Friday, January 23, 2009

Obscurity Blankets Certain Anti-Torture Moves

Josh Gerstein at Politico has ably described the important shortcomings one finds in President Obama's Executive Orders issued yesterday to close Guantanamo and end torture. While the CIA is disallowed from using waterboarding and other "enhanced" torture techniques, and forced to adhere to the standards (flawed as they are) of the Army Field Manual; and while the CIA is forced now to close their secret black site prisons; and while Guantanamo itself is to be close "promptly... within a year", there are some troublesome problems remaining.

Not least is the problem with the Army Field Manual itself. Some former Bush administration figures and CIA types see the AFM as insufficient to guide their interrogation actions in the field. They want the ability to improvise their techniques to the given interrogation or situation. Many of these same people are implying that Obama's moves to close Guantanamo raises the spectre of the release of horrible terrorists in the homeland itself, who will attack American communities. In a column today, Glenn Greenwald dissects this fear-mongering campaign by the right.

Others, like myself, see the AFM as abusive in and of itself. The inclusion of Appendix M, and other procedures allowed by that document, means that use of techniques such as isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners is still allowed. These techniques, especially when used in combination, which is what the AFM suggests, certainly amount to cruel, inhumane and degrading behavior (in contradistinction to Geneva rules), if not torture itself.

Josh Gerstein emphasizes a now much-examined aspect of the language of the executive order on interrogations:
[The] order also created an interagency commission which will have six months to examine whether to create “additional or different guidance” for non-military agencies such as the CIA. One group that represents detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, deemed that an “escape hatch” to potentially allow enhanced interrogations in the future.

White House counsel Greg Craig told reporters such fears are misplaced. “This is not an invitation to bring back different techniques than those that are approved inside the Army Field Manual, but an invitation to this task force to make recommendations as to whether or not there should be a separate protocol that's more appropriate to the intelligence community,” he said....

“For now, they’re punting, saying they’ll comply with what’s in the Army manual…but at some point in the future this commission may revert to the executive” to recommend harsher techniques, said [Yale law school lecturer, and attorney for Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Zuhair, Ramzi] Kassem, adding that he was concerned about how transparent the commission’s recommendations would be.
Gerstein has other caveats, as well. For one thing, the man ultimately in charge of Guantanamo in the last few years for Bush, Secretary of State Robert Gates, is also the man now in charge of re-examining whether conditions there meet "humane standards of confinement." His findings will be interesting for yet another reason. As Gerstein points out, Guantanamo prisoners still suffer from isolation and force feeding.
According to detainee lawyers, about two dozen inmates who refuse to eat as a form of protest are currently being force fed, and about 140 are in some form of solitary confinement....

As far as we know, the force feeding and solitary practices continued onto Obama’s watch. Craig dodged a question about the new president’s views on those issues. “I'm not going to get into the details,” Craig said.
As I and others have noted, Obama's executive orders say nothing about other U.S. prisoners held in Baghram (about 600), and the tens of thousands held in Iraq. Nor does the halt in the military commissions mean there won't be a return to some form of ersatz trial body in the near future.
That suggestion exasperates detainee lawyers like Kassem. “That would be a huge mistake, “ he said. “That system [is] set up to launder statements obtained through torture… What’s the point of getting rid of our offshore, improvised, sham, military tribunals in Cuba, only to recreate it here in the United States?”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has called for trying prisoners (who can be charged) in ordinary criminal courts.
The new administration must repatriate those who can be released safely, secure safe haven in the United States and other countries for those who cannot be repatriated safely, and prosecute in federal criminal courts those who should be prosecuted. Only 250 of 779 men remain in the prison camp. Most can be returned to their home countries through vigorous diplomacy. A smaller number need to be offered protection in the United States or third countries, many of whom have already begun to come forward to offer help to the new administration. There is no justification for continued detention without trial or the creation of special courts; such proposals would continue the human rights disaster rather than end it.
A number of political forces are circling around the torture interrogations issue. Senator Dianne Feinstein has apparently decided that Obama's executive order is not secure as policy, and declared she will go forward with legislation to "codify" the change to the Army Field Manual, making it less likely it can be overturned by further executive actions.

While Feinstein may see this as a progressive step, I see it as a danger, in that the abusive techniques left in the Army Field Manual will be perpetuated.

Much struggle still remains in the fight against torture. This next period will see a heightening of that struggle. One thing remains clear: we must not let the discussions and battles over it creep back into backroom corridors and out of public awareness. Hopefully, Obama's wish for greater openness, and his recent efforts to strengthen access to presidential records and government documents in general, through the Freedom of Information Act, will assist us in this effort. But the main tool of change will remain public awareness and public vigilance.


Tahoe said...

Hi, Valtin,


Re: Torture

Wednesday, January 21, 2009 4:07 PM
From: "Amrit Singh"

Thanks Barbara to you for getting the word out.
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld


Out of Office AutoReply: Torture
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 11:55 AM
"Amrit Singh"
To: "tahoebasha"

I will be out of the office until January 29, 2008. I will be checking email intermittently. If you need further information, please contact Konny Huh, 212 549 2619.

Re: Torture
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 11:55 AM
From: "tahoebasha"

Hi, Amrit,

I just wanted you to know that the "blog posting" regarding Jeff Kaye's article on the U.S. Army Field Manual has been noted by him. I have, of course, seen it, too.

Thank you for your attention to the article and getting some words out to the UCLA bloggers about it.

All this talk about ending torture, what good is it if we don't even have it straight in the military's "bible?"

Thanks, again!


Tahoe said...

Hi, Valtin,

I thought it would be easier to leave the information for you here as to Wexler & Kucinich.


Actually, Wexler had sent an e-mail on the topic "Time to Order an End to Torture" (Jan. 15, 2009) -- here is part of his e-mail:

"Dear Barbara E.,

In less than one week, Barack Obama will become the 44th President of the United States and the Bush Administration will come to an end.

As we celebrate the beginning of what will be a transformational American presidency, it is important to recognize the numerous vital changes that will occur immediately when the 44th President takes the oath of office.

Soon after our new President departs the Capitol on January 20th, a bevy of new Executive Orders will likely be issued that will undo many damaging Bush policies. At the same time, critical new safeguards and progressive policies will become law, likely including:

- closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay,
- restoring Habeas Corpus for detainees,
- renewing America's commitment to the Geneva Convention, and
- limiting the use of signing statements.

Above all, President-elect Obama has promised to issue an Executive Order banning the use of torture. The use of torture including waterboarding, by our government is a black mark upon the conscience of our nation and a policy that has made us less safe. Just today, the Washington Post outlines how the torture of the suspected "20th" 9/11 hijacker has tainted evidence and made prosecution more difficult. The reversal of this Bush Administration policy will renew the moral authority that our nation rightly deserves overseas and will make us more successful in the war on terror. . . . "

Of course, that e-mail presented a perfect opportunity to "present" your article. Here is the bulk text of my e-mail to Cong. Wexler -- note the address in the e-mail (it did not come back):

"From: tahoebasha
Subject: Re: Time to Order an End to Torture
Date: Thursday, January 15, 2009, 12:21 PM

Dear Congressman Wexler,

Thank you for your latest update and the issues that Obama intends to deal with post haste.

I had in mind to contact you, anyway, and then I received an e-mail from you.

On the subject of torture, I believe Obama intends to rely on the U.S. Army's Field Manual as the standard of conduct for our military. However, and unfortunately, the Manual is flawed in that it insidiously continues to allow for torture in a somewhat camouflaged manner.

In light of the foregoing, I wish to call your attention to an important article, written by a psychologist and an anti-torture activist. The name of the article is:

"How the U.S. Army's Field Manual Codified Torture -- and Still Does"

By Jeffrey S. Kaye, AlterNet. Posted January 7, 2009.

"Buried in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, the Guantanamo virus is spreading, and eradicating it will require all of us to spread the word."

Here is the link:

or How the U.S. Army's Field . . .

Congressman Wexler, I urge you to review the meticulous documenting and articulation of the author in pointing out this flawed document that still allows for torture, and bring it to the attention of the House.

Thank you for your kind attention! "

Also, in the past, I have had communications with Joshua Rogin, who I believe is Wexler's right hand campaign guy -- I did not send the article to him, but have been thinking of that, as well. If you write him, then please let me know, so that I don't repeat the effort. Josh can be reached at

Also, you can use the form here

Kucinich From all that I've seen, this site seems to be the recommened place to contact Dennis Kucinich. Note: It asks the question "What is the subject of your correspondence?" Choose the very first one: Position on an Issue or Legislation, then Submit, which will bring you to this window. Please let me know (here) if you contact him. I have not yet contacted him.

O.K., that's it for now, unless I have forgotten anything.


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