Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why the Silence on International Day of Support for Victims of Torture?

Andy Worthington has an excellent post up on the crickets that attended the non-event last Saturday that was the International Day of Support of Victims of Torture.
No editorials or news broadcasts reminded Americans that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture,” and that anyone responsible for authorizing torture must be prosecuted, and no one called for the prosecution of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld or their supportive colleagues and co-conspirators, including, for example, John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Stephen Bradbury, the authors of the Office of Legal Counsel’s “torture memos,” or other key figures in Cheney’s “War Council” that drove the policies: David Addington, Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, Alberto Gonzales, the former Attorney general, and William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s former Chief Counsel.
Andy links the societal neglect of the subject to President Obama's failed leadership on the issue, his "moral bankruptcy" regarding torture, and it's a position that I also have independently arrived at, as a gander at my Firedoglake/Seminal post, reproduced below, makes clear.

But before we get to the main course, let's consider that the Obama administration did release, late in the day on June 26 a statement, of sorts, on torture. It reads like it was written by a high school senior for a citizenship speech tournament, that is, it is rank with cliche, platitude and a hollow determination to do nothing. Here's the whole thing:

Statement by the President on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture, one of the foremost international human rights documents. The United States was a leader in the document’s drafting, and remains dedicated to supporting its principles at home and abroad.

I continue to believe that brutal methods of interrogation are inconsistent with our values, undermine the rule of law, and are not effective means of obtaining information. They alienate the United States from the world, and serve as a recruitment and propaganda tool for terrorists. They increase the will of our enemies to fight against us, and endanger our troops when they are captured. The United States will not use or support these methods.

Over the past year, the Department of State has, at my request, gathered information from our embassies around the world about effective mechanisms to stop torture and assist its victims. I have asked the Department of State to share this information with interested international and non-governmental organizations, and to develop a system of advice and tools to share with governments and other relevant actors in addressing this problem.

The United States will continue to support the efforts of other nations and international and nongovernmental organizations, to eradicate torture through human rights training for security forces, capacity building, and encouraging robust legislation against such practices. We will also continue our close collaboration with international and domestic groups working to rehabilitate and reintegrate torture victims and offenders. I am sincerely grateful for the efforts of all the men and women around the world who are working to end the scourge of torture.

When you read bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo such as this — “develop a system of advice and tools” — then you know you’re being conned, or rather lulled to sleep.

“I am sincerely grateful for the efforts of all the men and women”, “around the world,” no less… when you have to say that you are sincere, the unctuousness bleeds through.

You won’t see this covered anywhere else, and for good reason. It’s a joke. Unfortunately to the torture victims who can’t get justice from the U.S. courts, because Obama’s Justice Department files briefs to keep them from doing so, to Maher Arar, to the men and women who are imprisoned in black sites still run by the U.S., and the men still held at Guantanamo, some of whom are still interrogated via the extraordinary means of the Army Field Manual’s Appendix M (isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, inducement of fear and futility, stress positions, environmental “manipulation”), I’m sure they appreciate the sincerity of the U.S. president, in a way only they can. Same goes for those held in prisons in regimes that practice torture, but are supported politically and militarily by the United States (Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Morocco, etc.).

What follows is my own essay from FDL/Seminal, posted on June 26.

In commemoration of the passage of the treaty known as the Convention Against Torture (CAT), the United Nations declared June 26 the International Day of Support of Victims of Torture, I want to review where we are in the fight against U.S. torture today. I also want to revisit some important episodes in the history of how we arrived here, including the a look at the role of top U.S. behavioral scientists in the construction of a torture program for the CIA and military.

The U.S. is formally a signatory to CAT, but from the day it was ratified by the U.S. Senate, the treaty was eviscerated by a number of "reservations, declarations, and understandings", which legalisms were meant to shield the United States from actions that any reasonable person would understand constitute torture or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of prisoners. Still, the CAT remained a formidable obstacle to the Bush/Cheney lawyers, when they were drawing up their memorandum to allow torture. Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury made sure they addressed legal problems for the administration faced by the treaty the U.S. signed, and turned rhetorical and forensic somersaults to make sure that no one would charge U.S. actors for the crimes of torture.

Meanwhile, the administration of Barack Obama has made a fetish of the idea that U.S. society must not "look backward," and refuses to promote the necessary investigations and prosecutions of the crimes undertaken by the Bush/Cheney administration — and this is true even after recent revelations indicate that besides torture, illegal human experimentation on prisoners also occurred. Even worse, there is plenty of evidence to now indicate the Obama administration has itself embraced the policies of rendition, secret prisons, assassination, and abuse of prisoners.

Nor has Congress acquitted itself especially well. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) undertook an in-depth investigation of Department of Defense involvement in detainee abuse, producing a fairly redacted public report that described how the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency and its Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school (SERE) personnel were utilized to teach torture methods to the CIA, the DIA, and Special Operations teams (and perhaps others — see PDF report). Nevertheless, the SASC never recommended any specific reforms, and not one high-ranking military officer was held accountable for what had occurred. The use of JPRA personnel in interrogations remained "a policy decision" to be decided by the Secretary of Defense — who happens to remain, over a third of the way through Obama’s current term of office, Bush Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The Senate and House Intelligence Committees were supposedly briefed on the CIA’s interrogation program, but as a number of articles by Marcy Wheeler have documented, the CIA lied about who was briefed, and falsified the evidence of the briefings when it was convenient to them.

Even so, one could criticize the overall actions of Congress on the torture issue. The Senate Intelligence Committee currently is investigating the circumstances around the CIA’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, and other aspects of the CIA "enhanced interrogation" program, including charges of human experimentation. But this investigation is behind closed doors, and we cannot judge its efficacy, nor does it do what real investigations of torture should do: educate the public about what has occurred, and mobilize society for the necessary task of cleaning up the government from the infection of torture and brutality that debilitates it. In order to keep the truth at bay, ever-increasing attacks against whistleblowers, ever-increasing encroachments on civil liberties and privacy, are taking place.

On this International Day of Support of Victims of Torture, I offer a reposting of an article of mine from last year, posted at Jason Leopold’s The Public Record. This is an important article that details the origins of the torture program, and demonstrates the importance of delaying real accountability. A failure to end the practice of torture has resulted in increasing militarism, increasing governmental secrecy, and the empowerment of a clique of individuals whose operations and immorality have penetrated to every major societal institution.

If this article is too long for you, bookmark it and read it later. Send it to your iPad or Kindle, print it out and read it at your leisure (though you might miss the hyperlinks). As an accompanying piece, you might also wish to take a look at this excellent diary at Daily Kos, which describes the uses of torture domestically, in U.S. jails and Supermax prisons. Torture at home, torture abroad, the question we must be asking ourselves is this: So far down the road to becoming a "torture state," do we have the courage and fortitude to turn back, to create a better society, or will we succumb to barbarism?


Top U.S. Behavioral Scientists Studied Survival Schools to Create Torture Program Over 50 Years Ago

A couple of recent articles have highlighted the unseemly fact that some past presidents of the American Psychological Association (APA), the foremost professional organization for psychologists in the United States, if not the world, had links to the use of torture, or at least to military research into coercive interrogations.

An article by Jane Mayer in the recent New Yorker on CIA Director Leon Panetta noted in passing the participation of a former APA president Joseph Matarazzo on the governing staff of the Mitchell, Jessen & Associates (MJA) torture firm. First identified as one of the “governing people” of MJA by Bill Morlin in a Spokesman Review article in August 2007, Matarazzo is now known to have also been CIA, as noted in an article by Physicians for Human Rights Campaign Against Torture director, Nathaniel Raymond (emphasis added):

Mayer notes, parenthetically, that she has learned from the CIA’s Kirk Hubbard that former American Psychological Association president Joseph Matarazzo sat on the CIA’s professional-standards board at the time when psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were developing an interrogation program for the CIA, based on the US military’s SERE training program.

This new information came at the same time as former APA insider Bryant Welch was publishing his own tell-all about APA and the Defense Department, "Torture, Psychology, and Daniel Inouye". Welch singled out former APA presidents Gerald Koocher and Ron Levant, along with Senator Daniel Inouye’s office, as key lobbyists for the participation of psychologists in interrogations (emphasis added):

One of Inouye’s administrative assistants, psychologist Patrick Deleon, has long been active in the APA and served a term in 2000 as APA president. For significant periods of time DeLeon has literally directed APA staff on federal policy matters and has dominated the APA governance on political matters. For over twenty-five years, relationships between the APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon.

Another famous former APA president, Martin Seligman, was also linked with the government’s recent torture program. According to Jane Mayer, Seligman taught his “learned helplessness” theories to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape or SERE psychologists, who reverse-engineered it into the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” used by the CIA and DoD to torture prisoners in “war on terror” prisons around the world. Seligman admitted lecturing at SERE, but has denied any role in torture.

The role of former APA presidents DeLeon, Koocher, Levant, Seligman, and Matarazzo in supporting the role of military psychologists in interrogations, even after evidence of torture by the U.S. government was manifest, is perhaps unequalled in the annals of professional societies, as providing political, and possibly organizational and theoretical or practical support to unethical procedures, especially torture. (Stephen Soldz has outlined some of this recent history in an article just posted at ACLU Blog of Rights.) One might think this a terrible offshoot of the former Bush administration’s insane post-9/11 turn to the “dark side.”

But that is not the end of the story; it is not even the beginning.

Before this set of military/CIA-collaborationist APA presidents, there was Harry Harlow, and before him, Donald Hebb. Both were famous, distinguished U.S. psychologists, and both had been presidents of the APA in the 1950s. Both engaged in research, some of it secret, for the military and CIA. Hebb was a pioneer in the study of sensory deprivation. Harlow’s contribution was more synthetic: he helped construct an entire paradigm around the problem of how to break down an individual by torture.

In 1956, in the pages of an obscure academic journal, Sociometry, I.E. Farber, Harry F. Harlow, and psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West published a classic work on interrogation, Brainwashing, Conditioning, and DDD (Debility, Dependency, and Dread) (BCD). It was based on a report for the Study Group on Survival Training, paid for by the U.S. Air Force. (See West LJ., Medical and psychiatric considerations in survival training. In Report of the Special Study Group on Survival Training (AFR 190 16). Lackland Air Force Base, Tex: Air Force Personnel and Training Research Centers; 1956.) This research linked Air Force “Survival” training, later called SERE, with torture techniques, and as we will see, use of such techniques by the CIA, something we would see again decades later in the Mitchell-Jessen “exploitation” plan.

BCD examined the various types of stress undergone by prisoners, and narrowed them down to “three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread”.

Debility was a condition caused by “semi-starvation, fatigue, and disease”. It induced “a sense of terrible weariness”.

Dependency on the captors for some relief from their agony was something “produced by the prolonged deprivation of many of the factors, such as sleep and food… [and] was made more poignant by occasional unpredictable brief respites.” The use of prolonged isolation of the prisoner, depriving an individual of expected social intercourse and stimulation, “markedly strengthened the dependency”.

Dread probably needs no explanation, but BCD described it as “chronic fear…. Fear of death, fear of pain, fear of nonrepatriation, fear of deformity of permanent disability…. even fear of one’s own inability to satisfy the demands of insatiable interrogators.”

The bulk of BCD explains the effects of DDD in terms of Pavlovian conditioning and the learning theories of American psychologist Edward Thorndike. The consequence of the resulting “collapse of ego functions” is described as similar to “postlobotomy syndrome”.

By disorganizing the perception of those experiential continuities constituting the self-concept and impoverishing the basis for judging self-consistency, DDD affects one’s habitual ways of looking at and dealing with oneself. [p. 275]

BCD explains aspects of the U.S. torture program that otherwise to our eyes appear insane. (Not that it isn’t on a moral level “insane.”) Take the painful stress positioning of prisoners documented at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run detainee prisons — most recently, at Bagram prison in Afghanistan. BCE explains: it’s all part of inducing dependency through expectation of relief, but in a diabolical way. Forced stress positions are a “self-inflicted punishment”, one which increases the expectancy of relief via “voluntary” means. But the latter is “delusory… since the captor may select any behavior he chooses as the condition for relieving a prisoner’s distress” [pp. 276-277].

This form of carrot and stick torture may not seem that sophisticated, but it is the use of basic nervous system functioning and human instinctual need that makes it “scientific”. The need for sensory stimulation and social interaction, the need to eat, to sleep, to reduce fear, all of these are used to build dependencies upon the captor, using the fact that “the strengthening effects of rewards — in this instance the alleviation of an intensely unpleasant emotional state — are fundamentally automatic” [p. 278]. This impairment of higher cognitive states and disruption and disorganization of the prisoner’s self-concept, producing something like “a pathological organic state”, was subsequently modified and used by the CIA in its interrogations of countless individuals. If more brutal forms of torture sometimes were used, especially by over-eager foreign agents or governments, DDD remained the gold standard, the programmatic core of counterintelligence interrogation at the heart of the CIA’s own intelligence manuals.

Chapter Nine of the 1963 CIA KUBARK manual, ”Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources,” describes coercive interrogation procedures as “designed to induce regression.”

The anonymous authors of KUBARK quote the BCD article specifically:

Farber says that the response to coercion typically contains “… at least three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread.” Prisoners “… have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety”….

The subheads to the chapter are evocative of the DDD paradigm: “Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli”, “Threats and Fear”, “Debility”, “Pain”, “Heightened Suggestibility and Hypnosis”, and “Narcosis”. That this was all constructed, in part, by the demented genius of a famous U.S. psychologist and former president of the APA only contributes to a deep, dark irony that runs like a blood-red gash through the body politic of this country.

The 2006 rewrite of the Army Field Manual was lauded for banning the beating of prisoners, threatening them with dogs, sexual humiliation, performing mock executions, electrocution of prisoners, and waterboarding, among other “techniques.” But in an appendix to the manual, the following procedures are authorized for certain prisoners: complete separation, sometimes with forced wearing of goggles and earmuffs, for up to 30 days (after which approval for more must be sought); limiting sleep to four hours a day, for 30 straight days (and more, with approval); and other concurrent techniques, including “futility”, “incentive”, and “fear up harsh”. In the latter, fear within a detainee is significantly increased, through knowledge of the person’s phobias, if possible.

In the press, and in the speeches of politicians on both sides of the aisle, the new AFM was praised as a model of reform. The CIA was urged to embrace the AFM’s policies, but has demurred. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is studying the interrogation issue, but so far has advocated the AFM be the government-wide interogation standard. Why, one wonders, as it’s evident the AFM has maintained a core DDD operational capacity (isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, fear)? The Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and other human rights organization have called publicly for the Obama administration to rescind Appendix M and other offensive sections of the Army Field Manual.

It is important that all elements of the U.S. torture program be exposed and made illegal. If the country can not rise morally to this, then a terrifying future lies before us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Barry Eisler's New Thriller Tells of U.S. Torture Program

Barry Eisler's new novel, Inside Out, is being released in stores today. An excerpt from the novel was posted at Truthout the other day, under the title, "The New National Security State."

The publication of Inside Out is a big deal, because until now, no one has taken the headlines surrounding the Bush/Cheney/CIA torture scandal and made them the subject of memorable fiction. The book itself has an impressive bibliography, showing the amount of research that went into the tale of black ops special forces officer, Ben Treven, called upon to track down a former colleague who has stolen dozens of CIA torture videotapes and is blackmailing the U.S. government, lest he release them to a shocked world.

Eisler is known for his intelligent thrillers, and especially his John Rain series. With Inside Out he continues his move in a new direction, towards an examination of the oligarchy that runs the United States, and has in the name of national security, engaged in torture and other crimes.

Barry writes:
Inside Out is dedicated to the bloggers—the independent sleuths who are after the truth, not a pat on the head from the White House; who have a passion for change, not "a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are;" who serve the people, not the powerful. Much of the information and insight upon which Inside Out is based was developed by bloggers and other independents; it's fitting, therefore, that the Inside Out book tour thank them for what they do. So I'm proud to announce that my Bay Area, Los Angeles, DC, and New York City events are not just book signings, but also fundraisers for AlterNet, Firedoglake, GRITtv, and Truthout, three superb sources of independent political news and opinion.
The book signing schedule this summer for Inside Out can be accessed here.

Tune in (or what does one say in the era of the Internet) to the Firedoglake Book Salon, this Saturday, July 3, 5pm EDT/2pm PDT, to chat with Barry Eisler and myself about the thin line between fiction and truth on torture, on disappeared prisoners and black-site prisons, and more.

Support your local left-wing writer, and get a hell-of-a-read in the bargain.

ACLU: Political Spying by U.S. Law Enforcement on the Rise

Revelations of domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens exercising their constitutional rights led to a number of Congressional investigations and new laws in the years after Watergate. In the intervening years, and with accelerated fervor since 9/11, the U.S. government has sought to regain what powers of overarching surveillance it may have lost in the years of the Church and Pike investigations.

A press release today from the ACLU describes the latest ways in which the FBI, and other U.S. law enforcement agencies, now armed with the latest stealth and drone technology, are spying upon and harassing citizens attempting to exercise their right to political speech and affiliation. ACLU's "spyfiles" database, open to the public, looks like it offers much of interest to those of us, bloggers, journalists, attorneys, just-plain-citizens, who are concerned over the movement in the United States towards a full-fledged police state. Do not say it cannot happen here, as it can.
New ACLU Report And Web Hub Reveal Rise In Political Spying Across United States
Review Finds Incidents In At Least 33 States

WASHINGTON – Political surveillance and harassment by U.S. law enforcement agencies are on the rise with incidents reported in at least 33 states since 9/11, according to a review published today by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU also announced the launch of a new “Spyfiles” web hub on domestic political surveillance, which will serve as a comprehensive resource on domestic spying.

Political spying – rampant during the Cold War under the FBI’s COINTELPRO, the CIA’s Operation Chaos and other programs – has experienced a steady resurgence in the years following 9/11 as state and local law enforcement are being urged by federal law enforcement agencies to participate in counterterrorism practices.

“In our country, under our Constitution, the authorities aren’t allowed to spy on you unless they have specific and individual suspicion that you are doing something illegal,” said Michael German, ACLU Policy Counsel and former FBI Special Agent. “Unfortunately, law enforcement in our country seems to be reverting to certain old, bad behaviors when it comes to political surveillance. Our review of these practices has found that Americans have been put under surveillance or harassed by the police just for deciding to organize, march, protest, espouse unusual viewpoints and engage in normal, innocuous behaviors such as writing notes or taking photographs in public.

The ACLU released its report of 111 incidents in 33 states and the District of Columbia in conjunction with the launch of its new “Spyfiles” web hub on domestic political surveillance, which will serve as a major new resource on domestic spying for the benefit of reporters, researchers, bloggers and any other interested members of the public. It will include a database of documents obtained through state and federal open-records requests as well as links to news reports and other relevant materials.

“In a democracy, there is no place for political spying or surveillance or the collection of information about routine daily activities of citizens by government,” said German. “The ACLU has been warning against domestic political spying for several years now. From our lawsuits against Defense Department spying in the middle of the past decade, to our work on fusion centers, to our ongoing close cooperation with our affiliates in states across the nation to monitor and combat these activities, the ACLU is determined to prevent the emergence of a domestic secret police apparatus in this country.”

United States law enforcement agencies, from the FBI to local police, have a long history of spying on American citizens and infiltrating or otherwise obstructing political activist groups.

“We are determined to prevent the emergence of a domestic secret police apparatus in this country,” said German. “Yet, as the ACLU’s report shows, these activities continue to take place with a regularity that shows there are systemic problems at work that must be monitored closely.”

The ACLU’s review of domestic surveillance incidents can be found at:

The ACLU’s Spyfiles page can be found at:

Friday, June 25, 2010

NYT Backs Torture Accountability Law, ACLU To Conduct "Flash Mob" Event, Noon 6/25, NYC Union Square

Cross-posted at The Seminal/FDL

In a June 24 editorial, the New York Times called for the passage of a New York State law that would bar health professionals from licensure it they had participated in torture. Known as the Gottfried-Duane Bill to Stop Health Professional Participation in Torture, the legislation has 45 co-sponsors, and the vote on the legislation could happen as soon as today. (See here for PDF text of the bill.)

"Health professionals who facilitate torture are violating the most fundamental medical ethics and ought to be punished," the Times editorial states, noting that the refusal of Congress and the Obama administration to investigate or prosecute "on a national level" means that we must turn to what options we have to turn back U.S. torture. Earlier this month, the NY Times also wrote an editorial in support of investigations by the executive branch and Congress into charges of illegal human experimental research undertaken in support of Bush and Cheney’s torture program. The charges were made by Physicians for Human Rights in a report released on June 6, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program" (PDF).

The website, When Healers Harm, describes the background to the NY state anti-torture bills:

In April 2009, the Bush administration’s “torture memos” as well as reports by the Senate Armed Services Committee and the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that doctors and psychologists have been directly involved in the design, justification, supervision and execution of torture at U.S. military and intelligence facilities. This violates state, federal and international law and professional ethics.

Despite proof of wrongdoing, the health professionals involved in torture still hold their professional licenses to practice. To ensure accountability for torture and to prevent such atrocities from happening again, New York State Legislators have introduced Bills A. 6665-B in the Assembly and S. 4495-A in the Senate, new legislation that:

* Confirms that NY-licensed health professionals’ duty to do no harm applies to their professional relationships with all patients and under all employers;
* Reaffirms that health professionals licensed in New York are prohibited from involvement in torture or other abuse of prisoners, wherever that abuse takes place;
* Removes NY-licensed health professionals from interrogations; and
* Helps NY-licensed health professionals resist unlawful orders that could place them at risk of criminal prosecution and civil damages lawsuits.
The legislation has the backing of top medical professionals in New York State (see PDF list), the New York Civil Liberties Union, NY State Psychological and Nursing Associations, the NY Chapter of the American College of Physicians, Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights First and other professional, religious and human rights organizations. Sign a petition urging the New York Legislature to pass the N.Y. Anti-Torture Bill in 2010.

Meanwhile, as NY State awaits the vote on Gottfried-Duane, the ACLU announced this morning a "flash mob" event for Torture Awareness Month, to take place today. From a press release:
ACLU Plans Torture Awareness Event Friday In New York

On Eve Of International Day In Support Of Victims Of Torture, Group Calls For Accountability

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union announce a "flash mob" event today, June 25, at 12:00 p.m. EDT in Union Square in New York City to remind the public that the United States has yet to hold accountable government officials who knew about and authorized torture under the Bush administration. The event marks the signing of the Convention Against Torture and the eve of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the ACLU has unearthed thousands of pages of documents that show that hundreds of prisoners were abused or tortured in CIA and Department of Defense custody, and that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Despite extensive documentation, however, the U.S. has yet to hold any high-level officials accountable for their roles in the torture program. Today's event aims to visually depict the 150,000 pages of torture documents made public through the ACLU's FOIA litigation and renew the call for meaningful accountability.

Many of the formerly-secret documents can be viewed online at, where the ACLU has been posting and writing about them throughout June in observance of Torture Awareness Month.

Torture Awareness Day public "flash mob" event to remind the public about the need to hold government officials accountable for the torture of detainees in U.S. custody

WHO: Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union national office and NYCLU will converge in a high-traffic area of Union Square to interact with members of the public.

Friday, June 25
12:00 p.m. EDT

Union Square
Near 14th Street
New York, NY

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Support Transparency Amendment to Conflict Minerals Act

Civil azali bilanga ya militaire” was a popular Congolese expression during the Mobutu regime which means: the civilian is the [corn] field of the military [1].
Rb137, a blogger at both Daily Kos and FDL's The Seminal, is pushing hard to get Congress to approve an amendment to the Conflict Minerals Amendment to the Wall Street Reform bill in Congress. In a recent article she explains why, noting we are facing an 11th hour vote on "blood diamonds" legislation.

From her article at The Seminal:

We are complicit in a brutal civil war taking place in The Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC]. Many of the metals that are used in technology come from the mining operations that support this war. You might have a device that funded this conflict in your pocket right now.

There is an important amendment to the Wall Street reform bill that directly impacts this conflict, and it needs your attention right now. This vote will be done by the end of the week. Today really is the 11th hour for conflict minerals legislation, which is up for a vote and is under attack by the National Association of Manufacturers:

NAM Concerned with Conflict Minerals Trade Act. New legislation is moving through Congress that could affect global supply chains and create new customs burdens…The legislation would require a transaction-by-transaction import declaration at entry certifying that a company’s imports do not contain “conflict” minerals…

This legislation is essential if we will address the conflict mineral trade — and it only requires transparency from companies; it does not require certification. This is an effort that industry can afford to make.

Barney Frank will soon announce a House offer on the Conflict Minerals Amendment to the Wall Street reform bill. It contains some language from HR 4128, which is the Conflict Minerals and Trade Act, but it does not require a certification of non-conflict — it requires transparency. If a company buys minerals known to be tied to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they must report their source publicly.

This amendment is carefully written to avoid intractible certification issues, but NAM is vehemently opposed to the measure. The corollary to NAM’s complaint: US companies will suffer if manufacturers are forced to disclose that they buy metal ore from the FDLR.

The FDLR is a militia called the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda — seeded from a paramilitary organization called the Interahamwe, the same group that perpetrated the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The horror they inflict on the population around the Kivu region is absolutely monstrous, and the money they get from selling mineral ore buys weapons and empowers them to perpetuate the violence.

How bad is the sexual violence in the DRC? According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, "at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since 1996," and who knows how many have gone unreported.

Nor is the violence limited to one political group. According to a blog posting on the Congo conflict by the Canadian group, SAFER, Global Witness recently had researchers spend four weeks in the eastern DRC:
Global Witness reports that former Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) rebels, integrated into the national army in 2009, have “gained far greater control of mining areas than they ever enjoyed as insurgents” in some of the country’s most lucrative tin (cassiterite) and tantalum mines. What this means for the workers scraping a living from these mines (often with bare hands), is that they are forced to pay illegal “taxes” to the armed soldiers and hand over large portions of their labour before they are allowed to leave the mine....

When faced with a gun, what can you do?…They ask for money…They ask for gold or cassiterite [tin]. Whatever happens, you have to give it.

–miner from Shabunda describing extortion at military roadblocks. Bukavu, 28 July 2008

What to Do?

Rb137 has kindly placed an action list of phone numbers in her blog postings. The following is taken from her Daily Kos post:

Call Blanche Lincoln and Bob Corker:

Blanche Lincoln and Bob Corker are Senate conferees on conflict minerals and are reported to stand with NAM in opposition to this legislation:

Sen. Lincoln (D-AR): 202-224-4843

Bob Corker (R-TN): 202-224-3344

Please call their offices today, and tell them to support the House offer on conflict minerals.

Another thing you can do quickly without leaving your chair: urge all of the House and Senate conferees on conflict minerals to vote "yes" on the House offer on Congo minerals.

Please use this quick action email link tell selected members of the House and Senate to support this important conflict mineral amendment. Members of the House and Senate have agreed upon language that is a useful first step -- and it is manageable for the companies that consume conflict metals, as well. This legislation simple requires transparancy with regard to buying and selling minerals.

To the degree you can, please call the conferees individually. In particular, ask them to to yes on the House offer on Congo minerals.

Senate members
Chris Dodd (D-CT) (202) 224-2823
Tim Johnson (D-SD) (202) 224-5842
Jack Reed (D-RI) (202) 224-4642
Charles Schumer (D-NY) (202) 224-6542
Richard Shelby (R-AL) (202) 224-5744
Bob Corker (R-TN) (202) 224-3344
Mike Crapo (R-ID) (202) 224-6142
Judd Gregg (R-NH) (202) 224-3324
Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) (202) 224-4843
Patrick Leahy (D-VT) (202) 224-4242
Tom Harkin (D-IA) (202) 224-3254
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) (202) 224-3521

House members
Howard Berman (D-CA) (202) 225-4695
Leonard Boswell (D-IA) (202) 225-3806
John Conyers (D-MI) (202) 225-5126
Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (202) 225-4741
Barney Frank (D-MA) (202) 225-5931
Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) (202) 225-8203
Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) (202) 225-6511
Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH) (202) 225-2015
Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) (202) 225-7944
Gregory Meeks (D-NY) (202) 225-3461
Dennis Moore (D-KA) (202) 225-2865
Gary Peters (D-MI) (202) 225-5802
Collin Peterson (D-MN) (202) 225-2165
Bobby Rush (D-IL) (202) 225-4372
Heath Shuler (D-NC) (202) 225-6401
Edolphus Towns (D-NY) (202) 225-5936
Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) (202) 225-2361
Maxine Waters (D-CA) (202) 225-2201
Mel Watt (D-NC) (202) 225-1510
Henry Waxman (D-CA) (202) 225-3976
Spencer Bachus (R-AL) (202) 225-4921
Joe Barton (R-TX) (202) 225-2002
Judy Biggert (R-IL) (202) 225-3515
Scott Garrett (R-NJ) (202) 225-4465
Sam Graves (R-MO) (202) 225-7041
Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) (202) 225-3484
Darrell Issa (R-CA) (202) 225-3906
Frank Lucas (R-OK) (202) 225-5565
Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) (202) 225-2711

[1] Baaz and Stern, J Modern African Studies, 46(1): 57-86 (2008). Quoted from SAFER website, accessed June 24, 2010.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Coltrane and Dolphy Together = Perfect Jazz

John Coltrane Quintet with Eric Dolphy, playing "Impressions" by John Coltrane

Something special in B&W

Oral Argument in ACORN v. USA in Second Circuit on June 24

The following is a press release from Center for Constitutional Rights. It is relevant to the story I posted at Daily Kos the other day, which garnered 100s of comments, and some controversy. Picking up from President Obama's Department of Justice decision to appeal the decision tossing out the illegal Congressional ban on funds for community activist organization, ACORN, the article asked, Why Did Obama Join Reactionaries in Dumping on ACORN?
Oral Argument in ACORN v. USA Tomorrow
Attorneys Say Congress Violated Constitution in Defunding Group Cleared of Wrongdoing in Federal Report Last Week

New York, NY – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) will make oral argument on Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in the case of ACORN v. U.S.A. regarding the Congressional defunding of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) last year without inquiry or investigation. Last week, a federal report cleared the group of false charges of misusing federal funds and election fraud.

In March, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government and several federal agencies to rescind orders cutting off funding to the community organization, its affiliates and allies. The U.S. government has appealed this order.

WHAT: Oral Argument in ACORN v. U.S.A.
WHO: CCR Volunteer Attorney Jules Lobel, CCR Attorney Darius Charney
WHEN: Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. (please arrive by 9:30 a.m. for security and seating)
WHERE: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 500 Pearl Street, 9th Floor, Ceremonial Courtroom, New York, NY 10007

Said CCR Volunteer Attorney Jules Lobel, "It is not the job of Congress to be the judge, jury, and executioner. We have due process in this country, and our Constitution forbids lawmakers from singling out a person or group for punishment without a fair investigation and trial."

For more information on the case, including briefs and a detailed explanation of material support, visit CCR's ACORN case page.

PHR Office of Human Research Protections Complaint on Illegal CIA Use of Human Subjects in Torture Research [text]

The following is the text of the complaint filed with the Office of Human Research Protection by Physicians for Human Rights and a host of co-sponsors. The complaint concerns evidence compiled by PHR of illegal and unethical human research experimentation by the CIA, in the latter's quest to form a new torture program implementing the reverse-engineered components of the Armed Forces' Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape schools, known as SERE.

You can sign onto the complaint by clicking here.


Recent reports by Physicians for Human Rights and a paper by Renée Llanusa-Cestero in "Accountability in Research" raise concerns that the CIA's Office of Medical Services (OMS) conducted research and experimentation on detainees in US custody and, in the process, likely violated federal regulations governing human subject research carried out by United States Government entities. These regulations are known as The Common Rule (45 CFR 46). The CIA is one of seventeen federal agencies required by law to adhere to The Common Rule when conducting federally funded research on human beings.

The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) should initiate immediately an official investigation into experimentation by the CIA on detainees in its custody based upon the following evidence of wrongdoing detailed in declassified government documents:

(1) The collection by OMS health professionals of data from detainees in order to derive generalizable knowledge of the effects on detainee subjects of "enhanced interrogation" techniques. These techniques, which have serious potential to cause harm, included sleep deprivation, waterboarding, sensory deprivation and overload. It appears that data also was collected on the impact of techniques both when used individually and when applied in combination;

(2) The collection of data from detainees subjected to the technique of the waterboard in order to develop new methods and procedures for its application, including the experimental use of potable saline in place of water to reduce the risk of hyponatremia;

(3) The CIA's apparent failure to comply with The Common Rule's regulations (a) requiring all human research subjects to provide informed consent, (b) assuring that subjects of research have the right and ability to stop their participation in the research at any time, and (c) requiring the conduct of prior review of the proposed human subject research by an Institutional Review Board.

We request the OHRP to conduct a For-Cause Compliance Oversight Evaluation of the CIA OMS for research targeting detainee subjects.

If the OHRP concludes that OMS research on detainees subjected to "enhanced interrogation" techniques commonly viewed as torture violated The Common Rule and internationally accepted standards of health professional ethics, the CIA must be immediately sanctioned by the Department of Health and Human Services. Any personnel found to have violated the law should be referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution. Professionals determined to be in violation of their ethically mandated responsibilities should be referred to state licensing bodies and professional associations for appropriate professional sanctions.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why Did Obama Join Reactionaries in Dumping on ACORN?

Originally posted at Daily Kos

I was reading a great posting by powwow at FDL's The Seminal this morning. It reviewed David Cole's remarks on President Obama's refusal to apologize for the U.S. government kidnapping/rendition to torture of Canadian Maher Arar. Daphne Evitar and Something the Dog Said already diaried on that, to little notice here at Daily Kos.

But farther down powwow's article I discovered something initially reported last April, but appears to have gone without comment or notice here: that after all the verbiage about how the right went after ACORN, how ACORN was unfairly set-up by right-wing operatives, complete with doctored video... when a U.S. judge ruled that Congress's bill of attainder attacking ACORN was unconstitutional, the Obama administration backed up Congress, and defended the attack on ACORN.

Who would have thought Obama, the vaunted one-time community organizer, would join with the right to attack community organizers?

We know now that the whole ACORN video incident was a setup and a scam, and that ACORN employees did nothing illegal. Just earlier this month a Congressional report cleared ACORN of any wrongdoing (after ACORN had dissolved itself to reform under a new name). A diary noting the courage of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in not voting for the illegal bill of attainder against ACORN hit the recommended list here at Daily Kos as recently as January 28 of this year. See also this highly recommended April 9 diary asking "ACORN exonerated: The tapes were edited. Will the media retract and apologize?"

But when, after Federal District Judge Nina Gershon struck down the illegal ban on funding for Acorn on March 12, the Obama administration appealed this decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. I have never seen this reported at Daily Kos.

Here's how it was reported at back on April 21 (emphasis added):
A federal appeals court was asked Tuesday to allow enforcement of legislation stripping the embattled activist group ACORN of government funding....

Tuesday, Stern was asking the circuit for an emergency stay pending appeal of a March decision by Eastern District Judge Nina Gershon, who granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the funding restrictions.

Gershon found that the legislation was an unconstitutional bill of attainder, a rarely litigated bar in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9) on legislation punishing a single person or group.

She denied the government's motion for a stay pending appeal on March 31 and [Mark] Stern headed for the 2nd Circuit, where he argued Tuesday before Judges Roger J. Miner, Jose A. Cabranes and Richard C. Wesley in ACORN v. United States, 10-992.

Stern claimed that Congress had the right to instruct agencies to withhold funding from ACORN amid "indisputable reports of ACORN mismanagement nationwide."

"This is a case of taking steps on the appropriation of federal funds," Stern said. "And if Congress sees widespread mismanagement, it says 'time out.'"
WTF? ACORN had already been cleared by this time. What is Stern and the Obama DoJ talking about? And, btw, don't tell me Stern is a right-wing Bush left-behind. Stern's years at DoJ go back to the Clinton administration, and he received a DoJ special commendation award in 2007 for his work in the U.S. v Philip Morris landmark case.

What's worse is that the role of the Obama administration in perpetuating the right-wing attacks on ACORN goes unremarked by the Daily Kos community. That smacks of hypocrisy to me, though more likely it is simply a willful blindness to the bad policies of the Obama administration, a blindness born of misplaced loyalty and a deep wish for change.

So what say you, Obama loyalists? How can you alibi this betrayal? More nice pictures of the First Family?

I'm getting tired of Obama's lies: on secret prisons, on torture, on supporting community organizers, on FISA, on indefinite detention, on transparency. Jon Stewart captured some of the hypocrisy of the Obama administration the other day in a brilliant routine at The Daily Show.

The Circuit Court, by the way, reserved decision on the ACORN appeal from the Obama DoJ, and in the meantime left the ban on funding in place, until the appeal was decided.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

UN Report Documents Secret Detention Practices by U.S., Other Countries

Also posted at FDL/The Seminal

Andy Worthington is posting portions of the United Nations’ “Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Counter-Terrorism,” a detailed, 186-page report issued last February (PDF). As he explains it, he’s "posting the section of the report that deals with US secret detention policies since the 9/11 attacks [section 4 of the original report], in the hope that it might reach a new audience — and provide useful research opportunities — as an HTML document." Andy adds:

I do, however, urge everyone to read the whole report, because the introduction and conclusions are important, as are the sections establishing the legal approach to secret detention and its historical context, the section detailing current practices in 25 other countries worldwide, and the annexes, which contain government responses to a questionnaire about secret detention, and a number of case studies.

The report concludes:

In many contexts, intelligence agencies operate in a legal vacuum with no law, or no publicly available law, governing their actions….

Secret detention as such may constitute torture or ill-treatment for the direct victims as well as for their families. As many of the interviews and cases included in the present study illustrate, however, the very purpose of secret detention is to facilitate and, ultimately, cover up torture and inhuman and degrading treatment used either to obtain information or to silence people….

The generalized fear of secret detention and its corollaries, such as torture and ill-treatment, tends to effectively result in limiting the exercise of a large number of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of association.

Part One of the report is here. Part Two is linked here. I’ll post the link to Part Three when he uploads it. All links are easy to download HTML.

I’d follow Andy’s advice and download the whole thing, especially as the full details for all the footnotes can only be followed in the original report. He says he’s added what he can in square brackets, and also kindly supplied some hyperlinks — a distinct bonus over the report itself!

The report was prepared by "Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Shaheen Ali, the vice-chair of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and Jeremy Sarkin, the chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances." The scope of the report is quite large, including 66 countries, including various European states, China, Canada, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Israel, Libya, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and many more.

The UN experts’ conclusions were criticized by a number of countries, including some grumbling over the report’s "methodology" from Eileen Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council. As Worthington noted in his original story on the report on June 15:

Despite the experts’ hopes, Deutsche Welle noted that a detailed questionnaire that experts sent to the UN’s 192 member countries was only answered by 44 of those countries, and, moreover, “Of these, not one admitted to the existence of secret prisons. The report’s authors depended on independent sources for their investigation and many countries denied them any kind of access to relevant materials or sources.”

The article also noted, “During the debate, China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Algeria and other African nations denied that any secret detention facilities existed on their territory.” Revisiting the complaints they made when the report was first published, “They accused the report’s authors of sloppy research, of overstepping their mandate and of compiling the report without being commissioned to do so by the UN Human Rights Council"….

Nevertheless, reflecting on the discussion, Martin Scheinin told IPS, “It went better than expected. The report has been very controversial and now there appears to be acknowledgement that the issue is serious enough not to be trivialized by procedural filibustery.”

While the UN experts were dismayed over the U.S. failure to close Guantanamo, as promised by President Obama, they reportedly were somewhat understanding, in that they believed "The [U.S.] government is unable to do anything when the legislature prohibits part of the options available: namely taking a single person from Guantanamo to the mainland United States." Maybe the report’s authors were simply pleased the U.S. had not opposed the report in general. Given the fact that in the past year new secret prisons have been revealed at both Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base, the role of the current administration in relation to secret detention sites and abuse of prisoners in U.S.-run secret prisons, and those of its allies, like Iraq, remains the least reported scandal of the Obama years.

The UN report on secret detentions in the name of "counter-terrorism" was hardly reported by either the U.S. press or the blogosphere. This is not a subject fit for discussion in the era of Obama. While part of the country chokes on a diet of corporate-supplied oil swill, the military-industrial-technical might of the country is engaged in military adventures and empire-building that is bankrupting the nation, and sowing ill-will world-wide.

What the UN report also demonstrates is that the U.S. practice of holding "ghost prisoners" in undocumented and hidden prisons is by no means unusual, that in a world run by corrupt elites and nationalist dictators dreaming revanchist dreams, and running ethnic cleansing enterprises, the practice of secret detention has a wide dissemination. In this we can see the U.S. is only one among many malefactors, if perhaps more responsible (or more cynical) for the breadth of their enterprise, their use of allies utilizing secret prisons for the rendition program, and their long practice of such detentions, going back to the secret backing for Operation Condor, the kidnapping-assassination-secret detention program in South America in the 1970s. (See the article Operation Condor: Deciphering the U.S. Role, by historian J. Patrice McSherry.) Condor is specifically singled out in the UN report as a precursor to the current practice of secret detentions in a number of countries.

According to an IPS article on the report, "The study’s recommendations included an explicit prohibition of secret detention, and the keeping of clear detention records, even at times of armed conflict, as stipulated by the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war." Both the report itself and its recommendations should be broadcast widely and well. I thank Andy Worthington for his tireless pursuit of the issue of prisoners held without legal standing, as his long reporting on Guantanamo demonstrates.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jon Stewart Skewers Obama Hypocrisy on Torture, War, Surveillance

Respect My Authoritah
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

H/T twolf1 at FDL/The Seminal

Torture News: Anti-Gitmo Protesters Acquitted; RCMP Investigating U.S. Officials on Arar Rendition

The Washington Examiner is reporting that Judge Russell Canan of the D.C. Superior Court has dropped all charges against 27 (some reports say 24) defendants arrested at the U.S. Capitol on January 21 in a demonstration called by Witness Against Torture. The protesters were demonstrating peacefully on the steps of the Capitol, dressed as Guantanamo prisoners in orange jump suits, and with banners reading “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” calling for President Barack Obama to shut down Guantanamo prison. Police say they refused to disperse as ordered.

Inside the Capitol Rotunda, at the location where deceased presidents lie in state, fourteen activists were arrested performing a memorial service for three men who died at Guantanamo in 2006. Initially reported as suicides, the deaths may have been — as recent evidence suggests — the result of the men being tortured to death (see Scott Horton, “Murders at Guantanamo, March 2010, Harpers).

One of the protesters was contacted by cell phone after the judgment for acquittal, according to a story at

[Patricia] Wieland, contacted by cell phone outside the court house, called the ruling a major victory because it upheld the First Amendment, namely the protections for freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly.

“We did exactly what the First Amendment tells us to do,” she said. “We actually exercised the First Amendment and won.”

SCOTUS Stiffs Arar Complaint, While RCMP Investigating U.S./Syrian Officials in Arar Rendition

According to a press release by Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the U.S. Supreme Court "decided today not to hear the [CCR] case on behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against U.S. officials for their role in sending him to Syria to be tortured. I discussed last November the en banc decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where the court made it clear that victims of extraordinary rendition, i.e., kidnapping and being sent to be tortured, as Arar was, right from JFK Airport in New York City. (File this in the "it could be you" department.)

Glenn Greenwald castigated the Supreme Court’s decision in his column today, "The U.S. wins the right to abduct innocent people with impunity":

The Canadians, who cooperated with the U.S. in Arar’s abduction, conducted a sweeping investigation of what happened, and then publicly "issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured," and made clear he had done absolutely nothing wrong. Then, Canada’s Prime Minister personally and publicly apologized to Arar, and announced that Canada would compensate him with a payment of $ 8.5 million.

But what has the U.S. done. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Really worse than nothing, as the Obama administration actively sought to prevent Arar’s suit, including filing a brief arguing against the Supreme Court taking up the Second Circuit ruling. Furthermore, the U.S. has refused to allow Arar into the United States, even though it admits he never did anything wrong. The only reason for this is to keep his story from being heard.

Meanwhile, according to CCR, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating U.S. officials involved in the rendition of Mr. Arar.

According to Mr. Arar and his attorneys, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has been conducting a criminal investigation into U.S. as well as Syrian officials for their role in his rendition to torture.

To their knowledge, this is the first time the existence of the RCMP’s criminal investigation of U.S officials has been made public. Mr. Arar has met with the RCMP in conjunction with the investigation.

Said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood, “The U.S. should be conducting its own criminal investigation of the officials responsible for sending an innocent man to Syria for a year to be interrogated under torture, not covering for them. Again, the Canadians are doing the right thing by criminally investigating not only Syrian officials, but officials from the U.S. as well. The Obama administration should look to the Canadian example and do what’s right – apologize to Maher and hold his torturers accountable.”

It’s a good thing (for certain people) that the United States is quite large, because as this country sinks into the status of an international pariah, intent on protecting its torturers, if not the right to torture prisoners it considers outside the pale of national and international law, U.S. officials involved in these crimes against humanity will soon find they cannot go to even Canada, as they would fear arrest and prosecution.

Other Links

Those more interested in Maher Arar’s case should check out this CCR link.

Those, like myself, who could not attend the Culture Project’s "Blueprint for Accountability" shindig at Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, NYU, on June 7, with Valerie Plame, Ron Suskind, Jeremy Scahill, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Vince Warren and others, can now watch the unchaptered video of the event online here.

The full text of the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) complaint to the federal Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) is now online, offering the opportunity to sign on to complaint itself. The official petition draws upon findings by PHR that the CIA experimented on detainees in its custody, based upon the following evidence of wrongdoing detailed in declassified government documents. See PHR’s full investigatory report here.

PHR’s filing has been joined by other major human rights and civil liberties groups, including Amnesty International, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

ACLU reminds us that June is "Torture Awareness Month," and is using the occasion to publicize many of the torture documents it painstakingly won via hard-fought FOIA lawsuits. Now, if they would only sign on to PHR’s OHRP complaint. Hey, ACLU, what’s up with that?

Update: An ACLU kindly wrote to remind me that ACLU has been supportive of PHR's report on Bush-era human experiments on torture, citing this article, as well as support for the PHR/New York Civil Liberties Union push for passage of New York State anti-torture bills.

Originally posted at The Seminal/FDL

Friday, June 11, 2010

Democracy Now! Raw Footage of Israel Assault on Relief Ship - [Graphic]

Yesterday, Democracy Now! unveiled new, exclusive, unedited footage of the results of the Israeli assault on the Gaza relief ship, the Mavi Marmara. The following video also includes an interview of Iara Lee, filmmaker and director of the Cultures of Resistance network by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Much thanks to Goodman and company for covering this important news.

Click here to see the full report at Democracy Now's website, including full transcript from the show.
AMY GOODMAN: Describe that, because this is the footage, as the narrative was laid out over the days, we of course did not see, although the Israeli military has all of it in their possession. This footage that you have shows one person after another being dragged out and attempts at treating them. Describe the injuries that you saw.

IARA LEE: As I said, I was going up and down, just trying to get an overview and making sure some of the people I knew were OK. And, you know, like, it was very chaotic. I just know that when they call us like a hate boat, this is insane, because obviously we were there to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, and they were the ones using live ammunition, to the point when they did the autopsy, the people who are found dead, they had like thirty bullets. So, can we say the Israeli navy and the commandos, they came to play ball with us? No, they came to kill. They wanted to take over the ship. And we were actually—according to some research, the ship was even fleeing, because we didn’t want this kind of like heavy confrontation. But they came in the middle of international waters and overpowered us....

Yes, I think the miscalculation was that the Israelis thought, by jamming our satellite system, the world would not have any access to information. And they didn’t know that we had a backup system that was able to transmit live some of the events. And obviously it was dark in the middle of the ocean, so they thought they had it all taken care, as far as like no information would come out. They would be the only ones holding the information, because they were obviously filming. And we were hundreds of people, so some of us did manage to get, you know, photographs and video footage out. And today we are showing raw, uncensored footage, and everybody can take the clue. And we’ll make it available to the world for investigations.

Please Sign PHR Complaint to OHRP on CIA Unethical Research and Experimentation

Reprinted from Op-Ed News, the article below was written by Stephen Soldz, a psychologist, and one of the authors of the report cited in the article.
Coalition Files Office of Human Research Protections Complaint: Investigate CIA Research
by Stephen Soldz

On Monday, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released a new report "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the "Enhanced" Interrogation Program," which provides evidence indicating that the "enhanced interrogation" program carried out after September 11, 2001 involved doctors and other health professionals in conducting apparently unethical research and experimentation using detainees as human subjects. Two PsySR members, Steven Reisner and myself, are among the coauthors on this report.

The report received extensive press coverage, including over 500 articles. It was downloaded 4,200 times in the first 24 hours. Among the press articles was this New York Times article and one I wrote [readable here]. Last Tuesday also saw a New York Times editorial on the report.

As a follow-up action, on Wednesday eight health, religious, human rights groups PHR, PsySR, Amnesty, Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Center for Victims of Torture, National Religious Campaign Against Torture [the International Rehabilitation Council for the Victims of Torture joined the next day] held a press conference announcing that we are filing a complaint with the Office of Human Research Protection (OHRP) in the Department of Health and Human Services. OHRP is the federal office tasked with enforcing The Common Rule, the set of research ethics guidelines that all responsible human subject researchers learn early in their training. I've posted below the statement that I made at the press conference on behalf of PsySR.

One exciting aspect of this OHRP complaint is that, for the first time it provides a mechanism for individual citizens to directly take action regarding an aspect of our government's torture regime. PHR has established an online mechanism whereby each of us can directly sign onto the complaint to OHRP. PLEASE CONSIDER GOING HERE AND SIGNING THE COMPLAINT. We hope that many thousands around the world will join us in this complaint.

Please do what you can to spread the word. We are especially interested in mobilizing new constituencies: the scientific community because of the illegal and unethical research angle; the Jewish community because of the Nazi doctors connection; and the African-American community because of the Tuskegee connection. Please help with forwarding articles, writing letters to the editor, calling in to talk radio, posting comments on online articles, etc, etc.

Experiments in Torture and news about the report and its reception are available here.
To read Dr. Soldz's own comments upon filing the OHRP complaint, please click through here.

Drop Charges Against Anti-Gitmo Protesters!

The following is a press release from Witness Against Torture. It was forwarded to me by Center for Constitutional Rights, because, CCR explains, CCR's Legal Director Bill Quigley is Counsel of Record in this case. Also, because CCR is a frequent ally in the fight for accountability and the safe closure of Guantanamo.

Twenty-Seven to Go on Trial for Protesting the Obama Administration’s Failure to Close Guantanamo, Plan for Indefinite Detention, and Refusal to Prosecute Torture

For Immediate Release, June 11, 2010

Contact: Jeremy Varon: M: 732-979-3119,
Helen Schietinger: M: 202-344-5762,

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, June 14 twenty-seven will face trial stemming from arrests at the U.S. Capitol on January 21, 2010 — the date by which President Obama had promised the closure of the Guantanamo detention camp. The human rights activists will hold a press conference outside the courthouse defending their protest, condemning the Obama administration’s continuation of Bush policies, and explaining their use in court of the “necessity defense.”

The press conference will be held Monday, June 14 at 8:30 am near the intersection of Fifth Street NW and Indiana Avenue NW, directly across from the Moultrie Superior Courthouse (500 Indiana Ave., N.W. Washington, D.C.).

On January 21, twenty-seven people dressed as Guantanamo prisoners were arrested on the steps of the Capitol holding banners reading “Broken Promises, Broken Laws, Broken Lives.” Inside the Capitol Rotunda, at the location where deceased presidents lie in state, fourteen activists were arrested performing a memorial service for three men who died at Guantanamo in 2006. Initially reported as suicides, the deaths may have been — as recent evidence suggests — the result of the men being tortured to death (see Scott Horton, “Murders at Guantanamo, March 2010, Harpers).

“The continued operation of the prison camp at Guantanamo is unacceptable,” Matthew W. Daloisio of Witness Against Torture. “If Guantanamo was a foreign policy liability and stain on the rule of law on day one of the Obama presidency, it surely is eighteen months later.”

“The deaths at Guantanamo show how barbaric US policies have been,” says Helen Schietinger, another member of WAT. “We are still waiting for accountability for those who designed and carried out torture policies under President Bush. Obama can’t restore the rule of law if he doesn’t enforce the law.”

The human rights activists plan to mount a “necessity defense” before Judge Russell Canan. “We will be arguing that we broke the law only after exhausting all legal means of opposing a much larger crime—the indefinite detention, mistreatment, and torture of men at Guantanamo and other US prisons,” says Jerica Arents of Chicago, Illinois, another the defendants. The trial comes in the middle of Torture Awareness Month, when many groups—including Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International—are planning activities.

The January protests were the culmination of a twelve-day fast for justice and an end to torture organized by Witness Against Torture in Washington, D.C. More than 100 people participated in the fast and daily actions throughout the nation’s Capital.

Witness Against Torture formed in December 2005 when twenty-five activists walked to Guantanamo to visit the prisoners and condemn torture policies. Since then, it has engaged in public education, community outreach, and non-violent civil disobedience. To learn more visit

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bill Moyer on "The Secret Government"

PBS, 1987

I doubt it would even be aired today.

"The history of our secret government.... 'National Security' was invented in 1947...."

A truly remarkable documentary and fascinating viewing. I'm proud to present it here.

"Three Days of the Condor" (1975): "Are We Going to Invade the Middle East?"

Spoiler alert: This is the final scene of the movie, so if you haven't watched it yet. It being a great and also entertaining film, if you haven't seen it, rent or buy it. You won't be sorry.
"Hey Turner! How do you know they'll print it?"
Oh, and as to Redford's question in the video, CIA honcho Turner answers "No." But then, we all know how that turned out, don't we?

CCR Endorses PHR Report on Bush Administration Human Experimentation

Center for Constitutional Rights has released a ringing endorsement of the report released last Monday by Physicians for Human Rights. The report already famously reveals that doctors and psychologists at the CIA black sites used techniques of human experimentation and research on the prisoners held incommunicado there, breaking scores of domestic and international laws and codes of ethics. CCR has been centrally involved in providing legal assistance, against great governmental resistance and right-wing attack, to the men held at Guantanamo, "sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with an individual transferred from CIA “ghost detention” to Guantanamo."

The following is the text of their press release on the PHR report:
CCR Endorses New Report Showing Evidence of Bush Administration Human Experimentation on Men in CIA Secret Detention

Violations of Nuremburg Code and Role of Health Professionals in Secret Torture Program Require Criminal Investigation

CCR Demands New Intra-Agency Interrogation Unit Disclose Nature of “Scientific Research” Into Questioning of Suspects


June 7, 2010, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in response to a new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program. Download the report at

Physicians for Human Rights has produced a powerful analysis of declassified documents which provide evidence that doctors and officials performed human experimentation and research on individuals in CIA detention, in violation of the Nuremberg Code. From calibrating sleep deprivation to refining waterboarding practices, the released documents indicate that health professionals illegally experimented on individuals in CIA secret detention. Looking at the evidence through this lens opens new and important avenues for the prosecution of torturers, particularly health professionals implicated in the creation of the torture program.

The health professionals monitored and adjusted various methods such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the combined use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques as interrogators performed them repeatedly on individuals in the CIA’s secret detention program. Part of the health professionals’ work appears to have been researching the individuals’ susceptibility to severe pain. By doing so, the health professionals appear to have used their medical expertise to attempt to immunize interrogators from future criminal liability by allowing interrogators to claim they did not to cross the line of "severe physical and mental pain." The health professionals helped in the effort to provide legal cover for U.S. torture practices.

The Center for Constitutional Rights represents a number of men who are or were detained by the United States, including men who died in the custody of the Department of Defense at Guantánamo under suspicious circumstances and whose families have brought an action against in the United States in al Zahrani v. Obama.

CCR has long called for accountability for torture. CCR joins PHR's call for the Attorney General to engage in a criminal investigation of illegal human experimentation and research on men in CIA detention, and further calls for investigation into possible experiments performed on men in military detention at Guantánamo and elsewhere, as well.

CCR also demands that the new intra-agency interrogation unit that was disclosed in February 2010 explain the nature of the "scientific research" it is conducting to improve the questioning of suspects. The current government may attempt to take advantage of ambiguity in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, added by the Bush administration and left in place by the Obama administration, to justify the ongoing use of some “enhanced” interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation in the new interrogation guidelines. Any ongoing unlawful human experimentation to “perfect” such techniques must immediately cease.

It is critical that we scrutinize forwarding-looking practices and policies as well as those of the recent past.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Senate Intel Committee to Consider PHR Findings on Torture Experiments

Originally posted at Firedoglake

Senator Dianne Feinstein's press office kindly returned my phone query the other day about her response to the revelations in the new Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) report, "Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program" (PDF). Sen. Feinstein's response indicated that the Senate Intelligence Committee would examine PHR's findings.

PHR's investigation showed that doctors and psychologists involved in the Bush Administration's CIA "enhanced interrogation" torture program apparently used high-value detainees as guinea pigs in experiments to determine how they could refine the torture techniques to get by the law. Of course, they were assisted in this by the lawyers of the Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, and later Steven Bradbury. Then, in 2006, the Bush Administration had Congress rewrite the War Crimes Act to soften the restrictions against "biological experimentation." I've been following this story actively (see here and here).

I was especially curious to see what, if anything, Sen. Feinstein had to say, because she is the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. As Jason Leopold reported in April, the Committee has begun an investigation into the torture and detention policies surrounding the high-value detainees, particularly the treatment of Abu Zubaydah, who "the Bush administration wrongly claimed was one of the planners of 9/11 and a top al-Qaeda operative." Zubaydah was famously the subject of the second August 2002 OLC Bybee memo approving the use of torture techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, putting insects in a confinement box, stress positions and other techniques meant to break down the mind and body of prisoners.

This was the e-mail response from Sen. Feinstein's office (emphasis added):
“The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting a review of the CIA detention and interrogation program,” Senator Feinstein said. “This review includes both the use of CIA medical personnel in administering coercive interrogation techniques and the effects of prolonged detention on the individuals in CIA custody. This is the most detailed and comprehensive review of the CIA detention and interrogation program ever conducted. The findings of the new report from Physicians for Human Rights will be considered in our review, and I will have further comment on this when the report is completed.
This is promising news for those of us--and I believe that constitutes the majority of the country--who wish to see justice done about torture and other crimes, like illegal human experimentation and unethical research, conducted by officials and medical professionals on behalf of the United States government.

I know there are many people who are pessimistic about the government seriously investigating these crimes. I have had my own doubts. Certainly, President Barack Obama has made it clear that he wants to "move forward," and has not been favorably disposed toward an investigation of the crimes of the Bush years. Others have noted that Obama himself has now become the beneficiary of executive immunity for what can only be classified as illegal actions above and beyond the law. Glenn Greenwald put it well in a column on Tuesday, noting that Obama has "engaged in extreme measures to carry out that imperial, Orwellian dictate by shielding those crimes from investigation, review, adjudication and accountability":
All of that would be bad enough if his generous immunity were being applied across the board. But it isn't. Numerous incidents now demonstrate that as high-level Bush lawbreakers are vested with presidential immunity, low-level whistle blowers who exposed serious wrongdoing and allowed citizens some minimal glimpse into what our government does are being persecuted by the Obama administration with a vengeance. Yesterday it was revealed by Wired that the Army intelligence officer analyst who reportedly leaked the Apache helicopter attack video to Wikileaks--and thus enabled Americans to see what we are really doing in Iraq and other countries which we occupy and attack--has been arrested....
A failure of the movement for accountability for torture will only embolden those sectors of the government that seek carte blanche in their efforts to subordinate the entire nation to endless militarism, the better to fill the pocketbooks of the industries and academic think tanks that staff the effort, not to mention the many medals and military careers that rest upon such an enterprise. Even more, like a parasite that lives upon a host and then takes over the living body of its victim, the torturers and would-be Mengeles will feel they have free rein for the most diabolical adventures in evil.

It doesn't have to be that way, and I don't believe it will be that way. In the end, this is not a torturing country. This is not a nation that believes in turning vulnerable, imprisoned human beings into lab rats for CIA or DoD bullies. This nation was founded on something else, on the Bill of Rights, on Enlightenment ideals that eschewed torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners, and believed in equality under the law. There were huge contradictions from the beginning--slavery, the extermination policy toward Native Americans, limitations on women's rights--and it has been and continues to be a struggle to realize the ideals with which this country was founded.

If torture and inhumane, illegal experimentation and research are allowed to flourish, without punishment, without an accounting for what has been and evidently still is being done, then we can kiss this country goodbye, and the glorious experiment must pass on to other hands.

I ask Senator Feinstein and her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee to be cognizant of that. I believe that public hearings and a full, open, transparent investigation, with full subpoena power, followed by a criminal investigation, are required. With the news from Senator Feinstein's office, and the "New York Times" editorial yesterday calling for investigations, we have a good beginning. As for PHR, it's expected to file imminently, along with other prominent individuals and organizations, a complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP). It will ask for an OHRP investigation of the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, whose medical professionals were intimately involved in the monitoring and research activities related to the torture interrogations.

We all know we have a steep hill to climb to bring about real accountability and expose the full extent of the torture program. But then, the fight for equality and liberty never came easily, and in the end, that's what this is all about. Torture and war crimes like illegal human experimentation obliterate the meaningfulness of such ideals. We know what's at stake here, and so do they. The battle is enjoined joined.

For more on PHR's report, and the latest news about what is happening with its campaign, see the website

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