Saturday, August 27, 2011

"There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn't"

From Leonard Cohen's New Skin for the Old Ceremony
There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
and the ones who say there isn't.

Why don't you come on back to the war, that's right, get in it,
why don't you come on back to the war, it's just beginning.

Well I live here with a woman and a child,
the situation makes me kind of nervous.
Yes, I rise up from her arms, she says "I guess you call this love";
I call it service.

Why don't you come on back to the war, don't be a tourist,
why don't you come on back to the war, before it hurts us,
why don't you come on back to the war, let's all get nervous.

You cannot stand what I've become,
you much prefer the gentleman I was before.
I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control,
I didn't even know there was a war.

Why don't you come on back to the war, don't be embarrassed,
why don't you come on back to the war, you can still get married.

There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the left and right,
a war between the black and white,
a war between the odd and the even.

Why don't you come on back to the war, pick up your tiny burden,
why don't you come on back to the war, let's all get even,
why don't you come on back to the war, can't you hear me speaking?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

APA "Casebook" on Psychologist Ethics and Interrogations Fails to Convince

A new proposed "casebook" on psychologist ethics in national security settings, written by the Ethics Committee of the American Psychological Association (APA), tells psychologists that when assessing whether an interrogation technique is abusive or not, they should consider, among other factors, whether there are "data to support that the technique is effective in gathering accurate information." This determination, which places the needs of the military or intelligence gathering entity above that of the person the psychologist is examining, demonstrates how blatantly unethical it is for psychologists to participate in these interrogations.

While it's shocking that APA would call upon psychologists to weigh an interrogation technique's "effectiveness" with other ethical standards, it's even crazier when one considers it took them six years to write this up, having been originally tasked with writing an "ethics casebook" for interrogations back in 2005.

The vignettes that would compose the "casebook" were apparently posted (PDF) by APA for public comments last June, but APA failed to notify their membership, or really anyone. The earliest comment posted was on August 18. In a comment posted by Nina Thomas, a psychologist who was one of the few non-military, non-intelligence-linked members on the 2005 Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) panel hastily assembled to formulate APA policy on psychologists and interrogations, Thomas decried the lack of notification of the membership.

"A barely three month period for responses does not seem adequate when we have not previously known anything about the progress on this work," Thomas wrote. She also indicated that progress on the casebook's development had not been regularly reported to APA's Council of Representatives. (The mandate to produce such a "casebook" goes back to 2005.) Thomas had other criticisms as well, writing, "It is my hope and aim that the Ethics Committee will seriously rethink its charge and return to Council with a request for a revised mandate."
The petition resolution affirmed by the membership of APA [in 2008] makes perfectly clear that psychologists are prohibited from working in settings in which people are held outside of or in violation of either international law or the U.S. Constitution. The only exceptions to this prohibition are in cases in which a psychologist is working directly for the person being detained, for an independent third party working to protect human rights or providing treatment to military personnel. These major and ultimately most important points do not have sufficient presence in this casebook as currently devised.
Over and over the APA "casebook" advises members to seek "consultation" about any difficult ethical situation, while advising psychologists to rely on a host of human rights documents, APA resolutions, and the APA ethics code to "guide" them. But psychologists shouldn't even be in these torture settings to begin with!

The petition resolution referenced by Thomas was a member-initiated petition that was passed in a referendum vote in 2008 by a membership unhappy with APA's policy on interrogations, and implemented by APA's Council in 2009. The resolution states that "psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights."

But APA has adamantly refused to set up a process that would actually determine when such a detention setting is in violation of the law, even while sententiously expressing "grave concern" over reports of torture and abuse at U.S. military and CIA interrogation and detention centers. According to one "casebook" instruction, "the psychologist ... would need to determine whether the site is a lawful or unlawful detention setting." If APA can't or won't make such a determination, how can they expect an individual psychologist to do this, and feel they will be backed up by their organization for doing so?

APA has refused to follow the policy of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association in instructing their membership not to participate in interrogations. Indeed, it was the contention of the 2005 APA PENS panel that "it is consistent with the APA Ethics Code for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation and information-gathering processes for national security-related purposes, as psychologists have a long-standing tradition of doing in other law enforcement contexts."

Nothing in the new "casebook" is really any different than the position APA derived in the 2005 PENS report (PDF). The psychologist is supposed to walk an ethical tightrope while serving as "consultant" to interrogations, admonished to report torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment (as defined by law), and to engage in research beneficial to national security aims. All the while, APA's seemingly benign admonishments cover a policy of support to detention and interrogation policies that amount to torture, using various legalistic loopholes built into a 2002 rewrite of the Ethics Code to allow the unethical use of psychologist expertise to brain-trust the torture.

APA concludes that psychologists should report torture to the "appropriate authorities." Furthermore, "If the psychologist was not satisfied with the result of reporting such concerns, the psychologist would consider other reporting avenues such as the judge advocate and/or the inspector general." It all sounds good, until you realize that such reporting rarely goes anywhere, and it beggars all knowledge of social psychology to believe that one individual will buck an entire system and put their careers on the line to protest. This is even more true when one considers that previous investigations of detainee torture have either minimized or covered up significant aspects of the torture.

The one case that APA often cites where a psychologist protested torture concerns NCIS psychologist Michael Gelles, who protested the torture protocol for Mohamed Al Qahtani. Two salient points are connected with that case. One is that it didn't stop the torture, both of Al Qahtani, nor the spread of the torture program throughout the Department of Defense. Two, Gelles was not just protesting a torture protocol, he was proposing a different program of psychological torture based primarily on the application of extreme isolation of the prisoner, who was reportedly already manifesting psychotic behavior.

Another example of the impotency of the policy of protest concerns the CIA torture of Abu Zubaydah. Planned by two former SERE psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the "enhanced interrogation techniques" applied to Zubaydah, which included stress positions, placing him into a closed box with insects, waterboarding, sleep deprivation and more, led then chief operational psychologist for the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center, R. Scott Shumate to leave the interrogation "in disgust, leaving before the most dire tactics had commenced," according to a 2007 article by Katherine Eban in Vanity Fair.

There is no evidence that Shumate protested the torture up the chain of command. Indeed, the torture continued, and was extended to others. Shumate, whatever he did, was rewarded by being put on the APA PENS panel.

APA cannot help but confuse the "casebook" instructions by mixing use of the ethics code as a guideline with advice laid down by DoD in the Army Field Manual for interrogations: "'If the proposed approach technique were used by the enemy against one of your fellow soldiers, would you believe the soldier had been abused?'.... if the answer to this question is yes, 'the contemplated action should not be conducted.'" The problem is, as has been amply documented, it is the military and/or CIA psychologists who are proposing the "techniques" to begin with, or following orders from those higher in the chain of command (see here, and here, and here, for instance).

Psychologists Speak Out

Dan Aalbers, one of the authors of the APA petition resolution told The Dissenter, "I didn't understand until fairly recently how few obligations remain in the APA's ethics code: if you use these quite useful pdfs [comparing the 1992 and 2002 ethical codes] and search for words and phrases that denote obligation -- 'must' 'should', 'do not' and 'obligation' itself -- you will quickly find that most of these phrases appear in the 1992 revision of the ethics code and, more often than not, the 2002 code saddles psychologists with no obligation greater than due consideration. Psychologists 'must' consider the consequences their actions -- but they are not prevented from doing much.... The 2002 ethics code should be thrown out and the 1992 code -- with its strictures on informed consent, on clarification of role, and obligations to avoid multiple relationships -- reinstated."

One good example of what Aalbers is talking about is Section 3.04 of the Ethics Code, to which the "casebook" authors often refer. It states, "Psychologists take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients/patients..." Not "Do Not Harm," but the taking of "reasonable steps." Indeed, until the membership and some of the human rights community raised a hullaballoo, and even then only after eight years of stalling, did APA change its code last year regarding ethical conflicts with organizational authorities. Before this change, since 2002 the APA has instructed its membership that resolution of such conflicts could be resolved by simply following the authority in question (like the military) and not the ethical standard, should they be in conflict. Critics called this the Nuremberg Defense, referencing many a Nazi's defense against war crimes with the refrain that he was "only following orders."

Another psychologist who has been active in opposing APA's policies on interrogation, former president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility Stephen Soldz, also told The Dissenter that he was worried about aspects of the Ethics Code that relate to research. "Remember," Soldz said, "that [Ethics Codes] 8.05 ['Dispensing with Informed Consent'] and 8.07 ['Deception in Research'] still remain. 8.05 removes the requirement for informed consent for institutional research. And 8.07 raises the bar for psychological distress to rule out research deception, using language similar to the Convention Against Torture's definition of psychological torture. Meanwhile, the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group currently has former APA fellow Susan Brandon as Research Director. The HIG may have conducted and is apparently intending to conduct research on detainees. There are persistent rumors that research on detainees occurred as recent as last year (I'm not saying it ended, just have no current sources) in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While we don't know the nature of this research, there are some indications in the press that raise alarm.

"All this is simply to say that the interrogation issue is not a matter of the Bush administration and the past. Rather, it is still alive. And we should remember that research may have played a larger role in the need for psychologists than many of us originally realized."

Martha Davis, a forensic psychologist who has just completed a documentary about psychologists, interrogations and torture, "Doctors of the Dark Side," in a statement to The Dissenter cautioned that no fine tuning of the "casebook" would make things better (for the record, I was interviewed by Davis as part of the documentary):
I worry that IF the Ethics Committee were ever to do the right thing, extend the deadline, open the discussion up, and somehow put together another, much better Casebook that incorporated these suggestions and other good ones, then in effect, the casebook process would reinforce and "legitimize" the practice of having psychologists directly involved in interrogations. Every significant health and human rights organization has condemn this practice except the APA. The simple versions of "no direct involvement in interrogations" adopted by the AMA and ApA are understandable to everyone and the only way to guarantee that doctors "keep in their lane" etc., etc. We know so much more now than we did in 2005 -- so much of it ominous and disturbing. The practice is spreading beyond "national security" interrogations to US law enforcement settings. BSCT psychologists violate at least 10 parts of the APA Ethics Code (and that's without torture), and the role is incompatible with the new Specialty Guidelines of Forensic Psychology.
Len Rubenstein, Senior Scholar, Center for Human Rights and Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote an op-ed at Huffington Post last week, indicating he believed that a recent rewrite by APA of its forensic psychology guidelines should apply to psychologists and interrogations. Rubenstein, calling the PENS ethical guidelines "ethically untenable, little more than a shabby rationalization for severe ethical violations," noted that APA's new Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists call for complete transparency with the client, and eschews use of deception, both the opposite of military/CIA practice.
The guidelines also render intolerable the conflict of interest at the heart of the psychologists' role -- at once to advance intelligence gathering and to act as a "safety officer." The conflict, moreover, is likely to be resolved in favor of pressing for information, since the psychologists involved are classified as combatants, not clinicians (though they must be licensed to practice), and assigned to an intelligence chain of command. Whereas PENS sought to fudge the conflict by urging a "delicate balance of ethical considerations" the Specialty Guidelines insist on adherence to core obligations of integrity and fairness and avoidance of involvement in roles with conflicts of interest.
But according to forensic psychologist Karen Franklin, "These guidelines are not enforceable. And, like all such professional guidelines, they will be subject to diverse interpretations."

And it is in such a forest of conflicting interpretations, vague instructions, unenforceable prohibitions against torture, and the like, that APA hides complicity in the U.S. torture program, having determined that "national security psychology" is the wave of the future. The lack of accountability for psychologist collaboration with torture is the background for the entire discussion. It is more incumbent than ever that psychologists and other mental health professionals speak out against this amalgam of psychological science and practice with the art of coercive interrogation and persuasion, of the marriage of psychology with torture.

Also posted at Firedoglake/The Dissenter

Allegations FBI and British Intelligence Tortured Kenyan Rendition Victim

According to an August 17 article in The Guardian UK, lawyers representing Omar Awadh Omar, a Kenyan used car salesman who was kidnapped off the streets of Nairobi last September and rendered to Uganda, have accused the FBI and British intelligence agency MI5 and Ugandan agents of "cruel and unlawful treatment" in custody. A claim in Awadh's behalf has been filed in a British court. Despite the claims of FBI abuse, the case has not been covered in the United States.

Mr. Awadh has been charged with involvement in the July 2010 Kampala bombings, which killed 76 people who had gathered to watch the World Cup. The Somali group Al-Shabab has taken credit, saying the attack was retribution for the invasion of Somalia by the US-backed African Union Peace Keeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). AMISOM, made up of troops mainly from Uganda and Burundi, went into Somalia after the Ethiopian Army left following their US-backed invasion of the country in 2007-2008.

Soon after the bombings, three Kenyan nationals were illegally rendered to Uganda, and Awadh is one of at least ten who were subsequent victims of rendition to Uganda, according to Open Society Justice Initiative fellow Clara Guttridge.

According to the court claim, as described by Ian Cobain of The Guardian UK, "the Americans punched, slapped, threatened and sexually humiliated Awadh while questioning him about alleged connections with Islamist militants in east Africa and trying to persuade him to become an informant. At one point, Awadh's lawyers allege, the British intelligence officer joined in the abuse by stamping on their client's bare feet while demanding answers to his questions." He was also allegedly threatened with further rendition to Guantanamo, while an Ugandan agent "forced" a gun into Omar's mouth.

Last year, Gutteridge reported much the same about abuse meted out to Awadh, noting that after six months in prison, he did not know the nature of the charges against him. In fact, Awadh's attorneys state that FBI and British agents, who began interrogating him immediately after his rendition, wanted him to name British individuals with purported links to Somalia. He was not even questioned about the Kampala bombings.

Dean Boyd, spokesman for the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice, responded to my email query on the Omar case last April. "The United States supports the Ugandan government's efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the July 11, 2010, al-Shabaab terrorist bombings in Kampala ..." Boyd said, explaining, "The overall investigation of the July 2010 bombings is a Ugandan-led effort."

Boyd admitted "the US government has worked with the Ugandan government to investigate the July 11 Kampala bombings. In our support to and engagement with the Ugandans, we continue to stress the importance of respecting human rights, the rule of law and due process," Boyd said. While I asked "what instructions were given to FBI or Justice Department officials in regards to handling evidence of torture or other crimes by the RRU?" Boyd offered nothing more specific. He did deny any US role in the rendition, however.

According to Awadh's wife, her husband has been refused medication for a kidney problem. In addition, he has been ferried back and forth between Luzira Maximum Security Prison and the headquarters of the Ugandan police paramilitary group, Rapid Response Unit (RRU), for repeated interrogations.

There is also evidence that some of Awadh's torture has been psychological in nature. According to Cobain, "During his fourth session, Awadh says he was shown a series of pictures depicting a woman in a swimsuit, the same woman looking into a mirror which gave the impression she was overweight and the same woman on a drip [intravenous], before being asked a series of bewildering questions. He says he was also punched in the back during this session."

New Guantanamos in East Africa?

Gutteridge noted last year, "Omar Awadh's case raises serious concerns that the FBI is running - with British complicity - what is essentially a sort of decentralised, outsourced Guantánamo Bay in Kampala, under the cloak of legitimate criminal process." According to Cobain, the FBI was responsible for "most of the mistreatment" of Awadh. Meanwhile, British lawyers "are demanding that the government disclose any information it holds that supports their claim that 'the UK Security and Intelligence Services have become mixed up in serious wrongdoing'."

The Kenyan renditions to Uganda are highly reminiscent of another report by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation last month that describes a number of renditions of Kenyan nationals to Somali black site prisons in Mogadishu. There, CIA and Joint Special Operations Command agents appear to be brain-trusting the operation, despite a US presidential executive order in January 2009 removing the CIA from operation of such prisons. According to Scahill, "Human Rights Watch and Reprieve have documented that Kenyan security and intelligence forces have facilitated scores of renditions for the US and other governments, including eighty-five people rendered to Somalia in 2007 alone."
In Kampala, however, with a stronger central government and more established police and paramilitary forces, the prisons are run by the Ugandans, but American agents, in this case the FBI, appear to have a heightened presence and may be calling many of the shots.

According to his bio at The Soufan Group, FBI agent Don Borelli led a 60-person team to Uganda in July 2010 "to assist the Uganda Police Force in their investigation" of the Kampala bombings, "the largest FBI deployment since the 2000 USS Cole bombing in Yemen."

Only two days prior to Omar's kidnapping off the streets of Nairobi, two Kenyan human rights defenders were arrested after they arrived in Uganda, having come to investigate allegations of maltreatment by Kenyan prisoners held on counterterrorism charges in Uganda. The two - Kenyan high court advocate Mbugua Mureithi and Al Amin Kimathi, executive director of the Kenyan NGO, Muslim Human Rights Forum - were reportedly seized by plainclothes police, hooded and threatened with death or disappearance, before being handed over to the notorious RRU.

Mureithi was released after three days, while Kimathi, despite protests from human rights organizations, remains in prison. Uganda also detained and deported Hassan Omar, commissioner of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and three other human rights defenders who had sought a meeting with Uganda's Chief Justice "to discuss the illegal transfer of several Kenyan nationals to Uganda and the continued detention of Kimathi." Meanwhile in May 2011, Kenya deported Gutteridge, citing "national security" concerns.

According to James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Kenyan actions "represented a flagrant attempt to silence legitimate inquiries into human rights abuses committed in East Africa in the name of countering terrorism."

The RRU itself was singled out in a special 59-page report by Human Rights Watch last April. Entitled "Violence Instead of Vigilance: Torture and Illegal Detention by Uganda's Rapid Response Unit," the report detailed a pervasive pattern of abuse.
The unit's personnel typically operate in unmarked cars, wear civilian clothing with no identifying insignia and carry a variety of guns, from pistols to larger assault rifles. The unit's members have on some occasions transported suspects in the trunks of unmarked cars.
Human Rights Watch also found that the unit routinely uses torture to extract confessions. Sixty of 77 interviewees who had been arrested by RRU told Human Rights Watch that they had been severely beaten at some point during their detention and interrogations....
Detainees were beaten on the joints with batons over the course of several days while handcuffed in stress positions with their hands under their legs. Human Rights Watch also found that RRU personnel regularly beat detainees with batons, sticks, glass bottles, bats, metal pipes, padlocks, table legs and other objects. In rare instances, the unit's officers inserted pins under detainees' fingernails or used electric shock torture.
In a October 19, 2009, State Department cable from Ambassador Jerry Lanier, US Embassy in Kampala, to Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Johnnie Carson, released by WikiLeaks earlier this year, the RRU was singled out along with a number of other "para-military outfits" about which there are "numerous, credible allegations of unlawful detention and torture."

Ugandan Oil

The State Department cable also outlined US interest in the development of Ugandan oil resources, after an important discovery made only a year prior to the US-backed Ugandan invasion of Somalia. It's worth noting in the quote from the cable below, given the current situation in Libya, the role Libya's TamOil played in the competition over this new resource development.
23. (SBU) In October 2006, Canadian firm Heritage Oil announced the first oil discovery on the shores of Lake Albert. The British firm Tullow Oil, has made major discoveries both around and under Lake Albert and has plans to begin producing and exporting crude oil by mid-2010. Libya's TamOil is the primary investor in a proposed pipeline from Uganda to Kenya to import fuel and possibly export crude. Chinese firms are also interested in expanding investments in Uganda's oil. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) is funding a feasibility study for a refinery in Uganda. Exxon/Mobile is considering a visit to Uganda later this year.
24. (SBU) Our message: Uganda's oil resources could and should be a boon for economic development and make the country less dependent on foreign assistance. We wish to support transparent management and prudent investment of oil wealth in the years ahead. LANIER
The US has been very aggressive in Eastern and Northern Africa in recent years and this is possibly related to the new oil discoveries, though the US says it's due to the operations of al-Qaeda. But whether it's in Libya, or with Islamists in Kosovo, the US has had little trouble allying itself with Islamic fundamentalists or corrupt torturing governments when it wishes to. Indeed, the CIA and Saudi Arabia in the Afghan-Soviet War of the 1980s funded Arab and Afghan fundamentalist Mujahideen with billions of dollars. Much of what has happened since then in relation to the growth of terrorism could be considered "blowback" from the policies of those years. Hopefully the US press, including progressive bloggers, will pay a lot more attention to what is happening in the name of counterterrorism in this new front on the supposed "war on terror."

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Australian Government Defies International Rules over David Hicks

The following is a press release from the Office of Senator Penny Wright, Greens Senator for South Australia.
August 24, 2011

Government Defies International Rules over Hicks

Greens Attorney-General spokesperson Senator Penny Wright today questioned the Government over its failure to reply to the United Nations Human Rights Committee within a set period after a complaint was made on David Hicks' behalf.

Rule 97(2) of the UN Human Rights Committee's Rules of Procedure stipulates that replies to complaints be submitted within six months.

In a question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Wright said the United Nations Human Rights Committee had received a complaint from Sydney barrister, and professor of international law, Ben Saul, in relation to Mr Hicks' incarceration at Guantanamo Bay and the plea agreement that saw his return to Australia.

"The Government was required to respond within six months but indicated they would take a further three months, in order to fully 'address the issues' and 'consult with stakeholders'," Senator Wright said.

"Now nine months after the Committee sought a response, Australia has still not complied with the Committee's procedural rules, which are binding under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This suggests a lack of respect for the Committee's procedural rules.

"Since this complaint was lodged the Government has devoted substantial resources to commencing new legal proceedings against David Hicks to seize profits from his book, yet it has not had time to respond to the complaint about a breach of his human rights, relating to the term of the previous government.

"The Greens are concerned about the Government's priorities. It seems to be placing its concern about Mr Hicks profiting from his book ahead of addressing his complaint about a serious breach of his human rights."

More than nine months have elapsed since the complaint was lodged with the United Nations.
As Australian News reports, "Earlier this month, the NSW Supreme Court froze profits from the book under proceeds of crime laws." But then, the world community was stunned when David's book was nominated for an important literary prize. Unavailable in the U.S., the book is a major achievement, and tells the story of Hicks' life, including shocking details of his torture at Guantanamo.
FORMER Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks says that if he wins a Queensland Premier's Literary Prize, he will donate the money to torture victims.

"If I win this award, every cent will go to victims of torture," Hicks said in a statement on Ten Network tonight.

Hicks would not agree to be interviewed and simply added: "I have never been a supporter of terrorism. I had no choice but to sign a piece of paper to get out of Guantanamo Bay."

His comments come after his book, Guantanamo: My Journey was shortlisted in the non-fiction category earlier this month.

Feinstein: "Service members continue to receive drug linked to permanent brain damage"

Originally posted at Firedoglake/The Dissenter

On August 18, Senator Dianne Feinstein put out a press release indicating that the Department of Defense should consider taking the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, also known as Lariam, out of the DoD drug formulary as it is too dangerous.

Feinstein also indicated the drug has been administered to military personnel without the safeguards put in place by a 2009 Department of Defense protocol. Moreover, according to the press release, "These service members are now suffering from... preventable neurological side effects...." And what "preventable neurological side effects" were these?

According to Feinstein:
Mefloquine is known to cause serious side effects including gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, sleeplessness, vivid dreams, anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations. In most patients, the side effects subside after discontinuing the medication. However, in some instances mefloquine has been shown to have potentially serious neurological side effects including irreversible brain stem and vestibular damage resulting in balance problems, vertigo, and psychotic behaviors.
Senator Feinstein did not mention a fact she certainly knows -- that all in-coming prisoners at Guantanamo were administered large doses of this drug, beginning in January 2002.

In a series of articles by Jason Leopold and myself at Truthout last year (see here, here, and here), we documented the existence of a medical SOP that called for treatment doses of mefloquine to be administered to all detainees, whether they had malaria or not.

The controversy was subsequently taken up in a January 2011 article at the U.S. military-linked newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

This presumptive treatment of mefloquine on prisoners was unprecedented, and arguably caused a great deal of disorientation and nausea among shocked detainees first arriving at the Cuban prison. At worst, in some cases, it may have caused psychosis, or even neurological damage. Foreign workers hired by Kellogg, Brown and Root (a subsidiary of Halliburton) to build the prison's new Camp Delta, who like some of the detainees, came from parts of the world where malaria was endemic, were not subject to the mefloquine SOP. Neither were U.S. military personnel.

Captain Albert Shimkus, the former Chief Surgeon for Joint Task Force 160 at Guantanamo, and commander of the Guantanamo hospital from 2002-2003, said that the Navy Environmental Health Center (NEHC) bore prime responsibility for the suggestion of the Guantanamo mefloquine SOP. He also said that he was told they were not to discuss the policy.

In addition, the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center at Fort Detrick, Maryland, part of the Defense Intelligence Agency; the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and according to a different source, State Department officials, were all involved in the mefloquine decision. CDC wouldn't comment. NEHC said they had to coordinate their response with other offices. But six months or so later, I still haven't heard back.

Last February, LTC Thomas F. Veale at the DIA Public Affairs Office basically denied responsibility in the Gitmo mefloquine protocol, responding to my query, "The National Center for Medical Intelligence (formerly known as the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center) provides infectious disease risk assessments in support of US military and civilian force protection measures. NCMI's function does not include prescribing treatment or making treatment policies."

As the Truthout articles show, the Department of Defense, responding to reports of serious side effects associated with mefloquine, had determined as early as 2002 there were serious problems and called for more research. From the Dec. 1, 2010 Truthout article:
An April 16, 2002, meeting of the Interagency Working Group for Antimalarial Chemotherapy, which DoD, along with other federal government agencies, is a part of, was specifically dedicated to investigating mefloquine's use and the drug's side effects. The group concluded that study designs on mefloquine up to that point were flawed or biased and criticized DoD medical policy for disregarding scientific fact and basing itself more on "sensational or best marketed information."

The Working Group called for additional research, and warned, "other treatment regimes should be carefully considered before mefloquine is used at the doses required for treatment."
Meanwhile, in January 2005, Feinstein wrote to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. It appears the DoD Lariam study had indeed been underway. It's my contention that it is highly likely the dosing of the Guantanamo detainees was an illegal experiment on mefloquine for DoD, as well as possibly used to disorient incoming prisoners and ready them for interrogations -- a fact I can't prove, but should be investigated.

From Sen. Feinstein's Jan. 2005 letter:
Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

It has come to my attention that eighteen service members have been diagnosed with permanent brainstem and vestibular damage after having been on a regimen of the anti-malarial drug mefloquine (Lariam). This is of great concern to me and I am writing to reiterate my interest in the Department of Defense (DOD)'s investigation of the impact of mefloquine use by service members. I would like to ask you when you expect the investigation to be released.
In a 2009 policy change (PDF), DoD indicated that mefloquine should only be used on personnel who could not tolerate other anti-malarial drugs, and said it was "critically important that all DoD health care providers be familiar with the proper use, contraindications, warnings and precautions for prescribing mefloquine, especially with respect [sic] neurobehavioral effects" (emphasis in original).

According to Feinstein's 2011 press release, "mefloquine was only to be prescribed in limited cases where the three preferred drugs were specifically contraindicated or unlikely to be effective. Additionally, the Federal Drug Administration requires that a pocket card describing the side effects and when to seek medical treatment be dispensed with each prescription. My office has been contacted recently by servicemembers who were prescribed mefloquine when one of the other medications would have been appropriate and were not given the FDA information card. These servicemembers are now suffering from the preventable neurological side effects described above."

Because "contraindicated in patients with traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric illnesses," Feinstein continued, telling Secretary Panetta, she now "question[ed] the need to maintain mefloquine on any Department of Defense or service specific formulary."

The Department of Defense has not been open about its policy and usage of mefloquine, a drug it developed for antimalarial use during the Vietnam War, neither on how it is used on U.S. military personnel, nor on how it was used on detainees at Guantanamo. Congress should immediately implement open, public hearings on DoD and mefloquine, and release all documents related to mefloquine research and use by the Department of Defense, or intelligence agencies.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Evidence of Water Torture "Depravity" in Rumsfeld's Military

Reposted from Truthout, written by Jeffrey Kaye

There have been a number of cases of detainees held by the Department of Defense (DoD) who have been subjected to water torture, including some that come very close to waterboarding, according to an investigation by Truthout. The prisoners have been held in a number of settings, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantanamo Bay.

In a number of settings, DoD spokespeople in the past  - most notably former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld - have denied the use of waterboarding by DoD personnel. But as examples of DoD water torture have multiplied, it appears government denials about "waterboarding" were overly legalistic, and that behind them, DoD personnel were hiding torture involving similar methods of choking, suffocation or near-drowning by water.

Reports of water-related torture by the military include having water forced into the nose or mouth by a hose, repeated dunking in water, pouring water over the head in such a way that it is difficult to breathe or over a piece of cloth or hood, dousing with high-pressure hoses, dousing or partial drowning in combination with the application of a chemical agent, and in a few instances, actually being thrown into a large body of water, such as a river.

An article in Truthout earlier this month documented a half-dozen cases of DoD prisoners subjected to waterboarding-style torture. The article also detailed discussions among high-ranking military and intelligence officials around the use of waterboarding, and the fact that interrupted or simulated drowning at a military site in Kandahar, called "water treatment" in this instance, was revealed at a Congressional hearing in May 2008.

Human rights and civil liberties groups have expressed concern over news of DoD water torture and have asked for further investigation.
Asked to respond on behalf of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the reports of such water torture, spokesperson Kathleen Long said the committee had "no comment."

One web site, Lawfare, co-founded by former Department of Justice official Jack Goldsmith, who was involved in internal decisions surrounding torture inside the Bush administration, seemed confused by the Truthout report, complaining that "reports of waterboarding-like tortures at Guantanamo" lacked "any examples of the military's using waterboarding, but refers to the repeated use of water in interrogations instead."
Truthout continues to investigate further instances of DoD waterboarding-style torture at US military sites in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo.

"Waterboarding-style" torture refers to the use of water to provoke choking or suffocation by water, and, in some cases, the triggering of the sensation of drowning, if not actual drowning itself, but without actually following the CIA's description of the waterboard procedure. It is has also been called "water treatment," "water torture" and "drown-proofing."

"The Interrogators Asked Me to Confess to Being a Part of 9/11"

In an affidavit filed on April 21, 2009, in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Muhammad al-Ansi, a Yemeni accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, described his torture in a tent at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan in the early weeks of 2001. According to al-Ansi, it began after a female interrogator became angry he would not "confess."
Four American soldiers came and took me into another room. It was not a tent. They put me on a slab (the size and shape of a bed) made of bricks. I was made to lay on my stomach with my head hanging over the edge. They brought in a big water container and placed it under my head. They would [handwritten: forced [sic]] my head and shoulders [handwritten: under] into the water until I almost drowned and lift my head out at the last minute. They did this over and over. During this time, the interrogators asked me to confess to being a part of 9/11, confess I am part of al Qaeda, confess that I swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden, confess I have explosive weapons training, and confess to knowing several names that I had never heard of. This continued for one to two hours. I said nothing other than: "Have mercy on me."
In another instance of torture in Afghanistan, in June 2008, Tom Lasseter reported for McClatchy that Ghalib Hassan, "a district chief in Nangarhar province for the Afghan Interior Ministry," was detained "in a basement at an airstrip in Jalalabad during March 2003" by Special Forces troops.

According to Hassan, "At night they would strap me down on a cot, and put a bucket of water on the floor, in front of my head. And then they would tip the cot forward and dunk my head in the bucket.... They would leave my head underwater and then jerk it out by my hair. I sometimes lost consciousness."

Once again, the military personnel involved demanded that the prisoner confess, in this instance to supporting a former Taliban official. In fact, the Taliban had expelled Hassan in 1996, and he had fought with US-backed forces at Tora Bora against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Another case from Afghanistan concerned Saudi national Ahmed al-Darbi. Arrested by authorities in Azerbaijan in 2002 and later turned over to the Americans, he is the brother-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar. Al-Mihdhar is also famous for being one of two al-Qaeda suspects who US intelligence knew was attending a meeting with other suspected terrorists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000. As it turned out, this meeting likely involved the planning of the 9/11 and USS Cole terrorist attacks.

In a recently aired video interview with filmmakers John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism "czar" who resigned during the Bush administration, charged former CIA director George Tenet and top CIA officials Cofer Black and Richard Blee with suppressing information about al-Mihdhar's intent to enter the United States after the Malaysia meeting. The CIA deliberately had withheld cables to the FBI about al-Mihdhar entering the United States and failed to notify the State Department to put him and his traveling companion on the State Department watch list.

Al-Mihdhar's brother-in-law, al-Darbi, was renditioned from Azerbaijan to Afghanistan in 2002 and was later sent to Guantanamo, where he remains to this day. In a declaration dated July 1, 2009, al-Darbi cited a number of instances of abuse and torture at both the Bagram prison in Afghanistan and later at Guantanamo.

At Bagram, al-Darbi stated, at times, "a sand bag or hood was placed over my head and tightened around my neck, and then they would grab my head and shake it violently while swearing at me and they would also pour water over my head while my head was covered." The covering over the head while water is poured sounds very much like waterboarding. Al-Darbi also indicated that a powder, perhaps pepper spray, was applied to him and then water sprayed on him, so that the "water absorbed the powder and it burned my skin and made my nose run."

More Water Torture at Guantanamo

In an August 2 Truthout article, six cases of water torture were described at the Cuban naval base prison. Two of these cases, including "near asphyxiation from water," were described in an article published in an online medical journal earlier this year, but the identities of the detainees were kept anonymous.

Further investigation has found three more reports of such torture at Guantanamo and two cases of unique water torture, something between water dousing and waterboarding-style interrupted drowning.

One of the cases, of British citizen Tarek Dergoul, who was released from Guantanamo in 2004, involved treatment very similar to that reported by Omar Deghayes and Djamel Ameziane in the earlier Truthout article. According to an interview given to UK Guardian reporter David Rose, when Dergoul refused to have his cell searched for a third time on one day, an Extreme Reaction Force (ERF) squad was called.

"They pepper-sprayed me in the face and I started vomiting," Dergoul reported, "in all I must have brought up five cupfuls. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed." They continued to beat him and finally shaved off his hair, beard and eyebrows.

In another interview, Guantanamo detainee Salim Mahmoud Adem, a Sudanese national released in 2007, ?told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now that he had witnessed another prisoner having his head shoved repeatedly into a toilet. Interestingly, the story came up after Goodman asked about waterboarding.
AG: Salim, did – Salim, did you witness anyone waterboarded?

SMA: I did not see waterboarding, but my neighbor, they insulted the Qu'ran, so we refused to listen to the guards. So they would come with the riot police and enter into the cells, one by one. So they went into the cell of a Yemeni brother, whose name is Othman [phonetic]. After they tied him, his hands to his back, they put his head to the toilet and turned on the flush many times. And all of us could see it. This was a horrible sight.
The torture of Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman held at Guantanamo for seven years and finally released in 2008, presents a unique instance of torture involving forced application of water. Al-Haj was a hunger striker who, along with a number of other hunger strikers, was put on a forced feeding schedule. Civil rights attorney Candace Gorman, who has also represented some of the Guantanamo detainees, described the procedure in a May 2007 article for In These Times.

According to Gorman, al-Haj described his experience of forced feeding to his attorney. Al-Haj said he was strapped into a chair and had a tube painfully inserted through his nose twice each day. The attendants would blow air into the tube in order to ascertain its placement. Al-Haj would suffer in silence, "until tears stream down his cheeks."

But sometimes things went even worse:
Three times they have inserted the tube the wrong way, so it went into his lungs. When they think that has happened they check by putting water into the tube, which makes him choke. Al-Haj says that never once have the hospital personnel apologized when the tube entered his lung.
Extreme "Water Dousing"

In a few reports, detainees have described a form of "water dousing" that went far beyond the description of the procedure given by the CIA. According to the 2004 CIA Inspector General (IG) report on "counterterrorism detention and interrogation activities," which looked at the implementation of the so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques of the Bush administration, "water dousing" involved "laying a detainee down on a plastic sheet and pouring water over him for 10 to 15 minutes." The room was to be maintained at room temperature.

In a 2008 Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) report, "Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and its Impact," PHR quoted testimony by a detainee, Haydar (not his real name), who recalled having been sprayed with pepper spray and then hosed with high-pressure water. "This one female soldier subjected me to pepper gas and then sprayed me with water with extreme force - and I was writhing on the ground in pain," Haydar said.

Another Guantanamo detainee, British citizen Jamal al-Harith, noted in a 2004 statement to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly that he knew of "three or four occasions guards using an industrial strength hose to shoot strong jets of water at detainees. This was done to me on one occasion. A guard walked along the gangway by the cages sending the hose into each alternate cage. When it happened to me I was hosed down continuously for about one minute. The pressure of the water was so strong it forced me to the back of the cage. It soaked the cage including my bedding and my Koran."

Such cases of "water dousing" by Guantanamo guards, including the use of high-pressure hoses, went far beyond what was even contemplated by such a technique even under CIA torture procedures.

Drownings in Iraq

A review of news reports from Iraq reveal two separate instances of actual drowning of Iraqi detainees by US and British forces. In one case, soldiers were court-martialed and received light sentences. In the other case, the men were acquitted.

In January 2005, Army Sgt. First Class Tracy Perkins was convicted for ordering men under his command one year earlier to throw Iraqi detainees into the Tigris River. One of the Iraqis, 19-year-old Zaidoun Hassoun, drowned. Perkins was sentenced to six months in military prison and his rank was reduced to staff sergeant.

Perkins claimed he was ordered to throw the men in the river by his platoon leader, Army First Lt. Jack Saville. According to an account by the UK Guardian, Saville "pleaded guilty to assault and dereliction of duty," and was sentenced to 45 days in military prison and ordered to pay a $12,000 fine. The light sentence was reportedly because "Lt. Saville agreed to testify against his captain, who had given him a hit list of five Iraqis who were to be executed on the spot if they were captured in a raid."

But there was more. According to a July 2004 Associated Press article, the actions by Saville, Perkins, and two other soldiers, Sgt. Reggie Martinez and Spec. Terry Bowman, were initially covered up by their commanding officers. At an Article 32 hearing, and under grants of immunity, Capt. Matthew Cunningham, Maj. Robert Gwinner and battalion commander Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman said they told Saville and his men to "to clam up because they feared higher-ups in the chain of command would use the incident against them."

In another case, British soldiers, operating as part of the US-led alliance that invaded Iraq, arrested and beat an Iraqi teenager, who was then ordered to swim across the Shatt al-Basra canal. According to an account in the Guardian, 17-year-old (some reports say 15-year-old) Ahmed Jabbar Kareem was too weakened by his injuries and drowned. All four soldiers involved were acquitted of manslaughter in the case. One of the soldiers, Irish guardsman Joseph McCleary, told the press, "We were told to put the looters in the canal. I was the lowest rank, and we were always told we weren't paid to think. We just followed orders."

The acquittal of the British soldiers and the light sentences for US soldiers involved in the drowning of captives represent an attitude towards prisoners in general - including the use of water torture and drowning - that carried minimal consequences in the Iraq war theater.
Indeed, in a US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) investigatory report dated May 27, 2004 (pg. 70), the special agent in charge reported that a team leader for 5th Special Forces group (Airborne), based in Al Asad, Iraq, gave "special instructions for the guarding and handling of EPWs" [enemy prisoners of war], including "maintaining a sandbag over their heads, playing loud music and pouring water over their heads."

The torture of the Iraqi EPWs is very similar to the description Ahmed al-Darbi gave of his treatment at Bagram.

Reactions to New Revelations

The examples of water torture described in this and the earlier Truthout article are certainly not the only occurrences of water torture. For instance, one further example exists of a Guantanamo detainee who suffered water being poured over his head while it was covered, but further details could not be given due to legal restrictions covering his case.

It is also assumed that some instances of such torture have not yet been revealed. The press and human rights groups have not interviewed most prisoners released from US custody. Furthermore, detainees released from Guantanamo must sign an agreement that twice notes they can be "immediately" re-imprisoned if the United States finds any condition of the agreement, which includes prohibitions against conspiracy or vague "preparation of" "combatant activities," violated. Fear of re-imprisonment and psychological traumatization from their experience have led many former detainees to maintain a silence about their experiences.

Not all observers or participants in DoD activities have indicated they witnessed or heard of water torture at DoD sites.

Morris Davis, who was chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay from September 2005 until his resignation in October 2007, told Truthout that his office, "focused on about 75 of the detainees we were assessing for potential prosecution." He added he, "did not have the time or the manpower to examine the many others that were not likely candidates for prosecution."

Even so, Davis told Truthout, "I never saw any evidence that any detainee was waterboarded or subjected to any similar technique at Gitmo," though "others things [were] done to some of them that I believe constitute torture."

In addition, some guards, even if critical of abuses at Guantanamo, have said they did not witness waterboarding or water torture at the Cuban prison camp. In an interview with The Talking Dog blog in March 2009, former guard Terry Holdbrooks Jr. said, "In my time in Camp Delta, I didn't see or hear of any waterboarding."

But testimony and evidence offered in this investigation strongly suggest that water torture similar to waterboarding or of other extreme nature was inflicted on some prisoners under US military control, and also by allied forces.

Some sources have been adamant that waterboarding did in fact occur, for instance, at Guantanamo.

In an April 2007 statement to the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, Guantanamo detainee attorney Brent Mickum said that a guard who had worked at the prison camp told him "prisoners at Guantanamo were routinely waterboarded." Mickum reiterated this point in an interview with the blog The Talking Dog later that year.

Mickum said the guard "confirmed that waterboarding, which he called 'drown-proofing' took place. This individual knew extensive details of the camp layout and the names of military personnel. Eventually, the full story will be released and people will be shocked at the extent of the depravity."

Mickum has also said he heard from a civilian contractor that he heard interrogators talking about waterboarding at Guantanamo in 2003.
In a telephone interview, Alexander Abdo, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) National Security Project, responding to the accumulated evidence compiled on DoD water torture, told Truthout, "The suggestion that the use of water to torture is more widespread than previously thought is extremely troubling, and reaffirms the need for greater transparency and a broader investigation into the abuse committed under the Bush administration."

In an emailed statement, Vince Warren, executive director for Center for Constitutional Rights, whose attorneys have represented a number of Guantanamo detainees, said, "It's clear even from the accounts of men who were released from Guantánamo that many more people were subjected to different forms of water torture or simulated drowning than the three victims of waterboarding the government has admitted to. Our attorneys can't talk about what happened to our all of clients because they are under a protective order, but public documents show the widespread extent of this barbarity. It's simply shameful."

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Unemployment is Killing People

Originally posted at FDL/The Dissenter

When considering the effects of unemployment, and the desultory, really uncaring response of the current Democratic administration, as well as Republicans in Congress, to the human devastation of joblessness, it is important to consider the terrible emotional and psychological effects of such unemployment. Such effects are well-documented, but rarely mentioned in articles or blog postings.

A well-regarded 2010 study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, "The Anguish of Unemployment," quantified the tremendous emotional suffering engendered by unemployment. "'The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurts greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally,' wrote one respondent to the survey." (See PDF for Powerpoint presentation of results.)

Just last April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study that showed that suicide rates rise and fall in tandem with the business cycle. The study covered the years 1928-2007. According to the CDC press release:
The overall suicide rate rises and falls in connection with the economy, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released online today by the American Journal of Public Health. The study, "Impact of Business Cycles on the U.S. Suicide Rates, 1928–2007" is the first to examine the relationships between age-specific suicide rates and business cycles. The study found the strongest association between business cycles and suicide among people in prime working ages, 25-64 years old.

"Knowing suicides increased during economic recessions and fell during expansions underscores the need for additional suicide prevention measures when the economy weakens," said James Mercy, Ph.D., acting director of CDC's Injury Center's Division of Violence Prevention. "It is an important finding for policy makers and those working to prevent suicide."
As a practicing psychologist, seeing clients for almost 20 years, I can say that the current economic depression has had a terrible effect on the people I see. I have also heard about more suicides in a short period of time than I have in years -- actually, ever. While this could be a statistical fluke, and I myself would never draw stark conclusions from the sample of one clinician, the spike in reported suicides is certainly something that fits the known epidemiological risks that accompany high unemployment.

Because of confidentiality issues, I can't talk about my own clients, but let's consider some other academic studies over the years about the effects of economic stressors, such as unemployment.

"After unemployment, symptoms of somatization, depression, and anxiety were significantly greater in the unemployed than employed." -- Effects of unemployment on mental and physical health. American Journal of Public Health, May 1985.

"Controlling for a number of individual characteristics, unemployed individuals are found to suffer significantly higher odds of experiencing a marked rise in anxiety, depression and loss of confidence and a reduction in self-esteem and the level of general happiness even compared with individuals in low-paid employment. This finding highlights the involuntary nature of unemployment." -- "The effects of low-pay and unemployment on psychological well-being: A logistic regression approach." Journal of Health Economics, January 1998.

"Unemployment was associated with an increased risk of suicide and death from undetermined causes. Low education, personality characteristics, use of sleeping pills or tranquilizers, and serious or long-lasting illness tended to strengthen the association between unemployment and early mortality." -- "Unemployment and Early Cause-Specific Mortality: A Study Based on the Swedish Twin Registry." American Journal of Public Health, January 2004.

"Unemployed individuals had lower psychological and physical well-being than did their employed counterparts." -- "Psychological and Physical Well-Being During Unemployment: A Meta-Analytic Study." Journal of Applied Psychology, Jan. 2005.

"SPRC conducted a literature review of relevant research published in the past two decades. The review shows that a strong relationship exists between unemployment, the economy, and suicide. A common “chain of adversity” can begin with job loss and move toward depression through financial strain and loss of personal control. In fact, this chain leads to myriad financial, social, health and mental health outcomes—all of them negative. The most common (but by no means the only) mental health outcome is depression, which significantly increases suicide risk. The associated financial outcomes (such as mortgage foreclosures and loss of retirement security) have not been researched with respect to suicide. However, the potential link is that for vulnerable individuals, losses (whether real or anticipated) that result in humiliation, shame, or despair can trigger suicide attempts." -- "Relationship between the Economy, Unemployment and Suicide." Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), November 2008.

"There was a strong independent association between suicide and individuals who were unemployed (odds ratio 2.6; 95% confidence interval 2.0 to 3.4) and permanently sick (2.5; 1.6 to 4.0).... The association between suicide and unemployment is more important than the association with other socioeconomic measures." -- "Suicide, deprivation, and unemployment: record linkage study." British Medical Journal, Nov. 1998.

"Socioeconomic events are known to produce important fluctuations in suicide mortality. Unemployment, in particular, seems related to suicide risk along direct and indirect pathways. Blakely and co- workers’ paper in this issue adds to evidence indicating a causal association between unemployment and suicide. Their results indicate that this association is not attributable to confounding factors linked to the socioeconomic status and that it is only partly related to health selection or mental disorders." -- "Unemployment and Suicide." Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, 2003.

Anemic Jobs Help from Washington Assures More Suffering

According to news reports, President Barack Obama has announced that he will be proposing in September a "jobs package" meant to stimulate job growth. The program, which reportedly will include yet more tax cuts, along with some infrastructure spending, appears yet another tepid approach to a problem that is seriously affecting millions of people. In fact, the government has sat and twiddled its thumbs while millions have languished in despair.

Unemployment is deadly. The effects of the capitalist boom-and-bust system seriously damage millions of lives. But with an almost daily bombast of propaganda about terrorism, the populace lives in fear, while wondering how they will make their bills, ground down between anxiety over ghostly terrorists and eviction, or how to put gas in their car, or afford a bus pass. Hopelessness stalks the land, not Al Qaeda. And yet the politicians in D.C. care little or nothing about the suffering their policies cause. Indeed, their pockets are lined with campaign donations from corporations that routinely layoff hundreds of thousands, and ship many thousands more jobs overseas.

Callous disregard for human lives is what links the terrible policies of war and torture with the policies of neglect and indifference towards the jobless. Such callousness is the by-product of a get-rich-quick ethos that worships profit over all else, over worship of a capitalist system that has brought about terrible world wars, massive depressions, colonial atrocities, and even genocide. U.S. society awaits its turn through the meat-grinder of history.

Meanwhile, the politicians only care about getting re-elected. Indeed, the blogosphere is too infected with following the minutiae of the fake political campaigns, while daily, minute by minute, people's lives are destroyed. Somewhere today, perhaps while you were reading this, someone has taken their life because they felt useless, with no hope of gainful employment, their self-esteem ground down, the sense of meaning and connection severed by redundancy and societal disconnection.

We need dramatic, radical change in this country, and we need it now. For many thousands, however, it will come too late. How many more individual lives, how many more families lives will be shattered by mental illness and suicide due to joblessness? The right to a job is the most fundamental of human rights.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Using Evidence from Water Torture to Hold Detainees at Guantanamo

Originally posted at FDL/The Dissenter

A few weeks ago, Truthout published an article that examined a number of instances of water torture, including evidence of near-drowning, on prisoners held by the Department of Defense. A second article, with further documentation, including other cases of submersion in water and also extreme forms of "water dousing," will be coming out soon. But not everything can be squeezed into even two articles.

One of the more egregious examples of water torture that I found in my investigations wasn't conducted by DoD, but was used by Egyptian interrogators contracted to torture U.S. rendition victim Mamdouh Habib. Habib was an Egyptian born Australian Muslim who was renditioned from Afghanistan to Egypt in late 2001 or early 2002. He has written a book about his experiences, My Story: The Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn't. Earlier this year, Habib filed suit in Egypt against former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, a long-time ally of the United States.

According to a 2005 article in The Age, Habib declared in an affadavit that in Egypt he had been placed in a room by Egyptian authorities. The torturers would "gradually fill it with water, leaving only his head exposed and forced him to stand on tiptoe for hours."

In his memoir, My Story, Habib further described his experience in the water-filled room. "Every time I began to drown," Habib wrote, "they hauled me out, revived me, and put me back in.... I got to the stage where I didn't care anymore; I'd relax and close my eyes and start to drown, hoping I would die. I don't know how many days this went on for."

Habib also reports that one room he was put in had "electrified water."

While researching the subject of water torture in general, I discovered that in Habib's Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) hearing at Guantanamo (PDF), the tribunal specifically used statements drawn from Habib during torture, including the water torture described above, to identify him as an "enemy combatant."

Judge Green described the case of Mamdouh Habib, who alleged that he had been sent by the United States to Egypt for interrogation where he was subjected to severe beatings, locked in handcuffs in a room that gradually filled with water to a level just below his chin as he stood for hours on the tips of his toes, and that he was suspended from a wall with his feet resting on an electrified cylindrical drum. Mr. Habib alleged that, while undergoing this treatment, he admitted to doing many things he had never done.... Without resolving the accuracy of Mr. Habib’s allegations, the CSRT relied on the statements that he made while in Egypt and concluded that he was an enemy combatant.
Now this might not be news to many people, as the issue of using tortured evidence at both the CSRTs and the Military Commissions, including waterboarding or other water-type tortures, has long been an issue among human rights activists and critics of U.S. detention and torture policies. But one can become inured to such things, unaccustomed to reading about what kind of torture produced the evidence.

The CSRT panels, which consist of three military officers, were instituted after the Supreme Court rulings in Hamdi and Rasul in June 2004. According to a CSRT "fact sheet," the hearings were supposed to provide an "opportunity for detainees to contest their designation as enemy combatants, and thereby the basis for their detention."

The CSRTs were amply criticized by human rights groups. Human Rights First summarized some of their main problems:
The CSRTs fail to meet fair hearing standards in several ways:
-- There is no meaningful way for a detainee to challenge a CSRT’s determination as he has little or no access to witnesses or classified information on which the determination to detain is based.
-- The CSRT can rely on information obtained through unlawful methods, including information coerced from detainees who were subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman degrading treatment. Because CSRTs can also rely on secret evidence, the fact that evidence is obtained illegally, including through torture, might never be known.
-- The CSRTs lack an effective remedy as they are not mandated to release a detainee who is not designated as an enemy combatant.
They also deny the detainee the right to counsel, the right to call witnesses, and the right to present evidence. The detainee has no right to an impartial hearing.

In 2008, in a landmark ruling, Boumediene v. Bush , Guantanamo prisoners were supposedly granted actual habeas rights in U.S. courts, which were believed at the time to redress the problems with the CSRTs. But, as Andy Worthington noted in an article last month, the ruling has been effectively gutted.
The courts’ failure has come about largely because a number of judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, where appeals against the habeas rulings are filed, have revealed themselves to be at least as right-wing as the architects of the “war on terror” in the Bush administration. Led by Judge A. Raymond Randolph, whose previous claim to fame on national-security issues was that he supported every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, the Circuit Court has, in the last year, succeeded in gutting habeas corpus of all meaning, when its relief is sought by any of the 171 men still held at Guantánamo....

... judges have whittled away at the lower courts’ demands that the government establish its case “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which is a very low standard in the first place; and secondly, because the Circuit Court has reinforced the misconception at the heart of the “war on terror,” almost delighting, it seems, in failing to acknowledge that soldiers are different from terrorists.

In fact, despite the Supreme Court’s attempt to recognize rights of the prisoners, both soldiers and terrorists are still, essentially, held at Guantánamo as a category of human being with almost no rights at all — what George W. Bush notoriously referred to as “unlawful enemy combatants."
While some detainees have won habeas cases due to evidence thrown out because of torture, as in the case of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman last year, others, like Tawfiq al-Bihani, have not been so lucky. -- For more on the death of habeas in the D.C. Circuit, see this posting by bmaz over at

Meanwhile, the CSRT rules and procedures remain in place under Obama. DoD's official tribunal procedures can be accessed here (PDF).

The last major change occurred in December 2005, when as part of the Detainee Treatment Act the law stated " a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or Administrative Review Board, or any similar or successor administrative Tribunal or board, in making a determination of status or disposition of any detainee under such procedures, shall, to the extent practicable, assess-- (A) whether any statement derived from or relating to such detainee was obtained as a result of coercion; and (B) the probative value (if any) of any such statement."

But, as was pointed out in a Seton Hall study, "No-Hearing Hearings" (PDF), these changes came after the CSRT hearings were mostly complete. The study added, "While there is no way to ascertain the extent, if any, that witness statements might have been affected by coercion, fully 18% of the detainees alleged torture; in each case, the detainee volunteered the information rather than being asked by the Tribunal or the personal representative. In each case, the panel proceeded to decide the case before any investigation was undertaken."

But the issue is all forgotten today, just like the torture endured by Habib, and the thousands tortured by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, and their allied forces. Good for a historical look, and that's all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New video shows Muslims are part of the nation, not evil outsiders

The people at "My Fellow American" have produced a video to make the point that "Muslims are our fellow Americans." With all the anti-Muslim, anti-Arab bashing going on in this country, and the obloquy Muslims have had to bear for being the scapegoats for the U.S. misnamed "war on terror," it's important that there are other media out there sending a message about tolerance, with a real emphasis on the common humanity that joins us.
They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all.

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