American leaders who authorized illegal torture. And, of course, the only thing worse than doing that would be to subject them to prosecution by another country or, creepier still, an international tribunal. That would be an intolerable infringement of our sovereignty, we say as we prosecute the son of Liberia's President for acts he undertook exclusively inside Liberia.
In Liberia, the Taylor regime, for many years, was genuinely threatened by numerous rebels and revolutionary factions -- ones supported by other countries -- seeking to overthrow the Liberian government. The torture which Taylor, Jr. was accused of ordering occurred during a brutal civil war.
Liberia undoubtedly has its own Jack Goldsmiths and Stuart Taylors who insist that the torture which the Taylors ordered -- though perhaps "crossing a line or two" -- was done for the Good and Safety of the Liberian People and to defend the Government against these foreign and domestic threats. The Taylors undoubtedly have their loyalists who echo our own Cass Sunsteins and Ruth Marcuses, urging that it would be so much better for the country if everyone just let bygones be bygones and looked to the pretty future and the challenges Liberians face and not get distracted by litigating the unpleasant and partisan fights of the past.
But, like most of the alleged principles to which our political elite professes allegiance, America and its leaders are entitled to a different set of standards and better treatment. Thus, Charles Taylor belongs at the Hague, being prosecuted as a war criminal. His son belongs in an American criminal court being prosecuted by the Bush DOJ for torture. And George Bush and Dick Cheney belong on their "ranches," enjoying full-scale immunity for the crimes they committed and a rich and comfortable retirement, treated as the esteemed and well-intentioned (even if sometimes misguided) dignitaries that they are. Virtually the only people in the world who fail to recognize this self-evident, ludicrous and disgusting hypocrisy are America's political and media elites and those who are misled by them.
Update I: Michael Mukasey, who refuses even to say whether waterboarding is torture and has repeatedly acted to protect Bush officials from prosecution, appeared two weeks ago at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and actually spoke these words (h/t sysprog):
It serves as a daily reminder to the leaders of the free world, and to the many visitors to our nation’s capital, that law without conscience is no guarantee of freedom; that even the seemingly most advanced of nations can be led down the path of evil; and that we must confront horror with action and vigilance, not lethargy and cowardice. . . .
Just as the Museum has focused on present-day mass killings such as those in Rwanda or Darfur, we at the Department are doing what we can to ensure that those responsible for such atrocities are brought to justice. We have provided support to the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and to the Iraqi High Tribunal. And where we can, we are bringing our own cases. Both the Office of Special Investigations and the Domestic Security Section – parts of the Department’s Criminal Division – are pursuing cases against perpetrators of those international atrocities who find their way into our country.
The most prominent example of those efforts is the recent conviction of Chuckie Taylor Jr., the son of the former President of Liberia, who was convicted of torturing his countrymen. His conviction – the first in history under our criminal anti-torture statute – provides a measure of justice to those who were victimized by his reprehensible acts, and it sends a powerful message to human rights violators around the world that, when we can, we will hold them accountable for their crimes.
Mukasey actually had the audacity to approvingly quote from Robert Jackson's addresses to the Nuremberg Trials, at which this central proposition of Western justice -- now explicitly renounced by America's political and media establishment -- was ostensibly established:
The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power . . . .
Unsurprisingly, Mukasey neglected to mention that Jackson, in his opening remarks to the tribunal, called "aggressive war" the "greatest menace of our times," and in his summation, Jackson observed that "the plot for aggressive wars" is "the central crime in this pattern of crimes, the kingpin which holds them all together."
The glaring contradictions in Mukasey's words are too self-evident to warrant explanation. Ponder, instead, the opinion which Mukasey -- by uttering such brazen statements in public and knowing he can do with impunity -- is implicitly expressing about how broken is our establishment media and how distorted is our political discourse.
Update II: Alberto Gonzales gave a painfully self-pitying interview to The Wall St. Journal this week and announced that the real victims aren't the detainees who were tortured in our secret and not-so-secret prison camps, nor the millions of dead or displaced Iraqis, nor the Americans whose communications were illegally spied upon without warrants. No, the Real Victims of the last eight years are Bush officials like him who face criticism for what they did:
I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.Here we find the predominant -- virtually unanimous -- Beltway mentality: when high American officials break our laws, it's nothing more than "formulating policies that people disagree with." Gonzales cried out: "What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" The answers are obvious to anyone paying even minimal attention. Steve Benen points out just some of them here.
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