Monday, March 30, 2009

No Prosecutions, No Accountability: Another Day in Torture USA

Sometimes I am truly overwhelmed with both gratitude and awe at the amount of important work being done on the ongoing torture scandal by journalists, bloggers, attorneys, psychologists, doctors, and just plain decent people.

I wanted to highlight a few that seem specially extraordinary, or of current interest. At the close, we'll look more closely at where the fight for prosecutions stands today. In this posting, we'll look at a number of articles, including one that highlights the role of psychologists in planning torture, and one that compares the role of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons with the practice at Guanatanamo.

Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse is a Daily Kos regular blogger, who just finished a second installment of the DK Sunday Torture News Roundup (first installment is here). PDNC highlighted the ongoing case of Aafia Siddiqui. Siddiqui was likely a U.S. "ghost prisoner" of the CIA, and is now being held in a Texas prison, where her sanity and competency to stand trial is being determined. You must read the entire piece, for its cumulative impact, which is powerful.

Psychologists and the Use of Torture

Psychologist and activist Stephen Soldz has been on fire of late. He has published a book chapter, Closing Eyes to Atrocities: U.S. Psychologists, Detainee Interrogations, and the Response of the American Psychological Association, which is part of a new book published by Harvard University Press: Interrogations, Forced Feedings, and the Role of Health Professionals: New Perspectives on International Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, and Ethics (Harvard Law School Human Rights Program Practice Series) edited by Ryan Goodman and Mindy Jane Roseman.

Soldz has also covered the recent revelations in the Washington Post regarding the torture interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. From Stephen's article:
Though the Post doesn’t say this, similar claims were reported in July 2007 by Vanity Fair reporter Katherine Eban in her account of the role psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen played in designing, conducting, and training for the CIA’s torture program. Eban added the detail that the pre-torture information was obtained primarily by FBI [rather than CIA] agents....

It appears that these psychologists based their torture program on the "learned helplessness" theories of former American Psychological Association President Martin Seligman. Seligman lectured to a 2002 CIA-organized meeting at which Mitchell and Jessen were present. [See Valtin on this conference] While Seligman claims to be ignorant of any connection between the meeting and CIA torture policy, afterwards Mitchell and Jessen were citing Seligman's ideas as inspiration for their work. Mayer has pointed out that Seligman must have known Mitchell and Jessen as he has recently admitted that they were in the audience for this talk.

We might also add, as the Defense Department Inspector General and the Senate Armed Services Committee reported, that it was largely psychologists that designed the abusive interrogation techniques for the military that were implemented at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After the Zubaida fiasco, the CIA turned to help from the American Psychological Association [APA]. As I recently reported, they organized in July 2003 a joint APA-CIA-Rand conference on the Science of Deception, to which CIA torture psychologists Mitchell and Jessen were invited. At this conference they discussed, among other things:
What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?.... What are sensory overloads on the maintenance of deceptive behaviors? How might we overload the system or overwhelm the senses and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?
The APA leadership has never come clean regarding their participation in this conference and why the CIA’s top torture consultants were invited. They have never revealed what these torture planners told the conference or what information they were provided by the assembled psychologists. Rather, the APA, when asked about these torture psychologists, simply repeats, as if a mantra, that they are not APA members and are not subject to APA ethics sanctions, as if that clears the APA. Until the APA makes all records of the conference publicly and speaks in depth of what went on there, we can only continue to suspect that they have much to hide.
I should note that the American Psychological Association passed a resolution, initiated by a member referendum, to ban psychologist participation at national security sites that practice torture. However, as impressive as that sounds, the APA's new policy is advisory only, and it's unclear how exactly it will be determined what sites don't fit APA's policy. Meanwhile, so far as we know, psychologists still staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and various undisclosed Special Forces sites.

The APA is also still studying, five years after it was asked to do so, a possible revision of its Ethics Code, which still allows any psychologist the "right" to disregard their own ethical code and follow orders of the organization to which they belong (Standard 1.02). The code, revised in 2002, after 9/11, has been criticized by a number of professionals and other ethicists, who liken it to the Nazi plea that one was "only following orders."
If psychologists' ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take steps to resolve the conflict. If the conflict is unresolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.
When public comment was solicited, military psychologists were quick to jump to the defense of 1.02. One psychologist, known to be a former member of a BSCT team, wrote:
Thanks for the opportunity to comment on Standard 1.02 and to review the abundant materials accompanying the request for comment.... I am not in favor of changing the current standard. I base my opinion on a careful review of these materials, my own experience as a practicing psychologist for almost 30 years (in private, public, and military settings), and my service on a state psychological association ethics committee. I see no evidence that the current situation meets the substantive criteria established by the Ethics Committee (1995, 1997) to warrant change to the Ethics Code outside the standard revision process.... the proposed change would create an impermissibly vague ethical standard that would require psychologists in certain circumstances to violate law, and that an ambiguous standard would have negative consequences for individual psychologists, the association, and the general public.
Torture, Here and Abroad

Meanwhile, over at FDL, bmaz has a great discussion going about Cheney Lies, Obstruction Of Justice & Torture Tape Destruction, taking off on the same Washington Post article that Stephen Soldz was commenting on above:
It has been my belief from the outset that the reason the "torture tapes" were destroyed was not simply because they depicted the brutal torture of detainee subjects but, just as importantly, if not more so, they demonstrated there was no credible/usable information produced as a result of that torture. Warrick and Finn confirm this. Even worse, they confirm what little good information the Bushies did extract from abu-Zubaydah was obtained through traditional interrogation prior to the onset of the torture program....

The Bushies made the conscious and criminal decision to go full tilt torture having direct reason to know both that abu-Zubaydah was cooperating through traditional interrogation and he was of very marginal use as an information source to start with.
I'd also like to point out a very interesting article in the recent New Yorker. Enitled "Hellhole" and written by Atul Gawande, the article discusses the decades long controversy over the use of solitary confinement in U.S. supermax prisons. It describes the terrible psychological consequences of being placed in isolation, without contact with other human beings, for months or even years on end.
EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury....

Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, received rare permission to study a hundred randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, and noted a number of phenomena. First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,” he writes. “Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. . . . In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving,” becoming essentially catatonic.

Second, almost ninety per cent of these prisoners had difficulties with “irrational anger,” compared with just three per cent of prisoners in the general population. Haney attributed this to the extreme restriction, the totality of control, and the extended absence of any opportunity for happiness or joy.
Gawande discussed some of the early research on the effects of isolation by former American Psychological Association president Harry Harlow.
[Harlow] happened upon the findings in the mid-fifties, when he decided to save money for his primate-research laboratory by breeding his own lab monkeys instead of importing them from India. Because he didn’t know how to raise infant monkeys, he cared for them the way hospitals of the era cared for human infants—in nurseries, with plenty of food, warm blankets, some toys, and in isolation from other infants to prevent the spread of infection. The monkeys grew up sturdy, disease-free, and larger than those from the wild. Yet they were also profoundly disturbed, given to staring blankly and rocking in place for long periods, circling their cages repetitively, and mutilating themselves.
An associate had brought the Gawande article to my attention, and thought it deserved a letter to the editor by myself, and I agreed. What follows is the text of my letter to the New Yorker. I can't know if it will be published. I hope it will be.
Dear Editor,

As someone who only two years ago presented a paper on sensory deprivation to the yearly convention of the American Psychological Association, I was both interested in and touched by Atul Gawande's article (March 30, 2009) on the effects of isolation and solitary confinement on adult human beings. While in many ways a splendid article, Mr. Gawande's sources are incorrect in finding Harry Harlow's monkey isolation experiments to have been the serendipitous result of unintended consequences.

In fact, Harlow's research was connected to earlier work done by Rene Spitz, Anna Freud, Dorothy Burlingame, and John Bowlby, on the effects of separation and isolation upon children. He was also doing government research on the effects of isolation, as it related to "brainwashing". With his colleagues, psychologist I.E. Farber, and psychiatrist Louis J. West, Harlow published "Brainwashing, Conditioning, and DDD (Debility, Dependency, and Dread)" in the December 1957 issue of Sociometry. The article was singled out in the CIA's KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual in the early 1960s as providing a blueprint for a modern type of coercive interrogation, i.e., torture.

The use of isolation at Guantanamo, as pointed out by Mr. Gawande, is an integral part of the detention process there. Its existence is in part derivative from the widespread (and immoral) use of isolation at U.S. Supermax prisons. But it is also connected to the DDD/KUBARK model of intensive interrogation. The Guantanamo Standard Operating Procedures called for initial isolation of prisoners for 30 days or more. The same instruction found its way into the 2006 (and latest) version of the Army Field Manual for interrogations, which has an appendix that also allows for use of sleep deprivation, and modified forms of sensory deprivation. The AFM also calls for manipulation of old fears, and creation of "new" ones, as well as allowing for use of drugs in interrogations. Most recently, Susan Crawford, President Bush's choice for Convening Authority at Guantanamo, told Bob Woodward of the Washington Post that the use of these techniques, and some others, on the prisoner Mohammad Al-Qahtani amounted to "torture." Following this revelation, the Center for Constitutional Rights called for President Obama to reject the offending portions of the Army Field Manual.

Harry Harlow's work on isolation and sensory deprivation (the two are closely related) is a key instance of the uneasy alliance between the military and intelligence agencies with the academic world of the behavioral and medical sciences. As Mary Shelley foresaw two hundred years ago, the scientific understanding of human nature could lead to both great benefits and horrific evils. Harlow's association with work on torture interrogations was, sadly, one of the bleakest chapters in American psychology.
Another of my colleagues reminds me that the Gottfried bill, now in the New York State legislature targets isolation abuse and domestic prison abuses as well as prohibiting all NY State health care professionals from involvement in interrogations, domestic or military. See also this article on the bill by Stephen Soldz.

Whither Prosecutions?

Finally, to end on a somber note (if being more somber is even possible at this point), journalist Jason Leopold is reporting today that Congressional calls for prosecution of Bush administration officials for torture are basically dead on arrival (emphases added):
Last June, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and 55 other congressional Democrats signed a letter to then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding a special prosecutor to investigate the growing body of evidence that Bush administration officials had sanctioned torture, which had been documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Not unexpectedly, Mukasey – a staunch defender of Bush’s theories about expansive presidential powers – ignored the letter. Now, however, despite even more evidence of torture and a Democratic administration in place, the calls for a special prosecutor have grown muted.

Aides to several Democratic lawmakers who signed the June 2008 letter told me that the focus has shifted to the economy and that pressure for a special prosecutor to bring criminal charges over the Bush administration’s past actions could become a distraction to that focus.

They added that the most that now can be expected is either a “blue ribbon” investigative panel such as Conyers proposed earlier this year or a similar “truth and reconciliation commission” as advocated by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. Not a single signer of last year’s letter has stepped forward to renew the demand for a special prosecutor to the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder.
When one sees the tremendous bulk of evidence surrounding the use of torture by the United States, and the fantastic amount of ongoing work on the issue by so many outstanding individuals and groups, it's hard to believe that even months after the departure of the unlamented Bush and Cheney, the issue remains alive and yet under the radar for most Americans. Meanwhile, a Spanish judge "has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials…over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay." The potential defendants include Bush-Cheney attorneys John Yoo and David Addington, and former Department of Defense General Counsel, William Haynes.

But there are no charges in Spain as yet. Meanwhile, despite assertions to the contrary, torture remains SOP in Obama's America, whether it be in Supermax prisons, or practiced by "legal" means abroad, courtesy of the Army's own official field manual, or hidden still by the ongoing existence of the extraordinary rendition program that the Obama administration was reluctant to terminate, or hidden effectively by lack of recourse to review by hundreds, if not thousands of U.S. prisoners from Iraq to Afghanistan.

So one continues to educate, cajole, and stimulate the populace to take action against these crimes against humanity, another frustrating day in Torture USA. One can still sign a petition to Holder and Obama calling for prosecutions, just click here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

SASC Full Declassified Report Due Out, Levin to Call for DOJ Referral

Jason Leopold reported today that the Senate Armed Services Committee is very close to releasing -- "possibly as early as next week" —- its 200 page, 2000 footnote
... voluminous report on the treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody and the interrogations methods they were subjected to, according to Defense Department and intelligence sources, who described the report as the most detailed account to date of how the Bush administration and Defense Department implemented interrogation methods widely regarded as torture.
Levin and the SASC's investigation is a gold mine of information about how the Bush administration implemented its torture program. Both the documents produced by the investigation, and the declassified 19-page summary released by Sen. Levin last year contained important new information, such the details surrounding John Yoo's drafting of the torture memos.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security Adviser when interrogation methods were discussed, said that beginning as early as the summer of 2002 Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended and that the Department of Justice’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”

According to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report, Yoo met with Gonzales and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the August 2002 torture memos.
According to Mr. Leopold:
Levin’s investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete. The declassified version of his report will include a full account of the roles military psychologists played in helping the Bush administration implement a policy where harsh interrogations was used against detainees.

The release of the full declassified version of the Armed Service's Committee report will also put additional pressure on the Obama administration to immediately launch a full-scale investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation program....

The declassified report will include a full accounting of how the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program, which was meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, was reverse engineered and used against detainees during interrogations. SERE training techniques include stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation and, until recently, the Navy SERE school used the waterboard.

Already, the committee has revealed that discussion surrounding the use of SERE techniques on detainees began in the spring of 2002, before the issuance of a legal opinion authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods.
Of course, as I wrote last June, we'll see that the timeline around the initiation of SERE's involvement will go back at least as far as December 2001.
But the one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task:
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
One limitation imposed upon the SASC report was that it did not investigate the CIA, who refused to cooperate with the committee. But some tidbits from the investigation appear to be emerging. As Jason Leopold reports it:
Rice told Levin in written responses to his committee’s queries last September that the CIA’s interrogation program was reviewed by National Security Council principals and that Rumsfeld participated in that review.

Rice said that when the CIA sought approval of the interrogation program she asked Tenet to brief the principals and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to “personally advise NSC Principals whether the program was lawful.”

John Bellinger, Rice’s Legal Advisor, told Levin that he asked CIA lawyers to seek legal advice not only from the OLC, but also from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, headed at the time by Michael Chertoff.

Chertoff reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the August 1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.
Hopefully, we may know about the OLC "advice" when the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) at the Department of Justice produces the results of its four year investigation of the OLC memos written largely by John Yoo and David Addington.

What will these bombshells produce? What if the missing and supposedly seriously shocking Abu Ghraib photos are released, as now appears possible, per ACLU press release last week (ignored by the press, and blogosphere in general -- though not this intrepid blogger, who has been pushing almost daily for prosecution of the Bush torture criminals).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the government's request to have the full appeals court rehear a decision from last September ordering the release of the photos as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking information on the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody overseas.
Will these and other revelations be enough to unfreeze the large scale societal intertia on ending torture and prosecuting U.S. government and military-intelligence officials who plotted and conducted such crimes against humanity? Leopold reports that Levin has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special individual, such as "a retired federal judge", to review the report and make a recommendation to Holder about what to do next. No one too high up wants to say the "P"-word out loud.

I have been quite pessimistic of late about the ability of this scandal to move beyond the purview of a handful of civil liberties groups, progressive bloggers and activist websites. While there is the promise of some movement towards social and political change or reform -- the release of some of the OLC memos, which revealed a near totalitarian plan to make the Executive Branch of the U.S. government free of other governmental checks, and the strengthening of FOIA access to the public of government documents -- the primary actions of both the Executive and Legislative branches has been to circle the wagons to protect the government elite now out of office, and preach the gospel of "moving on", with a nod towards token recognition of the problems (through a "Truth Commission" sans prosecutorial weight) and sage wagging of the head about the lessons of the past.

Even the most liberal witness at Sen. Leahy's hearings earlier this month regarding the feasibility of such a "Truth Commission" was clear that the results wouldn't provide anything as politically explosive as the Pike Committee did during the heyday of the investigatory 1970s.

Governmental rhetoric about openness and truth about torture rings more than a little hollow, given the administration's position on backing the old Bush/Cheney line on making judicial revelations about torture anathema by invoking bogus "state secrets" and national security suppression of evidence, even of the right to go to trial itself. All this comes as the new Obama administration has yet to answer for the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, proposing a South Korea-sized U.S. contingent for Iraq to serve an indefinite period, and making the torture-riddled Army Field Manual of today the law of the land when it comes to interrogations.

I don't see how the drive for prosecutions can withstand the inaction of much of civil society on this issue, and that includes the silence or inactivity of the churches, the unions, the bulk of academia and the declassed (or scruffy) intelligentsia and student population. But politics often takes strange turns, and there is no complete accounting for large-scale social-psychological phenomena.

If the torture revelations come at the right way, at the right time, and with the correct visceral punch, the population may yet rise up and demand justice be done, even if it means an unprecedented indictment of a series of the former highest officials in the land. If this happened, it would be as if a lighting bolt had descended upon the body politic, and social struggle would heat up to an indefinite but large degree.

We must state our appreciation for the work of Sen. Carl Levin and the Senate Armed Services Committee for the fine job they have done, even knowing, as they must, that a full airing of the issues would be like throwing a keg of dynamite on the tinder of a society reeling from eight years of near-dictatorial rule. But the work is not done yet, and I will reserve full congratulations until the report itself is out and I've had a chance to review it. I look forward to writing my review, and reading the analyses of the many other fine commentators on the net who are sure to pounce on this juicy nugget and squeeze it for all it is worth... at least I hope that's what happens.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

U.S. Militiary and CIA Interventions Since WWII: A Listing

If you haven't caught it yet, William Blum's Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, is a remarkable, if brief, compendium of U.S. criminal actions in the past 60 years. The table of contents, reproduced below, with links to sample chapters, represents a list of military and covert interventions around the world that in their totality mark the United States as a rogue nation, a terrorist state.

Most Americans would feel the above statement was extremely harsh or even nonsensical. They have been taught that the U.S. is the beacon of the world's people, even the last, best hope for mankind. The truth is often too awful to imagine, to stare in the face. But just as a house dweller cannot ignore forever the termites eating away at the foundations of his house, the American people must come to terms with what the leaders of their country have done in the recent historical period. If the trillions-dollar economic doesn't wake them up that something is seriously wrong with this country and how it is run, then nothing may awaken them.

From the website, (each linked chapter is footnoted with source material):
1. China - 1945 to 1960s: Was Mao Tse-tung just paranoid?
2. Italy - 1947-1948: Free elections, Hollywood style
3. Greece - 1947 to early 1950s: From cradle of democracy to client state
4. The Philippines - 1940s and 1950s: America's oldest colony
5. Korea - 1945-1953: Was it all that it appeared to be?
6. Albania - 1949-1953: The proper English spy
7. Eastern Europe - 1948-1956: Operation Splinter Factor
8. Germany - 1950s: Everything from juvenile delinquency to terrorism
9. Iran - 1953: Making it safe for the King of Kings
10. Guatemala - 1953-1954: While the world watched
11. Costa Rica - Mid-1950s: Trying to topple an ally - Part 1
12. Syria - 1956-1957: Purchasing a new government
13. Middle East - 1957-1958: The Eisenhower Doctrine claims another backyard for America
14. Indonesia - 1957-1958: War and pornography
15. Western Europe - 1950s and 1960s: Fronts within fronts within fronts
16. British Guiana - 1953-1964: The CIA's international labor mafia
17. Soviet Union - Late 1940s to 1960s: From spy planes to book publishing
18. Italy - 1950s to 1970s: Supporting the Cardinal's orphans and techno-fascism
19. Vietnam - 1950-1973: The Hearts and Minds Circus
20. Cambodia - 1955-1973: Prince Sihanouk walks the high-wire of neutralism
21. Laos - 1957-1973: L'Armée Clandestine
22. Haiti - 1959-1963: The Marines land, again
23. Guatemala - 1960: One good coup deserves another
24. France/Algeria - 1960s: L'état, c'est la CIA
25. Ecuador - 1960-1963: A text book of dirty tricks
26. The Congo - 1960-1964: The assassination of Patrice Lumumba
27. Brazil - 1961-1964: Introducing the marvelous new world of death squads
28. Peru - 1960-1965: Fort Bragg moves to the jungle
29. Dominican Republic - 1960-1966: Saving democracy from communism by getting rid of democracy
30. Cuba - 1959 to 1980s: The unforgivable revolution
31. Indonesia - 1965: Liquidating President Sukarno ... and 500,000 others
East Timor - 1975: And 200,000 more
32. Ghana - 1966: Kwame Nkrumah steps out of line
33. Uruguay - 1964-1970: Torture -- as American as apple pie
34. Chile - 1964-1973: A hammer and sickle stamped on your child's forehead
35. Greece - 1964-1974: "Fuck your Parliament and your Constitution," said
the President of the United States
36. Bolivia - 1964-1975: Tracking down Che Guevara in the land of coup d'etat
37. Guatemala - 1962 to 1980s: A less publicized "final solution"
38. Costa Rica - 1970-1971: Trying to topple an ally -- Part 2
39. Iraq - 1972-1975: Covert action should not be confused with missionary work
40. Australia - 1973-1975: Another free election bites the dust
41. Angola - 1975 to 1980s: The Great Powers Poker Game
42. Zaire - 1975-1978: Mobutu and the CIA, a marriage made in heaven
43. Jamaica - 1976-1980: Kissinger's ultimatum
44. Seychelles - 1979-1981: Yet another area of great strategic importance
45. Grenada - 1979-1984: Lying -- one of the few growth industries in Washington
46. Morocco - 1983: A video nasty
47. Suriname - 1982-1984: Once again, the Cuban bogeyman
48. Libya - 1981-1989: Ronald Reagan meets his match
49. Nicaragua - 1981-1990: Destabilization in slow motion
50. Panama - 1969-1991: Double-crossing our drug supplier
51. Bulgaria 1990/Albania 1991: Teaching communists what democracy is all about
52. Iraq - 1990-1991: Desert holocaust
53. Afghanistan - 1979-1992: America's Jihad
54. El Salvador - 1980-1994: Human rights, Washington style
55. Haiti - 1986-1994: Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?
56. The American Empire - 1992 to present

Appendix I: This is How the Money Goes Round
Appendix II: Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-1945
Appendix III: U. S. Government Assassination Plots

Blood Pacts Are Seldom Broken

While the ACLU, CCR, EFF and other civil liberties groups are fighting valiantly to protect Americans against governmental eavesdropping, the fight may be losing for technological-political reasons, and not simply legally.

The vast web that is electronic snooping is world-wide and includes reciprocal agreements between countries to share information. The actual wiretappers, in many instances, are "private" companies contracted out by the NSA or other governmental agencies. In both such cases, Fourth Amendment protections are ineffective, and FISA courts inapplicable.

Take the 2006 agreement the U.S. government made with Mexico to build a huge telecom/Internet eavesdropping center. They don’t need to concentrate solely on communications originating or terminating in the United States… they are contracting it out!

What follows is from the State Department document used to procure vendors for the project with AFI (Mexico’s version of the NSA) noted above (.doc link and Google cache link):
This procurement action is undertaken to establish a lawful interception solution that will provide the Government of Mexico, Procuraduria General de la Republica de Mexico (PGR), Agencia Federal de Investigaciones (AFI) with the capability to intercept, analyze, and use intercepted information from all types of communications systems operating in Mexico…. Equipment supplied must be manufactured in the United States….

The proposed system must comply with the following AFI stated requirements for interception of target calls and sessions from (1) TELMEX PSTN network, through analog lines, (2) TELCEL TDMA and GSM network, (3) NEXTEL iDEIM/GSM network, (4) TELEFONICA network, (5) UNEFON network, (6) IUSACELL CDMA network and TDMA network, (7) Existing CISCO VoIP network at customer’s premises, (8) packet data from the Mexico PRODIGY ISP network. Additionally the client desires the establishment of a central monitoring center with the capabilities of (1) real-time and off-line playback, (2) fax decoding, (3) packet data decoding, (4) storage of all calls for at least 25,000 hours, (5) storage of all session related information, (6) 30 monitoring stations and 30 printers, (7) cellular location and tracking. Capabilities must include TDMA, GSM, CDMA, iDEN, AMPS, PCS, landline, FAX, Email, chat, internet, SMS and VoIP….

1. The successful solution will fulfill the following:

a. Help deter, prevent, and mitigate acts of major federal crimes in Mexico that include narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
b. Strengthen the USG’s and Mexico’s protective posture to disseminate timely and accurate, actionable information to each country’s respective federal, state, local, private, and international partners.
As James Bamford noted in this book, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, p. 228:
Since the U.S. certainly qualifies as an “international partner,” it means Mexico is obligated to disseminate its data to a U.S. agency. But what is perhaps even more troublesome is the requirement to share its data with “private” partners — in other words private surveillance companies within the U.S.

This type of arrangement with Mexico and other countries may in fact be among the most secret parts of the Bush administration’s entire warrantless eavesdropping program. That is because it completely bypasses the requirement for probable cause that one of the parties is connected to al-Qaeda. The intercepted data is gathered by Mexicans in Mexico… and passed in bulk to the U.S., possibly to the NSA or FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration.
Astute commenter, William Ockham, pointed out the following at an interesting post at Emptywheel/FDL yesterday:
... if you read (between the lines of) the documents filed in the Nacchio case, you can see that the NSA was paying the telcos to tap into all the fiber optic cable laid overseas so that the NSA could pull all that traffic into the Narus systems any time they wanted.
As a famous quote from an Oliver Stone movie says, “We are through the looking glass here, people.”

U.S. democracy is proving to be a giant failure, and in its place we are seeing the worst sort of nightmare any dystopian author could imagine.

Echelon II

Bamford calls the system of setting up taps on all fiber-optics cables, in conjunction with the use of private companies like Verint or Narus or NICE Systems, Echelon II. (For more introduction to Project Echelon, a massive signals intelligence global interception and relay system run by the U.S. and its closest allies, see this article.)

Bush attorney Stephen Bradley testified before the House Judiciary Committee (Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security), during hearings to discuss updating FISA (9/6/06), as reported at In These Times:
As a Justice Department attorney [Bradbury] told the House Judiciary Committee after the wiretapping program was revealed, “I think the president has made it clear that there is no other program that involves domestic electronic surveillance of domestic communications,” leaving open the possibility that foreign electronic surveillance of both foreign and domestic communications is still ongoing.
The NSA and other government agencies are throwing smoke and mirrors, and the ACLU and other groups are already lagging behind events. The government has been routing its eavesdropping work around U.S. prying eyes for some time. Bush’s real crime, from the standpoint of the spooks and FBI types is that he pushed hard to do in the U.S. what the government has promoted in dictatorships and authoritarian countries for some time, including reciprocal agreements, secret backdoors, etc. to such up the info. By pushing hard in the U.S., he was bound to stir up a hornets nest of civil libertarians, etc., or whistleblowers like Mark Klein, a San Francisco AT&T tech who demonstrated how the government was sucking all U.S. Internet traffic into servers at Room 641A at AT&T's Folsom Street building.

It’s not that Comey or the FBI were upset about all the wiretapping when they went to Ashcroft's hospital bed to get him to reject Bush/Gonzales's surveillance request. These cops got their dream come true when CALEA passed in 1994. They’ve spent much the subsequent years finding ways to expand access to the Internet, and one way they did that to get close to Verint, the private company that secretly taps most U.S. communications.

They just don’t want to get caught. If I’ve learned anything from my anti-torture work, it’s that these governmental crimes are concerned with cover-up from day one. If you think about it, it’s built into the covert mind-set and SOP. In fact, it’s one way to identify what is a covert op, i.e., there’s misdirection and cover-up from the very beginning.

We cannot be protected by FISA anymore. Nothing can protect us. That’s the shocking truth.

Orwellian Pessimism vs. Social Struggle

As if the reader cannot tell... I am very pessimistic these days. The release of the ICRC report on the CIA barely stirred a ripple, unless you frequent certain websites (as we do), but in Congress and the press as a whole, it’s business as usual, diverted by the circus that is the financial cataclysm. The latter itself is essentially a threatened strike by big finance capital to bring down the entire world financial system if it is not compensated for its amazing losses, once their attempt to totally game the system fell apart, mainly because they believed their own propaganda about the market.

The political parties are morally and practically dead. What they do doesn’t matter anymore. This is the legacy of lawless war, torture, and out-of-control spying. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans now staff this military-spy-surveillance world, both private and government, and they have a vested interest in its preservation. Moreover, the boards of the private companies move seamlessly in and out of the corporate world, including its financial, major energy and industrial sectors.

One asks, "Who’s in charge?" Is it really Dick Cheney from a safe house in Arlington? A very good question.

Do not look for a single individual. The rule is out there for anyone to see. It’s not a dictatorship of a single person. It’s rule by committees, and these committees are "democratically" open to anyone who has the money or has risen as a dedicated and talented servant of the system. It's rule by a class.

We’re about to have verified (oh, sometime this year, I believe), that the U.S. did conduct drug and behavioral experiments upon prisoners, and most likely Jose Padilla among them. (See also Padilla's attorneys' Motion to Dismiss for Outrageous Government Conduct.) Will anything happen as a result? Will we even see post-Church Committee laws passed to protect us? No. The demand for consensus was drawn in the sand on 9/11 (or rather in subsequent months and years), and sealed with the deaths of 100,000s of Iraqis and an unknown number of victims who suffered death by torture (likely in the hundreds, at least).

Blood pacts are seldom broken. If you didn’t speak out before, it’s very hard to do so now.

As a result, we will have both social decay, and more tumult and oppression. This is because while the populace is passive, it is disgruntled, and the oligarchy will want to snuff out any sparks of resistance or effective opposition. Obama may be humane - god, I hope so - but he totally accepts the need for the oligarchy to rule.

I’m not sure what should be done at this point. Without some kind of social struggle, the last bastions of liberty, which were set aside by having an independent judiciary, will succumb, and there will be nothing left to protect us.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Beautiful Music for a Bleak Year

Quartet No. 8 in C minor, Opus 110
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
I. Largo; II: Allegro Molto

Sabrina Tabby & Caeli Smith, violins; Madeline Smith, viola, Genevieve Tabby, cello

Seraphina at Ethical Society Building, Philadelphia
April 22, 2007

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Torture Weekly "Round-up"

Also posted at Daily Kos

The Sunday Weekly Torture "Round-up" is intended to be a new regular feature at Daily Kos, capturing stories on the ongoing torture scandal, especially those that might otherwise escape notice. At the same time, we will strive to present an overview of important new developments in the drive to hold the U.S. government responsible for its war crimes, in addition to covering stories concerning torture from other countries, as time and space permit. (Alas, the U.S. has no monopoly on this hideous practice.)

The editors for the WTR are myself, Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse, and Meteor Blades and we will rotate each week. Interesting or important news or tips concerning torture or civil liberties issues bearing upon it can be emailed to any of these individuals.

There were many new developments this week: the CIA announced it would withhold a list describing 1000s of documents related to the destruction of videotapes depicting torture; an ex-Bush administration official told of administration indifference to evidence of innocence for the great bulk of "enemy combatants"; a major lawsuit against Pentagon contractors accused of torture was allowed to proceed; a "released" Guantanamo hunger striker was refused more humane prison conditions, and more.

Cheney, Wilkerson, Obama and the Fake Scandal over Gitmo Prisoner Releases

Dick Cheney has been running around the country trying to spread his particular style of panic and fear in the wake of reports that released Guantanamo prisoners will swell the ranks of terrorists who will then strike at America. Andy Worthington refutes these lies in "The Stories of Six Prisoners Who Were Released from Guantanamo" and this story at Huffington Post.

As has been covered extensively elsewhere (and at Daily Kos), Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former Chief of Staff, has revealed that most of the Guantanamo prisoners are innocents, and moreover, shockingly, that the Bush Administration knew this from the get-go, belying Cheney's fabrications about the "worst of the worst." Here's Wilkerson from The Washington Note article earlier this week:
The second dimension that is largely unreported is that several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.

But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released. I am very sorry to say that I believe there were uniformed military who aided and abetted these falsehoods, even at the highest levels of our armed forces.
And yet days after this revelation, we get this kind of crap from the current administration, as reported by Associated Press, via the Miami Herald:
Obama says in a broadcast interview [on 60 Minutes tonight] that some of the people released from the prison camps in southeast in Cuba have rejoined terrorist groups. He also says U.S. officials have not always been effective in determining which prisoners will be a danger once they are let go.
If you think I'm too harsh on Obama, read the Sunday editorial in today's New York Times (H/T Stephen Soldz):
we did not expect that Mr. Obama, who addressed these issues with such clarity during his campaign, would be sending such confused and mixed signals from the White House. Some of what the public has heard from the Obama administration on issues like state secrets and detainees sounds a bit too close for comfort to the Bush team’s benighted ideas.
Meanwhile, today's UK Guardian is reporting that despite Obama's comments above, his administration will change previous U.S. policy and allow some former Guantanamo prisoners to be resettled in the United States:
The White House is set to reverse a key Bush administration policy by allowing some of the 240 remaining Guantánamo Bay inmates to be resettled on American soil.

The US is pushing for Europe to take a share of released inmates, but the Obama administration is reconciled to taking some of them, even though there will be noisy resistance from individual states....

The cases of the 240 inmates are being reviewed by a team of experienced US prosecutors to determine whether there is a basis for criminal charges. It remains unresolved what to do if there is a substantial "third category" of detainees who are deemed to pose a security threat, but against whom there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges either because evidence was obtained under torture or because it is in the form of classified intelligence.

In a 90-minute interview on CBS tonight, Obama struck back at the former vice-president Dick Cheney over his charge that the new Guantánamo policy was putting US security at risk. The president said his predecessor's policy of indefinite detention was unsustainable and had generated anti-US sentiment without making the country safer.
Despite the change in policy, there was this ominous portent for the future:
The Obama administration is still contemplating the option of military courts martial, reconstituting the Bush-era military commissions or even instituting some new form of preventive detention.
The dance being done by current and former administration officials over the abominable crimes conducted at Guantanamo and elsewhere are dizzying in their vertiginous lurchings from mea culpas to lies to attempts at "reform."

Saudi Gitmo Prisoner, Cleared for Release, But Refused Transfer from Maximum Security Detention, Remains on Hunger Strike

Andy Worthington brings the case of Guantanamo hunger striker Ahmed Zuhair to our attention in a posting last Friday. (If this link isn't working, try this one.) Zuhair, a father of ten children, was arrested in Pakistan, and ultimately was sent to Guantanamo, accused of associations with Al Qaeda. He has been accused of being involved with the bombing of the USS Cole, and of the murder of an American in Bosnia in 1994 or 1995, among other supposed crimes or dubious connections (see Wikipedia link).

Yet the U.S. government decided in an Administrative Review Board hearing last December 23 that he was cleared for release from Guantanamo. Worthington notes that "he was not informed until February 10, and his lawyers were not told until February 16," noting:
This rather makes a mockery of the Guantánamo authorities’ complaints about the “threat” he poses, and the allegations, still cited in news reports, that “US authorities allege that he trained with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and was a member of an Islamic fighting group in Bosnia in the mid-1990s,” but above all it confirms — as if any confirmation were required — that, in the isolated world of Guantánamo, what counts against the majority of the prisoners is not the supposed rationale for their detention in the first place, which is often nothing more than a distant memory, but their behavior in detention.
Zuhair has been identified as having "history of disciplinary infractions", no doubt associated with his hunger strike, which began in June 2005. On March 18 of this year, the government refused a deal with Zuhair whereby he would end his years-long hunger strike if he were moved from the high-security Camp 6, where prisoners endure "the isolation of a prison block modeled on a maximum security prison for convicted criminals on the US mainland," to the lesser regimen of Camp 4. The government says it's afraid of the precedent such a move might make. This is in spite of the fact that Zuhair has been cleared for release!

So his hunger strike continues, and the record of the Obama administration releasing any of the many innocent men held at Guantanamo in the two months Obama has been in charge remains at a pitiful... one! (That one release was Binyam Mohamed.) According to his attorney, on his last visit to Mr. Zuhair:
... he weighed no more than 100 pounds, and “also appeared to be ill, vomiting repeatedly during meetings” at the prison. “Mr. Zuhair lifted his orange shirt and showed me his chest,” Kassem explained. “It was skeletal.“ He added, “Mr. Zuhair’s legs looked like bones with skin wrapped tight around them.”
Andy Worthington concludes, "While this reflects badly on the prison authorities, I believe it also reflects badly on the Obama administration."

CACI International Loses Bid to Spike Torture Lawsuit

According to a CNN report:
U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee rejected claims by defense contractor CACI that the company was immune from accountability over claims of physical abuse, war crimes and civil conspiracy.

Reports of torture and humiliation by soldiers and civilian contractors against Iraqi detainees created a political, diplomatic and public relations nightmare for the Bush administration in the months and years after the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Four Iraqi detainees have sued in U.S. federal courts, alleging contract interrogators assigned to the Baghdad Central Prison — known as Abu Ghraib — subjected them to beatings and mental abuse, then destroyed documents and video evidence and later misled officials about what was happening inside the facility.
Center for Constitutional Rights has been following the case and providing part of the legal representation to plaintiffs. From their information page on the case:
The suit, brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and federal question jurisdiction, brings claims arising from violations of U.S. and international law including torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; war crimes; assault and battery; sexual assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring and supervision; and negligent infliction of emotional distress. There are also civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting counts attached to most of these charges. Through this action, Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.
In the case of one prisoner:
Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid was detained from 2003 until 2005, during which he was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib “hard site” for about three months. While detained there, CACI and its co-conspirators tortured Mr. Rashid by placing him in stress positions for extended periods of time, humiliating him, depriving him of oxygen, food, and water, shooting him in the head with a taser gun, and by beating him so severely that he suffered from broken limbs and vision loss. Mr. Rashid was forcibly subjected to sexual acts by a female as he was cuffed and shackled to cell bars. He was also forced to witness the rape of a female prisoner.
Among the heinous acts to which the four Plaintiffs were subjected at the hands of the defendant and certain government co-conspirators were: electric shocks; repeated brutal beatings; sleep deprivation; sensory deprivation; forced nudity; stress positions; sexual assault; mock executions; humiliation; hooding; isolated detention; and prolonged hanging from the limbs.

All of the plaintiffs are innocent Iraqis who were ultimately released without ever being charged with a crime. They all continue to suffer from physical and mental injuries caused by the torture and other abuse.

In a related story, is reporting:
Thousands of Iraqis held without charge by the United States on suspicion of links to insurgents or militants are being freed by this summer because of little or no evidence against them.
CIA Withholds List of over 3,000 Torture Tapes Documents from Public Release

Last Friday, the ACLU revealed that it "has a list of roughly 3,000 summaries, transcripts, reconstructions and memoranda relating to 92 interrogation videotapes that were destroyed by the agency." Only two days earlier, the ACLU had formally asked Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor "to investigate the authorization to use torture at CIA secret prisons," following Mark Danner's article at the New York Review of Books detailing a leaked ICRC report on torture of CIA prisoners.

(The accompanying picture above is an actual sketch by a U.S. MP Reserve Sargeant of how Dilawar was tortured at Bagram prison.)

According to a report on the CIA documents list by Jason Leopold:
The number of documents – but not their contents – was mentioned Friday in a Justice Department letter from Lev Dassin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, to U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Dassin told Judge Hellerstein that unredacted versions of the materials would be available for only him to review "in-camera" on March 26. The CIA also refused to provide the ACLU with a list of individuals who watched the videotapes prior to their destruction because that information "is either classified or otherwise protected by statute."

The number of relevant documents – "roughly 3,000," according to the letter – adds weight to the belief that CIA interrogators were in frequent communication with headquarters at Langley, Virginia, and with senior Bush administration officials who were monitoring the harsh techniques used and approving them one by one or even in combination.
And there was this interesting speculation by Emptywheel at Firedoglake:
Take a look at this list of FOIA exemptions, and you'll see why that may be rather interesting. For example, trade secrets might protect the identities of contractors who had viewed or retained the torture tapes. There's the physical safety exemption that they earlier cited in regards to their destruction of the tapes--but if they invoked this exemption, it might reveal that they're worried about the identities of non-CIA employees being released. There are law enforcement exemptions they might invoke if DOJ had reviewed these torture tapes in 2004 in response to a criminal referral by CIA's Inspector General.

Or the truly interesting possibility--that CIA might claim some identities are exempt from FOIA because they are presidential records more generally exempt from FOIA, which would come into play if someone at the White House had watched the torture tapes.
Rise in Torture Allegations Against Mexican Army

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times carried a report on a sharp increase in allegations of human rights abuses by the Mexican Army, as the Mexican government steps up its campaign against drug traffickers throughout the country.
The allegations include illegal searches, arrests without cause, rape, sexual abuse and torture, eight Mexican and international rights groups said in a report prepared for presentation to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington.

In 28 cases, the report said, the alleged violations resulted in death.

The groups said the number of complaints to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission jumped to 1,230 last year, from 182 in 2006. Calderon launched his anti-crime offensive in December 2006, and assigned the army a leading role....

More than 7,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the last 15 months, according to government and media estimates.
Darius Rejali on Long History of CIA Torture Abuse

The winner of the 2007 Human Rights Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association for his massive study, Torture and Democracy, Darius Rejali, has a new article at AlterNet detailing some of the history behind recent revelations of U.S. torture.

All the techniques in the accounts of torture by the International Committee of the Red Cross, as reported Monday, collected from 14 detainees held in CIA custody, fit a long historical pattern of Anglo-Saxon modern. The ICRC report apparently includes details of CIA practices unknown until now, details that point to practices with names, histories, and political influences. In torture, hell is always in the details.
Dejali covers grisly, sadistic techniques now documented in use by the CIA within recent years, including the "ice-water cure," "the cold cell," "water-boarding," "standing cells," "High-cuffing," and more. Here's Dejali on "Sweatboxes and coubarils":
Abu Zubaydah says, "Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow.... The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 feet 6 inches] in height." The large box, which Abu Zubaydah says he was held in for up to two hours, is a classic sweatbox. Sweatboxes are old, and they came into modern torture from traditional Asian penal practices. If you've seen Bridge on the River Kwai, you know the Japanese used them in POW camps in World War II. They are still common in East Asia. The Chinese used them during the Korean War, and Chinese prisoners today relate accounts of squeeze cells (xiaohao, literally "small number"), dark cells (heiwu), and extremely hot or cold cells. In Vietnam, they are dubbed variously "dark cells," "tiger cages," or "connex boxes," which are metal and heat up rapidly in the tropical sun.

Abu Zubaydah was also placed into the smaller box, in which he was forced to crouch for hours, until "the stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful." This smaller type of box was once called a coubaril. Coubarils often bent the body in an uncomfortable position. They were standard in French penal colonies in New Guinea in the 19th century, where some prisoners were held in them for 16 days at a stretch.

Both kinds of boxes entered American prison and military practice in the 19th century. They were a standard part of naval discipline, and the word sweatbox comes from the Civil War era. In the 1970s, prisoners described sweatboxes in South Vietnam, Iran (tabout, or "coffin"), Israel, and Turkey ("tortoise cell"). In the last three decades, prisoners have reported the use of sweatboxes in Brazil (cofrinho), Honduras (cajones), and Paraguay (guardia). And after 2002, Iraqi prisoners held in U.S. detention centers describe "cells so small that they could neither stand nor lie down," as well as a box known as "the coffin" at the U.S. detention center at Qaim near Syria.
Other News

Al-Marri is Held Without Bail Pending Trial

UN Launches Probe of Secret Detention Sites

New pressure in Uighurs’ cases

Islamabad High Court Calls for Repatriation of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and Investigation into Her Missing Children

BREAKING -- Newsweek reports that release is imminent of three of the secret Bush administration OLC memos:
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against “high value” Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the memos were “ugly” and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a “truth commission” on torture.
Note this, from the same article:
"I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program," Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told NEWSWEEK. A U.S. official disputed the charge, claiming that members of Congress received more than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel panels had seen the Red Cross report.
Other Resources

Torture Documents released under Freedom of Information Act

Law professor David Luban's classic essay, "Liberalism, Torture and the Ticking Bomb"

I close this first installment with a quote from the preeminent American poet, Walt Whitman:
Nothing is sinful to us outside of ourselves,
Whatever appears, whatever does not appear,
     we are beautiful or
sinful in ourselves only.

(O Mother--O Sisters dear!
If we are lost, no victor else has destroy'd us,
It is by ourselves we go down to eternal night.)
This week's WTR was put together with the assistance of Patriot Daily News Clearninghouse. Thanks, PDNC!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Two Important Notices

National Lawyers Guild Files Complaint With California State Bar Against William Haynes

(H/T David Swanson at

Former Department of Defense General Counsel Recommended Torture, Harsh Interrogation Techniques

San Francisco - The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) is filing a complaint with the California State Bar today against former Department of Defense General Counsel William Haynes. The complaint against Haynes, who now works for the Chevron Corporation in San Ramon, states that he "breached his duty as a lawyer and advocated for harsh tactics amounting to torture in violation of U.S. and international law .... advocacy that directly lead to detainee abuses at the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Grahib facilities."

A copy of the complaint is available upon request or can be accessed at:

The complaint will be mailed to the State Bar Los Angeles office and hand-delivered to the State Bar Office in San Francisco, where there will be a 12:30 press conference.

Press Conference
State Bar Office
180 Howard Street
Monday, March 16, 12:30 PM

"We believe Mr. Haynes must be held accountable, just as any other lawyer would be," said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the NLGSF. "But we are filing this complaint today not out of motivation to harm Mr. Haynes, but to ensure that torture is again relegated to the status it had before the Bush Administration's tenure, and that the harmful, sometimes deadly, and completely ineffective policy of torture is truly deterred."

While working for the Department of Defense, Haynes ignored the serious concerns coming from all branches of the military and recommended in a memo to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, approval of certain harsh interrogation techniques, including removal of clothing, stress positions, and the use of dogs against detainees. The Senate Armed Services Committee has described the memo as “grossly deficient.”

"Powerful leaders can and do engage in illegal acts and inhumane treatment of others. These leaders often rely on lawyers and the legal system to give the appearance of legitimacy to an illegal agenda. Sadly, there always seems to be lawyers willing to do the bidding of powerful rulers," said Sharon Adams, attorney member of the NLGSF. "The State Bar must uphold ethics and the rule of law, and repudiate Mr. Haynes’ actions."

Haynes worked with other lawyers in the Bush administration who have yet to face consequences for their advocacy of torture and other wrongdoing, including former Justice Department lawyer and current UC Berkeley School of Law Professor John Yoo. "We are in a position where even members of the new administration are suggesting criminal charges against Bush officials for torture and other crimes are off the table since many of these officials relied on legal advice," said Jim Lafferty, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild Office in Los Angeles. "If the lawyers are not held accountable for their misdeeds, then essentially high crimes with serious consequences have been committed but nobody is to blame."

As a Registered in House Counsel for the Chevron Corporation, Haynes was not required to take the California Bar Exam but is also not able to appear in court or practice law beyond giving advice to Chevron. He is, however, required to "abide by all of the laws and rules that govern members of the State Bar of California," according to California Rules of Court.


Received via e-mail from Center for Constitutional Rights. For more on CCR campaigns against torture and indefinite detention and for prosecutions of Bush officials for war crimes, visit their website. Get involved! Contribute!
As the atrocities of the Bush administration continue to be exposed, it is critical now more than ever to keep up the pressure and demand accountability from the high-ranking officials responsible for torture and war crimes.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a pan-American body dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, is conducting a hearing at the request of CCR and the World Organization for Human Rights USA. On Friday, March 20, 2009 CCR President Michael Ratner will argue that U.S. officials must be held accountable for human rights violations, on live webcast on Friday, March 20, from 3:15 PM to 4:15 PM at, the website of the Organization of American States. It will be archived thereafter at the IACHR website,

CCR and HRUSA will argue that the Commission should:
  • Issue official recommendations to the United States to engage in criminal investigations and prosecutions for torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
  • Reform laws that prevent the victims of U.S. policies from learning the truth about these abuses; and
  • Make reparations to victims of human rights abuses committed by the U.S. government.
By the way, kudos to Michael Ratner of CCR, who spoke out against the proposed Senate hearings or "Truth Commission" proposed by Senator Leahy as a "whitewash."
Speaking to Raw Story, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a human rights attorney, says he is opposing Senate Judiciary chairman Patrick Leahy’s proposed 'Truth Commission' because it doesn’t go far enough.

"We’re talking about a whitewash with Leahy. Are we some Latin American country where we don’t have a democracy robust enough to try people?" Ratner said. “[Leahy’s] essentially diffusing the issue so there’s not as much pressure on prosecution. It’s not really going to go far. [The commission is] going to divert us for a few years and we’re never going to see something come out of it.”

Ratner said he and the Center for Constitutional Rights want to see criminal prosecutions of officials at the highest level of the Bush administration, the so-called “principals” who were the architects of controversial polices and signed off on them.

“Cheney has openly said that he approved the water boarding memo and that he would do it again,” Ratner said, adding, “My view is you absolutely have to have prosecutions to have deterrents [for future executive power abuses].”
My own take on Leahy's whitewash hearings, including a detailed breakdown of the witnesses the House Judiciary Committee called on March 5 to examine the proposal, appears in my article, "Birth of a Whitewash: Who Testified at Leahy Commission Torture Hearings?" (which was picked up by both The Public Record and the Chicago Sun Times).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CIA Director Panetta Skewered: "Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Meme Chose"

Melvin A. Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, and an intelligence agency veteran, has written a withering review at The Public Record of the first months of Leon Panetta's tenure as Director of the CIA.

According to Goodman, Panetta compares to two previous poor managers of the CIA, Porter Goss and George Tenet. Panetta "ignored the Senate’s own investigation of CIA intelligence on Iraq that documented the misuse of intelligence... [while] guaranteeing to the Senate intelligence committee that he would make no leadership changes at the CIA, even though he was taking charge of a political culture that has been dominated by the cover-up of key intelligence failures."
As a result, Panetta has left in place the deputy director of the CIA, Stephen Kappes, who was a leading figure in the operations directorate when the program of extraordinary renditions went into full swing; the introduction of the use of torture and abuse even before a memorandum from the Department of Justice sanctioned such measures; and the establishment of the secret prisons or “black sites” that the CIA used to conduct so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

If President Obama and Leon Panetta were serious about stopping torture and abuse as well as extraordinary renditions that led to torture and abuse in third world countries, then why would they not adjust the chain of command to remove those high-ranking individuals responsible for these measure?
An excellent question, if you assume the predicate of the question, i.e., that Obama and Panetta are actually serious about stopping torture. In fact, decisions to utilize the Bagram prison for individuals rendered from anywhere, without recourse to judicial review, and to defend the Rumsfeld torture machinery against any exposure, while granting the administration the same claims to executive power under the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Bush did, argues that the Panetta policy is consistent with Obama's new (old) national security policy.

The latest news concerns Panetta's announcement that he was appointing former U.S. senator Warren Rudman as a "Special Adviser" to the Senate Intelligence Committee's announced hearings on CIA "past practices in terrorist detention and interrogation."

Goodman has Rudman's number, too:
Panetta has established his own review group within the Agency but has prominently placed current members of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) in the group.

The NCS has been a major player in the culture of cover-up at the CIA, including the destruction of the 92 torture tapes that is currently being investigated by the FBI. Members of NCS would have a great interest in making sure that the Senate committee did not receive the worst of the evidence in this investigation. By placing Rudman as an intermediary between the review group and the Senate intelligence committee, Panetta has ensured himself that the most damaging information will never see the light of day. Rudman was the most active member of the Senate intelligence committee in trying to block CIA officials from testifying against the nomination of Robert Gates as CIA director in 1991.

Senator Rudman actually branded those few individuals willing to come forward as “McCarthyites” in an effort to marginalize their testimony and to make sure additional witnesses would not testify or submit written affidavits against Bob Gates.
The political maneuvering around the interrogations/torture/detentions issue is fierce. One could get whiplash from following all the twistings and turnings and gyrations of the actors involved. The latest participant is Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson's article at The Washington Note is titled "Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay."

"Some" is right. While the article has some interesting insights into the internecine struggles within the Bush administration over legitimating its policy decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and how they disregarded evidence from the beginning that the vast majority of the prisoners they were harvesting were totally innocent, the real purpose of the article is to paint Colin Powell as an innocent. Nay, even a closet rebel holding down the worst excesses of the Bush administration. It's a nice fairy tale.
The third basically unknown dimension is how hard Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage labored to ameliorate the GITMO situation from almost day one.

For example, Ambassador Pierre Prosper, the U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, was under a barrage of questions and directions almost daily from Powell or Armitage to repatriate every detainee who could be repatriated.

This was quite a few of them, including Uighurs from China and, incredulously, citizens of the United Kingdom ("incredulously" because few doubted the capacity of the UK to detain and manage terrorists). Standing resolutely in Ambassador Prosper's path was Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who would have none of it. Rumsfeld was staunchly backed by the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney....

But their ultimate cover was that the struggle in which they were involved was war and in war those detained could be kept for the duration. And this war, by their own pronouncements, had no end. For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years. Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.
Hmm... I don't seem to remember Colin Powell denouncing the "war on terror" rhetoric anytime back in 2004, or even 2008 (despite his endorsement of Barack Obama, who also uses "war on terror" rhetoric on occasion). And wasn't Powell one of the "principals" at National Security Council meetings held in the White House that, according to an ABC report last year, "discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency", and in particular the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in spring 2002? And was not this fact recently verified in a secret ICRC report linked to Mark Danner who published excerpts in the New York Review of Books just earlier this week? And weren't the following all present at these Principals meetings where torture was approved: "Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft"?

Of course this is all true, and Wilkerson's piece is a clever mea culpa for Powell, Armitage, and secondarily Rice, who all may be feeling the cold breath of indictments breathing down their necks. Cheney, it seems, has taken a different tack, brazenly lashing out in various interviews about the rightness of his administration's policies, and the dangers (supposedly) of following Obama's leadership changes. (Armageddon? again? -- And where is Donald Rumsfeld these days, anyway, last seen watching Oliver Stone's movie "W"?)

The cover-up of U.S. government torture continues apace. The problem is that too much is known. They are counting now on whitewash fake exposes, faux investigations, and time to take people's minds off what really happened. They are hoping that public rage towards AIG bonuses will siphon off the outrage energy, leaving little left for any concerted push for prosecutions and real government reform.

Their strategy may yet work, but it's up to the American people to stand them down. It will take as much fervor as we have got. The opposition is formidable, but our dedication is, too. And I am counting on the bedrock moral goodness of the American people. It is there. Do not doubt it. And it has not yet spoken its final word.

AIG Scandal: America Wakes Up To Extent of Capitalist Thievery

The news that AIG executives were to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses (maybe as high as $450 million!), even after a $170 billion dollar bailout, has fueled a populist revolt not seen since the initial shock of the economic crisis hit Americans last October. When Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told American Insurance Group CEO, Edward M. Liddy, that government loans to AIG might be renegotiated as a result, Liddy responded with "grave concern" over the firm's ability to retain "talented staff."

Talented in rip-off, that is. But former New York governor and supposed scourge of Wall Street, Elliot Spitzer, is reporting over at Slate that the outrage in the media over the bonuses is a diversion. (H/T Inky99 at Daily Kos.) Not that they aren't an outrage, the scandal misses the larger crime: the siphoning off of billions of taxpayer dollars to a handful of companies, who insured their highly risky investments with AIG. These companies have received hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money. Now they are to receive 100% on the dollar reimbursement for their losses from AIG. Spitzer comments:
The payments to AIG's counterparties are justified with an appeal to the sanctity of contract. If AIG's contracts turned out to be shaky, the theory goes, then the whole edifice of the financial system would collapse.

But wait a moment, aren't we in the midst of reopening contracts all over the place to share the burden of this crisis? From raising taxes—income taxes to sales taxes—to properly reopening labor contracts, we are all being asked to pitch in and carry our share of the burden. Workers around the country are being asked to take pay cuts and accept shorter work weeks so that colleagues won't be laid off. Why can't Wall Street royalty shoulder some of the burden? Why did Goldman have to get back 100 cents on the dollar? Didn't we already give Goldman a $25 billion capital infusion, and aren't they sitting on more than $100 billion in cash?....

The appearance that this was all an inside job is overwhelming. AIG was nothing more than a conduit for huge capital flows to the same old suspects, with no reason or explanation.
No reason? No explanation? But there is always a reason. Always an explanation, though Spitzer may not want to go there.

Private ownership of the wealth and capital, freed of most regulatory restraints, is the distal cause, while the proprietors of this capital have gone on an orgy of thievery that may have never been seen in the history of civilization, outside of a world war.

Consider the new TALP plan ("Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility"), which bobswern has dissected so well over at Daily Kos (bold in original).
1.) $2 trillion in taxpayer funds with no salary restrictions to recipients....
2.) Shadow Bankers get almost all of their investment money for free, from you.
[Shadow bankers consist of "non-bank financial institutions that, like banks, borrow short, and in liquid forms, and lend or invest long in less liquid assets... via the use of credit derivative instruments which allow them to evade normal banking regulations," e.g., hedge funds, investment banks, "structured investment vehicles," etc.]
3.) Shadow bankers will skim administrative fees off the top of $2 trillion, first.
4.) Government has virtually no say in terms of regulating what these entities must do with the money once they give it to them.
[And on and on...]
Congress has responded to constituent anger, and hearings are being held even today (see liveblogging of those hearings by Emptywheel over at FDL). But while more details will leak out, it's unlikely we will see much more than the spectacle of what Chris Floyd describes as "faux shock in the Beltway over Wall Street fat cats paying themselves big bonuses with the free money that Washington knowingly gave them."

The following points will never be mentioned:
... the capitalist class is a definite concrete group composed of those who own and have a monopoly over the means of production (including loanable capital). The capitalist class is bound together by innumerable personal, familial and organizational filiations; the atomized non-capitalist entrepreneur -—the central figure of bourgeois economic theory -— is a fiction. The capacity to borrow is strictly limited by one’s ownership of the capital assets required for security against loans. In reality, credit under capitalism is always rationed, on the basis of specific monopoly complexes involving financial, industrial and commercial capitalists.
The ingrown nature of the capitalist class, who has united to unleash a frenzy of greed and stealing, is no better illustrated than by the biography of Obama's Treasury Secretary Geithner. Born to a scion of the capitalist class -- his father was a prominent leader of the Ford Foundation -- Geithner's early career (after attending the best Ivy League schools) was working for Kissinger and Associates in Washington, D.C. He began working for various divisions of the Treasury Department as early as 1988, when he was 27 years old. He was close to two former Treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers. During the George W years he worked at the Council of Foreign Relations and the International Monetary Fund. In October 2003, he became president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and a few years later joined the elite, Rockefeller Foundation organized "Group of Thirty."
In March 2008, he arranged the rescue and sale of Bear Stearns... in the same year, he is believed to have played a pivotal role in both the decision to bail out AIG as well as the government decision not to save Lehman Brothers from bankruptcy.
Hmmm... the same guy who organized the AIG bailout, with its non-regulation of monies, including millions for "bonuses" to the same execs who helped manufacture the crisis... naw, that can't be true, can it? (It is.)

Oh, and he "forgot" to pay $35,000 in self-employment taxes over several years.

AIG and the CIA

Another strange aspect of the AIG affair, and one with which to end this post, concerns AIG's links to the CIA, another aspect of the entire scandal that seems to have escaped the mainstream press, if not the bulk of the blogosphere.

From CorpWatch:
Though it is an American company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, AIG makes extensive use of offshore jurisdictions such as Barbados, Bermuda and Luxembourg that are immune from U.S. regulatory and tax scrutiny. They help the company launder profits to evade U.S. taxes and hide insider connections in supposedly "arms-length" deals. This is especially important as the company has moved into financial services and asset management, handling the wealth of “high net-worth” clients -- the mega-rich.

[Board Chairman Maurice] Greenberg has enviable political clout, never so much in evidence as when, with the help of Henry Kissinger -- chair of AIG's international advisory committee and a paid consultant via Kissinger Associates – AIG became in 1995, the first company licensed to sell insurance in China. AIG was the only foreign firm that owned 100 percent of its license there.

The American International Group at its origins was linked to the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) the forerunner of the CIA. It grew from the Asia Life/C. V. Starr companies founded by Cornelius Starr who started his insurance empire in Shanghai in 1919, the first westerner to market insurance in China.
Some of the links between AIG and the CIA can take us to some pretty heady conspiracy territory, as in this link from a Ron Paul website:
Since 1997, Frank G. Wisner, Jr., has been a board member of Kroll , and is currently Greenberg's Deputy Chairman for External Affairs. Wisner's father was a founder of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who killed himself over the scandal from his being duped by British-Soviet masterspy Kim Philby. Frank Wisner, Jr., is a director of the George Bush-linked energy giant Enron (a client for whom AIG negotiated payments from Peru over nationalization of Enron operations).
Of course, nothing in this quote above is wrong, but whether these dots connect or not is another matter. Still, the connections between AIG and U.S. government operations is a shadowy land that is worth investigating. Wisner, by the way, stepped left AIG late last year.

Michael Ruppert made an impressive case regarding the intelligence connections of AIG in an article back in 2001. He quotes a September 22, 2000 L.A. Times article by Mark Fritz, the text of which is worth considering as the AIG scandal unfolds.
Newly declassified U.S. intelligence files tell the remarkable story of the ultra-secret Insurance Intelligence Unit, a component of the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA, and its elite counterintelligence branch X-2.

Though rarely numbering more than a half dozen agents, the unit gathered intelligence on the enemy's insurance industry, Nazi insurance titans and suspected collaborators in the insurance business. But, more significantly, the unit mined standard insurance records for blueprints of bomb plants, timetables of tide changes and thousands of other details about targets, from a brewery in Bangkok to a candy company in Bergedorf.

"They used insurance information as a weapon of war," said Greg Bradsher, a historian and National Archives expert on the declassified records....

The men behind the insurance unit were OSS head William "Wild Bill" Donovan and California-born insurance magnate Cornelius V. Starr.

Starr had started out selling insurance to Chinese in Shanghai in 1919 and, over the next 50 years, would build what is now American International Group, one of the biggest insurance companies in the world.
Ruppert, seven years prior to the current economic meltdown, highlighted the uses of reinsurance for national security purposes. From Fritz's article (emphases added):
"Stiefel mapped the entire system," said Naftali, a historian at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. "Each time I take a piece of your risk, you've got to give me information. I am not going to reinsure your company unless you give me all the documents. That's great intelligence information"....

With the Axis defeat imminent, U.S. intelligence officials focused greater attention on ways the Nazis would try to use insurance to hide and launder their assets so they could be used to rebuild the war machine. It's a task that continues today.
It's no secret that the CIA needs to launder vast amounts of money to fund its secret wars around the world. That's a good deal of what the Iran-Contra affair was about. Alfred McCoy also plumbed these depths in his classic work, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade. According to the Wikipedia article on McCoy, in his work just cited:
He also uncovered money laundering activities by banks controlled by the CIA, first the Castle Bank which was then replaced by the Nugan Hand Bank, who had as legal council William Colby, retired head of the CIA [3]. He also alludes to the BCCI, which seems to have played the same role as the Nugan Hand Bank after its collapse in the early 1980s, claiming that "the boom in the Pakistan drug trade was financed by BCCI." [3].
There's a lot that is horrifically dirty in the entrails of American capitalism. Why is this huge outflow of capital happening at this time? Where is money going, exactly? Why are the same people who engineered the bailout now in charge of policing it?

Standing outside the intricacies of this scandal, whatever they may be, as uncovered, stand two unassailable facts. One, this breakdown of the capitalist system is causing untold suffering for billions of people around the world. Two, the causes of the economic collapse are complex, and rooted first of all in the inadequacies of the capitalist system -- a system that argues it needs an influx of public monies in the trillions of dollars every fifty to seventy years or so or it will implode. Great system!

But further questions remain: how was this collapse handled? Who benefited? What was the role of secretive government agencies that use sophisticated schemes of investment and money laundering in all this? I don't trust the U.S. government to reveal this to us. The failure of public oversight and the need to preserve a crooked system at all costs led to the downfall of the Stalinist Soviet empire. It seems likely to do the same to the American empire as well, if not now, then someday soon.

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