Sunday, January 31, 2010

Holder/DoJ Cover-up on Torture Memos Investigation: Who is David Margolis?

Adapted from an article previously published at The Seminal/FDL

Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman have scooped the press with a Newsweek article claiming to know the verdict of the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility report on the investigations into misconduct and unprofessional behavior by the Bush administration attorneys involved drafting the memos allowing the use of coercive interrogation techniques on prisoners. These techniques were largely derived from reverse-engineering torture inoculation procedures from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE programs.

According to Isikoff and Klaidman, the original verdict of the report was changed after the report was reviewed by the attorneys accused, and then reassessed by long-time DoJ honcho, David Margolis. The Newsweek article explains (emphasis added):

Previously, the report concluded that two key authors—Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor—violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter. But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources….The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action—which, in Bybee’s case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.

In an initial assessment by bmaz at Emptywheel, for whom I owe the H/T for the Newsweek article:

Margolis is nearly 70 years old and has a long career at DOJ and is fairly well though of. Margolis was tasked by Jim Comey to shepherd Pat Fitzgerald’s Libby investigation. In short, the man has some bona fides....

Margolis is, however, also tied to the DOJ and its culture for over forty years, not to mention his service in upper management as Associate Attorney General during the Bush Administration when the overt acts of torture and justification by Margolis’ contemporaries and friends were committed. For one such filter to redraw the findings and conclusions of such a critical investigation in order to exculpate his colleagues is unimaginable.

But the involvement of Margolis in defanging the OPR report, and thereby assuring that governmental agencies or bar associations will not hold John Yoo, Jay Bybee and other Bush-era attorneys accountable for paving the way for legalistic torture, is perhaps not an incidental fact.

Dubious David

The role of Margolis, and the man himself, deserve a closer look. It does not take long to see that 40+ year DoJ veteran David Margolis has some skeletons in his closet, and that his track record is not unblemished.

In a July 2000 letter to the New York Review of Books by by E.L. Doctorow, Peter Matthiessen, William Styron, Rose Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, singled out Margolis as "point man" on a DoJ "vendetta" against Cointelpro victim Leonard Peltier.

Three months ago, in March, I had a phone call from a lawyer who has never been involved in the Peltier case but was aware of my longtime concern. A friend in the Justice Department had just mentioned to him that the FBI was intensifying its anti-Peltier vendetta within the department, with Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis as the point man.

More recently, a 2008 Los Angeles Times story indicated that Margolis had changed DoJ policy and decided to withhold summaries of OPR investigations. The article noted that " the resolution of most matters investigated by the OPR remains closely guarded, even in cases where courts have found evidence of serious prosecutorial misconduct."

The LA Times continued:

Publishing the summaries "reassures the public that [the Department of Justice] takes its self-regulatory responsibilities seriously and puts prosecutors on notice that they face public embarrassment if they are caught engaging in wrongdoing," said Bruce Green, a former federal prosecutor and a professor at Fordham Law School in New York.

Associate Deputy Atty. Gen. David Margolis said it was his decision to excuse the OPR from preparing summaries of cases that might be released to the public. He said the decision reflected a lack of resources, as well as concern about balancing public interests with the privacy rights of individual attorneys facing accusations.

A 1999 story involves then Assistant Attorney General Eric Holder and Margolis acting together to spike a serious investigation into the 1993 Waco disaster, and in particular after it was discovered the FBI and DoJ had lied for years about using military incendiary devices at the Branch Davidian siege. Holder was overseeing an investigation led by Republican Senator John Danforth into the Waco Branch Davidian government siege. Bill Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno had taken the investigation out of the hands of U.S. Attorneys in Texas and given to GOP stalwart Danforth, who later exonerated the FBI of any wrongdoing, and recommended indictment of the only whistleblower in the case, U.S. Attorney William Johnston.

From a 9/15/99 Washington Post story:

The Justice Department has removed the entire U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas from further work related to the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex. The broad recusal is intended to avoid conflicts that could impede a fresh investigation being led by former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), a senior Justice Department official said yesterday.

Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said U.S. Attorney Bill Blagg, whose office handled the criminal trial of the Branch Davidians in 1994, requested that his Western District office be recused from further work on Waco. Holder said that it is routine to approve recusal requests and that David Margolis, the senior department official who handled the details of the matter, told him he had never turned down a recusal request….

One of the attorneys in Blagg’s office who is being recused is Assistant U.S. Attorney William Johnston, who recently sent Attorney General Janet Reno a strongly worded letter warning that she had been misled by people within her department about the Waco siege. Holder said the broad recusal had nothing to do with Johnston’s letter.

Holder, who is second-in-command at the Justice Department, has been overseeing the Danforth probe since last week, when Reno recused herself from the matter because she too anticipates being a witness in the Danforth inquiry.

I’d say that Margolis’s “clean” reputation has been meticulously assembled, and I’m sorry if there are progressives who fell for it. Until I investigated further, I had no reason to question it myself. It goes to show that received wisdom if often not wisdom at all, and that we need to have a curious mind when it comes to acceptance of good intentions by this particular government (or maybe any government).

Margolis Covers-up Earlier Interrogation Scandal?

More speculatively, and intriguing, given the claims involved, is Margolis’s involvement in the investigation of a forgotten FBI sting operation against NASA contractors in the early 1990s. Operation Lightning Strike was, according to a Washington Post article at the time, a "20-month Justice Department sting operation focusing on NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston… [resulting] in criminal fraud and bribery charges against nine men and one contractor."

Later, in 1996, a defense committee was formed to support the "NASA-13". The committee, in a petitionto the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform and Oversight Committee claimed that the men caught up in the Operation Lightning Strike, some of whom were victims of "’frame-ups’ and torture, to obtain prosecutions." David Margolis was mentioned as admitting that an OPR investigation into the case was begun in 1994 to look into "investigative and prosecutive misconduct." However, no results from that report were ever made public. The involvement of Margolis in this case deserves further scrutiny, given it involved serious allegations about coercive interrogations and torture.

A defense committee press release was more specific about the abuses conducted by the FBI:

In a report submitted to Congress today, a team of defense attorneys representing the so-called "NASA-13," requested the US. House of Representatives Government Reform and Oversight Committee to hold hearings and appoint a Special Prosecutor, not affiliated with the U.S. government, to investigate the "NASA-13" cases in the light of scientific research competed by a team of NASA industry experts, defense attorneys and behavioral scientists. This report furnishes evidence that at least one of the NASA/IG Federal agents who conducted the NASA sting operation in Houston from 1991 to 1994 was in fact a highly qualified military intelligence interrogator, who with the FBI, employed a highly dangerous form of "psycho-technology" known in the behavioral science community as "Coercive Persuasion" or "CP", a form of mind control.

The phenomenon of "CP" was first observed in the post-traumatic reactions of Korean War military and civilian POWs. Many of these prisoners had confessed to non-existent crimes and cooperated with the enemy after having been subjected to what was then called "brainwashing."

Given that these claims are coming from a pre-9/11 era, they cannot be said to be derivative of recent news reports and scandals. I am not convinced about what actually went on in this case, but it is notable that the defense committee procured a letter from well-known psychologist, and former government Margaret Thaler Singer backing the claims of the defendants:

I have reviewed the Lightning Strike Victims Questionnaires and summary provided by the NASA-13 Defense Committee, and I concur with the committee’s assessment that there is substantial data in these highly consistent statements to confirm that a program of Coercive Influence was employed in the Interrogations of the Lightning Strike Suspects . The questionnaires uniformly reveal a systematic application of psychological techniques, in an organized programmatic way, within a constructed and managed environment, which was aimed at the participants sense of self and sense of reality, producing extreme anxiety and emotional distress….

Such programs can and regularly do produce psychiatric casualties. Practitioners of these programs attempt to hold the subject at the point of maximum stress, without inducing psychosis. My experience over the past four decades and in observing over 3,000 cases since participating in the evaluation of released Korean POW’s, unfortunately reveals that practitioners of these nefarious methods frequently exceed the limits with devastating results.

According to the defense committee, Department of Defense interrogators played key roles in the interrogations of the defendants, as aspect of the case that has also never been explained.

Now this may all be a lot of smoke, but when one adds in the latest role played by Mr. Margolis in spiking the initial results of misconduct on behalf of Yoo, Bybee, Addington, et al. (if we can believe the Newsweek leak), his appearance in this role does not seem so remarkable. Margolis appears to have a long history of involvement in government frame-up and/or obfuscation of internal misconduct by the FBI or Justice Department prosecutors.

Will we see the intrepid U.S. press look more deeply into this? One could wish this were true. Every once in a while the mainstream press shows what it’s capable of, as with the exposure of torture at Bagram under Obama’s administration, or with Scott Horton’s Harper’s revelations on the 2003 killings of three Guantanamo prisoners, covered-up as supposed "suicides".

But the OPR report is shaping up to be one gigantic cover-up, assuming we ever get to see much of it, after the government censors get done with it.

The country is thick with torture and crime, and unable to free itself from thralldom to its governmental enablers. Let’s see how easily Holder, Obama, and Margolis get away with their cover-up of Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales, and Addington’s lies and alibis. Meanwhile, torture continues as official policy of the Obama administration in the guise of an appendix to the Army Field Manual. But outside of Emptywheel, some former interrogators, and a few others, no one seems to care.

And so it goes.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Radical Historian Howard Zinn Dies at 87

"I'm convinced of the uncertainty of history, of the possiblity of surprise, of the importance of human action in changing what looks unchangeable."

UC Berkeley's Harry Kreisler interviews historian and activist Howard Zinn.

Zinn, a historian with a powerful sense of social justice, who wove that sense of justice into the construction of his histories, remembers how he became conscious of injustice:
I grew up in a family of working-class immigrants, living in tenements in Brooklyn. Our living quarters were rather miserable and we kids spent most of our time out in the streets. It seemed natural that I should develop a certain class consciousness, an understanding that we lived in a society of rich and poor, and whether you were rich or poor had nothing to do with how hard you worked.

There were young radicals in my neighborhood, a few years older than me, and I was impressed with how much they knew about what was going on in the world. I was beginning to read books about Fascism and socialism. One day, my friends asked if I would join them in going to a demonstration in Times Square. I had never been to a demonstration, and it seemed like an exciting thing to do. When we got to Times Square, there was no sign of a demonstration, but when the big clock on the Times Building struck ten, banners unfurled in the crowd, and people began marching and chanting. I wasn't sure what they were concerned with but it seemed they were opposed to war, and that appealed to me. One of my friends took one end of a banner and I the other. I heard sirens and shouts and I wondered what was happening. Then I saw policemen on horses charging into the crowd, beating people with clubs. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Here were people peacefully demonstrating and they were attacked by the police. Before I knew it, I was spun around and hit on the side of the head, with what I didn't know. I was knocked unconscious, and when I woke up in a doorway, it was an eerie scene, everything quiet as if nothing had happened. But something had happened to me. I was stripped of my illusion that we lived in a democracy where people could protest peacefully. At that moment I moved from being a liberal to being a radical, understanding that there was something fundamentally wrong with the system that I had always thought cherished freedom and democracy.
Howard, we will miss you terribly.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Women Dying and Torture Run Amuck In Afghanistan (w/Update)

This report was originally published on

Two reports coming out of Afghanistan illustrate the depth of hypocrisy and subterfuge characterizing the US/NATO intervention in that country. One could cite a myriad of such examples, so immoral and wrong as the US war there.

In the first report, a 2009 human rights assessment prepared by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, obtained by The Canadian Press and reported at CBC News, revealed a skyrocketing suicide rate among Afghan women:
"Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides," said the report, completed in November 2009....

The director of a burn unit at a hospital in the relatively peaceful province of Herat reported that in 2008 more than 80 women attempted suicide by setting themselves on fire, many of them in the early 20s.
It's not as if the plight of Afghan women under the US-backed Karzai government hasn't gotten some attention. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) recorded 184 cases of self-immolation by Afghani women in 2007, versus 106 in 2006. In Herat alone, in the first six months of 2008, 47 women, desperate from an escape from a life of domestic servitude, violence, rape, injustice, and other crimes, set themselves on fire and ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital. Ninety percent died from their serious burns.
The police and judiciary do not launch any formal investigations to determine the causes and motivations of suicide and self-burning by women, according to the AIHRC.

As a result, men who force and provoke women to self-immolation and other forms of suicide remain immune from all legal and penal repercussions.
To delve into the statistics only reveals a more doleful picture: almost 90 percent (!) of Afghan women have been victims of violence, 60 percent of all marriages are forced. The US-backed regime has made some token moves to assist women, such as creating police task forces staffed by women officers. But the female officers aren't allowed to do any outreach. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai infamously supported a law that allows for spousal rape. (Afghanistan is not alone in this, however, as Bahrain, too, "offers women no protection from spousal rape.")

US/NATO-Backed Afghan Regime Practices Torture

As the US plans to transfer administrative control of its Bagram detention facility to the Afghanistan government, a separate scandal links the Afghan government to the torture and murder of a prisoner in its custody. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Afghan citizen Abdul Basir was tortured while in custody of Afghani security forces last December, and killed when he was pushed or thrown out a window. His family was told he committed suicide. But HRW has posted pictures of the tortured marks on Basir's body.

It wasn't easy to try and get an investigation of Basir's death in Afghanistan - from this brave new government ("elected" by massive fraud) that has guaranteed justice and due process to the Bagram prisoners, once they get their hands on them. According to HRW's report on Basir's death:
An NDS official told family members that Basir's father, Zalmai, signed a statement confirming that Basir had committed suicide and that an autopsy was not required. The family told Human Rights Watch that NDS officials told them that if they buried the body, Basir's brothers and father would be released.

However, concerned that the marks on Basir's body may have been signs of torture, the family took the body to the Forensic Department of the Health Ministry where an autopsy was carried out. The findings have not been made public. The family reported that security agency officials later came to the house where the body was held and gave them a message to bury the body. When the family tried to take the body to parliament, they said, agency vehicles blocked their way.
While the Afghan defense ministry assures the world press that "all international conventions on prisoners' rights would be implemented" once it gets control of Bagram, the many reports of arbitrary arrest, torture, and other ill-treatment by Afghan security forces suggest otherwise. In fact, there is nothing very trustworthy about either the Afghan government or its US/NATO backers, who have averted their eyes from anything that would besmirch the credentials of their war purposes in Afghanistan.

This leads the leaders of the Western alliance to some pretty strange places. Take Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Talking to interviewers for the French-language television network TVA about the many reports that prisoners captured by Canadian forces and turned over to Afghani authorities were tortured, even killed, Harper said:
"We are speaking here of a problem among Afghans. It's not a problem between Canadians and Afghans. We're speaking of problems between the government of Afghanistan and the situation in Afghanistan. We are trying to do what's possible to improve that situation, but it's not in our control."
For Harper, the system of transferring prisoners to the Afghans "works very well," though he admits there are "problems from time to time." As an example of some of these problems, read the over 40 redacted emails (PDF) sent from former Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin to then-Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay alleging the torture of detainees transferred by Canadians to Afghan prisons.

While trumpeted as a blow against the idea of turning Bagram into a second Guantanamo, the likelihood is that things will not get any better for the 700 plus prisoners at the US facility there. Nor does it speak to the ongoing management by Special Operations forces of a black site prison, also on the Bagram Air Base. US Special Operations forces are granted special privileges to hold prisoners in indefinite detention. Evidence of torture at the SO black site prison, published in both The New York Times and The Washington Post last November, has not produced any follow-up in terms of Congressional hearings or further investigations. Instead, the handover of the Department of Defense's primary Bagram detention site appears likely to even further reduce oversight and investigation into the plight of prisoners there, once under Afghan jurisdiction, as the promises of the Afghanistan government are not to be trusted.

Meanwhile, the propaganda from Washington continues unabated. "Surge turning tide against Taliban, says McChrystal," blared ABC news on Monday. But no amount of propaganda is going to fill up the moral bog that is the US war in Afghanistan. Whether its targeted assassinations, leading to rounds and never-ending rounds of assassination and bombings, as at Khost, or the counterinsurgency attacks that target school-age children, as at Ghazi Khan, the campaign in Afghanistan has nowhere to go but down.

Even its vaunted aim of improving the lives of Afghan women is proven to be a lie. As a statement by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) reported recently:
The US "War on terrorism" removed the Taliban regime in October 2001, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism which is the main cause of all our miseries. In fact, by reinstalling the warlords in power in Afghanistan, the US administration is replacing one fundamentalist regime with another. The US government and Mr. Karzai mostly rely on Northern Alliance criminal leaders who are as brutal and misogynist as the Taliban....

Last month, Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan parliament, told Michelle Goldberg of the Daily Beast that the situation for Afghan women is every bit as bad under Karzai as it was under the Taliban. Joya is also concerned that civilian casualties are fueling popular support for the Taliban.
Thus far, no significant antiwar movement has emerged to seriously challenge the Obama administration's prosecution of the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the administration has clearly expanded its military operations to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But support by the US electorate of this war policy appears shaky at best, as the population suffers under an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent, and an array of service cutbacks in many US states.

Whether protests against the economy will be linked to the bellicose policies of the Obama administration in its own version of Bush's "war on terror" remains to be seen. But one doesn't have to look very far to see that the premises of prosecuting a democratic, human rights war is no more tenable under Obama than it was under Bush.


Courtesy of the UK Guardian. The British press are reporting this in general. In the U.S. -- blackout.
Afghanistan elections postponed

Afghanistan has postponed parliamentary elections because of a lack of funds, the country’s election body said today.

The Independent Election Commission said it needed about $50m (£31m) from international donors to meet a shortfall in the estimated budget of $120m for the 22 May vote. The vote will be pushed back to 18 September.

The postponement was due to “problems and constraints to get the proper budget”, said a commission member, Zekriya Barakzai, who also cited security concerns, logistical obstacles and the need to improve electoral procedures in explaining the delay.

The US and other critics had pressed for a delay amid warnings that a vote without major electoral reform could further undermine western support for Afghanistan after the presidential election fiasco in August....

The UN is holding tens of millions of dollars set aside for Afghan elections in an account, but diplomats have said they will not release the money without reforms....
Looks like they feared another election fiasco. Imagine, a “surge” to supposedly defend a government you can’t even trust to run an election. If my child or loved one was dying for this, I’d be furious.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Review - A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments

[The following is reposted from a Firedoglake Book Salon. It was the introductory essay introducing author H.P. Albarelli and his book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments. One can still read the chat from the 1/23/10 FDL Book Salon by clicking here.]

Of all the ghosts that haunt U.S. history, few have more persistently stalked the conscience of this country than that of Frank Olson.

The subject of a sensational 1975 scandal, Olson has been the subject of numerous newspaper articles, essays, books, documentaries, and even an opera. Beginning with revelations from the Rockefeller Commission, Olson was identified as a civilian scientist working for the Department of Defense in the early 1950s, who had been secretly dosed by the CIA with LSD. The drug apparently resulted in disturbed behavior and his subsequent supposed suicide.

The government has stood by this story ever since, even though it was subsequently found to be riddled with inconsistencies and improbabilities. Investigative reporter and writer, H.P. Albarelli Jr., explores these in his terrific new book, "A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Cold War Experiments." In the process, he provides a convincing solution to the mystery of Olson's death.

Albarelli spent nine years researching his book. He carefully takes the reader on a long, twisting and fascinating voyage through the landscape in which Frank Olson moved. Olson's journey, whose final chapter began at a CIA retreat at rural Maryland's Deep Creek Lake, and ended with a push or plunge out the tenth floor window of a Manhattan hotel room on November 28, 1953, is also a map illuminating a carefully hidden part of this nation's history.

As the book's title suggests, Olson's death was intricately tied up with the history of U.S. interrogation, torture, and mind control experiments. Many readers are no doubt familiar with the acronym MKULTRA. This CIA program, and others like it - Project Bluebird, Operation Artichoke, MKNAOMI, MKSEARCH, among others - were launched in part in reaction to fears within the government that communist countries were outstripping the West in their ability to manipulate prisoners' minds, and even create, via hypnosis and drugs, Manchurian Candidate assassins. Hysteria over "brainwashing" was later discovered to be whipped up by CIA-linked journalists.

The CIA worked closely with academic and military researchers, including many doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists. The scientists' results were later operationalized in the CIA's 1960s KUBARK and other interrogation manuals.

Olson may have been typical of the many Americans swept up in this mammoth endeavor, which in the end spent untold millions of dollars and caused an unknown number of deaths and psychiatric casualties.

One of the many revelations in this well-researched and documented book, and a key element in the Olson murder mystery, is the LSD dosing of an entire small French town, Pont-St.-Esprit, in August 1951. Four people died, and hundreds were afflicted. It may have been an incautious slip regarding the Pont-St.-Esprit episode that constituted what Frank Olson explained to his wife before his death was "a terrible mistake."

From the book (p. 690):
According to Albert and Neal [two CIA informants], several weeks before the meeting at Deep Creek Lake, Frank Olson had "broken security" and talked about the French experiment on at least two occasions. He had been specifically cautioned by [CIA agent] Vincent Ruwet and [Ft. Detrick Special Operations Division chief] John Schwab about the "high level of security and sensitivity involving the experiment"....

The question was posed to the two sources: "Was this, the incident in France at Pont-St.-Esprit, the 'un-American activity' referred to in the papers given to the Olsons by [CIA Director] William Colby?"

Not surprisingly, the answer was, "Yes."

Was Pont-St.Esprit solely a SOD operation?

No. It was a pre-ARTICHOKE joint operation between SOD [Ft. Detrick's Special Operations Division] and CIA's security branch.

Did it involve any other intelligence agency such as the French?

Albarelli's book also chronicles the wrenching story of Frank's wife and three children, how devastated they were by his death, how they were kept in the dark for decades over its circumstances, and how they fought to get the truth out, at great emotional cost. Albarelli himself describes how he was swept up into an investigation of the case by the New York District Attorney's office in the late 1990s.

Implicitly the book also asks, who was Frank Olson, this emblem of Cold War skulduggery, the first known American to die an LSD-related death? The son of Swedish immigrants, he was called to duty during World War II and quickly recruited into the Army's Chemical Warfare Service, where he worked at the Edgewood Arsenal. Criticized by some as "conceited" and a problem drinker, no one doubted he was a good husband and family man.

Despite any concerns about his character, Olson was considered reliable and promoted to the military's new bio-weapons research center at Ft. Detrick, Maryland, where he joined the then-newly formed Special Operations Division in 1950. And thus began his association with the CIA, and most particularly Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, a top official with the CIA's Technical Services Staff, the precursor to today's CIA Office of Technical Services. (The OTS was identified by the recent CIA Inspector General Report as having been central to the vetting of SERE torture techniques for the attorneys working on the torture memos for the Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel).

No short summary can do justice to the amount of research and narrative substance Mr. Albarelli brings to his book. My hope is that readers here will be intrigued and read the book themselves, as it is one of the most amazing works of American history in recent memory.

Author's Bio:
H.P. Albarelli Jr. divides his time between Vermont, Florida, and London, England. He is a graduate of Antioch Law School, and worked in President Jimmy Carter’s White House. He also worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury, the National Consumer Cooperative Bank, and was on the senior policy staff of the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO. He has traveled widely throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa, and has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles on biological warfare and intelligence affairs. His novel The Heap was published in 2005. His biography of George Hunter White will be published by Trine Day in 2011. He can be contacted through his website:

Blair on the Road to Chilcot, While Britain Buries David Kelly Again

While former Prime Minister Tony Blair prepares to testify before Britain's Chilcot Commission investigating the circumstances surrounding Blair and the British governments lies to go to war with Iraq in 2003, England has put the country on "severe" terror alert. What Islamic terrorist would want to stop this information from becoming public? What the British fear is their own people, outraged by revelation of how their government sucked up to America and helped game the evidence for going to war.

The script for war was sent out to the satraps in the Commonwealth, as evidenced by the near-identical, word-for-word speeches given at the time by the Prime Ministers of Canada and Austalia. Watch, for both the laughs, and the tears:

H/T whitewidow at Daily Kos, in comments thread on a diary covering the news that Lord Hutton of Britain has locked away the evidence around the death of David Kelly for 70 years!

Re David Kelly and the second round of cover-up surrounding his death, see The Brits Buried Evidence on David Kelly’s Death over at FDL/Emptywheel.

As I wrote last December:
Kelly was reportedly believed to be behind a leak to "the source of a [BBC] story that Tony Blair's government 'sexed-up' its dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction to justify invading Iraq." According to the Daily Mail, Kelly predicted he might be killed. Yet the coroner's investigation into his death was halted by the British government, which declared an inquiry by cronies of British Prime Minister Tony Blair would be sufficient.
Whether it's covering up the evidence of a government killing in Great Britain, or here in the U.S., where a scandal over the attempt to paint torture murders at Guantanamo as "suicides" has recently exploded, the larger picture is of a world in deep, deep trouble. The leaders of the world stand exposed as criminals. They promote war to enrich the "defense" industries, they lie about "terror" threats, while soaking up billions of dollars in what is essentially a shake-down protection scheme. Meanwhile, the economy remains in the hands of the drunken millionaries and billionaires who tried to drive it over the cliff, and hang on with a death grip to the steering world, demanding they remain in control.

If there's anything even worse than all this, it's the cowardice or corruption (most likely both) of the mainstream U.S. press, and particularly its supposed exemplars, the New York Times and the Washington Post, who have reported on none of the above. (At least, that's true of late. The Post, for instance, carried some AP stories on the Chilcot inquiry, and one story by staff reporter Walter Pincus. But neither have done more than perfunctorily run a wire story on the Guantanamo murders.)

A live and thriving blogosphere, and the presence of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, plus the courage and ongoing work of crusading bloggers and journalists like Marcy Wheeler, Jeremy Scahill, Andy Worthington, Jason Leopold, and others, keeps the news from being totally throttled. Access to the press online in other countries, like al-Jazeera or the British and Canadian press, is a way to keep up to date. But in America, the capitalist land par excellance, the cultivation of ignorance and denial in the face of terrible crimes and ongoing abuses is honored and respected by the educated elite, while the public feeds on hi-def sports and trivial spectacle.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Join me at Firedoglake Book Salon with Author H.P. Albarelli

Update: This event is over, but you can read the chat log from the event here. Also, you can click on the link below and buy Mr. Albarelli's book, which will bring you many hours of entertainment and important learning.
From 2 to 4 pm, Pacific time (5 to 7 pm Eastern) TODAY I will be hosting Firedoglake's Book Salon. This afternoon the author is H.P. Albarelli, the author of the fascinating new book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments.
Following nearly a decade of research, this account solves the mysterious death of biochemist Frank Olson, revealing the identities of his murderers in shocking detail. It offers a unique and unprecedented look into the backgrounds of many former CIA, FBI, and Federal Narcotics Bureau officials—including several who actually oversaw the CIA’s mind-control programs from the 1950s to the 1970s. In retracing these programs, a frequently bizarre and always frightening world is introduced, colored and dominated by many factors—Cold War fears, the secret relationship between the nation’s drug enforcement agencies and the CIA, and the government’s close collaboration with the Mafia.

H. P. Albarelli Jr. is an investigative journalist whose work has appeared in numerous publications and newspapers across the nation and is the author of the novel The Heap. He lives in Tampa, Florida. (
For more on Albarelli and his book, see my article, come by the Book Salon, where there will be an article about the book, and the chance to chat with Mr. Albarelli himself!

(Note: to participate in the chat, you must register with Firedoglake, so come by early and sign in.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

NYT Op-Ed Critiques Army Field Manual & Appendix M Abusive Interrogations

Former interrogator Matthew Alexander has written a important op-ed for the New York Times sharply critical of the Army Field Manual and its Appendix M. It is very gratifying to see this, as I have been pushing the issue of torture and abuse in the Army Field Manual for a number of years now.

Physicians for Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, and ACLU deserve a lot of praise for having been the primary rights organizations that came out strong and early with a convincing legal critique of Appendix M. So does Marjorie Cohn, the former president of the National Lawyers Guild, who made strong statements against the illegalities of the AFM's interrogation policy over the past months. A number of other writers have contributed to the success in promoting this issue beyond the webpages of the above organizations, and the non-conventional platforms of the political blogs.

For Mr. Alexander's article definitely represents a mainstreaming of the issue, whose importance lies in the fact that the AFM has been made the centerpiece of President Obama's interrogation policy. I am grateful to Mr. Alexander for writing this article, and hope it represents a qualitative leap forward in the fight against torture and abusive interrogations and detentions by the U.S. government.

I'm going to repost the entire article here, as I believe Matthew wouldn't mind, and because I believe it meets the educational threshold of fair use reproduction.
January 21, 2010
Op-Ed Contributor

Torture’s Loopholes

TOMORROW will be one year since President Obama signed an executive order outlawing torture, yet our debate about interrogation methods continues. Though the president deserves praise for improving matters, the changes were not as drastic as most Americans think, and elements of our interrogation policy continue to be both inhumane and counterproductive.

Americans can now boast that they no longer “torture” detainees, but they cannot say that detainees are not abused, or even that their treatment meets the minimum standards of humane treatment mandated by the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (the so-called McCain amendment), United States and international law, or even Mr. Obama’s executive order.

If I were to return to one of the war zones today — as an Air Force officer, I was sent to Iraq to head an interrogation team in 2006 — I would still be allowed to abuse prisoners. This is true even though in my experience, torture or even harsh but legal treatment never got us useful information. Instead, such tactics invariably did just the opposite, convincing detainees to clam up.

The adoption last year of the Army Field Manual as the standard for interrogations across the government, including the C.I.A., was a considerable improvement. But we missed a unique opportunity for progress last August when the president’s task force on interrogations recommended no changes to the manual, which was hastily revised in 2006 in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

For example, an appendix to the manual allows the military to keep a detainee in “separation” — solitary confinement — indefinitely. It requires only that a general approve any extension after 30 days. Rest assured, there will be numerous waivers to even that minuscule requirement.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons to isolate detainees. Domestic law enforcement agencies do it to prevent suspects from colluding on alibis and allow investigators the leverage to use non-coercive interrogation techniques like confronting one detainee with the other’s statements.

But military interrogators do not operate in a vacuum. The consequences of their actions have far-reaching effects — like Al Qaeda’s exploitation of American abuse of prisoners as a recruiting tool. And, in any case, extended solitary confinement is torture, as confirmed by many scientific studies. Even the initial 30 days of isolation could be considered abuse.

If we truly wanted to come up with a humane limit on solitary confinement, we would look at the Golden Rule: what would we consider inhumane treatment if one of our own soldiers were captured by the enemy? My answer: Given the youth of our men and women in uniform, that number is probably around two weeks. This limit, however, should be determined by medical professionals, not soldiers or politicians.

The Army Field Manual also does not explicitly prohibit stress positions, putting detainees into close confinement or environmental manipulation (other than hypothermia and “heat injury”). These omissions open a window of opportunity for abuse.

The manual also allows limiting detainees to just four hours of sleep in 24 hours. Let’s face it: extended captivity with only four hours of sleep a night (consider detainees at Guantánamo Bay who have been held for seven years) does not meet the minimum standard of humane treatment, either in terms of American law or simple human decency.

And if this weren’t enough, some interrogators feel the manual’s language gives them a loophole that allows them to give a detainee four hours of sleep and then conduct a 20-hour interrogation, after which they can “reset” the clock and begin another 20-hour interrogation followed by four hours of sleep. This is inconsistent with the spirit of the reforms, which was to prevent “monstering” — extended interrogation sessions lasting more than 20 hours. American interrogators are more than capable of doing their jobs without the loopholes.

The Field Manual, to its credit, calls for “all captured and detained personnel, regardless of status” to be “treated humanely.” But when it comes to the specifics the manual contradicts itself, allowing actions that no right-thinking person could consider humane.

The greatest shame of the last year, perhaps, is that the argument over interrogations has shifted from debating what is legal to considering what is just “better than before.” The best way to change things is to update the field manual again to bring our treatment of detainees up to the minimum standard of humane treatment.

The next version of the manual should prohibit solitary confinement for more than, say, two weeks, all stress positions and forms of environmental manipulation, imprisonment in tight spaces and sleep deprivation. Unless we rewrite the book, we will only continue to give Al Qaeda a recruiting tool, to earn the contempt of our allies and to debase our most cherished ideals.

Matthew Alexander is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gov't Gets Ornery over Gitmo Murder Cover-Up Claims

Keith Olbermann reported tonight that the Department of Justice had contacted him and expressed how unhappy they were with his report on Scott Horton's Harpers Magazine expose of the 2006 killings of three Guantanamo prisoners, and the subsequent government cover-up, extending into the Obama administration.

Now Scott Horton reports in a new column at Harpers on the blowback he's been getting from DoD and DoJ over his reporting:
Last night on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, I focused on the first responses to “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides.’” Colonel Michael Bumgarner, the former commander at Camp America, had sent an email to the Associated Press, the text of which AP confirmed to me, in which he said he would have to get clearance from the Defense Department to speak, but then stated:

This blatant misrepresentation of the truth infuriates me. I don’t know who Sgt. Hickman is, but he is only trying to be a spotlight ranger. He knows nothing about what transpired in Camp 1, or our medical facility. I do, I was there.

This statement merits closer inspection. The first sentence is a classic nondenial denial. It appears on the surface to deny part of the account, but in fact denies nothing. Bumgarner needs to state specifically what allegations he considers inaccurate. His failure to do so is telling.

The second statement is an attempt to frame the conflict in terms of a controversy between Sergeant Hickman and himself, which he leads into by saying he doesn’t even know who Hickman is. That statement is demonstrably false. As we confirmed with Defense Department records, Bumgarner recommended Hickman for a medal...

The Justice Department had no response to any of these serious allegations. Instead, in a January 18 e-mail, department spokesman Laura Sweeny claimed that two of the witnesses interviewed by the department had misremembered the names of the lawyers present at those meetings. She refused to address any of the other allegations in the article. Instead, she insisted that I note that Justice had “conducted a thorough inquiry into this matter, carefully examined the allegations, found no evidence of wrongdoing and subsequently closed the matter.” And then she said, as she had when I contacted her in reporting the story, that she would not arrange an interview with any of the officials involved in the matter.
Meanwhile, the first in hopefully a cascade of newspaper editorials has the St. Louis Post-Dispatch calling for an investigation into the "three questionable Gitmo suicides":
There’s growing evidence that suggests that three detainees — two from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen — died from torture-related injuries at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in 2006. The military cover story strains credulity. A subsequent inquiry by the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service fared worse.

Methodically examined and parsed by a team from Seton Hall Law School in Newark, N.J., the Navy investigation seems to have been pursued with either inexcusable incompetence or using a massive cover-up....

Evasions of this kind hardly are unprecedented. In 2004, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba revealed abuses and deception up the chain of command in connection with criminal misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Ranking officers were found complicit in the sadistic mistreatment of prisoners. It was not the work of only a few bad apples.

Enough is enough. Prisoner abuse and botched investigations undermine national security, handing America’s enemies a devastating recruiting tool.

Mr. Obama should appoint an unrelenting career prosecutor to the case, someone of the caliber of Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to dig deeper. He must follow where the evidence leads.
H/T Stephen Soldz, who is also keeping close watch on these events.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

CCR on 2006 Gitmo Murders: Families of Deceased Demand Answers

The following is a press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights, responding to Scott Horton's article in Harpers Magazine released on January 18, revealing that the government's claim of suicide in the case of three Guantanamo prisoners found dead in June 2006 is in fact false, and has been perpetuated by a cover-up that began immediately after the men were killed (either by military or CIA or other intelligence torturers).
New Facts Suggest 2006 GTMO Deaths Not Suicides As Government Claims

CCR Represents Deceased and Families, Demands Answers


January 18, 2010, New York – An article published today in Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton raises grave questions about the manner in which three prisoners died in Guantanamo in June 2006, two of whom are plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the deceased and their families, Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld. While the current and former administrations have consistently maintained that the deaths were suicides, new facts, including interviews with four former soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths, raise questions about the government’s claims and about the continued role of the Obama administration in keeping information about the deaths from the public and the families of the men.

CCR Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, lead counsel in the civil case surrounding the deaths, which charges the government and 24 federal officials with responsibility for the abuse and wrongful death of the deceased, said, "President Obama’s Department of Justice has tried to keep our case out of the courts, beyond the reach of the legal system and any oversight or accountability. It is critical that the full story of how our clients died and who was responsible be brought to light in open court before an impartial judge. Serious gaps and questions remain, more than three years after the deaths."

In December, the U.S. government filed reply papers in support of its motion to dismiss Al-Zahrani, arguing that no federal court has the power to hear cases seeking accountability for abuse of detainees at Guantánamo. The Center for Constitutional Rights brought the suit on behalf of the families of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami, two detained men found dead at the base in June 2006.

CCR’s complaint, the government briefs and other court documents can be found here on the case page for Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last eight years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 50 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Scott Horton Drops the Bomb on Gitmo: Massive Cover-up of Murder Exposed

When it comes to the torture scandal, I agree with Andrew Sullivan: there's not been as big a story on the lies and crimes committed under the U.S. torture program since the Abu Ghraib photos were released. This story has no pictures, but the details are in and of themselves gruesome in the extreme.

Andy Worthington, who knows more about the Guantanamo prisoners than any other journalist, wrote of Scott Horton's bombshell article in Harper's Magazine:
Despite studying Guantánamo on a full-time basis for nearly four years, this is one of the most chilling accounts of the prison that I have ever read, and one which should not only lead to an independent inquiry, but also to calls to press ahead with the closure of Guantánamo — and the repatriation of as many prisoners as possible — without further delay.
Horton's story, The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle, is dense, and full of amazing facts about the deaths of three Guantanamo prisoners, officially by "suicide." The article is a veritable prosecutor's brief accusing the U.S. government, under both the Bush and Obama administration, of criminal cover-up of these deaths, which were, it seems more and more likely, murder.

We will be absorbing the various facts revealed in this article for weeks or months to come, and it is my fervent hope that tremendous heat will be put on to have an independent investigation. As Sullivan notes, no one in the government can be trusted to investigate this case. It will take a Blue Ribbon panel, or a tribunal, or at the very least an independent prosecutor with power of subpoena.

I'm going to post a bit of Horton's article (I believe "fair use"), but you have to read the entire thing. Really. (I haven't even included any quotes from Horton's compelling story about how the Obama administration jacked around the whistleblowers, then dropped the investigation. After reading Horton, take a look at Keith Olbermann's interview with him on the Jan. 18 edition of Countdown.
Now four members of the Military Intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, including a decorated non-commissioned Army officer who was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 9–10, have furnished an account dramatically at odds with the NCIS report—a report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.

All four soldiers say they were ordered by their commanding officer not to speak out, and all four soldiers provide evidence that authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners’ deaths. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harper’s Magazine that strongly suggests that the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards’ accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred....

The compound was not visible from the main road, and the access road was chained off. The Guardsman who told Davila about the compound had said, “This place does not exist,” and Hickman, who was frequently put in charge of security for all of Camp America, was not briefed about the site. Nevertheless, Davila said, other soldiers—many of whom were required to patrol the outside perimeter of Camp America—had seen the compound, and many speculated about its purpose. One theory was that it was being used by some of the non-uniformed government personnel who frequently showed up in the camps and were widely thought to be CIA agents.

A friend of Hickman’s had nicknamed the compound “Camp No,” the idea being that anyone who asked if it existed would be told, “No, it doesn’t.” He and Davila made a point of stopping by whenever they had the chance; once, Hickman said, he heard a “series of screams” from within the compound....

By dawn, the news had circulated through Camp America that three prisoners had committed suicide by swallowing rags. Colonel Bumgarner called a meeting of the guards, and at 7:00 a.m. at least fifty soldiers and sailors gathered at Camp America’s open-air theater....

According to independent interviews with soldiers who witnessed the speech, Bumgarner told his audience that “you all know” three prisoners in the Alpha Block at Camp 1 committed suicide during the night by swallowing rags, causing them to choke to death. This was a surprise to no one—even servicemen who had not worked the night before had heard about the rags. But then Bumgarner told those assembled that the media would report something different. It would report that the three prisoners had committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells. It was important, he said, that servicemen make no comments or suggestions that in any way undermined the official report. He reminded the soldiers and sailors that their phone and email communications were being monitored. The meeting lasted no more than twenty minutes....

All the families requested independent autopsies. The Saudi prisoners were examined by Saeed Al-Ghamdy, a pathologist based in Saudi Arabia. Al-Salami, from Yemen, was inspected by Patrice Mangin, a pathologist based in Switzerland. Both pathologists noted the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy: the throat. Both pathologists contacted the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, requesting the missing body parts and more information about the previous autopsies. The institute did not respond to their requests or queries. (It also did not respond to a series of calls I placed requesting information and comment.)

When Al-Zahrani viewed his son’s corpse, he saw evidence of a homicide. “There was a major blow to the head on the right side,” he said. “There was evidence of torture on the upper torso, and on the palms of his hand. There were needle marks on his right arm and on his left arm.” None of these details are noted in the U.S. autopsy report. “I am a law enforcement professional,” Al-Zahrani said. “I know what to look for when examining a body.”

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For those who are interested, here's a link (PDF) to the Seton Hall law school investigation into the 2006 "suicides," an investigation that was key to breaking the story open.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Revealed: CIA Cable "Granting Permission" to Destroy Torture Videotapes

Originally posted at Firedoglake

A January 8 release of documents in the ACLU FOIA lawsuit seeking materials related to the CIA's destruction of videotapes of interrogators using "enhanced interrogation techniques" has revealed the first evidence of a precise instruction for the destruction of those tapes.

According to Rachel Myers at the ACLU, while there was previous evidence of requests from the "field" that the videotapes be destroyed, this is our first verification of the exact date CIA headquarters gave its approval.

The approval came in the form of "a two-page cable discussing a proposal and granting permission to destroy the videotapes.” (emphasis added) The cable was sent from "HQ" to the "Field" on November 8, 2005, the same day an earlier request was made from the "Field". Confirmation of the destruction of the tapes was already revealed in a cable “from the field to CIA headquarters, confirming the destruction of the videotapes.” (11/20/2009 Vaughn Index 4).

Requests for destruction of interrogation videotapes, and discussions around such an action are documented as far back as September 2002 (11/20/2009 Vaughn Index 55). It's presumed that these requests came from the Thailand CIA black site where Abu Zubaydah had been an experimental victim of the new so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, which were based on stress inoculation torture survival schools for the military, known as SERE. Psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, formerly of SERE and its parent agency, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), have been identified as being key figures in implementing the program.

The new cable has been withheld, citing numerous FOIA "exemptions," as have hundreds of other such pieces of evidence, including emails and draft memoranda, by the CIA. Its existence is revealed as part of a Vaughn index of withheld documents, wherein some description of the document is given, in addition to the reasons for withholding the document.

The "permission" cable is Document 154 in Part 6 of the latest Vaughn release/dump. It’s on pg. 13 out of 35 (all doc links are PDF). A full timeline on the CIA videotape destruction actions, which has not however been updated for the latest crop of documents, has been put together by the ACLU. All the documents released thus far can be accessed here.

Emptywheel has been covering this issue from the beginning. For instance, see this relevant story, wherein EW reports that "The CIA Asked to Destroy Torture Tapes on Same Day They Claimed They Didn't Torture."

Meanwhile, the investigation into the destruction of the videotapes, with prosecutor John Durham leading, has languished for over two years now. While justice is supposed to be blind and disinterested, the investigation will probably go nowhere unless public pressure is put on the Department of Justice and the Obama administration to hold the torturers accountable.

ACLU's Own Analysis

The ACLU has written up a preliminary review of the outstanding new finds in the latest CIA FOIA release, including a brief discussion of the "permission" cable that was the subject of this article. See the article at the ACLU's Blog of Rights. Among the new details adding to the torture narrative:
The conversation about destroying the tapes began during the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Two cables sent from the black site to CIA headquarters on August 19, 2002 discuss “lessons for the future based on CIA experience” and an August 20, 2002 cable discusses “a proposed policy regarding the use of videotapes in interrogations"....

... after the July 38 [sic], 2003 Principals meeting, the question of the tapes “seemed settled” until the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos in April 2004. In fact, the Vaughn index shows the conversation continuing even during this period, with a sequence of emails around September 22, 2008 [sic - most likely a typo for 2003] “concerning a draft memo on the destruction of the videotapes” and a February 19, 2004 email with attachment “concerning the legalities as to whether the CIA is legally required to retain the videotapes"....

There are numerous emails in the days leading up to destruction of the videotapes on November 8, 2005, just after the Washington Post published Dana Priest’s front-page exposé of CIA secret prisons and the day before The New York Times published a story on the CIA inspector general’s damning report. The CIA is clearly bracing for these leaks: on October 31, [2005] there is a 13-page email chain “discussing whether to publically acknowledge the counterterrorism program” and on November 1, [2005] an email with attachment “that discusses the Agency’s detention and interrogation program from a legal standpoint.” There are communications orchestrating how the agency will talk about the destruction of the tapes...
The article also lists the 10 documents withheld due to FOIA exemption (b)(7)(a), which relates to their use in an ongoing criminal investigation (Durham). In addition, there are three documents withheld for Congressional  consultation. ACLU notes "that there is a substantial paper trail surrounding the destruction of the videotapes."
We know Durham has been down that trail. Where is his investigation going?

Summertime in Wintertime

Leontyne Price singing "Summertime" from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

There are many versions of Summertime, but this is my favorite.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

US Response Muted on Acquittal of UAE Royal Shown Torturing on Tape

Originally posted at Firedoglake

The typically restrained Obama State Department couldn't raise itself to strenuously protest the most outrageous miscarriage of justice in quite a while. United Arab Emirates royal family member, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, brother of the country's Crown Prince, was caught on tape brutally torturing and attempting to murder a man he thought had cheated him on a business deal. The tape surfaced last year, but the crime occurred in 2004.

According to an ABC report last year:
A video tape smuggled out of the United Arab Emirates shows a member of the country's royal family mercilessly torturing a man with whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails....

Nabulsi says the video tapes were recorded by his brother, on orders from the Sheikh who liked to watch the torture sessions later in his royal palace.

The Sheikh begins by stuffing sand down the man's mouth, as the police officers restrains the victim.

Then he fires bullets from an automatic rifle around him as the man howls incomprehensibly.
Now, a UAE court has acquitted Sheikh Issa for the torture of Mohammed Shah Poor, which ended when the brother of UAE's President and Abu Dhabi emir, Sheikh Khalifa, drove his SUV over and over the prostate body of Mr. Shah Poor, who subsequently spent many months in the hospital. Most people who have watched the savage attack were amazed Shah Poor survived at all.
"The court acquitted Sheikh Issa after establishing he was not responsible," for the torture, lawyer Habib al-Mulla said on Sunday.

"The court accepted our defence that the Sheikh was under the influence of drugs [medicine] that left him unaware of his actions," al-Mulla said.
If anyone were ever under the influence of drugs, it's the UAE emirate court. The acquittal has been condemned by human rights groups. The co-chairman of the House Human Rights Commission, Rep. James McGovern (D-MA),  said the verdict "would be a joke if the crime wasn't so terrible." Meanwhile, the men who filmed the torture and smuggled it out of the country were sentenced in absentia to several years in prison. One of the men, Bassam Nabulsi, of Houston, Texas, and "a former business associate of Sheikh Issa," is suing his former partner in a Houston court, alleging he was tortured by UAE police when he wouldn't turn the video over to them.

As for the United States, State Department spokeperson P.J. Crowley couldn't have been more, uh, measured, that is, cold-blooded in his response, assuring the world that the U.S. would "monitor" the situation:
We would welcome a careful review of the judge's decision and an assessment of all available legal options to ensure that the demands of justice are fully met in this case, and we will continue to closely monitor it.
UAE: "America's Largest Military Customer"

As an article at The Majlis points out, the United Arab Emirates is "a strategic ally in the region, America's largest military customer." There's also an important nuclear energy agreement, begun under the Bush Administration, that has been in the works between the UAE and the U.S. Who would want to spoil such an important alliance just because the Royal Family likes to indulge in some barbaric behavior, like rape, mayhem, and torture, once in awhile?

Just as it did in Kosovo, Somalia, and Lebanon, the UAE have sent "peacekeepers" to Afghanistan to aid the U.S.-led coalition there.  According to a report this January in The National,  last year "the UAE became the largest foreign purchaser of US defence equipment with sales of $7.9bn, ahead of Afghanistan ($5.4bn), Saudi Arabia ($3.3bn) and Taiwan ($3.2bn)." Further, President Obama and the U.S. Congress recently approved a nuclear energy deal between GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) and the UAE government worth $40 billion, despite, according to World Nuclear News, "recent reports of alleged human rights abuses" (italics added).

There was also the irony that the same day Sheikh Issa got off on the torture rap, the UAE Ministry of Defense and the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis opened its Middle East Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (MEISR) conference  in Abu Dhabi. The Director of Operations and Training from the UAE Ministry of Defense took the opportunity to prattle on about the "non-linear" nature of the battlefield and how  "the enemy can be anywhere across the national borders of any country." Of course, that will necessitate buying a lot of state-of-the-art technology.

The conference was a star-studded affair, if you drool over the national security set. The Commander of U.S. Air Force Central Command was there.  So was Rear Admiral Jean Goursaud, the Deputy Director of Military Intelligence at the French Defense Ministry. Even the head of Italian Military Intelligence got to tout the Italians' unique contributions to the Intellience/Surveillance/Reconnaissance world. Meanwhile, "John Brooks, President, Northrop Grumman International chaired the first session."

The U.S. military and industrial alliances can't be made to bother themselves with Sheikh Issa's self-made how-to tape on torture and mayhem, nor the fact that their erstwhile allies can get away with horrific crimes. Should justice stand in the way of the billions of dollars in profits to be made? I only ask one thing: Watch the tapes, and consider how far down you, as a citizen of the United States, really wish this country to fall.

The ABC report and video of the torture can be found here. It's very brutal, so beware. Al Jazeera has also posted a video selection from the 45 minute torture tape.

Leaving this country in the hands of the people running it is turning out to be a very awful thing, not just for the people of the world, but for the people of this country. How many "terrorists" will crimes and injustices such as those documented in the tapes and in the stories on Issa's acquittal create? How many Americans now will die because the U.S. government wanted to play footsie and fill its war chest with the likes of the UAE Royal Family? How many others have been and will be tortured in the UAE, or by other U.S. allied governments, like Egypt, or Afghanistan itself?

We need change we can truly believe in. When it comes to this government's tolerance of torture by its allies, little has changed from the days of Bush and Cheney. As an aside, for those of us wondering what might have happened if we could get our hands on the videotapes of the CIA torture interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and others, apparently destroyed by CIA officials, this story makes me wonder if having those tapes would really make a difference. That's how powerful the forces that push torture have become.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ACLU Files FOIA on CIA Drone Attacks

Thanks, Spencer Ackerman, for noticing, with everything else going on, that the ACLU has filed a "Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA and the Departments of State, Justice and Defense for documentation establishing the legal basis for the drone strikes."
Additionally, the civil liberties group wants to see the government’s estimates for how many civilians the drone program is responsible for killing. A recent New America Foundation report arguing that most drone critics overstate overstate civilian casualties still found that one in every three Pakistanis killed by the drones is a civilian, not a combatant.
The drone attacks were profiled in an amazing piece last October by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker.

Consider the following selection from Mayer's article. Note the bolded, emphasized text. It's quite indicative of how morally bankrupt, even corroded the U.S. has become, as it practices naked assassination from flying bomb-holding drone robot planes in the sky.
Defining who is and who is not too tangential for the U.S. to kill can be difficult. John Radsan, a former lawyer in the C.I.A.’s office of general counsel, who is now a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota, says, “You can’t target someone just because he visited an Al Qaeda Web site. But you also don’t want to wait until they’re about to detonate a bomb. It’s a sliding scale.” Equally fraught is the question of how many civilian deaths can be justified. “If it’s Osama bin Laden in a house with a four-year-old, most people will say go ahead,” Radsan says. “But if it’s three or four children? Some say that’s too many. And if he’s in a school? Many say don’t do it.” Such judgment calls are being made daily by the C.I.A., which, Radsan points out, “doesn’t have much experience with killing. Traditionally, the agency that does that is the Department of Defense.”

Though the C.I.A.’s methodology remains unknown, the Pentagon has created elaborate formulas to help the military make such lethal calculations. A top military expert, who declined to be named, spoke of the military’s system, saying, “There’s a whole taxonomy of targets.”
From the ACLU release:
The administration has used unmanned drones to target and kill individuals not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in Pakistan and Yemen. The technology allows U.S. personnel to observe targeted individuals and launch missiles intended to kill them from control centers located thousands of miles away.

Today's FOIA request was filed with the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice (including the Office of Legal Counsel), the Department of State and the CIA.

"The use of drones to conduct targeted killings raises complicated questions – not just legal questions but policy and moral questions as well," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "These are not questions that should be decided behind closed doors. They are questions that should be debated openly, and the public should have access to information that would allow it to participate meaningfully in the debate."
I hope readers will want to spread the word on this story, and hopefully ACLU will not be stonewalled by the self-proclaimed transparency mavens at the White House. I won't bet my farm on it though.

Help Needed Now for Desperate, Earthquake-ravaged Haiti

A 7.0 earthquake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and caused devastating damage and loss of human life in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, Haiti, yesterday. Hundreds of thousands are now reported to have died (CNN link).

It is incumbent on all of us to reach out and help the Haitian people in the moment of their greatest need.

For those interested in helping immediately, simply text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill. (More information) (H/T Gotta Laff, where even a longer list of relief agencies can be accessed.)

Or click through to donate at:
American Red Cross
American Jewish World Service
Catholic Relief Services
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières
Haiti Emergency Relief Fund
Haiti Relief Fund
International Relief Teams
Medical Teams International
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
I'm going to send my donation to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF). This organization has been fighting since 2004 to provide "aid to Haiti’s grassroots democratic movement as they attempted to survive the brutal [2004, U.S. and French-backed] coup and to rebuild shattered development projects." (Update: The donation link provided by HERF takes you to PayPal, but there's no email address or account set up to receive the donation. If they get their act together, I'll update. Meanwhile, I still think they're an organization worth taking note of. Send your donation where you best think the money will help, or use the snail-mail address below to send to HERF. The link has been fixed and is working!)

HERF has helped "grassroots activists who had to flee their homes and live as internal refugees.... human rights workers and attorneys who continue, under dangerous conditions, to document human rights violations and defend victims of repression.... [and] assisted trade unionists whose labor organizing was violently attacked."

HERF has worked to help create sustainable agriculture and promote educational projects in this poorest of countries.

HERF board members write:
We can expect that the mainstream media will shift its eyes away from Haiti over the next months. We will not do the same. One concrete form of support is to help the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. HERF is administered by a board of Haiti solidarity activists and deeply connected to grassroots movements in Haiti. In a country in which many people live on less than a dollar a day, every dollar goes a long way. Please give generously. Our dollars can do so much.
You can donate to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund here. [Note: the link here isn't really usable at the moment, but if you try and works for you, would you leave that message in the comments portion of the blog? Thanks! The link is working now.]

Or mail your contribution to HERF in care of East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, 2362 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704. Donations to HERF are tax-deductible.

What keeps Haiti so impoverished? What makes for a government that has NO construction standards or codes (a sure reason for the large loss of life in this disaster)? For those interested in the recent history of Haiti, check out this excellent article at, "Haiti: A Coup Regime, Human Rights Abuses."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Former Guantanamo Detainees Address Obama on Guantánamo Anniversary Today

From a Center for Constitutional Rights press release:

Human Rights Attorneys and Activists Hold Rally, March and Briefing to Demand Closure of Base and Oppose Preventive Detention in U.S.

January 11, 2010, Washington, D.C. – To mark the beginning of the ninth year of detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo on Monday, January 11, activists and lawyers of detained men will rally, march and hold a briefing to outline current issues related to President Obama’s Guantanamo, demand that the president make good on his pledge to close the prison, and declare their opposition to any plan for holding prisoners without charge or trial in the U.S.

Lakhdar Boumediene will call in to the 1:00pm briefing at the National Press Club from his home in France, and Omar Deghayes will join the briefing from his home in the United Kingdom. Mr. Boumediene was the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case of 2008, Boumediene v. Bush, in which the Court affirmed that Guantànamo detainees have the right to file writs of habeas corpus in U.S. federal courts. He was released on May 15, 2009. Omar Deghayes settled with his family in the U.K. as a refugee from Libya when he was a child. Picked up in Pakistan and sent to Bagram and Guantánamo, he was blinded in one eye at the base in 2004. Mr. Deghayes was released from Guantanamo to the U.K. on December 19, 2007.

The briefing will also feature a statement from Mohammed Sulaymon Barre, released home to Somaliland on December 20, 2009. Mr. Barre said, “Hurry up and close this prison that has become a blot of shame upon all of America. Do it fast. Do it quickly.”

Schedule, January 11, 2010

11:45am Demonstration with street theater, signs, and speakers, announcement of 12-day fast, White House Plaza, between Lafayette Park and “picture postcard” zone

12:30pm Begin prisoner procession, a silent walk of more than 40 in detainee jumpsuits

1:00pm Press Briefing with the Center for Constitutional Rights and others: “Obama’s Guantánamo” at the National Press Club, 529 14th Street, Murrow Room 

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) will hold a press briefing featuring detainee lawyers and human rights activists at 1:00pm titled “Obama’s Guantánamo” to address issues that include continued and worsening lack of transparency, resettlement for men who cannot return to their home countries, the threat of indefinite detention schemes in the U.S., the halt of transfers to Yemen and related responses to the recent terrorism attempt, and more.

Vincent Warren, CCR Executive Director, Pardiss Kebriaei, CCR attorney for detainees, Frida Berrigan of Witness Against Torture, and Stacy Sullivan, Counterterrorism Advisor at Human Rights Watch will speak about the current situation and the challenges and dangers ahead.

Said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren, “This is Obama’s Guantánamo now. He has failed in his pledge to close the island prison from a lack of leadership, bowing to the pressures of partisan grandstanding, and vigorous attempts to keep all cases out of the courts. The transparency we were promised has been discarded. This is an anniversary that should not have come.”

Earlier, members of Witness Against Torture (WAT) will rally in front of the White House at 11:45 a.m. to protest the lack of progress toward justice for detainees since Obama took office and demand true change from the administration. Speakers will announce a 12-Day Fast for Justice in Washington D.C., ending on January 22 – the Obama administration’s self-declared, and now-voided, deadline for closing Guantánamo.

After the demonstration, activists will stage a Guantánamo prisoner procession to the National Press Club.

To learn more visit and

Saturday, January 9, 2010

"Not I"

Written by Samuel Beckett

"Imagine, not suffering..."

Update: Looks like this was removed for copyright purposes. Go to You Tube link to see this amazing piece.

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.