Friday, December 23, 2011

Excerpt from Secret US Gov't Report: "Law Enforcement Turned Law-Breaking"

The following is but one section from the 1976 report of the House Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA and intelligence agencies, procedures and finances, known to history as The Pike Report. The investigation paralleled the more famous Church Committee investigation undertaken by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Unlike the Church committee report, the Pike Report was suppressed by Congress -- after it was completed (and the CIA complained) -- and never officially released to the United States citizens who paid for it. The late Daniel Schorr famously released a leaked copy to the Village Voice, which published it to great fanfare. Schorr was castigated, and his career and liberty temporarily threatened. But that is an old story now, and readers can follow it at a number of online sites (some of which are linked below).

The staffers working for Congressman Otis Pike were pugnacious and the investigation had a contentious relationship with the CIA. For one thing, the Pike Committee was investigating the financial aspects of the intelligence agencies, and was looking into certain areas the agencies wished to keep secret. Pike famously wrote in the report that the intelligence world had slipped "beyond the lawmaker's scrutiny," and that the CIA and other government agencies were using "national security" secrecy "to intimidate Congress and erode fragile support for sensitive inquiries."

Full Suppressed Pike Report Now Online

In the past I've excerpted portions of the report, but the selection posted below comes from a full, online version of the report, scanned from a 1991 version of the report assembled by Gregory Andrade Diamond and published by McGraw Hill. This version, as well as other versions, including one published in Great Britain in the 1970s by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, have been incredibly difficult to come by, and prohibitively expensive for those who might see a copy for sale. The small portion posted here is within fair use guidelines and for the public good. It is posted without remuneration of any kind.

The Committee's hearings volumes (including the statements of witnesses, charts, correspondence, etc.), along with an unpublished draft report by the committee on NSA electronic surveillance, can be viewed at the Mary Farrell Foundation website, though you must be a member to download the actual documents.

Readers can investigate some of the background of the report's controversies at a selection of Kathryn S. Olmstead's 1996 book, Challenging the Secret Government, posted by Third World Traveler. Another interesting, if necessarily partial, history of the Pike report was written by CIA historian Gerald K. Haines, "The Pike Committee Investigations and the CIA."

Contrariwise, the introduction to the British publication of the report, by former CIA agent Philip Agee, constitutes another crucial discussion of the controversies around the report and its suppression. For one thing, Agee is critical of some aspects of the investigation and subsequent report:
For all the valuable information contained in the Pike Committee's report, one most important area of CIA operations was completely overlooked, possibly because the committee considered the matter too hot to handle. These are the relations between the CIA and foreign intelligence and security services -- commonly known in the Agency as liaison operations. Through these operations the CIA trains, finances and in varying degrees guides the foreign services into operations that will help the CIA. Over the years the CIA has played a major role in the growth and strengthening of many of the world's most dreaded and cruel security services: the South Korean CIA, the Indonesian KOPKAMTIB, the Thieu security services in South Vietnam, the SAVAK in Iran, the OBAN, CODI, DOPS and SNI in Brazil, the DINA in Chile and the Federal Police in Argentina....

Nowhere in the Pike Report can one find an indication that the Select Committee even considered the CIA's role in promoting and supporting such repressive security services.
Ongoing Government Use of Informants & Agents Provocateurs

The following excerpt (from pages 163-165 of the report) is chosen for its particular relevancy to the ways that agencies of the state operate to entrap political opponents by the use of agents provocateurs. This is not merely an historical lesson, but directly pertinent due to recent reports (such as this one at NPR) of such FBI and police activities concerning informants.

Last October, a Mother Jones investigation by Trevor Aaronson, detailed the use of FBI informants "to bust, and sometimes lead, terrorist plots." Back in 2005, a Dan Eggen report at the Washington Post detailed the findings of a Department of Justice investigation that found "in a handful of cases in which the FBI permits informants to commit an act -- such as engaging in conversations about a conspiracy or handling money as part of a controlled drug purchase -- that would otherwise be a crime." But this was certainly a soft-peddling of a much larger problem.

A September 18 article by Petra Bartosiewicz at the Los Angeles Times described the wide-scale use of informants as provocateurs in the Muslim community:
In a case in Chicago last year, for example, the FBI instructed informants to pay a suspect to quit his day job so he could focus on jihad.

To aid them in their efforts, the FBI has deployed paid undercover informants throughout the nation's Muslim community, particularly in mosques. These informants often act as agents provocateur. At a mosque in California in 2007, for example, one such FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, who says he was paid $177,000 for his services, talked so vigorously about jihad that the mosque sought and received a restraining order against him.

In another high-profile case known as the Newburgh Four — four African American Muslim converts convicted last year of attempting to bomb a synagogue and a Jewish community center and to shoot down military planes — an FBI informant promised the defendants, among other enticements, a BMW and $250,000 to carry out the attack. The details of the plot were choreographed in such detail that the presiding judge in the case chastised the government for its "decidedly troubling" tactics and concluded that the defendants would never have committed the attacks on their own.
But these kinds of reports are not really new. The 1970s Church hearings themselves reported on the use of FBI agents provocateurs in the Cointelpro operation used to destroy the Black Panther Party and other supposed "extremist" groups.

Not much was really done to curtail the activities of law enforcement and intelligence operations, though exposure may have slowed their operations for a time. As a result, these same agencies feel free to exercise the same kind of activities now. Political activists need to know about this history and these kinds of spy and provocateur operations in their midst, the better to arm themselves against police/intelligence penetration of their groups.

In the following subsection from the Pike Report, I have not changed spelling or other textual problems with the document, though I did make the subhead bold for greater clarity. The footnotes in the original are at the bottom of each page, but here are formatted entirely at the end of the text selection.
Law Enforcement Turned Law-Breaking

The use of informants, albeit an effective law enforcement tool, is a method of investigation which is particularly subject to abuses of constitutional rights and rights of privacy.

The Committee heard testimony from a former FBI informant named Robert Hardy. Mr. Hardy chronicled for the Committee his role in a 1971 Camden Draft Board break-in. Pursuant to FBI instructions, he infiltrated a peaceful anti-war group in Camden, New Jersey.540 He instigated the burglary and supplied the would-be burglars with tools, money, technical assistance and encouragement.541

In sum, Mr. Hardy acted as an "agent-provocateur." At one point, he attempted to halt the actual burglary, because a conspiracy had been established. His FBI handling-agents insisted that the burglary be committed. 542

The disturbing lesson is that in the FBI system there is virtually no mechanism to control agents in charge of informants. The FBI Manual of Instructions on Informants sets forth specific guidelines for the handling of informants,543 yet the uniqueness and secrecy surrounding each informant's relationship with the handling-agent544 impairs the effectiveness of those instructions.

In the Hardy case, the informant-agent relationship was further complicated by political considerations. 545 The defendants in a celebrated case in nearby Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, had recently been acquitted of all conspiracy counts. The FBI apparently felt that an overt act such as an actual break-in would be required to insure a conviction, even though the alleged crime of conspiracy, which was the basis of later prosecution, appears to have been completed far in advance of the actual break-in.

It should be noted that Department of Justice attorneys were advised of this situation long before the break-in and did nothing to avert the course of events. 546

The Committee investigated another example of lack of control over informants. The FBI used Robert Merritt 547 as an informant on New Left activities during the early 1970's. His duties included reporting on activities at the Institute of Policy Studies. Merritt told the Committee that his FBI handling-agents instructed him to conduct break-ins, deliver unopened mail acquired illegally, and solicit and provide information to the FBI regarding homosexual proclivities of politically prominent people and individuals of the new Left. 548

The FBI agents who handled Merritt denied these allegations under oath. They stated that Merritt acted on his own. 549

The handling-agents stated that they terminated Merritt because they ascertained that he ha provided false information on one occasion and had reason to believe he provided false information at other times in the past.550 If this was true, it does not fit with other facts. During the seven months that Merritt was an FBI informant, he provided over 100 reports on at least 25 people. He had, in fact, been categorized as "reliable" in FBI records. 55l

No effort was ever made to "correct" the Merritt reports, by indicating that the information contained therein might be unreliable. No prosecutive actions were ever recommended as a result of Merritt's allegedly wrong actions. His efforts apparently fit well with intelligence operations. 552

Furthermore, Merritt told staff that he had committed numerous illegal acts at the direction of District of Columbus Metropolitan Police. 553

His FBI handling-agents stated that although they acquired Merritt form [sic] the Metropolitan Police Department, they never inquired as to the nature of his prior activities as a police informant. 554 This attitude of "see no evil, hear no evil" appears to violate the seemingly rigid regulations of the FBI Manual, designed to effect the recruitment of responsible and reliable informants.

Conflicting testimony in the Merritt matter reveals the problem itself. Since FBI agents' instructions to their informants are, by necessity, given orally555 and without witnesses, it is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately fix responsibility for an informant's actions.

If the FBI agent is at fault, the problem becomes one of administrative command and control. If, however, the informant has gone bad, the problem is more difficult. For example, if an informant successfully instigates others to commit a crime, as in the Hardy matter, his FBI contact agent may overlook the informant's improper actions, because the informant is important to a case for which the FBI agent is likely to receive credit.

The risk that informants may use illegal methods is heightened when one considers the kind of person needed to infiltrate suspected criminal elements. Understating the problem, James Adams, Assistant to the Director of FBI, testified before the Committee on November 18, 1975: "[T]he informants you develop are not recruited from Sunday Schools."556 The dubious character of most informants is compounded by the fact that informants are paid cash, and their payment is commensurate with the information they furnish. The more incriminating the information, the more lucrative the reward.

540 None of the group's members was known by the FBI to be violence-prone. Comm. Hearings, at, Nov. 18, 1975

541 All of which were paid for with FBI funds. Ibid.

542 The FBI's denial of this allegation appears in their Memorandum of Nov. 28, 1975, Appendix II.

543 FBI Manual of Instructions, "Security Informants and Confidential Sources," Section 107.

544 The FBI considers the confidentiality of the relating between a special agent and his informant to be of paramount importance. Staff briefing, FBI Intelligence Division personnel and J.B.F. Oliphant and R. Vermeire, Aug. 28, 1975, copy on file with Sel. Comm. on Intell.

545 Staff interview, Guy Goodwin, by J.B.F. Oliphant and R. Vcnneirc, Nov. 14, 1975, at 83, copy on file with Sel. Comm. on Intell.

546 Ibid., at 83-84.

547 Staff interview, Robert Merritt, by J.B.F. Oliphant, J. Atkisson, E. Miller. Staff memo on fIle with Sel. comm. on Intell.

548 Ibid.

549 Staff interview, FBI Special Agents Tucker and O'Connor. by l.B.F. Oliphant, J. Atkisson, Nov. 5, 1975, copy on file with Sel. comm. on Intell.

550 Ibid.

55l Ibid., at 33.

552 Merritt interview.

553 Ibid.

554 Tucker-O'Connor Interview.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Radio Interview: “Iron Man” and the OBL Cover Up

I was pleased to spend an hour talking with James Corbett, as part of his radio show last night. Readers interested in the 9/11 cover-up story, especially as it relates to the suppression of knowledge about the work of military intelligence agencies, should click here to listen to the podcast.

From The Corbett Report website:
In the run-up to 9/11, a little-known military intelligence unit was tracking the movements and actions of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. In late 2000, the military brass called off that work, and later the DoD lied to Congress about the unit and its work. Find out more about this underreported piece of the 9/11 cover up puzzle on tonight’s edition of the broadcast with our special guest Dr. Jeffrey Kaye.

Monday, December 19, 2011

James Corbett Reports: "35 Reasons to Question 9/11"

In a 9/11/2011 podcast, James Corbett linked together numerous documentary evidence presented over the years to show a consistent and continual obstruction into investigations over the origins and actions surrounding the 9/11/01 terrorist attack.

The evidence and its presentation is convincing and its cumulative effect overwhelming. (The work by Jason Leopold and myself on the "Iron Man"/JFIC aspect of the story is listed as number 9 of the 35 "reasons to question" the 9/11 story .) Listen to the broadcast, or click here to read. (I had earlier cross-posted this, but was not able to solve the formatting problems that left much of the text truncated. So you'll have to follow the links to get the full list and story.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Guantanamo Lawyer on Judicial Presumption of Gov't Secret Evidence (the Latif ruling)

The following cross-post was a contribution to the blog Lawfare, and are the comments of Guantanamo attorney Sabin Willett, who represented the Uighurs in the Parhat and Kiyemba cases.

I originally came across the Willett statement from a cross-post of the same material at Andy Worthington's blog. Worthington gives the legal background leading up to the recent decision in the Latif habeas case, a decision that sent chills down the spine of every person who takes seriously the rights of the accused, and the rule of law. (PDF link to the Latif decision, but watch out: it's heavily redacted.)

The case that first shut down habeas corpus was Adahi v. Obama, involving a Yemeni, Mohammed al-Adahi, whose habeas corpus petition was granted in August 2009, on the correct basis that, although al-Adahi had accompanied his sister to Afghanistan for her marriage to a man with purported connections to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, he himself had no connection to either group, and was just a chaperone.

For Judge Randolph, however, ideology is more important than facts, when it comes to the Guantánamo prisoners, and, as a result, he granted the government’s appeal in Adahi, and, essentially, ordered the lower court judges to give more credence to the government’s claims than they had been doing. As a result, every habeas petition since July 2010 has been denied, and other successful petitions have been either reversed like Adahi (three in total) or vacated, and sent back to the lower court to reconsider (two in total).

The latest monstrous ruling delivered by Circuit Court judges (Judge Janice Rogers Brown and Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, who share Judge Randolph’s ideological bent) came in October in the case of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni, with undisputed mental health problems, and a viable explanation for being in Afghanistan for medical reasons, who was the last prisoner to have his habeas petition granted before Judge Randolph’s new rules in Adahi took effect.

The ruling in Latif was not made available until last month, and, disturbingly, the judges took their endorsement of the government’s position one step further, declaring that the habeas judges must now regard the government’s own intelligence reports as reliable. This not only appalled the dissenting judge, David Tatel, but also appalled lawyers for the prisoners, who have long been aware of the unreliability of the intelligence reports relating to the prisoners. Anyone doubting this is directed to my ongoing series, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” in which I analyze the chronic and repeated failures of intelligence revealed in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks last April.
Thanks to Benjamin Wittes, with whom I have had some serious disagreements, for posting the original.

It is not hyperventilation to say, as so many have said, that Latif guts Boumediene, because — trust me — every prisoner has an intelligence report. Now the prisoner hasn’t just lost his judicial remedy to Kiyemba; if those reports control, factfinding is over, too.

But Latif, and before it Adahi, are not just law-of-war cases. They may raise the eyebrow of civil procedure sachems as well.

Because despite the gnashing of teeth over Boumediene’s failure to issue a manual, the Guantanamo habeas cases have mainly been about facts. Wedding guest or soldier? By the time review finally got on its legs in 2008, the President had had years to winnow away the silly and outrageous detentions (and Congress hadn’t yet taken up the blood sport of preventing him from doing so). Logically, we would have expected the government to have good facts in cases that remained, and to win most of them.

Something like that was happening in the district court, but then something else quite illogical began happening. On appeal, the government began to run the table. No habeas win could survive.

The district court was finding facts from old, cold and unreliable records, and so uniform results would have been a little surprising, but still possible, given the trial court’s broad factfinding discretion. You’d expect regular affirmance on appeal of both wins and losses, because in civil practice, the trial court‘s fact-finding is rarely disturbed. So where district court results are non-uniform, it is surprising–one might even say, conditionally improbable–that appellate results should make them so.

What’s going on here? The circuit is making up a new standard of appellate review.

Take Adahi. To a first approximation, Adahi is an “Oh, come on!” case: al Farouq, bin Laden at Sister’s wedding, shady characters on the bus, the Casio insignia–come on! But Judge Kessler wasn’t asking whether Adahi had thuggy associates. She was after the legally-relevant nut: has the government shown he is an enemy soldier? If General Petraeus attends my sister’s wedding, am I therefore a soldier? Suppose I go to Quantico and after ten days, they throw me out. Am I a Marine? (In doing this work I met a number of Marines. Each – I am quite sure of this – would declare ten days insufficient to make a Marine of me.)

As a matter of appellate procedure, the problem was this: Adahi testified. Judge Kessler found that testimony credible (leaving Farouq, denying he trained troops there). Adahi’s entire testimony is, “I wasn’t a soldier.” So if we have witness testimony the court deems credible, and it refutes enemy status, how does the circuit flip the judgment on appeal?

By not believing him, and crediting other evidence. That used to be for the trial court – remember?

My guess is that Judge Randolph saw the appellate review problem, for in addition to his famous innovation, he noted Judge Kessler’s failure to make an express credibility determination. Well, okay. But she did find facts for which the only record evidence was Adahi’s testimony, so she must have found him credible. If we’re not sure about that, why not remand for clarification?

Latif presents none of these distractions. Even the government agrees that the circumstantial evidence is down to one document, on which everything turns.

I tried Parhat. He had an intelligence report too. We picked it apart, as I’m sure Latif’s lawyers must have done with their report, and as Judge Garland did in the classified Parhat opinion. No one could make a straight-faced argument for a presumption after that was done. You have to–I can’t say this any other way, because Parhat’s documents remain classified–but you have to see an “intelligence report” to appreciate just how surreal the proposition is.

The trial lawyer would think this way: if this tissue of hearsay, speculation, and gossip comes in evidence at all, the trial court must at least be allowed to weigh it. But when the circuit lays the thumb of presumption on the scale, there’s no more judicial review — not even in the court of appeals. “Review” is in the anonymous DoD analyst who wrote the report.

Review was Judge Kennedy’s job, and he did his job. Whether we agree or disagree with his weighing, the scale had always been his before. This idea, I think, lies at the bottom of Judge Tatel’s thoughtful dissent. Can the jailer’s report trump the judicial officer, in civil cases that are supposed to be a check on the jailer itself? There’s not much evidence that anybody up at SCOTUS cares about the GTMO prisoners any more (whose imprisonments now treble WW2 detentions), but there may still be four of them who worry about trial judges.

Latif should worry the Law Faithful, too. If my client were stuck with this presumption, the first thing I’d bawl for is discovery of every scrivener, interpreter, interrogator – every scrap, jot and tittle behind the document. Last time we did that, in Bismullah, CIA averred the republic would be shaken to its knees.

* * *

Pause a moment. A man sits in government prison for ten years and counting, on the strength of a secret document created by the jailer, in haste, from hearsay, which didn’t persuade an experienced trial judge. Does that sound like the stuff of regimes we are prone to condemn?

Even Odysseus headed for home after ten years.

The other evening I saw an old friend whose client was, in 2001, an enemy belligerent under any definition. He was released from Guantanamo many years ago. He has a job, a family, a peaceful outlook on life; he’s grown up. Why is he out, and Latif in? Because he hales from the west. After ten years, it’s not about security any more. It’s all about politics: the politics of the 2012 elections, the politics of where you’re from.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Ignorance is Strength" - New Short Video Summarizes 9/11 "Conspiracy Theory"

This new video uses sarcasm and irony to point out the absurdity of the mainstream government narrative on 9/11. Like the JFK assassination which most people believe -- Stephen King and Tom Hanks, notwithstanding -- was a high-level conspiracy that made Lee Harvey Oswald (as Oswald himself described it) a "patsy," the events surrounding 9/11 have already entered the folk history of America, the only place left where government crimes and the true purpose of U.S. foreign policy can be discussed, it seems.

The video comes complete with transcript over at The Corbett Report. One thing the video leaves out is the recent reportage on the suppression and cover-up of a military intelligence unit attached to Joint Forces Command in the months before 9/11. This unit, part of Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC) had been tracking Bin Laden and others, and also providing intel on terrorist targets inside the U.S. Briefings on likely attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were given to top military leaders and intelligence officials at least six months or more before 9/11, as these recent reports document. Evidence of this was censored and kept from the eyes of Congressional investigators in 2002, and later from the 9/11 Commission itself.

H/T for this to Naomi Wolf's Facebook page.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Veto, Protest Nazi-like Bill Which Allows Indefinite Detention of American Citizens at Home, Others Abroad

YouTube user poiqweruadjfkewrijo (why such a long incomprehensible name?) has posted an important video demonstrating that provisions of the new Defense Authorization Bill that would allow the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without evidence or trial were demanded by the Obama administration. (H/T Glenn Greenwald via Twitter) Now a game is being played over whether or not Obama will veto certain aspects of the bill. But the President has not spoken against this provision, and now we know why.

I heartily recommend signing the petition via the link below. But I have little faith it will actually do the trick. We need a great deal more social struggle before things will begin to change.
PETITION: We have only a few days to speak up before the President signs NDAA 1031, permitting citizen imprisonment without evidence or trial. The bill passed by Congress absolutely DOES NOT exempt citizens. Section 1031 reads, "A covered person under this section" includes "any person who has committed a belligerent act".

- Confusingly, Obama previously threatened a veto for 1032, but NOT 1031. 1032 is UNRELATED to imprisoning citizens without a trial. He has never suggested using a veto to stop Section 1031 citizen imprisonment. In fact, it was requested by the Obama administration. Watch the video for proof.

- The Feinstein Amendment 1031(e) is dangerously misleading. Don't be fooled: In the text of 1031(e), "Nothing in this section shall be construed...", the only word that matters is "construed" because the Supreme Court are the only ones with the power to construe the law. The Feinstein Amendment 1031(e) permits citizens to be imprisoned without evidence or a trial forever, if the Supreme Court does not EXPLICITLY repeal 1031.

Congress planned to give it to him to sign on Dec. 8, but delayed at the last minute. If we act urgently to tell our friends, family, and colleagues, we can still prevent this. Here is what we can do:

1) Americans must know about this to stop it. Urgently pass this petition as widely as possible: Contact the media to clear up confusion about the facts mentioned above.

2) Congress can still block the law before December 13. Write and call your Representative and Senator telling them to stop NDAA Section 1031 and the dangerously misleading Feinstein Amendment 1031(e).
Contact your Representative:
Contact your Senator:

3) Write and call the White House to tell the President you won't sit by and watch NDAA Section 1031 and the misleading Feinstein Amendment 1031(e) become law:

Excerpt property of C-SPAN.
Fair Use:

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Es gibt ein Reich wo alles rein ist"

Lisa Della Casa as Ariadne in Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos (Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannstal), Berliner Philharmoniker (1959)"Es gibt ein Reich wo alles rein ist"/"There is a realm where all things are pure..."
YouTube link

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Senate Intel investigation finds CIA torture "far more systematic and widespread than we thought"

It could have been big news, if U.S. torture weren't so anathema to the press corps, such that reporting upon it is considered either a fruitless and unprofitable enterprise, or among most of those who do venture into such waters, the sine qua non for such reportage must be ignorance and/or cover-up for much of what the U.S. military and intelligence agencies do.

Consider that during the recent Senate debate over the Defense Authorization Bill -- the one that passed provisions on indefinite detention that drew cries of outrage from a number of law professors, and stoked fear among government opponents -- Senator Dianne Feinstein, while speaking against provisions of the bill that would subject U.S. citizens to indefinite detention also made some serious points concerning the torture-interrogation amendment offered by Sen. Kelly Ayotte. (See PDF link of her remarks - h/t Marcy Wheeler.)

Feinstein announced that the much-heralded, and much forgotten review of CIA torture undertaken by the Senate Intelligence Committee, first reported by Jason Leopold back in April 2010, is wrapping up its investigation. But her comments went unregarded and unreported, as patience for such things as fighting torture is not the strong suit of American political discourse, nor is much expected anymore from a Congress that has so clearly lost its bearings.

But, nevertheless, the announcement is not without interest, as Feinstein told her colleagues:
As chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, I can say that we are nearing the completion [of] a comprehensive review of the CIA's former interrogation and detention program, and I can assure the Senate and the Nation that coercive and abusive treatment of detainees in U.S. custody was far more systematic and widespread than we thought.

Moreover, the abuse stemmed not from the isolated acts of a few bad apples but from fact that the line was blurred between what is permissible and impermissible conduct, putting U.S. personnel in an untenable position with their superiors and the law.

That is why Congress and the executive branch subsequently acted to provide our intelligence and military professionals with the clarity and guidance they need to effectively carry out their missions. And that is where the Army Field Manual comes in.
It is not surprising to hear the torture was worse than already known. After all, the purpose of secrecy and the cult of classification, so assiduously courted by the current Administration, is to hide crimes. So one can only hope the Intelligence Committee will, when the review is truly and finally complete (and let's hope it's not another 18 months), that its findings will be released publicly. In fact, in a decent world, it would be demanded.

Lies that facilitate torture - Case-in-point: the Army Field Manual

One reason for the lulled non-murmur over torture is the outrageous lie that Obama, after coming into office, "ended torture." He enshrined the Army Field Manual as the supposedly humane alternative to the Bush torture regime of "enhanced interrogation techniques." Feinstein, who certainly knows better, is an exemplary model for such myth-making -- "myth" because the Army Field Manual actually uses torture of various sorts, and even though about half-a-dozen human rights and legal organizations, and a number of prominent government interrogators have said so (see this Nov. 2010 letter signed by 14 well-known interrogators to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) -- as her following comments on the Army Field Manual (AFM) demonstrate.

Here, Sen. Feinstein is polemicizing against the Ayotte amendment, which was ignominiously dismissed via a parliamentary maneuver, along with a few dozen other amendments, after an ostentatious Senate "colloquy" on the matter by Senators Ayotte and Lieberman (with Lindsay Graham chiming in at the very end). The amendment awaits its resurrection, seeking passage attached like an obligate parasite to another bill some months down the line. (The authorization bill is currently "in conference," as a final version is worked out that reconciles both House and Senate versions. It is not unknown for provisions to be slipped in under such circumstances, and I wouldn't count out yet Ayotte/Lieberman/Graham's attempt to insert a new secret annex to the AFM, not until, like the undead, a stake is driven through its heart.)

However, Senator Ayotte's amendment would require the executive branch to adopt a classified interrogation annex to the Army Field Manual, a concept that even the Bush administration rejected outright in 2006.

Senator Ayotte argued that the United States needs secret and undisclosed interrogation measures to successfully interrogate terrorists and gain actionable intelligence. However, our intelligence, military, and law enforcement professionals, who actually interrogate terrorists as part of their jobs, universally disagree. They believe that with the Army Field Manual as it currently is written, they have the tools needed to obtain actionable intelligence from U.S. detainees.

As an example, in 2009, after an extensive review, the intelligence community unanimously asserted that it had all the guidance and tools it needed to conduct effective interrogations. The Special Task Force on Interrogations--which included representatives from the CIA, Defense Department, the Office of the Director of Intelligence, and others--concluded that "no additional or different guidance was necessary."

Since 2009, the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group has briefed the Select Committee on Intelligence numerous times. The group has repeatedly assured the committee that they have all authority they need to effectively gain actionable intelligence. As a consummate consumer of the intelligence products they produce, I agree.
Unfortunately, Sen. Feinstein is oddly correct. Between standard interrogation methods and CIA-derived interrogation techniques meant to break down a prisoner psychologically, they do really have all they "need."

Feinstein never mentions the years-long protests about certain provisions of the AFM, many of them gathered in the document's Appendix M, that have been found tantamount to torture -- the use of drugs (so long as they don't "induce lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage"), the harsh manipulation of fears and phobias, the elimination of wording from the previous version of the AFM that would ban stress positions, the use of isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation techniques. All of these are mingled in with a number of other basic interrogation techniques, but that doesn't diminish the cruel irony of Feinstein's IC-based assurance that government interrogators "had all the guidance and tools it needed to conduct effective interrogations." Guidance and tools, indeed.

Perhaps she could have quoted the letter to Gates, signed by Ali Soufan, Steven Kleinman, Jack Cloonan, Robert Baer, Mark Fallon, Malcolm Nance and others, which noted "the use of potentially abusive questioning tactics" in the Army Field Manual. Of course, these government interrogators softened their language ("potentially"?) and couched their opposition in terms of what hurts the national interest, versus what is wrong or illegal.

But when it comes to protecting the massive military-intelligence complex, such awkward facts as the use of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners, as well as outright torture enshrined in the Army Field Manual are not worthy of note. Even the many human rights groups who opposed the Ayotte amendment all buried any past critique of the AFM or its Appendix M in their polemics against Ayotte's "classified annex" proposal. This is not the way to win a battle!

Honoring "our values"?

Feinstein concluded:
We cannot have it both ways. Either we make clear to the world that the United States will honor our values and treat prisoners humanely or we let the world believe that we have secret interrogation methods to terrorize and torture our prisoners.
But what about interrogation methods that are not secret, Sen. Feinstein?

I don't seriously expect her to respond. Instead I ask readers, what kind of a country is it that has torture written into its public documents, and no one raises a fuss (or practically no one)?

The failure to take on the AFM and its Appendix M abuses in a serious fashion has led in a straight line to the political pornography of watching torture debated in Congress and among Presidential candidates, as well as a surge of political effort being made in some circles to make sure all such abuse is hidden forever behind a veil of classification. This failure is directly the responsibility of the human rights groups, who have not made it clear to their constituencies and the public at large how serious the problem currently is. While most of them are on the record of opposing the abuses described above, they repeatedly have pulled their punches for political reasons (as during the recent debate on the Ayotte amendment), and as a result, they must take the hard criticism when it comes, until, or unless they turn this around.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ernest Becker on Power & Human Nature

Some Sunday reflections from Ernest Becker's The Birth and Death of Meaning, pp. 178, 197:
Power for man, as the genius of Hegel saw, is the ability to support contradictions, nothing less. It is amazing how we misread reality, how we see power in all the wrong places, all the wrong forms, forms which have nothing to do with our distinctive problems. We think we see power in the people with sure beliefs, unshakable convictions, smug self-confidence. Yet these are psychological weaknesses on a planet which is fluid and full of surprises. We think we see power in the ability to dominate and coerce others. Yet history has taught us that such power inevitably makes a slave of and destroys the manipulator whether it be a man or a nation. We think we see power in numbers, in the deafening chorus of mass enthusiasms and the solid wall of shared opinions. Yet history daily teaches us that nature has no respect for even unanimous misperception of reality, and she has the coldest equanimity for the enthusiasms that carry whole populations into rapture. Nature could only respect the power that typifies a nature, and for man this must be the power to live and endure the paradoxes of his own.

Such power for man must be, of course, an ideal, and an unattainable one -- yet the whole sense of a human life is a struggle in that direction. Human nature is, in a word, an ideal. This is what makes the argument between the "romantics" and the "cynics" or "realists" so difficult and so sticky: it can never really be settled on empirical grounds alone: it all depends what you want to build toward and can achieve....

To believe that one has a higher reason to take human life, to feel that torture and murder are in the service of a divine cause is the kind of mandate that has always given sadists everywhere the purest fulfillment: they are free to remain on the level of the body, to pillage real flesh and blood creatures, to transact lives in the service of the highest power. What a delight. It is the perfect absolution of human degradation and sadists everywhere have hungered for it and reveled in it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Open Letter to the US Congress From Members of the British Parliament About Guantanamo

Reposted from Truthout

by: Jeremy Corbyn, John Leech, Caroline Lucas and 
Michael Meacher

A photograph of UK citizen and Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer with his two children. (Photo: Family photo released to Clive Stafford-Smith, legal attorney for Shaker)

As a group of elected members of Parliament (MP) from all the main parties represented at Westminster, we are outraged by the current position of the US Congress which, apparently, means that Guantanamo Bay prison will never be closed, and, of particular concern to us, that a British resident who was cleared for release more than two years ago, cannot return here.

The US official document given to him states, "On January 22, 2009 the president of the United States ordered a new review of the status of each detainee in Guantanamo. As a result of that review you have been cleared for transfer out of Guantanamo.... The US government intends to transfer you as soon as possible...."

Mr. Shaker Aamer, who has a British wife and four children, has now been held for nine and a half years, despite the fact that officials in the US governments of both President Bush and President Obama have been aware for several years that there was never a case for him to answer.

During this period Mr. Aamer has been tortured by US agents - for example, by having his head repeatedly banged against a wall - and has witnessed the torture of another UK resident. 

In January of this year, with eight other prisoners, Mr. Aamer started a new hunger strike to press for his release. In a scribbled note to his lawyers on the official paper saying he could be released, he urged them to work fast and get him home to his wife and kids "before it's too late."

In recent days, new evidence has emerged via a legal representative who has visited Mr. Aamer about his fragile state of health, including extreme kidney pain and serious asthma problems. He is clearly in urgent need of an independent medical assessment.

The British foreign secretary has raised this appalling case with the US secretary of state, stressing its high importance to the UK government and to many people in Britain who are shocked by the painful injustice Mr. Aamer and his British family have suffered at the hands of our ally.

In Britain, we have seen nine UK citizens and five UK residents returned from Guantanamo, after prolonged negotiations and court action, and the UK government took the responsibility for those men's conduct on their return. All have been exemplary members of our society ever since. There is no reason to believe Mr. Aamer would be any different, and the UK government is responsible for verifying that.

Mr. Aamer was not returned with the others during the Bush period, perhaps because he knew too many terrible stories from the prison. As a Saudi citizen, educated in the US, with a warm and outgoing personality, he had language and social skills that made him a chosen leader in several negotiations with the US authorities in Guantanamo Bay prison - notably over ending earlier hunger strikes. The negotiations failed when the prison authorities did not keep the bargains made, according to lawyers familiar with that period in the prison. Mr. Aamer's prominence among the prisoners has been reported by former prisoners, by several US guards and a number of lawyers with experience in his case.

We understand that the US government at one point planned to return him, against his will, to Saudi Arabia. Once there, he would have entered a re-education program, and it is likely his British family  - who do not speak Arabic - would not have had the necessary status to be able to join him. He has told his family - in two phone calls in the entire period - his wish is to return to them in London and recover from his ordeal by living a quiet family life.

For all these years, his family have kept as far as possible out of the public eye, maintaining their privacy and dignity in very difficult times, without husband and father. This unimaginable pain has gone on longer than anyone should have to bear. It is difficult for us to understand this is going on in our country because of the attitude of the elected leaders of US friends and allies.

The loss of their father came after the family was living quietly among aid workers in Kabul where Mr. Aamer was building schools and digging wells. When the US bombing of Kabul began a month after 9/11, he took his family to Pakistan for safety and returned to look after their home and effects in Kabul. We do not know how he then came to be in US custody, but we know enough about the bounties paid then by the US for foreigners to be extremely uneasy about what may have triggered his long incarceration - unprotected by the Geneva Conventions, which are the common heritage of our nations that fought together in World War II to defend a world free of fascism and injustice.

We know that the National Defense Authorization Act 2011, which came into force in January of this year, means that detainees from Guantanamo must be "certified" before being transferred, and that new draft legislation is currently being debated in the Senate for when this act lapses in September. What "certification" beyond the word of our foreign secretary do you need to send home a man your own military authorities have cleared as innocent?

We strongly urge members of Congress to take action on Mr. Aamer's case to end this intolerable situation, which casts a dark shadow over America's reputation here.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP
John Leech, MP
Caroline Lucas, MP
Michael Meacher, MP
House of Commons, London SW1

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Keeping Torture in the Hands of Congress? (RT TV Interview on Appendix M & Attempts to Make Official Secret Torture)

I was on RT TV today, talking about my article at Truthout, Senate Amendment Calls for a Return to Bush-Era Torture.

My thanks to the RT news producers who gave me the opportunity to speak on camera about the least reported aspect of the torture scandal, the presence of torture techniques in America's otherwise lauded military interrogation manual.

While a number of human rights and civil liberties organizations have spoken out against Appendix M abuse over the years (see TO story), none of them saw fit to bring up the issue when they produced their press releases or gave interviews in opposition to Sen. Ayotte's amendment to create a "classified annex" to the Army Field Manual, which would consist of secret torture techniques similar or identical to the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques (waterboarding, etc.) of the Bush/Cheney years.

Placed in context with the successful passage of the Defense Authorization Bill today, including provisions to demand indefinite detention for all those who the U.S. deems "terrorists" anywhere in the world, including U.S. citizens in their own country, the repressive apparatus of the U.S. ruling elite is gearing up for serious political repression, even as it presses its war drive around the world. In particular, their cross-hairs are aimed at Iran, China, and Russia, not to mention any insurgency that they feel won't genuflect to their military might and corporate profit takers.

It's a sad and dangerous time in America, as the leadership of the supposed opposition to all this has taken a dive when it comes to the torture issue, as they line up behind the national security militarist state and their war drive.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

U.S. Release Shaker Aamer! (Letter from his attorney to UK Foreign Secretary)

The following is reposted from Andy Worthington's excellent blog, where he has posted a heart-breaking update on the condition of the last of the British Guantanamo prisoners, Shaker Aamer. Aamer, who has a British wife and four British children, has been imprisoned and tortured, held for many years in solitary confinement, even though he has never been charged with any crime!

Aamer was brutally beaten on the same 2006 night when three Guantanamo prisoners were likely murdered at Guantanamo, their deaths covered up as suicides. Some believe, as Worthington notes, that Aamer, who was cleared for release from Guantanamo some years back, is being held because of what he knows about that ominous night's crime.

As Andy writes, "if you would like to add your voice to those pressing for Shaker Aamer’s return, you can email William Hague here or you can write to him at the following address: The Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH."
Clive Stafford Smith’s letter to William Hague regarding Shaker Aamer, November 18, 2011

Rt. Hon. William Hague
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street London

Re: Shaker Aamer & Guantánamo Bay

Dear Mr Hague:

I am writing to you urgently from Miami International Airport. I have just flown in from Guantánamo Bay where I visited Shaker Aamer yesterday. While there are aspects of that visit that I may not divulge due to US classification rules, I am permitted to relay my impressions, as well as detail the materials that were unclassified yesterday.

These give great cause for concern. Mr Aamer has suffered abuse that is unfathomable in the twenty-first century. One of the many areas of concern is his physical health.

Mr Aamer has now been held in isolation for more than two years. The US authorities may quibble about the term “isolation” (they have been known to do so in the past), but nothing can change the fact that Mr Aamer has been held in a solitary cell for that time, and much more over the past ten years. He has been thus punished because he continues to insist on the most basic elements of justice: that he be given a fair trial.

He has listed for counsel the following physical ailments that currently afflict him:

Arthritis in the knees and fingers, stemming from his abuse in custody;
Serious asthma problems (exacerbated, almost to the point of asphyxiation, when the US military sprays him with pepper spray during their periodic forcible cell extractions, or FCEs);
Heartburn and acid reflux exacerbated by the diet;
Prostate pain, with serious problems with urination;
Problems with his ears, including the loss of balance and dizziness;
Neck, shoulder and back pain resulting from the beatings that he has suffered;
Serious infection of his nails;
Ring worm and itchiness between his legs;
Constant haemorrhoids and rectal pain;
Extreme Kidney pain.

He also complains of E-N-T problems, serious insomnia, nerve problems in his right leg, and so forth. I can directly attest to various of these problems. For example, if the US insists that his food is of good quality, I can tell you that I tasted the lunch that he was given yesterday and it was revolting. I observed the infection of his left thumb, his right thumb, and his right index and middle finger nails, and it is like nothing I have seen before, rendering the nail soft and crumbling off the digit.

I do not think it is stretching matters to say that he is gradually dying in Guantánamo Bay.

This makes it all the more urgent that we get an independent medical assessment of him. However, ultimately there is only one solution, which is to get him out of Guantánamo Bay, home to his family in London. I should note that on February 14th he will have been in Guantánamo Bay for ten years; the anniversary coincides with the tenth birthday of his youngest child, who he has never met.

I remain,
Yours sincerely,
Clive A. Stafford Smith, Director

Senate Amendment Calls for a Return to Bush-Era Torture

Originally posted by Jeffrey Kaye at Truthout

Ayotte amendment on secret torture overshadows abuse problems with "Army Field Manual."

An amendment by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) to the current Defense Authorization Bill (SA 1068) now before Congress would roll back the 2009 Obama executive order against torture by re-establishing a secret "classified" set of interrogation techniques and then attaching them to the current "Army Field Manual" on human intelligence collection. But whether the amendment passes or not, the existence of certain interrogation techniques as used currently by the US military and intelligence services in the "Manual" do not comply with international norms, such as the Geneva Conventions.

A recent United Kingdom high court ruling on the use of hooding prisoners as a detention or interrogation technique indicated that use of any form of sensory obstruction, such as use of blindfolds, goggles or earmuffs, in place of hooding, which is outlawed, could only be temporary and "only for the time and extent necessary to preserve operational security." British military and security officers are directed not to work with governments that do not observe these rules.

Yet currently, use of goggles and earmuffs as a form of sensory deprivation used on prisoners is part of "Appendix M" of the "Army Field Manual." Their use is part of something called "Field Expedient Separation," and only to be used on "war on terror" detainees, who are deemed not subject to Geneva Conventions protections. Their purpose is beyond "operational" or security based and is meant to "Prolong the shock of capture ... and foster a feeling of futility."

The abusive use of sensory deprivation through use of blinding goggles and earmuffs is made even more explicit in the "Appendix M" discussion of the 12-hour time limitation on "field expedient separation," wherein such "limit on duration does not include the time that goggles or blindfolds and earmuffs are used on detainees for security purposes during transit and evacuation," i.e., the time limits concern use of goggles/blindfolds/earmuffs for purposes of psychological derangement. In addition, the technique cannot be applied without medical staff present, because of the dangers involved.

Sensory deprivation studies have shown that psychological symptoms, including panic and hallucinations, can be produced within hours of the application of such techniques.

A "Hooding" Substitute

In a "Statement on Hooding," written by the International Forensic Experts Group (IFEG) of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and presented to the UK high court in its deliberations, hooding was described as "a form of torture and/or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (CIDT) [recognized] by a number of international and regional human rights bodies," and "a form of sensory deprivation that is associated with a number of physical and psychological effects and also may have significant adverse legal consequences."

The effects include psychological symptoms such as anxiety and claustrophobia. Hooding also "increases the likelihood of severe physical pain, injury and subsequent disability as it increases an individual's vulnerability to other methods of torture by preventing the anticipation of harm such as kicks and punches and subsequent defensive response."
While the US "Army Field Manual" forbids the use of hooding, it appears to have merely substituted parallel forms of abuse, as Field Expedient Separation mimics the effects of hooding. Indeed, the IFEG notes, "Hooding in this statement also refers to other equivalent forms of sensory deprivation such as the use of goggles or blindfolds and earmuffs."

Dr. Vincent Iacopino, the lead author of the IFEG statement, told Truthout in an email, "Although the DoD [Department of Defense] may not consider the use of goggles and earmuffs as a form of sensory deprivation, the IFEG Statement does.... Since the IFEG Statement makes clear that the use of goggles and earmuffs is a form of sensory deprivation, equivalent to hooding, that constitutes CIDT and, under some circumstances, torture, it should be clear that we consider the DoD's use of goggles and earmuffs a form of CIDT and/or torture as well." (Emphasis added.)

Interestingly, when the "Army Field Manual" was being rewritten in 2005 and 2006, the procedures used in its "Appendix M," which also includes use of solitary confinement (isolation up to 30 days or more), sleep deprivation and manipulation of "environmental conditions, were initially meant to be included in a "secret annex" to the manual. Apparently, there are some in the military or intelligence services who wish the decision to make "Appendix M" public had never been made. In fact, there is no indication as to what the fate of this little known appendix would be should Ayotte's amendment pass.

Secret Torture and "Enhanced Interrogation"

There is little question that the proposed "classified annex" would mean a return to the "enhanced interrogation" torture (EIT) practiced by the Bush administration, including use of waterboarding, water dousing (induction of hypothermia), stress positions, extreme sleep deprivation, various forms of physical abuse, confinement in a box, and more. Sen. Lindsay Graham, one of three Republican senators co-sponsoring the Ayotte amendment, hinted as much in a November 11 article at the National Review where he labeled President Obama's executive order stopping the EITs a "major mistake."

Graham called the EITs "consistent with our national values," and lauded the fact they "remain unknown to our enemies." (In fact, the EITs were later exposed and are as available online as the "Army Field Manual" is. See here and here.) But some veteran interrogators and a number of former military officers have expressed their opposition to Ayotte's amendment, this despite the fact that Ayotte ties the new secret interrogation rules to use by Obama's High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG), a fact little mentioned in press accounts.

Former interrogator Matthew Alexander, author of "How to Break a Terrorist," told Truthout in an email exchange that he was unaware of any secret annex on interrogation related to the HIG. Additionally, he added,  "I'm against a secret annex and sensory deprivation outside of transport," he said, adding he believes "more, in-depth cultural training [of interrogators] is needed to eradicate prejudice."

Alexander noted, "I have been searching for a Muslim interrogator in the Army for five years and have yet to find one (compared to WW II where about 70% of interrogators were ethnic Americans - Japanese, German, Italian, Austrian, etc.)," noting he supports an "emphasis on what is now being called the Informed Interrogation Method, which Ali Soufan has advocated."

In an exchange of op-eds with Mr. Alexander at The New York Times in January 2010, Sen. Dianne Feinstein indicated that the Obama administration was reviewing the varied complaints against "Appendix M." No public result of this review was ever released and a recent query to Senator Feinstein's office by Truthout regarding the fate of the review was not answered.

What Kind of Standard Is the "Army Field Manual"?

While the Ayotte amendment represents an appetite by some in government to return to a more unbridled form of torture, the current "Army Field Manual" is not "a respected standard that put an end to torture as an interrogation practice," as it was described recently in a column opposing the Ayotte amendment by Rev. Richard Killmer of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). In a recent emailing to supporters, also opposing Ayotte's amendment, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) referred to the "Army Field Manual" as the "gold standard" for interrogation.

Yet, both NRCAT and PHR have openly criticized the "Army Field Manual" and its "Appendix M" at other times in the past (see here and here), as have other human rights groups, including Human Rights First, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and others. It is an indication of how far the interrogation discussion has drifted to the right that criticism of the manual has been dropped in order to defend it against a likely return to the days of secret interrogation techniques used by the Bush/Cheney White House, DoD and the CIA.

Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Truthout, "We expect strong opposition to the amendment" in the Senate. Senator Ayotte has complained that her critics do not notice that any proposed classified techniques stemming from her amendment must abide by the laws against torture, including those in the UN Convention Against Torture treaty and the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. But these laws have been interpreted in such a fashion that the definitions of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment have been eviscerated from their original meanings.

Dr. Stephen Miles, professor and Maas family endowed chair in bioethics, Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota, and a noted anti-torture author and activist, told Truthout, "The Army Field Manual is not an authoritative reference work on torture. The United States has adjusted its definitions of terms in international law to make its practices appear to comply with international law even in instances where we have called such acts 'torture' or unacceptable (i.e., cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) when practiced by other nations. The United States is out of compliance with numerous conventions pertaining to the treatment of prisoners."

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rarely Seen Video of U.S.-style water torture in action

Former president of the National Lawyers Guild, Marjorie Cohn, commented on recent statements by two GOP presidential candidates who created a stir by defending waterboarding:
[Herman] Cain said, “I don't see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique,” which is what the Bush administration used to call its policy of torture and abuse. [Michelle] Bachman declared, “If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country.” And after the debate, Mitt Romney’s aides told CNN that he does not think waterboarding is torture.
Cohn notes at the end of her article, "Unfortunately, during his hearing to be confirmed as CIA director, David Petraeus told Congress there might be occasions in which we must return to “enhanced interrogation” to get information. Alarmingly, that comment signaled that the Obama administration may return to the use of torture and abuse." Petraeus was confirmed as the new CIA director last August on a 94-0 vote of the U.S. Senate.

Evidence of Torture in the Obama Administration

Despite President Obama's own comments criticizing Cain and Bachman's statements, Cohn points out that Obama's own nominated candidate for CIA director is willing to support waterboarding and the other torture techniques designated "enhanced interrogation" during the Bush/Cheney regime. But there's no "unfortunately" about it. The Obama administration does support torture, but it does so in the old-fashioned U.S. way, through official and/or plausible denial.

But anyone who looks at what the U.S. does, rather than what it says, will know that the torture never ended. Waterboarding may or may not have been ceased, but in the U.S. official Army Field Manual on interrogation, numerous commentators have found clear evidence of the use of torture, including use of debilitating isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, manipulation of phobias, use of drugs, and other "techniques." Some of these techniques, such as use of isolation and sleep deprivation are limited to supposed "illegal" combatants, such as those captured in the "war on terror," as discussed in the AFM's Appendix M (PDF).

The use of controlled suffocation, such as in the water torture used in the video below, was documented to be endemic across the field of Defense Department operations in a series of articles published at recently. Also published at Truthout was an analysis of the possible use of "dryboarding", another suffocation torture technique that may have been used by U.S. interrogators and implicated in the deaths of three prisoners at Guantanamo in 2006.


The "dryboarding" hypothesis was developed by Almerindo Ojeda at the University of California at Davis’s Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas. Ojeda is also principal investigator for the Center’s Guantánamo Testimonials Project. He discovered that Ali Saleh Al-Marri, a purported Al Qaeda "sleeper" agent, who was held for years in solitary confinement at the Navy Brig in Charleston, North Carolina, like fellow domestic internee and U.S. citizen Jose Padilla, had been tortured by having a sock shoved stuffed in his mouth and then having his lips taped shut with duct tape. Al-Marri almost suffocated.

Ojeda noted that all of the dead supposed suicides at Guantanamo had socks stuffed in their mouths or down their throats.

Scott Horton, who wrote an award-winning article on the Guantanamo "suicides," noted in a recent review of Ojeda's work that socks were not allowed for prisoners at Guantanamo. He added:
The “dryboarding” disclosures do not resolve the questions about the Guantánamo deaths, but they give rise to important new questions about interrogation practices that may also have been used at Guantánamo. They also further justify the call for a thorough and independent investigation of the three deaths and underscore the severe credibility issues with the government’s claims about “suicides.”
The investigation of the Guantanamo "suicides" by Horton and Seton Hall University School of Law, Center for Policy and Research (PDF) was the subject of a slur campaign in the media last May, with Horton's article in particular attacked by former Bush Administration officials. Then, strangely, Adweek writer Alex Koppelman and his former collaborator Mark Benjamin, jumped in to defend Guantanamo Defense Department authorities' version of events.

Links to the Torturers

The following video was posted at both and You Tube, and provides "a glimpse of what went on during interrogations of [Afghan] insurgents by Jonathan Idema," who worked in conjunction with NATO forces in Afghanistan "counterterror" operations.

Idema is a controversial figure. He was arrested by Afghan authorities in July 2004 in Kabul, where according to a New York Times report, he had been holding eight men prisoner. Some of these men "said they were kicked and beaten, had scalding water poured on them, and had their heads repeatedly dunked in a bucket of water." Idema was pardoned by Afghan President Karzai in March 2007. He had claimed all along that he was working at the behest of U.S. authorities. The U.S. denied this, though admittedly he did work with international forces on counterterrorism operations.

In a well-documented examination of his career at Wikipedia, Idema's connections with U.S. Special Forces is dissected. Idema's various disgraces and problems with the military never kept him from working at various times with U.S. Special Forces, and interestingly, he has been connected to private contracting firms associated with the "war on terror," including Star America Aviation Company, Ltd. (SAAC).

One of the latter company's executives is retired Major General Jack Holbein, a former leading commander at U.S. Special Forces Command. SAAC is linked to a shell company, Isabeau Dakota, Inc., that listed Idema's father as president and sole officer, in that both are registered as corporations by the same individual, William L. London, who appears to be an attorney in Sanford, North Carolina. There is some evidence, given the connections noted in his Wikipedia entry, that Idema served as an off-the-record asset or operative of U.S. Special Forces.

Major General Holbein was listed in the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report on detainee abuse (large PDF) as one of the recipients of the Defense Department's interrogation-torture proposal developed by James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen at Joint Personnel Services Agency (JPRA). Holbein was then Chief of Staff at U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), and JPRA was under command authority of JFCOM at that time. The implication of the SASC report is that Holbein and others helped send the torture proposal up the chain of command.

JFCOM was disbanded last August, "the first time a Defense Department combatant command has been dissolved" one news account explained. According to the article, by Hugh Lessig at The Daily Press:
The military is keeping the core mission of JFCOM: training the military to operate and fight together. But instead of maintaining a separate four-star command and all the overhead it entails, personnel will report directly to the Joint Staff.

The former JFCOM functions remaining in Hampton Roads include those related to joint training, developing new concepts and doctrine, experimentation and what the military calls "lessons learned."
A Tale of Two Videos

The video below is from As Sahab, a supposedly Al Qaeda linked media outlet, though reposted at LiveLink, and apparently was discovered in the raid on Idema's Afghanistan headquarters in Kabul in 2004. (Other As Sahab videos of torture have been aired by ABC news, and posted at You Tube.) Whether or not Idema was working directly for the Americans or not, the video provides a sickeningly vivid display of the kind of water torture during interrogation that has been documented previously as used by U.S. forces. (See here and here.)

The refusal by either the Obama administration or the U.S. Congress to hold torturers accountable, or to eliminate the torture embedded in the Army Field Manual, means that the torture program continues. It may be more hidden, but it operates nevertheless continuously. While the U.S. puts out propaganda about its "humane" treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere (see this story by Jason Leopold on the latest video issued in the U.S. propaganda effort), the real truth is hidden as much as possible.

The cozening of torturers, and the successful continuation in one form of the U.S. torture program has found its domestic analogue in the vicious state repression being unleashed upon the reform-minded protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Indeed, the attacks on peaceful protesters demonstrates as much as the history of the torture program that the U.S. government is not an entity to be bargained with, and that new political forms must arise to challenge the social and political status quo. Their first demand must be an end to state violence against peaceful protest.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wed., Nov. 15: Attend NY Senate Public Hearing to Support Anti-Torture Legislation

Just in, from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR):
NY Senator Thomas K. Duane, co-sponsor of the Gottfried/Duane NY Anti-Torture Legislation explicitly prohibiting New York State-licensed medical professionals from participating in torture, is holding a Senate Public Forum to discuss the bill. Come hear the testimonies in support of this anti-torture legislation, and show your own support. Learn more about the NY Anti-Torture legislation and what you can do to support it at the CCR website, When Healers Harm.

WHAT: NY Senate Public Forum on Medical Professionals’ Participation in Torture

WHEN: November 15, 2011, 11:00 AM

WHERE: Senate Hearing Room, 19th Floor
250 Broadway, New York, NY
I don't put much faith in having this system roll back torture at this point, but whatever the outcome, we must protest this descent into barbarism, and the untold social costs that lurk just under the government doctor's robes and the torturer's cudgel.

While you're waiting for the hearing to start, check out this page, also from CCR: "How Far Will the Government Go in Collecting and Storing All Our Personal Data?" Answer: if you have to ask, it's too late.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer equated GPS surveillance with the ultra-repressive government monitoring in George Orwell’s 1984 this week during the oral argument in United States v. Jones. The case asks whether the use of a GPS tracking device to monitor an individual’s movements without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. But between the potential to monitor all public movements via GPS and the FBI’s ever-expanding Next Generation Identification(NGI) system, which collects and stores all aspects of our personal physical characteristics– our biometric data – Big Brother is already upon us.

NGI is a massive database program that collects and stores personal identifying information such as fingerprints, palm prints, iris scans, scars, marks, tattoos, facial characteristics, and voice recognition. Data can be collected not only from arrested individuals, but also from latent prints (fingerprints left behind at a crime scene or anywhere else) or through handheld “FBI Mobile” biometric scanning devices. Worse than the FBI accessing all your personal data, when NGI becomes fully operational in 2014, other federal agencies will gain access to the bio-data without your knowledge or consent.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Psychologists and Torture: Annul the APA's PENS Report" (Video)

The three-minute video below, produced by the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, is meant to publicize the call by CEP psychologists and others, to annul the American Psychological Association's PENS report. PENS stands for Psychological Ethics and National Security, and the APA's Task Force on same, and the recommendations that flowed from that task force, were written up as a report in 2005.

As a petition to annul the PENS report states, "Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations 'safe, legal, ethical and effective.' With this stance, the APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged.... the PENS Report was the result of institutional processes that were illegitimate, inconsistent with APA’s own standards, and far outside the norms of transparency, independence, diversity, and deliberation for similar task forces established by professional associations."

Watch the video, then go sign the petition!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ACLU Argues Padilla Case Before Federal Appeals Court

What follows is the latest press release in the ACLU advocacy case in support of Jose Padilla's lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials responsible for his incarceration and torture -- held in total isolation for years and subjected to drugging and mind control torture.
ACLU in Appeals Court to Hold Officials Accountable For Torture of Jose Padilla.
Torture Crimes Must Not Go Unpunished, Says ACLU

October 26, 2011

CONTACT: Josh Bell, ACLU, (212) 549-2508 or 2666;

RICHMOND, Va. – The American Civil Liberties Union argued in a federal appeals court today for the reinstatement of a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other government officials for their role in the unlawful detention and torture of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla.

"The defendants in this case seized Jose Padilla from a civilian jail and hid him away in a military brig precisely to keep the courts from interfering with the terrible things they were doing to him. By granting the defendants legal immunity for their cruel acts, the district court vindicated their deliberate efforts to circumvent the Constitution," said Ben Wizner, litigation director of the ACLU National Security Project. "If the law does not protect Jose Padilla – an American citizen arrested on American soil and tortured in an American prison – it protects no one."

The U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina ruled in February that the defendants were entitled to "qualified immunity" for their roles in the detention and abuse of Padilla because no "clearly established" law prohibited the torture of an American citizen designated an "enemy combatant" by the executive branch. The ACLU asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to reinstate the case.

Padilla was taken from a U.S. jail in 2002 by military agents, declared an "enemy combatant" and secretly transported to a military brig in South Carolina. He was imprisoned without charge for nearly four years, subjected to extreme abuse and was unable to communicate with his lawyers or family for two years. The illegal treatment included forcing Padilla into stress positions for hours on end, punching him, depriving him of sleep and threatening him with further torture and death.

Attorneys on the case are Wizner and Alex Abdo of the ACLU; Jonathan Frieman, Hope Metcalf and Tahlia Townsend of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School; and Michael O'Connell of the law firm Stirling & O'Connell.

More information about the case is available online at:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Prelude and Fugue No. 24 in D minor

David Jalbert plays Dmitri Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue No. 24 in D minor

"Confess or be ready to die": UN Report Pummels US Ally Afghanistan on Torture

The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) has released its October 2011 report on "Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghanistan" (PDF). Ten years after the US invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, and ostensibly dismantle the Al Qaeda forces linked to the 9/11 attacks, the regime in place is not only hopelessly corrupt and unable to provide security for its citizens, Afghan security forces in the National Security Directorate (NDS) have been charged by UNAMA with "systematically" torturing "detainees for the purpose of obtaining confessions and information" at a number of provincial facilities.

The report alleges that fully 46 percent of prisoners held by security forces, and approximately one-third held by Afghan national police (ANP), are tortured. Furthermore, "[n]early all detainees tortured by NDS officials reported the abuse took place during interrogations and was aimed at obtaining a confession or information." Until last month, the U.S. routinely turned prisoners over to Afghan security forces, while NATO stopped turning over prisoners to a number of different Afghan facilities last July.

Controversies over allied forces releasing prisoners to Afghan security, where they reliably knew they would be tortured, have simmered for years now. As Marcy Wheeler highlighted in an article on the UN report today, according to UNAMA, "The US has not yet put in place a monitoring programme to track detainees it hands over to Afghan authorities."

Turning prisoners over to forces or governments that are known to commit gross human rights violations, such as torture or murder of detainees, is a violation of international law, and of the US-signed Convention Against Torture treaty.

Torture of Children

Ten percent of the prisoners examined were minors. Nearly two-thirds of the children held by the NDS and ANP (62 percent) were tortured.

UNAMA's report was statistically derived from a random sampling. Issues of possible falsification of torture evidence is addressed in the report, and the evidence was found to be credible. (Actually, the Executive Summary says the allegations have not been judged on their credibility. But the Methodology section of the report states, "In a number of cases, UNAMA interviewers observed injuries, marks and scars that appeared to be consistent with torture and ill‐treatment or bandages and medical treatment for such injuries as well as instruments of torture described by detainees such as rubber hoses." The report adds that "UNAMA rigorously analysed patterns of allegations in the aggregate and at specific facilities which permitted conclusions to be drawn about abusive practices at specific facilities and suggested fabricated accounts were uncommon..."

UNAMA statisticians calculated the margin of error for the different samples they used ranged from approximately 5 to 9 percent.

Torture for Confessions

A major conclusion from the report is that much of the torture was specifically aimed at obtaining confessions from prisoners during torture. UNAMA notes, "Confessions are rarely examined at trial and rarely challenged by the judge or defence counsel as having been coerced." Hence, there's very little to constrict government prosecutors in using torture to get their confessions, and confessions are "[i]n most cases... the sole form of evidence or corroboration submitted to courts to support prosecutions." There are few procedural safeguards for defendant prisoners, and what few there are are routinely ignored.

The following is testimony from one prisoner cited specifically in the report, Detainee 371 at Kandahar, interviewed last May:
After two days [in a National Directorate of Security (NDS) facility in Kandahar] they transferred me to NDS headquarters [in Kandahar]. I spent one night on their veranda. On the following day, an official called me to their interrogation room. He asked if I knew the name of his office. I said it was “Khad” [Dari term for the former NDS]. “You should confess what you have done in the past as Taliban; even stones confess here,” he said. He kept insisting that I confess for the first two days. I did not confess. After two days he tied my hands on my back and start beating me with an electric wire. He also used his hands to beat me. He used his hands to beat me on my back and used electric wire to beat me on my legs and hands. I did not confess even though he was beating me very hard. During the night on the same day, another official came and interrogated me. He said “Confess or be ready to die. I will kill you.” I asked him to bring evidence against me instead of threatening to kill me. He again brought the electric wire and beat me hard on my hands. The interrogation and beating lasted for three to four hours in the night. The NDS officials abused me two more times. They asked me if I knew any Taliban commander in Kandahar. I said I did not know. During the last interrogation, they forced me to sign a paper. I did not know what they had written. They did not allow me to read it.
According to the report, forms of torture included "routine blindfolding and hooding [i.e., sensory deprivation] and denial of access to medical care," in addition to "suspension (being hung by the wrists from chains or other devices attached to the wall, ceiling, iron bars or other fixtures for lengthy periods) and beatings, especially with rubber hoses, electric cables or wires or wooden sticks and most frequently on the soles of the feet. Electric shock, twisting and wrenching of detainees’ genitals, stress positions including forced standing, removal of toenails and threatened sexual abuse..."

Alibiing the Afghan Government

Strangely, after describing the "systematic" use of torture by Afghan security and police forces, UNAMA declares the Afghan government innocent of use of torture as government policy. The report cites the fact that the NDS cooperated with the investigation, concluding "the use of torture is not a de facto institutional policy directed or ordered by the highest levels of NDS leadership or the Government. This together with the fact that NDS cooperated with UNAMA’s detention observation programme suggests that reform is both possible and desired by elements within the NDS."

This is a surprising assertion, and of course, the international press has highlighted this supposed reassurance about the Afghan government in its coverage of the report's conclusions. The cooperation of the NDS appears to have been equivocal at best. For one thing, as the report concedes, the NDS refused to allow UNAMA to visit its national counter-terrorism facility in Kabul, or interview prisoners there. Known as Department 90, it is where "high-value" prisoners are held. Information on Department 90 prisoners was gathered from those held elsewhere who previously had been held at the NDS Kabul facility.

Twenty-six of 28 prisoners who were determined to have been held at Department 90 were tortured, leading to a near 100 percent probability of being tortured there. One prisoner told UNAMA investigators, "When they took me to [Department] 90, I did not know where I had been taken. . . After two days, I learned that I was in 90 from my cellmates. There is so much beating at 90 that people call it Hell." Five of the six children interviewed who had been held at Department 90 were tortured.

The Afghan government has long promised they would clean up their act regarding abuse of prisoners, and US agencies have covered up for them in the past. A 2006 RAND study, prepared for George Soros's Open Society Institute, that torture and extrajudicial killings were in decline by Afghan authorities, and that US assistance had "somewhat improved" human rights practices by Afghan police. (RAND has a very stringent warning about quoting its material, or even providing links, but here's the link the New York Times gave in its article on the UNAMA report.)

One can only conclude that the US government has been more than supportive of the torture policies within Afghanistan, only withdrawing funds when it was politically expedient to do so. Most of the stories on the UNAMA report have noted UNAMA's mention of the so-called "Leahy law." According to UNAMA, "legal provisions in the US Foreign Appropriations Act and Defence Appropriations Act prohibit the US from providing funding, weapons or training to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross human rights violations, unless the Secretary of State determines the concerned government is taking effective remedial measures" (emphasis added).

None of the press results and analysis thus far has noted this escape from accountability clause, wherein the Secretary of State can decide a foreign government -- say, Afghanistan -- which has committed "gross human rights violations," is sincerely doing the best it can to address the issue. Indeed, parts of the UNAMA report appear to be written to allow just such an interpretation by the Obama/Clinton-led State Department.

So while the Americans and their allies in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have as of last month, "in response to the findings in this report, "stopped transferring detainees to certain installations as a precautionary measure," the report also notes that a return to the previous transfer policy "would presumably require the US to resume transfer of detainees only when the Government of Afghanistan implements appropriate remedial measures that include bringing to justice NDS and ANP officials responsible for torture and ill‐treatment."

But this doesn't speak to the funding or arming of the Afghan security and police forces. Indeed, by indicating that portions of the government, including the NDS, are sympathetic and trying to change the abuse/torture situation, it would appear that ammunition is being provided to Secretary Clinton to conclude that a good faith effort is being made, and bypass the provisions of the Leahy Law. This would seem to be the point in concluding the torture is not "institutional," and that "reform is both possible and desired by elements within the NDS."

But anyone reading this report could hardly come to this politically convenient conclusion. In fact, senior NDS officials admitted "they have investigated only two claims of torture in recent years, neither of which led to charges being pursued against the accused NDS official." Nor would NDS officials "provide UNAMA with any information on any other disciplinary or criminal action against NDS officials for torture and abuse." This doesn't sound like desired elements for reform to me.

Ten years after US and foreign forces invaded Afghanistan and installed a puppet regime, all the while jockeying for alliances among various warlord forces, has not improved the human rights situation in Afghanistan. Surely the Taliban and the various warlords cannot be counted upon to provide such improvement either. But there is one big difference. The Taliban are not foreign invaders. While such foreign invaders occupy the country, killing civilians and giving political and military support to a torture regime, no progress from within Afghanistan can take place.

Originally posted at FDL's The Dissenter

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