Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Top Bush Official Admits "We Tortured Qahtani"

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani".... His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case [for prosecution]."
In a bombshell admission on the eve of the Senate hearings on Obama Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, the Washington Post reports (in an article by Bob Woodward) that Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions at Guantanamo since February 2007, investigated and determined that U.S. forces there tortured al-Qahtani during his imprisonment. The techniques included isolation, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, use of "working dogs", and prolonged exposure to cold, among other torture techniques.
Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani's health led to her conclusion. "The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture, she said....

"I think the buck stops in the Oval Office."
Crawford also says not everyone at Guantanamo was tortured, but admits that its difficult for anyone to believe the government at this point. She lays the blame for the abuse at the feet of Rumsfeld and Bush.

Al-Qahtani became practically a household name when it was revealed that he was Detainee #063. Logs of the torture sessions were published in Time Magazine. Steven Miles wrote up al-Qahtani's case in the American Journal of Bioethics. Miles has meticulously documented the participation of doctors and other medical personnel, particularly psychologists, in the U.S. torture program. Al-Qahtani's case was a horrific exemplar of that dangerous collaboration:
In October 2002, before the time covered by the log, Army investigators found that dogs were brought to the interrogation room to growl, bark and bare their teeth at al-Qahtani. The investigators noted that a BSCT psychologist witnessed the use of the dog, Zeus, during at least one such instance, an incident deemed properly authorized to “exploit individual phobias"....

Major L. [John Leso], a psychologist who chaired the BSCT at Guantanamo, was noted to be present at the start of the interrogation log. On November 27, he suggested putting the prisoner in a swivel chair to prevent him from fixing his eyes on one spot and thereby avoiding the guards....

Many psychological “approaches” or “themes” were repetitively used. These included: “Failure/Worthless,” “Al Qaeda Falling Apart,” “Pride Down,” “Ego Down,” “Futility,” “Guilt/Sin Theme... Al-Qahtani was shown videotapes entitled “Taliban Bodies” and “Die Terrorist Die.” Some scripts aimed at his Islamic identity bore names such as “Good Muslim,” “Bad Muslim,” “Judgment Day,” “God’s Mission” and “Muslim in America"....

Although continuously monitored, interrogators repeatedly strip-searched him as a “control measure.” On at least one occasion, he was forced to stand naked with women soldiers present. Female interrogators seductively touched the prisoner under the authorized use of approaches called “Invasion of Personal Space” and “Futility"....

Some psychological routines referred to the 9/11 attacks. He was shown pictures of the attacks, and photographs of victims were affixed to his body. The interrogators held one exorcism (and threatened another) to purge evil Jinns that the disoriented, sleep deprived prisoner claimed were controlling his emotions.
As the inside word is that Obama will order Guantanamo closed, and all abusive interrogation techniques be ended, with interrogations limited only to those techniques specified in the Army Field Manual, officials associated with the Bush torture regime, both innocent and guilty (we cannot know right away who is who) are scampering for legal and moral cover.

Of course, limiting interrogation techniques to the Army's interrogation field manual leaves an open door for more abusive interrogation, as it allows the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, fear, sensory deprivation, and other techniques on those designated "unlawful enemy combatants." The U.S. may close Guantanamo, but what about the thousands of other prisoners held by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, prison ships, and CIA secret prisons? What will happen to them, if the AFM still allows some abusive techniques?

Much that Bush and Cheney have done has ended in failure. Guantanamo will close. The military commissions are a dead issue (for now). But not all they have done has been disassembled, and there will be much pressure on Obama to let some of the apparatus off the hook.

Right now, the biggest push among progressives, and with much popular support among the citizenry, is for investigations and prosecutions of the war criminals who are now leaving the White House. These should be supported with all our efforts. Bush and Cheney have both recently admitted to ordering torture.

Buhdydharma at Docudharma wrote the following today:
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers has just released a 487 page report (NOTE: pdf file) whose table of contents clearly spells out what must be on AG Holders agenda in both reforming the DOJ and to effectively "reclaim America's standing in the world as a nation that cherishes and protects individual freedom and basic human rights.":

Hiring and Firing of U.S. Attorneys and other Department Personnel
Selective Prosecution
Politicization of the Prosecution Function
Politicization of the Civil Rights Division and Voting Rights Enforcement
Enhanced Interrogation
Ghosting and Black Sites
Extraordinary Rendition
Warrantless Domestic Surveillance
National Security Letters (NSLs) and Exigent Letters
Use of Signing Statements
Midnight Rulemaking
The Leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's Covert CIA Identity
Improper Use of State Secrets and Other Authorities
Manipulation and Misuse of Intelligence
There is far more than probable cause to prosecute major figures of the Bush Administration, the Pentagon, and the CIA (and possibly DIA) for crimes against humanity, such as starting an aggressive war, and implementation of torture and abusive, inhumane treatment of prisoners. There is ample legal precedent to charge these individuals. If we do not do it, it should be undertaken by another willing nation.

A huge political battle will be waged over these issues in the next weeks and months. All progressives and anti-torture advocates should be ready to counter moves from the entrenched opposition centered in sections of the Pentagon and the CIA.

In the meantime, Susan Crawford has just thrown a dangerous projectile into the ranks of these criminals, and it's all the more satisfying as it comes from their own ranks. We should not expect too many more such "betrayals." The greatest danger will be thinking the closure of Guantanamo will really end things. It will only be one battle won. There will be more losses and victories before we see the end.

Update: The following was spurred by a comment by Nightprowlkitty in the comments to the Daily Kos crossposting to this article:

Torture is never legal. It is a jus cogens, a norm from which no derogation is permitted. Really these people are outside the pale, outside the law. Only the law can handle it though. But the sentences, if convicted, can be tough. Scott Horton reminded us the other day that the execution of Charles I of England, over 400 years ago, was for torture:
The charge, repeated the prosecutor, was that the executive had violated the laws of nations in that he authorized or indulged the torture and brutal mistreatment of prisoners taken in wartime. The commissioners deliberated and rendered their verdict: The charge against the defendant was sustained, the defendant was guilty as charged. And then the punishment was fixed. How does one punish an executive for violation of the laws of nations by authorizing the torture of prisoners? The verdict was that he be taken to a place of execution, where his head was to be severed from his body by an axe.
In today's column, Horton said this about Crawford's admission:
This admission is important for several reasons. First, it is an acknowledgement of criminal conduct by the administration by one of its own team. Second, Crawford very properly abandons the absurd legalisms of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel which essentially boil down to “if the president authorizes it, that means it’s legal.” Third, she has apparently evaluated “torture” on the basis of the totality of the treatment meted out by interrogators and jailers to the prisoner, not by segmenting and evaluating each individual technique applied. That is what the law requires, and what the Justice Department studiously ignores, fully aware of the inevitable conclusion to which it would lead. It adds up to another admission of high crimes. The case for criminal accountability continues to build.

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